Just a quick note before we begin. This episode features adult language and descriptions of violence that you’d expect to hear in a podcast about the Mafia. So if you have kids in the room, you may want to listen with headphones.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Well, in the Mafia, that’s not true. As Anthony Arillotta will tell you.
Anthony Arillotta: You know what you’re signed up for when you’re part of that life. You can’t ask questions. Especially like, you know, with these old-timers.
And Artie Nigro, the boss of the Genovese crime family – he was an old-timer.
Anthony Arillotta: And Artie was an old school type, brought up by the old ways. If you ask questions, they’d probably end up shooting YOU.
So one morning, when the Genovese boss asked Arillotta to drive down to New York, Arillotta didn’t ask why. But he soon found out. Nigro’s right-hand man, John Bologna, had a message for him.
Anthony Arillotta: John Bologna told me that Artie wants you to do a piece of work.
A piece of work – meaning, to do something violent.
Anthony Arillotta: And he gave me a piece of paper with the guy’s name on it.
Elie Honig: Just the name?
Anthony Arillotta: Yeah.
Elie Honig: No address or…?
Anthony Arillotta: And if you looked at the name, it sounded like “dabba-do.”
Arillotta didn’t know it at the time, but the guy’s name was Frank Dadabo. He was a shop steward in the cement masons union in New York City – a union that was under the thumb of Artie Nigro and the Genovese family. Nigro and Dadabo used to be friends. They’d hang out. They’d have dinner together. And in turn, Nigro would hook Dadabo up with union jobs.
But in 2003, they had a falling out – over concert tickets, of all things. Nigro and Dadabo had tickets to go see Tony Bennett at Radio City Music Hall with the wives. But some wires got crossed, plans got changed, and feelings got hurt.
In the end, Nigro went to the concert without Dadabo and then lied to him about it. When Dadabo eventually found out, he was furious.
But smart people don’t confront mob bosses. So instead, Dadabo played it passive-aggressive and he ghosted Nigro. When Nigro would ask to see him, Dadabo wouldn’t respond. He even stopped going to Nigro for union work; instead, he went to a rival organized crime family.
For Artie Nigro, that was an insult too great to ignore. So he asked Anthony Arillotta to do “a piece of work.”
Anthony Arillotta: I asked him, what do you want to do with this guy? You know, and that’s when he said, kill him.
Elie Honig: Did you ask any questions?
Anthony Arillotta: You just would never do that, you would never ask.
You don’t ask questions – because only rats ask questions. And Arillotta was loyal. But his loyalty was starting to be tested. He was caught between two bosses. Artie Nigro, head of the New York Genovese family, and Al Bruno, boss of the Springfield Mafia.
And that tension created a whole lot of chaos – chaos that would eventually allow my colleagues and me to go UP AGAINST THE MOB.
From Cafe and the Vox Media Podcast Network, this is season 2: The Springfield Crew. I’m Elie Honig, a former organized crime prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.
Episode Two, A Piece of Work.
In the Mafia, murdering someone for your boss is seen as the ultimate act of loyalty. It shows that you’re willing to kill because your leader gave you an order. And once it’s done, the murder becomes an unspoken bond between those who are involved. An illicit bell you can’t unring.
So when Artie Nigro asked Anthony Arillotta to do a “piece of work” — he was testing Arillotta’s loyalty. And more importantly, if Arillotta was loyal to the New York boss, it meant his allegiance to Al Bruno in Springfield was waning.
Arillotta had never done a “piece of work” like this before. He’d never killed anyone. But he didn’t seem to mind.
Anthony Arillotta: In my life growing up, something like that was common. You know, if somebody said, do something violent, it wasn’t abnormal. We did violent stuff our whole life.
This wasn’t a one-person job that Arillotta could do by himself. To do it right, the hit required two shooters and a driver, so he needed two more people. Right away, he knew just who to ask.
Ty Geas – Prison Recording: What’s up, brother?
Freddy Geas – Prison Recording: What’s going on, bro? How ya doing?
The Geas Brothers. Freddy and Ty Geas.
Ty Geas – Prison Recording: Wow, there’s so much shit going on over here.
Freddy Geas – Prison Recording: What’s going on over there now?
They may not sound like it from this prison phone call, but Freddy and Ty were scary guys.
Stephanie Barry is a newspaper reporter who has covered the Springfield mafia for over 20 years. She got to know all the big players first-hand.
Stephanie Barry: Freddie and Ty Geas were incorrigible criminals since they were young. They were very large, well-built, kind of sinister-looking guys.
