Nicky Dell was one of the original powers in Northern New Jersey’s underworld - a very well-respected mafioso who eventually became boss.
DeCavalcante Family History
Tracing its origins to Ribera, Sicily, and with its home base in the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, the DeCavalcante Family is the only Cosa Nostra group able to claim true Jersey origins. Mob historians claim Stefano Badami, in the 1920s, was the first capo over a group of Mafiosi which later were more formally organized under the auspices of Filippo (Phil) Amari, and later during the late 1940s through the early 1960s era, one Nicholas (Nicky Dell) Delmore, a well-respected old-line bootlegger and labor racketeer who commanded the Family. By far the smallest Mafia Family in the New York/New Jersey area, the tight-knit DeCavalcante mob, nonetheless, always maintained an inducted membership of anywhere from 35 to 50 “made” members and upwards of 100 close associates.
By 1964, with the death of Delmore, his nephew Simone (Sam the Plumber) DeCavalcante would be selected as the new boss of this Family. He would quickly utilize his position and popularity to help expand the influence and geographic reach of this borgata. Although a small membership, they had a reach into metropolitan New York City where they ran several regimes, Waterbury, Connecticut, where co-underboss Joseph (Joe Buff) LaSelva operated a crew, and South Florida where additional members lived and operated. The Family was active in many of the traditional rackets such as gambling, shylocking, labor union racketeering and corruption, extortion, and narcotics. Important members over the years have included underboss Francesco (Big Frank) Majuri, capo di decina Luciano (Big Louie) Larasso, Frank (Frankie Coch) Cocchiaro, Vincent (Jimmy) Rotondo, and soldiers Robert (Bobby Basile) Occhipinti and the notorious Gaetano (Corky) Vastola.
The Family’s real strength lie in their control and domination of several key union locals of the Laborers Union of America and the International Longshoremen’s Union (ILA), with several key Family “soldiers” holding official union posts such as “business agent” or “secretary-treasurer”. This allowed the Family to control major construction projects in both New Jersey and New York.
Although a highly secretive Family even among Cosa Nostra itself, in the early 1960s, the FBI was able to install a hidden “bug” or listening device in Sam DeCavalcante’s plumbing contracting office. For the next several years, every single word spoken by Sam and his Mafia associates was recorded for posterity by the agents. This, right after the Valachi Hearings in 1963, was during an era of extreme exposure and crackdowns on organized crime figures in this country. Sam was recorded talking about “The Commission”, his efforts as a Commission “rep” to help quell the “Banana War” and the Gallo-Profaci conflicts, casino operations in Vegas, and other very sensitive underworld secrets.
His low-key persona and legitimate cover was destroyed and before long he, himself, was indicted along with 54 mob minions for heading a $20,000,000-a-year gambling ring. Tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in federal prison, and after serving two years in jail, DeCavalcante gained parole and immediately migrated to Miami, Florida and into semi-retirement.
In his absence, a little known but extremely well-liked and capable caporegime stepped up, first as underboss, then acting boss, and ultimately to formally head the Family, John (The Eagle) Riggi, Sr., the “well-groomed” son of a veteran member named Emmanuel Riggi, had served the Family for decades as “business agent” of Local #394 – Laborers & Hod Carriers Union (AFL-CIO) and several other labor unions. Riggi ran a well-structured borgata until he, too, fell afoul of law enforcement.
As with all of Cosa Nostra in the last 20 to 30 years, the DeCavalcante Family has fallen prey to the “Rat Fever” permeating through the ranks of all the mob…but the beat goes on!
What follows below is a list of in-depth biographies for many of their more interesting members and associates.