Bankrupt only two years before he submitted a $7.1 million bid to buy the Spanish Camp property that included the Dorothy Day cottage, the mysterious John Discala has never developed any major project. Instead of a track record of construction achievements, the 48-year-old broker and consultant has left a trail of liens, shell corporations, ever-changing addresses, broke clients, gambling debts, and bitter enemies behind him. With a brother who once had a bit part in The Sopranos, he’s also quite familiar with wiseguys and semi-wiseguys, saying only, when confronted with examples of them in his life, that he never noticed.
Discala was so threatening in his jaw-to-jaw confrontation with Public Advocate Mark Green—interrupting a late February press conference to tell Green to get off his land—that Green says he is “clearly a man not in control of his own emotions.” He accosted this reporter twice at the Staten Island office of his mild-mannered partner Otto Savo, even calling in a convicted felon and a friend as an SUV backup team during a parking lot argument. But then he switched—instantly and inexplicably—to an apologetic and reasonable mode, dispatching his friends, buying me a cup of coffee, and somberly describing the plight of his beloved project.
The felon who arrived within minutes of Discala’s cell phone call was Peter Liounis, a 27-year-old stock scam artist slated for sentencing in federal court this week. Liounis pled guilty in a fraud and extortion scheme that ran up over $10 million in illegal profits, with the Genovese crime family cut in for a slice of the gain. The government charged that Liounis and another longtime Discala friend convicted in the scheme, Christian Rizzo, also 27, sent Paolu Rizzuto, an alleged Genovese associate, to Las Vegas to beat a securities broker who was refusing to give them their scam profits. The Vegas victim needed 100 stitches in his head alone.
Liounis and Rizzo, both of whom bought their homes using Discala as a broker (one from Discala partner Savo), ran some of their 1998 stock scams out of 3155 Amboy Road on the island, a small office building managed by Discala. Their office was in the basement, directly below Discala’s, though he insists that he rented the space to their partner, not them, even if he can’t recall the partner’s name. When Discala bought a $1.8 million Manhattan residential building in 1997—the biggest real estate deal of his life before the 2000 closing on Spanish Camp—Liounis and Rizzo were guarantors on his bank mortgage. Discala says he went with Liounis to the auction as his broker and financial adviser, but that Liounis overbid for the property, so Discala had to come up with the financing after Liounis made the down payment.
But Liounis and Rizzo—who were observed by an FBI surveillance team while meeting with John Gagliardi and other made members of the Genovese family—are hardly the only mob connections in Discala’s life. His extensive real estate dealings with Joseph Martinelli, who is identified in a current state racketeering indictment as “a contractor member of the Lucchese Construction Group,” are part of Discala’s 1992 bankruptcy papers. Discala owed $135,000 on a mortgage held by Martinelli, who is charged with paying off the Lucchese crime family and was named in an earlier state case as part of a mob-tied concrete cartel. Discala says he’s paid the debt and insists that he doesn’t still do business with Martinelli, though he adds that he does see Martinelli’s brothers from time to time.
Discala formed a publishing house—Boys in Blue Productions—to publish the book written by the jailed former head of the transit police union, Ron Reale. The book, published shortly after Reale was convicted on federal racketeering charges, lays out all of Reale’s family ties to the mob. Discala says he got to know Reale through the ex-cop’s brother, Frank Sercia (Reale adopted a new last name), who was a partner in a construction business with Reale’s father, Vincent. In his book, Reale laughingly tells the tale of when his father first informed him, “I’m in what you call the Mafia.” According to Reale, Vincent Sercia was “well known” to everyone from Carlo Gambino to Joe Columbo.
Finally, Joseph Parlagreco bought one of the Spanish Camp parcels from Discala. Two of Parlagreco’s brothers were members of the Columbo crime family crew, headed by Greg Scarpa Jr., that ran drugs out of a park near the camp site. Mario Parlagreco, who is now in the government’s witness protection program, has admitted committing three murders, while another brother, John, was convicted on drug conspiracy and extortion charges. A trucking and construction contractor who says he may build townhouses on the camp site himself if Discala’s project does not get approved, Joseph Parlagreco employs his brother John now, he says. He has no known criminal record.
Brought into the camp deal by broker Thomas Hyland, Discala put up little money of his own at the closing, with the Savo brothers and another developer, Ely and Abe Reiss, taking on almost $7 million in costs and mortgages.
Wayne Barrett shows how Giuliani’s administration failed to protect Dorothy Day’s cottage.