By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"They give you this bullshit thing in Italian. I don't know what the fuck they're talking about," he recalls. "It didn't matter. So anyhow, Billy gives me a prick on the finger. He gives me this whole bullshit thing about 'You got to live for the family, and if you're ever called, you've got to come—no matter what you're doing,' and I just do the agreement thing, and then he gets a picture of a saint, puts it in my hand, sets it on fire."
Campanella said he was so nervous that even after the picture started burning his hand, he didn't drop it. "Finally, Billy goes, 'Let it go, that's enough.' Everyone was laughing. It was fuckin' comical. And that was it. You give a bullshit thing, and before you know it, you're a fuckin' wise guy."
The next day, Cutolo picked him up, bought him a whole new wardrobe, and took him around to other mobsters and introduced him as a "friend." Though Campy was not allowed to tell anyone, his wife saw the new threads and the look on his face—"I was just like fuckin' glittering"—and knew right away, he says. As he recalls it, she moaned: "Oh, no." Campy says he expected the mixed feelings: "In a way, she felt good for me. But where she came from, they were hardworking people, and I don't think she wanted that for me."
Besides extortion and shylocking, Campy and his pals started working some other angles. They created a phony produce company and scammed 100 grand, he says, from food wholesalers at Hunts Point. They made and sold up to 4,000 counterfeit subway tokens a week. They extorted medical clinics and bilked insurance companies with false medical claims.
But the good life was short-lived.
On June 20, 1991, "Little Vic" Orena was returning to his Long Island home when he spotted four Colombo men sitting in a car near his McMansion. Realizing it was a hit team, Little Vic drove off and, later that night, ordered Cutolo and the other 11 Colombo captains to an emergency meeting. Six showed. Six didn't. Trouble.
The no-shows were loyal to Carmine "the Snake" Persico, the boss who ruled the Colombos even while serving 139 years for racketeering. Persico thought Orena, installed as temporary boss until Carmine's son "Little Allie Boy" got out of jail, was trying to take over the family—which, with the backing of Gambino don John Gotti, he was.
New York City's other crime families ostensibly made efforts to head off a war. But on November 18, 1991, the bullets started flying. That day, a hit team that included Campanella tried to take out the Persicos' most able and willing killer, Gregory Scarpa Sr.
The hit team "clocked" Scarpa for three days, familiarizing themselves with his routine, before pulling their stolen van onto Scarpa's block that chilly morning and waiting for him to leave his house.
"Once we seen his guys pull up in front of his house, we know he's coming out," Campy recalls. "As soon as we seen their car parked right in front of the house, we started pulling up to the corner nice and easy."
As Scarpa appeared, the doors to the van flew open and out poured the four gunmen. But one of the would-be assassins got the jitters and fired wildly before the others were close enough to shoot with accuracy.
"Greg and his guys caught the move," says Campy. "Greg just jumped in the car, and his guys and him just—pfffffffft—gave it the gas, and we were fucked. We were just standing there with our dicks in our hands, you know. After that, all fuckin' hell broke loose."
The Orenas scored the first fatality, killing "Hank the Bank" Smurra outside a Brooklyn doughnut store five days later. Campy recalls with a laugh: "Hank the Bank wanted a doughnut, and all he got was a hole."
Five days after that, Campanella himself fired shots into a car containing two of Scarpa's guys, whom he stumbled over as they were coming out of Bruno's barber's shop in Bensonhurst. The wounded driver subsequently crashed, injuring four pedestrians on the sidewalk.
Scarpa was already dying of AIDS he had contracted from a blood transfusion during an ulcer operation, and he waged war like a man who knew his time on this earth was near the end. He's credited with at least four of the Persico side's seven kills, including picking off a guy named "Fat Vinny" with rifle shots while Vinny was on a ladder hanging Christmas lights on his house. Scarpa also scored several non-fatal hits. Many Orena loyalists suspect that Scarpa, a longtime secret FBI informant, was aided in his rampage by information fed to him by a rogue FBI agent who tipped him off on the whereabouts of his Orena rivals ("Tall Tales of a Mafia Mistress," Tom Robbins, October 23, 2007).
About seven months after the failed hit on Scarpa, a slew of indictments landed most of the key players from both sides behind bars, forcing a ceasefire. One of the few not rounded up, Campy was elevated to acting capo by the jailed Cutolo. "But by then, there was nobody left, and there was no money to be made," Campy says with a laugh. "I was the captain of nothing. Comical."