In his debut as a government witness, Michael (Mickey) Souza, the latest turncoat mobster, testified at the trial of Genovese capo Anthony (Tico) Antico that he knew the wiseguy meaning of Christmas: "It's when your pockets get full usually."
Gang Land learned last week however that Souza was the source last year of one of the worst Yuletide season tips in Gang Land history: The snitch told the feds that a Christmas party at a Brooklyn social club was going to be an induction ceremony for an up and coming wannabe wiseguy in the Bonanno crime family.
As a result of Souza's information, sources say, dozens of heavily armed federal drug agents staged a raid on the club. There, they herded scores of mostly elderly partygoers out of the Banner Social Club and into the cold for upwards of two hours while they and the club were searched, ostensibly for drugs, weapons and other contraband that were nowhere to be found.
It turns out, sources tell Gang Land, that what the SWAT team of agents clad in dark blue jackets with big white letters "DEA" across their backs was really looking for were pictures of saints, a gun, a knife, and some Bonanno family heavyweights in the middle of a Mafia initiation rite.
That was because, according to the sources, Souza had assured the feds that James Malpeso, a hulking family associate and accused loanshark, was just one of the proposed members who was going to become a "made man" that night. Souza had been behind bars since his arrest on drug, racketeering and murder conspiracy charges in 2006, but he was released on bail for medical reasons last June, and remained free for nine months, according to his testimony at Antico's trial.
Souza was on the money about Malpeso, and several Bonanno wiseguys being present at the Brooklyn social club in Bensonhurst. But so were dozens of aging neighborhood denizens without criminal records or reputed mob ties. That was pretty convincing evidence that the attendees were looking to make merry - not to make any new mobsters.
The saga of the raid by the DEA Grinches and assorted other federal killjoys was disclosed by Gang Land last December, although the reasoning behind the holiday spoiler was not known at the time.
Now it all makes sense. The feds were so excited about the possibility of disrupting a mob induction ceremony of one of the notorious Five Families for the first time that they turned out some top guns for the court-authorized raid: On the scene for what turned out to be a harmless geezer roundup were assistant U.S. attorneys Nicole Argentieri and John Buretta, the chief of the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's office. FBI organized crime supervisor George Khouzami also was on the scene to see it for himself.
Not that the feds lacked reason to believe their informant: Sources say that Souza's report about the induction ceremony included a tape-recorded conversation between him and Malpeso.
After fizzling all the holiday spirits at the club, the federal narcs took names and examined the cell phones of the dispirited revelers. Then they bid most of them a good night, and, according to one source, added a sarcastic "Have a nice evening."
But they held onto Malpeso, 40, and Bonanno capos Anthony Calabrese, 42, and Vincent (Vinny TV) Badalamenti, 53. The drug agents handcuffed all three men and took them in separate cars - the better to try to question and/or flip them - to DEA headquarters in Manhattan where they were photographed and fingerprinted as though they were going to be arrested, but then told they were free to leave.
As they have since Gang Land disclosed the raid last December, the DEA, FBI and U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment.
"They were obviously acting on bad information from Souza," said Malpeso's lawyer, Vincent Romano. "My client was not being inducted, nor does he desire to be inducted into a crime family. He was merely attending a Christmas party," said Romano.
Today, Malpeso is still an unmade man, sources say. And he is likely to remain one for the foreseeable future, even if his lawyer is mistaken about his client's ultimate wishes.
That's because a few months after he thought he was being arrested by the DEA, he was arrested by the FBI - and jailed without bail - on federal loansharking and extortion charges that could mean up to 20 years in prison.
Despite a finding by pretrial services that bail was appropriate, a judge ruled that Malpeso was a danger to the community and detained him when prosecutor Argentieri disclosed that Malpeso was heard and videotaped threatening to shoot his victim in the stomach as they sat in the gangster's car last February 15.
"I'm going to put a hole in you somewhere, either here or at your house. That's a fucking promise," Malpeso was heard saying as a video caught him holding a handgun, according to an arrest complaint written by FBI agent Robert Ypelaar.