While violent terrorists and international cyber criminals get major press coverage these days, it is easy to think of the Mafia as less of a threat. However, members of La Cosa Nostra are still potent forces for organized crime in the US.
Federal agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Department of Labor unraveled a financial fraud scheme by members of the Lucchese crime family that netted millions of dollars in illegal gains.
Headed by Nicodermo “Nicky” Scarfo, Jr., son of a major crime boss in Philadelphia, high-level members of this crime family plotted with co-conspirators to take over a Texas mortgage company. FirstPlus Financial Group Inc. (FPFG) had filed for bankruptcy and was dormant, but still had assets due to money coming from mortgages it had financed.
In 2007, Lucchese crime family members took over the company by using extortion and threats to remove FPFG’s management and board of directors and replace them with Mafia associates. Scarfo and Salvatore Pelullo named William Maxwell special counsel, while John Maxwell became the CEO.
Scarfo and Pelullo looted $7 million dollars from the company within weeks of taking control. Before their arrest in 2011, they had funneled more than $12 million from FPFG, using the money to buy an airplane, expensive jewelry, and a yacht.
Federal agents used a variety of investigative techniques to unravel the conspiracy. Retired FBI agents, including ones who helped arrest Scarfo’s father, monitored a court-ordered wiretap. Agents analyzed a million pages of paper documents and the contents of more than 100 computers over the course of the five-year investigation.
The investigation culminated with lengthy prison terms for the conspirators. Scarfo recently received a 30-year prison sentence for securities and wire fraud, racketeering, and other charges. Pelullo also received a 30-year sentence, while William and John Maxwell were sentenced to 20- and 10-year terms respectively.
Special Agent Joe Gilson from the FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency said that “The FBI remains vigilant against all types of organized crime” in a press release. It is comforting that the country’s elite law enforcement agents are monitoring La Cosa Nostra.