Armando Rea, a little-known Bonanno soldier, just learned what light-heavyweight champ Billy Conn found out nearly 60 years ago when he took on Joe Louis in one of the greatest heavyweight championship fights of all time: "You can run, but you can't hide."
Rea, who left his Bensonhurst, Brooklyn roots several years ago, was found last week in Las Vegas by FBI agents, who charged him with the gangland-style slaying of a violent Genovese soldier that took place 30 years ago on orders from legendary Mafia boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante.
The rubout of Gerard Pappa in the summer of 1980 was not unexpected. Even though he had steadfastly denied numerous violations of mob protocol, and Gigante had assured him he had nothing to worry about, Pappa knew he was a marked man. And so did all his mob cohorts.
"He never went anywhere without a bodyguard," recalled on law enforcement source. "But at the end, he couldn't even get anyone to give him a ride home."
Still, the execution of the 36-year-old gangster has long been shrouded in mystery.
Rea's indictment is the first time any of the alleged shooters has even been implicated in Pappa's murder, let alone charged with the crime. And the July 10, 1980 murder case has several unusual aspects, with more likely to surface in the coming months.
For starters, Pappa was killed by two shotgun-toting assassins who blew him away when he arrived at the Villa 66 Restaurant, his favorite Brooklyn eatery for a late morning breakfast at 11:20 AM. The restaurant, sources say, was not-so-secretly owned by Frank (Funzuola) Tieri. The powerful gangster was furious that the bloody murder drew extra attention to him as he awaited trial on a racketeering indictment that charged him with being the head of the Genovese clan.
Ironically, Tieri, who would be found guilty of being a Mafia boss that September, had urged official family boss Gigante to order Pappa's rubout for his numerous violations of mob rules. These included the unsanctioned murders of two Colombo mobsters earlier that year, and most foolishly, charges of not sharing proceeds of several major scams with his mob superiors.
The Genovese family's decision to use Rea - then still a wannabe Bonanno wiseguy - as one of the two gunmen is perhaps the most unusual aspect of the hit.
Sources say Rea, now 58, and Enrico (Red Hot) Gentile, a Manhattan-based hitman who had gotten out of Attica five years earlier, allegedly got to the restaurant about 20 minutes before Pappa did. They quickly ushered the elderly counterwoman, Millie Sansevero, into the kitchen, handcuffed her to a sink, and waited.
Soon after Pappa arrived, Sansevero later told detectives, she heard "four or five shots," and then heard one man urge his cohort to "hurry up," before one of them shouted back to her: "Don't worry, the cops will release you in a few minutes."
The armed and dangerous Pappa never got a chance to use the .32 caliber revolver that police found when they responded. The shaken Sansevero told cops that she could identify the corpse: She had been serving Pappa for 16 years.
Following his arrest last week, Rea, was detained by a federal judge in Las Vegas despite a vigorous objection by his court-appointed federal defender who noted that Rea suffered a host of ailments was collecting Social Security disability payments, and had never been convicted of a crime.
"He has a lot of medical problems," said attorney Jason Carr. "He's a 58-year-old grandpa with a clean record, he had the support of his family, including his ex-wife, and the government presented no evidence that he was a danger to the community."
Unlike Rea, the second gunman, Red Hot Gentile, had numerous encounters with the law. He spent 10 years in state prison for armed robbery, and was involved in the Attica prison riot in 1970. He beat the Pappa murder rap, however, when he dropped dead of a heart attack on First Avenue in Manhattan, shortly after walking out of a well known wiseguy hangout, but otherwise fine bakery, DeRobertis Pastry Shop in 2003, at age 68.
Sources say that Rea and Red Hot each earned induction into the crime family of his choice because of their "work" in the Pappa rubout. Gentile's nickname, according to a knowledgeable source, evolved from his childhood obsession with the tiny Red Hot cinnamon candies.
Sources tell Gang Land that FBI agents began looking into the unusual Bonanno-Genovese murder team around the time of Gentile's death. The investigation determined, sources say, that the two-family caper stemmed from familial connections between the Genovese capo Dominick (Swaggy) Carlucci, who was Pappa's mob supervisor, and his nephew, Bonanno soldier Ronald (Ronnie Mozzarella) Carlucci, who is not implicated in the murder.
"I'm astounded by the charges," said Rea's New York attorney Joseph Benfante. "He is one of the friendliest, nicest persons you could meet. It is not in his nature. I am confident he will be exonerated when the case comes to trial."
In addition to Pappa's murder, Rea is charged with gambling, extortion, and a 1992 murder conspiracy involving a victim identified only as John Doe #1.