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Robbing from the Mob

Christmas Eve killings bring to end
couple's foolhardy criminal career

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Thomas and Rosemarie Uva headed out on the morning of Thursday, December 24, 1992, to finish up their Christmas shopping. Before leaving their apartment at Eighty-Third Street in Ozone Park, Queens, Rosemarie spoke briefly on the telephone with her sixty-one-year-old mother-in-law, Fannie Accomando Uva of the Bronx. [1]

Traffic was heavy - holiday motorists mixed with the usual Thursday morning rush-hour congestion. The Uvas, in a four-door maroon Mercury Topaz, were less than a mile from home at nine o'clock when they stopped for a traffic light at 103rd Avenue's intersection with Ninety-First Street.

Bullets cracked in rapid succession through the Topaz's windshield. Three slugs struck twenty-eight-year-old Thomas in the head. Three others hit Rosemarie, thirty-one. They died instantly.

Uva car

Uvas' car. NY Daily News.

Their automobile, no longer restrained by the force of a living person's leg on its brake pedal, began to move through the intersection. It continued eastward several blocks, colliding with another vehicle at Woodhaven Boulevard and finally coming to rest against a brick wall and fence surrounding a residential property at Woodhaven and 103rd Avenue. [2]

Maria DeToma, seventy-six, was at home in Ozone Park, cleaning fish for the family's Christmas Eve dinner, when her son, Police Officer Anthony DeToma, came in. Officer DeToma explained to her that her daughter Rosemarie and son-in-law Thomas would not be joining them for the holiday. They had been shot to death some hours earlier. [3]

At that moment, police, press and public had no idea why the young couple had been killed. Members of some New York crime families understood the reason, but they weren't yet talking about it. Fannie Uva seemed to be the first to have an inkling. When she spoke with the local press, she remarked that the shooting sounded like something the Mafia would do. But she told reporters that her son Thomas had no connection to organized crime. [4]

Background

Rosemarie and Thomas Uva

Rosemarie & Thomas Uva. NY Post.

Christmas 1992 became a period of mourning for the Uva and DeToma families. Funerals occurred immediately after the holiday. The couple, joined for a relatively short time in life, were separated in death. While Thomas Uva was buried in the Bronx, the DeToma family decided that Rosemarie would be interred in St. John's Cemetery in Queens. [5]

Information about the two shooting victims gradually reached the authorities and the media.

Rosemarie DeToma was born in 1961 and grew up in Ozone Park. Her father died when she was young. After that, Rosemarie became "a wild child." Wild behavior became criminal behavior as she reached adulthood. In 1986, she was convicted of attempted robbery and served fifteen months in state prison. When her mother Maria discussed this matter with the press, she mentioned - without providing details - that it involved her son placing her daughter under arrest.

How Rosemarie met Thomas Uva was uncertain. But it seems they were already involved as she went off to prison. They were married shortly after her release in 1987. [6]

Thomas Uva was born May 17, 1964, to Anthony and Fannie Accomando Uva of the Bronx. He was raised in that borough's southeastern Throgs Neck section. His father had a florist shop there on East Tremont Avenue. In the same year that Thomas and Rosemarie married, Thomas's father accidentally shot himself and died of his wound. Anger was piled onto the shock of his father's death when Thomas learned that the family florist business would be given to his brother.

Long fascinated with outlaws, Thomas began his criminal career at roughly the same time he began his marriage. He was convicted of attempted burglary and sent to prison in the summer of 1989. He was paroled in May of 1992.

Rosemarie, then an employee of a Manhattan collection agency, convinced her agency to give Thomas a job. He kept that position for about half a year. He was laid off in November, a month before he and his wife were killed. [7]

'Bonnie and Clod'

Early in the investigation, police struggled to find clues. Though the murders occurred in daylight at a busy intersection, no witnesses could be found.

Two weeks after the killings, law enforcement learned from underworld informants that the Uvas had been deliberately targeted by New York Mafia crime families. The couple had reportedly earned the wrath of Mafia chieftains by spending the summer and fall of 1992 conducting brazen stickups at Mafia "social clubs" in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

In reporting this information, the New York Daily News noted, "It is not clear how many social clubs have been robbed because the crimes are rarely reported to police." [8]

New York Daily News, Jan. 1993

NY Daily News

The story of Mafia social club robberies made the proximity of one particular social club to the murder site seem much more than a coincidence. The Cafe Liberty, run as a neighborhood headquarters by Gambino Crime Family capodecina Dominick "Skinny Dom" Pizzonia, sat just five short blocks - a quarter mile - from the corner of 103rd Avenue and Ninety-First Street.

Within days, statements from informants were sewn together into a more complete picture of the Uvas' foolhardy criminal enterprise.

