Vincent Davis will never forget the day Diane Pelatti changed his life. It was June 28, 1980, just a few weeks after his graduation from Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, and it was going to be a summer to remember, shaped by exuberance and the kind of unspoiled view of the world only an 18-year-old can have. He was working as a lifeguard at Glen Island Park in New Rochelle when a girl in a red-and-white bikini came walking down the beach. She was five feet tall, maybe 100 pounds, deeply tanned, with bright hazel eyes, blonde highlights, and an irresistible smile. A Yonkers boy’s dream. “I’d known her when I was like 12 or 13. So I went over and said, ‘Hey, good-lookin’. Remember me?’ “
“Take off your sunglasses,” she replied coolly. Then she smiled. “Vinny Davis.”
“I said yeah, and that was it. Bang! I was love-struck. I thought she was absolutely beautiful. We just hit it off. It seemed like we’d known one another all our lives.”
The two teens quickly became inseparable. There were trips to Great Adventure and Action Park and the old Playboy Club in Vernon, New
Jersey, but mostly it was a summer spent becoming part of each other’s family. He was at her house. She was at his house. And there was always a picnic or a barbecue or a christening to go to.
By September, their summer fling had blossomed into a full-fledged romance, and Davis and Pelatti began to talk about the life they were going to make together. He went to work for an electronics company in Tuckahoe, and, trying to save money so he and Pelatti could get their own place, he also put in a couple of nights a week waiting tables at a Pizza & Brew in Scarsdale. But his dream, ever since he was a little boy, was to be a cop. His father was a sergeant in the NYPD, and Davis wanted to follow in his footsteps. He took the test, passed, and was on the waiting list to get into the academy.
“He told her awful things, like ‘I’ll throw acid in your face and make you so ugly nobody’ll want you.’”
And on October 30, 1981, a little more than a year after he and Pelatti met on the beach, he went to the Howard Johnson’s restaurant where she worked several nights a week as a waitress (she was a dental assistant during the day) and surprised her.
Clutching flowers and a bottle of champagne, he got down on his knees and proposed, with a restaurant full of patrons watching. They chose April 17, 1983, as their wedding date. They’d have a traditional service at Mt. Carmel Church in Mount Vernon, followed by a reception at Marina del Rey, a catering hall with thick-pile carpets and big chandeliers in Throgs Neck. “Life was good,” Davis recalls.
But if in one sense their romance was charmed, a luminous fairy tale of young love, in another it was cursed. Cursed, specifically, by a likable but vicious punk named Richie Sabol, a wiseguy-in-training who’d been Pelatti’s boyfriend in high school. Sabol was in jail when Davis and Pelatti started dating, one year into a three-year sentence for attempted robbery at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. But Sabol still had plenty of friends around Yonkers, and they told him what his former girlfriend was up to.
“Toward the end of that first summer,” Davis says, “I started getting phone calls from Sabol threatening to kill me, to kill my family, if I didn’t break up with Diane.”
That wasn’t the worst of it, however; Sabol had also begun to threaten Pelatti. “He was calling and telling her all kinds of awful things,” Davis remembers. “Like ‘If I can’t have you, nobody will. I’ll cut off your fingers. I’ll fuck your sister and make you watch. I’ll throw acid in your face and make you so ugly nobody’ll want you.’
“This guy was really demented. She was literally petrified. She knew what he was like better than anyone. When they were dating, he showed up at her house one day with a bloody brick in his hand and said he killed somebody.”
Davis told his father and the Yonkers police what was happening, and the phone calls stopped for a time. But a few months before the wedding, Davis was supposed to meet his fiancée at her parents’ house one evening and she showed up over two hours late. When she came in, she was hysterical. Pelatti said Sabol had been waiting for her outside of work with a shotgun, forced her into his car, verbally abused her, and warned her yet one more time that he would kill her if she married someone else.
“Being young and stupid,” says Davis, “I went crazy. I was like, ‘I’m gonna fuckin’ kill this guy. I’ll rip his fuckin’ head off. Just let me get a piece of him.’ So I put the word out on the street in Yonkers that I wanted to talk to him. But he disappeared, at least for a while.”
