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Eight Mobsters Convicted of Racketeering in New England

August 8, 1991 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The Patriarca crime family’s reputed boss and seven underlings were convicted of racketeering Thursday in a trial that provided a glimpse into the Mafia, including a secretly recorded mob induction ceremony.

″These defendants, out of their own mouths, convicted themselves,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham.

Authorities boasted that the convictions of reputed Patriarca boss Nicholas L. Bianco and seven associates signaled the death knell of the Providence, R.I.-based organization. It allegedly has controlled rackets in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut since the 1940s.

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″Obviously it’s very gratifying that the head of the organization was convicted,″ Durham said.

A federal indictment charged various defendants with gambling, loan sharking, extortion, attempted murder and murder to support criminal enterprises that authorities say took in hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade alone.

All eight defendants were found guilty of at least one count of racketeering, defined as committing crimes to support a continuing criminal enterprise.

Three were also convicted in the 1989 slaying of William ″the Wild Guy″ Grasso, the family’s feared boss in Connecticut, and a fourth was found guilty of conspiracy in Grasso’s death.

The eight were among 21 alleged members and associates of the Patriarca crime family indicted in March 1990.

Seven others will be tried in Boston this fall, including Raymond J. ″Junior″ Patriarca, who prosecutors allege was the family boss until he was replaced by Nicholas L. Bianco after his indictment last year. The others pleaded guilty earlier in return for reduced sentences.

Most of the defendants reacted stoically as the verdicts were read. But Gaetano Milano, convicted of murder in Grasso’s death, clasped hands in front of his face and shook his head.

The verdict came just as the jury began its 15th day of deliberations.

″Yes, we’re disappointed,″ said Jeremiah Donovan, attorney for Louis Failla. ″We got our hopes up and then they were dashed.″

Convicted in Grasso’s death were Milano, 39, the accused triggerman; Frank Colantoni Jr., 37; and Louis ″Louie Pugs″ Pugliano, 64. Frank ″Frankie Pugs″ Pugliano, 63, was found guilty of conspiracy.

Convicted on other charges were Bianco, 59; Salvatore ″Butch″ D’Aquila, 51; Failla, 63; and Americo ″Cigars″ Petrillo, 57.

U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas set sentencing for Nov. 25. Milano, Colantoni and Louis Pugliano face up to life in prison. The others face maximum sentences ranging from 40 to 80 years.

The government introduced more than 100 surveillance tapes during the three-month trial, including one described as the first-ever secretly taped recording of an induction ceremony.

According to the tape, the mobsters fussed over the seating arrangement and the buffet lunch before inductees had their trigger fingers cut for a blood oath of silence during the 1989 ceremony, attended by 17 people in Medford, Mass., a suburb of Boston.

″Now, the dates you got to leave in the can or they get messy,″ said a voice identified as Joseph Russo, who’s awaiting trial in Boston.

Jury foreman Donald Gesswin downplayed the impact of the induction tapes.

″It’s not illegal to be a member of the Mafia,″ said Gesswin, reached by telephone at home. ″It was nice to hear it, but it didn’t have much weight. ... It just proved that the enterprise did exist.″

The prosecution’s case got a boost last summer when two defendants, John F. ″Sonny″ Castagna and his son, Jack Johns, decided to testify in return for reduced sentences.

Castagna and Johns testified that they participated in three failed attempts to kill Grasso, before he was killed June 13, 1989. Three days later, two fishermen found Grasso’s body on the banks of the Connecticut River, a bullet in the back of his neck.

Authorities believe Grasso was killed because leaders of the family’s Boston faction suspected he and Patriarca were maneuvering to grab more control over the Boston rackets.

The Grasso murder appeared to shake the crime family’s hierarchy, weakening the status of Junior Patriarca, federal authorities said. He had allegedly taken the helm when his father, Raymond L.S. Patriarca Sr., died of a heart attack in 1984.

Special Agent Milt Ahlerich, who heads the FBI in Connecticut, estimated that at its peak during the 1970s, the Patriarca family had more than 100 members and active associates.

The defense took only one week to present its case, and concentrated on rebutting the testimony of Castagna and Johns.