The Triangle Exit

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Advance praise for The Triangle Exit and previous remarks about Ronald Fino

The Triangle Exit: It is an insider’s gripping view of a social cancer.
Ernie Volkman, Author, Spies: The Secret Agents Who Changed the Course of History, Espionage: The Greatest Spy Operations of the Twentieth Century , Gangbusters

Ron Fino is an American hero. As the son of Joseph Fino, the former interim boss of the Buffalo mob, he was once viewed as Mafia royalty, an heir apparent to the throne. His vividly-written new book tells a remarkable story about an amazing and courageous man who turned away from the dark side and became a good guy—widely admired, respected, and trusted by the law-enforcement and intelligence communities, as well as by those of us in the world of investigative journalism who cover the underworld and its activities.
Dan E. Moldea, Author, The Hoffa Wars

 An amazing brave man who sacrificed his way of life to fight for the little guy and gal and his Country.
Eugene Methvin,  Readers Digest, Editor

 Ronald Fino led a double life; A dangerous tightrope act; of the duplicity, agility and nerve such a performance demands, and of its aftermath of bitterness and fear.
Stanley Penn, Wall Street Journal, Pulitzer Prize Winner

 “Ronald Fino’s life is like something out of a Robert Ludlum thriller. You have to keep reminding yourself that this is totally real, which makes it all the more fascinating.”
Peter Edwards,Toronto Star,  author of “Unrepentant: the Strange and (sometimes) Terrible Life of Lorne Campbell, Satan’s Choice and Hells Angels Biker.”

 

August of 1977 and the Bum – Excerpt from the upcoming book The Triangle Exit

It was August 19, 1977 and the weather was beautiful outside but my thoughts were on the work I had before me. Faced with high unemployment, I, together with the Plumbers and Electricians Union, were in the process of attempting to develop a market recovery strategy plan that could recapture work that had been lost to the growing non-union employers. The biggest problem I had with this: would the mob go for it? Here I was working my ass off and these robber barons were either at home or relaxing somewhere else. Every time I tried to introduce any type of change that may affect wages or make everyone work, including the shop stewards, I was met with mob resistance. They would inundate me with,“What about my son or my cousin; that’s so and so’s brother,” and so on. It was always the relatives or their cronies that came first and fuck everyone else.

The location of my office at Local 210 and its proximity to the secretarial area allowed me to overhear the conversations taking place in the main office. Once I heard Jennie DeAngelo, the very hard-working backbone of the secretaries, telling somebody we didn’t have any job openings. Then I listened to the other party say he wanted to see somebody in authority. “Send him in, Jennie,” I shouted, sensing she was having a tough time handling this individual.

As he walked into my office it was apparent that he was a street person, in need of a bath and a good meal. I told him to sit down even though my nose was quite offended by the foul odor that started to permeate my office. I inquired about what he wanted and told him that he shouldn’t have given the secretary such a tough time. He remarked rather firmly that he wanted a job and that he was ready for immediate employment. I repeated what Jennie DeAngelo expressed in that there was no work available. In order to be eligible for employment he would have to become a member of the union. He affirmatively blurted out that he was in possession of information and documents that I would welcome and that he would trade them for employment. I inquisitively asked him what he had, and if he could show me to what the so-called information relates. Guardedly, he wanted to know if he showed me what he had, would I find employment for him. “Yes,” I answered, even though I was skeptical that this vagrant would be in possession of any information that would be beneficial let alone of interest to me. I asked him how he obtained the information that he possessed. He answered that while resting in an alley not far from the Union Hall, he noticed two men in a car actively tracking the movements of everyone entering and leaving the Union Hall. It appeared to me that he was aware, from the newspapers or some other source, that the Union was the subject and the target of federal investigators.

Continuing his story, the bum said that two men got out of the car, leaving the doors open, and attempted to get the license plate of a car leaving the union parking lot. While they were away from their vehicle, he entered their car and stole a briefcase. Apparently it was not noticed missing when the men returned. He then placed a dirty, old brown grocery bag on my desk, reached in and removing the contents. I immediately knew that these documents belonged to the FBI and SA Joseph Genova. After leafing through some of the documentation and authenticating them, I realized that they were quite important files that related to ongoing investigations, FBI strategy, surveillance photographs, and names of informants.

The disheveled old man then said, “You can keep them if you give me a job…” Is there more that is still with the briefcase that he had hidden somewhere? I immediately responded, “Yes! I will find you a job, but you have to get the rest of the files.” He said, “They are in a safe place and, oh yeah, I also have the FBI agents ID and a gun.” My God! I thought to myself, how the fuck did they screw up like this?

