icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Reagan's Cowboys: Inside the 1984 Reelection Campaign's Secret Operation Against Geraldine Ferraro

 Excerpts from Chapter Fifteen                                                                

Mobbed Up?
Reagan-Bush '84 Headquarters
Washington, D.C.
September 25–October 4, 1984

 



      ....we had found lots of damaging information. A Republican National Committee opposition researcher had compiled a highly-detailed report on the nexus between known organized crime figures and Zaccaro and Ferraro.

      Mike Bayer had delivered the report to Art and me on September 18, just days before the NBC report on dirty tricks. It was one of the documents I carried out of the building when Stu said to clear out my files and maintain a low profile. I read it very closely over the weekend while we waited to see whether NBC's story would become a major problem for the campaign.
      Art and I met with Stu Spencer to brief him on its contents and other leads we were following. Not only did John Zaccaro and Geraldine Ferraro have business associates or campaign contributors with organized crime connections, Zaccaro's father had organized crime connections. The mob ties ran
at least two generations deep.
     The question we wanted to resolve was whether Geraldine Ferraro's ties were coincidental or reflected deeper involvement. It would have been eccentric for a campaign contributor to list "organized crime" as his or her business. Without the kind of checking we were doing, Geraldine Ferraro could
have accepted campaign contributions from individuals with ties to the Mafia and never known it. Similarly, John Zaccaro may have done business with organized crime figures without being aware of their activities.
     The same could not be said of Zaccaro's father.In the course of investigating Zaccaro's real estate business, we looked into Philip Zaccaro—the "P" in P. Zaccaro Co., Inc. In the 1930s, Philip
established his real estate business in Manhattan's Little Italy. Fighting between rival gangs was out of control, so in 1931 Salvatore Maranzano gathered his followers for a meeting in the Bronx at which he anointed himself "capo de tutti capi," the overlord of all the Mafia crime families. Maranzano
divided New York into five crime families, each with their own "capo" and territory.
      Joseph Profaci was one of the Mafia Capos. He was also a silent business partner of Philip Zaccaro. In 1936, Profaci's younger brother, Salvatore, and Philip Zaccaro were partners in a company called Bowery and Spring Realty Corporation. The two men also set up the P.L.S. Clothing Manufacturing Company in Newburgh, New York. It was this company that Mafia boss Joseph Profaci invested in, a fact that was secret until it was revealed in 1959 by none other than Robert F. Kennedy, brother of future president John F. Kennedy, Jr.

     At the time, Bobby Kennedy was an attorney for a special Senate investigative committee on organized crime and labor racketeering.Philip Zaccaro was reportedly a character witness for Salvatore Profaci when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1943. Similarly, Zaccaro attested to Salvatore's good character when Profaci applied for a handgun permit from the New York Police Department.
     Philip Zaccaro also had a pistol permit, but it was revoked by the police in 1957 following a meeting of top Mafia chieftains from around the country dubbed the Appalachin Conference. The conference took place at the rural estate of Pittsburgh mobster Joseph Barbara in Appalachin, New York. The
police were tipped off to the mob meeting. Sixty-two leading organized crime figures, including Joe Profaci, were arrested there on November 14, 1957. The busts were widely reported in the newspapers.

     Philip Zaccaro lost his gun permit because he had vouched for one of the Profacis.The initial announcement of the revocation of Joseph Profaci's gun permit came from the New York Police Department and included several other individuals attending the meeting. According to the first published reports, Philip Zaccaro had given a character reference to Mafia don Joseph
Profaci, not his younger brother. Several days later three newspapers ran identically-worded corrections stating that Philip Zaccaro had affirmed the good character of Salvatore Profaci.
     Our investigators were unable to determine which brother Philip Zaccaro helped get a gun license. By 1984, the New York Police Department had destroyed the records. But we did obtain a statement from Walter Arm, the deputy police commissioner who announced the 1957 gun license revocations. We wanted to know if he had inadvertently confused the two brothers.
     "I knew there were two gangsters," he said, "Salvatore and Joseph Profaci. If I had made such an error I think I would have remembered it."
      On July 9, 1954, Salvatore Profaci's yacht blew up in the waters off Asbury Park, New Jersey. The explosion appeared to be the result of a boating accident.
     Joseph Profaci named a son Salvatore after his brother. According to a 1983 Senate hearing on organized crime, the son was now running the Colombo crime syndicate. The hearing report said that "Salvatore Profaci is considered to be the heir apparent to the position of 'boss' in the 'Colombo
family.' Profaci aspires to regain the power and prestige the 'family' held when his father was alive."
     It was this kind of research result which made us aware of the importance of maintaining secrecy in the Ferraro operation. By exposing campaign contributions from Mafia-related individuals to Ferraro's congressional race and business associates of John Zaccaro's with mob ties, we were digging into
dangerous territory....
     While our investigations into Ferraro began as a way to defeat our campaign opponents, it had become a matter of keeping the White House free from Mafia influence. Whether or not Geraldine Ferraro realized it, her associations with organized crime figures made her vulnerable to blackmail.
                                                                 * * *
       What was germane were Gerry's connections with organized crime figures. As dinner chairman of a 1979 fundraising event to retire debt from Ferraro's first congressional campaign, Nick Sands raised $300,000 for her. Sands was an official in a Carpenters Union local. He was brought into Ferraro's campaign by Carmine Parisi. He was Ferraro's campaign chairman and also a son of the Genovese family capo Camillo Parisi. The Ferraro campaign paid Carmine Parisi $4,800 for political consulting in July and
August of 1978.
     A few years after the campaign, Nick Sands was ambushed in his driveway and shot at nine times with a 9mm pistol. Despite being hit eight times, he survived the gangland-style shooting. We had found him hard to locate.
     After some effort, we discovered that Nick Sands was also known as Dominick Santiago. We located him under that name. Our plan was to turn the details over to the Philadelphia Inquirer at the appropriate time. I was particularly interested in how Ferraro would explain the presence of organized crime figures on her congressional campaign staff.
     Joe LaForte, Sr., was one of Ferraro's campaign contributors and a business associate of Zaccaro's. He had been identified as a Gambino Mafia boss....
     In Dallas, Roy Cohn gave me some interesting leads...we started looking into a Ferraro campaign contributor named Edward Tse Chiu Chan. In 1982, Chan gave a maximum donation
of $1,000 to Ferraro's congressional campaign...

