10 Most Ruthless Mobsters In Bensonhurst History

Marlon Brando as The Godfather in the 1972 film. (Courtesy of Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount)

Bensonhurst natives of a certain age can remember the days when the Mafia ruled the streets. Some of the most ruthless, revered gangsters in New York City’s history resided and conducted business in the neighborhood. Back then, social clubs dotted Bath Avenue — just south of 86th Street’s bustling shopping district — and wise guys were everywhere.

By the 1980s, then-United States Attorney Rudolph Giuliani started cracking down on organized crime, and the names of New York’s “Five Families” — Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese, and Colombo — were splashed across newspaper headlines as feds rounded them up.

While many of Bensonhurst’s mobsters are now dead or in jail, there are still whispers of the old social order. The Cosa Nostra has been fingered for having a role in everything from a ticket-fixing scandal at the NYPD’s 62nd Precinct in 2000, to a brawl over the pizza sauce at L&B Spumoni Gardens last year.

We’ve rounded up 10 of the neighborhood’s most notorious mobsters, including an alleged cop killer expected to get out of prison in five years, a drug trafficker who recruited Mob Wives reality star Angela “Big Ang” Raiola, and an FBI informant responsible for a cold-blooded Christmas murder on Bay 11th Street.

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tommy Pitera

1.Tommy Pitera
Crime Family: Bonanno
Status: Life in prison

Pitera began his life as a quiet child who was bullied in school, but would turn out to be one of the most ruthless serial killers in history.

A life-long Bruce Lee enthusiast, the David A. Boody I.S. 228 grad began practicing martial arts, winning competitions, and studying karate in Tokyo under Hiroshi Masumi.

After returning to Brooklyn, he was recruited by the mob. The Bonnano family hit man was particularly ruthless and clinical in his killing technique, often torturing and dismembering his victims. Sometimes he’d collect victims’ jewelry or belongings as souvenirs, a practice typical of serial killers rather than mobsters. Police believe he is responsible for at least 60 murders.

Sentenced in 1992 for six murders and his role in a massive drug operation, Pitera narrowly avoided the death penalty and is currently serving a life sentence at a federal penitentiary.

Fun Fact: Pitera had a high-pitched falsetto voice that one biographer compared to Michael Jackson’s.

Anthony Spero in 1970. (Mugshot)
Anthony Spero in 1970. (Mugshot)

2. Anthony “Old Man” Spero
Crime Family: Bonanno
Status: Dead

A self proclaimed “bird lover,” Spero’s hobby was to race pigeons from a Bensonhurst rooftop, where he’d also hold his meetings. Meanwhile, his loyal henchmen, called the Bath Avenue crew, would congregate at a social club on the street below. Federal prosecutors suspected Spero of using the birds as a discreet way to deliver messages to his men.

A long-time Bonnano family boss, Spero made much of his money by selling stolen fireworks. Every July 4th, Spero would set up the most spectacular fireworks display on Bath Avenue, and create a feast that could easily feed “all of Bensonhurst.”

Spero was indicted on racketeering and murder charges in 1994, and in 2002, he was sentenced to life in prison for loansharking and his role in three more deaths, including that of Vincent Bickelman, a burglar who had robbed the mobster’s daughter; and Paul Gulino, a Bath Avenue crew member assigned by Spero to kill Bickelman, but instead accepted an assignment to kill Spero. Spero died in jail at age 79 in 2008.


3. Carmine “The Snake” Persico
Family: Columbo
Status: Life in prison

The 1993 third Columbo civil war raged between loyalists of this charismatic mob boss, and a rebellious Colombo faction aligned with Vittorio “Little Vic” Orena.

Persico was involved in bookmaking, loansharking, burglaries, and hijackings. He was arrested more than a dozen times but managed to avoid jail time. Persico soon started working with Joe Gallo and his brothers Albert and Lawrence, though he turned on them and tried to murder Larry Gallo. His betrayal earned him the name “The Snake.” He is rumored to be behind the In 1957 murder of crime boss Albert Anastasia, the former leader of Murder Inc.

