The Resurgence of the New Orleans Mafia?

Originally written on July 28, 2014

Its been over three months since Joseph Gagliano and Dominick Gullo were both arrested in Metairie, but the incident is still making news. The pair were arrested in May after a .22 caliber sniper rifle, with silencer, was found in the back of a van they were driving. The back of the van also had two dining room chairs sawed off at the legs in the back, along with the rear outfitted with custom sliding windows. If that wasn’t bad enough, a fuse capable of of detonating an explosive device was also found inside the van. The police pulled over the vehicle in the first place because it had a stolen licence plate (1).

While this is Gullo’s first known run in with the law, Gagliano, and his family’s, reputation are firmly established in the New Orleans underworld. Gagliano’s father, Frank or “Fat Frank” Gagliano, was the underboss of the New Orleans Mafia in the mid to late 80s. At this time the New Orleans Mafia was an organization in decline. Since the imprisonment of Mafia boss Carlos Marcello in the 1983 from the BRILAB investigation, the Mafia in the big easy began to crumble. Sure, go ahead. Come on in. You won’t get any heat from the Marcellos. They’re finished. They don’t mean nothin’ around here anymore (2). That’s what “Fat” Frank Gagliano said to Philadelphia Mafia capo Albert “Reds” Pontani when the Mafia families from New York and Philadelphia started to extend their business interest to New Orleans. When Marcello was in charge, he was so strict on denying other families from gaining a foothold in New Orleans, that mobsters in New York would rarely vacation there. But it was Gambino capo Joseph “JoJo” Corozzo and soldier Johnny Gammarano who set up the most lucrative business venture in New Orleans in the fall of 1991. In a scheme to take advantage of the newly legalized video poker industry in Louisiana, the New Orleans Mafia was hoping to regain some of the power lost with Marcello’s incarceration with allowing Corozzo and Gammarano access to New Orleans (3).

The New Orleans Mafia and the Gambino crime family would work together to skim profits off of a video poker distribution company. The FBI caught wind of the scheme when a French Quarter apartment, which housed the Gagliano sons’ illegal sports betting ring, was bugged. Ever since the decline of Marcello, the FBI had been keeping tabs on Carollo and the Gaglianos. The news of the New Orleans Mafia silently entering the video poker business, led to the FBI bugging Frank’s Deli (today, known as Frank’s Restaurant)(4).  When catching wind of the mobsters complaining about their profits not being as enormous as anticipated, the FBI established an investigation into the Mafia’s infiltration of the Louisiana gaming industry. Operation Hardcrust (named because of the stale crust on the sandwiches FBI agents ate while getting a layout of Frank’s Deli)(5) would eventually end with high ranking mobsters and their front men in prison, along with being forced to pay enormous restitution to the gaming company they were attempting to defraud (6). One of those men was Joseph Gagliano. Not soon after he was charged with the video poker case, Gagliano was identified and indicted as part of a crew that scammed a Biloxi casino out of $500,000 (7). When Gagliano left federal prison in 1999, he was forced to pay $250,000 to Bally Gaming.

Currently, Gagliano has only repaid $4,000 of his debt. His financial situation is so dire, that the government is trying to garnish the wages of his wife, who is an instructor at Delgado Community College(8). Operation Hardcrust landed the top echelon of an already struggling New Orleans Mafia in jail. Though their sentences were short, the extreme amount of restitution to be paid more than likely left the organization crippled. Now, with Carollo and Gagliano Sr. long since passed, who, if anyone, has taken control over the New Orleans Mafia? If there are any remnants of the New Orleans Mafia left, and more than likely there is, this incident is probably not an indication of the organization’s resurgence. Using sniper rifles in Mafia hits is next to unheard of. If Gagliano still has any ties to organized crime, this incident proves that he is on the lower end of them. Just maybe this is personal instead of business. 

