By Maarten Anthonissen
Francesco Polizzi never was a very important figure in the world of American wiseguys. A typical soldier who climbed the ladder and became a capo. His income, and that of his whole crew, came from typical mob rackets; loansharking, gambling, extortion, and especially drugs. But eventhough he won't get a place in the fictitious wiseguy hall of fame, Frank Polizzi will have a lot of influence on the status of convicted criminals, in the entire US, both now and in the future. Strange, because Polizzi wasn't even a member of one of the five New York Families. He was a member of the DeCavalcante Crime Family from New Jersey, which for decades was seen as the little brother of the New York Families. It is the only La Cosa Nostra group operating in New Jersey which was founded and has its headquarters there. The DeCavalcante Family, named after their boss Simone "Sam the Plumber" DeCavalcante, is an autonomous family. But they need authorization from New York for certain operations. They couldnt make any new members without an OK from all New York Families. From FBI wiretaps it became clear New York wiseguys even laughed at their New Jersey counterparts. One of the often used comments was: "You can't make an appointment with members of the DeCavalcante Family before 17:00h. Because that's the time they get home from work." It was a fact that many DeCavalcante wiseguys held a steady, front job. Many times they worked as a representative of a union or as a consultant at a construction or garbagehauling firm.
It is no wonder there is so much competition in New Jersey. It may be a small state, but it is the most densely populated one in the US. And, as a figure of speech, within walking distance of New York. When construction in New York was drying up, the mob started eyeing New Jersey. Both the airport and Port Newark, where cargo ships came and went, grew enormously in the twentieth century. All mob families wanted a piece of the pie. The DeCavalcante Family was sandwiched between the New York Families and the violent Philadelphia Family. And that's only Italian organized crime, not to mention all the other groups. But this growth in business opportunities gave LCN and the DeCavalcantes in particular enormous possibilities.
Frank Polizzi tried to get in on the action. Since the 1950s he had climbed the ranks of the DeCavalcante Family and by the 1980s he was a respected capo. A large percentage of his income came from trafficking heroin. Through the ports, large quantities of heroin were shipped into New Jersey from Sicily and Corsica. It took a while before the FBI could make a case, but eventually they succeeded, and brought the famous Pizza Connection trial in the 1980s.
After a heated trial, which included hilarious testimony from Polizzi's wife, Francesco Polizzi was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He had just turned 52. Polizzi's crew and rackets were divided among other capos. These consisted mostly of front companies, a loansharking operation, and a sports betting operation. The biggest source of income (drugs) had been busted by the feds. The drugmoney was laundered through a string of pizza parlors. Such a business is ideal to launder money because it only deals in cash payments, and production costs are hard to trace. (In The Sopranos Tony Soprano also used a string of snackbars owned by a frontman to launder money - Season 2, episode 3.) During this time, mid 80s, the DeCavalcante Family made enough money to cover the losses caused by the Pizza Connection bust. In prison Polizzi had healthproblems. In the prison hospital they determined Polizzi had lung cancer. THe cancer was aggressive, and it didn't look like he would have long to live. According to several medical reports which were given to the presiding judge Frank Polizzi had a maximum of 6 months. His lawyers pressured the judge, and in 1995 Polizzi was released from prison. After serving less than 8 of his 20 year sentence.
But back home Polizzi miraciously recovered. After several months he picked up his old life. His old crew was reassembled, and Polizzi got his share of the rackets again. The FBI noticed that the judge had made a big mistake. Because all of the convictions against Polizzi were dropped, the feds had to start a whole new investigation, to indict him again. The FBI unit which focussed on the DeCavalcantes in the 90s used all their powers (This was before 9/11, when terrorism wasn't a high priority.)
The feds were never able to indict Polizzi again. He died on Christmas eve 2002, surrounded by his family. Six years after being released because had less than 6 months to live. One of the last conversations of Polizzi the feds taped made clear what a real gangster Polizzi was. During an informal conversation with other DeCavalcante wiseguys, Polizzi complained about rats. It was his opinion that not only should the rat pay for his treason, so should his family. "Just like in Sicily!" Polizzi said.
Frank Polizzi got six years of freedom. Since then most courts are more cautious with releasing "dying" mobsters or gangleaders. John Gotti for instance didnt even get one day outside the prison walls, no matter how sick he was. Recently an exception was made when Genovese capo Buster Ardito got permission to live out the last weeks of his life at home. Ardito was 87, and was in the final stages of pancreatic cancer, and was awaiting trial.
It's clear you really have to be dying to get released on medical reasons. All thanks to Frank Polizzi and his marvellous recovery.
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