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Probe's detailed view of mob life

Secret recordings in a $2.2 billion gambling case in N.J. gives an inside look that is "Sopranos"-worthy.

Among dozens arrested in the probe were alleged Lucchese family members Ralph V. Perna, left, identified as a capo supervising New Jersey; Matthew Madonna, center; and Joseph DiNapoli, described as part of the N.Y. ruling troika.
Among dozens arrested in the probe were alleged Lucchese family members Ralph V. Perna, left, identified as a capo supervising New Jersey; Matthew Madonna, center; and Joseph DiNapoli, described as part of the N.Y. ruling troika.Read more

The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice provided the outline for a new Garden State mob saga last week when more than two dozen reputed wiseguys - including three alleged leaders of the Lucchese organized-crime family - were charged in a $2.2 billion gambling, money-laundering and racketeering case.

Based on a 16-month investigation in which hundreds of conversations were secretly recorded, the probe offered an inside look at what authorities allege was one of the biggest gambling operations ever uncovered.

The conversations, from wiretaps on phones and from listening devices planted in homes and cars, also provided a personal view of La Cosa Nostra more typical of New Jersey's best-known, albeit fictitious, mob family,

The Sopranos


Who's in and who's out?

Who can see the boss and who can't?

Whose word can you trust and who will stab you in the back?

That kind of unguarded talk provided a rich backdrop for investigators as they put together a massive case that tied the mob to an international gambling operation with a wire room in Costa Rica, and included what New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram called an "alarming alliance" between traditional wiseguys and a member of the Bloods street gang to smuggle drugs and cell phones into a state prison.

Piles of cash, fancy cars and luxury homes were seized when authorities shut down the high-tech bookmaking ring that allegedly generated tens of thousands of dollars in profits weekly for some crime-family members.

But though passwords, Web sites, and the wire room in Central America defined the new-age gambling operation, old-school intimidation and threats of violence were still part of the collection process.

"Go and find this kid . . . and make an example now . . . bust his head."

That's how one reputed wiseguy suggested they deal with a gambler called "Boo" who was balking at paying a $12,000 debt.

Later, he suggested they lay in wait outside Boo's house.

"I don't give a [expletive] if it's 3 in the morning. . . . I don't care if you gotta break his front [expletive] door down to get this little [expletive]. . . . You get him out of his [expletive] house . . . and you bring him to me."

The conversations were just two of dozens cited in a 195-page affidavit filed by Christopher Donohue, an investigator in the case, to support the arrest warrants.

The affidavit included two Philadelphia references.

One involved mob associate Michael Ramuno, who is charged with providing thousands of dollars in bets per week to the organization, even though he was living in a prison halfway house in Philadelphia in the fall, working off the final months of a 10-year drug sentence.

The other was an account of how Nicky Scarfo Jr., son of jailed mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, was "demoted" within the Lucchese organization because of media reports about his alleged underworld operations at the Jersey Shore.

Scarfo has not been charged in the current case.

Dubbed Operation Heat, the investigation targeted what Milgram termed the "command structure" of the organization.

Those arrested included reputed New York mob leaders Joseph DiNapoli and Matthew Madonna, both 72, who were described as part of the ruling triumvirate of the Lucchese organization.

Also charged was Ralph V. Perna, 61, a capo, or captain, who allegedly supervised the New Jersey branch of the organization.

Perna's three sons, Joseph, 38; Ralph M., 35; and John, 30, also were arrested.

Wiretaps on phones used by the Pernas, bugs placed in one of their homes, and a listening device and global positioning system hidden in Joseph Perna's black Infiniti M35 provided details of the criminal activity alleged in the arrest warrants.

On Nov. 10, authorities were watching and listening when Joseph and John Perna were formally initiated into the crime family during a "making ceremony" at Joseph Perna's home in Toms River, N.J.

Most of the ranking members of the organization, including DiNapoli and Madonna, attended the ceremony, according to the affidavit.

Afterward, investigators heard Joseph and John discussing mob protocol while riding in the car. At one point, Joseph explained that made members refer to one another as

amico nostro

- "a friend of ours."

Some members, Joseph said, use the English, but DiNapoli "likes it in Italian, so do it that way."

Perna also told his brother not to put too much trust in DiNapoli.

"People have their ways," he said. "Don't ever believe for one second that if it's something serious that Joey will always protect you."

The two brothers then discussed the hierarchy of the organization, their father's position, and the fact that no one in the New Jersey faction could go to see the leaders in New York "without Daddy's knowledge."

Ralph V. Perna's rise to the top spot and Scarfo's demotion were the topic of conversations the brothers had in August, according to the affidavit.

Investigators were watching Aug. 9 when Ralph Perna and his son, Joseph, met at a diner in the Bronx with DiNapoli.

And authorities were listening minutes later when Joseph called his brother John to tell him that their father had been tapped to replace Scarfo as head of the New Jersey branch of the crime family.

"He's the new captain," Joseph Perna told his brother, adding, "Tomorrow I'm going down to tell the other kid he's demoted."

John, laughing, said, "I bet you're all broken up about that."

The brothers then referred to media reports raising the possibility that Scarfo Jr. might make a move against those controlling the Philadelphia crime family his father Nicodemo once headed.

That was part of the reason he was being demoted, they said.

Two days later, investigators used the GPS hidden in Joseph Perna's Infiniti to track him to a meeting on the Garden State Parkway with Scarfo Jr.

During that meeting, according to the affidavit, Scarfo was told he was being demoted.

Asked to comment about the references to his client, Scarfo Jr., lawyer Donald Manno said last week, "Obviously, there is no criminal involvement by him and everything else is just outlandish speculation."

Criminal charges of gambling, extortion, loan-sharking, money-laundering and racketeering were filed against most of those arrested. Those charged in a jail contraband scam also face drug charges.

In addition, authorities moved to seize real estate, freeze bank accounts, and confiscate automobiles owned by several of those charged.

Joseph Perna's finances offered a typical example of a cash flow that appeared to exceed legitimate income, authorities said.

His targeted assets included five bank accounts in which cash deposits totalling $329,531 were made between July 2005 and August 2007.

This, the affidavit noted, was during a period when Perna and his wife claimed income of $63,836.

Authorities placed liens against 16 properties, including Perna's $712,500 house in Wyckoff, N.J., and the Toms River house where the making ceremony allegedly took place.

The cars subject to seizure orders included Perna's Infiniti M35, a 2007 Jaguar, a 2008 Mercedes-Benz SUV, a 1993 Chevrolet Corvette, a 2006 Lincoln Navigator, a 2007 Cadillac STS, and a 2007 Cadillac CTS.

All were allegedly purchased with what authorities called "a torrent of illicit income" from the gambling operation.