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The FBI's 'made' man

08/31/03
Story by
Michael Heaton Plain Dealer Reporter

Editor's note: In five years as an informant, Anthony Delmonti helped the FBI make dozens of arrests, including the recent indictment of Virgil Ogletree and five associates for running a local gambling ring. Now that his paid relationship with the FBI has ended, Delmonti shares his story.

Cleveland mobster Anthony Delmonti couldn't believe what he was hearing.

In the summer of 1999, he was winding down a meeting in a hotel room with Rochester, N.Y., mob boss Tommy Marotta about laundering money and moving some cocaine. Delmonti also had a line on some contraband food stamps. They were planning some golf for later . . . then Marotta became curiously quiet.

He suggested "making" Delmonti on the spot.

Delmonti was floored. Get "straightened out" right here, right now? Marotta just stared, tightening his steel-blue eyes. He was the boss, he said. He could do whatever he wanted.

There had been discussions about officially making Delmonti a member of the Mafia. He had been a good "earner" for the Rochester arm of New York City's Bonanno family. Marotta had permission from Delmonti's Cleveland mob boss to make him. But what about the ceremony? Delmonti asked. The sponsor? Burning the holy card? The speeches in Sicilian?

Marotta waved it off. He was still on probation and not supposed to associate with any of the guys. The ceremony was unnecessary. Made guy Joe T. would be the sponsor. He explained to Delmonti what being "made" entailed, its privileges and responsibilities.

This family comes first. Even before Delmonti's own family. No other member could kill him without permission from Marotta. Delmonti would turn over all his earnings to Marotta. He would be getting a share of whatever the family was bringing in. No fooling with drugs. Delmonti was never to mess with the wives or girlfriends of any other made guys. That was sacred. No made guys would ever mess with Delmonti's wife or girlfriend.

Delmonti was in shock. Marotta was a legend. An old-school wiseguy. He did nine years on a racketeering violation in 1987 and survived two different attempts on his life in 1983. He caught eight bullets from a .22 and was still walking.

And now he was officially bringing Delmonti into the family. Emotionally, Delmonti was all over the map. He was awed and humbled. It was something he never expected to happen. It was a wiseguy's dream come true.

Marotta got up from his chair and embraced Delmonti, kissing him on both cheeks. It was done. Marotta said there would be a reception later. Told him to bring his appetite. Pressed for time, Marotta said he had another appointment and left the room.

Delmonti sat dazed for a minute. He went to unlock the door that opened to the adjoining room. He paused, savoring what had just happened. He took a breath, opening the door wide.

"That's riiiiigght!" he said to the five FBI agents who were there with the video equipment. "I'm the big boss now. You saw it."

The agents cheered and high-fived Delmonti. They jokingly kissed his ring and laughed. He was already an outstanding informant. But this was unprecedented. An FBI informant being "made" by a mob boss. And it was all on tape. It was one of the undercover coups of all time. Delmonti was pumped.

An hour later, back in his own hotel room, Delmonti called his girlfriend in Cleveland. As he explained what happened, she covered her mouth and cried. She knew that his friend and mentor Tommy Marotta was as good as in jail. And Delmonti had put him there. He hung up the phone. Then he cried, too.

Undercover

Thomas Marotta is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence for cocaine trafficking. He was one of many people whose plans were changed by Anthony Delmonti.

The Cleveland career criminal worked as an FBI informant from July 1998 to July of this year. He aided federal agents in arresting people all across the country for crimes ranging from murder to selling drugs to money laundering, food-stamp fraud, auto theft and weapons violations.

According to law-enforcement sources, Delmonti made more than 500 audio tapes and videotapes for the FBI, contributing to the arrest of more than 50 people with more still pending. He was responsible for the recovery of more than $250,000 in stolen vehicles, the seizure of $80,000 in illicit drug money and $100,000 in illegal gambling money.

Delmonti also orchestrated one of the largest gambling busts in Cleveland history, leading to the arrest this month of Cleveland numbers kingpin Virgil Ogletree and five associates. Ogletree had run the numbers racket here for more than 50 years.

"Tony was the best informant I ever worked with in 21 years in law enforcement," said former FBI agent John Ligato, who worked with Delmonti on several cases.

"He's a legitimate wiseguy. He has both balls and brains. If you don't have the brains, you don't live too long. If you don't have the guts, nothing gets done. Tony is a mob guy from central casting. He has the swagger and underlying menace. But he's also very likable. He's fun to be around. He was extremely productive undercover. As operatives go, it doesn't get any better than Tony."

In exchange for Delmonti's services, the government dismissed the last $154,000 of a fine he owned for his 1988 cocaine distribution conviction, paid his living expenses for five years and gave him an undisclosed lump-sum payment. He is not in the government's witness protection program.