     Edward Tse Chiu Chan turned out to be a former Hong Kong police detective who
was rumored to be the head of organized crime in New York's Chinatown.Not only did Chan contribute to Ferraro's election, but he gave his address as 1 Mott Street. He listed his occupation as self-employed restaurateur.

     We knew the 1 Mott Street property. It had stood out among many of the Zaccaro-owned or managed properties because of an unusual partnership structure that included Zaccaro's mother, Rose Zaccaro, as a co-owner.

     The partnership's name was FRAJO, and at various times interests in the property passed between Rose Zaccaro and Rosina Vacca. I had noticed this pattern on several Zaccaro and FRAJO properties and was surprised to discover that Rose Zaccaro and Rosina Vacca were the same person. Rosina Vacca was Rose Zaccaro's maiden name. When the ownership interests were transferred,
the price of the properties often went up.
     We consulted real estate experts and tax attorneys to try to determine why these transactions were taking place. There didn't appear to be any obvious explanation. I wondered if it could be money laundering.
     Chan was believed to have links to a violent criminal youth gang known as the Ghost Shadows. They ran an extortion racket providing "protection" to the Chinese gambling clubs that proliferated on Mott Street. Their leader was Nicky Louie, a slender Hong Kong immigrant in his late 20s. Louie and the
Ghost Shadows, who numbered about 50, had been written about extensively in the Village Voice. By 1977, police estimated that the Ghost Shadows' protection money exceeded $1 million annually.
Louie had been arrested numerous times on charges ranging from assault with metal pipes to murder and rape. But he had never been convicted. Each time witnesses either lost their recollection or failed to appear to testify against him.
     The Ghost Shadows and rival Chinese gangs created a crime wave that extended far beyond New York's Chinatown. They expanded their protection racket to Chicago, Washington, Montgomery County in Maryland, and even Canada. The Canadian authorities were so alarmed they convened an

unpublicized police summit involving law enforcement from more than a dozen American and Canadian municipalities in September of 1977.
     In 1978, the New York City Police Department assigned a special task force of 20 officers to break the rackets. If estimates of the Ghost Shadows' membership were accurate, that was almost one officer for every two gang members. That summer Louie was playing a game of mah-jongg in the basement of the Gin Beck restaurant on Mott Street when a man with a .38 revolver shot him four times in the head and back.

      Louie survived the assassination attempt. It was sobering to think that by taking a look into Eddie Chan, we might be digging into matters that could trigger retribution from a violent gang that operated not just in New York but also in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area....

     The address of 68 Mott Street was one block from Mulberry Street, where we had identified Zaccaro-managed properties leased by organized crime figures. The address of 248 Mulberry was listed as the residence of Michael Catalano, who law enforcement officials called a "soldier" in the Gambino crime family.

     The whole area was riddled with organized crime figures. There were 53 properties owned or managed by Zaccaro in close proximity to properties with organized crime ties. Of these, so far we had identified five properties owned or managed by Zaccaro or one of his partnerships that had a direct connection to organized crime figures.
     Many properties neighboring Zaccaro's had interesting owners and tenants. The home of Peter Chin, a member of the Ghost Shadows, was 80 Mulberry Street. The house at 116 Mulberry belonged to Antony DeLutro, a Gambino member. Eugene Uricolb, a Genovese associate, lived at 122 Mulberry. The address of 65 Mott Street, right next door to the 68 Mott Street property Zaccaro managed that was suspected of being an illegal casino, was the home of David Wong. He was a member of the White Tigers, a rival gang to the Ghost Shadows.
     Nicky Louie's propensity for violence was matched by other mobsters associated with the Zaccaros. Aniello Dellacroce had rented 232 Mulberry Street from P. Zaccaro Co., Inc., when John Zaccaro's father, Phillip, ran the business. Conveniently located across the street from the Ravenite Social
Club, 232 Mulberry Street was reputedly the Gambino family crime headquarters. Dellacroce was close to Carlo Gambino and served as the don's underlord and enforcer. He often disguised himself as a priest and according to law enforcement officials had a reputation for liking to "peer into a victim's
face, like some sort of dark angel at the moment of death."

                                                            *  *  *

 

     Stu Spencer seemed bemused when Teele and I finished our rundown on the Mafia ties.
     "There's one more thing," Art said. "Don Alexander says he had a witness who wants to come forward if an investigation gets underway. He was in
business with Zaccaro on a real estate deal."
      "Okay," Stu said, "keep it up. And don't get caught."