James Big Jim Capotorto was born in 1942 in Cleveland Ohio. He was a high school dropout though alleged to be a football star and golden glove boxer.
Big Jim was one of two adopted children in a household of 52 others his parents had fostered over the years.
Yes, 52. The family didn’t have 54 living in the house all at once but according to an interview Capotorto’s mother gave to the Fort Lauderdale News, they usually had six children under their roof at any given time, including Big Jim and his adopted sister.
She told the newspaper that over a period of 20 years, she washed over 20 thousand diapers and did some 3000 loads of laundry a month.
Can you imagine?
The newspaper had contacted her after Big Jim got into trouble in Florida in January 1962. He was arrested after being caught using a credit card he had stolen from a businessman in Cleveland.
The store manager reported him because he thought there was something odd about this huge guy from Cleveland buying so many tires and so much gasoline.
He had also, by this time, been arrested and charged with resisting an officer, three counts of disorderly conduct, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, and a federal charge of interstate transportation of stolen property – the stolen credit card. By 1964, he had two more federal charges of transportation of forged securities.
The high school dropout had definitely had gone “astray.”
Everyone Has to Start Somewhere
Capotorto moved to Pompano Beach Florida with his parents in 1960 after they retired. He was 20 years old at the time.
After arriving in the Sunshine State, he took a job as a truck driver but also operated an auto body repair shop which authorities believed was a front for a stolen car racket.
Big Jim also had a side job as a bouncer for a local club called the Four O’Clock club located in Hollywood Florida- not to be confused with the Five O’Clock club Frank Dio owned in Miami Beach.
Although he fancied himself a mobster, traveled in some of the same circles, and was even described by police as a mafia enforcer, Big Jim was nothing more than a cowboy and a bully, a mobster wannabe who racked up a lengthy police record over his lifetime both on the local and federal levels
So, keep reading because you’re about to learn what kind of whacked-out life Big Jim lived and why he lived up to his nickname – all 6 foot five and 305 pounds of him.
He was a guy you most assuredly couldn’t miss.
Caught in Traffic
Like in August 1966 when an astute cop stopped Big Jim for a traffic violation.
He remembered seeing Big Jim in court earlier that week – for another traffic violation, no less.
Capotorto had told the court he couldn’t surrender his license because he didn’t have one since already surrendered it to the Florida Highway patrol at the time of that previous traffic violation.
But when this cop asked for a license, Big Jim, being the smart guy he was, handed over the license he told the court he didn’t have.
He was immediately arrested and charged with contempt of court. He pleaded innocent was released on 1000 dollar bond and later got probation.
In April 1967 Big Jim was one of three people busted for a counterfeit ring operating out of Broward Dade and South Palm Beach counties.
Arrested along with him were Barbette Bookout and Mary Miller, a go-go dancer. Barbette ended up getting hitched to Big Jim a bit later
Capotorto had already been arrested a few days before when he was trying to make a bet at Gulfstream racetrack using fake $20 bills. He pleaded guilty.
He was later sentenced to 5 years in federal prison after the go-go dancer turned state’s witness.
In that same month, he was charged with assault to commit first-degree murder after viciously beating a bartender with a tire iron at a hotel bar. Among the three other men charged with him was Joseph Camperlengo the owner of the Four O’Clock club where Big Jim worked as a bouncer.
The funny thing about this is that Sheriff’s deputies knew beforehand that four men were going to assault someone at the Ocean View Hotel. So, they camped out and watched as four men entered the bar and four men left the bar – after the bartender already got his beating.
Big Jim and the others were picked up as they drove away. They were all charged with aggravated assault and released on 3000 dollar bond.
Camperlengo was also charged with permitting a felon to work at the club. He claimed he didn’t know Big Jim was a felon.
As it turned out, the bartender disappeared. Since the case couldn’t be proven without the victim’s testimony, all the defendants agreed to plead guilty to rid the court of the case. Big Jim got 2 years probation.
Antony and Cleopatra
A few weeks after the bartender beating, in that same month of April 1967, Big Jim was charged with procuring prostitution at the Four O’Clock Club.
While he was free on bond for both those charges, he was picked up by the U.S. Marshal’s office for violating parole from two federal convictions he got back in 1963 and 1964 for transporting forged securities.
So, by the time the prostitution trial started that November, he was already sitting in jail.
During the trial, the star witness, a 23-year-old woman, said that Big Jim offered to set her up with customers and he would do it for 30 percent of her proceeds. He told her he had many other women working for him.
Unfortunately for Big Jim, this woman happened to be a state beverage agent making a routine check for beverage violations.
His lawyers claimed that because she failed to arrest Big Jim at the time of the proposition, her testimony was invalid. But the witness said that she was afraid of the big burly bouncer who approached her.
Big Jim took the stand on his behalf and testified that he only promised her the job because he wanted to have an affair with her.
The jury didn’t buy it. They deliberated for only 40 minutes and found him guilty.
His estranged wife Barbette – they had only been married a few months – was at court that day to support her husband. But she was sitting outside the courtroom while all the drama was happening inside, reading Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.
