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Kevin Cullen

Philly connection to Gardner Museum heist

So, 23 years after the ­Gardner Museum gets robbed, the feds think the art heist was pulled off by a combination of wiseguys from Boston and Philadelphia. Makes sense to me. There was always a symbiotic relationship between the Mafia in Boston and Philadelphia.

Larry Baione, who used to be the number two man in the Mafia around here, positively gushed over the Philly mob. That’s because, like the Philly boys, Larry loved to shoot people.

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Some old-school wiseguys, like Henry Tameleo, the Boston consigliere who died in prison after he was framed by the FBI for a murder, regularly averted violence, seeing it as bad for business.

Like his heroes in a city where they call heroes hoagies, Larry chose violence as his first option. After the Philly mob engaged in repeated bouts of fratricide, which in this town was usually the preserve of Irish wiseguys, Larry had the audacity to blame it on the Irish.

When the longtime Philly boss Angelo “the Gentle Don” Bruno, who also preferred conciliation to confrontation, was gunned down in 1980 outside his house, Phil “the Chicken Man” Testa succeeded Bruno. They called him the Chicken Man because he worked in the poultry business before he got good at math and figured out that John Gotti made more money than Colonel Sanders. They didn’t call him the Chicken Man for long, because his erstwhile goombahs blew him up a year after he took over.

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Remember that song “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen?

Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night, now, they blew up his house, too.”

Not every wiseguy gets his own Springsteen song.

In 1981, some FBI bugs planted in the North End captured Larry Baione blaming the Irish for the Chicken Man’s demise.

“I feel we should go all out,” Larry opined, “every family get together and kill the Irishmen.”

Citing the bad form of killing a guy in his own house, Larry’s henchman, Johnny ­Cincotti, was convinced the Irish did it.

“They don’t have the scruples that we have,” Johnny said.

Scruples? More like scalpels, Johnny.

Larry and Johnny weren’t exactly members of Mensa, because the Chicken Man died as the Gentle Don did, at the hands of crazy Philly mafiosi.

Steve Kurkjian, who like Bob Ryan supposedly retired from the Globe but continues to grace these pages, notes that the late mafioso Bobby Guarente, who has been linked to the Gardner heist, had Mafia pals in Boston, Philly, and Connecticut.

Guarente, in fact, hooked up some ­Boston wiseguys with Mafia cocaine dealers in Philly. So while the Mafia didn’t sell Philadelphia cream cheese on the streets of Boston, they did sell Philly coke.

The Philly mob didn’t exactly take ­omerta seriously, producing a boatload of informants.

One of them, Phil Leonetti, testified in Boston and against his uncle, Philly boss Nicky Scarfo. Leonetti had GQ looks, but after he went into the witness protection program he had his face surgically altered. As the great Shelley Murphy once pointed out, Leonetti is the only guy who had plastic surgery and came out looking worse. But I guess that was the point.

Speaking of informants, the feds would be well advised to lean on the Rossetti boys from East Boston. Steve Rossetti has been linked to the Gardner heist, but he dummied up after he got grabbed for an ­armored car job. Last week, Rossetti’s brother Mark was sentenced to 12 years for every crime imaginable after great detective work by the Massachusetts State Police.

Mark Rossetti worked as an FBI informant, despite being a suspect in at least six slayings. Maybe he knows something. At the very least, he has experience talking to the FBI.

And for those quaint enough to believe a brother wouldn’t rat on a brother, please: There’s a $5 million reward for those stolen paintings.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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