This pattern was to repeat itself over and over during the next fourteen years. Sabol was in and out of jail, popping up in different cities, but he always seemed to find time, wherever he was, to torment Davis and Pelatti. “It was like magic,” Davis says. “Every time I turned around, he was back out on the street. And I couldn’t understand it. He was the epitome of why I wanted to be a cop. But he manipulated and manipulated, and he kept beating the system. And I think that’s why I became obsessed with him.”
Over the years, Davis’s obsession grew to such Ahab-like proportions that he completely lost his bearings. In 1994, in his never-ending quest to get Sabol out of his life – and to get even with him – Davis stumbled into one of the government’s most potentially productive attempts to infiltrate the New York-New Jersey mob in years.
The government’s point man in the clandestine operation was Richie Sabol.
By the time the passion play reached its final act, Davis had been fired from his job as a New York City cop, forfeited his pension, split up with Pelatti after eleven years of marriage, and gone heavily into debt. He’d lost nearly all of his belongings in an apartment fire that he believed Sabol was somehow responsible for – even though Sabol was in prison at the time.
Most devastating of all, Davis – who’d been a decorated police officer – was convicted in federal court on eleven counts of obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and conspiracy. He was sentenced to 45 months of hard federal time in Lewisburg for his crimes, and he actually served sixteen months before nine of the eleven convictions were overturned on appeal.
But the government wasn’t satisfied. Davis was retried at the beginning of this year on two remaining counts of witness tampering. The trial ended in a hung jury. Even then the government, as obsessed, seemingly, with Davis as Davis was with Sabol, wasn’t through with him. The U.S. Attorney’s office is now in the midst of its third prosecution of Davis. The trial began last week in federal court in Newark.
To understand the bizarre relationship that developed between Davis, Sabol and Pelatti, it helps to understand the kind of neighborhood they grew up in. Their corner of Yonkers was populated by Italian, Irish, and Jewish families, quite a few of whom had moved up from the Bronx or Brooklyn. And while the neighborhood was greener, the houses bigger, and the schools nicer, their neighbors, at least socioeconomically, remained the same. Which is to say that just like back in the boroughs, they were mostly cops and firemen and guys who owned small businesses like gas stations and pizza places.
“Because we were all recent expatriates from the boroughs,” says Tom Cascione, a lawyer and lifelong Davis friend, “the kids tended to be tougher than your usual suburbanites. Sprinkled throughout the neighborhood were established wiseguys who moved up there to raise their kids. So we all grew up with the sons and daughters of the mob, real second-generation wiseguys.”
Guys who come out of this kind of mix often end up in the criminal-justice system, either as cops, lawyers, or felons. And those who become cops, like Davis, are usually as tough as the guys who go the other way. When I first met him, he was wearing a black leather blazer, a fitted black V-neck, tight black jeans, and black cowboy boots with silver heel trim – signaling, even in his dress, that he’s not someone to be trifled with. Nor is he someone who would have been intimidated by a character like Sabol.
At the beginning of 1985, Davis was finally sworn into the police academy. “I felt like my dream was coming true,” he says. But though he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, he learned, to his bitter disappointment, that he’d been picked for the transit police. Assigned to District 11 near Yankee Stadium, Davis rode the trains from eight at night till six in the morning: back and forth from Woodlawn Road to Grand Central, or from 241st Street and White Plains Road to Times Square, or on the No. 6 up and back from the stadium.
In those days, before the merger with the NYPD, transit cops felt like second-class citizens. “I hated it,” Davis says. “Everyone down there had a gun and you’re riding by yourself and these big, heavy transit radios didn’t work. We could put a guy on the moon, but we couldn’t give a cop in the subway a radio that worked. If you needed to call for help, you had to hope the motorman or the token-booth clerk saw it, otherwise you weren’t gettin’ any. You were really by yourself and you had to walk pretty tall because between eight at night and six in the morning, every creature in the world is down there,” he says, suddenly starting to smile.
