There are three major figures that have books discussing their time with the Los Angeles crime family. You have Aladena James Fratianno – “Jimmy the Weasel” from Cleveland, California’s self-proclaimed Last Mafioso. His book covers his experiences as a high-level gangster from the mid-1940s until his defection from organised crime in the late 1970s. There’s also Kenny Gallo aka “Kenji”, a half-Japanese-half-Italian family associate that was active during some of the last days of SoCal’s native mob, during the 1990s. His book, Breakshot, provides a valuable insight into how the remnants of California’s La Cosa Nostra (LCN) operated at the end.
Then there’s The Animal in Hollywood, Anthony Fiato’s biography, that falls somewhere between Fratianno cooperating and Gallo’s dealings with barely-structured mob remnants. Fiato not only witnessed Peter Milano’s attempt at revitalising the mafia in Southern California but actively contributed to the syndicate’s activities, while also being present on both sides of a factional dispute between a nepotistic bookmaker and a hardened New York enforcer – suffice it to say, his book contains a lot of interesting information.
However, certain claims made by Fiato warrant investigation and/or explanation, which this blog entry will attempt to do.
Early Days in Hollywood
“Luigi speaks fondly of you.”
– John Roselli, The Animal in Hollywood
Craig Anthony Fiato was born on the 28th of May, 1944, in Boston. Unlike many West Coast mobsters, Fiato actually only became criminally active in California and later moved back to New England to further associate with organised crime.
Fiato’s father, identified only as “Johnny” in The Animal in Hollywood, was a bartender and ended up moving his family from Boston’s North End to Hollywood because of a job offering. He had found work at the famed Villa Capri restaurant, apparently through a friendship with the Angiulo brothers. Anthony Fiato recalls how many gangsters would frequently visit his family at their apartment in Hollywood, ranging from Los Angeles family member Salvatore Louis “Dago Louie” Piscopo, apparent hitman “Pat LaPrieda”, to street enforcers like Michael “Mike Rizzi” Rizzitello and Louis “Lefty” Castiglione.
Fiato’s early life reflects many similar themes to what is generally known about the youths of 20th century “tough guy” mobsters. He was active in gangs (Lefty Castiglione’s son, Jerry, was among his friends), dressed and behaved contrary to how his parents wanted him to – Fiato describes being particularly scared of his mother catching him wearing leather jackets. While he associated with various underworld figures that hung out at his father’s placement of employment, the most notable figure is Dago Louie Piscopo, a hardened member of the Dragna group that was close with influential mobster John Roselli.
Fiato came to Piscopo’s attention after he had stabbed a local street hoodlum called George, who’d been extorting and harassing Hollywood teenagers. George from Philadelphia had assaulted and then robbed Anthony in front of a girlfriend, greatly embarrassing him and later causing him to stab the bully several times in retaliation. Piscopo was further impressed that Fiato had also attempted to rob a liquor store with another hood from New England, despite their failure and resulting arrest where Anthony refused to cooperate. Fiato says the case was fixed by Meyer “Mickey” Cohen, as a favour to his father, who was respected at the Villa Capri.
Piscopo’s first assignment was to assault someone who owed the so-called “Sicilian” some money (Dago Louie, like Jimmy Fratianno, was actually from Naples). The debtor was an African-American that held some sort of employment at a furniture store in South Central Los Angeles. Fiato was paid 200 dollars for hitting the man over the head with a baseball bat. After this, Anthony became a regular fixture at Lee’s Drug Store, a hangout for the Piscopo crew. He notes that many of Piscopo’s associates were transplants from either New York or Italy.
Continuing on as a collector for Dago Louie, Fiato claims to have built up a reputation among Hollywood’s bookmaking and gambling circles as a “deadly” individual. It was around this time (~1961) that he also recalls being involved in two possible murders, while collecting money for a bookmaker called “Fat Arnie” that was connected to Piscopo. Using a .32 pistol, Fiato and another accomplice stuck up a poker game for 11000 dollars, though they were nearly stopped by a gambler with a shotgun, who Fiato shot, along with another that chased them into the street. Per The Animal in Hollywood, Anthony “never found out whether the gunshot victims lived or died.”
Shortly after this incident, Fiato was involved in another high-profile gangland issue. Dean Martin’s ex-wife, Betty, had been swindled of 15000 dollars by Pat LaPrieda and had gone to her former husband in order to retrieve the funds. Martin reached out to John Roselli, who was well-connected in the entertainment industry, who then ordered the man who he had sponsored for LCN membership [Piscopo] to get Betty Martin’s money back. It should be noted that Roselli was a member of the Chicago Outfit by this time, having transferred to the “Capone family” because of a poor relationship with Dragna successor Frank DeSimone.
The situation was complex because of LaPrieda’s affiliation with Mickey Cohen and the Sica brothers, long-time rivals of the Los Angeles family. Despite this, Fiato volunteered to deliver the message to LaPrieda and his associates and was able to get them to pay back the money in instalments. Sometime after, while hanging out at the Villa Capri, Anthony was introduced to Roselli and Martin. Roselli, who called Piscopo ‘Luigi’, told Fiato that he greatly appreciated his efforts with LaPrieda while Martin echoed similar words.
Pat LaPrieda, aka “The Priest”, is a particularly interesting character because he only seems to appear in Fiato’s book. Identified as a hitman for the Los Angeles mob that was seemingly also affiliated with Louie Piscopo’s group of associates despite his ties to Cohen, LaPrieda’s nickname stemmed from him apparently wearing a clerical collar when he undertook murder contracts. Searching through Mary Ferrell and related websites for his name under a variety of combinations, as well as looking through Piscopo’s informant documents (LA-4448) does not turn up any results. It seems very possible that it was a false name, changed for The Animal in Hollywood.