Shifts in the underworld, not just in New Orleans, but in all over the United States, power seems to tilt from the Mafia to the South American Cartels, the Russian Syndicates, the Japanese Yakuza or the Chinese Triads. The world becoming a smaller place, transnational organized crime seems to be the way of the future. But in New Orleans the exact opposite seems to be true. A majority of the the street crime in New Orleans seems to be perpetrated by low level, barely organized street gangs. Men like Telly Hankton seem to have replaced men like Carlos Marcello with running crime in New Orleans.

UPDATE: 7/26/14 – A federal magistrate denied a request proposed by Gullo to have him transferred to a medical facility. Gullo (72), reportedly suffers from a brain tumor, heart disease, and blood disorders (9).

UPDATE: 8/11/14 – Gullo’s laywer, Patrick Hand, Jr., has filed a motion to suppress evidence in the upcoming trial. Hand claims that the police violated Gullo’s 4th Amendment rights by searching every “nook and cranny” in the van for over an hour, without producing a warrant. Police did obtain a warrant the day after they searched the “assassin van”, but did not have one when they started the search. As stated above, police found a .22 caliber sniper rifle, with a silencer in the van. Along with the rifle, police also found a fuse capable of detonating an explosive device. The trial, which was scheduled to start on August 18th, has now been pushed back to the 21st (10).

UPDATE : 8/13/14 – New arrest in the Biogenesis Scandal. In 2013, an investigation began looking into allegations that Biogenesis of America, a Florida based rejuvenation clinic, was selling performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to several members of Major League Baseball (MLB). It turns out that the allegations were true: Biogenesis was disguised as a health clinic, the real purpose of the clinic was to prescribe illegal drugs. Players were suspended, and lawsuits against the clinic erupted. Last week Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch, and several of his associates, were arrested by police. This past Monday (August 11th, 2014), three more men were arrested. One of those men was Frank Fiore. Fiore has not only been accused of selling hardcore steroids to players, but also: cocaine, Xanax and Viagra. Fiore is also being arrested for trying to pass off counterfeit drugs and money. It was revealed that Fiore shares two corporate bank accounts with Joseph Gagliano, son of former New Orleans Mafia underboss Frank Gagliano, and one of the two men who were stopped in the “assassin van” back in May. Fiore claims that he once had a legitimate business relationship with Gagliano, and the accounts in question are now inactive. Gagliano, who is still currently in prison for weapons charges, declined to comment. It will be interesting to see how far this goes as both trials start. If organized crime from New Orleans was involved in selling illegal PEDs and narcotics to MLB players, both Gagliano and the New Orleans Mafia may have more sway in the underworld than previously thought (11).

UPDATE: 9/3/14 – The motion put forward by Gullo’s lawyer last month, making everything found in the van admissible in court, has gotten a response from prosecutors. A ten page response argued that police had the right to search the van after Gullo was unable to produce insurance or registration after being pulled over by police. Because police had to tow the van, an inventory of its contents needed to be taken. Prosecutors also added that searching the vehicle helped prevent a violent crime, as the van had been outfitted for assassination (12).

UPDATE: 9/6/14 – Deputy Lamar Hooks, the Jefferson Parish officer who conducted the traffic stop on the “assassin van” back in May, testified in court that both the search of the van was legal and that it had been outfitted for assassination. FBI agent Jim Bernazzani commented: “They’re not hunting deer, this is a classic unsophisticated vehicle that can be used for assassination.” Judge Eldon Fallon hasn’t ruled if the evidence should be thrown out. Trial is set for November 3rd (13).

UPDATE: 9/29/14 – Joe Gagliano, free after paying a $50,000 bond, will be able to await trial under home detention. Now out of prison, Gagliano will be required to wear a monitoring device and is unable to leave his home, except for church and court hearings. Several members of Gagliano’s family put up their houses as collateral to secure his bond. While Gagliano is free, the driver of the van, Dominick Gullo, still remains in prison. In July, a judge denied Gullo a transfer to a medical facility because of his numerous health problems. Gullo’s lawyer, Patrick Hand, Jr., said “My client has worse health issues than Gagliano.” (14)

UPDATE: 10/1/14 – U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles granted a bond for Dominick Gullo, the driver of the sniper van that was stopped in Kenner last May. Gullo will stay with his son in Florida until his trial starts in November (15).