Barry says the Geas brothers were inseparable.
Stephanie Barry: Except when they were in prison — which was a lot — they were a package deal. You would rarely see Freddy without Ty. Freddie, I would say, was a little more charming, a little more, you know, crack a big smile. Ty was // a little bit more introverted. He had this, like vacant, frightening look in his eyes.
Arillotta met Ty Geas while he was in prison for the gun possession charge. He became friends with Ty’s older brother Freddy when he got out.
Anthony Arillotta: They were crazy guys, ballsy guys
And they appeared to have a taste for fighting.
Anthony Arillotta: Freddy one time, we fought these kids, and he hit the guy in the head with a barstool. And it looks like spaghetti coming out of his head.
To be clear, the Geas brothers were never officially in the Springfield mob. They were Greek, and this was the Italian mafia. But Arillotta trusted them. And he thought that they might be willing to kill someone.
He was right.
Anthony Arillotta: As soon as I asked them, there was no hesitation. They were like, sure, no problem. And we started making plans about how to do it.
Their first order of business was to conduct a dry run. They wanted to see what Frank Dadabo looked like, what time he left his apartment, and what car he walked to. So one morning, they drove down to Dadabo’s apartment building.
Anthony Arillotta: It was a busy New York street in the Bronx. And it was apartment buildings on one side. And then there was like…there was a space where there was an underpass, so there was like no buildings. It was just like brush and trees.
Arillotta was told that the union guy left his apartment every morning at 6 a.m.
Anthony Arillotta: We end up uh, just happen to get onto the street that he lives on. And as we’re driving down the street, we see this guy that’s, you know, Italian-looking guy that fits the description of who we’re supposed to kill. // And I said, “That’s him right there.” If we had guns on us right there, I mean, you couldn’t ask for a perfect timing.
Now they’d seen Dadabo’s face. Confirmed his car. Observed his morning routine.
Anthony Arillotta: So now we’re ready. We know what we need to do.
Next, Arillotta and the Geas brothers returned to Springfield to plan the rest of the hit. They decided to use two handguns with silencers so the neighbors wouldn’t hear. And they’d wear thick rubber gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.
On the morning of May 19, 2003, the three of them headed to Dadabo’s apartment building.
Anthony Arillotta: We were going to have Freddy just be the driver, me and Ty were going to be the shooters. So Freddy drops us off, Freddy goes and parks down the street.
Then, Arillotta and Ty Geas sat on a bench and waited.
Anthony Arillotta: So now me and Ty are sitting there, and, I don’t know, we’re waiting. I don’t know how long it was. Could have been a half hour. Ty had to go use the bathroom.
So Ty walked over to the brush across the street. When he came back, Arillotta decided to have a little fun.
Anthony Arillotta: And I said, “What did you just do?” And he says, “What?” I said, “You just put your DNA all over a crime scene. We’re about to murder somebody. And you just put…” and he’s looking at me like, all serious. He goes, “What do you mean?” We’re talking and I’m busting his balls and we’re laughing and we don’t notice that the guy is already halfway across the street. He already came out of his apartment and he’s walking, you know, across the street now to get into his car. And I said, “Oh, fuck, there he is.”
Anthony Arillotta: So we jumped up quickly and we grabbed the guns.
Arillotta and Ty followed Dadabo to his car.
Anthony Arillotta: And we arrive just as he closes the door of his car. Then we both just put the guns to the window, and we just started firing into the window.
Anthony Arillotta: And we’re shooting directly at him. And with the first shot, the window shattered. And, you know, we’re just shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting.
Finally, they ran out of bullets.
Anthony Arillotta: You could see blood on him. He wasn’t moving. When Freddy came up and pulled up, we looked at him and the guy, his head was back. I want to say his mouth was open. And even Freddie said, he goes, “Oh, yeah, he’s definitely dead.”
He’s definitely dead. Now, all they had to do was get rid of the evidence. They threw the guns into a marsh a few blocks away, and they cut the gloves into pieces, tossing the pieces out the window as they drove back up the highway. Pretty soon, they were home.
When they arrived back in Springfield, the two shooters had one more piece of evidence to clean up.
Anthony Arillotta: So we thought we had gun residue, and we heard that, you know, vinegar is good. And we also heard that your own piss is a good way to get rid of gun residue. So when we got back home, that’s when we did.
Elie Honig: Which one?
Anthony Arillotta: We pissed. We got rid of our clothes, you know, we got into new clothes. But before that we, uh, we pissed and used piss to.
Elie Honig: Like on your own hands and arms?
Anthony Arillotta: Yeah. Yeah.
