Colombo crime boss arrested as feds take down one of famed five families in fraud, corruption raid

Reputed street boss of the Colombo crime family Andrew ‘Mush’ Russo, 85, was arrested in an early-morning raid Tuesday

A sweeping federal indictment has charged the entire leadership structure of the Colombo crime family in a scheme involving labor union shakedowns, extortion, loansharking, drug trafficking and money laundering.   

Reputed Colombo street boss Andrew ‘Mush’ Russo, 87, and his underboss, Benjamin Castellazzo, 83, were scooped up by federal agents and New York police, along with seven other members of the Colombo crime family, a U.S. attorney spokesperson said on Tuesday. 

Russo’s consigliere, Ralph DiMatteo, 66, was also charged in the indictment but remains on the run, prosecutors said. 

Among those charged was 75-year-old capo Vincent ‘Vinny Unions’ Ricciardo, who was recorded during a phone call in June threatening to kill a labor union official if he didn’t play ball, according to the 19-count indictment. 

‘I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids, right in front of his f***ing house,’ Ricciardo says in the disturbing recording described in the indictment.

‘I’m not afraid to go to jail, let me tell you something, to prove a point? I would f***ing shoot him right in front of his wife and kids, call the police, f*** it, let me go, how long you think I’m gonna last anyway?’ 

Benjamin 'The Claw' Castellazzo, 82, Russo's underboss, was also arrested in the raid

High-ranking capo Theodore Persico, Jr., was also among the 13 alleged mobsters arrested

Colombo underboss Benjamin ‘The Claw’ Castellazzo (left), 83, and high-ranking capo Theodore ‘Skinny Teddy’ Persico Jr. (right), were among the 13 arrested mobsters, feds said

The other captains, or capos, arrested include Theodore Persico Jr., 58, – the nephew of the late Colombo boss Carmine Persico – and Richard Ferrara, 59. 

Colombo soldier Michael Uvino, 56, and associates Thomas Costa, 52, and Domenick Ricciardo, 56 – Vincent’s cousin – were also booked. 

The indictment against the crime family members lays out multiple schemes in a long-running campaign to infiltrate and take control of a Queens-based labor union and its affiliated health care benefit program, and to a conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with workplace safety certifications. 

Russo, Castellazzo, DiMatteo, Ferrara, Persico, Uvino, and Vincent and Domenick Ricciardo colluded with fellow defendants Erin Thompkins, 53, and Joseph Bellantoni, 39, among others, to devise a scheme to launder money from union healthcare contracts and payments through various channels linked to Bellantoni, and eventually to the Colombo crime family’s leaders, according to the indictment.

‘Today’s charges describe a long-standing, ruthless pattern by the administration of the Colombo crime family, its captains, members and associates, of conspiring to exert control over the management of a labor union by threatening to inflict bodily harm on one of its senior officials and devising a scheme to divert and launder vendor contract funds from its health care benefit program,’ Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said of the high-profile arrests.

‘In addition, for their own enrichment, the defendants conspired to engage in extortionate loansharking, money laundering and fraud, as well as drug trafficking.’

‘This Office and its law enforcement partners are committed to dismantling organized crime families, eliminating their corrupt influence in our communities and protecting the independence of labor unions.’ 

The feds also arrested a soldier for the Bonanno family, 59-year-old John ‘Maniac’ Ragano, who is charged with loansharking, fraud and drug-trafficking offenses. 

Ragano is accused of leading a scheme to issue fraudulent workplace safety training certifications to construction workers, according to the indictment.

Rather than provide candidates the proper training, Ragano and fellow defendant and business partner, John Glover, 62, allegedly falsified federal paperwork, indicating hundreds of workers completed mandatory safety courses that they did not actually complete – or even attend.

Instead, various defendants used Ragano’s pseudo-schools to conduct meetings involving Sicilian mafia members and to store stashes of illegal drugs.

Meanwhile they generated cash using the schools in Franklin Square and Ozone Park as ‘certificate mills’, charging $500 a pop for construction safety training certificates without providing any training or testing, according to the indictment. 

