‘The Sopranos’ was inspired by this real-life Newark mob family
The mob in Newark, New Jersey, was in disarray in the late 1960s. Anthony “Tony Boy” Boiardo, the group’s leader, suffered from crippling ulcers. His father, family capo Richie “The Boot” Boiardo, was approaching 80 years old and wanted to retire, take care of his garden, and relax in his colossal pool. However, he kept being drawn back in to help his son, who was despised by his gang. On FBI wiretaps, at least two of them — soldiers Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo and Anthony “Little Pussy” Russo — were overheard discussing the possibility of Tony Boy being killed by one of their own.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because the Boiardo crime family was the inspiration for HBO’s “The Sopranos” and its new prequel film The film “The Many Saints of Newark”On October 1, the film will be released in cinemas and on HBO Max. The latter, set in Newark during the 1960s racial riots, follows a teenage Tony Soprano as he makes his mark. Tony is played in the film by the late James Gandolfini’s 22-year-old son.
While “90 percent of [the TV show] is made up… it’s patterned after this family,” according to “Sopranos” creator David Chase, who revealed to New Jersey Monthly in 2002 that “90% of [the TV show] is made up.” The foundation of the plot is provided by this family.
Many of the characters and situations on “The Sopranos” and in the film are eerily similar to real-life Jersey mafiosos. Tony Soprano’s father is called Johnny Boy in “Many Saints,” a riff on Anthony “Tony Boy” Boiardo. Big Pussy thugs have appeared in both fact and fiction (the genuine origin of John “Big Pussy” Russo’s nickname: he was a successful cat thief.) And as a result of their murky lives, both real-life Tony Boy and TV Tony Soprano suffered. They hired psychiatrists to deal with emotional problems that had physical consequences (ulcers for Tony Boy, panic attacks for older Tony Soprano).
While fans are familiar with Tony Soprano’s sessions with Lorraine Bracco’s Dr. Melfi, those of Tony Boy, who witnessed his first murder at the age of 14, are less so. According to Robert Linnett, author of “In the Godfather Garden: A Memoir,” Tony Boy met with a therapist who was a military doctor specialized in PTSD. Richie “The Boot” Boiardo’s Life and Times “Tony Boy was dealing with the responsibility of being the Boot’s son as well as leading a mafia family, both of which he was unprepared to do.”
Things were not going well for the Boards in the 1960s, and they were not doing well for Tony when he took over for an incarcerated Corrado “Junior” Soprano on “The Sopranos” is a television series. The IRS was looking into The Boot, so named because of his bootlegging abilities, and they were closing close. DeCarlo was fighting cancer while serving a 12-year jail sentence for number running. A Life magazine exposé highlighted The Boot, his “brazen empire of organized crime” and 30-acre estate in Livingston, NJ, including a house characterized as a “Transylvanian classic.” As a result of the unwanted publicity, children began throwing cherry bombs over the fence. Frustrated, The Boot took potshots at two trespassing children.
Surprisingly, he encouraged his teenage grandchildren to patrol the grounds with long guns in the midst of all of this. “We hunted there, and people assumed we were bodyguards,” Roger Hanos, the grandfather, told the Post. “We kept our firearms nearby in case we stumbled across rabbits or squirrels,” the narrator continues.
The Boiardos, on the other hand, ran Newark before their world fell apart. For decades, the clan ruled the city’s criminal underworld, profiting from racketeering, loan sharking, theft, gambling, and no-show jobs at the Port of Newark, among other criminal enterprises. A law enforcement source told The Washington Post, “It was and is a candy store.” “Criminals are drawn to the Port. 500 longshoremen have been paid a total of $417 million for work that will never be completed.”
However, the family’s lucrative, illegal business began innocently enough with milk.
Richie, a pre-capo, started it all by delivering a healthy beverage. In 1901, his family moved to the United States from Italy. And his parents, who adopted Ruggerio when he was six years old, mostly followed the rules, but Richie had other ideas.
Richie, who was in his twenties at the time, obtaining a Newark milk route after working in construction and was already being investigated for having an illegal gambling den. He quickly progressed from a milkman to something more. “He got in touch with families and started selling [illegal] lottery tickets to the same families who bought his milk,” Hanos explained. “It was a simple way to increase my income.”
