They were a violent gang of young men, a scourge of western Queens, who robbed banks and businesses, committed arson and extortion and murdered other gangsters in disputes and double-crosses, law enforcement officials say.
Yesterday, a man described as the primary leader of the gang stood before a judge in Federal District Court in Brooklyn and pleaded guilty to five murders and other crimes. His plea marked what officials said was the final step in smashing the so-called Giannini crew, which was fast developing into a Mafia-style organized-crime gang in Queens in the early and middle 90’s.
The man, Vito Guzzo, 33, is the 26th member of the group to plead guilty to charges that include murder, arson and racketeering and the last of its leaders to do so, leaving only one member of the group still facing charges in the case, the officials said. In return for the guilty plea, Mr. Guzzo and prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York agreed that Mr. Guzzo would be sentenced to 38 years in prison.
With release from prison for good behavior possible in about 30 years, he may see the outside of a prison wall again when he is in his mid-60’s. That is ‘’certainly better than the death penalty,’’ a lawyer for Mr. Guzzo, Jason L. Solotaroff, said, adding that prosecutors had been considering seeking capital punishment if Mr. Guzzo was convicted of the murders at a trial.
Mr. Guzzo’s group preyed on banks, businesses and other targets, staging gunpoint robberies and shaking down social clubs until two years ago, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City police began arresting people whom they suspected were members of the group.
Government agents called the group the Giannini crew for its base of operations, a coffee shop in Ridgewood, Queens, called the Caffe Giannini, one of the prosecutors, Assistant United States Attorney James Walden, told Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. yesterday. ‘’On the street they were know as the Ridgewood Boys and the Ridgewood Juniors,’’ Mr. Walden said.
He added that ‘’some of the crimes the Giannini crew committed were carried out with, for and in association with’’ three of New York’s Mafia groups, the Gambino, Colombo and Bonanno crime families. Mr. Walden said that most of the Queens banks and businesses that the crew preyed on were in Ridgewood, Maspeth, Rego Park and Mr. Guzzo’s own neighborhood of Middle Village.
In addition to the five murders, Mr. Guzzo pleaded guilty to attempted murder, racketeering, robbery and arson. The victims in all the killings were other gangsters, said Mr. Walden, who prosecuted the case with Lauren Resnick.
One of the victims, Ralph Sciulla, was killed because ‘’he was committing lucrative crimes’’ but not allowing other members of the crew to participate, Mr. Walden said.
As Judge Johnson asked Mr. Guzzo to describe his crimes, the defendant, reading from a piece of paper, responded in the matter-of-fact tones of a waiter reciting the offerings at a cafe.
‘’I killed Ralph Sciulla by shooting him in the head,’’ he said. ‘’I killed Anthony Mesi by shooting him. I shot John Borrelli.’’
His recitation over, Mr. Guzzo was escorted from the courtroom, blowing a kiss to a man and two women in the spectators’ section.