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Vito Arena (b.1930– d.1991) was an associate of the Gambino crime family, one of the five Italian Mafia families located in New York. For a short time, he was a member of the DeMeo crew, a notorious group of car thieves, drug dealers and murderers led by Gambino soldier Roy DeMeo that were responsible for between 75-200 killings in the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.
Arena was born to first generation immigrants from Arena, in the region of Calabria in the province of Vibo Valentia. Vito would eventually become a cooperator against the crew, testifying against them in two separate trials and contributing in large part to the convictions of the key members. Originally a car thief and armed robber with no ties to La Cosa Nostra, Vito Arena became affiliated with Roy DeMeo after being released from prison in the late 1970s. At the time, DeMeo was in the preliminary phases of putting together an international auto-theft operation, where stolen vehicles were sold to a third-party in Kuwait for tremendous profits. Roy offered Vito, along with two of Vito's associates Joseph Lee and Joseph Scorney a job stealing cars for the operation. Joseph Scorney, a successful car thief with no organized crime ties, refused the offer and attempted to talk Vito out of the proposition. Scorney's reluctance, among other reasons, resulted in him being murdered by Vito and DeMeo crew member Richard DiNome. Scorney's body was then put into a concrete filled barrel and dumped off of a pier. After this murder Roy met with Vito, who accepted Roy's offer to work for him. By June 1979 the operation was underway, with Roy appointing 4 others to serve along with him as the scheme's primary active partners. Vito assisted one of these partners, Richard DiNome, with the actual stealing of the automobiles.
Member of the DeMeo Crew Edit
In September 1979, a former partner of the man serving as the head of the Kuwait end of the operation threatened to contact police. This man, Khaled Daoud, was attempting to make a legitimate living in the business of used cars and felt his partner's illegal dealings with organized crime was hurting his own business. After Roy DeMeo learned of the situation, he set in motion plans to murder Daoud before he could follow through on his threat. Vito Arena accompanied Roy along with DeMeo Crew members (as well as active partners in the Kuwait operation) Henry Borelli and Frederick DiNome on an initial attempt at murdering Daoud but as a result of poor planning the murder plot was temporarily aborted. On October 10, Roy was informed by a police officer on his payroll that Khaled Daoud had placed a call to police and divulged information of the crew's activities. On October 12, the DeMeo crew lured Daoud, along with another legitimate car dealer by the name of Ronald Falcaro, to a Canarsie bodyshop and shot them both dead. Vito was present at the scene of the double murder, stationed outside of the garage where the murders took place in order to both serve as a lookout as well as to ensure the two intended victims did not escape out of the garage once the shooting started. After the two targets were killed, Roy DeMeo and other crew members dismembered the corpses and placed the body parts into plastic garbage bags which were boxed and later hauled to the Fountain Avenue Dump in Brooklyn. Vito and Henry Borelli were assigned to dispose of Ronald Falcaro's car, during which Vito claims that Henry divulged a number of details concerning some of the crew's past murders, including Andrei Katz and former DeMeo crew member Chris Rosenberg.
By 1980, Roy increased Vito's weekly salary for his work stealing cars for the Kuwait operation and also began inviting Vito to social gatherings with other members of the DeMeo crew. Vito even dressed as Santa Claus and gave presents to all of the crew member's children at Roy's house during Christmas of 1979. By mid-April 1980, Roy's trust in Vito had grown to the point that he dispatched Vito on a mission to locate and murder Patrick Penny. Penny was the primary witness in a double-homicide committed by Roy DeMeo and his Gambino crime family Captain Anthony Gaggi in October 1979. Although Roy successfully avoided identification and capture, Gaggi and another Gambino soldier were arrested immediately after the murder while attempting to flee the crime scene. Patrick Penny was the eyewitness who alerted police and then testified in court about the murders, securing a five-to-fifteen year conviction for Gaggi. Despite Roy's trust in his abilities, Vito fumbled the assignment when after confronting Patrick face to face, Patrick managed to portray himself as his brother Robert. Shortly afterwards on April 26, 1980, the warehouse serving as the center of operations for the Kuwait auto-theft operation was raided by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and the operation was put on hold indefinitely. On May 12, 1980, Vito again managed to locate Patrick Penny. This time he informed Roy before he took action, and the two men along with Richard DiNome drove to the location, where Patrick was soon shot to death by Roy as he attempted to start his car.