“You wanna know what it’s like to be a transit cop? Pick the hottest day of the summer, go out in your garage, pee in a corner, and stand in it for eight hours. Get the picture? That’s what I did for a living.”
Davis was often in trouble with his bosses – though he was rarely written up formally – for helping the NYPD or responding to NYPD calls that he heard on his radio. It was almost as if he couldn’t stop himself. He was impulsive, a quality that usually served him well as a cop but would eventually do irreparable damage in his war with Richie Sabol.
Davis and Pelatti had moved into an apartment in a two-family house in the Baychester section of the Bronx, and lived what seemed like the sweet, typical life of a young married couple: new furniture, beach vacations to Acapulco and Aruba, the occasional evening out in the city. But Sabol, however sporadically, continued to shadow them. Though he wasn’t camped out on their doorstep day in and day out, he’d make his presence felt intermittently, unexpectedly, either showing up at Pelatti’s dental office or calling the house.
“Diane would come home absolutely terrified after seeing him,” Davis says. “And before too long, like in our third year of marriage, she started having panic attacks. She had the first one when we were shopping in Scarsdale. She simply froze by a clothing rack, unable to move or catch her breath. Shortly after this, she started seeing a psychiatrist and taking antidepressants. She also started drinking a lot of wine, because it calmed her.”
Davis, meanwhile, made sure he used his contacts in the streets and bars of Yonkers, as well as his resources as a cop, to try to keep Sabol on his radar screen. He also talked to his supervisors at work about the problems he was having with Sabol, looking for ways the department might help.
Though Sabol was small and wiry – five feet seven, perhaps 145 pounds – and didn’t look like much of a physical threat, his reputation for unbridled fury was huge. On one occasion, he threatened to beat a witness with a baseball bat; the case was dismissed when the witness left the country. His own brother testified against him and was so frightened he went into the witness-protection program.
“The whole Pelatti relationship was a sort of hobby for Sabol,” says Cascione. “He didn’t invest a lot of time in it. But he was capable of so much mischief. When he was sitting in jail with nothing better to do and Vinny was courting her, it was a big deal to him. But when he got out, it was only a passing interest. So he’d stop by and rile things up once in a while. You know, make a threat. Sabol didn’t obsess about Vinny. But Vinny certainly obsessed about Sabol.”
“He’s nuts,” Sabol told the mobster. “Call his ex-wife and she’ll tell you how much he hates me.”
Finally, when Sabol was busted for running a credit-card scam in 1985, Davis, who’d been tracking him in his self-appointed role as a kind of Inspector Javert, got the word. He heard about the arrest from people in the neighborhood, and he made sure to follow the progress of the trial. He managed to stay away until the sentencing. But after six years of harassment from Sabol, he wanted not only to see what he looked like (they’d never actually met) but to see him get put away.
“Here’s a guy saying he’s gonna cut off my wife’s fingers and throw acid in her face. I wanted to see him get his due. I was gonna feel good about it,” says an unrepentant Davis.
So he put on a pair of dark glasses and went to the courthouse in White Plains. Before he sat down in the back of the courtroom, he picked up a copy of the presentencing report. If Davis had any remaining doubts at all about just how brazen Sabol was, they were erased that afternoon. He learned, for example, that Sabol’s girlfriend around the time he was busted – a woman he’d allegedly beaten and thrown down a flight of stairs – was so afraid of him she had adopted a new identity in another state.
He also learned that at his bail hearing, Sabol had turned to the four FBI agents sitting in the gallery, one of whom played a key role in his arrest, and said, “I’m gonna get you. I’m gonna get you. I’m gonna get you.”
But the fact that Sabol got twelve years was reason to celebrate. Davis left the courthouse and picked up his wife, whose office was close by, and took her to lunch.
“After that, he made occasional phone calls from jail, mostly to my wife’s office. He said he heard I was in court and he thought I had something to do with his arrest. He told her he didn’t care if I was a cop; he was gonna kill me and my family anyway. But at least I knew he was gone now for a long time.”