Explaining that it was Friday and that he would have to wait until after the weekend before I could get him employment, I then told him that I was going out on a limb for him and he would have to give me the remaining documents, gun and ID now.  Informing him which car in the parking lot was mine, I asked him to slip the briefcase, gun, and other documents under the car on the driver’s side near the front tire. At first he paused but after assuring him about the job, he agreed to my request.

The vagrant then departed and only seconds after his leaving, Pizza Todaro and Vic Randaccio walked into my office. The highly visible documents and photographs were in the middle of my desk and with mouths agape and eyes fixed, the two mobsters listened to my explanation about what just preceded their walking into my office. Having little choice I explained, at least in part, what just took place, avoiding mentioning the additional FBI property that was going to be left by my car. Fortunately, I was able to slip the documents that contained the names of informants in the front of my pants while their enlarged eyes were fixated on the surveillance photos. Todaro started leafing through them with a paper clip in an effort to avoid placing his fingerprints on them. Randaccio said something like, “This may be some ploy by the FBI; they may be trying to set us up.”

A third mobster, Angelo Massaro, entered and after viewing the documents commented, “My attorney Bob Murphy can make good use of this shit and the info contained in them.” I then said that maybe I should call the union attorney (Richard Lipsitz) and seek his recommendations. “No, don’t use the fucking phone, no phones;” shouted Massaro, “I am going to take them upstairs.” (He was referring to his office located on the 2nd floor of the building.) Todaro also voiced a concern about it being a setup and told me, “Don’t talk on the phone! Ronnie, go over to the union lawyer’s office and inform Lipsitz of what has happened.” After agreeing, I departed.

The bum was true to his word; the briefcase lay exactly where I told him to put it. I reached under my car, grabbed the briefcase and placed it next to me on the seat. While driving, I removed the file from my pants and inquisitively opened the briefcase and read some of its contents. I wasn’t shocked, but I was also concerned to see my name listed as a source of information and how close I came to being discovered. Thoughts raced through my head about the documents that Massaro had taken, never having a chance to fully review the information they contained.

The file with names of informants and sources of information was much larger than I expected and contained information that I must still keep confidential because many of the people on the list are still living and remain highly connected. Two informant names did stand out. One was that of my father and the other was Steve “Flattop” Cannarozzo. I wasn’t disturbed about my father. Previous conversations I had had with him pretty much pointed this out, but Cannarozzo’s cooperation was something I was not aware of. I had a hard time concentrating on the task before me and my thoughts could not get off the files Massaro controlled. Was my name in there and do they in any way reflect my FBI cooperation?

The federal building was only a couple of blocks away from Lipsitz’s office and I decided to first go tell the feds what had happened. I didn’t like publicly visiting the seventh floor of the federal building on Delaware Avenue where the FBI office was located; there was always a chance of being spotted. Instead, I went to see Al Hartel. His office was located within the Department of Labor where I felt that I could explain my presence if discovered. The secretaries there all knew me and were aware of my relationship with Al. “Hi Ronnie, Al’s not here!” one of the secretaries said even before I asked to see him. Pondering for a second or two and thinking who to reach out to, I asked the secretary to contact Bob Stewart for me. Bob was the head of the Organized Crime Strike Force and his office was located in another building. “Not in,” she responded. I then told her to call back to his office and tell Stewart’s secretary that this was an emergency and for her to reach out to him.

Approximately five minutes later Stewart called me and I explained to him what had happened. Within minutes, FBI SA Jack Porstel rushed in and I could see he was just as shook up as me. I asked Al’s secretary if we could use his office which she readily made available. Porstel tried to maintain an air of everything-is-under-control that most FBI agents attempt to project, even in difficult situations such as this. After explaining what had happened and turning over all the documents and gun that were in my possession, I expressed my concern about being discovered. He asked to meet me at noon behind the Holiday Inn located a couple of blocks from the Union Hall and to make sure I was not followed.

After departing I went to see Dick Lipsitz. I told the lawyer about the bum and documents story making sure I did not mention the briefcase, additional files, and FBI ID, gun and informant list. Lipsitz strongly instructed me to get the documents back from Massaro and he would arrange for their transfer back to the bureau.

Lipsitz pointed out that if the FBI became aware of our possession of their documents, it could lead to legal problems for us as well as an irate FBI and all the complications that could go with that. Returning to the Union Hall, I informed Joey Todaro Jr. and Angelo Massaro of Lipsitz’s concern. A defiant Massaro said, “There is no fucking way I am going to listen to that asshole. I want to talk to my attorney first.” A sympathetic Todaro listened and I sensed that he was inclined to heed Lipsitz’s wisdom but didn’t want to overrule the forceful Massaro.

