The Sopranos finale had me thinking about the role of the mafia today, about the real life Tony Sopranos out there. Living close to New York it was always easy for me to imagine those scenes of restaurant hits, to follow the Giotti trials, to walk through Little Italy and witness the city’s Italian-America community firsthand.
I particularly remember one restaurant in my hometown that seemed to be teeming with Mafioso. Heck, even my parents, who live under a rock, knew what kind of meetings too place there. On certain days every month, black cars would just pull up and take up the entire valet parking lot, and no one else could get in. It is an Italian restaurant, called Valbella, built right off of Interstate-95 Exit 5. Easy in, Easy out, first town across the NY border. The prices were rediculous, but that didn’t matter to those who frequent it (Joe Torre eats there often) as does this celebrity.
Anyhow, I had heard a little while ago they had issues, and a quick google revealed so much was true. Anthony Megale, or “The Genius”, a member of the Gambino crime family, had been taped by the FBI and arrested on racketeering charges, among other things (they never get the mafia on anything big, do they?).
Here is an excerpt:
A Real Tony Soprano
When Farrington first agreed to wear a wire and allow his Stamford club Beamers to be secretly videotaped by F.B.I. agent John Sereno, he may not have known he was about to ensnare a man he had known most of his life while growing up in southwestern Connecticut: Anthony Megale.
Born in Italy, Megale moved to Connecticut at a young age and became a U.S citizen. The man who would become an illegal gambling guru with a taste for expensive cashmere coats attended two years of college at Post University in Waterbury, majoring in “recreation,” he told Judge Arterton at his plea hearing.
Prosecutors say Megale grew up to become a real-life Tony Soprano, living in an upscale house in the picturesque suburbs of North Stamford, at 105 Northwind Drive.
According to prosecutors, he regularly met with fellow top-ranking Gambino members from New York, such as boss Peter Gotti, and, after Gotti was indicted in 2002, with acting boss Anthony “Zeke” Squiteri, to resolve family disputes, mete out discipline and parcel up the various criminal enterprises.
Instead of golf courses, these underground businessmen made deals during “walk-talks” in the aisles of a Home Depot in Port Chester, N.Y., while sipping coffee at Starbucks in Stamford or over meals at several restaurants–anywhere they felt safe from bugs. They even discussed business over the comatose son of one “made” captain at a hospital, and at the retirement home where the mother of one Gambino member stayed.
Prosecutors in New York say Megale and others made millions of dollars over the last decade from racketeering, “including violent assault, extortion of various individuals and businesses, loansharking, union embezzlement, illegal gambling, trafficking in stolen property and counterfeit goods and mail fraud,” according to the Megale indictment.
Megale did a stretch in prison in the 1990s for racketeering, but was soon back in charge of Fairfield County, running a crew of his own men in Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and elsewhere.
One of the anecdotes that Megale recounted to Farrington was about Valbella, an upscale Northern Italian restaurant in Old Greenwich that’s famous for its pricey wine list and for celebrity customers like newscasters Tom Brokaw and Paula Zahn, and Yankees coach Joe Torre.
The Zagat Survey describes it as a place where diners “shrug off the high prices.”
According to prosecutors, this is exactly what members of the Gambino family, including Megale, did. They ate there for years for free, while owner Dave Ghatan forked over thousands in protection money.
On the wiretaps, Megale explained to Farrington how it all started. “Yeah, they went over to Valbella’s two months ago,” said Megale. “Thirty of ’em. With Uzis. They got $5,000 a month. The guy was in a fuckin’ panic, Dave.”
Working with a group of violent Albanians, they allegedly beat up Ghatan and reportedly hung him from the ceiling until he agreed to pay out, Megale told Farrington on the wiretaps.
“The, the guy stayed home three days,” said Megale, laughing. “Fuck, he hadda go to the dentist cuz he was grinding his teeth. That’s how nervous he was.”
Farrington replied, a little nervously, “That’s a fancy place over there. That place fucking does some business.”
What Farrington may or may not have known is that one of Valbella’s top chefs in the 1990s was an Albanian immigrant named Joe Vuli, who went on to open his own restaurants, Vuli at the Stamford Marriott and Gusto in Danbury.
Last year, Vuli was found dead, cut up into pieces placed in plastic bags, on a roadside in Bedford, N. Y. The crime remains unsolved.
Police say it bears all the hallmarks of a mob hit, and speculate he may have fallen into loan sharking or other debt and was unable to pay the money back.
But even if Farrington didn’t know about Vuli, he surely got the message that he should cooperate with Megale.
Pretty intense stuff. I never ate at this restuarant, but clearly these were some people to steer clear of.
The article blames the public for turning a blind eye as well:
“There is a whole segment of the population that just want to be around these guys because you’re living vicariously,” he said. “These guys are thinking: “I played golf with this guy who killed 15 people.’ Wow.”
Wow is right…that is one guy I am definitely letting win in golf.
The full article can be found here.
Anyhow, what is so impressive is that a modern day Donnie Brasco was used to infiltrate the organization and lead to the convictions.
More mob news can be found here. The Sopranos may be gone, but it appears as if the Connecticut mob is here to stay.