Delmonti, 57, now lives far away from Cleveland, but at 6 feet, 250 pounds, he remains a larger-than-life character who carries his mob persona with pride. He wears designer tinted glasses, gold jewelry and favors big, fancy cars. He fractures the English language with gusto, swears like Tony Soprano and tells uproarious stories about his underworld exploits. But when asked about the risk he is taking as an informant, he becomes serious.

"I'm in danger. In front of my girlfriend, I say, 'I'm not.' But I am. These guys in New York, these are not children I'm playing with. My guys in Cleveland, I don't feel too threatened by them. But these Buffalo and Rochester guys? That's a lot of guys going to jail, and they have family. They kill people. I believe if the Bonanno family found where I was at, they would kill me. I'm a convicted felon. I can't carry a weapon. I'm dead," he said.

Mob life

Delmonti says he wasn't predisposed to a life of crime other than the fact that his father, Anthony Delmonti Sr., was a small-time bookmaker. His family lived on Royal Road in Collinwood.

"I grew up in a rough neighborhood, but we were the richest family in it. I was a rich kid who went bad. My mother thought I could do no wrong. She always blamed everyone else. Bad companions," said Delmonti.

After getting a football scholarship and flunking out of two colleges, Delmonti found ways to generate his own money. He learned the collection business from neighborhood pal and mobster Eugene "The Animal" Ciasullo.

"I used to send guys wheelchairs with a note that said, 'You're gonna need a case of aspirin for the beating we're gonna give you,' " Delmonti said.

In 1969, an opportunity of the criminal variety came to Delmonti. The Cleveland Heights Police Department hired him as a dispatcher. He used the job to expand his criminal activities. He describes 1969 as "the year we robbed the whole town."

Delmonti's life of crime carried on unabated for the next five years until 1974, when he was arrested on charges of aggravated burglary. He served three years at the state prison at Marion. When Delmonti got out in 1978, he became serious about his criminal career. He put together a crew from the old Collinwood neighborhood.

They bought kilos of cocaine for $12,000, selling them for $20,000. Soon he was flush again. He also started using cocaine. It wasn't long before Delmonti was out of control. It led to his second stint in jail in 1987.

"That's when I met Vinny Bada-Bing, the undercover FBI agent," Delmonti said referring to retired agent Ted Domine. Domine, posing as a car thief with a chop shop, busted Delmonti for racketeering, drugs and stolen cars.

Delmonti spent the next six years in prisons in Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania, giving him the opportunity to meet gangsters from all over the country. Domine, a master recruiter, realized Delmonti would be an ideal informant. The agent did some personal favors, looking out for Delmonti's family. A relationship developed.

After Delmonti got out of jail in 1993, Domine stayed in touch. In November 1996, Delmonti opened The Drip Stick coffee shop on West Sixth Street in downtown Cleveland. Domine convinced Delmonti that working for the FBI was his smartest option. Too many thugs were telling cops they had evidence on Delmonti. Most of the crooks didn't even know Delmonti. They saw him as a walking get-out-of-jail-free card.

"I did enough prison time in my life for other people. I was ratted on in both cases. I thought this time I'm going to the table," said Delmonti.

Delmonti went back and forth on the decision to work for Domine. Some of Domine's colleagues questioned Delmonti's commitment and resolve. But he convinced everybody in 1998 when he went after his former cohort, Ronnie Lucarelli.

Delmonti's first case for the FBI illustrates the crazy bravado and street smarts that served him so well. Lucarelli was extremely cautious and tough to get. He wouldn't go see Delmonti to pick up the ounce of coke. He made Delmonti come to him in Collinwood, where there was a lookout on every block and a stranger stuck out like a pineapple pizza.

Delmonti had to make sure an agent witnessed the transaction. The bureau sent a woman. Delmonti told Lucarelli she was the pastry chef from his coffee shop. Lucarelli conducted the exchange indoors and insisted the woman stay in the car. Delmonti outfoxed him. He stuffed the ounce of cocaine in his shirt and made sure it fell out on the ground in plain sight as he returned to the car.

This didn't sit well with Lucarelli's crew. They were suspicious and vocal about it. Who was the broad in the car?

Delmonti didn't flinch. He said she was a lesbian. And that she often participated in three-way trysts with him and a girlfriend. He described their activity graphically. Suddenly, nobody was worried about Delmonti's loyalty anymore. They just wanted to hear more about his sexual adventures.

Lucarelli is now doing 10 years in federal prison on drug charges.

In 1999, Delmonti began the operation on Virgil Ogletree.

"Virgil came to me because he needed a partner. He had worked before with mob guys like [Anthony] Liberatore before so it was no big deal. The dangerous part is that an old guy like Virgil knows a lot of people. Very connected. Every day when I would drive over there I'm thinking, 'Is this the day somebody called Virgil and told him about me?' That's always on your mind. Because when that day comes, you're dead," said Delmonti.

Delmonti's role was to provide an infusion of cash and staunch the flow of losses.