Sabol ended up serving less than six years, and was back in Yonkers by March 1991. He made a few visits to Pelatti’s office and a few phone calls to the house. Davis told his captain and his sergeant that Sabol was on the loose again, and he asked for nights and weekends off so his schedule would match his wife’s. That way, at least he’d be around when she was.
But his bosses at the precinct were beginning to lose their patience. They believed Davis was so obsessed with Sabol that he was creating this fiction, an elaborate paranoid fantasy, that the guy was after him. “My sergeant began to think I was either a nut or a liar or both. It got so that whenever I opened my mouth about this, the whole damned department looked at me like I needed psychological service,” Davis says, sounding exasperated even now.
“Vinny was essentially powerless within the law to do anything,” says Cascione, who represented Davis at his first trial. “Maybe the average person would’ve given more ground or even made some effort to run away somewhere,” Cascione speculates. “You know, to move or something. But Vinny’s too macho to run, and besides, he was a cop. I suppose there’s also a real possibility Sabol would’ve just gotten bored and gone away if Vinny hadn’t taken the bait so wholeheartedly.”
Eight months after he’d been paroled on the credit-card conviction, Sabol was arrested again. This time it was on November 5, 1991, at an Atlanta Days Inn, for buying two kilos of cocaine for $38,000 from an undercover DEA agent. Quickly convicted on the drug charge and facing more than twenty years, Sabol was backed into a corner. But rather than spend a couple of decades in federal prison, he decided to try to use his criminal contacts and varied skills as a con man to help the government.
His first hope was Ron Geer, the Atlanta DEA agent who busted him. But Geer declined Sabol’s offer. “It became very apparent,” he says, “that Richie Sabol would be a very, very difficult individual to control.”
Undeterred, Sabol began to work the phones from prison, shopping himself around to various government agencies and their field offices: the DEA in New York, Cincinnati, Tampa, and Savannah; the organized-crime task force in New York; and the U.S. Customs office in Newark.
Initially, his only taker was the Savannah DEA office, but within weeks, Sabol proved that while he was pretty much a loser as a thug – at 32, he’d already spent nearly half his life in jail – he was a marquee-value rat. The authorities placed him in the cell of a pathological crack boss named Ricky Jivens, who, among his many other crimes, was believed, as head of a local drug crew, to have ordered as many as 30 murders.
Not only was Sabol able to get close enough to Jivens to get him to identify the shooter on most of the hits, but he extracted the name of a crooked cop – who just happened to be a high-ranking drug-enforcement officer and who eventually got life in prison. He also provided the government with information that enabled them to scuttle a plot to kill the mother of the assistant U.S. Attorney who was prosecuting Jivens.
In exchange for his extraordinary work as an informant, Sabol was given what’s known as Rule 35 consideration, a reduction in sentence based on cooperation – his sentence was scaled back from twenty years to six.
Then, using his work in Savannah as a selling tool, a kind of rat’s résumé, he once again began to work the phones. This time, the U.S. Customs office in Newark – not exactly a high-glam crime-fighting agency in a sexy location – decided to use Sabol as an informant after Sabol boasted that he could get inside the Lucchese crime family.
As Sabol’s relationship with the government was solidifying, Davis was shocked to find that his marriage was falling apart. “I don’t know if I was spending too much time on the job,” he says, “or if I just wasn’t paying attention, but I didn’t see it coming. But by 1991, things really began to get bad.
“Diane was having trouble getting pregnant,” says Davis. “We were going to fertility doctors, she was going to a psychiatrist, and the stress just finally became too much. She began to have a nervous breakdown. She was staying out drinking. She was really just a mess.”
Davis was spiraling downward, too. He and Pelatti separated at the beginning of 1993. Working the day shift now, he was off duty by four. By 4:30, he’d be in a bar somewhere, and by 8:30, he’d usually be passed out drunk on his couch with a half-eaten plate of takeout Chinese food on the coffee table. That May, he lost nearly everything in an apartment fire – of course, he suspected Sabol had a hand in setting it – and had to move back into his family’s house in Yonkers.