Notably, Fiato appears to be unaware, or rather, does not mention the fact that Piscopo was a confidential informant. An additional detail about Piscopo is that Anthony describes him as extremely cheap, never paying for things in restaurants or gambling with his own bankroll as well as often stealing very ordinary things like bread, all in order to not pay for anything – “squeezing every nickel till the buffalo shits.”
Outside of Dago Louie, Fiato was also connected to “Big Mike” Rizzitello, who was a friend of his father’s. Rizzitello, along with his lackey Lefty Castiglione, was also employed at the Villa Capri, Rizzi as bartender and Lefty as a waiter. Both had been around the Profaci family in New York and were later recruited by soldier Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo when he was looking for muscle during his rebellion against the established Profaci administration. Fiato claims to have driven Gallo around during his time in California, visiting the Sunset Strip and other Hollywood attractions.
Gallo is characterised in The Animal in Hollywood as a “lone wolf” who made even seasoned veterans of organised crime like Mike Rizzitello and Dago Louie uneasy. As a result of Gallo’s trip to the West Coast, the LAPD’s organised crime squad began applying much more pressure to the Hollywood mob and Anthony found himself taking on additional responsibility for Piscopo. This annoyed him but paid off in the long run.
One day, as Fiato was hanging around a different spot because of law enforcement pressure, he overheard two brothers connected to Rizzitello discussing stolen goods that they were keeping from him, speaking freely in front of Fiato because they were unaware of his identity. Not wanting to appear as a “snitch”, Anthony called his father, who had since moved back to Boston with the family, asking for advice.
Despite his grievances with his son about being involved with criminals, Johnny Fiato apparently advised Anthony to inform Mike Rizzi that he was being ripped off. He let the future Los Angeles caporegime know about the situation a few days later and was thanked, being told that Rizzitello would not forget the incident.
The relationship Anthony describes with Rizzitello and Piscopo is typical story for many of the young men that would become involved with the mafia.
Expanding on the Gallo situation, he had recruited Rizzitello and Lefty Castiglione as enforcers in his rebel war against the Profaci regime. This seemingly occurred sometime in 1960, as per Jimmy Fratianno, Rizzitello had been inducted by the Gallos in an unsanctioned and unrecognised ceremony that year. Rizzi and Castiglione left for New York in September of 1961 and only returned on December 31st. While it is not totally clear what Lefty was involved with, Rizzitello made his contribution to the Gallo war by murdering Profaci members Giovanni “John” Guariglia and Paul Ricci, in a bar called The Hi Fi Lounge, on November 11th, 1961.
Upon his return to California and subsequent arrest, Los Angeles area informants told the FBI that Big Mike had fallen out with the Gallo brothers due to his legal difficulties. Rizzi, along with Lefty Castiglione and mob associate Anthony Zurica had been involved in a string of robberies and kidnappings and were sentenced in December of 1962. They were remanded to jail without bond.
Joe Gallo had been sentenced around the same time in 1961, to a seven-to-fourteen-year term in prison and would be released in April of 1971. Gallo was famously gunned down in the Genovese-affiliated Umbertos Clam House around a year later.
Further regarding Rizzitello, The Animal in Hollywood mentions his involvement in robberies and how he had effectively “inspired” Anthony to try rob a liquor store – the aforementioned case that Mickey Cohen fixed. However, real criminal connections, based off the fact that Rizzitello was busy serving a near-decade long stretch in various prisons across California state, including the California Institution for Men (“Chino”), only started in the 1970s.
Anthony Fiato moved to Boston sometime in the late 1960s and associated with various figures in the New England LCN family. He returned to Southern California sometime around late 1975 or early 1976 (per the start of Chapter 4, in his book) and would again associate with Louie Piscopo, Michael Rizzitello and the Los Angeles family for several months. This blog entry will not be covering his time on the East Coast but may at times make reference to it.
A Brief Return to Rizzitello’s California
“Holy shit, this fucking family ain’t for real.”
– Aladena J. Fratianno, The Last Mafioso
Upon returning to SoCal, Fiato again found himself hanging around the Villa Capri, where he was employed for a short period as a manager until pressure from the LAPD forced the owners to let go of him, apparently because of Tony Rome’s criminal background. It should be clarified that while Fiato himself says the moniker was from the Frank Sinatra film, it appears more likely that it came from his association with a Boston LCN-connected vending machine operator called Ronald “Ronnie Rome” Romanowski.
Romanowski, who was associated with the Angiulo brothers, followed Fiato to California but with a cloud over his head. Ronnie Rome had been tasked with murdering Joseph “Joe Nap” Napolitano, a suspected member of the New England family (identified as an associate in The Animal in Hollywood), who had insulted the Angiulos and their vending machine operations. Romanowski was not someone that could kill, Fiato notes, when speaking about the bookmaker, who fled to the West Coast with his friend.
Joseph Napolitano aka “Little Joe”, active in Maine along with his father, Orlando, was killed in 1978 because of suspicions that he was cooperating with the FBI. Orlando “Nap” had also been a member of the New England family.
When Fiato again began to associate with the Los Angeles family and Mike Rizzitello, Romanowski and his problems on the East Coast transferred over. This would culminate in Anthony returning to New England and meeting with Donato “Danny” Angiulo, where it was established that Romanowski’s life would be spared but he was no longer welcome in their LCN circles.
Fiato made his trip without knowing that Rizzitello had contacted Springfield-based Genovese member, Frank “Skyball” Scibelli, who then relayed a message to the New England family about the Ronnie Rome situation, where, due to the respect that was held for Mike Rizzi, no violence was done against Fiato. Back in California, Rizzitello informed his underlying of these arrangements and they soon became closely associated.
Per The Animal in Hollywood, Anthony and Mike would travel together to Las Vegas, where on several occasions, they met Chicago family member Anthony “Tony” Spilotro and his associate, Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein. They discussed various topics, including informant rumours about newly appointed consigliere Frank Bompensiero, acting boss Louis Dragna and acting underboss, Jimmy Fratianno.
