Of all the licensed beverage establishments in the state, Casella’s Restaurant in Hoboken was perhaps the quintessential mob headquarters, meeting place and hangout. Casella’s is to the New Jersey arm of the Genovese crime family what the more famous Ravenite Social Club in New York’s Little Italy is to the Gambino/Gotti family. (Ironically, it was at Casella’s that Louis “Bobby” Manna discussed murdering John Gotti on behalf of the Genovese family.)
In testimony at the public hearing, FBI Special Agent Robert Lenehan described Casella’s as “a safe haven, a secure stronghold where (Manna) could meet his criminal associates and direct his criminal operations on behalf of the Genovese family.” Manna has now been convicted on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges and has been sentenced to 80 years in prison. At the time of his conviction, he was the consigliere (counselor) — the third ranking member — of the Genovese crime family, one of the most powerful families in the nation. Casella’s was owned by Martin “Motts” Casella, a longtime associate of Manna who was convicted with him and who has since died in federal prison.
Agent Lenehan further described Casella’s as a secure, virtually impregnable stronghold …. Nothing happened in Casella’s Restaurant without Marty’s knowledge; there were lookouts on the street and watchful eyes at the bar. Even certain bathrooms were off limits to patrons because they were used as secure meeting rooms for Bobby, Marty and their close associates. For years, Casella’s control and influence in the blocks surrounding Casella’s led FBI agents to conclude that the restaurant was virtually immune to electronic surveillance, our most valued investigative and prosecutive technique.
Presumably, those “watchful eyes” Lenehan referred to did not include Hoboken authorities, who continually renewed Martin Casella’s liquor license, despite his notorious and long association with Manna and the Genovese crew.
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In 1977, Manna was released from a state prison where he had been confined for five years for civil contempt for his refusal to answer questions regarding organized crime before this Commission. Shortly after his release, he began to reclaim control of the rackets he had lost while incarcerated. By 1980, Manna had become consigliere of the Genovese family. In the words of FBI Agent Lenehan, Manna held
one of the three most powerful positions in any LCN (La Cosa Nostra) family, responsible for advising the boss, controlling thecapos, one of the chain of command who could authorize murders and make the major decisions of the family — in the thin air of conclaves of bosses, Commission meetings, making and breaking bosses, the LCN boardroom.
And most of these decisions were made at Casella’s.
In his testimony, Lenehan was describing the period leading up to the investigation, trial and conviction of Manna, Casella and other figures in the Genovese crime family. Lenehan noted that Manna’s usual haunts were the street corners of Manhattan’s Little Italy, but in the late 1980s New York became a “swirling arena of law enforcement pressure” and Manna returned more often to the relatively safe haven of Hudson County and Casella’s.
In 1987, the FBI, despite the difficulties already described, succeeded in planting listening devices in Casella’s. Monitored together with the State Police, the Division of Criminal Justice and the IRS, the devices revealed the extent to which the restaurant was used by Manna and his associates. It had become evident, Lenehan testified, “that by early 1988 the legitimate business enterprise of Casella’s was virtually non-existent and it had effectively become little more than a typical mob social club.” He also likened the restaurant to “the board room of the New Jersey operations of the Genovese family.”
The Commission’s protected witness, a former northern New Jersey associate of the Bruno/Scarfo family, also testified about Casella’s:
Q. How did Bobby Manna use Casella’s Restaurant?
A. Well, it was a meeting place for anybody who wanted to see him or, you know, from other families or his own family, whatever.
Q. Did you ever have a sit-down at Casella’s Restaurant?
A. Yeah, I had a sit-down with a customer that they had taken from me by one of his controllers, Bobby Manna’s controllers, and went there with Freddie Salerno in a sit-down and they gave him back.
Q.Who was the subject of that?
A. Petey Cap. Petey Cap is with Bobby Manna and he’s in the gambling business, and he had stolen one of my runners.
Q. How was that dispute resolved?
A. It was ruled in my favor and Bobby told Petey Cap, make sure that he got back to me.
Q. Is Petey Cap, Petey Caporino?
Q. Do you know Alfred Salerno, Freddie Salerno?
Q. What position in what family was he?
A. Bruno/Scarfo family, he was a soldier.
Q. He was murdered in 1980. Do you know why?
A. Well, supposedly Freddie Salerno and Tony Bananas did (killed) Angelo Bruno, and also over a giant number package in Jersey City, two million dollars a day, numbers.