Elie Honig: Didn’t have any vinegar?
Anthony Arillotta: I don’t know. I just heard that piss was better.
Elie Honig: All right, well, it’s free. It’s natural.
Elie Honig: Did you have any moment of remorse? Did you have any moment of sorrow, any moment of, wow, I just ended that guy’s life?
Anthony Arillotta: No.
Elie Honig: Why not?
Anthony Arillotta: Um, I just didn’t, I don’t know. There was no moment of sorrow, or no moment of remorse. Like I said, it was another day. Only this time it was a little bit more serious. But the bad part was, it was in New York, and the drive.
So for Arillotta, the 2-hour commute was the worst part of a day where he filled a guy with bullets and left him for dead. Even for mobsters — and I’ve talked to many — this is cold-blooded.
The next morning, Arillotta scoured the New York newspapers to see if they’d written about the shooting.
Anthony Arillotta: That’s a big hit, you know, on the street, you murder a guy, shoot him right on the street, and you figure it’s going to be in in the papers, especially it’s going to be probably known as a mob hit. Right? But we didn’t see nothing like that.
There was a reason the murder didn’t make the papers.
Frank Dadabo: When I was getting shot at the car, I knew that I was not going to die. I said, they shoot me – sooner or later, they’re going to stop. And I just felt that I could take it.
Yep… that’s the guy they shot: Frank Dadabo.
Frank Dadabo was shot nine times in the torso and miraculously, he survived. We were able to track him down.
Frank Dadabo: When I got into the car, I pulled my jacket over my head and I sat up a little bit because I didn’t want him to shoot me in the head. And they just kept shooting me and all the shots were on the side of me.
When the shooters drove off, Dadabo tried to call for help.
Frank Dadabo: I tried to take my cell phone out to call my wife. And it slipped out of my hand. It fell on the floor, and I couldn’t get it.
So Dadabo summoned what strength he had left and opened his car door.
Frank Dadabo: I walked across the street and I called my wife by the window. She opened the window and she said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “Call 911. I’ve been shot.”
Dadabo’s wife ran to the phone and called for an ambulance. When it arrived, her husband was unconscious.
Frank Dadabo: I woke up in the hospital, like the next day or whatever.
And by his bedside, a New York police officer was waiting to take a statement. But Dadabo refused. He didn’t want to talk about the shooting. With no witnesses, the cops had little to go on, and the NYPD marked the incident as unsolved.
When I spoke to Dadabo on the phone, 19 years after the shooting, he was still hesitant to discuss it. Fear of mob retribution doesn’t go away.
Elie Honig: Here’s what I want to sort of float to you. I don’t want you to have to tell us any of the back story or any names or any of the Artie Nigro crap. Just if you’re willing to just tell us what it was like, what you remember about that day. If you’re willing to just do that even right now if you want, that’ll be it. You’ll never hear from us again.
Frank Dadabo: All right, let’s go.
Dadabo told me about his injuries.
Frank Dadabo: I was shot nine times. I still have a bullet in my lung and one in my chest. I was in a wheelchair for a couple of months. I couldn’t even walk.
With injuries like that, Dadabo had to leave his union job.
Frank Dadabo: I had to retire. I lost my job, I couldn’t work no more. I went through a rough, rough time.
Dadabo moved out of town, away from Artie Nigro. As far as the boss was concerned, his former friend was as good as dead. Nigro was happy, but he wanted to give Arillotta some advice.
Anthony Arillotta: We ended up going to New York, and I was walking with him. He said the guy is still alive. At some point he said, you got to get better at headshots.
Elie Honig: Was he joking, or was he serious?
Anthony Arillotta: He wasn’t serious. I mean, he was like, it was kind of like a sarcastic, you know, little, you know –
Elie Honig: Was Artie angry that the guy – was he pleased that you had done it?
Anthony Arillotta: Nah – yeah, pleased. Definitely, pleased. He was, like, so impressed.
Dadabo was out of the picture, but that wasn’t the only reason Artie Nigro was pleased. Nigro wanted to control the Springfield rackets. He wanted to extort the city’s businesses as he saw fit. But he couldn’t do that with Al Bruno standing in his way.
And now, Arillotta had proven his loyalty to Artie Nigro, while Al Bruno was completely in the dark. The next step was getting Arillotta his mob “button” — turning him into an official “made guy.”
If murdering someone for your boss is the ultimate act of mob loyalty, then getting “made” is the ultimate reward. It means everything in the mafia. You become an official member of the secret society, La Cosa Nostra. No one is allowed to lay a finger on you – not without permission from the boss.
