Monday, November 2, 1998

Death Returns to 'The Life'

By Jerry Capeci

They didn't have a referendum or a long drawn out debate. There were no constitutional amendments, vetoes, appeals or court decisions. Nothing was signed into law, and there were no protests.

After a five year moratorium, the Mafia has apparently reinstated its death penalty. If you break the rules, you get whacked -- Just like it used to be.

Interestingly, the mob's return to summary execution came three months after a Brooklyn jury voted to execute a former prison guard who killed three people during a 1996 robbery at a social club in Bedford Stuyvesant, the first New Yorker sentenced to die in 35 years. The guard will probably languish on death row for years while prosecutors and his attorneys wade through what will most likely be a protracted appeals process.

Ralph CoppolaGenovese capo Ralph Coppola (right) wasn't so fortunate.

He was quickly dispatched, albeit quietly, for pocketing cash earmarked for his bosses, according to Gang Land sources on both sides of the law.

Coppola, 38, hasn't been seen since mid-September.

But the law -- ("The FBI has heard rumors of his death and those rumors are being pursued," said agency spokesman Joseph Valiquette.) -- and his lawyer -- ("I am extraordinarily concerned as to whether he is all right. I fear the worst," said Coppola's lawyer James Merberg.) -- believe Coppola is history. 

The last area mobster to be killed was Colombo capo Joseph Scopo, who was shot to death in October 1993 by a rival faction in the aftermath of a bloody intra-family war that left 10 dead in the previous two years.

Those killings and dozens more by the Gambinos and Lucheses, followed by the flood of life sentences meted out in the wake of the violence decimated the mob hierarchy. This prompted the Commission, the Mafia's ruling body, to issue a no killings directive until things cooled off.
Ralph CoppolaHis family members filed a missing person report shortly after Coppola (left) disappeared on Sept. 16, but he is officially listed as a fugitive. Coppola, a former carpenters union official, had pleaded guilty to fraud charges stemming from a $1.2 million rip-off of a men's clothing group that put on  trade shows in Las Vegas. He was set to receive a 24 to 30 month sentence this  month.

"He would not have run away," said Merberg, noting that Coppola had put off his sentencing to be present for the birth of his third child, who was born last month.

Barney BellomoCoppola once ran Genovese family rackets at the huge Jacob Javits Center on Manhattan's West Side for acting boss Liborio (Barney) Bellomo (right). His death had to have been sanctioned by family leaders, because no one would take it upon himself to kill a capo and an important associate of Barney's without getting an okay.

Informers had reported that "Ralph got caught skimming," said one law enforcement official, who speculated without any real certainty that Coppola might have kept more than his share of the profits from the coast-to-coast bid rigging scam he ran out of an Eastchester, NY consulting firm from 1990 to 1994.

Some law enforcement types were surprised that Coppola's body was not left where it could be found as an example for other mobsters who might be tempted to break the rules. But wiseguys everywhere have gotten the message.

"It's better than leaving the body in the trunk of a car or something," said a Gang Land underworld source. "It has that mystique to it where it looks super professional. The people they're looking to send a message to is not the entire public. It's the mob itself, which totally understands that the guy is gone. And (with no body) there's less publicity and less heat from the law."