Alfonso D'Arco, Mob Boss, Turncoat: His Extraordinary Story Detailed in New Book
FBI surveillance photo (Wikipedia) Alfonso "Little Al" D'Arco
For authors Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins, the long road to their fascinating new book about mafia boss Alfonso D'Arco, who became the federal government's most successful cooperator, began a decade ago.
In Mob Boss: The Life of Little Al, the Man Who Brought Down the Mafia, which hits bookstores today, Capeci and Robbins detail D'Arco's rise in the Lucchese crime family and his eventual decision to flip and help the government imprison 50 fellow mafiosi.
D'Arco is an extraordinary figure in city history--perhaps the last old-fashioned mobster, a man who stayed so far under law enforcement radar that when he agreed to cooperate in 1991, the feds didn't even have a case against him. He was also a killer who ordered hits, conducted at least one himself, and firebombed a Times Square strip club.
But the cloak-and-dagger story behind the story is almost as interesting.
Capeci (and Robbins) had covered some of the trials that D'Arco testified in during his 10 years as a cooperator. Around 2003, when D'Arco was finally sentenced for his own crimes, Capeci initially considered writing a book. At the time, of course, D'Arco was in the witness protection program (where he remains today), so Capeci had to approach D'Arco through back channels.
But the project stalled as D'Arco never responded and the intermediary passed away. And then a few years ago, D'Arco, nearing his late '70s, reached out to Capeci, again through an intermediary, and indicated he was interested in talking.
"He said he knew I had been interested in doing a book, and at this stage of his life, he was interested," Capeci tells the Voice.
Capeci, a former Daily News reporter who writes the "Gangland News" internet column, brought in Robbins, a former Daily News reporter and Village Voice staff writer.
The two longtime city journalists had worked together before. When Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes put FBI agent Lindsay Devecchio on trial for his alleged ties to the mob, Capeci and Robbins famously produced a recording of Hynes's key witness that exposed her as a liar. The charges against Devecchio were dropped.
"We basically went back and forth in circuitous ways to work out an agreement with Al," Capeci says.
One of the reasons that D'Arco flipped in 1991 was that he was certain his bosses, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso and Vic Amuso, were going to whack him. As a result, even 18 years later, security was a concern.
Finally, they met, in a "neutral site," a hotel room somewhere in the country (the location could not be disclosed), and talked over several days. Capeci and Robbins had to keep their project an absolute secret.
"When we went to meet him, we didn't even tell our families where we were going," Robbins says.
"He walks in, wearing a baseball cap, and he gave the impression of somebody's Uncle Al," Capeci says. "He was an engaging kind of guy."
Robbins recalls their meeting this way: "So we fly to wherever we had to go, and we get there, and no Al. And we're thinking this is going to go bust. About an hour later, he comes in and says, 'How ya doin' guys, it took you awhile to find the place.' He could have been any senior citizen. If you saw him in a mall, you wouldn't think twice."
After that, there was a second secret meeting some months later that also spanned several days. D'Arco answered every question, as conscientious toward the project as he had been loyal to the mob and loyal to the feds after he flipped.
In many ways, D'Arco was the opposite of John Gotti. Where Gotti was loud and ostentatious, D'Arco was quiet and under the radar. "Al's watchword was 'low key, everything low key,'" Robbins says.
He was born in 1932, in Little Italy, in a family which was already in the mafia. Over many years, D'Arco rose though the ranks as a soldier, then a capo, and finally as acting boss of the Luchese crime family.
He was "made" in 1982, and eventually took over Paul Vario's crew. Vario was the boss of Henry Hill, who Ray Liotta portrayed in the movie Goodfellas.
D'Arco was a workaholic. He rarely drank, had no interest in cheating on his wife, and rarely gambled.