Tap Game

Bugging device
Bugging device
The meeting to work out plans for the would-be assassination of John Gotti took place in Cassella's Restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey, owned by a Genovese soldier. It was a logical location since the hit was ordered by Vinnie "the Chin" Gigante, the head of the Genovese crime family.

The one catch was that the FBI knew about the place and at times had previously bugged it. Naturally the Genovese men were suspicious, so they were careful about where they held their meeting. It took place in the ladies' bathroom. To get access the boys banged impatiently on the door to rouse the females inside.

A woman's voice called out, "Just a minute, OK?"

"Go piss in the street, lady," snarled Louie Manna, the capo in charge of the projected hit. "We got to have a fuckin' business meeting."

The toilet flushed and out came the woman.

Four plotters, Manna, restaurant owner Motts Cassella, Frankie Danello and Bocci DeSiscio, piled into the pink-tiled room and devised a plot in which Gotti and his brother Gene would be ambushed as they left the Gambino's Bergin clubhouse in Queens.

As it happened, the projected hit never took place. The FBI warned the Gottis of the plan.

Yes, the restaurant's men's room had been bugged, but the FBI had the foresight to plant a tap in the ladies' room as well. Such was one of the continuous cat-and-mouse episodes of the "tap game" between the FBI and its Mafia prey.

Sometimes all does not go well. Mafiosi like to have huge guard dogs for their homes or hangouts. Such was the case with Colombo soldier Donnie Shacks who kept two very mean Rottweilers posted at his social club, The Maniac Club.

To get in to plant their tapes agents fed the dogs meatballs laced with thorazine. The idea was that the drug would discourage the animals from bothering the agent or even leave them out cold in the courtyard. Instead the dogs gobbled down all the meatballs and dashed straight for the club.

There the dogs erupted all over the premises with, as one agent described, "the force of what appeared to be several fire hoses." Then the dogs passed out cold. Agents who entered the club had to tread carefully around the swamp of fecal material to install the hidden microphones.

No one ever accused Donnie Shacks of being long in the thought department, but he suspected something had made the dogs produce the terrible mess. He had the club swept by an electronics expert and uncovered the bugs. Score one for the mob.

Fortunately for the FBI, mafiosi are incessant talkers and even when they suspect their phones are tapped they will use it to call in an expert to check it out. That was what Gotti sidekick Angelo Ruggiero did when he feared his home might have been bugged.

A former New York City detective named Conroy was brought in, and he swept the residence. Conroy found the place clean, and a grateful Ruggerio paid him $1,000 in cash. Conroy's analysis had been on target, but only because the FBI had overheard his hiring, entered the house and removed the bugs.

As soon as the search was completed, agents reentered the house and restored the bugs. Meanwhile Ruggiero, believing his phone was clean, talked so much that agents nicknamed him QuackQuack. Ruggiero's chatter played a huge role in the downfall of Gotti and numerous other mafiosi.

Perhaps the most celebrated tap game was that played on Tommy DiBella when he was acting boss of the Colombos. The FBI had set up a sting operation with an informant utilizing bugs on his business premises. One day a Colombo soldier spotted what he thought was a security system meant to protect the premises. Actually it was a sophisticated bugging set-up.

The mob guy wanted to know where the man had gotten it. Thinking fast, the informant said he had gotten it free from a buddy who had ripped it off and given it to him.

"Gee," said the gullible soldier, "Mr. DiBella would love to have such a system."

"No problem," the informant assured him, "I'll get them to boost another security system and install it for Mr. DiBella for free."

For that price, Mr. DiBella certainly wanted the system.

When a workclothed FBI man came to DiBella's Staten Island house and identified himself as the man with the security system, DiBella said sternly, "Yeah? Well, you look like a fucking FBI agent to me."

"No shit, Mr. DiBella," the agent replied. "What does one look like?"

Now the 75-year-old boss laughed. "Ah, I'm just busting your balls. Come on in, guy."

The subsequent busts made law enforcement history.