Arrest in Killings of 2 Who Dared to Rob the Mob
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
Published: September 23, 2005
In the annals of New York City crime, few undertakings were more ill-advised, foolhardy and just plain dangerous than the one that prosecutors say was chosen by Thomas and Rose Marie Uva, a young married couple from Queens.
The Uvas set out more than a dozen years ago to solve their financial difficulties in a most unusual fashion: walking into mob social clubs with an Uzi submachine gun and separating the Mafiosi within from their ill-gotten gains.
The crime spree was predictably short-lived. They were killed in 1992 in one of the more public executions in the recent history of organized crime in New York. On Christmas Eve, in broad daylight on a busy Queens thoroughfare, they were each shot several times in the head as they sat in a car at a traffic light. Ms. Uva, the authorities said, had more than $1,000 in her wallet; investigators said they believed the couple might have been out for some last-minute Christmas shopping.
No one had been charged in the case until yesterday, when F.B.I. agents and police detectives arrested a man, whom they accused of being a captain in the Gambino crime family, on charges that he was part of the hit team that killed the couple.
The man, Dominick Pizzonia, who prosecutors say was known as Skinny Dom, was charged with racketeering conspiracy, including the two murders.
The robberies committed by the couple - in Brooklyn, Queens and Little Italy, at clubs with names like the Hawaiian Moonlighters and the Veterans and Friends - were such a sore point among mob figures, according to F.B.I. reports and law enforcement officials, that two crime families argued over who should get credit for their deaths. Federal prosecutors have said in court papers that John A. Gotti once boasted that his group, the Gambino family, was responsible for the hit, not the Bonannos, who had also claimed credit.
"We took care of it," Mr. Gotti said, according to government court papers filed in his recent racketeering case in Manhattan.
Mr. Gotti's lawyer, Jeffrey H. Lichtman, said yesterday that his client had no role in the crimes. "If they had any evidence against John, they certainly would have brought it in this case, or in the case in 1998 against John," he said.
Regardless of who ordered the killings, they did not come before the mob had suffered some embarrassment. The robberies had stunned the world of organized crime: gangland figures were incredulous over the brazen assaults on the normally inviolate establishments where they played cards, sipped coffee and schemed, according to several law enforcement officials.
There were at least four robberies, and as the crime spree stretched over several months, the mob initially seemed unable to stop it. Perhaps belaboring the obvious, one former high-ranking mob figure, who became a government witness several years ago, said, "It's embarrassing if wise guys get held up."
The couple committing the robberies were not completely in uncharted territory. The diminutive, doe-eyed Ms. Uva had been convicted of attempted robbery several years earlier and had served a little more than a year in state prison. Her husband had been in state prison twice; he was released in May 1991 after serving nearly three years for first-degree robbery. Investigators at the time of the couple's deaths said Mr. Uva had a drug problem.
Moreover, Mr. Uva, 28, may have been something of a mob buff, according to one law enforcement official who said investigators believed Mr. Uva had attended the 1992 trial of John J. Gotti. And after the couple were killed, investigators found that they had a list of mob figures' telephone and pager numbers, the official said.
Yesterday, the silver-haired Mr. Pizzonia, 63, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in United States District Court in Brooklyn. The assistant United States attorneys prosecuting the case, Winston Y. Chan and Mitra Hormozi, filed papers asking the judge to hold him without bail, and a hearing was scheduled for next week.
After the arraignment, Mr. Pizzonia's lawyer, Joseph Corozzo, cited the Bonanno family's claim of responsibility in the case, noting that cooperating witnesses from that family had talked about the killings.
Law enforcement officials and investigators, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, have said that they have enough evidence to prove that Mr. Pizzonia was one of two gunmen that day.
Investigators were looking into the role of another Gambino figure, Ronald Trucchio, known as Ronnie One Arm for his withered right limb, who was sentenced in August to 20 years in federal prison on racketeering conspiracy charges, the officials and investigators said. A third man served as the getaway driver, the officials and investigators have said.
Mr. Pizzonia's lawyer, Mr. Corozzo, also said yesterday that the prosecutors had brought the charges against his client as a "knee-jerk reaction to get anyone who was close to John Gotti after his son was victorious in court last week."
Mr. Pizzonia was close to Mr. Gotti, the flamboyant mob chief who died in 2002 in federal prison, where he was serving a life sentence for murder and racketeering. His son, John A. Gotti, avoided a racketeering conviction in his own case on Tuesday when a federal jury in Manhattan returned hung verdicts on three charges against him and voted not guilty on a fourth.
Colin Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.