Anthony Arillotta: I could be on an even playing field. I could sit down with bosses and captains.
And for Nigro, getting Arillotta made would give him an inside guy in Springfield. Someone to help take over the city’s lucrative criminal rackets.
So one August morning in 2003, just three months before Bruno was murdered, Arillotta received instructions from John Bologna to meet at a steakhouse in the Bronx. A mobster he didn’t recognize was there waiting when he arrived.
Anthony Arillotta: I never met him before. We hugged, kissed, shook hands and – kiss on the cheek, you know. He said, Anthony, put your jewelry, your phone, your beeper, anything like that. Just put it in this ashtray over here.
Then, the man offered some advice.
Anthony Arillotta: He says, “Whatever you do, when you get in there, you make sure you tell them you don’t know why you’re there.”
Eventually, the man escorted Arillotta to a car waiting outside the steakhouse. They drove to an apartment, where a different man met Arillotta at the door. He handed Arillotta a bathrobe and told him to go into the bathroom, strip down to his underwear, and put on the robe.
Elie Honig: Did you feel weird about that?
Anthony Arillotta: A little bit. I get it. I get it. I guess they were being overly cautious about who they were bringing into the family, making sure that guys weren’t wearing a wire or anything like that.
Eventually, the man ushered Arillotta into a big, empty room. The only furniture inside was a table and a few chairs. Artie Nigro and a captain named Pat Deluca were sitting at the table.
Anthony Arillotta: I walked over to the table, and I sat down with Artie and Pat. There was a gun and a knife on the table.
Then, Nigro began the induction ceremony with a question.
Anthony Arillotta: Do you know why you’re here? We’re part of a secret society, part of a family. Would you be interested in joining our family? I said yeah.
Anthony Arillotta: If we ask you to kill for us, would you kill? Would you use the gun and the knife that are on this table? Yes. What trigger finger would you use? This one.
Elie Honig: You showed him your…
Anthony Arillotta: Right. Then he grabbed my hand, and he poked it with a pin, you know, drew some blood out of it.
Next, Nigro took a tissue and absorbed the blood from Arillotta’s pricked finger. He lit it on fire, and placed the burning tissue inside Arillotta’s cupped hands. Finally, he began reciting the Oath of Omerta.
Anthony Arillotta: He told me to repeat after him, that I’m becoming a brother. Part of the family. If I ever betray this, I’ll be killed. If I ever speak about this moment again, my soul will burn like this tissue.
The oath was complete.
Anthony Arillotta: And then I clapped my hands together and just rubbed the fire into my hands to put it out.
Obviously, Arillotta didn’t keep that promise, which is why we’re here. And he’s still alive – which, trust me, we’ll get to. But after Arillotta put out that burning tissue, he was officially a made man. He’d come a long way from carrying Al Bruno’s groceries at his father’s produce store.
Anthony Arillotta: That’s when Pat got off the table. And he said, “Hello, friend.” And he came over to kiss me and Artie came over. He hugged me. Kissed me, and he goes, you know, “You’re one of us now.”
Then Nigro said something that isn’t typically part of the ceremony.
Anthony Arillotta: He made it a point to tell me, he goes, you’re direct with me.
Meaning, Arillotta no longer reported to Al Bruno in Springfield.
Anthony Arillotta: That was very, very big. That never happens, you know, a boss never has somebody report directly to him. It’s always, you know, an underboss. He’s always insulated. But because I was from Massachusetts, and I was his guy, I was gonna report directly to him.
Now, with Arillotta being made, Nigro’s plan to take over Springfield was almost complete. But Al Bruno was still in the way.
Anthony Arillotta: So they have to demote Bruno. They want to break him from a captain to a soldier.
But surprisingly, even though Nigro was the boss, he didn’t have the power to demote Bruno on his own. You see, a governing council runs the Genovese crime family. A committee of three high-ranking members who represent different factions of the family. Who’s on the governing council and where they meet is a secret. Most family members don’t even know who’s on it. But big decisions — like demoting a captain — need to be put to a vote. And that takes time. So to avoid raising Bruno’s suspicion, Nigro told Arillotta not to tell anyone he’d been made.
Elie Honig: Did you tell Al Bruno?
Anthony Arillotta: No.
Elie Honig: Why not?
Anthony Arillotta: They didn’t trust Bruno. I was told not to tell him specifically.
But Bruno sensed something was wrong.
Anthony Arillotta: He was scared. He knew he was losing power. And it was happening now.