It was almost noon and I had to meet Porstel. I drove around for a while to make sure I wasn’t followed, and then speedily backing up the one-way alley situated behind the Holiday Inn, I almost ran over one of the agents that was waiting for me to arrive. The normally stoic and reserved Donald Hartnett was a veteran of the war being waged on the Mafia and the supervisor of the Organized Crime Squad but, unfortunately, he now had to contend with hot coffee dripping from his face and clothes. While I was apologizing for almost running him over, the shaken agent wiped his face and asked me where the documents were being kept and if they had been photocopied. I told him that I didn’t know what Massaro did with them but thought they would already be in the possession of his attorney Bob Murphy.

As we spoke we devised a plan to recover the documents but I expressed my concern for any plan that would expose me as the source of information. I told agents Hartnett, Porstel, Charles Mauer, and the other two agents present that if they intended to recover the documents by directly entering the building, they had better search all the offices and not just Angelo Massaro’s! I explained that if they went directly upstairs to Angelo’s office, the mob would know that the bureau had inside information on their location! Furthermore, the only people that knew where the papers were, and who had them, included Massaro, Vic Randaccio, Joey Todaro Jr., Dick Lipsitz, possibly Jennie DeAngelo, and yours truly.

I rambled on about another problem I faced. Come Monday, I am going to be confronted by the bum and his employment request. The possibility existed that some of the mob guys may get to talk with him and he may mention the briefcase, the gun, and the additional documents that I had withheld from them. The agents assured me that they would take care of him and necessary precautions would be taken to avoid my being compromised. I returned to the Local 210 Union Hall and awaited the pending raid and document recovery plot. Hartnett presupposed that the documents were still in Massaro’s office and as of yet had not turned them over to his attorney.

Three hours went by, it was 3:30 p.m. and Massaro was getting ready to leave! There was no FBI in sight. What the fuck is going on? I thought. Maybe they were going to bust Massaro as he was leaving. As I watched Massaro’s car turn the corner out of the union parking lot and his journey down Franklin Street, I speculated that something had gone wrong. Why are they waiting? Did they change their game plan? I was trying not to act conspicuous, but it was now after 4:00 p.m. and there wasn’t a hint of a recovery operation.

I decided to leave and drive to a pay phone to try and find out for myself. While walking in the parking lot, three vehicles pulled in and ten FBI agents exited the cars quickly scrambling to cover the front and back doors of the Union Hall. SA Charlie Mauer, going through the motions, grabbed me by the arm and escorted me rather forcefully toward the front entrance of the Union Hall and into my office.

All of the other agents, except Mauer, headed directly upstairs and for Massaro’s office. My fate ran before my eyes, Ronnie, you are fucked; there is just no way that they will not suspect someone.

Once inside the office, and playing my role as business manager, I demanded to know what the reason for the raid was. In front of the secretaries and Dan Sansanese Jr., who had just walked in, Mauer responded, “You know the reason, and we want the documents back.” I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about and I was going to call the union attorney. It was 5:00 p.m. and by now Lipsitz and most of the lawyers had gone home or for an after-work cocktail. I did reach the Benefit Fund attorney, Paul Birzon, who said he would be right over, as well as Carmen Putrino, an assistant and junior partner in Lipsitz’s firm. Putrino asked to speak with one of the agents and I told him that they were all upstairs except for Mauer. Charlie Mauer took the phone, listened to Putrino then said, “This is a matter of national security and we did not need a search warrant; if you have any questions call Bob Stewart in his office.”

Putting on a ruse, even though the damage was done, Mauer went into my office and started looking haphazardly through my desk and pulled out an FBI “Requisition For Leave” slip that he must have had in his pocket. At the same time, so that the secretaries and Sansanese could overhear, Mauer said to me, “Pal you are going to jail, unless you tell us where the documents are hidden.” I responded, “I will not say a word until my attorney is here.”

Agent Porstel came downstairs and asked me to follow him to the upstairs office. Benefit Fund Secretary Dee Giancarlo told me that the agents had requested a key to open Massaro’s locked desk or they would go to one of their cars and get a tire iron and use that to open it. I told Dee to not do anything until the attorneys arrived.

At that moment Angelo Massaro phoned in response to a call from his secretary. He asked to speak to me as an agent picked up an adjoining phone to listen to the conversation. “What the fuck is going on?” Massaro asked. I told him, “I don’t know. They kept saying that we possess documents that belonged to them, and that I was going to be arrested if I didn’t turn them over. They are going to break open your desk, Angelo, if we don’t turn over the key.” In trying to aid my dilemma, I also told him, “They rifled through my office as well, and are going to start turning the whole building inside out until they find what they are looking for.”

