Officials Say Scibelli Sentencing Ends Era For Mob

Courant Staff Writer

December 14, 1987

SPRINGFIELD-In 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 Connecticut.

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 price."

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 halfway house.

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