Deceased New England mobster Ronald (Rum-Shot Ronnie) Coppola acted as the “set-up man” in the gangland slaying of heavily-feared Patriarca crime family strong arm Kevin Hanrahan 24 years ago, an unsolved Providence, Rhode Island homicide receiving renewed attention by investigators in recent months, according to sources familiar with the state and federal probe. Coppola’s best friend, then-Patriarca underboss Robert (Bobby the Cigar) DeLuca, has revealed fresh intelligence on the Hanrahan hit after being arrested in July while living in the Witness Protection Program in Florida for lying to the FBI regarding what he knew about separate notorious east coast mob murder. DeLuca, 71, pled guilty to conspiracy in the Hanrahan murder this week.

Coppola, who was killed himself two years later in a dispute that arose at a card game, dined with Hanrahan the night he was shot to death in Federal Hill (Rhode Island’s Little Italy) on September 18, 1992 and allegedly passed word to him that he was being summoned to a post-meal meeting with other unnamed mobsters in which he was gunned down on his way to. The 39-year old Hanrahan reportedly angered his superiors in the mafia for his rogue behavior.

Some with intimidate knowledge of the situation, believe Coppola, 55, may have been unaware he was sending Hanrahan to his execution. Less than a half-hour following Hanrahan taking five bullets to the face, head and neck at the corner of Atwells and Pequot, Coppola took a meeting with DeLuca and another New England mob button man, Edward (Little Eddie) Lato, in a booth at Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Restaurant at the same time he was originally supposed to reconvene with Hanrahan there and left looking “ashen,” per first-hand accounts. Hanrahan succumbed to his wounds at the hospital.

Coppola had treated Hanrahan and a group of friends that evening to an expensive steak dinner at the Arch, back then a trendy restaurant in Federal Hill, according to police records. During the meal, Hanrahan boasted of a “big score” he expected to come into soon. Hanrahan, per court filings, was in the process of trying to poach a bookmaker from Patriarca syndicate captain Anthony (The Saint) St. Laurent, like Coppola and DeLuca spawning from the crime family’s Providence faction.

Last week, a physically-ailing St. Laurent, 75, was released from a federal prison hospital on the heels of a decade behind bars for extortion and attempted murder. In 2006, the Saint tried unsuccessfully to recruit a pair of FBI informants to kill DeLuca for him. DeLuca and St. Laurent were busted together in 1993 for running a bookmaking business together out of the Foxy Lady strip club.

An FBI informant told authorities that Hanrahan was muscling one of St. Laurent’s bookies for a shakedown of $100,000 and that the bookie went to St. Laurent for help, who in turn sent word through an intermediary to then-New England mob don Francis (Cadillac Frank) Salemme in Boston of Hanrahan’s unsanctioned overtures. On September 16, 1992, the bookie gave St. Laurent $25,000, per court documents related to the Saint’s murder-for-hire conviction and Hanrahan was bumped off 48 hours later.

DeLuca acted as Salemme’s aide-de-camp in Rhode Island. Cadillac Frank Salemme was dragged out of the Witness Protection Program this past summer too and smacked with charges tied to the May 1993 murder of mob associate, Boston nightclub owner and confidential FBI informant Stevie DiSarro (he’s pled not guilty). According to sources, the 83-year old Salemme and St. Laurent are getting eyed by investigators for possibly setting the Hanrahan hit in motion.

Rum-Shot Ronnie Coppola, nicknamed after his drink of choice and his well-known hard-partying ways, came up with Bobby the Cigar DeLuca in a Patriarca crew ran by old-school Providence capo Edward (Eddie Mulligan) Romano out of the El Dorado restaurant in the city’s North End. They were arrested together in 1971 for pistol-whipping an indebted gambler in front of a Romano-controlled social club. Coppola was nailed for defrauding a man out of a horse ranch in 1973 and after a stint in prison emerged as Romano’s right-hand man and conduit to his North End gambling, shylocking and shakedown rackets until late in the 1980s when they had a falling out and he realigned with DeLuca, who had wisely attached his fortunes to Salemme’s rising star.

Salemme and Romano were both close to the crime family’s namesake Raymond Patriarca, who for years ruled the New England underworld from his Federal Hill stomping grounds. Patriarca died of a sudden heart attack in 1984 and turned over the reins of his mob empire to his less-than-able progeny, Raymond Patriarca, Jr.

By the end of the decade, the mafia in New England was engulfed in a shooting war that lasted well into the 1990s and pitted Patriarca, Jr. and Salemme against Boston capos Joe (J.R.) Russo and Vincent (Vinnie the Animal) Ferrara. Cadillac Frank survived a June 1989 assassination attempt, getting shot several times in a Saugus, Massachusetts’ International House of Pancakes parking lot but living to eventually become boss in the ensuing months upon Patriarca, Jr. retiring and Russo and Ferrara being imprisoned.

The charismatic, yet silently-sadistic Salemme’s ascent to the throne did little to halt the bloodshed as he went about settling debts on the street new and old at a furious pace. Those still loyal to Russo and Ferrara in the can and free fought back. This climate of distrust and instability were clearly contributing factors in the circumstances that led to Ronnie Coppola’s murder.

Coppola and an underling of his named Peter Scarpellino were killed by Nino Cucinotta, a made man in the Patriarca borgata and driver and bodyguard for Patriarca, Jr., in the early hours of April 1, 1994 at the Hockey Fans Social Club in Cranston, Rhode Island (formerly the St. Mary’s Social Club). Coppola ran a card game there and Cucinotta took offense when Coppola had Scarpellino toss him out of the club for Coppola’s belief that Cucinotta was cheating. Cucinotta left the club for an hour before returning and shooting Coppola and Scarpellino at point-blank range as they sat playing poker.

Just hours earlier, Salemme’s two bodyguards and top enforcers Richard (Richie the Hatchet) Devlin and Richard (Richie Nine Lives) Gillis came under gunfire in their car outside an East Boston mob hangout frequented by Russo’s crew. Gillis survived, Devlin, adorned in a bullet proof vest, wasn’t so lucky, getting shot in the middle of the forehead straight through the vehicle’s windshield.

Per FBI files, DeLuca and Romano handled the arrangements and finances for Coppola’s funeral. DeLuca would be convicted of extortion the following year for collecting outstanding gambling and loansharking debts owed to Rum-Shot Ronnie before he died.

Worried for his safety, the Sicilian-born Cucinotta took refuge with the government and entered the Witness Protection Program. He was inducted into the Patriarca clan at the same October 5, 1977 making ceremony as Patriarca, Jr. and other historically-significant Providence mobsters such as William (Billy Blackjack) Delsanto, Pasquale (Pat the Piece) Galea, Rudolph (Captain Rudy) Sciarra, Frank (Bobo) Marapese and Matthew (Good Looking Matty) Guglielmetti.

Cucinotta and Patriarca, Jr. allegedly “made their bones” a year prior by setting up local low-level Rhode Island hoodlum Johnny Carr to be killed by Delsanto and Marapese, according to court records. As of today, Delsanto is retired and Marapese behind bars. Guglielmetti is the New England mob’s reputed current underboss. Galea died of natural causes last January. Sciarra passed peacefully in 2012.

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