In 1986, Persico was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 39 years in prison in the Colombo Trial. He was also sentenced to 100 years in prison as part of the Commission Trial. The sentencing judge complimented Persico, who represented himself in the Commission Trial, calling him “one of the most intelligent people I have ever seen in my life.”

He’s been serving out his 139-year federal prison sentence since 1987.

4. Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi
Family: Genovese
Status: Dead

The internet appears to have been scrubbed of much information related to the late Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, uncle of Mob Wife and self-described “lover of wise guys” Angela “Big Ang” Raiola. We couldn’t even find a mugshot of Lombardi, so this video of Big Ang explaining the appeal of wise guys will have to do.

We do know that over the course of his life, Lombardi was a big-time heroine, cocaine, and quaalude trafficker — at one point ensnaring his reality star niece in one of his drug-running schemes. He got caught twice, once in 1979 for selling quaaludes, and again in 1992 following an elaborate sting operation, when he was convicted on heroin trafficking charges. He died in jail in 2008.

greg scarpa

5. Greg Scarpa
Family: Columbo
Status: Dead

A snazzy dresser who carried $5,000 with him at all times, Scarpa was involved in illegal gambling, drug trafficking, loansharking, extortion, hijacking, counterfeit credit cards, stock and bond theft, and murder, earning him the moniker “The Grim Reaper.”

When he was arrested in 1962 for armed robbery, Scarpa became an undercover informant for the FBI to avoid prosecution. He worked with the agency for 30 years, famously helping them track down the bodies of three missing Mississippi civil rights workers.

Scarpa stayed active in the mob and committed many murders as a registered informant, and each time authorities would let him off the hook. In one of his most cold-blooded killings, during the Orena-Persico war, he shot Vincent Fusaro — a man he suspected of loyalty to the wrong side — in the head as he stood on a ladder to hang Christmas decorations on the door of his Bay 11th Street home.

Scarpa contracted HIV from a blood transfusion after an ulcer surgery in 1986, but kept his illness under wraps, telling people he had cancer. He wound up suing the hospital and settled for $300,000 in cash payments to his family. Soon after, Scarpa was indicted on federal racketeering charges involving three murders. He died in prison from AIDS-related complications in 1994.


6. Carlo Gambino
Family: Gambino
Status: Dead

The Sicilian-born “boss of all Cosa Nostra bosses” and head of the Gambino crime family is believed to be the inspiration behind the book The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, which was eventually adapted for the legendary film trilogy of the same name, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

He immigrated to America in 1921 as a ship stowaway, and after marrying his cousin Catherine Castellano, Gambino settled into a relatively modest Ocean Parkway row house.

He fell in with the “Young Turks,” a group of Americanized Italian and Jewish Mafioso in New York that included the likes of Frank “Prime Minister” Costello, Albert “Mad Hatter” Anastasia, Gaetano “Tommy Three-Finger Brown” LuccheseMeyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

When Anastasia was murdered in 1957, Gambino took helm of the Anastasia crew — which was involved in gambling, loansharking, hijacking, narcotics trafficking, and labor racketeering — and the Gambino crime family was born. Toward the end of his life, Gambino was under constant surveillance from the FBI, and would only communicate through coded language and gestures.

After 50 years of criminal activity, the feds finally nabbed Gambino in 1970 for a car hijacking scheme. He was to also ordered to be deported, but the trial and deportation were postponed due to his recurring heart attacks. In 1976, he died at home, in bed, at age 74.


7. Sammy “The Bull” Gravano
Family: Columbo & Gambino
Status: Serving 20 years in prison

Legend has it that Gravano got his start in crime by stealing two cupcakes each day from a corner store in Bensonhurst on his way to school. By age 13, he had joined a neighborhood gang called the Rampers. When a few made men outside a cafe witnessed him beat up a group of bike thieves, forcing them to return the bicycle, he was nicknamed “The Bull” for his unrelenting punches.