"So I bring an agent in saying this person knows about numbers and can help the operation. The agent has a hidden camera. As I introduce the agent around the room, I'm saying, 'This is Virgil, and Marvin. Hi, Mary, here's someone I want you to meet.' Meanwhile the feds can look at the tape and ID everyone when they are ready to go in. That was a little nerve-racking."

Those tapes were used as evidence when Ogletree was arrested this month.

That same year, Delmonti had a close call in a Cleveland bank where he had convinced a bank officer to help him launder money. During the meeting, an undercover agent was with him posing as a mobster.

"The agent got recognized by a friend of the bank guy. He knows the agent from another undercover thing. He comes to the bank officer hysterical. He says that guy you met was an FBI agent! I made up a story that he wasn't that guy. I said he just looked like that guy," Delmonti said.

"Then I got this same guy going around town telling people I'm in the FBI. So I catch him in the bathroom at a restaurant in Mayfield Heights. They had a pay phone in there, and I grabbed the hand part and cracked him on the head so many times you could play ring toss with the lumps on his head. I was able to overcome those kinds of mistakes because I'm me. Anybody else would have gotten killed."

Delmonti's days as an informant were hectic. There was always one more person to see, one more place to go, one more call to make. He says the frantic pace became the norm during those first three years.

"I'd drive five hours up to Rochester and check into the hotel. One time the lady at the hotel desk says, 'Oh, your friends are already here.' Meaning the agents in the next room! What if I had been standing there with the boss or a wiseguy? That's exactly the kind of slip that could get you killed."

Only now is Delmonti feeling the cumulative effect of five years of living the double life. It's not something he recommends.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever done. So many things could have happened. They had me running crazy. It got to me. That's why I got sick. I was in Hillcrest Hospital [in Mayfield Heights] for three months with pneumonia in 2001. My body couldn't take it anymore," he said.

Close call

One of Delmonti's last cases was his most serious and celebrated. And the only one during which he was present for the bust.

On Dec. 29, 2000, the targets were prominent Rochester defense attorney Anthony Leonardo Jr. and hit man Albert Ranieri. Delmonti had gotten them both on tape admitting to murder and a $10 million armored-car robbery. He lured them both to a hotel in Brighton, N.Y., where he was to receive a payment of $100,000 for 10 kilos of cocaine. There was a heavily armed SWAT team in the next room and agents all over the lobby and parking lot.

Delmonti thought the feds were overdoing it. He knew the unwritten rule among mob guys. You never bring a gun to a meeting. It's not protocol. The takedown would be easy, he thought.

"So I'm in there talking away. They're [Leonardo and Ranieri] telling me more and more stuff they've done. Almost an hour went by. We're planning an armored-car thing in Cleveland, when . . . BAM! . . . that door explodes open, and the place is full of these hooded ninjas [the SWAT team] with guns that look like if they hit you, you'd disappear. I've seen a lot of scary stuff, but this was amazing. I saw the split-second look on Leonardo's face. The color went away. He was saying goodbye to his life. They cuffed me, too, and hustled me out. The SWAT guys tell me later, both of them had guns. They were gonna kill me.

"Then the phone rings. It's two other guys looking to buy cocaine. They said, 'Why not?' The ninjas got dressed, we put the room back together, and 20 minutes later we did it all over again. I coulda slept for a week when that was all over," he said.

Leonardo is currently serving 12 years and Ranieri 30 to life in federal prisons.

Uncertain future

Today, Delmonti is in hiding, his life is different and almost everything familiar - people, places and routines - has vanished.

"Right now I'm up in the air. It's not a good feeling. I was born and raised in Cleveland. My family's there. I left everybody. It's like living out of a bag. You do the best you can. I feel like a gypsy."

Delmonti says his mob days are over, despite his lingering nostalgia.

"I miss the guys. I don't know why. I don't think they miss me. There was a closeness there. But I also know it was a false closeness. Now if I want that kind of camaraderie, I have to watch 'The Sopranos.' People are ratting on each other right and left. It wasn't real except in my mind and memory. There's no honor anymore like the old days. The FBI and mob are exactly the same. They both lost their honor around the same time," he said.

Though Delmonti's future is uncertain, there are times when he doesn't seem too worried. He sees himself as being resourceful. And careful.

"I can adapt to anything. I did a lot of time in jail, I worked for the police, I'm a mob guy, I'm a social director. I wear a lot of hats," he said. "I try not to think each day might be my last, but I'm always aware of it. When I pull out of the driveway I'm always looking to see if anybody's following me. I'm always in that rearview mirror."

Delmonti wears a large gold crucifix on a chain around his neck. It was a gift from his Bonanno family boss, Tommy Marotta.

What would Jesus think of him wearing that crucifix?

"I think he'd understand," Delmonti said, pausing, turning the idea over in his mind. "Jesus had a crew."

Then comes the afterthought.

"He even had a rat in his crew," he said, laughing.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

mheaton@plaind.com, 216-999-4569


2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.


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