By David Amoruso
Colombo crime family captain Pasquale Amato died Friday, March 13, at age 80. He was serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Florida when he passed away. Though Amato was by no means an innocent man, there are some who say he did not commit the murder that sent him away to prison for the rest of his life.
Pasquale Amato had been a capo in the Colombo mob since at least 1988, according to court documents. Operating out of Queens, New York, he became close to acting boss Vic Orena, who represented his friend and imprisoned boss Carmine Persico (right).
At one point, Orena began making moves to officially replace Persico as leader of the family. Though he later vehemently denied ever wanting the boss position, many informants claimed it was Orena who tried to wrest control of the Colombo mob from Persico.
When Persico found out, despite being miles away behind steel bars, his reaction was swift and violent. In June of 1991, Orena barely escaped an attempt on his life by Persico gunmen. It was the start of the Colombo family war, the third in its history.
The Mafia violence would claim twelve lives, including three innocent bystanders, when it ended in 1993.
The war also put the two fighting factions under intense scrutiny from law enforcement and investigations eventually resulted in the arrest of more than 80 Colombo wiseguys, including Orena and Amato.
In April of 1992, both men were charged with the murder of Colombo soldier Thomas C. Ocera, who was an alleged member of Amato’s crew. Interestingly enough, Ocera’s murder had nothing to do with the Colombo war.
Tommy Ocera was a very successful made member of the Colombos. He was a smart operator who was part owner of the Manor, a restaurant and catering hall in Merrick, Long Island, owned interests in a refuse-carting business and gasoline supply company. He also had a lucrative loansharking operation and ran two gambling clubs.
His keen business sense was backed up by muscle. Ocera was a former prize-fighter and could handle himself well in combat.
On October 5, 1989, Ocera’s successful run came to an end, somewhat. That day, the Suffolk County police executed a search warrant for the Manor, and seized Ocera's record books. Among these records was a datebook containing names and numbers that were shown at trial to be accounts of loans made and “vig” owed. It was a huge blunder by Ocera and one the mob does not appreciate. Or tolerate.
Ocera tried to get the police to return the datebook, but failed. Testimony provided by a manager at the Manor revealed that, in the month following the search, Ocera began to drink heavily and grew despondent, talking about how he expected to be killed. He and the restaurant manager received anonymous death threats, and, in one incident, were menaced by a car driven by a Colombo family soldier.
Things went from bad to worse quick. A month later, Ocera vanished. Two years later, on October 3, 1991, the FBI unearthed the former prize-fighter's remains after an informant led them to his buried corpse. Six months later, FBI agents arrested Vic Orena (right) and Pasquala Amato and charged them with the murder of Ocera.
The evidence against the two Colombo leaders consisted primarily of testimony by four coconspirators, and court-authorized and consensual tape recordings. The four cooperating witnesses were Michael Maffatore and Harry Bonfiglio, who disposed of the body of Thomas Ocera, Maffatore subsequently pointed out the location to FBI agents; Joseph Ambrosino, a member of the Colombo family; and Alphonse D'Arco, the one-time acting boss of the Lucchese crime family.
Prosecutors claimed that early in November 1989, Victor Orena ordered Giachino “Jack” Leale to kill Ocera, reportedly because Ocera was skimming money from the loansharking operation. Maffatore testified that before the murder, he drove Leale to a meeting with Orena and overheard the Colombo boss say, “I want this thing taken care of.” When Leale got back in the car he told Maffatore that’d received a contract to kill Ocera. Maffatore then drove Leale to Ocera’s gambling club where he met with Amato. There, Maffatore overheard Amato telling Leale that “they didn’t want [Ocera’s] body to be found.”
On November 13, 1989, Leale lured Ocera to Amato's house. There, Bonfiglio testified, Amato held Ocera down while Leale garroted him in what must've been an even more horrendous scene than the strangling of Luca Brasi in The Godfather. Leale then placed the body in the trunk of Bonfiglio’s car, which he had borrowed for this occasion. Afterwards Leale, assisted by Maffatore and Bonfiglio, buried Ocera's body later that night in Forest Park, Queens.
According to prosecutors, Amato did not appear at the Manor for his morning meeting with Ocera the next day or ever again. The day after the murder, in accordance with crime family practice, Leale was awarded Ocera's two gambling clubs. Bonfiglio and Maffatore, however, were not compensated, and grumbled in intercepted conversations about not receiving credit from Amato for helping to bury Ocera.
Hell has no fury like two disgruntled employees.
Thanks to their testimony prosecutors were able to build a case against Orena and Amato. And against Leale too, if only he had been alive, but he wasn’t. He was shot to death in a parking lot on Long Island in November of 1991.
Orena and Amato were both found guilty of the murder of Tommy Ocera – and various other crimes - and would never see freedom ever again.
Though they did have a simmer of hope when a new witness popped up and testified that they had nothing to do with the death of Ocera.
Gregory Scarpa Jr. (right) is the son of Colombo family soldier Gregory Scarpa Sr. Known as The Grim Reaper, Scarpa Senior was one of the deadliest mobsters on the streets at that time. Besides being a stone killer, he was also an FBI informant whose relationship with the FBI led to numerous investigations into possible corruption at the Bureau. Years after his death, journalists like Peter Lance continue to uncover more stories about how Scarpa Sr. played the FBI.
According to his son, The Grim Reaper also played Orena and Amato. Scarpa Jr. testified that his father said to him that “[FBI agent] DeVecchio told him that Tommy Ocera was spreading rumors that my father was an informant and that Ocera himself may be a ‘rat.’ My father never received an order from Victor Orena to kill Tommy Ocera.”
If the judge and jury would have believed Scarpa Jr.’s testimony then every case made with help of FBI agent Lin DeVecchio, the FBI’s Colombo squad, or Greg Scarpa Sr.’s testimony would have been rendered obsolete resulting in the release of dozens of mobsters.
As one can predict, Scarpa Jr. was not found to be a credible witness.
Pasquale Amato was a prisoner of the Coleman Federal penitentiary, a facility outside of Orlando, and succumbed to brain cancer at age 80. A Bureau of Prisons spokesman confirmed the death to the New York Post, but declined to provide details to the tabloid newspaper.
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