Fifty years after zealous Yankees and Dodgers fans duked it out in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field, there's a new Bronx-Brooklyn feud brewing that could be every bit as intense.
This one is between factions of the Luchese crime family, and through it hasn't gotten bloody like the all-out Colombo family civil war that left 12 dead around the city in the early 1990s, law enforcement sources say the potential for violence clearly exists.
Sources say the feud has been festering for more than a year and began heating up last summer. The issue — no surprise — is control of lucrative mob schemes.
"Whenever you have mobsters wrangling over money, murder is always a distinct possibility" is how one law enforcer put it.
Another official said that while overt violence "is unlikely, there are definite differences of opinion about the way the family is being run, and there have been some angry words exchanged about it over the last few months."
At stake is a potpourri of family rackets, including gambling, loansharking, extortion, and labor racketeering. The family's illegal activities have been greatly diminished in the past two decades, but they still put many hundreds of thousands of dollars in the family's coffers and in the pockets of select mobsters, sources say.
Currently, the Luchese family business remains under the control of jailed-for-life boss Vittorio "Vic" Amuso. Amuso, 72, took over the family in 1986, when Mafia cops Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa went on the family's payroll and began identifying confidential police and FBI informants, and carrying out mob hits as well.
Despite his arrest and conviction for nine murders between 1988 and 1991, including the hits of several victims who had been fingered by the rogue detectives, Amuso has run the crime family from behind bars.
Amuso is housed at a maximum-security facility in eastern Kentucky, but law enforcement sources say he has enlisted a trusted Brooklyn-based capo, Domenico "Danny" Cutaia, as his main liaison with a panel of three veteran capos who have been running the family by committee for several years.
Cutaia, whose son Salvatore and son-in-law John Baudanza are family soldiers, kept a low profile during the violence-laden reign of Amuso and his underboss, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso.
But Cutaia's favored status doesn't sit too well with supporters of Steven "Stevie Wonder" Crea, a powerful Bronx-based labor racketeer who has served as the family's underboss and whom authorities have long viewed as Amuso's likely successor. Called the "power behind the Bronx faction" by one Gang Land source, Crea has had financial interests in companies that have built everything from modular schools to luxury homes from Coney Island to the northern suburbs, according to court records.
Neither man can operate freely, however. Both Cutaia, 70, and Crea, 59, are under strict federal supervision recent prison terms. Cutaia, who was released in August 2005 after a two-year stint for extortion, will be unable to mingle with other wiseguys until August 2008. Crea was in prison until August 2006 for labor racketeering, and his restrictions will end in August 2009.
Both men, along with their supporters, know that the threat of going back to prison for merely meeting another wiseguy is real. Cutaia and Crea have been hit in the past with supervised release sanctions — similar to what used to be referred to as parole violations — and both men had to serve additional prison time as a result.
And each knows the feds — and in Crea's case, the Manhattan district attorney's office, as well —would love to send him back to prison because of his high-level mob position.
But mob watchers on both sides of the law say each wiseguy has both the mob credentials and the family backers he needs to attain the top spot.
Cutaia, a longtime wiseguy who cut his mob teeth under legendary capo Paul Vario — the Paul Sorvino character in "Goodfellas," the Martin Scorsese movie about the daring $6 million airline heist in 1978 — has long been viewed as a "very knowledgeable" gangster by Amuso, according to FBI documents obtained by Gang Land.
In the mid-1990s, when Amuso decided to appoint an acting boss after the appeals of his murder convictions were exhausted and he knew he would die in prison, he selected Cutaia to introduce Joseph "Little Joe" Defede to other mobsters as his choice for acting boss and "spread the word throughout the family," one FBI report said.
A former bodyguard-chauffeur for Vario, Cutaia has long been involved in high-level Luchese activities, including meetings with leaders of other crime families, according to FBI summaries of interviews with Defede and Alphonse "Little Al" D'Arco, who preceded Defede as acting boss, and as a cooperating witness.
The same documents, however, note that Crea, an ex-boxer with a lantern jaw, was a Luchese delegate at interfamily confabs of bosses and underbosses that included the Gambinos' Peter Gotti and the Bonannos' Salvatore Vitale. Cutaia became his family's representative later, when family leaders began sending capos to the sessions, according to a report by FBI agents Kevin Conroy, William McCarthy, and a New York Police Department detective, Thomas Limburg.
And Crea, who was the family's representative in joint construction industry rackets, not only met with other bosses. He had the wherewithal to best them in sitdowns.
In a sitdown with the powerful Genovese family, the agents and the detective wrote, Crea won a dispute over control of a building trades union that put up to $10,000 a month into the Luchese family's ledgers, 25% of which Crea kept as his share.
In 1993, after both Amuso and Casso were jailed, three members of the family's murderous Brooklyn faction who were still free plotted to arrange a sitdown with Crea to kill him in a "sneak job" to prevent a "power shift from Brooklyn to the Bronx," according to court papers.
Before they could get the job done, however, mobsters George "Georgie Neck" Zappola, Frank Gioia Jr., and Frank "Frankie Bones" Papagni were all arrested, convicted, and incarcerated, ending the threat against Crea.
Since the mid-1990s, the Mafia Commission has clamped down on mob hits, a directive the five families have largely followed in recent years. It's likely that the animosity between the Brooklyn and Bronx factions of the Luchese family will be resolved without violence. But authorities are paying close attention, just in case.
This column and other news of organized crime will appear later today at ganglandnews.com.