Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio, 83, former longtime boss of the New England-based Patriarca crime family, was arrested Jan. 20 along with 126 other members of the mob and known La Cosa Nostra associates during what officials call the biggest mob take-down in Federal Bureau of Investigation history. The roundup, which began before dawn, involved over 800 FBI agents and local police officers throughout the Northeast, according to the Rhode Island District Attorney’s office.
Manocchio — also known as “The Professor” — and partner Thomas Iafrate were indicted on counts of extortion and conspiracy to extort. The two took thousands of dollars in protection money from Providence strip clubs The Satin Doll and The Cadillac Lounge over the past 18 years, according to the indictment. Iafrate, 63, of Johnston, RI, worked as a bookkeeper at the two clubs. Manocchio, who was arrested at the Fort Lauderdale airport, will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Providence on a date to be determined. Iafrate plead not guilty in his arraignment last Thursday.
In addition to Manocchio and Iafrate, 34 official members and dozens of associates of New York’s five mob families — Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Luchese — were arrested on various counts of murder, racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking, money laundering and gambling. The charges, announced at a press conference in Brooklyn by Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., were included in 16 indictments handed up in federal courts over four jurisdictions. Holder noted the “unprecedented scope and coordination” of the operation in the New York Times.
The “arrests and charges mark an important step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra’s illegal activities,” Holder said in a statement. “This largest single day operation against La Cosa Nostra sends the message that our fight against traditional organized crime is strong, and our commitment is unwavering.”
Rhode Island Deputy Attorney General Gerald Coyne told The Herald prison time may in fact serve as an incubator for new mob activity.
“If you look back at the early 1990s, a lot of people who were put away for a significant amount of time are getting out and have re-emerged,” Coyne, a veteran mob prosecutor, said. “They have received the rehabilitation that prison has to offer, which is basically an expanded Rolodex.”
Despite the mob’s endurance, it exists only as a shadow of what it once was, especially in Rhode Island. In 1963, Col.Walter Stone, then superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, appeared before a Senate subcommittee and called Providence crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca “one of the 12 top heads of organized crime in the United States.”
Patriarca was treated like a celebrity by ordinary Rhode Islanders, said Providence Police Captain Thomas Verdi, commanding officer of the organized crime and narcotics unit. At the peak of the family’s power in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, people would stop and stare when the mobster walked down Atwells Avenue, he said.
According to Col. Brendan Doherty, the current superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, most of New England’s organized crime today is based out of Boston. Manocchio abdicated as head of La Cosa Nostra in 2009, but even before that time, Providence was waning as a center of mob activity. Many prominent La Cosa Nostra members have retired. Some are behind bars, while others — like Raymond J. Patriarca, son of Raymond L.S. Patriarca, who began a successful career as a real estate agent after his release from prison in the mid-’90s — have turned to other professions.
Some things, though, haven’t changed. Patriarca ran his crime family from the Coin-O-Matic on Federal Hill. Manocchio directed the family’s operations from Addie’s Laundromat on Federal Hill and lives in an apartment above the business. Rhode Island is still home to powerful mob members who have been released from prison, including Edward Lato, Frank Marrapese and Robert DeLuca.
State Police Major Steven O’Donnell, a longtime mob investigator, said Manocchio reaped the financial benefits of being mob boss, but seldom involved himself “in the daily disputes that go with that territory.”
Manocchio is perhaps best-remembered for posing as a woman after he was indicted for his role in the murder of two bookmakers in 1968, eluding police in New York and Europe for eleven years. His renown only grew after he was condemned to two life terms plus ten years for planning the murders of Rudolph Marfeo and Anthony Melei in 1983. The sentence was overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court two years later and Manocchio was released.
“In his world, he’s a legend,” Verdi said. “He’s like the last of the old school Mafia dons.”