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Local FBI agent plays key role in dismantling region's organized crime family

First of two parts

Sunday, November 05, 2000

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Two summers ago, Roger Greenbank took a drive out to rural West Deer to check the lay of the wooded land surrounding a certain big brown house off serpentine Clendenning Road.

FBI agent Roger Greenbank has left the Pittsburgh office after 25 years. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

Driving by, he saw Michael Genovese riding a tractor in his garden, his shirt off in the sun.

"He happened to be facing my direction when the car went by," said Greenbank. "He waved and I waved and that was the end of it."

Genovese, the 82-year-old godfather of the Pittsburgh mob, probably thought he was waving to a neighbor, not the relentless veteran FBI agent who helped dismantle his crime family.

A decade ago last month, Greenbank and a squad of federal agents and prosecutors crippled the Pittsburgh mob with the convictions of underboss Charles "Chucky" Porter, top lieutenant Louis Raucci Sr. and seven of their associates.

The Mafia has limped along ever since, damaged further by age, death and defections.

Now its nemesis, the "stone in the shoe" to use a twist on the old mob parlance, has moved on.

Greenbank, 52, the Pittsburgh Mafia's most persistent opponent since the late 1970s, left the region last week for a new FBI job in Wilmington, Del., where he'll take on Jamaican mobsters and corrupt public servants.

 
    Part 2:

Mafia has long history here, growing from bootlegging days

 
 

He leaves behind a legacy of imprisoned gangsters and an encyclopedic understanding of La Cosa Nostra in Western Pennsylvania.

"No one," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Teitelbaum, "has had as much impact on organized crime here as Roger."

As it turns out, Greenbank has been even more instrumental than almost anyone realized.

Last week, the U.S. attorney's office revealed that Porter, 66, has been talking to Greenbank from prison for the last eight years, informing on his cronies.

The relationship between agent and inmate has led to FBI investigations of the mob across the United States.

His tips, as related to Greenbank and another agent, also averted mob slayings in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and elsewhere, according to a motion filed by the U.S. attorney's office to cut short Porter's 28-year sentence.

Greenbank won't discuss Porter's cooperation, but he'll testify about the value of the information he's received at a hearing this month in federal court.

Wiretaps, surveillance

For five months in 1990, Greenbank, Teitelbaum and a team of federal officials huddled in their war room on the 25th floor of the federal building, Downtown, cobbling together a racketeering case that traced the mob from 1967 through 1990.

They had chipped away at the family throughout the 1980s, starting with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration case against Gary Golden, a mob associate in New Kensington.

Greenbank first saw Golden at the funeral for mobster Thomas "Sonny" Ciancutti's brother in 1979, where agents were conducting surveillance from a van. From there, he followed Golden to Arizona and saw him meet with Porter and drug dealer Eugene "Nick the Blade" Gesuale of East Liberty.

In the mid-1980s, the federal officials scored their first major victory by convicting Gesuale, a crude and fearsome narcotics kingpin whom Greenbank says is the only mob associate he's known who has "absolutely no redeeming qualities."

Using a combination of informants, wiretaps and surveillance at places such as L.A. Motors in Verona, where Genovese was officially employed as a salesman, the feds systematically worked their way up the chain of command.

After Gesuale, they used drug dealers Marvin Droznek and Joey Rosa as government witnesses to provide details of the mob's inner workings.

Their testimony ultimately led to the prosecutions of more than 40 people. The top dogs were Raucci, a Verona gangster who bragged about breaking people's thumbs, and Porter, the half-Italian former mailman whose gentlemanly manners with authorities belied a history as a barroom brawler.

After the 1990 trial, the two men and their associates went to prison.

For Greenbank, the case brought a satisfying halt to a cancer that had spread for decades.

"I like [former U.S. Attorney] Tom Corbett's statement on the night of the convictions, on the courthouse steps," said Greenbank. " 'We have successfully severed the head from the body of La Cosa Nostra in Western Pennsylvania.' And I think he was right. We took off the largest moneymakers for the family. It was an awful lot of hard work by a lot of people."

Greenbank is not the type to take undue credit. Other investigators, such as veteran Internal Revenue Service agent Ed Reiser, were just as dogged. But in the mid-1980s, Greenbank became the lead agent in Pittsburgh for a task force targeting the mob, and everyone else followed his direction.

"In this type of work you have to trust the people you work with completely," said Reiser, 46. "Roger projects that sense of integrity and trustworthiness."

The Porter case was by far the largest prosecution ever of mobsters here.

For decades the Mafia ran the rackets, infiltrated labor unions and paid off politicians and police. Mobsters and their associates had been arrested many times and often convicted, but they usually got probation or a year or so in jail.

With the advent of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, federal officials could prosecute an entire network of criminals on a pattern of inter-related crimes.

