The man owed him money, tens of thousands of dollars for the purchase of his cheese shop in the North End, and Anthony DiNunzio was furious and wanted to send a message.
“So I grabbed him,’’ DiNunzio, the reputed boss of the New England Mafia, allegedly told an associate last December.
“Twenty-five [thousand dollars] comes to me.’’
DiNunzio’s associate, a senior member of the Gambino family, was sympathetic. And he responded, “He’s going to pay the twenty-five.’’
“Oh, yeah,’’ DiNunzio said, laughing and insinuating that if the payment wasn’t made, “I’ll kill him.’’
The alleged exchange, at a meeting in Clifton, N.J., was laid out in court records this week as part of prosecutors’ arguments that DiNunzio has shown a propensity for violence and that he should be held without bail, pending a trial on extortion and racketeering charges in federal court in Rhode Island.
DiNunzio is the brother of convicted New England Mafia underboss Carmen “The Cheeseman’’ DiNunzio, who ran the cheese shop.
The conversation with the Gambino member and related exchanges outlined in court records describe DiNunzio’s unforgiving management style after taking over the New England Mafia, how he bragged that he would bury alive dissenters; how he demanded payments from underlings in Rhode Island; how he sought out and intimidated members of his organization he thought were cooperating with authorities.
The court records show that DiNunzio was worried that an investigation into his Rhode Island underlings would be his downfall.
“That’s the only thing I could think that could set me up,’’ he allegedly said.
In truth, the conversations with the senior Gambino family member became just as much part of the case against him. They were recorded by authorities.
At one point, according to court records, DiNunzio could be heard telling the Gambino family member he did not need help escaping arrest.
“I got places,’’ he allegedly said. “. . . I could go live in my neighborhood and nobody would ever find me.’’
DiNunzio was arrested without incident just before 7 a.m. Wednesday. After a brief hearing later that day, at which he pleaded not guilty, he was ordered held without bail, pending a detention hearing scheduled for May 3. He faces up to 20 years in prison on some charges.
His lawyer, Robert Sheketoff, declined comment Thursday.
The Gambino family member was not identified and is listed in court records as a cooperating witness.
Current and former law enforcement officials said this week that the case against DiNunzio, part of a broader federal prosecution in Rhode Island that has already led to the conviction of six Mafia members and associates, shows that the underworld of the New England Mafia ranges from Boston to Rhode Island to New York.
Authorities allege that DiNunzio took the helm of the New England La Cosa Nostra not long after Luigi “Louie’’ Manocchio of Rhode Island stepped down in 2009.
DiNunzio immediately commanded a portion of the extortion payments that Manocchio’s crew received from strip clubs, court records say.
And he met with members of the Gambino family, asking for permission to demand payments from an unidentified member of the adult entertainment industry who was running businesses in Rhode Island.
The man was already paying protection payments to the Gambino family.
“There’s always been a relationship between the Providence people and the Boston people,’’ said Thomas Foley, a retired State Police commander who investigated organized crime in Massachusetts for years as head of the agency’s special services unit.
Those relationships extended farther still: The Gambino family, one of New York’s five Mafia families, has long had an interest in the Mafia’s workings in New England.
“They felt that if somebody in New England was a problem for them, or good for them, naturally they’ve had their input,’’ he said.
The arrests, specifically that of DiNunzio, depict the ongoing work of La Cosa Nostra, as well as the continued prosecution by law enforcement.
“Over the decades, the law enforcement network has basically dismantled New England La Cosa Nostra as we know it,’’ said Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell of the Rhode Island State Police, which assisted in the investigation.
“It’s just another boss who got arrested,’’ he said. “. . . It’s another message that if you want to become a leader, you become a target of ours.’’
DiNunzio, whose criminal record includes a previous conviction for extortion, described the immediate actions he would take once assuming leadership, according to court records.
In a conversation with the senior Gambino member in June 2011, he speculated about who was cooperating with authorities, and he concluded that it could be a former New England Mafia boss.
He went on to explain, according to court records, that he dispatched an associate to try to locate the former boss.