The feds also arrested a soldier for the Bonanno family, John 'Maniac' Ragano, who is charged with loansharking, fraud and drug-trafficking offenses

The feds also arrested a soldier for the Bonanno family, John ‘Maniac’ Ragano, who is charged with loansharking, fraud and drug-trafficking offenses

Ragano allegedly operated a 'certificate mill' out of this storefront in Ozone Park and another in Franklin Square, charging $500 for OSHA cards without classes or legitimate testing

Ragano allegedly operated a ‘certificate mill’ out of this storefront in Ozone Park and another in Franklin Square, charging $500 for OSHA cards without classes or legitimate testing

The final defendant, Vincent Martino, 43, was charged along with Vincent Ricciardo, Ragano, Costa, and Glover with conspiracy to distribute marijuana by transporting large shipments of the drug across state lines in vehicles from New York to Florida. 

‘Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself,’ FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll said concerning the indictment. ‘The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well.’ 

‘These soldiers, consiglieres, underbosses, and bosses are obviously not students of history, and don’t seem to comprehend that we’re going to catch them. Regardless of how many times they fill the void we create in their ranks, our FBI Organized Crime Task Force, and our law enforcement partners, are positioned to take them out again, and again.’ 

According to the indictment, the defendants and their co-conspirators committed and are charged with a wide array of crimes – including extortion, loansharking, fraud and drug trafficking – on behalf of the Colombo organized crime family.

The document asserts that Russo, Castellazzo, and DiMatteo, as well captains Persico, Ferrara and Vincent Ricciardo, initiated direct threats of bodily harm, to control the management of the labor union that they were targeting, and influenced decisions that benefitted the family. 

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Colombo captain Ricciardo and his cousin, associate Domenick Ricciardo, collected a portion of the salary of a senior union official for roughly 20 years, threatening the high-ranking official and his family with violence – and even murder – if he did not comply with the family’s demands.

In 2019, the family sought to divert more than $10,000 per month from the union’s healthcare system directly to the administration of the Colombo crime family. 

The suspects were taken to federal court in Brooklyn Tuesday afternoon and will appear before a judge via videoconference to face the slew of charges against them.   

Unlike the others, Vincent Ricciardo was arrested in North Carolina and will be arraigned in Charlotte, also Tuesday afternoon. 

Carmine Persico, former boss of the Colombo Crime Family, and Russo's cousin, died in 2019

Carmine Persico, former boss of the Colombo Crime Family, and Russo’s cousin, died in 2019

Russo, known as ‘Mush,’ is a cousin of Carmine Persico, and first rose to prominence in the family when he was promoted to acting underboss in 1973. 

Russo was sentenced to 14 years in state prison in November 1986, until his release in July 1994, under special parole conditions. 

After his release, Russo was named street boss, while Persico’s son, Alphonse ‘Allie Boy’ Persico, served as acting boss.

During his reign, he brought the then-warring Colombos back from the brink after a devastating civil war, but was arrested again in 1996 by the FBI, who slapped him with racketeering charges, claiming he illegally controlled and oversaw Long Island’s garbage hauling industry. 

In August 1999, Russo was convicted of jury tampering and sentenced to 57 months in jail, compounded by 123 months for both parole violation and his involvement in the racketeering case.

In 2010, at 76 years old, Russo again took over the family as street boss after his parole expired, succeeding the incarcerated Ralph DeLeo. 

In 2013, he was sentenced to another 33 months in prison.

Carmine Persico, nicknamed the Snake, died in 2019. 

Colombo crime family: A history of violence and in-fighting

The Colombo Crime Family is the youngest of the big five families which run the organized mafia in New York.

It was initially recognized as the Profaci Crime Family, with Joe Profaci leading the family following the assassinations of Giuseppe ‘Joe The Boss’ Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano.

Profaci ruled the family until the 1950s when internal feuds led to three conflicts.

The first was led by Joe Gallo, but this revolt died down after Gallo was arrested and Profaci died from cancer.

The family remained divided until the 1960s when Joseph Colombo assumed control, however, after he was shot in 1971 following Gallo’s release from prison, a second family war broke out.

Colombo loyalists under the command of Persico defeated the Gallos and exiled them to the Genovese family.

A third internal family war eventually broke out in the 1990s when acting boss Victor Orena tried to seize power while Persico was in prison.

The family was divided in two, and ended after two years when Orena was imprisoned. 

Persico continued to lead the family until his death behind bars in 2019.