Q. How much a day?
A. Two million.
Q. Did you ever drive Freddie Salerno to Casella’s Restaurant?
Q. For what purpose?
A. To see Bobby Manna.
Q. Do you recall how many times, approximately, you did that?
A. I don’t know, four, five, six times, I don’t know.
Q. Do you know why he was meeting with Bobby Manna?
A. It had something to do with gambling.
Q. Did Salerno ever send you to Casella’s Restaurant?
A. To set up a meeting with Bobby Manna.
Q. You referred to Petey Cap, Peter Caporino, an associate in the Genovese family?
Q. To whom did he report?
A. Bobby Manna, or Motts.
Q. And what were his illegal activities?
A. Mainly gambling, but a little bit of shylocking also.
Q. Did you ever meet Petey Cap at Casella’s Restaurant?
Q. For what purpose?
A. Over a runner that they stole from me.
Q. Did you ever see Hoboken Peter Libutti at Casella’s Restaurant?
A. Pete Libutti, yeah, I’ve seen him.
Q. What position did he hold?
A. He’s an associate of the Genovese family.
Q. And what illegal activity did he engage in?
A. Fencing mostly, you know, jewelry, gold, silver, bonds, securities, things like that.
Q. What did Hoboken Pete do at Casella’s Restaurant?
A. It was a hangout for him, you know, he knew Bobby Manna well.
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Manna and Casella were arrested in 1988 on the federal charges. While they were on trial in 1989, the restaurant was operated by Casella’s wife Shirley under the name of Pascale’s, with a full-time manager who had invested personal funds in the operation. Mrs. Casella and Martin’s brother Frank, a 10-per cent stockholder, failed to notify the Hoboken ABC board of the name change, of the absentee ownership or of the new investment by the manager. And Hoboken did not act on its own to take any administrative action against the license.
Casella, Manna and their co-defendants were convicted on June 26, 1989; four days later, Hoboken renewed the liquor license with Casella still listed as a 90 per cent stockholder. Casella was sentenced to 80 years in prison in September, 1989, but the following June, the license was renewed yet again. It was not until the property was sold at a sheriff’s sale on October 24, 1990, that the license finally changed hands.
In private testimony before the Commission, Leonard Serrano, Secretary of the Hoboken ABC Board, was questioned by Counsel Saros about Casella’s:
Q. I show you Exhibit Number 11, the renewal application for Marty’s Mile Square Incorporated, trading as Casella’s Restaurant.
Q. If you look at the second page, is that your signature at the bottom?
A. Yes, ma’am.
Q. The date indicated is June 19, 1990. Is that the date on which you accepted the application?
A. That’s the date I accepted the moneys and the application, yes.
Q. Who presented the application to you?
A. I have no idea. It could have been his wife, it could have been —
Q. Whose wife?
A. Mr. Casella’s. It could have been —
Q. Which Casella —
A. It could have been a manager —
Q. Which Casella? There are two listed as owners. Martin and Frank.
A. Martin Casella.
Q. The application indicated the trade name to be Casella’s Restaurant. Do you know whether that’s true or not?
A. It’s — as far as our records are concerned, it’s still Casella’s Restaurant, yes.
Q. The premises operates under the name Pascale’s. Are you aware of that?
A. That — he has been informed that he had to amend his license to make it — change the trade name.
Q. Who was informed?
A. Mrs. — I believe it’s Mrs. Casella because she came in recently and I told her that as long as the trade name, Casella’s Restaurant, is no longer being used, that she has to submit the license to make it Pascale’s.
Q. When did you tell her that?
A. It was right around the renewal period time. It must have been around the renewal period time.
Q. How did you know that the premises were operating under the name Pascale’s?
A. I travel through the city. It’s only a mile square. When I come in from out of town, I usually make the turn on — on Jackson Street. I come through Jackson Street and then I shoot right up.
In fact, Hoboken officials told Mrs. Casella she had to amend the license because agents from this Commission informed Hoboken officials that the name on the bar had been changed.
The questioning of Serrano continued:
Q. Martin Casella is listed as the 90 per cent owner and president of the corporation —
A. That’s correct.
Q. — that holds the license. Are you familiar with the fact that Martin Casella is also known as Motts Casella?
A. Yes, ma’am.
Q. Do you know that in 1989 Motts, or Martin Casella, was convicted in federal court —
A. Yes, ma’am.
Q. — on racketeering charges? Why was this application approved?
A. Here again, it’s — it’s a good question. Seeing that there was a Mr. Frank Casella who was vice-president and he was the person who signed it, the application was accepted.
Q. Frank Casella is listed as a ten percent owner.
Q. Again, I ask you: You have a convicted felon owning 90 percent of this corporation —
A. I know.
Q. — as a result of a major federal prosecution —
Q. — he is in prison for close to 80 years. Why was this application approved?
A. I can’t answer that. I — it was just approved.
Q. Whose decision was it to approve it?
A. Well, I accepted the application. My name is on it.
Q. And the Board approved it?
A. Yes, ma’am.
CHAIRMAN ZAZZALI: You accepted, Board approved? THE WITNESS: Yes, ma’am — yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN ZAZZALI: What was the vote? THE WITNESS: Unanimous — well, on the renewal application — here’s what happened. On the renewal everything is received and submitted to the State and the State is the one that actually finalizes it all. The Board looks through it and they agree that it’s a renewal and it’s submitted to the State and the State takes responsibility on advertising it.
Q. Let me ask you —
A. There’s no objections to this.
Q. Let me ask you one more time: Why did the Board approve the application for Martin Casella, a convicted felon, serving prison time, to hold a liquor license?
A. It was just presented as renewal. I typed up all the resolutions and I presented it as a renewal.
Testifying before the Commission about another bar, Good & Plenti, Charles Santorella of Secaucus said this about Serrano and Hoboken:
Just to give you guys a good picture of what goes on in the town of Hoboken, Leo [Leonard] Serrano was a former police officer. He was — I don’t know if he was fired or whatever, but he had some legal trouble and was no longer a police officer, and he got a job upstairs in the court — in the City Clerk’s office as the Hoboken ABC secretary. The town of Hoboken is a very close-knit family that goes back a long way in the town and everyone seems to do each other favors and turn their heads when they have to turn their heads.
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From State of NJ CSI Report