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N.J. feds take down mob-run online betting operation

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

BEHIND THE STORY: “You’re in the wrong business now, you know? You should be in the sports business,” Joseph “Joe Graz” Graziano is heard on a federal wiretap telling an associate of New Jersey’s LaScala Crew, part of evidence made public today by federal authorities who charged 13 members and associates, one of them a trucking company owner from New Milford, in connection with an offshore online gambling operation.

“They’re gonna build it up to, like, [expletive] no end,” Graziano is heard saying. “I call the kid up. In the office down there, I’m really proud of him. I mean, he has 50 phones in his [expletive] place. And, it’s nice, it’s like an auction.”

Federal agents had picked up a dozen of those charged, including Graziano, by 1 o’clock this afternoon. The other two remained at large, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

The FBI said Joseph Lascala, 80, of Monroe Township in Middlesex County, was a “capo” and made member of the Genovese Crime Family who directed “various criminal activities” of the LaScala crew, from extortion and cargo theft to loansharking.

It also included the website, based in Costa Rica, that took bets throughout North Jersey and elsewhere, a complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Newark this morning says.

The bookies used usernames and passwords to keep an “electronic portfolio” commonly konwn as the “package.” Packages also were created for lower-level operatives who were required to share their earnings with the bookies — and, ultimately, LaScala, the complaint says.

Rather than use a credit card that could be traced, the bettors were assigned or chose handles — among them, “Shark,” “Colt,” or “Ace” — and given betting limits.

“The bettor used his or her user name and password to place bets through the Website or over the telephone,” Fishman said.

“If a bettor was unable or unwilling to repay gambling losses, then the agent[bookie] or sub-agent converted these losses in debts that the bettor was required to repay,” he added. “The agent or sub-agent often tacked exorbitant amounts of interest onto these debts and they used extortionate means to collect these debts, including the express or veiled threat that the agent, sub-agent, or their co-conspirators had the backing of the Genovese Crime Family.”

Once the bookies or their agents collected the cash, they kept some for themselves and then “distributed the remainder of the money, through intermediaries, to others, including members and associates of the Lascala Crew and the individuals who owned and maintained the Website.”

The crew also pulled down large sums of cash operating North Jersey social clubs that held card games and other means of gambling and pulling off thefts of cargo that the members referred to as S.W.A.G. (stolen without a gun), the complaint says.

All but one of the defendants are charged with racketeering conspiracy. The fourteenth, Kenneth Baran, is charged with transmitting wagering information.

Those already in custody were due in federal court in Newark this afternoon. They include 74-year-old Jose Gotay of New Milford, a partner in J&G System Transport Inc., of Jersey City.

Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, the Special Investigations Unit of the Bayonne
Police Department, special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation unit, New Jersey State Police and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office with the investigation that led to the sweep.

Handling the case are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Moscato and Serina M. Vash of the Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.

Besides LaScala, Graziano (75, of  Springfield) and Gotay, those named in the complaint:

Baran, 49; Eric “EP” Patten, 35; Mark Sanzo, 53; and Robert “Worm” Scerbo, 54, all of Bayonne;

John “Jonny Fugazi” Breheny, 47, and Salvatore Turchio, 44, both of Little Egg Harbor;

“Uncle Patsy” Pirozzi, 72, of Suffern;

Michael “Mikey O” O’Donnell, 48, of Wall Township;

Frank “The Flea” Militello, 71, and William Bruder, 42, no address given.

Also arrested was Dominick “Harpo” Barone, 42, who, like Graziano is from Springfield.

Militello and Scerbo remained at large, federal authorities said.

“The acts alleged in this criminal complaint show that traditional organized crime continues to pursue its bread and butter – illegal gambling, loan-sharking and cargo theft,” Fishman said.

“The use of Internet gambling and offshore locales demonstrates an evolution and increased sophistication,” added Michael Ward, New Jersey’s FBI Special Agent in Charge. “But the threat of force or violence to serve their purpose remains the same, as does the negative impact of organized crime on the citizens of this state.”

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