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A Pittsburg family mobster was under FBI surveillance. Then he was murdered.

Ever heard of a guy named Joey Naples? Maybe not unless you’re a Midwest mob watcher. But what the Cleveland FBI heard from sources in late 1990 was enough to put Naples, a man they’d long wondered about, officially on their radar. So, they opened a new case that October.

Image: WFMJ TV

A file on Naples was declassified and posted to the FBI Vault’s Recently Added website last week. It gives readers a front row seat into the mob’s activities in Youngstown, Ohio, and law enforcement’s efforts to shut them down.

The information that came to the feds’ attention confirmed that Naples was a “made member” of the Pittsburgh La Cosa Nostra (Aka, the mafia) who was tasked with overseeing the family’s interests in Mahoning County, Ohio. He reported directly to the Pittsburgh mob family’s alleged boss, Michael J. Genovese.

If you’re a mob aficionado, you know being “made” is serious stuff, but if not, check out a brief research paper, La Cosa Nostra in the United States. To be truly a “made man,” sometimes known as a “wise guy” or “good fellow,” you must be a man of Italian descent affiliated with families that control organized crime activities. They will stop at nothing – not even murder – to protect their enterprises. Back in the day, they dipped their fingers into nearly everything to rake in money – extorting payments (a.k.a. “tributes”) from legal or illegal gambling operations, siphoning off labor union dues, laundering money through trash collection companies, and even drug and prostitution rings, though some thought those kinds of street crimes were beneath even the mafia.

To be “made,” you first had to prove yourself with an apprenticeship and then if your mob boss got the approval of all the other mafia families, you’d be honored in a “secret, ritualized induction ceremony.” (We’re talking grown men, people!) Your status as a made man would bring more money and responsibilities. It would also mean you’d take an oath of silence, never telling the family secrets, never betraying an associate, never pocketing money that is supposed to be shared with the family – or else. We’ll get to “or else” in a minute, but first more on the FBI’s interest in Joey.

At the time the feds first received information about Naples’ status as a made man, the influence of the Pittsburgh mob was weakening. Earlier that year, two key Genovese associates --Charles Porter, his right-hand man, and the “capo” Louis Raucci—had been convicted in a sweeping case that documented drug activity, extortion, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, gambling, and racketeering. While criminal activity continued, there was a lot of dissention and distrust in the organization. As any seasoned G-man knows, that’s a ripe atmosphere for infiltrating the ranks and luring informants over to law enforcement’s side. But it was also an opportunity for Joey.

Naples, then 58, was “the uncontested leading criminal in the Youngstown area,” according to a memo in the FBI file. “Reliable information is that Naples’ power and influence in the Pittsburgh LCN has benefitted greatly from the demise of Charles Porter and several associates at the hands of the Pittsburgh FBI.”

The belief was that Naples’ business, Youngstown United Music, fronted bookmaking and other gambling operations that padded the pockets of the Pittsburgh mob. An unnamed source who “voluntarily” showed up at the bureau’s Youngstown office dished the dirt on Naples. He detailed selling stolen jewelry worth $20,000 for $12,000 to a pre-arranged buyer inside the storefront of Youngstown United Music. He also said one of his associates had to get Naples’ approval to open a house of prostitution in New York and made monthly payments to Joey to avoid a police raid. This informant also shared that another of his associates paid Joey for the right to keep his “numbers” business up and running, and another made payments to keep heat off his ongoing poker games. According to the source, Joey had connections inside the corrections system, and might be the guy to see if an associate in jail needed a more favorable sentence.

The early stages of the Pittsburgh investigation started to bear fruit.

“A Pittsburgh undercover Agent has managed to successfully frequent this business and develop some trust with several LCN associates there,” states a note in the file. “These associates include the owner. In addition, this investigation envisions tracking Genovese’s activities through various sources.”

Undercover agents also immediately began physical surveillance outside of Naples’ business and the homes and other hangouts of his known associates, noting vehicle models and tracking license plate numbers to identify who was coming and going.

By May of 1991, the Cleveland office had three open cases on Naples. In addition to the probe of his gambling enterprise, “Operation Bridle Path” was a case opened to investigate a money laundering scheme involving Naples and associates in Scranton and Pittsburgh. An investigation into gangland murders in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, was reopened that year, “based on new information of the involvement of two Naples henchmen.”

It became obvious the FBI’s Cleveland bureau would need to collaborate closely with their counterparts in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Moreover, a memo in the file noted, there may be cooperating witnesses as the result of recent successful prosecutions of other cases, who could snitch on Naples.

It was time for a meeting.

The Cleveland Division scheduled an “OC conference” in Youngstown June 13-14, 1991, to discuss Naples. With three well-resourced divisions working together, the FBI hoped to obtain court permission for Title III electronic surveillance that would allow them to see and hear much more than they knew about Operation Bridle Path. The three divisions shared information from their files about the reopened gangland murders, and, with regards to Naples’ gambling operation, both “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Divisions provided names of witnesses used in other investigations who are aware of Naples.”

The Cleveland Division continued its visual surveillance to track Naples’ activities in Mahoning County that summer, while working with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to expand the probe. A case that might have unraveled the world of Joey Naples was taking shape.

But Naples’ life unraveled just weeks later. On August 19, 1991, he became another statistic on a long list of mob hits.

That evening, before heading home, he stopped at the site where he and his wife were having a palatial home built – a 25-acre lake front property in Beaver Township. It was an almost nightly ritual for him to check the progress of construction – many knew his routine. In fact, on at least one occasion that summer, the FBI had observed him at the property.

While there were reported to be no witnesses to Naples’ killing, a statement the FBI released to Youngstown media on the one-year anniversary provided a lot of details – where he parked, how he changed into shoes better suited for walking through dirt, how he went back to the guardhouse to change back into his good shoes, and called his wife to tell her he was headed home.

“Naples walked to the driver’s door of the Ford Mustang convertible that he was driving with the car keys in his hand. Just as Naples approached the car, two gun shots rang out, one of the shots struck Naples in the left shoulder. Naples’ apparent reaction was to run toward a house on his property where one of the carpenters was staying, but in doing so, he ran toward the gunman, who was hidden in the cornfield across the street about 15-20 yards away. As Naples proceeded past the rear of the car, four additional shots rang out; one of the shots severed the spine and was fatal.”

According to the statement – the last item in the FBI file – a number of theories were investigated and ruled out. The case was never solved.

So who killed Joey Naples, and why? A prevailing theory was that with all the dysfunction in the Pittsburgh mob family at the time, Naples was snuffed out in a power struggle for control of the Youngstown turf. A new organized crime book published this year offers up the theory Naples was killed by a fellow mobster – a close friend of his – in a love triangle. As of now, who fired those shots remains a dark family secret.

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