When Bruno became Springfield’s boss, he frequently spoke to Artie Nigro and Pat DeLuca, the captain who was at Arillotta’s initiation ceremony. But now, both mobsters were giving Bruno the cold shoulder.
Anthony Arillotta: Pat and Artie told me, they said, listen, Bruno’s been trying to reach out to us.
Then they gave Arillotta a message.
Anthony Arillotta: They said, “Tell Bruno, stop reaching out to anybody in New York. That when we’re ready, we’ll call for him.”
A few days later, Arillotta picked a strange time to deliver that message. One night, he was at a bachelor party.
Anthony Arillotta: And Bruno comes in. and Bruno was yelling at me.
Bruno was angry because Arillotta was hanging out with another mobster he hated, named Emilio Fusco. Bruno wanted it to stop.
Anthony Arillotta: He goes, “Didn’t I tell you to stop hanging around with Emilio?” And // I go “Bruno, what’s the big deal?” I go, “The kid’s a made guy.” He goes, “I told you, it doesn’t matter.” He goes, “I don’t want you hanging around with him. You keep defying me.”
Then Arillotta pulled a power move.
Anthony Arillotta: So then I hit him with, “Hey, I got a message for you.” And he goes, “From who?” I go, “from Pat and Artie.” And he said, uh, “Pat and Artie?” And I’ve never seen him rattled. When I told him I had a message for him, he was rattled. He was like, stuttering…
Anthony Arillotta: The wheels were turning. He was trying to figure things out. “Why did you go down there? Why did they call you?”
Then, Arillotta gave Bruno the message.
Anthony Arillotta: They said that you’ve been reaching out to people, stop reaching out to them, that they’ll call you when they’re ready to see you.
Elie Honig: How did he take that message?
Anthony Arillotta: He just kept, you know, going over it. Why did they call you? Where? You know, what did they say? How exactly did they say it?
And finally, the light bulb moment.
Anthony Arillotta: And then that’s when he kinda like looked at me and he kinda like pointed to his chest. And he said, “You got your button.” And I said, “Bruno, I didn’t get anything.” Then he pointed and like rubbed his fingers together at his chest. He says, he goes, “You got it.”
If I were Al Bruno, this would be the moment I’d be worried about my job security. He must have known they were trying to demote him.
But turns out, job security was the least of his problems. A few months later, on November 23, 2003, Bruno left his Sunday night card game and was walking to his Suburban when a hooded figure approached and pulled out a .45 Magnum.
Elie Honig: How do you find out that Al Bruno has been murdered?
Anthony Arillotta: My aunt heard it on the police scanner and called my house. My mother answered, and she told her, she just heard on the radio that Bruno was just murdered.
Elie Honig: How did you react? How did you feel when you heard that?
Anthony Arillotta: I don’t remember how I reacted. I just remember… I actually, was a little saddened, I have to say that, yeah.
Anthony Arillotta: My mother grew up with him. My father was friends with him. And you know, us growing up Italian and you want to be a criminal. He was like, you know, the guy that we looked up to.
Anthony Arillotta: And there was a lot of crazy shit going on back then.
With Bruno gone, Springfield was Arillotta’s for the taking. But Bruno’s death wouldn’t go unnoticed – and that vow of silence the mob keeps talking about – it would soon start to crack.
Next time on Up Against the Mob.
Maurice Kearney: He was a witness to a murder.
Tom Meleady: He said he had no idea who the guy was, which we think is a lie.
Brian Warren: If we can really crack this [we can] really open the doors into the Springfield mob.
Thomas Murphy: Just destroyed the whole bar like smashed every glass he could get his hands on.
Elie Honig: I mean, were you scared he would die?
Thomas Murphy: I was certainly hoping he wouldn’t, because, you know, the whole case is kind of over if — I mean — dead men tell no tales.
For more wild stories about the Springfield mafia, and the inside scoop on how prosecutors go up against the mob, become a member of CAFE Insider.
For a limited time, you can get 40% off on your first year of annual membership.
Head to cafe dot com slash mob and get access to all exclusive CAFE content. That’s cafe dot com slash mob.
Special thanks to Megan Cunnane for her help putting this episode together.
Up Against the Mob is a production of CAFE and the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Matthew Billy is the senior producer and writer.
Adam Waller and Noa Azulai are the producers.
Isaac Kestenbaum is our editor. Lissa So-ep is our story consultant.
This episode was mixed and sound designed by David Tatasciore.
Original score composed by Nat Weiner.
Tamara Sepper and Art Chung are the executive producers.
I’m Elie Honig.
Thanks for listening – see you next time.