By WILLIAM COCKERHAM
Courant Staff Writer
December 14, 1987
the end, 75-year-old Francesco "Skiball" Scibelli showed
he was the loyal Mafia lieutenant he once proclaimed In an unusual plea-bargaining session this fall, Scibelli, an old man with a history of cancer and other
ailments, agreed to plead guilty to racketeering charges and go
to prison for a maximum of nine years on the condition that he
would not have to admit being a member of the New York-based Genovese
crime family or even acknowledge the existence of the secretive
La Costra Nostra, or Mafia.
Part of the plea bargaining with federal
prosecutors also resulted in a promise that his younger brother,
Anthony "Turk" Scibelli, 73, who has even more serious
health problems, would receive a suspended sentence for his admitted
role in a multimillion-dollar gambling operation that extended
beyond western Massachusetts to eastern New York and northern
As relatives wept, Scibelli, a short, conservatively
dressed man with thinning white hair, showed little emotion Thursday
as he was sentenced in Springfield's U.S. District Court to six
years in prison. In a gesture of holiday good will, U.S. District
Judge Frank Freedman allowed the family man to begin his term
on Jan. 11.
"Don't worry about nothin'. I'll be
OK," the older Scibelli said to a well-wisher as he walked
out of the packed courtroom.
The sentencing of Scibelli ended an era for
organized crime in the three-state area, at least as it concerned
his faction of the mob, which authorities said controlled illegal
gambling here for the past decade. Scibelli, federal authorities
said, succeeded Salvatore "Big Nose Sam" Cufari after
the head of the Springfield-based mob died 10 years ago.
Besides Scibelli and his brother Anthony,
another brother, Albert A. "Babe" Scibelli, and five
other Springfield-area men also pleaded guilty in the case.
Albert Scibelli, 67, received a two-year
sentence, Adolfo Bruno, 42, reputed to have been Francesco Scibelli's
second in command, got five years in prison, Ricky S. Songini,
33, was ordered to serve four months, and Felix Tranghese, 36,
was sentenced to three concurrent four-year terms.
Mario Fiori, 63, and John Pradella, 41, were
placed on probation for two years and ordered to do 200 hours
of community service.
John Vorhees, a U.S. Department of Justice
attorney who prosecutes organized crime cases in New England,
said he expects the empty ranks of the illegal gambling enterprise
will be filled, but not without a tremendous loss. "We think the Scibelli faction will
be in serious, serious trouble with their leader going to jail,"
Vorhees said. Vorhees said the convictions closed "the
circle" of organized crime in the Springfield, Albany, N.Y.,
and Hartford area.
The case against the eight men stemmed from
a series of FBI wiretaps and electronic eavesdropping in 1984
in Springfield and at a New York City social club frequented by
mobsters. Although it was never presented as evidence
before a jury because of the plea bargain, FBI agents overheard
Scibelli bragging to Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, the
reputed head of the Genovese crime family, that he was making
money for him in New England, according to court records. "We're doing good up there," Scibelli
says to Salerno on the FBI tape, according to court records. "You
know, running the thing there You got me. I'm being a good capo
[lieutenant]." In another taped conversation Scibelli was
heard threatening several gamblers who had not paid their losses:
"We ought to break their heads."
In court Thursday, lawyers for the defendants
offered evidence of the popularity of the Scibelli brothers in
Springfield's predominantly Italian South End. Letter after letter was offered to Freedman
pleading for mercy in his sentencing of the men. They were signed
by members of the clergy, business leaders, Springfield city officials
and one Medal of Honor winner. The letters described the defendants as loving
family men, hard workers and philanthropists. As a child, one
of the defendants quit school to shine shoes, sell newspapers
and work in a pizza shop, a defense lawyer said.
One woman said in a letter that Albert Scibelli
saved her father's life by paying for an operation. "A kind
and gentle and compassionate man," she said of him. Even
Freedman told the defendants that personal friends of his urged
him to be lenient.
But Freedman, although moved by the outpouring
of support for the defendants, said he had no choice but to jail
the ringleaders. "There is no question that family members
love the defendants. There is no question that these 'defendants
have done philanthropic things.... There is no question that members
of the clergy feel they are outstanding," he said. "But
my feeling is that crime does not pay and violators must pay a
Defense lawyers were dismayed at the prison
terms handed down Thursday, saying their clients' only crimes
involved gambling. One of the lawyers pulled out a string of Massachusetts
lottery tickets and waved it in the air. "My client was only doing what the state
has legalized. Not only legalized, but encouraged," he said.
"You can drive from here to Worcester and see 25 bit/boards
promoting |state-run] gambling."
Scibelli, who never said a word on his own
behalf during the pre-sentencing hearing, was involved in an illegal
gambling operation in Old Saybrook, Conn., a shoreline town where
he owns two summer homes, in July 1975. When state troopers raided the Terra Mar
Yacht and Tennis Club, the site of the gambling, Scibelli escaped
through a rear door, police said. He was not charged with a crime
in connection with that activity.
Before the raid, Scibelli said in an interview
with The Courant at the now-defunct yacht club that it was reputation
that had gotten him into so much trouble over the years. "|The police| have harassed me all my
life, just because my name's Scibelli," he said."I'm
not a bad man. I live for my kids I want them to start life off
right. They are all going to be lawyers."
During the same interview, he declined to
give his side of a federal grand jury indictment that described
him as a kingpin of organized crime in Massachusetts.
"I'm going to fight this the American
way," he said in a rasping voice. "With lots of lawyers
and lots of money."
Scibelli was later convicted of illegal gambling
and sentenced to an 18-month term in a federal prison. In 1978,
Scibelli finished the last three months of that term in a Hartford