The Mob Boss Whose Daughters Betrayed Him — By Starring on Reality TV
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because for some mobsters, family is more important.
By Seth Ferranti
The warden and some guards were shaking prisoners down as they left the chow hall at FCI Loretto, a federal prison in Pennsylvania, when Anthony “TG” Graziano sauntered by with fellow mobsters in tow. “If I were the warden,” Graziano said to his buddies, “I wouldn’t have the hacks out here searching prisoners for food.” His minions — I was among them — laughed while Graziano glared at the warden. “What the fuck am I saying?” he continued. “I’d never be a fucking warden anyway.” They then walked off as other prisoners marveled at Graziano’s nerve.
Known as the ultimate stand-up guy within the mob, this tough-talking mafiaso was respected for his nerve and his loyalty. He did his time, twice, but didn’t become a household name for faithfully following the code of omertà. Instead, Graziano shot to fame when his daughters aired the mob’s dirty laundry on TV.
Graziano was born in the 1940s and is still feared in his Staten Island neighborhood. An old-school hoodlum from the start, the stocky and brutish kid — who never made it past seventh grade — seemed to wear a permanent smirk. And it wasn’t long before he got involved in the neighborhood business, climbing the ranks of the Bonanno crime family and becoming a capo by the 1980s.
TG paid the price for his daughters’ sins.
Larry McShane, author
One of the guys in his crew, John “Porky” Zancocchio, was the bookmaker who took bets from Pete Rose. Zancocchio was under the notorious Dominick Napolitano, aka Sonny Black, until Napolitano was killed in the 1981 Donnie Brasco fallout. Porky was Graziano’s son-in-law, married to his daughter Lana, and Graziano’s other daughters, Jennifer and Renee, also married Bonanno mobsters, Christian Ludwigsen and Hector Pagan. With Graziano raking in cash from Zancocchio’s bookmaking, his daughters were mob royalty who never wanted for anything.
By 1990, Graziano had landed in prison, sentenced to five years and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to a tax-evasion charge for hiding his assets in other people’s names. When explaining to the court what he did for a living, Graziano said, “I was a broker… I put two people together.” He was released in 1993, resuming his role as a capo and eventually rising to the position of consigliere in the Bonanno crime family.
In that position, Graziano, then 61, had “access to the full resources of the Bonanno crime family, which includes more than 100 soldiers and countless associates who make money through crime and who are capable of extreme violence,” according to prosecutors in 2002. They charged Graziano with ordering the murder of two Colombo crime family associates who shot up his Staten Island topless bar in 1994. Those hits were called off after a sit-down with the Colombos, but Graziano ended up pleading guilty to racketeering charges, including conspiracy to murder, cocaine distribution and loan-sharking.
He was sentenced to just 11 years because of health concerns, and a smiling Graziano reportedly told the prosecutor, “I wish I was a little younger. I would have fought this case.” “TG is as old-school as they get,” says Scott Burnstein, author of Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit. “He’s not a New Millennium mobster, someone who courts the limelight or wants attention on social media. He goes all the way back to Joe Massino’s height of power, when he was the most powerful godfather in New York City.”
It was during this prison stint that Graziano’s daughter Renee rose to fame as the star of the hit VH1 series Mob Wives. “Graziano’s name really became more widely recognized because of his daughters,” says Christian Cipollini, author of Murder Inc. But the show, created by her sister Jennifer, embarrassed Graziano, who hated how his daughters were exploiting the organization he’d dedicated his life to honoring. When he got out in 2011, he refused to appear on the show. To make matters worse, Renee’s then ex-husband, Pagan, secretly recorded Graziano and other Bonanno members as they planned to collect an illegal $150,000 gambling debt, leading to the 72-year-old gangster being indicted again.
Due to Pagan’s informant status and the case being broadcast on Mob Wives, the judge granted the jury partial anonymity. Graziano was sentenced to 19 months for his role, but the Bonanno family leaders were furious that their business had been aired in public.
“TG paid the price for his daughters’ sins,” says Larry McShane, author of Chin: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante, noting how the crime family’s leaders stripped him of his senior role. “The longtime mafioso suddenly found himself with no rights or responsibilities within the Bonannos.”
Upon his release in 2013, Graziano’s lawyer told the press that reports of the mobster being upset with his daughters about the show was old news. Still, says Cipollini, it’s “ironic that the daughters of this old-school mobster, the ultimate stand-up guy, created and starred in this Mafia reality series.” A fact that he says Graziano will never live down.
Efforts to reach Graziano through his lawyer and family for comment were not fruitful.
- Seth Ferranti Contact Seth Ferranti