This is a particular interesting statement, at least with regards to Dragna and Fratianno. Bompensiero had long been suspected of informing and was appointed as the family’s advisor in order to put him at ease while other members watched his movements and waited for a slipup that would justify a murder contract on the long-time SoCal gangster. However, when it comes to Louie Dragna and Jimmy Fratianno, it is not clear why either were labelled as informants.
It can be inferred that Fiato and Rizzitello were meeting with Spilotro in mid-1976, as Rizzi’s June 6th, 1976 induction ceremony is referenced. It should be noted that the presiding members were Frank Bompensiero (identified as a “capo” in the book), Dragna and Fratianno. When it comes to cooperation, as mentioned, Frank Bomp had been a CI since the late 1960s but neither Dragna nor Fratianno were informants by this time period.
Louie Dragna would briefly meet with FBI agents in October of 1976, where he admitted to being the acting boss for the Los Angeles family, while also identifying its structure and members, the most notable of which was Dominic Longo, of Longo Toyota. Jimmy Fratianno would first really meet with the FBI in February of 1977, informing them about a leak in their Cleveland office. Both mobsters had been demoted from their acting administrative positions in January that year.
Based off this information, it really does not seem clear why Fratianno and Dragna were rumoured to be cooperating, at least during the time period that Fiato was associated with Rizzitello. Additionally, Big Mike was particularly close with Jimmy Fratianno and it would be strange that he would allow such gossip to be spread about the individual who had proposed him for induction.
“For whatever it’s worth, Jimmy, I think you should be the boss. You’ve got more on the ball then all them guys put together and then some.”
– Michael Rizzitello, The Last Mafioso
Probably the single most notable claim that Fiato makes about Rizzitello is that he was “under the protection” of Gambino underboss Aniello “Old Man Neil” Dellacroce by the early 1970s. This is bizarre as Jimmy Fratianno, Rizzitello’s superior and onetime close associate, never makes mention of this fact.
If it was the case, it certainly was not communicated to both Fratianno and John Roselli, who first speak of Rizzitello as a recruit that was being misused – Mike Rizzi, following his stint in prison, had first linked up with Peter Milano and Dominic “Jimmy Regace” Brooklier, bringing along Lefty Castiglione and a young narcotics trafficker he’d met in prison, Robert Paduano. Both “Handsome Johnny” and “The Weasel” scoffed at an enforcer like Rizzitello being associated with “soft” members like Milano and his group.
Furthermore, Rizzitello’s aforementioned induction into the Los Angeles family also complicates this. Whatever protection that Dellacroce extended to Rizzi would have fallen away, as he was now under Brooklier and all decisions about Rizzitello’s status would’ve been up to the discretion of the Detroit-born mobster and his administration.
Regardless, The Animal in Hollywood provides an interesting insight to how the low-level mobsters of the LA family operated. Ordered by Mike Rizzi to extort two non-mob connected pornographers, as part of the family administration’s scheme targeting the adult industry, Fiato was accompanied by made member Giacchino “Jack” Lo Cicero and his associate, Dominick “Dom the Pig” Raffone. Anthony describes both as shabby gangsters, Lo Cicero as a poorly dressed old man with a pacemaker and Raffone as a foul-smelling individual whose day job was being a gas station attendant.
Arriving at the offices of Forex, the pornography company, Fiato recognised that there was law enforcement watching the trio. After scaring the man in the office and becoming annoyed at Jack Lo Cicero’s threats in broken English, they departed on poor terms as Anthony had told Lo Cicero, who had argued with him about protocol, that Mike Rizzitello was not there to deal with the situation (described as cartoonish) and could “go fuck himself.”
This resulted in a falling out between Fiato and Rizzitello, as Big Mike felt that Fiato did not listen and did things his own way, not showing respect to the established LCN structure and rackets. From that day forward, Anthony was apparently known in mob circles as a “uncontrollable hothead.”
Fiato was ultimately extremely lucky in stepping away from the Los Angeles group at this time, as soon afterwards, many family members and associates were indicted for attempting to extort Forex – an undercover FBI sting operation that had been introduced to the mob by CI Frank Bompensiero. The various indictments extended to Jack Lo Cicero, Mike Rizzitello, Thomas Ricciardi, Dominick Raffone, Jimmy Fratianno, Louie Dragna, Samuel Sciortino and Dominic Brooklier as well as others connected to the LA family.
As a result, Bompensiero was murdered in February of 1977 by Thomas Ricciardi (triggerman) and Jack Lo Cicero (getaway driver), as the family now knew he was an informer. His death would be among the reasons that Fratianno cited when he later became a cooperating witness. Ricciardi would be inducted for his role in the murder and along with Lo Cicero would form part of caporegime Mike Rizzi’s crew.
Of additional note is an offhand statement that Fiato makes about Frank Bompensiero apparently wanting to start his own family in San Diego, through the assistance of Greek associate Christopher “Chris Petti” Poulos (who later became an associate of the Chicago Outfit). This only becomes notable because of a recent find by Black Hand Forum poster B., where Bompensiero and San Diego crew member Joseph “Joe” LiMandri discuss possibly forming their only family away from the Los Angeles group. This occurred in 1974 and Bompensiero possibly still harbouring some of these ambitions towards the end of his life is fairly interesting to think about.
The San Diego faction would ultimately remain part of LA, effectively going defunct in the 1980s, after long-time caporegime Giuseppe “Joe” Adamo was likely replaced by pornographer John Aquilante, who oversaw the interests of the SoCal mob in the adult industry. It is unlikely that any of the remaining members of this decina reported to “Jersey John”, who died in 1992.
Be sure to check out his website as well as the Black Hand podcast, Mob Archaeologists.
