by Dennis Griffin
I write books about organized crime. Invariably, when I give a talk one of the questions from the audience is, "What makes these guys become mobsters?" I don't have a "one size fits all" answer. But there is a rather common scenario I've come across over the years that may explain why at least some young men turn to a life of crime. And I think the case of Andrew DiDonato is a good example.
Andrew was influenced by his environment and neighborhood wiseguys as a young boy, and took to thievery before reaching his teens. In 1980 the teenager became an associate of the Gambino crime family and lived "the life" until he flipped and became a government witness in 1997.
In 2010, I agreed to write Andrew's biography titled Surviving The Mob. I believe by sharing some of Andrew's story here, readers may come away with a better understanding of the circumstances that contribute to the making of a criminal. To read Part I click here
Andrew was an ambitious young man and had made a commitment to advance his criminal career. He even dropped out of school to allow himself more time on the streets. However, before he was able to fully implement his bold plans, an event took place that had unintended consequences. Although it resulted in his first arrest, it also brought him to the attention of Gambino family crew boss Nicky Corozzo, and catapulted him from an unaffiliated street tough into the world of organized crime.
It started in November 1982 when Andrew and a friend learned that a couple of neighborhood boys working in a bagel shop at East 81st Street and Flatlands Avenue were stealing money from the place on a regular basis. They saw this as an opportunity to make some easy cash.
“My buddy Tommy and I hung out in a park across the street from the bagel shop. Tommy found out these two guys that usually worked the night shift there were taking between a thousand and fifteen hundred a week out of the joint. A couple of brothers in their late twenties owned the place. They had very poor habits when it came to supervising their employees. They weren’t around that much, especially at night. These guys they had working the night shift made the bagels, served customers and ran the place pretty much on their own. That included handling the cash register. They took advantage of the situation by pocketing a lot of the money for themselves. Both of these guys were in their late teens. And the word was that they had serious gambling problems and needed the money to pay off their gambling debts.
“Tommy and I figured we might as well cut ourselves in on the action. We told them we wanted four or five hundred a week or else. They said okay and didn’t resist at all. They started making their payments right away with no problem.
“But the first sign of trouble came quick. This neighborhood guy named Mike Yannotti had a talk with Tommy and me. Mike…who was known on the streets as Mikey Y … was a couple years older than us and was already connected with Nicky Corozzo’s crew. He had a reputation as a tough guy and he was. In fact, I met a lot of dangerous guys over the years, and in my opinion Mikey Y was the most dangerous of them all.
“Anyway, Mikey said that the bagel shop guys we were shaking down owed Nicky Corozzo a lot of money from gambling. If we continued making them pay us they couldn’t pay him too. We had to back off.
“After that conversation Tommy and I had to make a decision. We were a little pissed off that we were being told to stop the shakedown without being offered some other way to replace that income. We said to hell with Nicky Corozzo, we weren’t going to back down. That decision would probably have led to another less friendly visit from Mikey. But something else happened first.
“A couple of weeks later one of our victims got caught by the owners of the bagel shop with his hand in the register. He told his boss that Tommy and I had forced him into stealing the money and giving it to us. The owners called the cops and then headed across the street to the park to confront Tommy and me.
“At that time we carried brass knuckles. When the brothers grabbed us the knuckles came out and the fight was on. We beat one of them up pretty good. I think he ended up needing about a hundred stitches in his head. During the heat of things somebody grabbed me from behind and spun me around. It was a cop. Tommy and I threw the brass knuckles, but the cops found one set of them. We were arrested, taken to the station and charged with assault. We were never charged or even questioned about the extortion scheme.
“I hired a lawyer. He told me that still being a minor would work in my favor. And he could argue that the owners initiated the fight by coming to the park looking for Tommy and me to give us a beating. We could press assault charges against them and probably end up getting a draw, with all charges being dropped. And that’s exactly what happened. Everybody walked away clean.
“After that I started spending more time with Mikey Y and some other guys in Corozzo’s crew. Even though I wasn’t really part of them yet, we did a lot of stealing and some other things. Everything we did made money and some of it went to Nicky.
“A couple of months later…in early 1983…I got to meet Nicky in person. Back then Nicky hadn’t been made an official capo yet. He was an acting capo. Nicky and his friend Leonard DiMaria ran the crew together, kind of like co-captains. I already knew Lenny quite well. I had taken his daughter to the high school prom and I hung around with his nephew. But I’d never met Nicky before.
“They used to hold meetings at a private social club every Tuesday and Saturday. The meetings started around eleven in the morning and went until four or five in the afternoon. The crew members and others they did business with would be there. Food and drinks were available.
“On this one Saturday morning I was riding in a car with some of the crew. I knew they had to go to the meeting so I told them to drop me off and I’d see 'em later. One of the guys said he wanted me to go with them. Another said that Nicky had mentioned just the previous night that they should bring me along. So I went.
“When we got to the club I was introduced around. Everybody socialized while Nicky conducted business in another room. He did that by calling in the people he needed to talk with one at a time. In private he’d tell them what he wanted done and they’d have a chance to let him know if they needed something from him. If he had a job that involved more than one guy or the entire crew, he’d call them all in at once.
“On this particular day Nicky approached me around mid-afternoon and took me into the other room. He said he’d heard a lot about me and knew I was acquainted with his nephews. I was doing some good things. ‘You’ve got a friend here,’ he said.
“And then he told me that if I ever needed anything to come to him. If I needed stolen merchandise disposed of, come to him. If somebody was giving me trouble, come to him. Whatever I needed, come to him.
“After that he told me about the Tuesday and Saturday meetings. I’ll never forget what he said. ‘These meetings are important. You’ll meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends. Some of them may need your help sometime. Think of it as going to school. You’ll learn valuable lessons here so don’t miss. If you miss you’re not being a good friend.’
“When I left the social club that day I was officially part of Nicky’s crew. I was an associate of the Gambino organized crime family.”
Dennis Griffin is a True Crime Author, Co-Host of Crime Wire and We Know a Guy on the Inside Lenz Network. He has written several books concentrating on the history of the mob presence in Las Vegas. www.dennisngriffin.com