Though he started out as a Columbo soldier, Gravano eventually moved over to the Gambinos. Gravano played a key role in planning the execution of Gambino boss Paul Castellano, along with John Gotti, Angelo Ruggiero, Frank DeCicco, and Joseph Armone. After that, he was made an underboss for the Gambinos.

He soon became the highest ranking member of the Cosa Nostra become an informant, helping the FBI bring down the likes of Mafia kingpin John Gotti. His snitching is said to have prompted many other Mafiosi to become informants.

Gravano wrote a book about his life called Underboss, and is the father of Mob Wives reality star Karen Gravano, who in 2012 published a book called Mob Daughter about her experiences growing up around her dad and his group of thugs — which pissed off the families of Gravano’s victims.

Thought he is believed to be responsible for countless murders, including a police officer in 1980, none of the charges have stuck. Finally, he was convicted on drug charges in 2002 and is expected  to be released March 8, 2019.


8. Joe Columbo
Family: Columbo
Status: Dead

While most mob bosses tried to lay low and avoid media attention, the highly charismatic Joe Columbo courted it. When federal agencies started investigating the dealings of the Mafia, the New Utrecht High School drop-out brazenly accused them of scapegoating Italian Americans and founded the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which denied the Mafia existed, and branded anyone who claimed otherwise an anti-Italian racist.

Columbo’s movement became hugely popular, and 150,000 people flooded Manhattan’s Columbus Circle on June 29, 1970, at the League’s first public rally. Frank Sinatra was among many celebrities who appeared in a benefit for the League held at Madison Square Garden later that year.

Columbo initially tried to shut down the filming of The Godfather, but finally allowed the project to move forward as long as the filmmakers abided by his guidelines.

At one of the League’s largest rallies, Columbo was shot by a man posing as as journalist. After wallowing in a vegetative state for seven years, Columbo died in 1978.


9. Joe Waverly Cacace
Family: Columbo
Status: Serving 20 years in prison

Though this mobster is allegedly behind the murders of a cop and prosecutor, he may actually see freedom in his lifetime.

In 1987, Cacace was ordered by imprisoned Colombo boss Carmine Persico to kill federal prosecutor William Aronwald for being “disrespectful” to the Cosa Nostra. Though prosecutors were generally off-limits to the mob, Cacace arranged for brothers Vincent and Eddie Carnini to murder Aronwald, giving the hit men a piece of paper scrawled with the man’s last name. However, the hit men accidentally took out Aronwald’s father, George Aronwald, an administrative law judge who shared his son’s office. Furious over the mistake, Cacace ordered the Carnini brothers killed, and as an extra precaution, had the hit men who killed the Carnini brothers, mowed down at the Carnini funural.

Despite the debacle, Cacace won over a loyal following and his reign over the Columbo crime family lasted nearly two decades.

In 2004, Cacace pleaded guilty to the four murders, in addition to extortion and illegal gambling, and was sentenced to 20 years. Then in 2008, he was charged with ordering the 1997 murder of NYPD officer Ralph Dols, who had offended the mob boss by marrying his ex-wife. In 2013, a jury acquitted Cacace for Dols’ murder. Cacace is currently imprisoned at a federal correctional facility in Tucson, Arizona. He is expected to be released on June 23, 2020.

(NYPD mugshot)
(NYPD mugshot)

10. William “Wild Bill” Cutolo
Family: Columbo
Status: Dead

Cutolo dabbled in labor racketeering, gaining control District Council 37, which oversees 56 unions in New York City, and Teamsters Union local 861 — forcing the unions to hand out jobs to members of his crew.

