The career of former Department of Transportation commissioner Anthony Ameruso, 46, offers a fairly typical example of how the mob and the machine were quietly linked until the recent investigations opened everything to scrutiny. Shortly after Mayor Koch's election in 1977, Ameruso was appointed DOT commissioner, despite being rejected by the mayor's own screening panel. However, Ameruso did have the support of Meade Esposito.
Ameruso remained a commissioner—in charge of the Parking Violations Bureau, among other agencies—even though he was the target of several inquiries. His name popped up on FBI tapes as far back as 1979, when two mobsters, Nat and William "Billy the Butcher" Masselli, talked about a supposed "meeting with Ameruso" and stressed that "nobody is supposed to know about it."
There was a Department of Investigation probe after the DOT awarded lucrative car-towing contracts to Midtown Collision, a company that listed among its employees Christopher "Christy Tick" Furnari, a consigliere in the Lucchese crime family.
Ameruso was also questioned about allowing a highly coveted no-parking sign to be put outside a Mulberry Street restaurant owned by Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianiello, an organized-crime capo who was convicted in December in federal court of skimming millions of dollars from his restaurants and topless-disco operations.
In 1984, Ameruso had even been put under surveillance by the city's Department of Investigation after officials received reports that he had accepted cash kickbacks from Federal Armored Transport, a mob-connected armored-car company that won a $107,000 contract with the PVB. The inquiry began after Federal's contract was rescinded because two of its guards were arrested carrying unlicensed guns. What's more, officials discovered that Federal's PVB contract called for the company to collect money throughout the city and carry it to banks, even though Federal had no insurance and no gun permits.
Though Ameruso managed to survive all these inquiries, he resigned in January after news broke of the bribery scandal in the PVB. Ameruso himself was not directly tied to the PVB scandal, but as the commissioner in charge of the bureau, Ameruso said, he felt responsible. Koch publicly regretted the loss of the DOT commissioner.
Shortly after Ameruso left office, however, an informant called the FBI and claimed that Ameruso had been a secret partner with Angelo Ponte in a parking lot at the corner of Spring and Varick Streets. Ponte, who's a private carter and one of the owners of Ponte's Restaurant in lower Manhattan, was identified in state hearings last year as a member of the Genovese crime family.
After selling the parking lot in 1985, the partners (there were six in all) made $2.3 million on a 1981 investment of $505,000, according to investigators. Ameruso himself made $148,000 on his $40,000 investment. In addition to the potential conflict of interest inherent in the city's parking czar going into the parking-lot business, Ameruso "intentionally manipulated the price of his investment" so he wouldn't have to report it on the city's financial-disclosure form, according to former U.S. Attorney John Martin, who was appointed by Koch to investigate city corruption.
Ameruso's lawyer, Nicholas Scoppetta, denied that his client has engaged in wrongdoing. He said that Ameruso knew Ponte from eating at Ponte's restaurant, and that he got involved in the parking-lot deal at the suggestion of a Queens banker, Michael Cousins. Ameruso has not been charged with any crime.
In Queens, federal agents are very curious about the relationship between Donald Manes and Michael W. Callahan, a mysterious, 47-year-old organized-crime associate. While Manes was recuperating from the suicide attempt and heart attack that were apparently brought on by the PVB scandal, Callahan visited him twice—the last time eight days before the former county leader killed himself.
Callahan's criminal record goes back at least to 1982, when he was indicted for setting up a money-laundering scheme for the mob. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and identified himself as a close associate of Joseph Trocchio, a member of the Genovese crime family.
Agents who were watching the Manes house said Callahan tried to leave without being spotted, by slipping out the back door. He then went to pay-phone booths several blocks away and made several calls after nervously looking around to see if he was being observed.
Callahan and Manes were certainly friends, often hopping off together to Atlantic City in a helicopter. What's more, Callahan sold Manes a Westhampton Beach house for the bargain price of $204,000, even though it had been listed for $295,000 by local real-estate agents. Investigators would like to know why Callahan was so generous toward Manes concerning the house, and they'd like to hear about any other business dealings between the two men. In addition, they want to know whether Manes viewed Callahan's last visit as friendly.