Greenbank's organizational skills and near-photographic memory proved invaluable. In addition to his considerable interviewing talents, he's renowned for his recall of dates, names and places. Even now, he knows where he was on certain days 15 years ago, who said what to whom and probably even what he had for breakfast. In short, he's the ultimate detail man.

"I think one of the things that set Roger apart from the beginning is that he had a good grasp of how to put together a historical case," Reiser said. "He's meticulous. Once he got on the trail [of mobsters], I think he drove those guys nuts."

Facts and figures come easily to Greenbank.

"As a kid growing up [in Baltimore], I could recite all the baseball averages," he said. "My dad said if you can do that, why can't you do it with schoolwork? But it's always been a natural talent."

Learned Chinese

Greenbank is hardly the physically imposing sort.

In his impeccable suit and glasses, he looks more like an accountant than a G-man of old. A devoted family man, he's never fired his gun in the field, and you can't picture him kicking down doors with Elliott Ness or shooting it out with Al Capone.

But the FBI's cowboy days are long over, and Greenbank personifies the modern agent: smart, intense, focused.

Like many federal agents, he's taciturn at first. But once he gets to talking about his work, he can become downright animated.

In describing the mannerisms of Pittsburgh mobsters complaining about not having enough money, he suddenly jumps out of his chair, pulls the pocket linings out of his pants and says in his best husky mobster-ese, "I'm tapped out!"

It's a cinch that he likes his job. He always wanted to be in law enforcement. His grandfather was a police officer on horseback in Baltimore, and his uncle was a policeman, too.

After graduating from Towson State University, he went to work as a file clerk in the Baltimore FBI office. He then attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., and became a special agent, taking his first assignment in Philadelphia in 1976.

After two years learning the ropes, he took advantage of an FBI foreign language program in Monterey, Calif., learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. He was assigned to Pittsburgh in 1979, where he was going to investigate a case that would make use of his Chinese.

The case never developed, so he returned to regular criminal work and has stayed here ever since, directing his attention to the Mafia.

In the end, he says, the Pittsburgh mob was done in by RICO and its members' greed for profits from the drug trade.

It hasn't recovered.

These days, no more than a handful of members remain, all of them old men.

None are under 70. Ciancutti, recently arrested on gambling charges, is 70. Two other longtime members, Frank Amato Jr. of East McKeesport and John Bazzano Jr. of McMurray, are well into their 70s. And although Genovese has a pacemaker that has rejuvenated his bad heart, he's older than all of them.

The Mafia is facing its extinction, just as it is in other parts of the country where it once ruled by intimidation, street smarts and a careful cultivation of its mystique.

"The mob is going to eventually cease to exist, because it's too old," said Greenbank. "They're not making any new members. It's just eventually going to go away."

'Hey, you got me'

Greenbank didn't hate the mob.

He managed to build his cases without getting emotional.

Once, during the investigation of the Mafia's involvement in casino gambling on the Rincon Indian reservation near San Diego, the late mobster Henry "Zebo" Zottola suddenly said, "Why do you hate me?"

I'm just doing my job, Greenbank told him. It's nothing personal.

It never was.

Most mobsters tended to respect the idea that agents had a role to play.

For some, it was almost a game.

Raucci, for example, seemed to have a wink in his eye -- despite his history as a hardened criminal who had bombed buildings, kidnapped a police officer, done drive-by shootings and even sold babies in an adoption scheme.

"Just after he was sentenced to 27 years in prison [in 1991], he's in the car being driven away and he's smiling and waving," Greenbank recalled. "He knew it was his time. I think a lot of these guys felt you do your thing and I'll do mine. Some of them I could tell didn't like me. But some of them, like Raucci, were like, 'Hey, you got me.'"

Greenbank understood how the local mobsters thought. He appreciated their code of honor, however warped it might be.

After years of spying on them, interviewing them and listening in on their obscenity-laced conversations, he knew they saw the world largely through the prism of how they grew up together in Larimer, once predominantly an Italian neighborhood.

Loyalty was life for those guys.

When Gesuale was a fugitive in Jamaica in 1985, Greenbank and another agent went to see Porter for information. They followed his Cadillac on Route 22 and pulled into his driveway in Penn Hills.

"He got out with a cigar and said, 'What can I do for you?'" Greenbank recalled. "I introduced myself, and he said, 'I've heard of you. What's up?' I said we're looking for Gesuale. He said, 'We had a falling out.' I said, 'Can you tell me where he is?' He said, 'No, I can't do it. He's an old friend."'

That may have been the beginning of a bond between Greenbank and Porter.

"He was very polite, he looked me in the eye, I think he was sizing me up," said Greenbank. "I had the sense that that he thought I was just doing my job."

Five years later, Greenbank cultivated the underboss further with his awareness of the importance of status.

When agents arrested Porter, Raucci and their underlings in April 1990, Greenbank handcuffed Porter's hands in front of his body instead of behind his back, as procedure required.