Interestingly, he lead something of a double life and was well-known for his charity work, hosting fundraisers and sitting on the boards of various Leukemia research organizations. Each year, Cutolo sponsored holiday parties and dressed up as Santa Claus for the National Children’s Leukemia Association, while his son handed out gifts to sick children. This alliance was controversial, and investigators looked into a possible connection between Cutolo’s union misdealing and his relationship with the medical charities.

In 1999, Cutolo got swept up in a bloody Orena-Persico war for control of the Colombo family after he attempted to assassinate Victor Orena. After two years of bloodshed, Orena and Persico factions tried to make peace, but things eventually things deteriorated, ending in the disappearance of Cutolo in 1999.

Nearly 10 years after the mobster vanished, Cutolo’s remains were found — minus a finger — in a mob grave on Long Island. He had been shot in the head.

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  1. Don’t forget Moe Howard, the “Boss Stooge” born on June 19, 1897, in Bensonhurst and brother of Stooges gang members Curly and Shemp Howard!

  2. Since there is no #3 should we assume that the second #5 Carlo Gambino was just placed out of order or the intended sequence? Nice info, thanks!

  3. I still live here on Bath Ave. Say what you want about these so-called gangsters but back then there was no muggings, break-ins and your mother could walk the streets at 3am. Now this area is becoming a crap hole. The streets are filthy and crime is up. Maybe we need more of these kind of people

  4. I totally agree with you, John! I still live in Bensonhurst & I remember how safe this neighborhood was back in the day. I wish we could bring them all back! They protected us

  5. I agree Makes me sick to see the neighborhood now!! BUt its was funny to read hahah They sent messages with Pigeons & stole fireworks!! LMAo!!!

  6. Actually if you look at the crime stats from the 62nd posted on this site. You will see that crime in the neighborhood today is much lower in every major catagory then it was 22 years ago.

  7. Actually it’s probably safer for her to walk around at 3AM than it is for her to walk around at 3PM.

  8. I didn’t realize so many people in the neighborhood have streetwalkers for mothers. Interesting! 🙂

  9. Thank you, John. I was originally trying to be optimistic that John Cesaro wasn’t going there, but it was too good a set-up for me to pass up.

  10. I’m from new Mill Basin. We didn’t have to lock our doors to our houses or cars. We had the bosses in our neighborhood. Carmine Lombardozzi lived across the street from my aunt. A neighborhood of doctors, lawyers, Shoah survivors and mobsters. Very clean and very safe.

  11. no break-ins or muggings, these street thugs would steal the fillings out of your teeth if they could. I lived there and they robbed neighbors, family and friends. They were scum!!!

