Springfield, Massachusetts mob associate and strip-club mogul Jimmy Santaniello, the nephew of aging area Mafioso Mario Fiore, was a longtime government informant and underworld shakedown victim, according to new court filings. Santaniello, an admitted one-time low-level bookie and owner of the popular Mardi Gras strip club in Springfield, (as well as a number of other businesses, including an interest in the ever mobbed up world of vending machines, video poker and slots), was the focus of the final of a four-part investigative piece penned by excellent Springfield Republic crime writer & renowned local mobologist Stephanie Barry that ran last week (read here) based on new information gleaned from appeal briefs filed in the case that landed convictions in the infamous 2003 gangland slaying of the city’s sitting mob captain, the colorful and gregarious Adolfo (Big Al) Bruno.
Both former Genovese crime family acting boss Arthur (Little Artie) Nigro out of New York and Springfield mob associates and enforcers, brothers Freddy and Ty Geas are in the midst of appealing their convictions in the Bruno homicide. The Springfield mafia has always been a wing of the Genovese regime. The Geas brothers were strong arms for Anthony (Bingy) Arillotta, a Bruno protégé-turned-rival who convinced Nigro to sanction the Bruno hit and name him his replacement as capo of the region while he was still in his 30s.
They were all extorting Santaniello, just as other high-ranking mobsters in Springfield did and had been doing dating back to the 1980s when the mini syndicate was ran by Francesco (Frankie Skyball) Scibelli and his two brothers, Anthony (Turk) Scibelli and Albert (Baba) Scibelli. At their 2012 trial on murder and racketeering charges, Nigro, Italian-born Springfield wiseguy Emilio Fusco and the Geas’ were convicted of collecting $12,000 a month tribute from Santaniello, with Arillotta the star witness disclosing the inner workings of the shakedown scams he quarterbacked with the Geas brothers and Fusco being used as his muscle on the streets and Nigro getting passed a piece of the action in New York.
The fiery Fusco, groomed by Baba Scibelli after immigrating from the motherland in the early 1990s, headquartered his operations out of Santaniello’s Mardi Gras club. Fusco was actually acquitted by a jury of the mob murders he was charged with (Bruno & Arillotta’s drug-dealing brother-in-law Gary Westerman), but the judge set aside the pair of acquittals and held him responsible anyway, sentencing him to 25 years behind bars. His appeal was rejected last year.
It was Fusco’s feud with Bruno that eventually laid the groundwork and created the circumstances that caused Bruno’s murder. Getting perhaps a bit too friendly with the FBI, a Bruno rant to an agent he knew about the state of the mob in Springfield confirming to him that Fusco was recently “made” into the Genovese Family (sponsored by Baba Scibelli) was documented by the agent (Gerald Hedges) in a report to his supervisors, a document that was included in a presentencing report for Fusco in a loan sharking case. An enraged Fusco took the document to Arillotta and the two of them circulated the FBI brief recounting Bruno’s loose lips around the Springfield underworld and up to New York to Nigro, where Arillotta hoped he would get permission from Nigro, who inducted Arillotta into the mafia in the summer of 2003, to whack out his mentor in the mob, which he did.
Arillotta in turn assigned Freddy Geas to farm out the contract to loose-cannon Frankie Roche, a former cellmate of Geas’ in prison who shot Bruno dead as he left his weekly Sunday card game at his Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Social Club on November 23, 2003. Like Arillotta, Roche turned rat and currently resides in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Fusco and the Geas brothers locked horns over Santaniello’s account in the trash-hauling business following Bruno’s felling.
Jimmy Santaniello was co-owner of a vending machine company with Arillotta and the Geas brothers in addition to the cash he was kicking up to them on a monthly basis. Over the years, the strip club king proved a personal ATM for a series of Springfield mob bosses, starting with the Scibellis in the late 1980s when he originally bought the Mardi Gras along with local mobster Anthony (Skipper) Delevo in 1989. Santaniello was familiar with Frankie Skyball Scibelli, the area’s mafia crew leader on a day-to-day basis for years, from his time in the bookmaking business with his cousin and collector Rex Cunningham, when they were filtering tribute envelopes into Scibelli’s pockets.
Per the newly-released files, Santaniello started feeding the Massachusetts State Police information on Cunningham in 1992. Cunningham was convicted of loansharking and assault from an incident where he broke a debtors arm and was sent away to prison for almost 20 years. Meanwhile, Santaniello was giving $5,000 a month in shakedown money to Delevo, who passed a portion of his tribute to Scibelli and his two brothers. Delevo, Santaniello and Baba Scibelli partnered in the ill-fated Gold Club strip club in Chicopee, Massachusetts that never got off the ground due to licensing issues.
Baba Scibelli (died in 2012) controlled the Springfield mafia’s vending machine racket. Upon his retirement in the mid-2000s after getting busted and admitting in open court that he was a member of the mafia, the racket was up for grabs. Scibelli’s soldiers, Felix Tranghese and Santaniello’s uncle, Mario Fiore, thought they were entitled to it, but Arillotta, the crew’s new boss, took it for himself and the vending machine business he, the Geas and Santaniello owned, grabbed by the foursome in a forced sale conceded to by Baba Scibelli’s son-in-law, Mike Cimmino.
Arillotta was caught on FBI surveillance discussing the issue.
“Those vending machines, they’re mine, I will take every single one, Felix aint stopping us and Mario Fiore aint stopping us, I want to be a gentlemen about this, but I don’t have to be,” he was heard declaring to an associate.
Arillotta’s rise to power in 2003 led to a feeding frenzy around Santaniello’s monthly tribute payment. Frankie Skyball Scibelli died in 2000, passing the reins of the crew to Delevo. However, Delevo’s tenure was brief and by the end of the year, his legal problems and health ailments, resulted in Big Al Bruno’s ascending to his mentor, Skyball Scibelli’s throne.
Santaniello, per the court filings, discontinued his extortion stipends with Skyball and Delevo off the scene. That changed when in 2002, Nigro sent a representative of his named, “Big John” Bologna to Springfield to get everyone in line – Bologna and Bruno informed Santaniello in a December 2002 meeting that he was to start turning over tribute again immediately, starting with a $25,000-to-$100,000 (depending who’s recounting the story) restitution installment for backpay and $2,500 a week payment from that point forward. The weekly fee was eventually negotiated down to $1,000.
Bologna was actually an FBI informant. Bruno’s death spawning from a beef between Big Al and Bingy Arillotta led to several different mob factions flocking to Santaniello’s doorstep with the intention of “claiming him” for their own.
Tranghese wanted $3,000 per month and threatened to “poke out his eyes” if Santaniello didn’t pay. Worcester crime boss Carlo Mastratatoro wanted to bring Santaniello under his protection, demanding a $500 a week in tribute. Arillotta, the eventual winner of the Santaniello sweepstakes, was milking him for extortion money in two different shakedowns – the $3,000 he was getting every month as a straight tribute and another $12,000 in shakedown cash from their co-ownership of S&M Vending.