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Paolo LiCastri was smuggled into the country by Carlo Gambino's cousin, Paolo. LiCastri snuck into New York City with a "throwaway passport" and his own cunning. LiCastri was all but illiterate and had no money when he first arrived to the U.S. He settled in an apartment on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn where he worked as an apprentice pizza maker at La Dolce Vita, a pizza parlor in Bushwick. He later worked under John, Rosario and Giuseppe Gambino in the heroin trafficking business. LiCastri was born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily and a Man of Honor in the Palermo Mafia who was a soldier of Enzo Napoli and Carmine Galante. He was a regular habitué of Bonanno crime family consigliere Nicholas Marangello's Toyland Social Club in Little Italy, Manhattan.
Activities in America
He moved into an apartment in Bushwick located on Knickerbocker Avenue, a territory run by capo Salvatore Catalano. When LiCastri was not out committing criminal activities for Carmine Galante or Salvatore Catalano he worked at Catalano's pizzeria on 18th Avenue. He would be with fellow Sicilian illegal immigrants sifting flour, kneading dough, hauling cartons and swabbing floors, opening the pizzeria early in the morning and closing late at night. As the occasion arose, Paolo worked as an armed burglar, a contract killer and a prodigious heroin courier. When smuggling heroin LiCastri would use roundabout routes on his delivery runs, making furtive entrances and exits while transporting the heroin in cardboard boxes or paper bags. He changed passports regularly and was an obscure figure that blended in anonymously with the community. He was skillful in subterfuge and martially disciplined. A Bonanno crime family soldier Anthony Mirra would later tell Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent Joseph Pistone that LiCastri and the other Sicilians were secretive and clannish in nature. Paolo would joke to the members of Robert's Lounge that he was in the air conditioner repair business because he "put holes in people". He later worked for Cesare Bonventre and Baldassare Amato in 1976. Paolo avoided police detection and prosecution in part because so many illegal aliens were employed at the pizza parlors. He was unidentifiable in the U.S., having no fingerprints or Social Security number.
After arriving in the U.S. he became an associate with the Gambino crime family. In exchange for the Gambino crime family's blessing involving the Lufthansa Heist, Jimmy Burke was to turn over $200,000 or 10% of the estimated $2 million. An additional clause was that the Burke gang would be supplemented with Gambino Family member Paolo LiCastri, who served as an "enforcer of the mob's interest." He was brought in by Carmine Galante (later Philip Rastelli) and Carlo Gambino, who were collaborating on setting Paolo and other "zips" in pizza-parlor businesses in the East and Midwest and leaving them there until the bosses needed him to do something. After the Lufthansa heist Paolo took the BMT Myrtle Avenue Line home. He was being used as a heroin courier and hitman. The heroin smuggling operation would later be exposed in the 1987 Pizza Connection Trial. Paolo LiCastri was suspected of being hired to execute Joe Manri and Robert McMahon for $50,000, and was killed by Jimmy Burke.
Deportation and return to United States
After a murder conviction in 1975 he was deported, but during the fall of that year he was smuggled back in. After he was deported in 1976, that October he was brought back into the country through an organized international ring headed by Giuseppe, Paolo and Rosario Gambino. A certain travel agent in Sicily collected $500, sold LiCastri an airline ticket to Montreal, Quebec and was given a business card for the Laurentian Hotel in Montreal or the Royal Motel in Lachine, Quebec. After Paolo checked in he waited for Paolo Gambino or Giuseppe Gambino who collected another $500 and either brother, took LiCastri over the Canadian–U.S. border.
LiCastri was a suspect in the Lufthansa Heist. On June 13, 1979, his bullet-riddled, shirtless, and shoeless corpse was discovered on a smoldering trash heap in a deserted Flatlands, Brooklyn lot known to locals as "The Pit" and described as a place "where you dump things". His body was so burned and badly decomposed that forensic scientists could not tell the body's age, race, or even sex. He was later identified by dental records.
In popular culture
- In the 2001 television movie The Big Heist the "Paolo Falcone" character, portrayed by actor Joe Maruzzo, is based on LiCastri.
- Pileggi, Nicholas, Wiseguy: Life In A Mafia Family, Corgi (1987) ISBN 0-552-13094-X
- Pistone, Joseph D. and Woodley, Richard, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia Random House Value Publishing (February 1990) ISBN 5-552-53129-9
- Sterling, Claire, Octopus: The Long Reach of the International Sicilian Mafia Touchstone Books (February 1991) ISBN 0-671-73402-4
- "Gangsters & Outlaws/Unique Gang Organizations All About the Lufthansa Heist" at www.crimelibrary.com by Allan May