Thomas and Rosemarie Uva

The Uvas

It was said that the couple robbed at least four and as many as ten mob clubs. Carrying an Uzi submachine gun, Thomas entered the clubs, demanded that everyone inside turn over cash and jewelry and then insisted that they all drop their pants. Club members, prohibited by underworld rules from bringing any weapons into the establishments, were forced to comply. Thomas then ran outside and climbed into a getaway car expertly driven by Rosemarie.

Because it would be both profoundly humiliating and a violation of the gangland code, the victims never reported these robberies. They also never forgot them.

Informants indicated that an Uva robbery occurred at the Gambino Family's Manhattan headquarters, Hawaiian Moonlighters Club, on Mulberry Street. Hawaiian Moonlighters was reportedly opened by Joseph "Joe Butch" Corrao after the Ravenite Social Club, a few blocks north at 247 Mulberry, was seized by federal officials following the conviction of Gambino boss John J. Gotti.

Another Gambino club robbed by Uva was the Veterans and Friends Club, 1468 Eighty-Sixth Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, run by James "Jimmy Brown" Failla.

Uva also targeted two unnamed clubs on Bath Avenue in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. One was run by George DeCicco, brother of recently murdered Gambino underboss Frank DeCicco, at 1628 Bath Avenue near Bay Thirteenth Street. The other was a Bonanno Crime Family club run by Anthony Spero at Bath Avenue and Bay Sixteenth Street.

It was said that he robbed "Skinny Dom" Pizzonia's club in Ozone Park twice. On one of those occasions, club members attempted to pursue the Uvas after the robbery. Rosemarie managed to escape the mobsters, but not before they jotted down the license number of her car.

Informants reported that Thomas Uva went out of his way to antagonize club members. During one robbery, he made a show of messing the carefully styled hair of an older Mafioso. Uva even seemed to welcome underworld retribution. When a club member assured him that he would be killed for his offenses, Thomas replied, "Everybody dies." [9]

New York Daily News Bonnie and Clod

NY Daily News

As the Daily News learned these details, it referred to the murdered outlaw couple as, "Bonnie and Clod." [10]

Wheels of Justice

Though law enforcement was well convinced of New York Mafia involvement in the killings of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva, it took almost thirteen years for anyone to be charged. By that time, investigators understood through informants that the Gambino, Bonanno and Colombo Crime Families all had passed death sentences against the couple.

There also was some evidence beyond the statements of informants. Federal authorities were in possession of an recorded conversation from Ray Brook Federal Prison, located near Lake Placid in New York State. It captured visitor John A. "Junior" Gotti telling an inmate about the killings of the Uvas and mentioning an earlier Uva-centered discussion he had in Manhattan with his imprisoned father, Gambino boss John J. Gotti. [11]

Michael DiLeonardo

DiLeonardo

Investigators suspected that Dominick Pizzonia, Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio and an unnamed driver were involved in the Christmas Eve 1992 shootings. Pizzonia and Trucchio both were leaders of the Gambino organization in Ozone Park.

Trucchio, who since 1992 had pleaded guilty to New York State racketeering offenses and had been convicted of additional federal offenses, was already serving a lengthy prison sentence. (Later convictions extended his sentence to life in prison. In December 2018, the sixty-seven-year-old Trucchio was an inmate of the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Federal Prison.) [12]

On the morning of September 22, 2005, Pizzonia, sixty-three, was arrested for the killings. He was arraigned at Brooklyn Federal Court that afternoon. Trucchio was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. Pizzonia initially was held without bail to await trial. On December 27, with federal prosecutors indicating that there would be a delay before the case was brought into court, Pizzonia was released on $3 million bond and confined to his home. [13]

Pizzonia went to trial in Brooklyn Federal Court in spring of 2007 for racketeering conspiracy, as well as extortion and murder. A number of Mafia informants appeared as witnesses for the prosecution. These included Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo, formerly of the Gambino Crime Family, and Salvatore "Good-Looking Sal" Vitale, formerly of the Bonanno Crime Family.

Testimony revealed that, not only had the Gambino and Bonanno clans competed to be the first to find and murder the Uvas, they had also disputed for some time the identity of the Uvas' killers. One Bonanno associate boasted that he had fired the shots into Thomas and Rosemarie. The matter became a serious enough dispute to warrant a sit-down between family leaders.

Dominick Pizzonia

Pizzonia

According to DiLeonardo, Gambino leader John A. "Junior" Gotti (presumably with DiLeonardo accompanying him) met with Bonanno boss Joseph Massino and underboss Vitale to settle the dispute. Official "credit" for the killings was given to Pizzonia.