At the family dinner on Christmas Day, Davis was drunk and depressed. Around the table were his parents, his two brothers and their girlfriends, and his sister and her husband, Michael Lanteri. Davis wasn’t paying attention to the conversation, but suddenly Lanteri began to talk to him directly.
“Hey, Vinny, didn’t you tell me that guy Sabol’s in jail for twenty years?”
“Well, guess what? He’s out.”
“What’re you talking about? He’s doing twenty on a federal drug rap.”
“He’s out and he’s hanging with Gerry,” Lanteri said, referring to his best friend, a wiseguy named Gennaro Vittorio.
But this was not just any wiseguy. Gennaro Vittorio, a.k.a. Gerry Giampa, was the stepson of Joseph Giampa, a capo in the Lucchese family who supervised a crew of ten soldiers, or “made members” of the mob, and dozens of associates – “worker bees” in mobspeak.
Davis was able to collect himself long enough to figure out what he thought was going on. He told Lanteri that if Sabol was out so soon, it meant he must’ve rolled on somebody. “Tell your friend Gerry to stay away from Sabol, because I’m going after him and I’m gonna take him down. I’m gonna find out what he’s up to and send him back to prison.”
Six days later, the house was filled with people for a New Year’s Eve party. At five minutes to midnight, Davis, who’d consumed an entire bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, went upstairs to his bedroom. The ball was about to drop in Times Square, and he couldn’t bear to be in the midst of everyone celebrating. It was the first New Year’s since 1980 he’d spent without Diane Pelatti. He sat on the edge of the bed sobbing.
He’d always wanted to be just like his father. He wanted to be a cop, and now he was on shaky ground at work because of his personal problems. He wanted to get married young and have a family the way his dad did. But his wife couldn’t have children, they’d split up, and now she was strung out.
He took his gun out and was holding it in his hands when his brother and a friend came into the room.
“What’re you doing?” his brother asked.
“What’s with the gun?”
Looking back, Davis says he’s not even sure he realized he had it in his hand. His brother Michael walked over slowly and carefully took the gun away.
“Life made no sense to me,” Davis says. “And everything was compounded by the fact that Sabol was back on the street. I felt there was no justice in the world and nothing worth living for.”
Sabol, meanwhile, was wheeling and dealing, courtesy of the U.S. Customs office in Newark. He’d been set up in a specially equipped two-story condo in North Bergen that was wired for sound and video. There were two cameras in the living room and a converted closet on the second floor that had been soundproofed and turned into a viewing room with monitors, VCRs, and headsets. Sabol had no trouble luring his prey to the apartment.
By September 1993, Sabol was off and running as an aspiring member of the Lucchese family. There were meetings at places like the Villa Barone restaurant in the Bronx and the Queen Elizabeth Diner in New Jersey. And always Sabol came bearing goodies: 156 cases of stolen liquor; luggage, sweatsuits, and backpacks; 247 counterfeit Cartier, Rolex, and Gucci watches; Chanel handbags. Like giving toys to children, providing stolen merchandise to the wiseguys was enough to win their affection.
At one meeting in December, Sabol arranged to buy a 9-mm. Mac-10 submachine gun with a silencer. He told Vittorio he was going to use it to rob and kill a drug dealer. He also bought an ounce of heroin for $5,000 supplied by two Lucchese soldiers, James McManus and Guy Fatato. And over time, there were deals involving $1 million worth of furs stolen from Filene’s; illegal gambling machines; counterfeit money; machine guns; more drugs; and an even wider assortment of stolen merchandise.
The centerpiece of the elaborate sting was to be a warehouse in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Sabol sold Vittorio on the idea that they could use it as a kind of central distribution center, a regional headquarters for stolen cars, drugs, weapons, gambling machines, and all manner of stolen merchandise. Mobsters, the government hoped, wouldn’t be able to stay away. To get the plan moving, Sabol and Vittorio got a $10,000 loan from Joseph Giampa – at extortionary rates, of course.
