Vincent "Vinny Ocean" Palermo (born June 4, 1944) is a former de facto boss of the New Jersey DeCavalcante crime family who eventually became a government witness. Fictional mob boss Tony Soprano is based upon Palermo.
Vincent Palermo was divorced once and remarried. In his earlier years he worked at a wholesale fish business in the Fulton Fish Market, where he earned the nickname "Vinny Ocean".
In the 1980s he became indebted to a hospital, local doctors and the federal government. The tax liens against his property, which were in his second wife's name, an Italian-American woman named Angela, totaled $68,000. At the time he was paying a large mortgage on a waterfront mansion located in Island Park, Long Island (the mansion had a 100-foot pier). He had two social security numbers and paid alimony to his first wife. He also supports his second family, two daughters, Danielle and Tara, and a son Vincent Palermo Jr., with Michael (from his first marriage) and Renee. His son Michael is a graduate of Fordham University and a licensed New York stock broker and was an investment banker with Goldman Sachs up until his father's indictment when he went into hiding. Vincent has five sisters, including Claire and Nancy, and one brother. He was raised old-school Italian in Brooklyn. His father was an Italian immigrant who moved to New York when he was a teenager. Vincent came from a close-knit family and was said to have lived a harmonious lifestyle. Vincent was an altar boy during adolescence. When Vincent was sixteen, his father died which forced him to leave school and work two jobs to help support his family because his mother was a bedridden asthmatic. He was very protective of children, having once stopped a man from beating his son and rescuing a toddler relative who had accidentally fallen into a pool. He attended Sacred Heart Church in Island Park and watched Annie with one of his daughters regularly. Vincent drove his daughters to Brownie's meetings. He took in a troubled teenager named Richard and became his godfather, and let him stay in his home every weekend for a year while Richard studied the Catholic sacraments and prepared to be baptized and receive his first Communion and confirmation.
In the early 1960s, he met and married the niece of Sam DeCavalcante. DeCavalcante took a liking to his son-in-law and began inviting him to visit his social club in Kenilworth, New Jersey. He worked at the fish markets in the early morning hours and hung out with mobsters on Sunday afternoons.
Vincent cultivated relationships with others families—a lucrative loan sharking operation with a Gambino capo and bookmaking with another. He was also a close associate of the Genovese crime family. Vincent up until his racketeering indictment had only been arrested for the misdemeanor of stealing shrimp down at the Fulton Fish Market. He was known to say very little, speaking to only a very few close associates, and stayed away from mob-run social clubs.
Murder of Fred Weiss
On September 11, 1989, Palermo murdered Staten Island, New York resident Fred Weiss along with Anthony Capo and James "Jimmy" Gallo on the orders from DeCavalcante boss Giovanni "John the Eagle" Riggi through caporegime Anthony Rotondo. A former journalist for the Staten Island Advance newspaper and real-estate developer, Weiss became associated with mobsters from both the DeCavalcante family and the New York Gambino crime family.
Weiss and two mob partners had purchased a vacant property in Staten Island and started illegally dumping large amounts of dangerous medical waste there. When local authorities uncovered the scheme and started investigating Weiss, the two mob families became nervous. Gambino boss John Gotti worried that Weiss might become a government witness in exchange for leniency; Gotti requested that the DeCavalcante family murder Weiss to protect them. On the morning of Monday, September 11, 1989, Palermo, Capo and Gallo drove to the New York condominium of Weiss' girlfriend. As Weiss left the building and climbed into his car, Palermo and Capo murdered Weiss by shooting him in the face.
Some time after the Weiss murder, Palermo was appointed caporegime and given his own crew of soldiers. When Riggi was sent to prison in 1989, he appointed John "Johnny Boy" D'Amato as his acting boss. However, in 1992 D'Amato's disgruntled girlfriend alleged that he was bisexual, and that D'Amato would take her to so-called "swingers" parties and engage in homosexual activity with other men. To avoid embarrassment to the DeCavalcante family, especially among the New York crime families, Riggi ordered Palermo and Anthony Capo to murder D'Amato. It was decided that he was an embarrassment to the family and therefore he had to go to make sure nobody from the New York families found out. In early 1992, D'Amato disappeared and his body was never found; it was rumored that D'Amato was shot and killed in his car. In parallel fashion, Vito Spatafore was killed on the Sopranos after it was discovered that he was homosexual.
Following D'Amato's disappearance, Giacomo "Jake" Amari became the new acting boss for Riggi. He ran the family until his death from cancer in 1997. In "The Sopranos", fictional boss Giacomo "Jackie" Aprile also succumbed to cancer.