It also cemented his criminal record.
Prohibition began in 1920, and Richie began making and selling bootleg alcohol. He learned the trade from John and Frank Mazzocchi and their gang. By the early 1930s, The Boot had gathered his own posse and was dealing with the competition in a traditional mob fashion. “He killed the Mazzocchi brothers,” Hanos, who dodged the family profession and now retired from his position as head of human resources at a New Jersey university, continued. “Then my grandpa rose to become the bootlegging king of Newark.”
The Boot made millions over the years by being cunning and murderous. Gang members laughed on a wiretap about The Boot hammering “a little Jew” in the head before Tony Boy shot him. However, he had ostensibly legitimate contracting businesses that prospered thanks to sweetheart deals with politicians in exchange for kickbacks.
The Boot had a way of destroying evidence when things got messy. The narrator says, “You’d hear about him burning people alive or dead.”When things got nasty, The Boot had a habit of deleting evidence. The narrator states, “You’d hear about him burning people alive or dead.” Linnett described what occurred in a big fire pit at The Boot’s grounds as “strange and terrifying.” “Mobsters often employ a gunshot to the ear. There were just a few mobsters that had their own crematorium. That’s heinous.” There were few mob bosses who owned their own crematorium. That’s gruesome.”
His son, however, who was born into the manor, lacked The Boot’s cunning. Tony Boy got into crime in the early 1950s by working as a frontman to get a liquor license for his father’s restaurant after a brief and unsuccessful military stint. As a mobster, he rose quickly through the ranks, but many thugs despised him.
“I grew up with Tony Boy’s silver spoon in his mouth. Linnett said, “He raced around in flashy cars and threatened to kill people.” “It irritated Little Pussy, Gyp, and others.”
“As soon as Boiardo [The Boot] dies, his son will not have long to live,” an FBI report stated in Linnett’s book.
Tony Boy’s famous blunder didn’t help matters. In the early 1960s, when an aging Boot left him in charge, he organized a meeting that devolved into chaos. It all started when he invited numbers runner Pasquale “Smudgy” Antonelli to the Fremont Club in Newark for a breakfast meeting. Tony Boy was with Big Pussy and Jimo Calabrese, a Boiardo lieutenant and serial killer when the restaurant closed.
What happened after that is a complete mystery. However, Tony Boy, Big Pussy, Smudgy, and Calabrese all sustained bullet wounds and required medical attention. Tony Boy has whisked away to the Sunshine State. A day later, Smudgy’s associate did assassinate. The Boot returned from an Italian vacation with his sweetheart, needing to clean up the mess.
“I’d say he was furious,” Linnett remarked. After seeing everything, an innocent bartender was killed. That was an example of The Boot’s ruthlessness spilling over into civilian life.”
During that decade, the family business was driving to extinction. Little Pussy, Jerry Catena, and The Boot were all arrested and charged with various crimes. “In November 1970, my grandfather went to prison for a little over a year,” Hanos explained. “I was remorseful. I drove my mother and aunt to Leesburg State Prison to pay him a visit. I fed his dogs and took a look around his house. At Leesburg, they gave him his own garden.”
Tony Boy died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1978. His father died six years later, at the age of 93, from heart failure. The Boiardo crime family was skeletal by that time, but the Newark mob was far from over.
“I firmly think there is an organizational Newark mob,” ex-Secret Service agent Jan Gilhooly stated, admitting that the prevalence of cameras everywhere makes it more difficult to be a crook. “However, organized thieves plan their heists 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Loan sharking and gambling are still prevalent in the Port. In addition, there are now street gangs to contend with.”
“Organized crime is still alive and well,” according to a law enforcement source. The mob had a check-cashing business [in Newark] where they could launder $1 million per day. Another million was stolen when a container of perfume was stolen [from the Port]. There was a [wiretap] bug [on which gangsters] discussed NJ as a Genovese family member.”
They talked about something more relatable on another tap. “Guys were arguing over which ‘Sopranos’ character is based on who,” the source said, adding that the guys enjoyed the show’s realistic portrayal of their backstabbing loved ones. “Even relatives will try to defraud you.”