Part two of a five-part series on the mafia’s infiltration into Long Island, New York. This week we focus on mob loansharks on Long Island, including Tony the Gawk Augello, Joseph Schipani, Rusty Rastelli, Anthony Ruggiano, and many others in all Five Families of New York as well as the DeCavalcante Family of New Jersey,
Simultaneously, with members of the New York underworld expanding their gambling racket activities into Nassau and Suffolk Counties, loansharks started migrating out to the suburbs as well. Known as migratory creatures, these land “sharks”’ often operated in tandem with bookmakers, dice game operators, and other gamblers. After all, their businesses complemented one another.
And aside from unlucky gamblers who found themselves in need of a quick loan were the thousands of small business owners and fledgling new businesses that were quickly opening up all across the Island who often found themselves strapped for cash flow. There were many other long-established businesses that also sometimes found themselves strapped for cash for various reasons. It was a perfect storm for the shylocks. Long Island’s quick expansion and development often lent itself to a need for “quickie” loans, at a moment’s notice, in order to shore up this fast-growing commerce. Traditional banks and other lending institutions were generally ill-prepared to deal with such “spur-of-the-moment” business problems. But shylocks were tailor-made for these types of high-pressure situations.
The Crackdown Begins
Starting in the early 1960s, there was significant enough underworld activity going on that numerous police investigations in both counties had begun to probe organized loansharking on the Island. By 1965, the New York State Commission on Investigations held public hearings that specifically uncovered and targeted many shylocks and the extensive usurious money-lending rings they ran in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties. These hearings, and a new public awareness, eventually led the New York State Legislature to increase criminal penalties for usury, which after 1965 became a felony instead of a misdemeanor charge which it had previously been.
From that point forward, local law enforcement made it one of their main priorities to go after the sharks. And over the next several decades, hundreds of hoodlums and racketeers were nabbed for operating as shylocks. Dozens of major loanshark networks were investigated and disrupted, and their ring members were indicted and jailed. Soon, the Federal Government followed suit.
With newly enacted Federal laws now in their arsenal, the FBI soon decided that there was now finally enough teeth put into the federal statutes that the feds made “usurious loan transactions” and “extortionate credit transactions” a top priority of their office.
In Part II of our series, Button Guys focuses on how Cosa Nostra first expanded the loanshark racket deep into the very fabric of Long Island. Family by Family, I break down each of the six Cosa Nostra groups known to have affiliates operating as loansharks on the island. I also document many of Long Island’s top shylock figures and the usury racket networks they operated.
Nowadays, most usury cases are folded up and packaged into overarching RICO indictments brought by the feds, but years ago, they stood on their own merits, and arrests were most often prosecuted under local and state jurisdiction. Thats a rarity today. Remember too, that despite the enhanced penalties for loansharking, by and large it was still a rare occurrence for law enforcement to bring successful usury arrests. Unless a victim was blatantly assaulted and beaten, and became scared to death for his life and welfare, most shylocks successfully operated in the shadows for decades. For every one shylock arrested, there were dozens more who were not.
Each borgata will be explored below but because the Colombo’s had the largest Cosa Nostra presence on the island at that time, we start first with that Family.
One of the earliest known loansharks to ever operate on the island was a veteran soldier of the old Joe Profaci (future Colombo) Family by the name of Vincent (Peg-Leg Jimmy) Giordano. Formerly of Brooklyn, by the mid 1950s, Jimmy Giordano had relocated out to 72 Nehring Street in the Babylon section of Western Suffolk County. Once settled in, Jimmy went about expanding his existing shylock business by first opening up a nondescript little storefront along Sunrise Highway to serve as his local headquarters. Next, he started pushing money out to local businessmen who ran a string of retail stores and small businesses that included several taverns, a diner, a butcher shop, a used-car lot, a dress shop, a delicatessen, a dry cleaner, a garment factory, and the operators of several vending stalls that were leased weekly at the then-popular Nassau Farmers Market on South Broadway in Bethpage.