Regarding Licata, Fiato also claims to have met Nicolo “Nick” at the Villa Capri, during his time with Louie Piscopo – there are further connections to Licata that will be discussed shortly.
Following the Forex and Bompensiero indictments, Anthony decided that the federal pressure in California was too much and after vacationing in Hawaii for a few weeks, he made the decision to return to the East Coast and “check in” on the North End mob. Through his connections to New England LCN members and associates, Fiato became involved in various rackets, as well as drug dealing in Las Vegas, where he resided for a time.
Again, however, this is not the focus of this blog entry. Fiato would eventually move to California on a fulltime basis again and become affiliated with the last native West Coast that remained active.
The Second Family
“Being a gangster isn’t about being Italian or Sicilian,” Fiato said. “It’s simple, really. When you’re a criminal, when you have people behind you, when you’re not on your own, you’re a mobster. If you have a mob behind you, you’re a mobster. ”
– C. Anthony Fiato, The Animal in Hollywood
Fiato mentions in an earlier chapter that Mike Rizzitello had “no patience for the soft hands” of Pete Milano but due to a combination of his loyalty to the cooperating Jimmy Fratianno and resulting legal difficulties, Milano, the widely-detested-by-tough-guys bookmaker from Cleveland, became the Los Angeles mafia’s new leader. At first, Milano was officially the acting boss for Brooklier but became the permanent don after Jimmy Regace’s death in 1984, while incarcerated.
With regards to Rizzitello, Anthony reconnected with the aged gangster before he went to prison, ostensibly sometime in 1980. Rizzi would be sentenced in 1981 to 4 years for his role in the Forex extortion case but because of appeals, Big Mike, along with Dominic Brooklier, only began serving their prison terms later in 1983.
At this point, Fiato again begins with the Gambino-sanctioned family narrative, citing that while Pete Milano was inducting new members, so was Rizzitello, though Anthony does not identify any of these mobsters. When discussing the Dellacroce-Gambino sanctioning narrative, it can effectively be disapproved by two individuals that make no appearance in The Animal in Hollywood – Michael “Mike Marino” Comparetti and Nicholas Paul “Nick” Nardi, long-time affiliates of Michael Rizzitello.
1983 is an important date, as this is when Comparetti and Nardi are first reported to the FBI as newly inducted members of the Los Angeles family. It should first be established, at least on a basic level, who “Mike Marino” and “Nick” were as well as their connection to Rizzitello.
Michael Marino Comparetti was born on the 8th of June, 1908, in New York. He was involved in various rackets, including theft, illegal sales of liquor and extortion. He once bragged to an informant that he had spent over 23 years in prison, two of which he served on Death Row, though it is unclear what crimes he had committed to warrant this. His first known association with Rizzitello comes sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, when he had attempted to extort garbage and grease rendering businesses in San Diego and Las Vegas, along with fringe Rizzitello affiliate Kenneth Paladino.
It appears that he was sponsored for membership into the LA family by Mike Rizzi, though it is unclear what sort of criminal activities he was involved with in the 1980s, given that he was 75 years old when inducted. He died April 1st, 1992, aged 83. Overall, it is not very clear why someone of his age became a member of organised crime but he was recognised as amico nostra.
As for Nick Nardi, it should be made clear that he was not the Milano cousin in Cleveland and he was not related to the Nardi brothers there. Nicholas Paul Nardi was born in Chicago in 1919 and moved to California in the 1950s. He was mostly active in labour racketeering with other Outfit-affiliated mobsters and it is not clear when he first became connected to Rizzitello.
However, it still remains likely that he was sponsored for membership by Big Mike, as he was later busted with Rizzi and family associate Bobby Paduano in May of 1986 on criminal financial charges. All were acquitted. Nardi died on April 9th, 1988, at just under 70 years old.
The crucial point here is that these Rizzitello associates were inducted into the Los Angeles group, not the Rizzitello-Gambino-California family. The FBI considered them soldiers in the LA family. A chart depicting the timeline of SoCal LCN inductions, post Frank DeSimone, can be found here.
SoCal law enforcement was, however, concerned for a period of time that Rizzitello had actually branched off but later dropped this separate faction theory, as Rizzi’s movements following his 1986 release were described as “constrained” and there were “no recent indications” that he headed a group disconnected from the traditional LA family at large.
Moving forward, the Fiato brothers, Anthony and his younger sibling Lawrence Atillio “Larry” Fiato were making connections to Jewish bookmakers and various other street figures. The most notable of these would be Robert “Puggy” Zeichick, who bankrolled a loansharking ring with the Fiatos.
Regarding his meeting with Rizzitello, Anthony and his crew, seemingly still in 1980 “almost three years since the Forex beef”, all got together at an establishment called the Tiffany Club. The purpose of the meeting was to deal with the Fiato gang extorting a pornographer that was connected to Lucchese mob associate Michael Esposito and his father, Salvatore.
Also present at this meeting was Los Angeles family member Raymond “Rocky” DeRosa (whose last name is spelt Durosia and not correctly identified as a LA member, in the book) along with associates John DiMattia, John Branco (nee Giovanni Brancato) and some other individuals that Fiato didn’t know. Additional attendees were two of Rizzitello’s sons, who apparently had the same first name “Mike.”
The beef was squashed amicably, though Fiato notes that Rizzitello’s impression of him changed somewhat dramatically. He further notes that Rizzitello being on the street, as a result of the appeal bond, limited his options because of his weak associates – his more capable crew members were otherwise not relevant. His inducted soldier, Thomas “Tommy” Ricciardi had died in 1979, Fat Bobby Paduano was in prison for dealing cocaine, Mike Comparetti was in his early 70s and Nick Nardi was a financial criminal in his 60s. Robert Paduano will play an important part later in this blog entry.
