PROVIDENCE — The Boston-based head of the New England Mafia, Anthony DiNunzio, pleaded guilty Thursday to participating in organized crime, the sixth consecutive don to be convicted, as officials vowed to target anyone who seeks to take his place in the leadership of La Cosa Nostra.
“When there’s money to be made, a criminal element will step up to take their place,” Rhode Island US Attorney Peter Neronha said on the front steps of the federal courthouse Thursday.
But, he said, “From my judgment, we have driven a stake through the heart of organized crime in Rhode Island, and we have cut off its head in Boston.”
Neronha’s comments came moments after DiNunzio, the don of the New England faction of La Cosa Nostra, or the Mafia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.
DiNunzio, 53, of East Boston, could serve 63 to 78 months in prison through an agreement he reached with federal prosecutors. As part of the agreement, additional charges of extortion and traveling in aid of racketeering were dismissed. He is slated to be sentenced Nov. 14.
DiNunzio — the younger brother of convicted mobster Carmen “The Cheese Man” DiNunzio — admitted during the brief hearing Thursday that he was the head of the Mafia, and that he pushed his underlings to continue to extort payments from local businesses, particularly area strip clubs. Wearing olive green prison garb, he nodded and repeated yes throughout the procedural process in court.
At the end of the hearing, he gestured quickly to what appeared to be friends and family members. They did not want to comment. DiNunzio’s lawyer, Robert Sheketoff, did not comment on the case.
DiNunzio had vowed to underlings to maintain his leadership even if he were to serve a prison sentence, according to evidence that was introduced in detention hearings after his arrest in April.
Neronha would not comment on what DiNunzio had said, but promised a swift investigation into whomever seeks to assume leadership of what was once the most powerful organized crime group in the region.
“Every case . . . leads to another case, and every piece of evidence leads to another piece of evidence,” Neronha said. “A lot of people can step into the vacuum . . . but hopefully, this sends a message.”
During Thursday’s hearing, Assistant US Attorney William Ferland told the court DiNunzio joined the New England Mafia around 1994. He assumed control of the Mafia, overseeing organized crime in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, after former boss, Luigi Manocchio, stepped down in 2009.
Manocchio and more than seven Rhode Island crew members were subsequently arrested on racketeering charges. They have all been convicted.
DiNunzio quickly sought to continue Manocchio’s operations in Rhode Island, including the extortion of protection payments from area strip clubs, Ferland said.
“He ultimately assumed a leadership role in the enterprise,” Ferland said.
DiNunzio is the sixth consecutive boss to be convicted, joining Manocchio and other bosses, including Raymond Patriarca Jr.