When the judge sentenced Big Jim to 6 months in prison, she had apparently made her way back into the courtroom and cried out when her Antony has led away in cuffs.
As a side note, Barbette, a former go-go dancer, had been arrested in June 1967 for receiving stolen property and a barbiturate law violation. She was trying to cash a 141 dollar check with a male companion.
In 1968, she pleaded guilty to aiding and assisting the armed robbery of a Fort Lauderdale restaurant. The take was 2800 dollars.
Movin’ On Up
By 1971, Big Jim had stepped up his criminal activities a notch two by trafficking in cocaine. He was also extorting debtors who were in default on loanshark loans.
By 1974, he was running with the big boys.
In June of that year, Capotorto was arrested as part of a massive cocaine distribution conspiracy operating between New York and Florida. 30 defendants were arrested in both states.
Two of those arrested were alleged associates of the Genovese and Gambino crime families.
Another was a loan agent for a Miami savings and loans company. Authorities reported that close to 800 thousand dollars had been embezzled to fund the narcotics ring.
Even Big Jim’s old friend Joseph Camperlengo from his Four O’Clock Club days was indicted in this sting.
They were all charged with transporting 26 pounds of cocaine from Florida to New York where it was packaged and then sold on the streets. The wholesale value of the drug was 250 thousand dollars with an estimated street value of 2.1 million.
In August 1974, Big Jim was arrested by the DEA for conspiracy to sell 10 pounds of cocaine. He was acquitted in December because no drugs were seized.
In May 1975, Capotorto was convicted in New York for the NY to Florida cocaine ring conspiracy and sentenced to 7 years in federal prison. But he was free on bond pending appeal and was allowed to return to Florida.
What’s the Bail?
In June, Big Jim was accused of kidnapping with the intent to murder a local Fort Lauderdale police undercover drug agent named John Stanton.
Stanton claimed that Capotorto contacted him for a drug buy and wanted to take him for a ride. For some odd reason, Stanton brought along his brother.
Big Jim threatened to “execute” them both but they were somehow able to talk their way out of the abduction got dropped off and later filed a report.
An arrest warrant was issued soon after.
A few days later, Capotorto was arrested in Pompano Beach after a traffic stop.
Along for the ride happened to be the undercover agent Big Jim was accused of trying to kidnap and kill … and a news photographer from the local paper.
Big Jim who was driving a customized burgundy Cadillac, started yelling and swearing at the officers. And he threatened to break the photographer’s camera over the photographer’s head.
When they inspected his trunk they found a blood-covered ax, a bloodstained bat, and a nightstick.
The undercover agent picked up the bat, turned to the photographer, and said, “Now you know that guy doesn’t play baseball or coach little league.”
They also found a marijuana roach and cocaine residue in a keychain inscribed with, “To Big Jimmy from Big Benny 5-8-75”
But none of it phased Big Jim.
Back in New York
On the way to the courthouse, he asked the cops, “What’s the bail? 10,000? I can make that in an hour.”
He had 600 on him at the time. He also violated all terms of his bond.
Big Jim immediately returned to New York after being charged and released on a $50,000 bond for these new charges.
While he was in court facing the New York judge, officers from the Pompano Beach Organized Crime Bureau were in attendance to watch the show.
As he was led away in cuffs to begin serving his 7-year term at Atlanta federal penitentiary, he told the cops, “Huh! If it wasn’t for guys like me, guys like you wouldn’t have nothin’ to do.”
…except maybe making up stories.
The Kidnapping That Wasn’t
In October of that year, Capotorto was released from Atlanta federal prison. It seems that Agent Stanton changed his story about the alleged abduction and the charges were dropped.
Big Jim was once again released on bond pending appeal by the New York judge who sentenced him. Stanton had left the police department by this time.
In November, Big Jim filed a lawsuit against the Fort Lauderdale and Pompano police departments claiming harassment for neverending traffic tickets.
He said the cops were making him their “mark.”
His lawsuit claimed cops were threatening and verbally abusing him and were doing so to provoke him into a fight.
The cops laughed it off, of course, telling the news they believed Capotorto was “imagining a great deal when he says police have been following him. I think he might be trying to get sympathy from the courts to enhance his position.”
Believing His Own Press
The idea of being part of the mob had gotten into Big Jim’s head. He was starting to believe his own press.
In February 1976, the Miami Organized Crime Task Force arrested and hit Big Jim with racketeering charges that included importing and possessing cocaine and the day-to-day operation of racketeering through the use of fear, intimidation, threats, and violence.
He was also charged by the FBI for operating a gangster-like racket that preyed on people dealing in or using drugs including extortion, kidnapping, and robbery in an effort to unlawfully obtain money.
Capotorto was apparently making a habit of going after people and extorting money for illicit loans they never took out. He was also kidnapping drug dealers and holding them captive until they agreed to hand over drugs, money, or jewelry.
He also, by this time, had gotten involved in the pot business.
Big Jim was moving up in the world – or so he thought. But that April, Big Jim’s world came crashing down.
On April 2, 1976, Big Jim and two of his associates named Wayne Bruce Neeld and Robert “Bobby D” Dominici made a late-night visit to the Fort Lauderdale home of Patrick “Patsy” Truglia.