Rizzitello was left with bookmaker John DiMattia, who later became a bogus LAPD informant, John Branco, a former Outfit associate that was suspected of being a CI in Illinois, Raymond DeRosa, who was facing legal issues of his own and regardless was better connected to Pete Milano and then Mike Esposito, a pornographer, who in spite of his Lucchese ties, also had a better relationship with Milano and his group. He was later inducted into the LA family.
It became clear that Rizzi needed to work with Tony Rome and his crew, in order to maintain a position in the underworld while he battled his federal indictment and incoming prison term. The second family narrative is repeated once more, though Fiato makes an extremely ironic and amusing (in context) claim about the sanctioning of such a group:
“My plan was to go to San Jose and speak to Angelo Marino, a capo of the Fresno family. Angelo could sanction me to take over Southern California independent of the Milanos, who were nothing but a bunch of bookmakers.”
– Anthony Fiato, The Animal in Hollywood
It needs to be established that the Fresno family, a reference to the San Jose LCN group, was actually far less impressive than the Los Angeles family in terms of both membership size and street rackets. By 1980, the family had around 13 members, three of which were confidential informants. The majority of members were inactive and the youngest amongst its ranks was 48-year-old Donato “Danny” Ditri, an Italian immigrant who owned restaurants – he was the last known San Jose member, dying in 2021, at 89 years old.
With regards to Angelo “Don Angelo” Marino, he had succeeded Joseph Cerrito as family boss after the car salesman’s death in 1978 and like may West Coast gangsters, was also under immense pressure from law enforcement. Marino, along with his son, Salvatore and suspected member Thomas Napolitano had been involved in an attempted double murder of Orlando and Peter Catelli in 1977. The younger Catelli had attempted to extort Marino, a cheese magnate, out of 100 thousand dollars and was killed by his son Salvatore at their dairy factory. Orlando Catelli was also shot in the back of the head but survived the impact and later testified against the mobsters.
Regardless, the overall point is that if Fiato expected anything more substantial in Northern California’s traditional organised crime circles, he would only be disappointed as the mob in the North was in an even worse state than in the South. Notably, Fiato says that DeRosa was going to be the one to introduce him to Marino – this would make sense, as DeRosa was an inducted member and was therefore able to represent Fiato, who had no official status as an associate.
It ultimately appears that Anthony and Marino never met, as he is not mentioned again in The Animal in Hollywood. Angelo Anthony Marino died in 1983 of heart failure. He was 58 years old and had been awaiting a second trial after having his original conviction of second-degree murder overturned.
Fiato continued to be active in various rackets, through his relationships with Mike Rizzi and other Los Angeles underworld figures. Mobsters like John DiMattia, who Anthony made clear were with Rizzi and not him, were slowly becoming Fiato associates. Rizzitello’s legal issues began to intensify and he was apparently also turning over more and more “action” to Anthony and his crew.
Through Puggy Zeichick and his associate, Gene Holden, Fiato had put together a loansharking syndicate that soon became immensely profitable. Based out of Beverly Hills, Fiato and his crew acted as collectors, Zeichick handled the financial side and Big Mike Rizzitello often brought customers to their operation – if they were unable to pay their loans, they soon found themselves partnered with the mob in their legitimate businesses.
Additional racketeering operations that Anthony claims to have been involved with include pornography distribution and the extortion of bookmakers, through Larry Fiato and DiMattia. Rizzitello, based off a discussion with DiMattia, soon began receiving tribute from the Fiato group in order to placate him while he continued to prepare for his impending prison term.
As often the case with LCN-related activities in Hollywood, the LAPD soon caught wind of the syndicate and arrested Larry Fiato at his home. While at the police station, Fiato was shown a chart where Rizzitello was described as “out of action” and Craig Anthony Fiato was identified as “acting boss.”
This incident is a further attempt at the legitimization of the “second family” but makes little sense as Anthony Fiato had no official status because he was not inducted into any LCN family, though, in principle it was correct as Fiato was handling many of Rizzitello’s illegal affairs. A short while later, Anthony again repeats this narrative, recalling a conversation with Big Mike:
“I’m going on record with you,” Rizzi said. “You’re going to be made in our family. I’m flying to New York and will meet with Neil. You and that kid Puggy are doing it right. I can make you the Lucky Luciano of this town. That’s why I’m going on record with you.”
The connection to the Gambino family is fictional, as explained before, as well as Fiato’s later claims of meeting with “Gambino family messengers”, based on the fact that none of these individuals are even identified. What is important to note is the “on record” portion of their talk. Michael Rizzitello, as mentioned, was soon going to prison and by putting Anthony on record (making him an official associate) with him, he was ensuring that he would continue to receive money from the apparently lucrative rackets that Fiato operated.
Larry Fiato, perhaps ironically, appears as the voice of reason on the same page as his brother being told he would become the “Lucky Luciano” of SoCal. Larry makes it clear that he thought Rizzitello was manipulating his brother, based off their longstanding ties and because of Rizzi’s relationship with Johnny Fiato.
While these interactions are not dated, it appears that the timeline places the narrative in or around 1982. An interesting story that Fiato tells around this time is to do with the near-murder of apparent Caci cousin, John “Johnny” Lantino. The Caci brothers from Buffalo, Vincent “Jimmy” and Charles “Bobby Milano” were members of the Los Angeles family that had been brought in by Pete Milano. It is not known if Bobby Milano was a member by this time but Jimmy Caci was a caporegime within the family by the early 1980s.
Regardless, Lantino, their cousin, was seemingly not associated with the Caci decina and instead was with the Rizzitello group (though this is not entirely clear either as Lantino would later get into a physical altercation with Rizzi and Jack Lo Cicero). He had been badmouthing Rizzi behind his back and just like many years before, Fiato was incensed and with Rizzitello’s permission, had planned to murder the overweight hoodlum in a lounge called Tracton’s, where Bobby Milano was performing that very night. Anthony also claims that he was going to use the same .22 pistol that had killed Frank Bompensiero, having acquired it from an associate of now-deceased LA member Thomas Ricciardi, the gunman in the 1977 slaying of Frank Bomp.
