April 24, 2012 Special to Crime Magazine
An excerpt from Rogue Mobster: The Untold Story of Mark Silverman and the New England Mafia by Mark Silverman and Scott Deitche. (Published March 17, 2012 by Strategic Media Books, paperback, 298 pages, $24.95.)
The New England underworld had a rough year in 2011. On January 20, 2011 the FBI coordinated the largest ever sweep of Mafia suspects in the country. Over 120 alleged mobsters and associates were taken in, encompassing a dozen different cases involving Mafia families in the Northeast. One of the coups was the arrest of the now-retired boss of the New England Mafia, Louis “Baby Shacks” Manocchio. Shacks led the New England Mafia from his headquarters in Providence, since the Boston faction of the family had faced numerous takedowns from state and federal police. Manocchio’s retirement brought the power base back to Boston, but the North End mob was still battling ghosts from a decade before.
Just under a month after the historic sweep, federal authorities closed in on a Boston mobster that had been on the run from the law since 1994, Enrico Ponzo. Back then, Ponzo was facing a drug indictment. He skipped town and headed west. He changed his name to Jeffrey John Shaw and was living on a small ranch in Marsing, Idaho, worlds away from the streets of Boston. On February 7, 2011, federal agents, acting on a tip, arrested Ponzo as he drove up to his home.
But the biggest catch for law enforcement came on June 22, 2011, when federal authorities, acting on a tip, finally nabbed James “Whitey” Bulger, in Santa Monica, California. Bulger had been there for over a decade with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig. He was No. 1 on the FBI’s Top Ten Wanted list. Sightings of the elusive Irish mob boss had taken agents around the world. Some speculated that he was dead. Others thought that because Bulger had knowledge of the pervasive corruption in the FBI's Boston office that the feds simply didn’t want to find him. And when they did arrest him and Greig they found an arsenal of guns, and $800,000 in cash. Bulger may have been long removed from the criminal underworld in New England but he obviously had the street smarts and connections to live a comfortable life on the run.
The Bulger and Ponzo arrests were parts of the final chapter of an underworld saga that had played out on the streets of Boston and Rhode Island since the late 1980s. Those events also helped Louis Manocchio ascend to the top spot in Rhode Island. The saga was a war for control of the New England Mafia, with the backdrop of Whitey Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang, a corrupt FBI department, and the shifting allegiances of mobsters looking to stay ahead of the law.
Mark Silverman was coming up in the New England underworld during these days. Mark got to see the Boston mob wars of the '90s from both sides. He was with a renegade faction that was challenging the traditional Mafia, which he terms LCN (La Cosa Nostra) and he was with the renegade faction. His ties to the Winter Hill gang, starting from childhood, also brought an element to the story that’s so typical of the New England underworld.