  12. I agree 100% comforting to see other people from the neighborhood that have the exact same opinion in perspective that I have. The reality and truth behind all of these comments is so fantastic it’s almost hard for someone from these neighborhoods to believe it in retrospect. Might I add that not only did they leave their cars in door’s unlocked we’re talking about a generation that survived the Great Depression and all the lot owners and building owners that were leaving their doors unlocked had their entire retirement fund or a good chunk of it stuffed in the radiator or under the mattress. Everyone on my street in Bensonhurst was either directly related immediate family or related by marriage. What’s even funnier is they all started on one side of the street and as they moved on they simply moved across the street as they married and had children and diversify the family tree. And I will never forget my Auntie Mary and Auntie Rosie across the street from each other with the driveway between them. They’re ugly purple winter jackets because no matter what the weather they were on either side of the driveway on the sidewalk making sure that not so much as a Girl Scout cookie got into that neighborhood from the outside. David make a brief appearance at my house which was the Gathering Place for everyone where they were then either Retreat back to either side of the driveway where one would look left in the other right or otherwise they would go back to their respective houses on either side of the driveway they were standing by, go to the window and wash dishes, continuing to look out the window one left the other right. The real humor in that story is there was no sink in front of either of those windows. I don’t know what is more insane the fact that they were standing in front of imaginary sinks pretending to wash imaginary dishes or the fact that they felt the need to police the most secure and safe environment that existed in the entire United States of America. I’m almost surprised that they took those ugly purple winter jackets off so that they could go inside and pretend to wash the dishes I would not have been shocked if they kept them on during the rinse and repeat cycle of not washing dishes. You would think a Girl Scout might have you would think that they need to keep them on in case you know a brownie wanders into the neighborhood and needs to be bribed with $20 to put away for her education so that she doesn’t come bringing any more funny business into the neighborhood. Even if there was a sink there they didn’t cook the only thing that they ever had to offer in they made sure you came over and accepted that offer was Dolly Madison ice cream and store-bought apple pie from Key Food. As an adult I guess they needed to feed their husband something so that they didn’t starve to death or wonder when they’re going to do something like cook instead of stand at the end of the driveway policing a neighborhood that’s three blocks away from the precinct in an area once known as the stronghold of the Bonanno family. As a kid I just thought it was one more dessert that I certainly didn’t need but I had to have it because there was no arguing with Auntie Mary, “It’s Dolly Madison, it’s the best”, and despite the seven different pastries that were just scuffed down from gentiles, from sfoigliatelle to pastaciode, you’re leaving that house with your arm clutched in her grasp, you’re eating that damn apple pie and Dolly Madison ice cream, and not even the matriarch of the neighborhood coincidencly also the matriarch of the house who’s table you were dragged from, can tear into that lunatic who’s not taking no for an answer “it’s the best it’s Dolly Madison”. Now this neighborhood is supposed to have been but they say is the heart of that family, the Bonanno’s. They say it’s supposed to be ridden with crime etc etc. Well long before Giuliani cleaned up the street so I don’t remember crime ever occurring there, I don’t remember anything bad happening ever I don’t remember seeing anyone that didn’t live there ever walk through the neighborhood. I never saw it anyone shoot at anyone fight in the streets or even raise their voice unless they were my aunt Rosemary. If my aunt Rosemary referred to you as you and didn’t include you in the word we when she would talk about herself, as there was no “me” when she referenced herself but always “we”, and if there was you well then you better run because she’s going to tell you something. I know you tried to run off in tears shade remind you of “another thing” or “one more thing”, and this obvious this man that you were not an active member of the community and would continue until you ran out of the neighborhood for good or found yourself stupid enough to make your way into becoming her sister-in-law. Anyone that borded this neighborhood would know exactly what I’m talking about and just the memory of these people would have them rolling on the floor laughing I say bordered because well like I said earlier everyone on the street was directly related to me you are related through marriage) I hope that anyone reading this that might possibly be of the neighborhood and from the time when these characters set this stage in reality, might look back at how ridiculous this life was, how no actor could ever imitated it on film and remember that no though a place like that will never exist again it can at least exist by the memories of those who lived it. And to not only exist as a memory but to have it live on by sharing that memory with all who would appreciate it. “We must always remember! Why? Because if we don’t remember, we forgot. So every week we remember our stories so we never forget.”

  13. Gas Pipe Casso was a stone cold killer and RAT!!!
    Nino Gaggi was an asshole for dragging his 8 year old Nephew into his ways! What did he do? He scarred his nephew into becoming a RAT! Another fucking genius!
    I could go on and on… but i’ll stop there!

  14. “Paul Gulino, a Bath Avenue crew member assigned by Spero to kill Bickelman, but instead accepted an assignment to kill Spero.”

    Not “instead.” Guilino did kills Bickelman for Spero AND he wanted to kill Spero.

  15. You should be a little more tactful with how you explain a persons death. Bill Cutolo, my father, was found on Long Island, not in Staten Island – and his grave was surely not shallow. He was loved by many, and a great man so please do not use the phrase “a shallow grave” and disrespect a man who was murdered.