They came to collect a $20,000 drug debt. Big Jim demanded that Truglia give him his car and all the jewelry in the house.
Truglia agreed but his wife, Mary Lou, started screaming that they weren’t about to give in to Big Jim’s demands – and that’s when it got ugly.
Bobby D wasn’t having any of it and started slapping her around, knocking out some of her teeth. Neeld pulled a gun and fired a shot to stop the insanity.
Under the Dining Room Table
Truglia reacted and pulled a gun from a holster taped under his dining room table. He emptied 25 rounds into the three attackers. Big Jim was shot 13 times in the head, neck, and chest.
The 305 pound Big Jim was still alive by the time police arrived but died on the way to the hospital. Neeld was shot 7 times and Dominici (who had just moved from New York to Florida) was shot 5 times. Both were dead on the scene.
Police described the scene as grisly. Big Jim was sprawled on the floor. One of the others was blown half out of a wire-backed chair, his hand still gripping a gun. The third lay dead in an overstuffed chair.
A .38 caliber gun lay on the kitchen floor and more guns were found throughout the house. Cops said the house was nothing short of an arsenal.
The Wrong Move
Truglia, an unemployed carpenter, and drywall insulation installer, who had moved to Fort Lauderdale from New Jersey just 8 years prior was arrested and charged with murder.
The shootout made headlines across the country and even in Canada.
As the investigation played out, it seems Truglia had been warned the day before to pay up. But it wasn’t even Truglia that owed the debt but a friend of his named Nick Russo.
Big Jim allegedly told Truglia that “I got ripped off for a $125,000 drug deal by a friend of yours and since I can’t find him, you owe me.”
Later, police learned that no one owned anybody anything. Big Jim and friends were just there to extort, much like all the other extortion Big Jim had claimed he was doing for loansharks.
After the murder, one of Truglia’s neighbors told the Fort Lauderdale news that he had seen numerous “psychedelic and hippie types” enter the Truglia’s home at odd hours of the day and night.
In Pompano Beach a few days later, friends and family said goodbye to Big Jim. His friends weren’t too happy that news photographers had invaded their privacy.
Capotorto’s mother had apparently threatened to sue if any news outlets showed up.
When Fort Lauderdale News photographer Bob East tried taking pictures, he was attacked by several men attending the funeral, who yelled and cursed at him. One of the men even destroyed East’s equipment. Other photographers weren’t treated too well either.
On April 16 1976 a grand jury indicted Truglia on three counts for first-degree murder related to the April 2nd shooting. He pled not guilty and claimed self-defense.
On August 9, 1976, Truglia went to trial.
A Lousy Hoodlum
The prosecution claimed Truglia’s actions were premeditated murder and that he had concealed weapons in his home in anticipation of an attack.
But Truglia’s lawyer, Charles J. Rich, was so confident with the self-defense claim that he didn’t call any witnesses and left the fate of his client at the hands of the jury, comprised of 7 men and 5 women.
On August 13, both sides gave their final arguments.
Rich told jurors that Big Jim was a “mafia hood, a lousy hoodlum, a death machine.”
“They threatened to kill Truglia, to kill his wife, to kill his kids,” he said. “I’ll tell you something. If that was my wife being slapped around, I’d have shot him too and I wouldn’t have used a 9 millimeter. I’d have used a bazooka because he was a tremendous size.”
The jury began deliberating at 1 p.m. At 10:30 they informed the judge they were deadlocked. But an hour later, they finally reached a decision.
Truglia was found not guilty of the murder of Big Jim Capotorto and his two associates, Wayne Bruce Neeld and Robert Bobby D Dominici.
Truglia dropped his head and wept. So did his wife Mary Lou. He thanked the jury in a soft voice. He was a free man and later told reporters he would be leaving the area for fear of reprisals.
But this story isn’t quite over.
In September, the man who attacked the Fort Lauderdale news photographer Bob East at Big Jim’s funeral was convicted of assault and sentenced to a 15-day term. His name was Vincent Anthony Ciraolo. He had been on parole at the time for a federal counterfeiting conviction.
In October, Truglia’s wife Mary Lou overdosed on prescription drugs but survived.
Later, the Truglia’s did move back to New Jersey. But before they did, Truglia had asked the trial judge to return the guns police had confiscated from his home back in April.
The judge refused after learning that Truglia never paid the lawyer who fought so hard in his defense.
And there’s one more final twist to this sordid story.
Six Degrees of Separation
On May 25, 1979, in New Jersey, the Genovese’s Richie the Boot Boiardo, Andy Gerardo, and others were indicted for numerous charges, including a conspiracy to kill four men.
One of these men just happened to be Patrick “Patsy” Truglia, the same man acquitted for Killing Big Jim.
Anthony Little Pussy Russo, also a member of that Genovese New Jersey faction, was caught on tape telling an associate he got the okay to kill Truglia from New York and Richie the Boot. He believed Truglia was responsible for killing an associate of his named Joseph Angellino.
Little Pussy Russo was killed that April, one month before the indictment hit. Truglia got to live another day.
So, it turns out that Big Jim Capotorto might have been closer to the mob than we thought.