By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
Just before the defendants went into court to enter their guilty pleas, they stood in their dark overcoats on the steps of the Plaza Diner in downtown Brooklyn looking dejectedly across Cadman Park toward federal court. Mustafa, his face flushed red, pounded his fist into his hand. "It ain't fucking fair!" he shouted.
It's not the first time in recent years that Mustafa has been made to feel that way. On March 19, 2000, he was returning from a Caribbean cruise with his family when immigration authorities challenged his right to remain as a permanent resident in the U.S. The reason, officials explained, was his 1993 conviction on charges that he had tried to use a phony birth certificate to obtain a passport. He had pled guilty to the charge, and served a year on probation. His explanation for the fraud was that he needed the passport in order to make a trip to London. He wanted to "open a business out there," he said. Had he consulted an immigration lawyer, Mustafa easily could have obtained the proper travel documents. But that's not how he was raised.
Instead, for $50 he bought a fake blank birth certificate "from some guy downtown in the 40s. They were selling it on the corner," he later testified. He never had his own birth certificate, he said, and he had always believed he was an American citizen. It was only later, he insisted, that he found out that he'd actually been born in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy.
The whereabouts of his birth was a sore subject, one that always confused the grade school dropout. "You know where you were born, right?" a government lawyer asked him at one point. "How would I know that?" Mustafa snapped back.
To immigration authorities, the con-viction represented a "crime of moral turpitude" worthy of deportation. Several hearings were held on his status while he remained free. But that changed suddenly in December 2002, when 10 federal agents swooped down on his $1.2 million mansion with a glassed-in pool in Pelham Manor, just over the Bronx border in Westchester County. He was bustled off to an immigration detention center in upstate Batavia, where he was held for more than a year.
What had gotten the new Department of Homeland Security so excited, he later learned, was a lurid four-page letter from the FBI detailing his background. Mustafa, FBI supervisor Kevin Donovan wrote in classic bureau understatement, had long been a "person of interest."
Citing informants and witnesses, the FBI sketched out a brutal history: Mustafa, the agency claimed, was a "high level associate" of the Gambino crime family who had long been close to the mob's top echelons because of his ties to Frank LoCascio, father of Tore, and the man who had befriended Mustafa when he was a homeless orphan. Mustafa had been Frank LoCascio's driver, the FBI stated, and had regularly driven him to the Ravenite while Gotti held court. The elder LoCascio, convicted at Gotti's side in 1992, is now serving life in prison.
A mob defector who had known Mustafa since he was a youth said that he always carried a gun and helped shake down the strip club Scores on behalf of Tore LoCascio. Another said Zef, along with his older brother Peter Mustafa, "handled the Albanians in the Bronx for the Gambinos." The informants said Zef Mustafa had allegedly murdered a man named Frank Politti in the early '80s, and then dismembered his body. He'd allegedly killed another man named Gino Masha, as well as the two sons of Anthony Porcelli. Despite his acquittal at trial, the bureau claimed he had in fact killed Joseph Mincione, the man Mustafa had been accused of beating to death with a bat in 1986. Other alleged murders were listed, as well as allegations that he trafficked in heroin and conducted loan-sharking.
One former Gambino mobster related an incident in which Tore LoCascio had responded to a request to have a rival Albanian given a beating. "Zef does all my dirty work," the informant quoted LoCascio as saying.
If all of that wasn't bad enough, the FBI also described Mustafa as a chronic alcoholic who started drinking every morning at 11 at Amici's Restaurant at East 187th Street and Arthur Avenue.
Gangsters rarely allow themselves to be asked about such matters under oath. But because Mustafa wanted to defeat his deportation order, he took the stand and was grilled during a series of immigration hearings. He denied the murders, the gun-packing, and the chronic drinking. One of those he was accused of killing, his attorneys noted, was in fact alive and in state prison. "I heard he passed away," Mustafa said of another alleged victim. The bat case, he said, had been "a bad nightmare."
As for the LoCascios, Mustafa said Frank was "like a father to me," and Tore had been the best man at his wedding and was godfather to his children. But he'd never been Frank LoCascio's driver, he insisted, and he had heard about the mob ties only through the newspapers. He had visited the Ravenite on occasion. He "just took a ride downtown" with the LoCascios to the club. There he played cards, drank coffee, and yes, "shook [Gotti's] hand every time I went down there."