A rare street-level look at what life was really like in the South Brooklyn mob in the 1980s, as the rackets descended into a bloody civil war.
How much did Carmine Imbriale know about the South Brooklyn rackets? Following two decades as a street-level operative on 13th Avenue in one of the most violent crews in the Colombo Crime Family, his cooperation set in motion a sequence of events that help end a bloody Mafia civil war and put more than 40 wiseguys behind bars.
From the book
As young Carmine crossed over 12th Avenue, he saw where the wild ones went once they were done dealing in the clubs and cafes of 13th Avenue. These homes, larger, stucco-sided, front-yarded with towering fountains and marbled lions, privacy hedges, paved in polished stone, gurgling waterfalls, dripping dandelions.
Behind those lace curtains were two types of people. Those who made it. And those who’d been made.
In few other places (maybe Long Island, out in Jersey) did so many cardiologists live alongside caporegimes. Here, medical surgeons shared driveways with mafia soldiers, as contractors gave gardening advice to contract killers. After all, just like doctors on-call preferred to live near Victory Memorial, the wiseguys wanted to be a short drive to their sit-downs.
In those days, Halloween was a big deal for the tough Italian boys of 13th Avenue. As night came down, the old Sicilian black-shawls returning from their All Hallows Eve masses at St. Bernadette’s, the trick-or-treaters retreating home to savor their sweets, Carmine and his boys set out on their missions.
Across South Brooklyn, rival factions fanned out, block after block, armed for aerial combat with eggs and modified cans of Barbasol, bent on bombing the shit out of each other … or beating the shit out of each other.
As Carmine and his boys prowled, they ripped down decorations, smashed stoop pumpkins.
Halloween night, 1968, Carmine at 12, rambling through Dyker Heights with his boys, spotted a glowing jack-o-lantern smiling wickedly down from a second-floor balcony wrapped in wrought iron. He told his boys to hold up a sec, then shimmied up that rain pipe, not-knowing-not-caring whose home it was.
Moments later, in mid-shimmy halfway up that pipe, Carmine froze, as an older Italian-American gentleman clad in a dark silk robe stepped out onto that balcony. He lit a long cigar, snorted at Carmine like he knew he was there, amused, not alarmed. He then twisted that fat Cuban in the flame as he dead-eyed Carmine.
“We looked at each other, like forever, and he got a real good look at me,” Carmine says. “He didn’t seem to give a shit this kid was climbing up his house. He’s all relaxed, lighting that big fat cigar. Then he laughs, says out the corner of his mouth, ‘Ok tough guy, let’s see how you fast you can get down that pipe.’”
Lucky for Carmine, that sophisticated-looking older gentleman clad in dark silk didn’t have his gun on him.
Guy like that could make a body disappear, pretty easy in fact.
After all, he was Joe Colombo, boss of the Colombos Crime Family.
And then he turned back to Carmine and ...
See what happened next to Carmine, pick up a copy of “Carmine & the 13th Avenue Boys” from WildBlue Press today.
From the Author
You Can Take the Boy Out of South Brooklyn, but …
Carmine Imbriale proves the adage, you can take the boy out South Brooklyn, but you just can’t take the South Brooklyn out of the boy.
That’s especially true if that slice of South Brooklyn just happens to be that outrageous amounts of lights lathered onto the densely packed homes in Dyker Heights every holiday season, where the streets are so crowded, some nights you could drive for over an hour and never get a parking spot.
I grew up in the same neighborhood as Carmine Imbriale, Bensonhurst, and I was a teenager at the time he was an active Associate for the Colombo Crime Family. So, some of the two years of research I spent with Carmine was a wonderful walk down memory lane.
There is one charming story that stands out, and it had nothing to do with criminal behavior. Here is an excerpt of “Carmine & the 13th Avenue Boys: Surviving the Bloody South Brooklyn Colombo Mob.”
Calling Carmine Imbriale a fish out of water during his time in Witness Protection is an understatement.
There was that time the U.S. Marshals Service dinged Carmine just for expressing a bit of holiday spirit. Come on guys. Was that really necessary? After all, it was a just a little Brooklyn thing. See, back in the old neighborhood, after the leaves change colors, and Thanksgiving passes, with a nip in the air, the men start pulling out their ladders, unraveling their extension cords.
Especially in Dyker Heights, this annual tradition is now world famous. Even before the turkey clears the table, homeowners itch to rush out to their garages to lather their homes in layers of retina-searing bulbs and dancing animatronics to celebrate the holiday season in true “Dyker Lights” fashion.
These over-the-top displays draw thousands, clogging narrow streets with slow-moving herds. There are now guided tours that bring busloads of gawkers down, at $20 a head. The local precinct issues tickets to renegade sidewalk vendors. In fact, the blocks between 11th to 13th avenues, from 83rd to 86th streets, so inundated with shrieking lights, can be seen from space.
No longer living in Dyker Heights? No problem. Carmine would recreate a bit of that old Brooklyn holiday magic. In retrospect, Carmine says maybe, just maybe, he could’ve kept a lower profile.
“Ok, I admit, I sometimes had a difficult time with that,” Carmine says. “But that Christmas, I wanted to decorate my house for my family, just like we did back in the old neighborhood.”
Word spread. Foot traffic was brisk. Cars lined up around the block to cruise by this strange blinking home. Just like in the old neighborhood.
Only, this ain’t the old neighborhood.
“You know, when we made the newspaper and the six-o’clock news, I knew I was getting a call,” Carmine chuckles. “Let’s just say the marshal was definitely not in the Christmas spirit about all of the news coverage.”
This story captures Carmine’s cavalier attitude perfectly and provides a window into what life is like inside the witness protection program, where your roots are ripped out from underneath you. I love this short episode for its endearing warmth. Carmine’s is a tough guy, but also fiercely devoted to his family and genuinely wanted to bring them some holiday, under difficult circumstances.
It’s also vintage Carmine rebelling against authority. Sure, the marshals never explicitly told Carmine he could not light his home like a carnival. They probably assumed they did not need to do that.
I can just picture some federal marshal sitting down to dinner in a Midwestern town, flipping on the five-o’clock news, only to see a big grinning Carmine standing proudly out in front of his blinking home.
It makes me laugh every time.
Sure, we hung Christmas lights at our home on the corner of 77th Street and 16th Avenue, but nowhere near what those lunatics in Dyker did every year. Yet, for some reason, none of that bizarre behavior seemed strange. Just another Brooklyn thing.
In fact, it was normal, even became part of our routine. At least once every December, my mom and dad would load me and little sister Sue into the old Le Baron to take a tour. And if we had any holiday out-of-town visitors staying, well, we’d take a second tour and love every minute our noses were pressed against the glass.
In part, I wrote this book for all of us who grew up in South Brooklyn in this era and experienced all these unique, over-the-top slices of the old neighborhood.
But, you certainly don’t have to have been born in Kings County to appreciate all of these interesting stories Carmine has allowed me to share. It sure was a wonderful ride-along.
To learn more about the South Brooklyn rackets from a street-level operative who spent two decades inside the Colombo Family, pick up your copy today of “Carmine & the 13th Avenue Boys: Surviving the Bloody South Brooklyn Colombo Mob.”