Three weeks later on June 5, 1980, Vito was summoned by Richard DiNome to help with the disposal of two men who had just been shot that night by Roy and his crew. Vito and Richard drove one of the victim's cars, with the two corpses in the trunk, to a Brooklyn cemetery and left the vehicle there to be discovered by authorities. Aside from a July 4, 1980 party at Roy's house, Vito had begun to distance himself from the crew's activities by the summer of 1980. He would later tell law enforcement that he had become terrified of them and felt that they might kill him at any time merely for amusement. Despite his business relationship with Roy, most of the other crew members, particularly the Gemini Twins Joseph Testa and Anthony Senter disliked Vito because of his open homosexuality, an extremely contemptible lifestyle in the world of the Italian Mafia. By late 1980, Vito had stopped visiting the crew's headquarters at the Gemini Lounge and had severed all contact with any of the crew members. Vito and his partner Joseph Lee then reverted back to armed robbery while hiding out in Suffolk County, New York. On June 28, 1981, the two were arrested in Brooklyn by members of the NYPD's Auto Crimes Squad. Immediately after being arrested, Vito revealed to law enforcement a crucial piece of information about himself. Back in the Spring of 1980, when the FBI had performed the raid of the Kuwait Operation's warehouse headquarters, a man who identified himself as Harry had called the FBI multiple times and provided information about Roy and crew's criminal activities, including their involvement in the murders of Khaled Daoud and Ronald Falcaro.
Turning Rat Edit
Vito revealed that he was the one who had called in and then expressed interest in becoming a cooperator for the government against the crew. Although he intended to make a deal with the FBI, before a meeting could be scheduled he also agreed to become an informant for the NYPD. The process of organizing a cooperation deal was postponed until the following day but due to poor communication between law enforcement Vito was released on bail that same night and immediately fled into hiding again. On July 14, 1981, Roy DeMeo was served a subpoena by the Newark branch of the FBI as part of their investigation into the Kuwait auto-theft operation. The officers who served DeMeo the subpoena also informed him that Vito Arena had expressed a willingness to talk with authorities, in an attempt to intimidate Roy into divulging information or possibly cooperating with authorities. The attempt was unsuccessful, with Roy claiming he did not know any individual named Vito. By early 1982, Vito was the target of a manhunt by both law enforcement as well as Roy DeMeo and his crew. A cooperative effort by the FBI, NYPD and the US Attorney General's Office resulted in a massive task-force investigation of the activities of the DeMeo crew and Vito was sought as a valuable witness. The task force received and investigated numerous tips from anonymous sources alleging to know the location of Vito as well as his partner Joseph Lee. The two men were wanted by the task force as well as robbery squads in Brooklyn and Nassau County. On June 4 of 1982, an NYPD sergeant happened to be eating at a Chinese restaurant when both Vito and Joseph Lee entered to have a meal. The officer instantly recognized the men and discreetly called for backup. Vito and Lee were arrested as they left the restaurant and Vito was soon transferred to Federal custody after agreeing to cooperate.
The information provided by Vito Arena greatly assisted the task force investigation into the DeMeo crew's activities. By the time indictments were ready in early 1984, Roy DeMeo had already been murdered. Richard DiNome was murdered shortly after his arrest in February 1984 as well, in all likelihood by the remaining members of the DeMeo crew, who feared that Richard might choose to cooperate with authorities. Richard's brother Frederick DiNome, who served as Roy's chaffeur from 1978 to 1981 and was one of Roy's closest allies, agreed to cooperate with authorities as a result of his brother's death. Together with Dominick Montiglio, a nephew of Roy's superior Anthony Gaggi, Frederick and Vito were the primary witnesses who would testify in the two Federal trials against the remaining members of the DeMeo crew. While Frederick DiNome committed suicide shortly after his testimony in the first trial in 1986, both Vito and Dominick went on to testify in the second trial in 1988–1989 as well. Ultimately their cooperation led to the remaining core members of the DeMeo crew, namely Henry Borelli, Anthony Senter and Joseph Testa being sentenced to life imprisonment. Also given a life sentence was Ronald Ustica, who was not closely involved in the majority of the DeMeo Crew's activities but was a key participant in the Kuwait car operation and had served as one of the five head partners in the deal.
After The Demeo Crew Edit
Because of Vito's cooperation with the government, his prison sentence stemming from armed robbery and racketeering charges was drastically reduced. Soon after his release, Vito reverted to previous criminal activities, specifically armed robbery. On February 15, 1991, he held up a convenience store in Houston, Texas and was shot multiple times in the body by an employee. Arena escaped and died in the hospital days later.
In popular culture Edit
The HBO television show The Sopranos included in its cast of characters a mobster named Vito who is discovered to be homosexual. When news of his sexual orientation is revealed he is the target of contempt by his associates and is eventually murdered as a result. In May 2006 Joseph R. Gannascoli, the actor who plays Vito Spatafore on the show, confirmed that he got the idea for his character's homosexuality from reading the book Murder Machine which details the rise and fall of the DeMeo crew.