With Amari's death, there was no clear candidate to become the new acting boss. To avoid potential fighting for power, boss Riggi, still in prison, restructured the family and created a ruling panel to run it. Riggi appointed longtime family members Vincent Palermo and Girolamo "Jimmy" Palermo (no relation to Vincent) to the panel. One individual chosen for the panel, Charles Majuri, was furious that he wasn't appointed acting boss. Majuri decided to murder the two Palermos and take effective control of the DeCavalcante family. Majuri asked Jimmy Gallo to murder Vincent, but Gallo instead told Vincent about the plot.
To protect himself, Vincent decided to murder Majuri instead. Over the years, Majuri had made many enemies by removing fellow mobsters from a union he controlled and taking their money. Vincent was able to recruit DeCavalcante members Joseph Masella, Anthony Capo, and James Gallo to find Majuri and murder him. However, on the one occasion when they were ready to kill Majuri, they became nervous and decided not to do it. When they reported their failure back to Vincent, he decided that Majuri didn't pose a threat after all and cancelled the murder contract.
By mid-90s, Vinny was the de facto boss of the family, paralleling Tony Soprano in the Sopranos, and John Riggi was the in absentee boss from jail, paralleling Soprano's character Corrado "Junior" Soprano.
In 1998, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recruited a mob informant who devastated the DeCavalcante family. This informant was DeCavalcante associate Ralph Guarino, who had been arrested for robbing the Bank of America inside the World Trade Center where they stole $3 million. To avoid 20 years in prison, Guarino agreed to work undercover for the FBI. Guarino soon started informing on the actions of DeCavalcante members to the FBI. The agency gave him cell phones rigged with surveillance equipment to distribute to other family members. In October 1998, Vincent's trusted lieutenant, Joseph Masella, was shot to death, leaving an opening in the family. Due to secret assistance from the FBI, Guarino's status had been rising in the family. After Masella's murder, Vincent and the rest of the DeCavalcante leadership promoted Guarino to made man.
In 1999, the FBI finally moved in on the DeCavalcante family. Vincent had recently proposed to murder mobster Frank D'Amato and Guarino successfully recorded the conversation. On December 2, the FBI arrested Vincent and 39 other members of the family. Vincent was charged with the attempted murders of Frank D'Amato and Majuri and many other offenses. Hitman Capo also implicated Palermo in the 1989 Weiss killing.
Facing serious charges and possible capital offenses, Vinny decided to become a government witness. He confessed to killing Weiss and mobster Louis LaRasso and to planning the murders of John D'Amato, Joseph Masella, Charles Majuri, Frank D'Amato and Tom Salvata, the manager at his strip club. Palermo also implicated other DeCavalcante family members in various crimes.
After testifying for the government, Vincent Palermo and his family entered the federal Witness Protection Program. However, prosecutors later discovered that Vincent allegedly gave his son Michael Palermo $1 million in cash, possibly jeopardizing his status as a protected witness.
New life in Houston, Texas
Palermo had grown a Van Dyke beard and the paper ran photos of him. He has been living under the name "Vincent Cabella". Palermo's new strip clubs are called "The Penthouse Club" and the "All Stars Mens Club" and Houston Police say they are a source of drug dealing and prostitution in the Houston area. Palermo claims that many of his Houston friends already know who he is because he was featured in an A&E television special. He lives in a multi-million dollar gated mansion.
Palermo's son, Vincent Jr, is said to be involved in the day-to-day running of the strip clubs. Local Houston television station KPRC broadcast an expose on Vinny Ocean on September 15, 2009.
Just 40 days later, Palermo put his Houston mansion up for sale, first for $4 million, but then over the following two years he reduced the price to $2.45 million but it still would not sell so he took it off the market on 3 June 2011. He originally bought the mansion for $895,000 in the early part of the decade. Later that year Palermo was sued by the Baby Doll's former owner, claiming he had only paid $5,000 of the $1.3 million selling price.
- The Sopranos: A Dramatic History documentary
- Gearty, Robert; Smith, Greg B. (23 May 2003). "Mob Canary: I Hurt My Kids". Daily News (New York).
- Smith, Greg (2009-09-14). "Strip club king and mob rat Vincent Palermo up to his old tricks in Texas". New york Daily News. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
- Tolson, Mike (2011-10-04). "Woman claims ex-mobster cheated her in club deal". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-04-13.
- Smith, Greg B (2003). Made Men: The True Rise-and-Fall Story of a New Jersey Mob Family. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-18551-6. OCLC 51523921.
- American Mafia.com The 'Sopranos' Trial Part Three: Reversal of Fortune for Mob Canary by James Ridgway de Szigethy
- American Mafia.com: New Jersey by Devin McDonald