Vincent Palermo

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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 said to be based upon Palermo.[1]

Background[edit]

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 were in his second wife's name, an Italian-American woman named Angela, totaling $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.[2] 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.[3]

DeCavalcante's son-in-law[edit]

In the early 1960s, he met and married the niece of mob boss 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[edit]

On September 11, 1989, Palermo, Anthony Capo, and James "Jimmy" Gallo murdered Staten Island, New York resident Fred Weiss, on orders from DeCavalcante boss Giovanni "John the Eagle" Riggi through caporegime Anthony Rotondo. Weiss was a former journalist for the Staten Island Advance newspaper and a real-estate developer who had become 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. Local authorities uncovered the scheme and started investigating Weiss, and the two mob families became nervous. Gambino boss John Gotti worried that Weiss might become a government witness in exchange for leniency and 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 him by shooting him in the face.

Family scandal[edit]

Palermo was appointed caporegime some time after the Weiss murder and given his own crew of soldiers. Riggi was sent to prison in 1989, and he appointed John "Johnny Boy" D'Amato as his acting boss. However, D'Amato's disgruntled girlfriend alleged in 1992 that he was bisexual and that D'Amato would take her to so-called "swingers" parties and engage in homosexual activity with other men. Riggi ordered Palermo and Anthony Capo to murder D'Amato in order to avoid embarrassment to the DeCavalcante family, especially among the New York crime families. Riggi decided that D'Amato was an embarrassment to the family and therefore he had to go to make sure that nobody from the New York families found out. In early 1992, D'Amato disappeared and his body was never found; after Anthony Capo flipped and became a government informant, he admitted that D'Amato was shot and killed in the backseat of a car and that he (Capo) had been the one to pull the trigger.

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.

Power struggle[edit]

With Amari's death, there was no clear candidate to become the new acting boss. Riggi, still in prison, restructured the family and created a ruling panel to run it in order to avoid potential fighting for power. Riggi appointed longtime members of the crime family to the panel: Vincent Palermo, Girolamo "Jimmy" Palermo (no relation to Vincent), and Charles Majuri -- but Majuri was furious that he wasn't appointed acting boss, and he decided to murder the two Palermos and take effective control of the DeCavalcante family. He 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 that 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 the mid-90s, Vinny was the de facto boss of the family, paralleling Tony Soprano in the Sopranos, and John Riggi was the boss in absentia from jail, paralleling Soprano's character Corrado "Junior" Soprano.

FBI informant[edit]

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, informing them on the actions of DeCavalcante members. 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. Guarino's status had been rising in the family due to secret assistance from the FBI and, 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 flipped and fingered Palermo in the 1989 Weiss killing.

Government witness[edit]

Palermo was facing serious charges and possible capital offenses, so he 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 he allegedly gave his son Michael Palermo $1 million in cash, possibly jeopardizing his status as a protected witness.

New life in Houston, Texas[edit]

On September 14, 2009, the New York Daily News exposed Vinny Ocean's new life in witness protection as a strip club operator in Houston, Texas.[4]

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" (2816 Winrock Boulevard at Westheimer) and the "All Stars Mens Club" (a/k/a "All Stars Cabaret", located across the street from "The Penthouse Club"), and Houston Police say that 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 multimillion-dollar gated mansion at 9105 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77024.[5][6]

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 exposé on Vinny Ocean on September 15, 2009.[4]

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. 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, The Houston Chronicle reported that Palermo was sued by the former owner of the Baby Doll club, claiming that he had only paid $5,000 of the $1.3 million selling price.[7][8]

Palermo files for bankruptcy[edit]

On March 4, 2013, Palermo/Cabella filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Texas (Houston). Under Chapter 11, a person's assets and debts are not liquidated, but the filer is given court protection from creditors in order to try to perform a work-out of the insolvency situation.[9][10] Palermo put his house on Memorial Drive up for sale again in September 2015 with John Daugherty Realtors.[11][12]

References[edit]

  • 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. 

External links[edit]