Pizzonia defense counsel Joseph Corozzo argued that the jury should give little weight to ex-Mafia witnesses providing information against former friends and associates in exchange for prosecutor favors. [14]

Pizzonia offered an unusual alibi for December 24, 1992. Anna Bilello, the seventy-eight-year-old mother of his longtime mistress, testified that Pizzonia was at her home all that day. "Every Christmas Eve he's doing my fish," she said. "He's a very good cook." [15] (Pizzonia's prowess in the kitchen is supported by stories of fine meals made by "Skinny Dom" for guests at his Cafe Liberty club.)

The five-week trial concluded on May 11. The jury convicted Pizzonia only on one count of racketeering conspiracy relating to participating in the planning of the Uva killings. The jury cleared him of charges relating to performing the actual murder and engaging in extortion.

Federal District Judge Jack B. Weinstein sentenced Pizzonia on September 5, 2007, to serve fifteen years in prison. Pizzonia's legal appeal, based upon the statute of limitations, was defeated at the U.S. Second Circuit in August of 2009. [16] In December 2018, Pizzonia, seventy-seven, was an inmate at the Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina. Release from prison was scheduled for February 28, 2020. [17]

 
Remembered
Rob the Mob movie

The story of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva was the subject of a motion picture, Rob the Mob, released in spring 2014. Directed by Raymond De Felitta and written by Jonathan Fernandez, the movie stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as the Mafia-robbing couple.

Actor Andy Garcia appears as an underworld boss named "Big Al,"" and Ray Romano plays reporter "Jerry Cardozo."

 
 

Notes

 

1 - Hunter-Hodge, Karen, and John Marzulli, "Couple slain in auto at Queens crossing," New York Daily News, Dec. 25, 1992, p. 23.

2 - Hunter-Hodge and Marzulli, "Couple slain..."; Rashbaum, William K., "Couple's killing in 1992 is focus of new mob trial," New York Times, April 10, 2007, p. B1; Lee, Trymaine, "Reputed Gambino figure sentenced in '92 deaths of mob antagonists," New York Times, Sept. 6, 2007, p. B2.

3 - Marzulli, John, "Update on Bonnie & Clod," New York Daily News, Sept. 25, 2005, p. 13.

4 - Hunter-Hodge and Marzulli, "Couple slain..."

5 - Marzulli "Update on Bonnie & Clod"; "Rosemarie Uva," Find A Grave, findagrave.com, Memorial ID 161033910, April 14, 2016.

6 - Marzulli "Update on Bonnie & Clod."

7 - New York City Birth Index, Ancestry.com; Social Security Death Index, Ancestry.com; Marzulli, John, "Cops: Yule slay a mob job," New York Daily News, Jan. 7, 1993, p. 11; Marzulli, "Update on Bonnie & Clod"; Hunter-Hodge and Marzulli, "Couple slain..."

8 - Marzulli, "Cops: Yule slay a mob job."

9 - Marzulli "Update on Bonnie & Clod"; Marzulli, "Cops: Yule slay a mob job"; Capeci, Jerry, "2 didn't get it straight," New York Daily News, Jan. 12, 1993, p. 3; Brick, Michael, "Mobster guilty of racketeering, but not murder," New York Times, May 12, 2007, p. B1; Rashbaum, "Couple's killing in 1992..."; Lee, "Reputed Gambino figure sentenced..."

10 - Marzulli "Update on Bonnie & Clod."

11 - Marzulli, John, "Jr.'s new troubles," New York Daily News, Sept. 23, 2005, p. 19.

12 - Rashbaum, William K., "Queens father and son accused in illegal gambling operation," New York Times, Dec. 10, 2002, p. B4; "Queens: Crime figure is sentenced," New York Times, Oct. 30, 2003; Rashbaum, William K., "Arrest in killings of 2 who dared to rob the mob," New York Times, Sept. 23, 2005, p. 1.

13 - "Gambino Family captain Dominick Pizzonia charged with racketeering conspiracy, including the 'Bonnie and Clyde' double murder," press release of United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Sept. 23, 2005, justice.gov; Rashbaum, William K., "Suspect in mob slaying is out on bond," New York Times, Dec. 28, 2005, p. B8.

14 - Brick, "Mobster guilty of racketeering..."; Marzulli, John, "Mob snitch even whacks their nicknames," New York Daily News, April 20, 2007, p. 36.

15 - Marzulli, John, "Skinny Dom gets unlikely alibi from moll's mom," New York Daily News, May 8, 2007.

16 - Brick, "Mobster guilty of racketeering..."; Lee, "Reputed Gambino figure sentenced in '92 deaths..."; United States v. Pizzonia, United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 07-4314-cr, decided Aug. 19, 2009, findlaw.com.

17 - Inmate Locator, bop.gov/inmateloc, accessed Dec. 23, 2018.

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