Four weeks after Christmas, on January 25, Davis was at a neighborhood Irish bar on Lake Avenue in Yonkers called Morley’s. It was early evening when a mope from the neighborhood said almost in passing that Sabol had been around and was running his mouth about getting even with Davis. The guy at the bar also said Sabol was hooked up with Gennaro Vittorio and they had machine guns and they were making five grand a week apiece doing all kinds of things and Davis was going to end up dead.
The moment the guy finished talking, Davis was on a pay phone in the back of the bar yelling at his brother-in-law, Michael Lanteri.
“Did you tell Gerry to stay away from Sabol?”
“Well, he’s not. Get that asshole on the phone and tell him to come over to my house right now, ‘cause I wanna talk to that moron. I’ve had it with this crap.”
Davis maintains that he didn’t exactly know Vittorio was a mob guy. He says he knew the six-foot-two, 285-pound, steroid-enhanced tough guy worked as a bouncer, and that he’d beaten people; shot a couple of guys; and went to topless bars without paying. But he thought of Vittorio simply as his brother-in-law’s best friend and a guy who pretty much did whatever he wanted.
“I didn’t pay much attention to that other stuff. You know, you can’t go two blocks in Yonkers without someone saying that’s the home of capo so-and-so,” says Davis. “I grew up there, so I’ve heard this stuff all my life, and you take it with a grain of salt.”
And so, at ten o’clock on a snowy January night, Vittorio gets the call from Lanteri. “It’s bad,” he tells him. “You gotta come down here right now. It’s about you.”
“They come over,” says Davis, who’d left the bar and gone home. “And I’m pie-eyed drunk. I’ve got a glass of Scotch in my hand, my shirt was off, and I’m babbling. I had my beer muscles on, and I’m yelling at this huge fucking mobster that he’s an idiot and he’s dealing with an informant.
“I’m trying to get him to understand that Sabol got pinched in a coke deal by an undercover DEA guy and was sentenced to like twenty years. Well, now Vittorio’s starting to get crazy because he’s finally beginning to get the picture. He starts saying he’s gonna kill that fuck. I said, ‘Oh, now I have your attention, schmuck?’ “
This meeting, along with a subsequent one on March 2 that was almost identical in form and content, represents the heart of the government’s case against Vinny Davis. The prosecution contends Davis told Vittorio that Sabol was an informant because he wanted him to hurt Sabol or perhaps even kill him. Vittorio testified at the first two trials that Davis said, “Either you kill him, or get me a gun and I’ll do it.”
The defense contends Davis was so drunk at both meetings that there was no way he could have formed intent, which is required for a witness-tampering conviction. “I don’t remember telling Vittorio to get me a gun and I’ll kill him,” Davis says. “But I might’ve said I’d kill him. I was totally juiced and I was rip-roaring mad.”
Gerald Saluti, one of the two baby-faced lawyers who have been fighting for Davis since 1997, admits that his client didn’t make the best choices. “Did Vinny do something stupid? I think the answer is he absolutely did,” says Saluti, a former assistant prosecutor. “But it wasn’t criminal.”
Anthony Iacullo, Davis’s other Montclair-based lawyer, also a former prosecutor, agrees: “Vinny let his emotions take over. He made decisions that were a product of his overuse of alcohol and a view of the situation distorted by his feelings for his wife. But keep in mind that the pressures in his life were due in large part to the government releasing people like Sabol who should have been locked up for a long time.”
After the January 25 meeting with Davis, Vittorio was crazed. He knew he’d screwed up big-time. Not only did he believe he would be arrested at any moment, but he felt responsible for putting eight of his associates at risk as well. Worst, however, was the fact that Vittorio knew he’d made his father vulnerable. He had brought Sabol around, vouched for him. Now he’d have to take care of it. He’d have to kill Sabol.