  16. Don’t be a gangster! And you won’t get locked up or murdered . I never made much money , but dam do sleep good at night

  17. I was Born in the Same House I still Live in And We Never Locked our Doors back in the day. I would Take the Gangsters Back in a Heart Beat, When a Church was Robbed The Police had no Clue who Stole from the Church but the Word went out to the so Called Mob and Everything was Returned. Neighbors watched your Home and you watched theirs, The Mob Watched who came into the Neighborhood and if you Did Not interfere with them they were an asset to have, if you ask a cop back in the Day where he would want to work he said here in Bensonhurst Because Italians took care of their own Problems most of the time. It was a Safe and Great Place to Grow up in, unlike today. It was Alive and Teaming with Life in the Streets and Nobody screwed with this Neighborhood. Back in the Day.

  18. I miss the old gangsters they were real man real breed of Tough guys yet they had such a good sense of humor An good family morals And if you lived in the same neighborhood you Could count on your neighborhood being very safe It’s a very sad thing that all those days are over with

  19. Ms. Dana Cutolo,
    Having worked this stuff from the law enforcement side, your dad was a complete gentleman and was murdered by jealous lowlifes. Had nothing to do with your dad taking the wrong side in the Persico war, as the media had claimed at that time. Your father was a beloved figure and truly a brilliant man, and they saw him as a threat.

    In my opinion so much government resources have been squandered going after the Italian Mob, just to get themselves publicity. And what happened? You got the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings deliberately hurting innocent civilians. No RICO prosecutions. No FBI. No 600 FBI Agent’s sweeps. And the results are obvious

  20. I was raised in dyker heights 13av spent most of my time in bensonhurst 18av most of my life its sad to read how most people like myself remembered how it was and how it became i blame the people who sold their homes make a quick buck moved to staten island or Jersey some long island bought a bigger house had some money left that they blew in a year or two wherever they moved it will never be like bensonhurst was the community itself the stores the coffe shops the butchers i still see people coming from Jersey to shop here whatever its left of the italian stores which is not many hopefully that little money they got makes them happy cuz they changed the entire neighborhood for the worst in my eyes and i could have all the money in the world there is no neighbor in America i would find today how bensonhurst used to be thats thanks to all the people who wanted to make a quick buck nd move to neighborhood where its all mix nationality i see people in staten island now selling cuz their houses tripled moving to jersey they dont realize that money its gone before u kno it the neighborhood will never be what u had so it comes down to dollars at the end of the day hopefully it was all worth it to all of them cuz when i tell my kids how it usto be 86st was the night time show all the best cars people walking up nd down 86st after dust they wish it was still like that and i tell them no matter what there will never be a place like that again no money can buy or put together what the neighborhood was like its a story now once upon a time thats all its gone be and for safer i agree it was safer i dont care what the reports say i never heard of rape when i grew up i never heard of a child being molested everyone was outside u come now days u say where do the kids hang out maybe with video games technology has changed the kids this days dont play outside the parks are empty i could keep goin on nd on about how many things are different its not gone bring back what it was just wanted to put my input after i was reading some comments but its sad to see what it bacame i blame the people for moving nd the only reason why they moved cuz the Chinese offered double nd triple for the price of the homes nd they took the money nd ran not thinking once about the neighborhood but its okay wherever they moved the next generation its on drugs now pills heroine till recently i heard of a young kid die italian 27years old doing dope i was like what who brought that in this neighborhood of course they cought the person it was a Spanish kid from sun set bringing that drug to this neighborhood nd if course the cops cought him after the person died if it was back then that person would’ve made it in the neighborhood anyways i can gonon for days all the things that i dont like but what can i do there is no place that i can move to that comes close to what benson im gone end it with that.

  21. Bensonhurst is still a safe place. Nothing has changed. I have lived here all my life and now I am in my 40’s.

  22. I like the way that you guys wish the Mob was back in your neighborhood without giving a thought to the Heroin that they sold, the Automobiles that were stolen and sent to chop shops, the murders they committed and the extortion. Very nice !

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