The hit was called off by John DiMattia, who spotted LAPD detective Jack Motto entering the bar, just as Anthony had begun following Lantino into the nightclub’s bathroom. When informing Rizzitello of the incident, the aging gangster could not even recall ordering the murder as he had been too intoxicated. It is not clear if his fight with Lantino also had anything to do with their problems with each other.
In a discussion with Junky (a long time lurker of mob forums, who has assisted this project blog on various occasions), he was adamant that Fiato fabricated the Lantino situation. However, such a murder would line up with Mike Rizzitello’s later attempt on nightclub owner William “Bill” Carroll – at least in the sense that he had sought no sanctioning from the Los Angeles family and its administration. A caporegime, like Rizzi, cannot order a murder, it can only be done so by the family’s boss.
Regardless, there are some further stories that Fiato recalls about his association with Rizzitello prior to his 1983 prison term. Through Big Mike, he met and did business with LA associate Robert “Bob” Kessler, who later became an informant, helped deal with Rizzi’s long-time rival Walter Stevens through extortion attempts with the Mexican Mafia (La eMe members, prevalent in California’s prison system, respected the old mobster) and even ordered a beating on associate Mike Esposito as a result of his interference with the Stevens beef.
Esposito, a pornographer who knew Louis “Butchie” Peraino (incorrectly identified as a Genovese mobster in The Animal in Hollywood), was assaulted in his offices by Fiato goons Carl Cataldo and Stephen “Fat Steve” Munichiello. On May 28th, 1982, Fiato’s 38th birthday, he would introduce more of his crew members to Mike Rizzitello, who was around a year away from starting his prison sentence.
Fiato’s rackets at around this time included the established loansharking ring, bookmaking, fencing and cocaine dealing. While his relationship with Rizzitello was going well (he had even managed to secure a Screen Actors Guild card for Mike’s daughter, Donna), they had another falling out after Anthony’s bookmaking operation had a bad week. Arguing over money, Fiato stopped sending tribute to Rizzi. Despite his attempts to reach out to former lackey John DiMattia, Rizzitello became alienated from his associates.
Shortly thereafter, in early 1984, Anthony Fiato, his brother Larry and Puggy Zeichick were busted by the FBI. Larry kept a gun in his apartment and had his probation violated. He was the first to cooperate with the Bureau. After several months, he let his brother know about his informing and despite his initial feelings, Anthony “Tony Rome” Fiato recognised that he was under immense legal pressure and soon also became a confidential informant in around February of 1984.
The FBI told the brothers to go about their business as usual. This would eventually lead to Fiato and his gang becoming associated with the Milano faction of the Los Angeles family.
Made Men & Milano’s Mafia
“I been through so goddamn much that when you see people that go out and cowboy you say to yourself, these guys, if they only knew how it really is.”
– Peter J. Milano, The Animal in Hollywood
In spite of his narrative about the second family, Fiato also claims that he was going to become a member of the Los Angeles family. Initially, he was reluctant because of his apparent proposal for membership in the “Rizzitello faction of the Gambino family”, of which he was also the “ranking underboss” despite having no induction status.
It should be established by this point that the second Southern California family is nothing more than an invention Fiato’s part. In reality, Anthony is seemingly twisting a proposal for membership for the LA mob (possibly on the part of Mike Rizzitello, who he’d made up with through Robert Zeichick) into something far grander than it was.
Fiato is no different to other members that had been proposed by Rizzitello, like Michael Comparetti and Nick Nardi along with hoodlums like Jimmy Caci and his brother, Charles. On that note, Anthony refers to the other inducted Caci crew members, Stephen “Stevie the Whale” Cino and Rocco “Rocky Bigfoot” Zangari as little more than bookmakers.
While this is an accurate assertion for Zangari, Cino was actually a fairly dangerous individual, who along with Charles Caci, had robbed banks across both California and his native Buffalo. He had served over a decade in New York’s state correctional system for his role in these stickups – Bobby Milano, the lounge singer turned mobster, had served 8 years for these crimes as well.
This is in stark contrast to Fiato and his brother, who despite describing themselves as violent gangsters that feared nobody in the Hollywood mob, almost immediately began informing when faced with serious time in jail.
Regardless, Fiato’s introduction to the Milano side of the family was through Pete’s best friend and gofer, Luigi “Louie” Gelfuso Jnr. As a caporegime, Gelfuso’s crew included New Orleans native John “Johnny V” Vaccaro Jnr, Pete’s son-in-law Russell Masetta, Albert “Albie” Nunez and his son, Michael Gelfuso. His operations would soon grow to include John DiMattia, the Fiato brothers and former Rizzitello associate Bob Kessler (now an informant for the FBI as well).
It should be noted that this was not the first dealing that Fiato had ever had with Milano-affiliated mobsters, which actually occurred several years before. Anthony had threatened a Milano associate called Joseph Santone, a loanshark that had apparently been associated with LCN going back to the Dragna days. Anthony had forced the shylock to rescind his demands against a Fiato associate who owed him several thousand dollars.
In retaliation, Santone had ordered some thugs to beat Anthony, who was injured but managed to get the same associate whose debt he removed to assist him in preventing further violence with a shotgun. This incident does not appear to have impacted his future relationship with Gelfuso and Milano.
Moving on, sometime in early 1984 (with Mike Rizzi now in prison), Gelfuso and Fiato met at the San Pietro Pizza Parlour in Westwood, where he was informed that the commission in New York recognized Pete Milano and had authorised him to induct new members and reorganise LCN in Southern California.
