The Angiulos were among Boston’s most infamous sons, a band of brothers who ran the Mafia from a tiny office in the North End from the 1960s to the 1980s and were as much a part of the neighborhood’s fabric as the cafes and pastry shops.
They included Gennaro “Jerry,” the undisputed leader who barked orders; Donato “Danny,” a capo; Michele “Mike,” an affable underling; and Francesco “Frank,” a quiet but capable bookkeeper who kept track of the family’s business.
Now they are all gone. On Saturday, Frank, the last surviving Angiulo brother, died at Massachusetts General Hospital of heart failure. He was 94.
“He was the last of the Mohicans,” said Gennaro Jay Angiulo, adding that his bachelor uncle lived all of his life in the North End, except for time spent in prison. He considered it a personal victory that he survived cancer and heart surgery in prison and lived to return home in 2000 after serving 14 years for racketeering.
He continued to drive his old Cadillacs, one white and the other black, until a week ago, and he spent most days sitting on the steps at 95 Prince St., across the street from his residence, where he could catch maximum sunlight and watch people pass by, according to his relatives.
“He beat all the odds, just like my dad did,” said Jay Angiulo, who is Gennaro Angiulo’s son. “Who thought my dad would get out? They all came home.”
The Angiulo brothers, children of Italian immigrants who ran a grocery store in the North End, personified for many the old guard who adhered to a strict code and ran a highly profitable criminal organization before a series of prosecutions left the family in disarray.
Gennaro Angiulo had a reputation as a shrewd businessman and his ability to make money on the rackets endeared him to Providence-based New England godfather Raymond L.S. Patriarca, who annointed him underboss — a position that put him in control of the family’s business from Boston to Worcester.
When the Angiulos ran the mob, business was booming and bookmakers used to drop off $45,000 a day, according to evidence presented in court.
Francesco, who served in the Merchant Marines in World War II, was the accountant. He kept the books for the Patriarca family’s sprawling gambling and loansharking business. Unlike some of his brothers, he was never charged with personally participating in violence. “He was a quiet and private man,” said attorney Elliot Weinstein, who represented Francesco during his racketeering trial. “He never hurt anybody.”
He called Francesco Angiulo’s death “the closing of a chapter in Boston’s history.”
Attorney Anthony Cardinale, who represented Gennaro Angiulo, said that unlike rival South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, who raked in millions by flooding his own neighborhood with drugs, the Angiulos tried to keep drugs out of the North End.
“These guys really made sure the neighborhood was safe,” Cardinale said. “No one would ever think of breaking into an apartment or robbing a store or doing anything when they were there. They had that kind of impact.”
The Angiulos made their money mostly from bookmaking and loansharking. Still, they were convicted in a sweeping federal racketeering case that included brutal murders.
In 1981, the FBI planted a bug in Gennaro Angiulo’s headquarters at 98 Prince St. and captured conversations in which the underboss and his underlings boasted about murders and other crimes.
The first-ever trial in federal court in Boston targeting the hierarchy of the New England mob ended in 1986 with the convictions of Gennaro, Donato, Michele, Francesco, and another associate. A fifth brother, Vittore Nicolo, was also charged in the case but never went to trial because of illness. He died in 1987.
Waves of prosecutions would follow, decimating the local mob.
Michele, who served three years in prison for gambling, died in 2006 at age 79. Donato, who was freed in 1997 after serving 11 years for racketeering, died in May 2009 at age 86. And Gennaro Angiulo, who was released in 2007 after serving 24 years in prison for racketeering, died in 2009 at age 90. Two other siblings, Antonio “Anco” Angiulo and Stella Orlandella, have also passed away.
When the aging Mafiosi returned from prison, they found a vastly different North End and a weakened local Mafia. When the Angiulos were in power, the neighborhood was approximately 70 percent Italian-born or of Italian descent, compared with less than 30 percent today, according to the most recent census data.
The neighborhood is now home to an influx of young professionals and college students. While the streets still have the feel of Little Italy, with famous Italian pastry shops, food shops, and upscale restaurants, they are now intermingled with sushi restaurants and Internet cafes.
Mike Tirella, 78, a lifelong resident of the North End, said he believed the North End was safer when the Angiulos were around. “The Angiulos weren’t a bad name when I was growing up,” Tirella said. “I don’t think they bothered people in the North End. I think they helped a lot of people.”
Tirella said he and Francesco used to go to Suffolk Downs every Saturday to bet on the horse races.
“Frankie was a nice guy,” Tirella said. “If he knew you and you needed a favor he’d do it for you. If he didn’t like you, he would let you know. . . . They were always respectful.”
While the Angiulos were in prison during the 1990s, it was revealed during court proceedings that the FBI had used Bulger and his sidekick Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi as informants against the Mafia.
Gennaro, Francesco, and Donato unsuccessfully petitioned to have their cases overturned following revelations that Bulger and Flemmi had a corrupt relationship with FBI agents, who took bribes from the pair and leaked them information.
Still, according to their relatives, the brothers never spoke about Bulger after their release from prison.
“He had not a word to say about [Whitey],” said Jay Angiulo, adding that his father never watched “The Departed” or Mafia TV shows like the “Sopranos,” much preferring movies about cowboys.
When Francesco was released from prison, he visited his brother Gennaro in prison every week, according to Jay Angiulo. And when Gennaro won his freedom six years ago and returned home to Nahant, Francesco often visited and called him twice a day, he said.
His girlfriend of 45 years, Laurie Naimo, died while he was in prison.
Francesco lived in an apartment at 98 Prince St. and often spent his days in a downstairs office — the same one bugged by the FBI in 1981.
“He did the same thing he did for 30 years, but nothing illegal,” said a relative who declined to be identified. “He just sat in that office and watched TV.”