Mob Wisdom: To Kill or Not to Kill?
It was one of the great dilemmas of modern mob history: What to do about the mobster who'd accidentally killed a federal agent? Herein an insider's account. Tweet
Ferace blew his brains out with a nickel-plated .357 Ruger, got rid of the gun and went on his merry way. Problem solved. Well, not quite
Cops, prosecutors, and judges were off limits. Killing them was bad business
An honest man could see both sides. Farace had killed a man he thought was a snitch, but weren’t we supposed to kill snitches?
The second hit team didn't make the same mistake. Ferace was shot in the head and torso eleven times.
In 1989, I was a twenty-year-old with the Gambino crime family — specialty, hijacking trucks — when the law put the squeeze on organized crime. The trouble had started in the visiting room of the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island, when a low-level mafia hood named Gus Farace, doing time on a manslaughter rap, met a fellow inmate’s visitor, introduced by the other inmate as a retired army officer who’d gone rogue. Nicknamed “The Colonel,” he was eager to buy drugs and sell guns, and Farace, soon up for parole, made arrangements to hook up with him on the street.
On his release, Farace met the Colonel as planned, sold him eight ounces of heroin, and they were in the process of arranging a gun deal when Farace got a call. It was from another inmate in Arthur Kill, telling him the con who’d introduced him to the Colonel was an informant. Farace quite naturally reasoned that if the convict was a snitch, the Colonel was probably hot also; which meant he himself, being out on parole, with repeat offender status and a manslaughter rap on his jacket, having already sold the Colonel heroin, was jammed up, and looking at hard time.
The next time the Colonel called looking for Farace, Farace met up with him—and blew his brains out with a nickel-plated .357 Ruger. Farace got rid of the gun and went on his merry way. Problem solved.
Well, not quite. Soon, every television station in the New York metropolitan area was buzzing with breaking news: a DEA agent named Everett Hatcher had been killed execution-style on Staten Island.
Oh shit! Farace had no idea the Colonel was an undercover fed. But with the public in an uproar, the law came out swinging. Even President George H.W. Bush got involved, visiting Hatcher’s family, and calling for a federal death penalty for anyone who killed a cop. A nationwide manhunt was launched for Farace, who went into hiding.
This created a dilemma for the mob, and much internal strife. Since back in the thirties—when some old timers had wanted to whack Thomas Dewey, the future presidential candidate who as D.A. had been making headlines prosecuting the mob with a ferocity yet unseen—it had been policy that cops, prosecutors, and judges were off limits. Killing them would simply create too great a public relations nightmare. For all the blood and guts, the mob is all about business, and it just wasn’t good for business.
And the edict held firm for the better part of the twentieth century.
Sure enough, unable to locate Farace, the law came down hard, squeezing the capos and bosses to cough him up. Dozens of new wiretaps were installed in social clubs across New York; gambling dens were raided; new surveillance teams took to the streets; ex-cons were arrested on real and trumped up charges; worst of all, agents started banging on the doors of even the biggest mob bosses, including mine, John Gotti.
The manhunt went on a full nine months. Why? Because friends of mine in the mob were helping Farace hide. Yet at the same time, others I knew wanted to throw him out in the street, because his corpse would turn down the heat.
It was a real dilemma. An honest man could see both sides. Had Farace knowingly blown off an agent’s head, of course he would have been killed immediately, no problem. But Farace killed a man he thought was a snitch, and weren’t we supposed to kill snitches? The mafia’s Talmudic scholars were scratching their heads over this one.
Weren’t we supposed to kill snitches? The mafia’s Talmudic scholars were scratching their heads over this one.
John Gotti, for one, was adamant about not wanting to hand Farace over. He told the other bosses, “If you can’t take the heat, you shouldn’t become wiseguys.” When the head of the DEA banged on Gotti’s door, the Dapper Don answered in a bathrobe, expressed his condolences for the loss of one of the agent’s brothers-in-arms, then slowly closed the door in the agent’s face. Gotti had no special connection to Farace, he simply felt even more strongly that usual it was wrong to assist the law.
But the other bosses were not as firm; they were losing millions, and finally they broke under the pressure.
When Lucchese boss Vic Amuso learned that one of his soldiers, John Petrucelli, was hiding Farace, he ordered Petrucelli to kill him. Petrucelli balked, he wasn’t about to murder a longtime pal who’d done nothing wrong to appease the feds. He refused the order. “Kill Farace or kill yourself!” he was told — and when Petrucelli still didn’t fulfill the contract, his boss sent two hitmen, who gunned down in the doorway of his girlfriend’s apartment.
When the next hit team was told to kill Farace, this time by the Bonanno family, they didn’t make the same mistake. On November 17, 1989, Farace was ambushed in his car by some of his friends — the very men who had been hiding him. He was shot in the head and torso eleven times.
His death lifted the heat on the mob and the law showed their gratitude by barely searching for Farace’s killers.
But the debacle was not over yet. When the hitmen ambushed Farace, they accidentally also shot and severely wounded the driver of his car, Joe Sclafani, a friend of mine, himself the son of a Gambino soldier, Augustus “Gus Boy” Sclafani. Gus Boy’s boss, Gotti, who of course had not wanted to kill Farace in the first place, seized on the mistake to put in a beef; he wanted one of the hitmen, Louie Tuzzio, whacked in compensation. The Bonanno family, who was responsible for Tuzzio, thought it best to put the whole affair to rest as soon as possible, so they told Tuzzio he’d be straightened out — become a “made man” — and he should put on his best digs for the traditional ceremony to get his button. Except when Tuzzio showed up to claim his reward, his pals blew him away, the same way Tuzzio had shot his friend, Farace.
The affair had claimed four lives — Hatcher, Petrucelli, Farace, and Tuzzio—but now, at last, everything went back to normal in the underworld. I actually almost forgot about it — until, that is, the day years later I saw Sclafani in prison. We were doing pull ups, and I noticed a lump beneath the skin on his back.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s a bullet from the Farace hit. The doctors decided to leave it in. It’s still working its way to the surface.”