Their next meeting occurred on March 5th, 1984, at an establishment called the Melting Pot, on Ventura Boulevard. Fiato was wearing a tape recorder and prior to speaking with Gelfuso, again references Rizzitello and his fictional Gambino-sanctioned group.
Ultimately however, Gelfuso began speaking to Fiato about becoming a member of the Los Angeles family. The talk ranged from questions about the spelling of his last name, to the ethnicity of his father, to generalities about the modern mob. A somewhat interesting parallel between Anthony’s father, Johnny and Louie Gelfuso is that both had been bartenders during the 1950s.
Johnny had been employed at the Villa Capri while Gelfuso had worked for Nick Licata at his Five O’Clock Club restaurant in Burbank. Gelfuso, along with Nick’s son, Carlo (who was inducted in 1952) had been among those arrested for the Two Tonys murder, committed by Jimmy Fratianno and Charles “Charlie Bats” Battaglia in 1951.
What further complicates Fiato’s status is a statement he makes following the meeting with Gelfuso. Apparently, it was necessary that two LCN members had to propose him for induction. He mentions being unable to contact Joseph “JR” Russo, a New England family member, who was supposedly able to provide the second membership for the proposal process. It is bizarre that Fiato would think of reaching out to a member of another family, in order to be proposed for induction but it would interestingly not be entirely out of place when it comes to the LA mob.
Cleveland informant Comillo “Bill” Molinaro describes being proposed for membership by his cousin, Joseph LiMandri, a member of the LA family’s San Diego crew. While he probably was not ever a member of the Cleveland group, it is certainly strange that a similar situation apparently occurred with Anthony Fiato.
You can read more about Bill Molinaro’s activities in this excellent article by Nizar.
Since he was unable to get in touch with Russo, Fiato was forced to wait for the release of family consigliere and former Rizzitello crew member, Jack Lo Cicero, in order to move forward with his induction. Per the BOP, Lo Cicero was released from the federal prison system on December 12th, 1984, making it likely that Fiato and Gelfuso only met with him in early 1985. Lo Cicero made no objections towards Fiato’s proposed status and told Louie in broken English that if he wanted Fiato to become a member, there would be no problems. It is also not clear where Rizzitello fell in with this situation.
Anthony makes a crucial statement regarding this meeting, saying that he was now part of the LA family and that the ceremony was “a mere formality.”
As mentioned before, Robert “Bobby” Paduano, like Comparetti and Nardi, does not appear in The Animal in Hollywood. However, Paduano does (briefly) appear in Kenji Gallo’s Breakshot, where an induction ceremony presided over by the Milano administration is referenced. There isn’t much information known about induction ceremonies held by the LA family – Jimmy Fratianno describes his own, as well as a 1952 ceremony as fairly grand events with the entire family in attendance.
In contrast, Mike Rizzi’s induction was done in the back seat of a car in 1976, with only the administration (Louis Dragna, Fratianno and Frank Bompensiero) present, displaying that as times changed, the ritual was, in fact, minimised. As for later ceremonies, Jimmy Caci once briefly told Gallo about his own induction (date unclear), stating that it occurred after a golf game and dinner in a Palm Springs hotel room. He lists attendees as Pete and Carmen Milano.
Paduano and Fiato have three things in common; both were cocaine traffickers; both were associates of Michael Rizzitello and both were proposed for membership in the mid-1980s. On top of that, the pair also didn’t have the outward appearance of more traditional mobsters.
Fiato’s book is muddled when it comes to his membership status. At times, Anthony is referred to as a prospect or nominee but when the brothers returned to New England, it appears that Fiato at least portrayed himself as a made member. Coupled with his statement about the ceremony, it can be inferred that Fiato is stating he was a recognised soldier in the SoCal group.
Returning to the Westlake Village ceremony referenced, Gallo’s book only mentions Paduano by name with the additional inductees simply referred to as the “others”, with no names present. However, a post on Kenji’s blog clarifies that Anthony was among those that were to be inducted.
The ceremony ended up being cancelled because of Jimmy Caci and Bobby Milano, who refused to allow a narcotics trafficker to become a member of the family, citing that Paduano “better clean up his house if he wants to be around Jimmy Caci”, who didn’t “associate with that shit.”
As such, Kenji says that Tony Rome was “short-changed” but was still told by Louie Gelfuso that he was a member. While Gallo, both on his blog and in his book, explicitly identifies Fiato as a made man in the “Milano family”, he notably never does the same for Bobby Paduano. In a post discussing the remaining members of the Southern California mafia in 2015 after the death of Johnny “V” Vaccaro, Gallo writes the following:
“Fat Bobby Paduano was alive in Orange County but he was never inducted.”
It is doubtful that Fiato would be treated as a member when Paduano was not, though one could argue that this is because of the Caci brothers blocking his membership. As a counter to this, it can be questioned why Anthony fails to mention the ceremony in The Animal in Hollywood.
Examining his opinions on the Cacis and their crew, it becomes clear that Fiato thought little of them. As mentioned before, he calls them all bookmakers (as an insult), stating that Caci and his associates performed orders poorly and in an untimely fashion. It would not fit The Animal in Hollywood’s established narrative of Fiato being far removed from the other struggling mobsters that made up the Los Angeles family if his induction into such a group was blocked by a crew of unimpressive bookies from upstate New York.
It should also be noted that Kenji and Tony Rome were fairly close, having been introduced to each through law enforcement. It would make sense that Gallo believed his friend and repeated what he had been told.
With regards to Fiato and his crew’s activities while working with Gelfuso and Milano, there are a few notable anecdotes and interesting pieces of information.
Albert “Albie” Nunez, a half-Mexican and half-Italian associate from New Jersey, who was apparently respected enough to have had Pete Milano act as an usher at his wedding, is a particularly interesting individual that Fiato dealt with. Involved in rackets all the way from drug trafficking to extortion, Nunez was apparently so trusted by Milano that he once confided in the associate that if the family was able to locate cooperator Robert Kessler, Albie, “Rusty” and Pete himself would murder the informant.
