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Gennaro ‘Jerry’ Angiulo, 90, New England mob underboss

Five of the six Angiulo brothers in 1961 at Suffolk County Courthouse, where they appeared before a special grand jury probing the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. From left, Antonio, Michele, Nocolo, Gennaro, and Donato. At right, Gennaro Angiulo as he was taken from federal court after a jury found him guilty of racketeering charges. Five of the six Angiulo brothers in 1961 at Suffolk County Courthouse, where they appeared before a special grand jury probing the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. From left, Antonio, Michele, Nocolo, Gennaro, and Donato. At right, Gennaro Angiulo as he was taken from federal court after a jury found him guilty of racketeering charges. (The Boston Globe/File)
By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / August 31, 2009

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It was Boston’s first big Mafia case. New England mob underboss Gennaro “Jerry’’ Angiulo was captured on FBI tapes played at his 1985-86 trial ordering a soldier to “stomp,’’ stab, and strangle a witness, bragging about his crimes and berating underlings.

The wise-cracking Mr. Angiulo, who stood only 5 foot 7 but had a booming voice, serenaded spectators during a morning recess with his own version of “I’m Just a Gigolo,’’ singing: “I’m just a racketeer, that’s all I ever hear, people know the game I’m playing. When they lay me to rest, with a lily on my chest, the gang will go on without me.’’

Mr. Angiulo, 90, who outlived most of his old gang and witnessed the decline of the local Mafia, died Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital of renal failure from kidney disease, according to his lawyer, Anthony Cardinale.

The once powerful mobster, who ruled Boston’s rackets from the 1960s until the early 1980s, considered it a personal victory that he survived 24 years in prison, won his release two years ago, and died a free man, friends said.

“He was determined to get out of jail, despite what was thought to be a life sentence, and spend the rest of his life with his family,’’ Cardinale said. “He accomplished that. He was a very strong-willed person. He outlived most of his enemies.’’

Cardinale described Mr. Angiulo as “a man’s man’’ and “a standup guy . . . who lived and died by his principles.’’

A former associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Mr. Angiulo unique and said his death marked the end of an era.

The son of Italian immigrants who owned a North End grocery store, he grew up with five brothers and a sister on Prince Street. He graduated from Boston English High School in 1936 and served as a Navy boatswain’s mate during World War II.

The Angiulo brothers, who owned nightclubs, were publicly named in 1963 as members of La Cosa Nostra, more commonly known as the Mafia.

Gennaro Angiulo had a reputation as a shrewd businessman, and his ability to make money on the rackets endeared him to New England godfather Raymond L.S. Patriarca, who anointed him underboss of the Providence-based crime family. The position put him in control of the family’s business from Boston to Worcester.

“He is probably the last very significant Mafia boss in Boston’s history,’’ said Thomas J. Foley, a retired State Police colonel. “In these times you don’t have anybody who exerts the control, the force, or even maintains the discipline like he had with his organization during his day.’’

But Mr. Angiulo thought he was untouchable and was very comfortable doing business from his North End headquarters, which proved to be his downfall, Foley said.

The FBI planted bugs inside Mr. Angiulo’s headquarters at 98 Prince St. and at a nearby social club at 51 North Margin St. for three months in 1981, gathering enough evidence to take down the hierarchy of the local mob.

When FBI agents hauled Mr. Angiulo from Francesco’s restaurant in Boston’s North End in handcuffs on Sept. 19, 1983, he yelled, “I’ll be back before my pork chops get cold.’’

He never returned to his dinner. He was demoted as he sat in jail without bail, awaiting trial on federal racketeering charges.

During the eight-month trial of Mr. Angiulo and his brothers Francesco, Donato, and Michele and capo regime Samuel Granito, jurors heard evidence of murders, gambling, loan-sharking, extortion, and corruption.

In one conversation, Mr. Angiulo ordered the killing of a Combat Zone bartender after concluding that he wouldn’t “stand up’’ when called to testify before a federal grand jury investigating gambling and loan-sharking.

“I hope it happens tonight,’’ Mr. Angiulo said. “Just hit him in the [expletive] head and stab him, OK? The jeopardy is just a little too much for me. You understand American?’’

The plot was thwarted when the FBI warned the witness.

In another conversation, after learning that his son, Jason, had been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, Mr. Angiulo said, “I hate to even say this, but I’d like to bet right now we may not survive this thing, my [expletive] opinion.’’

But, he added, “It was bound to be a question of time. . . . I didn’t think it would be that [expletive] bad when the roof caved in.’’

The trial judge, late US District Court Judge Davis S. Nelson, repeatedly reprimanded Mr. Angiulo for muttering, cracking jokes, and making faces while the jury was listening to evidence. Mr. Angiulo often shouted, “splice!’’ when FBI tapes were played.

After Mr. Angiulo and his codefendants were convicted of an avalanche of charges in February 1986, he said, “Nobody ever gave them that good a fight.’’

He was sentenced to 45 years in prison on 12 counts of racketeering, gambling, loan-sharking, and obstruction of justice.

A self-styled jailhouse lawyer, Mr. Angiulo represented himself in numerous unsuccessful bids to overturn his conviction.

In one failed attempt, Mr. Angiulo argued that he had been framed by the FBI and its gangster informants, James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi. It had been revealed in federal court in 1998 that Bulger and Flemmi had visited Mr. Angiulo’s headquarters at the FBI’s request in late 1980, then drew agents a diagram with instructions on where the bugs should be planted.

In an affidavit filed in federal court five years ago, Mr. Angiulo wrote that he was in poor health and his term was “tantamount to an illegal death sentence.’’

Mr. Angiulo, who had been incarcerated at the federal prison hospital in Devens, became a free man when he was paroled on Sept. 10, 2007. He had been undergoing dialysis treatment since his release from prison and living with his wife, Barbara, at their waterfront home in Nahant.

His brother Donato died in May; his brother Michele died in 2006. His brother Francesco “Frank’’ Angiulo, 88, lives at the same Prince Street apartment that was bugged by the FBI decades ago.

In addition to his son Jason and wife, Mr. Angiulo leaves another son, Gennaro Jay; a daughter, Barbara; and another brother, James.

A funeral Mass for Mr. Angiulo will be said at 10:45 a.m. Thursday at St. Leonard’s Church, at the corner of Prince and Hanover streets.