Rooster who? Little Italy residents shrug at mafia turf claims

Nobody has ever heard of the reputed mobster from Connecticut named Eugene 'Rooster' O'Norfio proclaimed himself the new boss of the 'Mulberry Street Crew.' Is the mafia reign of terror becoming irrelevant?

Bebeto Matthews/AP
An overhead sign welcomes visitors to Little Italy at the corner of Broome and Mulberry Streets in New York. Reputed mobster Eugene 'Rooster' O'Norfio proclaimed himself the new boss of the 'Mulberry Street Crew,' but prosecutors' charges against him are far cry from the days when big name-gangsters claimed Little Italy as their turf.

In a recent conversation with an undercover FBI agent wearing a wire, a reputed mobster from Connecticut named Eugene "Rooster" O'Norfio proclaimed himself the new boss of the "Mulberry Street Crew" in Manhattan's Little Italy.

New Yorkers could be forgiven for responding: Rooster who?

"I didn't even know he existed," said Joseph Scelsa, who has run the Italian American Museum out of a storefront on Mulberry Street for the past eight years.

The obscurity of Mr. O'Norfio, the vagueness of the allegations against him contained in a new federal mob indictment and an absence of fear in Little Italy reflect how a tourist destination with its shrinking cluster of Italian restaurants and gift shops has changed since the days when it was the turf of marquee Mafia bosses like John "Dapper Don" Gotti and Vincent "Chin" Gigante.

Though the indictment suggests organized crime still has at least a toehold in the neighborhood, visitors to Mulberry Street would have a far better chance of dropping $400 on designer shoes than spotting a preening gangster.

"The colorful names remain the same. Some of the scams and the shakedowns remain. But the vice grip on businesses and others is not the same as it used to be," said Randy Mastro, an attorney who once served as a mob-busting point man under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

In the 1990s, authorities used electronic surveillance at Gotti's Little Italy headquarters, the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street, to help bring down the mercurial boss of the Gambino crime family. They also removed the stranglehold Gigante's Genovese crime family had on the annual Feast of San Gennaro street festival, where it once ran gambling games, imposed a "mob tax" on vendors and raided donations at a neighborhood church. Both bosses died in federal prison.

Yet, forces far more powerful than the FBI may have had a bigger impact.

The Ravenite is now a boutique for "handcrafted" shoes in a gentrified part of Little Italy that was long ago rebranded as Nolita (North of Little Italy).

Art galleries, brunch spots and upscale clothing stores are steadily encroaching on what remains of the old neighborhood.

But the mob investigations have continued, resulting in an embezzlement conviction in 2000 of a former San Gennaro organizer, testimony at a 2004 trial that another feast leader was a made man, and a 2013 guilty plea by a Genovese capo in a case accusing him of trying to extort the festival.

In the current case, court papers quote O'Norfio recounting how the capo told him, "I want you at the helm" of the Mulberry Street Crew while he was in prison.

The new indictment accuses the 74-year-old O'Norfio, of East Haven, Connecticut, of loansharking, but it doesn't go into specifics. He has pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges that also accuse him of being in charge of another crew in Springfield, Massachusetts.

His lawyer, Thomas Nooter, declined to comment.

News coverage of the recent cases has rankled Little Italy boosters.

The nonprofit that runs San Gennaro each September complained in a 2012 letter to The New York Times that the coverage was overblown and "rekindled old, derogatory stereotypes" about Italian-Americans while ignoring the festival's charity work.

The new charges "really disgust me," said Scelsa, whose museum focuses on the accomplishments of Italian-Americans, evidenced by a copy of a platinum record for Billy Joel's "The Stranger" perched in the front window. He believes the case represents an invisible vestige of a bygone era when the so-called Black Hand extortion racket terrorized the neighborhood.

"I wouldn't have opened up on Mulberry Street if I thought it was still there," he said.

Still, today's organized crime networks need to be seen as "a struggling business that's trying to survive by diversifying," said James Walden, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, citing the credit card and health care fraud charges in the indictment.

Mastro cautioned that even with the modern serenity of Mulberry Street, law enforcement must stay vigilant.

"Trying to eliminate La Cosa Nostra," he said, "is like trying to kill a vampire."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Rooster who? Little Italy residents shrug at mafia turf claims
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today