Adolfo ``Big Al'' Bruno was almost the last man standing. His longtime boss was dead. His chief rival was headed to prison. At 58, he was reputed to be one of just a few made men in the Mafia world of western Massachusetts and central Connecticut.
Bruno was gunned down outside a Springfield social club Sunday as he was leaving his weekly card game. Organized crime observers say his death opens a vacancy in an already fractured mob structure, and leaves a landscape sparkling with criminal opportunity.
``This is the new frontier now,'' said Frank Rudewicz, a retired Hartford police officer and a former member of an FBI task force investigating the region's Mafia. ``Hartford is a wide-open space.''
Bruno was reputed to be a member of the Genovese crime family, the same New York-based organization that prosecutors say runs gambling rackets in Springfield, and, according to FBI testimony, provided former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano with expensive suits and bags of cash.
Investigators say the Genovese crime family has controlled Hartford's bookmaking and loan-sharking operations for more than a decade. With Bruno dead and the man alleged to be the area's top boss, Anthony Delevo, headed to prison, investigators are watching for any sign of a new order.
``That's the million-dollar question,'' said Sgt. John Culpin of the Connecticut State Police Organized Crime Investigative Task Force. ``What effect is this going to have on the upper echelon of organized crime in this region?''
It could actually be the multimillion-dollar question. Illegal gambling revenues have been declining for years. But with a massive downtown redevelopment underway in Hartford, veteran investigators say the city could easily become the mob's rising star.
Organized crime interests, both Mafia and otherwise, flock to cities that have money to spend. And there's money to be made in a revitalized Hartford, Rudewicz said. More hotels, restaurants and bars mean more people to bet on sports. One popular scam is demanding that everyone on a construction site buy one $10 football betting card a week, he said.
The Springfield faction of the Genovese family has long-standing ties to Hartford, said Lt. Timothy Alben of the Massachusetts State Police organized crime unit.
Retired FBI agent Donald Brutnell, who led an investigation into former Connecticut boss William ``The Wild Guy'' Grasso, said Bruno had been ``put on the shelf'' after the 2000 death of Springfield mob boss Francesco ``Skyball'' Scibelli, and the ascension of Bruno's rival, Delevo. But he said Bruno always saw potential in Connecticut.
Brutnell, who now works for Decision Strategies, Rudewicz's private investigations firm, said Bruno had good union contacts and experience that would have put him in good position to thrive in a booming Hartford downtown.
With Bruno dead, Delevo serving three years in federal prison for racketeering conspiracy and money laundering, and eight of Bruno's associates indicted on illegal gambling, loan-sharking and drug charges, mob investigators are watching to see who makes a move in Hartford and the surrounding areas.
Anthony Volpe, a reputed organized-crime figure who served time for his role in a city gambling ring in which Bruno and Scibelli participated, was the mob's man in Hartford in the 1990s, federal prosecutors said.
``The assumption is this was a mob hit, and the assumption is Tony Volpe is still running Hartford,'' Culpin said. He stressed that neither assumption ahs been verified.
But Volpe is 71 and investigators say he has not been on their radar since emerging from prison in 1999. Volpe has no listed phone number and he did not respond to a visit to his West Hartford home seeking comment.
Complicating the matter, investigators still are unsure whether Bruno's slaying was a mob-sanctioned hit. He was believed to be a made man, and killing a fully initiated mobster requires authorization from a Mafia higher-up, they said.
Mafia experts say the Genovese family is fragmented right now, with its leadership behind bars. The family's boss, Vincent ``Chin'' Gigante, is 75 and in prison until 2010. Liborio ``Barney'' Bellomo, whom a New York judge called the acting boss, has two more years to serve for extortion and murder conspiracy.
If Bruno was the victim of a mob hit, it was the region's first Mafia assassination in more than a decade. The last sworn member to be killed was Grasso, the Connecticut underboss for the Patriarca family, who in June 1989 was discovered near the Connecticut River in Wethersfield.
Grasso's death coincided with a major upheaval throughout the New England underworld. The potential for more violence, Culpin said, has investigators in both states watching closely.
``Al Bruno's out of the picture,'' Culpin said. ``When you lose your boss, things are going to change. How? Only time will tell.''
Adolfo Bruno Chronology:
The following are key events in the criminal history of Adolfo Bruno:
1981, Springfield -- Upstate New York mob bookie Joseph Maruca survives assassination attempt and is hospitalized with five gunshot wounds. Mob turncoats later testify Al Bruno organized the botched hit.
1984, Albany, N.Y. -- Bruno and others are accused of moving in on upstate New York bookmaking operations. Bruno pleads to a reduced attempted loan-sharking charge and receives probation.
1985, Springfield -- Bruno is indicted on federal racketeering charges. Prosecutors say he and Francesco ``Skyball'' Scibelli run a regional faction of Genovese crime family.
1987, Springfield -- Bruno and Scibelli plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Bruno receives a five-year sentence. The government agrees to strike all references to Genovese crime family from the amended indictment.
1989, Wethersfield -- Hartford mobster William Grasso, a Patriarca family underboss, is killed the same day Francis ``Cadillac Frank'' Salemme survives a shooting in Boston. Investigators say Genovese becomes Hartford's controlling family.
1991, Springfield -- Bruno is charged with attempted murder in the Maruca shooting and is acquitted.
1993, Springfield -- Bruno survives an assassination attempt at the Mount Carmel Society. A local barber tells police the shooting was over a personal dispute involving a debt. Bruno was said to be wearing a bulletproof vest. No charges were filed.
1993, Hartford -- The FBI says it intercepts a telephone call in which Bruno tells Hartford club owner Anthony Volpe that Scibelli wants a cut of Volpe's gambling operations.
1994, Hartford -- Bruno, Scibelli, Anthony Volpe of West Hartford and others are charged with running a gambling operation.
1996, Hartford -- Bruno and Scibelli plead guilty to interstate travel in aid of racketeering. Bruno is sentenced to 15 months in prison. Volpe pleads guilty to racketeering conspiracy and receives a 41-month term.
2003, Springfield -- Bruno, 58, is killed outside Mount Carmel Society. He is shot in the chin, neck, elbow, cheek and groin.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun