Andrew Russo and his underboss, Benjamin Castellazzo, were among the members of the Colombo crime family that were busted Tuesday in a massive sting operation conducted by the NYPD. More than a dozen suspects, including members of the clan’s leadership, now face racketeering charges.
Andrew “Mush” Russo, 87, and Benjamin “The Claw” Castellazzo, 83, are the current heads of the crime family, authorities said. The current indictment alleged that the Colombo crime family attempted to infiltrate a labor union. Officers arrested over a dozen clan members, with one still on the loose in Florida, reports claimed.
Benjamin Castellazzo was previously sentenced to five years in prison back in 2013 after authorities caught him on an extortion charge. The Colombo family underboss pleaded guilty to the mob extortion which was related to the Spumoni Gardens’ secret sauce recipe. According to prison records, Castellazzo left custody back in 2015, though it wasn’t revealed why.
The current Colombo family head, Andrew Russo, was arrested in 2011. The cousin of late family boss Carmine Persico was booked in January of that year and pleaded guilty to federal charges. At the time of his arrest, Russo was a Colombo street boss. Before his arrest, authorities captured audio recording, with Russo claiming that “I don’t hesitate, I’ve never hesitated,” in relation to violence against fellow mobsters.
He was also recorded saying that he would never walk away from the mob life. “I can’t walk away,” he said in the recording. “I can’t rest.”
Andrew Russo was convicted for bribery, racketeering, and witness tampering, court documents confirmed. He and his fellow mobsters were scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday afternoon in Brooklyn federal court. One report claimed the members were arrested for health care fraud allegations and union-related corruption. The specific charges are still pending.
The official indictment accused the Colombo crime family of orchestrating a two-decade plot to extort an unspecified labor union related to construction workers. Andrew Russo, Benjamin Castellazzo, and over ten others allegedly threatened violence in order to secure payments and arrange contracts benefitting the Colombos.
The Colombo crime family is the youngest of the “Five Families” that controlled organized crime in New York City. It was once claimed that the crime family was the most violent of all mafia clans in America. The original Colombo crime family was called the Profaci crime family – named after Joe Profaci – and it was broken up by three internal wars from the late 1950s to the early 1990s.
After the first war tore the family apart, Joseph Colombo reignited the spark in the 1960s, reformulating the family under his rule. This lasted until a second war began after Colombo was shot. His supporters, led by Carmine Persico, eventually won the second war to follow and formulated the modern Colombo regime.
A third war erupted in 1991 when acting boss Vittorio Orena tried to seize power from the then-imprisoned Carmine Persico. By 1993, however, Orena had been imprisoned and 12 family members were killed. This made it so Persico was the winner by default.
Persico stayed the leader until the family eventually crumpled in the 2000s by a string of convictions. Many mafia members became government witnesses and leaders were jailed for several different federal racketeering cases. It is believed that the Colombo crime family is now the weakest of the “Five Families” in New York City.
Andrew Russo was first appointed acting boss in 1994 but was dethroned when he first went to prison in 1996. Carmine Persico’s son, Alphonse Persico, took over as acting boss. In 2019, Carmine Persico died in prison and at the time, Alphonse Persico was serving life in prison. Now the family is left without leadership as Andrew Russo prepares for his arraignment.