After that, Massaro hung up the phone and I was escorted down the stairs to the main floor. I greeted attorneys Paul Birzon and Carmen Putrino and just as I finished informing them of what the FBI was doing, the agents came downstairs with the documents they found in a lower drawer of Massaro’s desk. They then departed, warning us regarding their duplication and if any documents were missing they would be back.

After the agents left, Danny Sansanese Jr. told me that he was glad that they didn’t go into his office or they would have found some hot jewels that were still very traceable. Afraid that the place was bugged, Carmen Putrino, Dan Sansanese, and Paul Birzon joined me on the front walkway where we discussed the possibilities of a leak. Was this a setup, or was the building bugged? A setup was quickly ruled out and a leak was more likely. Acting more as a victim of the raid, I kept an open mind during the discussions and suggested that nothing should be dismissed lightly. I suggested a bug was the most logical explanation. Only a handful of people knew we had the documents and no phone calls were placed. Carmen Putrino suggested that Fred Gugino, another lawyer in the Lipsitz firm, immediately make contact with a security firm from Horseheads, New York. “Have them come here tomorrow and sweep the building and phones for bugs and surveillance devices.” Dan Sansanese Jr., quickly approved it and told Putrino not to worry about the cost.

I knew I had to move quickly. After leaving, I reached out to SA Don Hartnett and told him of the pending sweep and asked him if they would discover any surveillance devices in the building. He answered, “No, we have nothing in there, Ron.” “Well then,” I said, “we better plant one or my ass is grass.” He told me, “That is impossible.” I responded angrily, “Maybe you don’t understand the ramifications that I face, if they sweep that building and don’t find a bug, I’m fucked.”

After receiving little satisfaction, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to the nearest Radio Shack and purchased a transmitter, some wire and whatever looked technical. I went back to the Union Hall and started looking for a place to install my makeshift bug. I raised a corner of the drop ceiling and near one of the ventilation openings. I placed the shitty looking Mickey Mouse device; then left for the night.

After arriving home, my wife told me that a Fred Gugino had called; he wanted me to be at his office at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. I called him and with limited discussion told him that I would be there. The next morning I rang the buzzer of the Lipsitz firm and was greeted by Gugino who informed me that the firm from Horseheads would be arriving at around 10:00 a.m. Gugino said, “Once we are at the Union Hall, we cannot discuss anything; if the place is bugged, we will tip off the listeners.”

The security experts arrived and they followed us to the Union Hall, armed with the electronic activity detection equipment they stored in the van utilized for driving to Buffalo.  They professionally checked the phones and waved a circular receiver up and down the walls and ceiling. Before long, they discovered my shoddy transmitter. They left it undisturbed and did not respond to my “oohs and aahs” as well as the “ah ha’s!” whispered by Dan Sansanese and Nick DiMaggio (the nephew of Roy Carlisi and now an instructor at the Training Fund) who had just arrived. Marking down what they had encountered on a yellow pad, the security men continued. After a couple of hours of sweeping and telephone line checking they asked me, Dan Sansanese Jr., and Fred Gugino to go with them to where the van was now parked.

Upon entering the van, one of the security people pointed out a listening device that looked like a small satellite dish, in the direction of the Union Hall. As we listened, we could hear speaking in the Hall. One of the security people was saying “1, 2, 3, 4,” etc. We could even hear Nick DiMaggio on the telephone talking to his wife and telling her he would be home shortly.

I asked if the ceiling device (that I had planted) was what we were hearing. I was embarrassed by his answer; “That is junk and the FBI would never use something like that.” They said anyone with half an ounce of knowledge about surveillance would not use it. It was probably put there by somebody whom for whatever reason attempted to listen in. “Even though we didn’t take it out or touch it you can bet that it doesn’t belong to any government or state law enforcement agency.” “But then where is the bug planted that we are hearing?” His answer shocked me when he said that we had bugged ourselves! The front of the Union Hall had a monitoring system used for calling out available jobs twice a day and was left on all the time and near the ventilation duct work. It mimicked a receiver and could easily pick up any nearby conversations.

After everyone left, I drove Gugino back to his office and then went back to the Union Hall myself. I removed the fake transmitter I had placed in the ceiling so as not to have some serial number traced to a purchase that I had made.

When Monday arrived, the bum never came and I was sure that he was whisked away with threats of arrest and prison if he ever followed up and returned for a job. Sansanese told Pizza about our bugging ourselves as well as the shoddy device in the ceiling that both believed was placed there by the Pieri faction. As far as the microphone system that was used for roll call, it was never left on again and they never checked the ceiling again for the device I placed there. But unfortunately, after that day, the television was always on playing loudly and conversations in the hall were limited.