While Nunez is very much exaggerating, it is still amusing to think that Milano, a sitting boss, along with his son-in-law Russell “Rusty” Masetta, a Teamster official who was barely even a criminal, would be personally involved in a murder contract.
Nunez had ambitions to be the first Los Angeles member that was not a full-blooded Italian but was ultimately never inducted into the family. He received the longest sentence out of all defendants in the 1987 Fiato bust, serving around 5 years. He’d be 91 today, according to the BOP.
Another humorous story is that of LA member John Vaccaro and his son-in-law, Fred Dryer, a former professional football player turned movie star. Dryer, who married Vaccaro’s daughter, Tracy (a model and playmate), would give his father-in-law information on fixed football games which allowed mobsters to bet on these events.
Dryer had posted a 250-thousand-dollar bond for Vaccaro and was apparently extremely upset when the New Orleans native violated the terms. Dryer divorced Tracy Vaccaro in 1988, following the Fiato bust. The couple had a daughter together, whose maternal grandfather died in Nevada in late 2015.
Anthony and Larry were also responsible for introducing FBI agent Robert Hamer, who had gone undercover as drug dealer “Bobby Bourne”, to the Gelfuso crew. Hamer not only dealt with Gelfuso himself but also with his son, Michael, Albie Nunez, Johnny DiMattia as well as crew affiliate Robert “Dino” D’Agostino, another New England transplant who also worked as a chef while moonlighting as a small-time cocaine trafficker.
The brother’s cooperation ended in October of 1985. After providing information about various members and associates of the Los Angeles family, the Fiatos were given new identities and seemingly left both California and organised crime behind.
Through their work as informants, the government was able to indict effectively all of the active gangsters in the Los Angeles family, including Peter and Carmen Milano, capos Louie Gelfuso and Jimmy Caci along with several soldiers and associates. Convictions ranged from Nunez receiving a decade long prison term to Rocky Zangari getting 5 years on probation.
What should also be mentioned are the various blogs that Fiato has maintained over the years. It is possible that you may have even come across his Hollywood Goodfella website, as he often reblogs news articles and other posts online. That particular blog is not as interesting as the others because of the limited content related to the LA family – the Mafia Slugger blog contains far more stories.
One post, titled “Mafia Pimp”, concerns Jimmy Caci and an apparent prostitution ring in Las Vegas. In the blog entry, Fiato claims that Caci was not inducted until he was 60 years (which would be 1985), caught an STD from one of the women involved in the “whore house” and upon failing to extort a bookmaker called Kelly, was demoted by Pete Milano and returned to Palm Springs without any title.
There is no information or evidence that Caci ran a prostitution ring in Las Vegas at any point in time, nor anything to indicate that Milano demoted him for his apparent failure. Kenji Gallo, Fiato’s friend and a former Los Angeles associate in Jimmy’s crew, identified him as a captain effectively until the end of his life in 2011. The vitriol demonstrated by Fiato in this entry also provides another reason as to why he would not include the mention of his Caci-cancelled 1985 induction ceremony – Fiato had also dealt with Jimmy in 1984 and identified him as a made member, so it is unclear why he would make the statement about age.
Another entry is related to Louie Gelfuso, where Fiato tells the story about the FBI nicknaming the long-time Milano lackey “The Couch”, after they had installed a listening device in his furniture. Gelfuso enjoyed watching soap operas and making comments out loud about characters on the shows, as well as apparently growing emotional during sentimental scenes. This anecdote also appears in Kenji’s book, though he notes that Gelfuso enjoyed using cocaine at home as well.
One of the more interesting posts is on a blog that Fiato either owned or wrote for at some point, detailing an interaction with obscure Los Angeles member James “Danny Wilson” Iannone. Very little is known about Iannone’s activities past the 1970s, when he had been involved with Jimmy Fratianno in a horsing racing endeavour. Anthony recounts seeing Iannone playing gin rummy with former Bugsy Siegel associate Allen “Al” Smiley at the La Cierniga Bridge Club, sometime in the late 1970s.
While the Danny Wilson story is extremely brief, it is interesting either way. A similarly fleeting but intriguing post is about LA soldier Thomas Ricciardi, concerning his death in federal prison. The triggerman who murdered Frank Bompensiero, Ricciardi was convicted of extortion sometime in 1978 and died of heart failure while receiving surgery in a federal facility. Fiato states that Ricciardi’s wife and friends were convinced that the government let the 47-year-old die on the operating table.
Overall, The Animal in Hollywood is not a bad read for those interested in the West Coast mob. Fiato covers a lot of interesting events surrounding Pete Milano’s attempts at rebuilding the Los Angeles group and provides an insight into the activities of lower ranking members of SoCal’s LCN. However, Fiato on several occasions attempts to make himself out as much bigger part of the LA underworld than he actually was.
This is very similar to Jimmy Fratianno in The Last Mafioso, though the difference is obviously that Fratianno was an actual high-ranking member of the Los Angeles family. Fiato’s takes are much like those of fellow associate-informants Kenji Gallo and Orlando “Ori” Spado – apart from a select circle of individuals, everybody else involved with traditional organised crime in Southern California was incompetent in their view.
Regardless, it must be reiterated that as an associate of Los Angeles caporegimes Michael Rizzitello and Luigi Gelfuso Jnr, Anthony Fiato provides a unique and fairly detailed insight into the workings of the mob in California, Las Vegas and even on the East Coast. The Animal in Hollywood is worth reading if one is interested in the LA family during the late 1970s and 1980s, just before its last few years of total disorganisation, despite Fiato’s exaggerations and misinformation issues.
Thanks to Junky, Nizar & Discord Boka for their support, as always