He called his associates the day after the meeting and gave them the bad news. Vittorio, who’d shot several people in his career, including a couple of guys at the China Club in 1992, had come up with two plans to take out Sabol. Either he’d arrange to meet him at a restaurant and shoot him from a distance when he was on the way in, using a rifle with a high-powered scope, or he’d have someone pose as a waiter and stab him in the back of the neck with an ice pick or a knife and then walk out the side door into a waiting car.
But he couldn’t do anything without his father’s okay. The two men met on January 27 at the Jovial Boys Club on 3rd Street in the Bronx. “When I told him my plan,” says Vittorio, “he looked at me like I had twenty heads. He said, ‘Are you crazy? There is probably twenty agents around him all the time. You’ll just get everybody pinched.’ I would have killed Sabol dead if I could have. The only reason I didn’t was my father.”
Sabol realized he had a problem when, literally overnight, everyone stopped taking his calls.
But the informer’s skills as an actor and a schmoozer were so prodigious that even after Davis told Vittorio he was an informant, Sabol very nearly convinced him he wasn’t. Vittorio started to question what Davis had said for two key reasons: He hadn’t been arrested, and he’d found out Davis had a history with Sabol that might’ve motivated him to make the whole thing up.
The turnaround almost came on February 18, when Sabol was finally able to pry a name out of Vittorio. Initially, when he pushed Vittorio to tell him who accused him of being a rat, the mobster said it was a crooked FBI agent just to shut him up. This was picked up on the wiretaps and resulted in a furious internal FBI investigation to find out if there was a leak. But now Vittorio was thinking maybe he’d been had – this time by Davis – and his resolve began to weaken.
He told Sabol he couldn’t give up the name but he could give him a hint. “It rhymes with Skinny Avis,” the mobster said.
“I never met this kid Vinny Davis face-to-face in his life,” Sabol is recorded as saying on one of the government wiretaps, “but he hates me. I wanna grab this cocksucker. This fuck. He’s nuts. Call his ex-wife up right now and she’ll tell you how much he hates me.”
Not only does Sabol mention during this phone call the specific date that the Davis-Pelatti divorce is supposed to go through, but wiretaps show that on the day of this conversation, he called Pelatti three times. During one of the calls, he asked her to dinner and told her that very shortly, courtesy of the government, he was going to be able to relocate anywhere in the world. He then asked her to go with him.
Though Davis didn’t find out until years later, Pelatti and Sabol began not long after to have an affair. As bizarre and perhaps as awful as this was for all the obvious reasons, it was even more bizarre and more awful because Davis and Pelatti were not really through with each other. Even after they separated, and after the divorce was final, they continued to see each other and even to occasionally sleep together.
“It sounds strange,” says Cascione, who handled the divorce, “but Vinny and Diane never really cooled off to one another. They knew they had to split up, but neither one really wanted to be done with the other. She was as obsessed as he was.”
Throughout the spring of 1994, Davis says, he was never worried, not even a little, that he’d get in trouble for what he did. “I just didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. I mean, I said what I said to Vittorio, but I was annihilated. I was just shootin’ the shit, drunk out of my mind and guessing at best. It was a good guess, but that’s all it was,” he says.
At 6 a.m. on a hot and sticky August day that summer, Davis parked his car at the Getty station on Central Avenue, as he did every morning on his way to work, and went inside to get coffee. The newspapers were stacked up by the counter where they usually were, and a headline about the Mafia caught his eye. He started reading the story, and the farther into it he got, the more his heart started to race.
Everybody was in it. Gennaro Vittorio, Joseph Giampa, and, of course, Richie Sabol. The very last sentence of the story was, “The investigation was thwarted when an unidentified New York City police officer tipped off the mob.”
“I dropped the paper, I dropped my coffee, and I said, ‘Holy shit, that’s me,’ ” Davis says.
In June of the following year, Vittorio and friends went on trial. Even with Davis’s interference, Sabol had still managed to get prosecutors enough evidence to convict eight mobsters from two separate branches of the Lucchese family on 62 counts of racketeering, gambling, counterfeiting, selling stolen merchandise, loan-sharking, trafficking in guns, and dealing drugs. A ninth wiseguy, Louie Dorval, had to be dropped from the case when he was found floating in the ocean off Fire Island, stuffed in a toolbox with a bullet in his head.
