02-19-2017  3:56 am      •     

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- An investigation into the alleged shakedown of Providence strip clubs left the New England mafia without its reputed leader Wednesday as authorities arrested Anthony L. DiNunzio on charges he oversaw the mob's extortion of adult entertainment businesses and sought to broaden the crime operation's influence.

DiNunzio, 53, was arrested by authorities at a social club in the North End section of Boston on a federal indictment Tuesday, officials said. The indictment describes DiNunzio as the brutal acting leader of the New England branch of La Cosa Nostra who vowed to use violence on anyone who balked at his commands.

"I get to watch you die in the ground ... and I'll dig you back up and make sure (you're) dead," DiNunzio is quoted as telling a senior made member of the Gambino crime family during a June 22 meeting last year at My Cousin Vinny's restaurant in Malden, Mass.

Authorities hailed DiNunzio's arrest as another "nail in the coffin" of organized crime, which has seen nine members and alleged associates face federal charges in Rhode Island since January 2011. Last year, authorities arrested 91 leaders, members and associates and 36 others in the largest law enforcement takedown of La Cosa Nostra in history, said James M. Trusty, chief of the Organized Crime and Gang Section in the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division.

DiNunzio's arrest is the second time a person who authorities allege controlled the New England mob has been charged in about 16 months. Former New England mob boss Luigi "Baby Shacks" Manocchio, 84, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and admitted to his role in the mob earlier this year.

At a news conference, Peter F. Neronha, U.S. attorney for Rhode Island, called the indictment part of a "step-by-step, block-by-block effort" to imprison organized crime leaders.

A husky DiNunzio appeared in U.S. District Court in Providence wearing a black track suit and glasses. His attorney Robert Sheketoff entered not guilty pleas on his behalf on charges including racketeering conspiracy and extortion conspiracy. He was ordered held without bail pending a hearing next month.

Sheketoff declined to comment outside court.

DiNunzio, who is the brother of former reputed New England mob underboss Carmen "The Cheeseman" DiNunzio, took over control of the mafia from Peter Limone about two years ago, said Rhode Island state police superintendent Col. Steven O'Donnell. He lives in the East Boston neighborhood of Boston and oversees operations in Boston and Rhode Island, authorities said.

Carmen DiNunzio is serving a six-year sentence for bribing an undercover FBI agent posing as a state official to try to win a $6 million contract on Boston's Big Dig highway project. Anthony DiNunzio's son is also with the New England mob but does not answer directly to his father, according to arguments filed by prosecutors in court seeking DiNunzio's detention while he awaits trial.

Limone, who authorities allege took over from Manocchio, stepped aside after taking a plea deal on charges in Massachusetts for extortion and illegal gaming, O'Donnell said. Prosecutors allege Anthony DiNunzio has been associated with the New England mob since the 1990s and became a made member between late 1998 and early 1999.

Aside from allegations that DiNunzio oversaw the extortion of strip clubs, the indictment claims he sent a member of the mob to New York to seek permission from the Gambino crime family to shake down an adult entertainment executive from Rhode Island.

The person, who is not named by prosecutors, previously made monthly extortion payments of $50,000 to the Gambino crime family to protect his businesses, authorities wrote in court papers.

In some meetings with Gambino crime family, DiNunzio fretted about being swept up in the strip club shakedown case, the indictment said. In the June 2011 meeting at My Cousin Vinny's, DiNunzio described the search of him a month earlier that resulted in the FBI seizing $5,000 from him after he met with Rhode Island mob captain Edward "Eddy" Lato. DiNunzio said the cash was "marked money" and predicted to Lato that they would be arrested.

"Come on, let's go have a steak for lunch because we are probably going to get pinched tomorrow," the indictment quotes DiNunzio as saying.

Lato has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and admitted to being in the mob.

Meeting with a Gambino crime family representative in December in Clifton, N.J., DiNunzio discussed who he would have step in for others in Rhode Island who had been charged in the strip club case, the indictment said.

He also said he would not be halted by an arrest.

"If I go to the can, I'm still the boss. ... no matter what," the indictment quotes DiNunzio as saying.

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