“Operation Shark Bait” Busts 13 Members of the Genovese Crime Family for Illegal Gambling
“Operation Shark Bait” was a crackdown on an organized crime ring operated by a dozen members of the Genovese crime family. The criminal associated were charged on Thursday with illegal gambling, loan-sharking, and bootlegging.
Illegal gambling payments made through a Costa Rican online sportsbook began the large investigation, which included cooperation between the NYPD and the New York Department of Justice.
The Ringleader: Salvatore DeMeo
The key member targeted in Operation Shark Bait was Salvatore “Sallie” DeMeo, a 76-year old “made man” who has prior convictions for a New York armored car heist and a New Jersey bank robbery in 1996.
Salvatore DeMeo has a particularly colorful past. He was on a 1999 “America’s Most Wanted” segment, which led to his arrest on charges of armed robbery. That crime was perpetrated in Manalapan, New Jersey. DeMeo stole $400,000 from a Manalapan bank. In 1997, he robbed an armored car in the same city.
In 2001, Salvatore DeMeo fled after 45 Genovese family members were named in a large sweep of the organization. DeMeo eventually surrendered himself and was released from prison in November 2006.
The case has 12 other defendants, including Anthony “Buckwheat” Giammarino, are considered affiliates of the Genovese crime family, one of the infamous “Five Families” that traditionally have dominated organized crime in the New York City area.
The group’s illegal gambling operation laundered millions of dollars through a wire room in Costa Rica named 4Spades.org. Investigators have been trying to unravel the Costa Rican financial transactions for years. Most substantial illegal bookies these days launder money through unlicensed online sportsbooks, which operate in Central America or the Caribbean.
Besides their illegal gaming ring, the Genovese crew were accused of loansharking. Customers who borrowed cash were charged outrageous interest on a weekly basis. It is unknown if the current crime ring operated their loan sharking businesses through payday loan companies, like a 2014 Genovese loan sharking business did.
In 2014, an illegal loan sharking business owned by members of the Genovese crime family was operated through check cashing businesses and one restaurant. The check cashing businesses, sometimes known as payday loan companies, were owned by Domenick Pucillo of Florham Park.
Domenick Pucillo’s loan sharking business is thought to have had $3 million on the street over a 2-year period. The business generated over $1.3 million in profits from charging up to 156% interest on a one-year rate. Those are usurous percentages, well outside the legal limits allowed for interest loans. The Portucale Restaurant in Newark’s Ironbound sector, also owned by Mr. Pucillo, is thought to have processed over $400 million in checks over a 4-year period.
Contraband Cigarette Sales
Two of the thirteen men arrested in the 2017 case were charged with selling over 30,000 illegal cigarettes in New York. Because of the various state and city taxes, selling contraband cigarettes is a profitable and underrated form of bootlegging. In this case, the mobsters used bogus tax stamps to get around the taxes.
The Crackdown: James O’Neill and Eric Schneiderman
Law enforcment personnel under NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and prosecutors under state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman worked together to bust the Genovese loan sharks. Much of the evidence game from intercepted conversations which the investigators tracked clandestinely.
Eric Schneiderman said that the loan sharking is a particularly despicable crime, because it takes advantage of people in vulnerable situations and charges predatory rates. Schneiderman said, “Loan sharks shamelessly saddle their victims with outrageous loan rates that are impossible to repay. These defendants allegedly went to great lengths to trap their victims with exorbitant rates, all while evading our gambling laws and taking offshore bets.”
The Genovese Crime Family
The Genovese are considered the “Ivy League” or “Rolls Royce” of organized crime. Famed mobsters like Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, and Vincent “The Chin” Gigante were members of the syndicate. Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel were affiliates, though not full members.
The Genovese organization is rivaled in size and power only by the Gambino crime family, which boasts famous criminals like Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, and John Gotti. The other three organizations in the “Five Families” are the Bonanno/Massino family, the Profaci/Colombo family, and the Gagliano/Lucchese family.
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