Gennaro Vittorio, who spent three months fleeing the authorities, was eventually arrested while sitting on a stoop and eating a bowl of pasta on Rosedale Avenue in the Bronx. He got thirteen years.
After the sentencing, Cascione told Davis the one thing he might’ve had to worry about – an obstruction charge – had pretty much been eliminated now that all the mob guys got put away.
Nevertheless, in February 1997, two and a half years after he’d read about the indictments in the paper, Davis was officially dismissed from the police force after a brief departmental trial. He went to work as a salesman for a casket company, and filed an appeal in New York Supreme Court to get his job back. “I still didn’t believe I was gonna get in worse trouble,” Davis says. “I figured they got their pound of flesh and that’s it.”
But one week before Christmas, Davis was parking his car outside the building where he worked. Just as he was closing the car door, he saw people running at him from different directions with guns drawn. “No one yells ‘FBI’ or anything,” Davis says. “So for a moment I’m thinking, ‘Oh, shit, it’s a mob hit.’ I’m throwing my coffee up in the air and covering my face with my arms. And then I hear the sirens and guys screaming ‘FBI.’ I was actually relieved.”
This week, Davis, the decorated cop who began with the desire to do nothing more than protect his wife and family, is on trial again, facing as many as ten years in prison while two violent, hard-core criminals who together were supposed to do nearly 35 years are now free men; just as Sabol had done, Vittorio grabbed onto Rule 35 as a life preserver. He made a deal.
It was the perfect solution to a really bad situation – he broke no vow of loyalty by rolling over on a cop. Vittorio – who says he got his start in crime when he was 12 years old and defrauded his paper route – did, however, save himself more than nine of the thirteen years he was supposed to spend in prison by testifying against Vinny Davis.
As part of his deal, Vittorio has to stay out of trouble, which means he traded in the black leather jacket of his gun-toting, pipe-wielding mob days for the orange polyester of a Jersey Home Depot clerk.
Sabol disappeared into the witness-protection program right after Vittorio and his fellow Lucchese-family wiseguys were convicted. But he surfaced recently in New Orleans, where he’d been using the name Richie Coccia, running the Cafe Palermo in the French Quarter and working undercover for the government yet again.
In an interview with a New Orleans local TV reporter, Sabol, wearing a diamond-studded Rolex, a bulbous gold pinkie ring, and a gold bracelet, talked about his work as an informant and his twenty-year-old dispute with Vinny Davis.
“When I was a kid, Diane and I came out of some horror movie,” he told the reporter when asked about the threats. “And I said to her, ‘See what happens? If you ever do it to me, I’ll throw acid in your face and cut off your fingers.’
“But everything got all blown outta proportion. Vinny Davis says I threatened him, I burned down his house. It never happened. These are all stories in this kid’s mind. This guy, I don’t know him, I never met him. There’s always three sides to every story. His side, my side, and the truth.”
Talking to the reporter, relaxed, smiling, his white teeth flashing, Richie Sabol seemed like what he is: a free man.
But the same can’t be said for Vinny Davis. He has been involved with someone new for two years, a computer-support analyst who wants to get married and have children. They’d even picked a wedding date near the end of next month. But that was before the U.S. Attorney’s office announced its decision to try him for the third time. Now all plans are on hold.
And Diane Pelatti is still not out of his life. As recently as six months ago, he had to have a restraining order issued to stop her from harassing him. Still in Yonkers and apparently living with her parents, she was, Davis claims, leaving messages on his answering machine threatening to shoot him unless he gave her money. Still, after everything that’s happened, he says he feels no animosity toward her.
“Look, we had a lot of years together,” Davis says wistfully. “And at one time, I loved her more than life itself. So it really hurts me to see her this way.”
Now, both of them are a long, long way from that beach in New Rochelle.