Two Springfield men were among 13 individuals charged in connection with a federal investigation into an illegal online gambling operation. According to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, the operation involved one member of the Genovese organized crime family and 12 members and associates of the Genovese-connected LaScala Crew.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman contends that the men used the Costa Rican-based gambling website beteagle.com to facilitate illegal sports betting. According to the Attorney’s office, the LaScala Crew, led by 80-year-old alleged Genovese crime family Capo Joseph LaScala, would direct gamblers to the site and collect money from losing bets as well as exorbitant interest.
The system was similar to the standard bookmaker arrangement that the bread organized crime have employed since the beginning of the twentieth century, only with a modern twist with the use of the internet. Judging from investigators’ statements, threats of violence against gamblers behind on payments remained unchanged.
“Bookmaking, loan-sharking, cargo thefts, and illegal gambling in social clubs are the staples by which organized crime funds further criminal activity,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Ward said in a press statement. “The use of Internet gambling and off shore locales demonstrates an evolution and increased sophistication, but the threat of force or violence to serve their purpose remains the same, as does the negative impact of organized crime on the citizens of this state.”
Department of Justice officials say high-level associates of the Lascala Crew acted as bookmakers for the site. The crew-members, called "agents" in the complaint, reportedly used the site to track bets placed by their bettors. This “electronic portfolio” was referred to as the agent’s “package.” Through the website the main agents could to create packages for other members or associates of the Lascala crew who operated under the main agent. The sub agents maintained their own bettors, had access to the website related to their package, and were required to share their profits with the agent and ultimately, Lascala.
Law enforcement officials say agents and sub agents gave bettors user names and password to place bets. Bettors reportedly did not use a credit card to either access the website or to pay gambling losses or to receive gambling winnings; LaScala agents reportedly took care of the money in America. The agents and sub-agent established betting limits and bettors used their user name and password to place bets through the site or over the telephone.
Dept. of Justice spokesmen say if a bettor couldn’t repay gambling losses, the agent or sub-agent converted these losses in debts that the bettor was required to repay. The agent or sub-agent often added exorbitant of interest onto the debts and they used extortionate means to collect these debts, including the express or veiled threat that they had the backing of the Genovese Crime Family.
After the agent obtained money, usually in cash, from sub-agents or bettors, he would keep a portion of it and distributed the rest to others, including members and associates of the Lascala Crew and the individuals who owned and maintained the Website.
The defendants, including Springfield residents Dominick “Harpo” Barone, and Joseph “Joey Graz” Graziano, were charged with racketeering conspiracy in a complaint unsealed this week in conjunction with arrests in the case. Two defendants remain at large. A fourteenth defendant is charged with transmission of wagering information. The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearances later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark S. Falk in Newark federal court.
According to the complaint, the Genovese Crime Family of La Cosa Nostra operated out of smaller groups, sometimes referred to as “crews,” in northern New Jersey and elsewhere. Each crew was headed by a “captain,” “capo” or “skipper.” Each captain’s crew consisted of “soldiers” and “associates.” The captain was responsible for supervising the crew’s criminal activities and providing support and protection. In return, the captain often received a share of the crew’s earnings.
Federal law enforcement agents say Joseph Lascala, 80, of Monroe, N.J., was a capo and a made member of the Genovese Crime Family, directing the criminal activities of the Lascala Crew. The legal complaint alleges the crew stole goods and cargo, received stolen property in interstate commerce and engaged in extortion, illegal gambling and the collection of unlawful debt.
The complaint details a recorded conversation wherein defendant Joseph Graziano, 75, of Springfield, describes the operation:
“You’re in the wrong business now, you know? ... You should be in the sports business... They’re gonna build it up to, like, [expletive] no end... I call the kid up. In the office down there, I’m really proud of him. I mean, he has 50 phones in his [expletive] place...”
The Lascala Crew also reportedly profits by operating social clubs in northern New Jersey and elsewhere, where members of the Lascala Crew host card games and other illegal games of chance.
The Complaint also charges the Lascala Crew with cargo theft and the receipt and sale of stolen goods in interstate commerce.
The defendants named in the Complaint are:
Joseph Lascala, 80
Patsy Pirozzi, 72
John Breheney, 47
Johnny Fugazi, Fu, Johnny Fu
Little Egg Harbor, N.J.
Eric Patten, 35
Franklin Militello, 71
The Flea, The Fox
Mark Sanzo, 53
Robert Scerbo, 54
William Bruder, 42
Michael O’Donnell, 48
Salvatore Turchio, 44
Little Egg Harbor
Jose Gotay, 74
New Milford, N.J.
Joseph Graziano, 75
Joe Graz, Graz
Dominick Barone, 42
Kenneth Baran, 49
Each of the defendants, with the exception of defendant Kenneth Baran, is charged with Racketeering Conspiracy in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1962(d). This count carries a maximum term of twenty years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward in Newark; the Special Investigations Unit of the Bayonne Police Department, under the direction of Chief Robert Kubert; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge JoAnn S. Zuniga; the N.J. State Police, under the direction of Col. Rick Fuentes; and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Peter E. Warshaw, with the investigation leading to the arrests.