UN­DER­COVER IN THE MOB

NYPD cop learned lingo, lived ‘the life’ to crip­ple crime fam­i­lies

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY GRAHAM RAYMAN

IT WAS THE ACT­ING job of a life­time, but you won’t see his name on a mar­quee.

For nearly three years from 1999 into 2002, a Jewish-born NYPD de­tec­tive raised in Flush­ing posed as an Ital­ian mob­ster mov­ing be­tween two fac­tions of the Bo­nanno and Luch­ese crime fam­i­lies.

He took on the per­sona of Vin­cent Spinelli, a dan­ger­ous truck hi­jacker and gun-run­ner with a ware­house full of swag. He wore gold watches and drove a Mercedes.

Af­ter the in­dict­ments came down in those cases, Spinelli switched gears en­tirely and joined the elite Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Force in 2002 un­der his real name.

He spent the next 11 years chas­ing ter­ror­ists threat­en­ing to hit New York and, later, Afghani drug lords as a con­sul­tant with U.S. Spe­cial Forces.

“I’ve had an in­ter­est­ing life,” Spinelli, 47, told the Daily News. “I had op­por­tu­ni­ties that a lot of peo­ple don’t have. Now, I live to play golf.”

The News is with­hold­ing his real name at his re­quest for se­cu­rity rea­sons.

Spinelli’s adren­a­line-rich un­der­cover ca­reer be­gan in earnest in 1998 af­ter he helped take down a ma­jor drug op­er­a­tion that had ba­si­cally an­nexed an en­tire apart­ment com­plex in the Mor­ris Heights sec­tion of the Bronx.

That case and other suc­cesses landed him in the cov­eted Or­ga­nized Crime In­ves­ti­ga­tion Divi­sion.

There, he was as­signed to work with De­tec­tives Richie Fa­gan and Billy Gille­spie — two men who would men­tor him and become his close friends.

“He came highly rec­om­mended but we weren’t sure what to do with him,” Fa­gan re­called. “We were think­ing about mak­ing him a cor­rupt gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.”

It took an in­for­mant to make the de­ci­sion. Gille­spie got word of a Bo­nanno gun ring op­er­at­ing out of the Aquar­ius So­cial Club on Water­bury Ave. in the Schuylerville neigh­bor­hood of the Bronx. It was con­trolled by Capo Pa­trick (Patty from the Bronx) DeFilippo.

Gille­spie brought Spinelli to a meet­ing with the in­for­mant in Jan­uary 1999.

“Billy asked him ‘Can you in­tro­duce us to them?’” Spinelli said. “The in­for­mant pointed to me and said, ‘Yeah, he would work.’ And that’s how it got started: a five-minute con­ver­sa­tion.”

To play the role, the Jewish kid from Flush­ing had to learn the lingo and cus­toms of the mob, and that started with reg­u­lar vis­its to the A. Reali Gourmet Deli on Utopia Park­way in Auburn­dale, Queens.

“They had some good food there,” he said. “I told the three old ladies work­ing there I was writ­ing a story and asked them ques­tions about food; how to prop­erly pro­nounce cer­tain foods.”

Mean­while, Fa­gan and Gille­spie wiped NYPD per­son­nel records of his ex­is­tence, gave him a crim­i­nal record, a new driver’s li­cense, a new apart­ment and a busi­ness with a ware­house.

Fa­gan said they started call­ing him Vin­cent months be­fore send­ing him into the so­cial club.

“Ev­ery­one in the of­fice did it so he would re­spond to it nat­u­rally,” he said. “Wise guys pick up on that stuff in a se­cond.”

They filled the ware­house with fake high-end goods, like coun­ter­feit Mo­vado watches and Tommy Hil­figer jeans. They bor­rowed nice suits, di­a­mond rings, gold chains and watches from the ev­i­dence unit for him to wear.

His role was to buy guns from the gang­sters, as many as he could, and pick up on what­ever other crimes the mob­sters were in­volved in.

His first meet­ing in 1999 with Luch­ese sol­dier John Don­na­dio to sell him Mo­vada watches was at Satin Dolls, the New Jersey strip club which the mak­ers of “The So­pra­nos” used as a model for their Bada Bing jig­gle joint.

