By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The family limped along for a couple of years as the criminal cases made their way through the court system. As underworld rumors swirled that the other crime families were considering no longer officially recognizing the Colombos, the Persico and the Orena factions decided to kiss and make up. Eventually, Allie Boy was named the acting boss, and Cutolo, who beat his court case connected to the mob war, became underboss.
By then, however, Campy and Cutolo were barely talking—Cutolo had stolen one of Campy's big earners, a guy making millions in a "pump-and-dump" stock scam. "PS: I got nothing," Campanella says. "Both of 'em screwed me. But, hey, that's the way it is in the life."
Nevertheless, Campy was pulling in upwards of $5,000 a week, had money in the bank to support his families, equity in his house, pumped iron every day, had lots of girlfriends, and wasn't drinking or gambling. Without Wild Bill Cutolo calling all the shots, he says, "for the first time, I felt, you know, like my own man."
Soon, he was without Cutolo permanently. Called one night to a sit-down at a restaurant, Wild Bill's right-hand man Jackie DeRoss took him aside before heading in. "He asks me what do I think about killing Billy," Campanella says. "I was shocked. You know, I was like, 'Where the fuck did this come from?' So I just put my head down and shook my head." DeRoss told him that Allie Boy Persico, who was heading to prison on a gun conviction, was afraid that Cutolo, who was making millions and was well-liked by the other families, would become so powerful in Allie Boy's absence that it would be impossible to get power back. They knew that Campanella and Cutolo had had a falling-out but that Campy nevertheless would be the perfect guy to set Wild Bill up. But seeing Campanella's reaction, DeRoss told him to forget about it. Campanella, being a good soldier, he says, never tipped off Cutolo.
A short time later, on May 26, 1999, Cutolo disappeared—never to be heard from again.
Fast-forward two years to July 16, 2001: Campanella is coming out of the gym when he sees a green minivan following him. After trying to lose it, Campy says, he decided: "The feds are on me—fuck it, I'll go to the beach." He spent a couple of hours sunning himself at Coney Island and headed back to his Benz. Again, he saw the green minivan. When it banged a U-turn and headed toward him, Campanella figured he was going to be pinched: "PS: It turns out it's my friend Chickie and John the Barber who yells out, 'Hey, Joe!' I see [Chickie] come out the passenger side and the tip of the gun I notice with a towel around it, and he just starts blasting me."
A round caught Campanella in the upper arm as he flung it over his face. As he zigzagged across the street, another round ricocheted into the sole of his sneaker and blew off a toe.
In a different time, Chickie was one of the guys who had gone with Campy to try to kill Greg Scarpa. But Chickie had learned that Campy suspected him of offing Cutolo and might have figured: "Kill or be killed." Campy says that Chickie also thought that while he was in prison, Campy had fucked his wife—Campy denies it.
As a wounded Campy was lying in an ambulance, he recalls, he had a vision: "I'm dead, I'm in the coffin, my two sons in suits and ties crying over me. And then that was it." But it was only a vision. "I went to the fuckin' hospital," he says, "and as soon as I got there, there was FBI agents all over the place."
He wouldn't talk then, but he recalls: "I knew there was a door open if I ever needed it."
Realizing that he could no longer trust his mob pals, he was "heartbroken with the life." And then in November 2002, he was arrested on an extortion indictment involving the medical scam. As Thanksgiving passed and with Christmas nearing, he was still locked up when he learned from his wife and girlfriend that his crew hadn't given them money to live on. At that point, Campy figured out that Chickie had stolen his crew.
So when the FBI promised to take care of Campanella's family, he says, he went for it.
"Once I knew that both my families were going to get help and support," he recalls, "I said, 'Fuck it. You know what? I got nothing right now. What could I lose, right?' So that's when I threw the fuckin' towel in."
Any fears of his becoming a lone mob turncoat were wiped away when after a short stint at a New Jersey jail, Campanella landed at federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. "Right off," he says, "I actually met a lot of guys that just flipped. Everybody's there just to help one another."
Former Philadelphia mob boss turned rat Ralph Natale "was very good to me," Campanella said. As was Richie Cantarella, a Bonnano turncoat whose co-operation induced his boss, Joe Massino, to flip. And Campy was a cellmate for almost two years with Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo, a Gambino captain who subsequently testified against John "Junior" Gotti.