07/06/2010 10:50 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Alber C. Aronne, Legal Mensch to the Mob, Dies at 88

Albert C. Aronne, a colorful lawyer who played cards on Mulberry Street with the late John Gotti, but who earned his Gang Land bona fides in the social clubs and courthouses of Brooklyn over 50 plus years, passed away at Cornell-Presbyterian Hospital after a short illness. He was 88.

Aronne never argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court - in fact, Gang Land cannot recall him trying a case in any court in the 30 or so years since we first made his acquaintance - but during his heyday, Aronne used guile, street smarts, moxie and charm to save countless clients many years behind bars.

"If there's ever a Hall of Fame for criminal defense lawyers, Al Aronne makes it on the first ballot," said James DiPietro, a noted Brooklyn-based attorney who worked closely with Aronne from the mid 1980s until he retired a few years ago.

"He was a great guy and a good lawyer," said Gustave Newman, one of the many attorneys who paid their respects at the Marine Park Funeral Home before Aronne was laid to rest at the Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island on Saturday, June 26.

Over the years, Aronne - who graduated from St. John's Law School in 1951 and was admitted to the bar the following year - was so well known in downtown Brooklyn that it was impossible to walk alongside him for a block without someone stopping him to say, "Hi Al," or "Good afternoon Mr. Aronne."

On one such stroll, after he had exchanged greetings with a judge, a prosecutor, and a court officer, Aronne said matter-of-factly, with a wink, that the court officer we had just passed had once referred a "connected" relative with a legal problem to him, something that was a bit unusual, Aronne said.

"I know everyone around here, and everyone knows me, but I get most of those clients on my own," he said.

Aronne, who often joked that he became a lawyer because he had so many friends who were criminals, saw his potential pool of clients multiply in the 1970s when he purchased a car wash in the heart of Bensonhurst on 86th Street near 18th Avenue, a cross roads for the Bonanno, Gambino and Colombo crime families.

Not only did the car wash flourish - no self-respecting wiseguy would be caught dead in a dirty Caddy or Lincoln - the business venture brought him a large number of clients he did not know from his old neighborhood, Marine Park. Gambino family heavyweights Sammy Bull Gravano and Jimmy Brown Failla and Bonanno family stalwart Anthony Spero were among the many car wash customers who met Aronne there - and sought him out about legal clean-ups for themselves and their cohorts.

At the car wash, and at the social clubs and bars that dotted the area, Aronne always found a way to mention that he was a lawyer, and was quick to hand out a business card with a smile. "Just in case you need it," he would say, "call any time - day or night - the service will find me."

And when the calls came, Aronne always took the call, and would get to the courthouse.

"He always did whatever it took to get there, and get there quick, to scope things out, and figure out what the case was really all about, and if he could figure a way to get the guy, whoever he was, a good quick deal," said one old colleague.

"Every client trusted him implicitly," said DiPietro. "Al was very loyal to his clients and they in turn were very loyal to him."

One reason for the loyalty was his reputation for straight-shooting. He pulled no punches about his clients' chances at trial. Likewise, if no plea deal could be worked out, he was keenly aware of his own limitations as a trial lawyer.

"People really came to rely on him," said Newman. "They knew they could trust him, and his judgment. And they knew he would always bring someone in to try the case who he felt would do the best for his client."

"He was a character, the kind of guy who did not forget the friends he grew up with when he became a lawyer," said Aronne's son Louis, an attending physician at Cornell-Presbyterian and author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Skinny On Losing Weight Without Being Hungry.

"I always encouraged him to write his memoirs, but he would have none of that," said Dr. Aronne.

No surprise there.

In the private law office in downtown Brooklyn where Aronne met with clients and an occasional newsman, Aronne had hung a blue sail fish with a long beak that he had stuffed after he allegedly boated it on a trip to Acapulco. Pointing at the fish, he'd smile and chortle, "Ooof, if that fish could talk."

In addition to his son, Louis, Aronne is survived by his wife of 59 years, Terry, his daughter Adrienne, and four grandchildren.