“At the ta­ble, he liked to be the cen­ter of at­ten­tion,” Spinelli said. “If I had a good score, I would take him away from the ta­ble and tell him and gave him his cut.”

The 300-pound DeFilippo, on the other hand, was more old school.

“He was the anti-Gotti,” he said. “He didn’t say much. He took you on walks to talk busi­ness. But we had a cam­era in his club, and we cloned his pager and his cell phone.”

Pretty soon, Spinelli was a reg­u­lar at the so­cial clubs and strip clubs like Lace in Mid­town or Sue’s Ren­dezvous in Mount Ver­non, hang­ing with a whole ros­ter of mob­sters over steak and lob­ster din­ners, and do­ing gun deal af­ter gun deal. He would buy guns from them and sell them stuff from his ware­house.

Mean­while, his fel­low de­tec­tives were sit­ting out­side in a van record­ing what was said.

“He was like a chameleon,” Fa­gan said. “Part of it was the fact that he grew up in the city. He could just walk into any place and was able to en­gage these guys.”

He was still work­ing for a bu­reau­cracy, though. He was re­minded of this the time that an NYPD ac­coun­tant asked him to pro­vide re­ceipts for his high restau­rant tabs.

“I said, ‘Who am I go­ing to ask for a re­ceipt?’” he said. “That’s just not go­ing to work.”

Test­ing him out, the mob­sters

started tak­ing him on col­lec­tion runs. In one, a down-and-out but­ton sales­man in the gar­ment district who owed a big gam­bling debt begged for more time.

“One of the guys just wanted to kick the s--- out of the him,” he said. “I calmed ev­ery­thing down and the guy promised to pay.”

Spinelli said be­yond some light ques­tion­ing, the mob­sters didn’t re­ally closely ex­am­ine who he was.

“Ev­ery time we were out, we had a good time, crack­ing jokes, laugh­ing. We got along,” he said.

“I was bring­ing in money. They were happy with that. And all the things we were do­ing, they weren't get­ting ar­rested. Be­yond that, they never re­ally ques­tioned me.”

But he did have a cou­ple of close calls. One time, he was stand­ing in a re­cep­tion line at a mob­ster’s mother’s funeral and he re­al­ized, be­ing Jewish, he had no idea how to gen­u­flect the right way. He rushed into a bath­room and called Fa­gan and said, “They’re all do­ing the sign of the cross. You gotta tell me how to do it quick.”

An­other night, he went to a po­lice wake and then to a restau­rant to meet the mob­sters. A woman who had been at the funeral tapped him on the shoul­der.

“I said ‘I don't know you,’” he said. “She in­sisted. I said you got the wrong guy, leave me alone. I felt hor­ri­ble af­ter that, but the guys were watch­ing.”

On an­other night, he was out on a dou­ble date us­ing his real iden­tity. Don­na­dio’s brother and an­other mem­ber of the crew showed up with their dates.

“I see them and say to my­self ‘Oh f---,’” he re­called. “We paid the check and got out the door.”

In the fall of 2001 and early 2002, the in­dict­ments came down in the Luch­ese and Bo­nanno cases from Man­hat­tan grand ju­ries.

His work en­abled law en­force­ment to seize 240 guns, a lot of ec­stasy pills and, ac­cord­ing to Fa­gan, de­velop new in­for­mants that helped them on fu­ture cases.

“We know that some­where on that ta­ble of guns or floor of guns we saved some­one’s life,” Spinelli said.

Ev­ery­one associated with the case, ex­cept DeFilippo, pleaded guilty. The cases were yet more ev­i­dence of the de­cline of the Mafia.

“Over the years, all the big bosses flipped, but as long as you have gam­bling, you’ll have the mob,” he said. “Only, in­stead of hav­ing the wire room in some­one’s house, you send it to Costa Rica.”

In 2002, in the post 9/11 era, Spinelli moved on to the Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Force, where he worked highly sen­si­tive ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­til he re­tired in 2013.

Spinelli won’t talk much about

Un­der­cover cop who used the name Vin­cent Spinelli (r.) and as ter­ror-fight­ing sol­dier (l.) learned how to speak mob lingo in Queens deli (above l.) then in­fil­trated Bo­nan­nos’ Bronx hang­out (above) where his train­ing paid off. To keep his cover story real, he was “ar­rested” (be­low).

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