Porter thanked him for the courtesy.

At the courthouse, Greenbank gave Porter eggs for breakfast and sent someone to fetch Raucci a cup of coffee. The other suspects got nothing.

It was calculated to play to the egos of the bosses as "men of respect."

Treating people with dignity is part of Greenbank's style. Who knows, he figures, when it might pay off?

Confidential informants

Gesuale was one criminal, however, who got no personal favors.

A loan shark who ran social clubs in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, he drove a Jaguar, a Lincoln and a Mazeratti and lived in a Highland Park penthouse apartment. He had a monumental ego, wearing clothes monogrammed with NTB -- the "Nick the Blade" initials were even stitched on his underwear -- and keeping photo albums full of pictures of himself. He also was a slob. On one surveillance detail, Greenbank saw him use one hand to snort cocaine while using the other to urinate off a balcony.

He ended up pleading guilty in the middle of his trial and getting 45 years.

"He had 11 previous arrests but no convictions because he terrorized witnesses, and the FBI figured he needed a public trial," Greenbank said. "If I ever got close to hating anyone, it was Gesuale. He was a bad guy. He was abusive to women. He was an animal. In fact, that was one of his other nicknames."

Greenbank also couldn't help feeling some animus toward Melvin Schwartz, Porter's attorney.

During the 1990 trial, Schwartz began grilling a Chinese witness from Chicago using information from an FBI report that identified several individuals by their first names followed by "Lnu," for "last name unknown." At one point Schwartz, a pompous sort, began talking about "Joe Lnu," apparently thinking that Lnu was a Chinese name. The Chinese witness said he didn't know any "Joe Lnu."

As the grilling continued, Teitelbaum stood up and told the judge he could clear up the confusion. But Schwartz cut him off, saying he didn't need Teitelbaum's help, and resumed trying to find out who "Joe Lnu" was.

Greenbank, who had to put his head down because he was laughing too hard, muttered a profanity under his breath.

Schwartz whirled.

"What did you say, Mr. Greenbank?"

"You heard me," Greenbank said.

Schwartz demanded that Greenbank's slur be made part of the court record. Greenbank had no problem with that.

"I did call him" that, he said. "Because he was one."

Over the years, Greenbank became a student of Mafia culture. A movie buff, he's enamored of "The Godfather," "Goodfellas" and other gangster flicks, which he's found fairly accurate. The real thing, however, was a good deal more mundane.

"Surveillance gave us an insight into their character," Greenbank said. "There were a lot of conversations about their peppers. Or what they watched on TV last night. You saw a more human side to them. You also saw the treachery. Three guys would be talking and one would leave the room and one would say, 'You know, I never liked [him]. Why do you keep him around here?' The guy would come back in, and everything was OK."

Bugging places of business was an effective method of gathering intelligence, but it proved frustrating, too. At first, Greenbank and the other agents thought it would provide a treasure trove of past, present and future crimes. But the mobsters were smart, especially Genovese.

"He did the same thing John Gotti did, and that was walk and talk," said Greenbank. "They would be in [L.A. Motors] talking about something and the moment it got interesting, Mike said, 'Let's go outside.' And they'd be out there walking around waving their arms for two or three minutes. You saw that all the time. And you couldn't read those conversations."

So the agents bolstered their cases with confidential informants, who remain confidential to this day.

"I know that still drives some of these guys nuts," Greenbank said. "Our sources tell us these guys are still trying to figure out who CS1 [confidential source 1] was."

They'll probably never know.

But they do know the identity of someone else who has been informing on them: Porter.

The Porter information pipeline dates to 1991, when the federal prosecution team sent letters to the mobsters' attorneys explaining that they had a year to decide if they wanted to turn informant in exchange for less time.

In November of that year, Greenbank and the other feds met with Porter at an Air Force Base in New York near the penitentiary where he was incarcerated. Although Porter's first year in prison was coming to a close, Greenbank and others suggested that his cooperation might earn him a sentence reduction in the future.

Porter had always been loyal to the mob. But now he was closing in on 60, suffering from severe diabetes and facing the sobering prospect of dying in prison. He also had three children Greenbank described as good citizens, none of them involved in the mob.

Porter started talking and he's been talking ever since, supplying the FBI with information he's learned through inmates and other sources.

When his son, attorney Charles J. Porter, met with Greenbank and Teitelbaum last year and described his father's worsening diabetes, failing eyesight, bad kidneys and other health problems, Greenbank decided it was time to show Porter's cards.

He wrote a report detailing Porter's cooperation, and based on that, U. S. Attorney Harry Litman filed the motion for a reduced sentence for "substantial assistance."

On Nov. 29, Greenbank will appear before U.S. District Judge Donald Ziegler to explain what Porter has told the FBI through the years.

And out in West Deer, Greenbank knows, an old man in a big brown house will be watching.



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