UPDATE: 10/7/14 – U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon decides that, even without a search warrant, the Jefferson Parish deputies who search the “assassin van” were within their rights. All the evidence taken from the van, including a 22. caliber sniper rife with silencer, will be used as evidence in court(16).

UPDATE: 1/30/15 – Both Joe Gagliano and Dominick Gullo pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges. Gagliano pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession a firearm, and both men pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered silencer.  Gagliano could face 20 years in jail, and Gullo 10 years in jail(17).

UPDATE: 2/8/15 – Sentencing in the Biogenisis Scandal. Frank Fiore, owner of the Havana Nights Cigar Bar in West Palm Beach, Fl, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for conspiring to traffic counterfeit drugs and illegally distributing steroids. Fiore was trafficking Cocaine, Xanax, Viagra, Cialis, and steroids out of his bar. Fiore was caught in the Biogenesis investigation when he was selling hardcore narcotics and steroids to Major League Baseball players. Fiore also shares two corporate bank accounts with Joe Gagliano, son of former New Orleans Mafia underboss Frank Gagliano, and one of the two men who were stopped in the “assassin van” back in May(18).

UPDATE: 5/27/15 – Sentencing for both Gagliano and Gullo. Joe Gagliano, son of former New Orleans Mafia underboss Frank Gagliano, was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison. Dominick Gullo was sentenced to 5 months in federal prison. Gagliano’s lawyer, Pat Fanning, claims that Gagliano outfitted the van with retractable windows because his client planned to sell snowballs. When asked why Gagliano had a .22 caliber sniper rifle, with silencer, in the back of the van, Fanning responded with: “If I was driving around selling snowballs in New Orleans, I’d carry a gun with me,” Fanning said. “You could get van-jacked, or snow-jacked.” (19)

Notes
(1) http://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/neworleansnews/9755746-123/a-van-made-to-kill
(2) Davis, John H. Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989. 593. Print.
(3) http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/04/us/video-poker-in-louisiana-is-mob-target-inquiry-says.html
(4) Bridges, Tyler. “Operation Hardcrust.” Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001. 170-94. Print.
(5) Bridges, Tyler. “Operation Hardcrust.” Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001. 170-94. Print. (6) Bridges, Tyler. “Operation Hardcrust.” Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001. 170-94. Print.
(7) http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/07/sniper_van_found_in_metairie_b.html
(8) http://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/neworleansnews/9755746-123/a-van-made-to-kill
(9) http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/9826491-171/driver-of-purported-jefferson-murder (10) http://news.gnom.es/news/authorities-lacked-warrant-to-search-sniper-van-lawyer-says
(11) http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/i-team/arrests-made-connection-biogenesis-doping-scandal-article-1.1899690
(12) http://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/10110445-148/prosecutors-defend-search-of-sniper
(13)http://www.kptv.com/story/26453926/jp-deputy-testifies-about-van-apparently-rigged-to-kill (14) http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/09/sniper_van_suspect_gets_bond_c.html (15) http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/09/sniper_van_driver_to_go_free_o.html (16) http://www.bayoubuzz.com/louisiana-news/new-orleans-news/item/757588-judge-allows-evidence-from-sniper-van (17) http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/01/metairie_sniper_van_defendants_plead_guilty_to_gun_charges.html (18) http://www.local10.com/news/havana-nights-cigar-bar-owner-sentenced-to-prison-for-trafficking-counterfeit-drugs/31120044
(18) http://www.local10.com/news/havana-nights-cigar-bar-owner-sentenced-to-prison-for-trafficking-counterfeit-drugs/31120044
(19) http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/05/metairie_sniper_van_duo_senten.html

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