Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Written by David Cattanach

I’m no soothsayer, but I can read tea leaves and the leaves say “keep the schools closed.” So, I’ve repeated what the tea leaves, experience, and common sense have told me about keeping schools closed until we’ve controlled the virus with another shutdown. Not surprisingly, the results of my advice have been Cassandran, but Amy Westmoreland, a school nurse in Georgia in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, added some really good thoughts for my “Cassandran Chronicles” on school openings. Her article was titled “My county wanted school nurses to justify its unsafe reopening plan. So, I quit.” Her reasoning was sound and agrees with mine, so naturally I liked it a lot.

Gratuitous factoid, and the nucleus of this blog, which is also totally gratuitous, my first superintendency was in Westmoreland New York, like the school nurse who wrote this article’s surname, which is next door to Utica in Oneida County. No, the nurse’s surname is not next door to Utica, the town of Westmoreland is. Utica had historically been known as “Sin City,” and at one time I felt partially responsible for that unflattering sobriquet, because back in the late sixties and early seventies I did my share of sinning in Utica and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Egotistical me! I was unaware that throughout my years next door in Westmoreland and my ventures into Utica to contribute to the decadence, although most of it I probably didn’t notice then, the most serious sinning was by “organized crime” that pre-dated my superintendency in Westmoreland and post-dated it as well. This is a quote from a New York website “The Crime Report.” “The mob in upstate New York, formerly based around Utica, a notoriously tough region in Oneida County, nicknamed by some “the Empire State’s Sin City” has been gone for more than a quarter century — a 1990 federal racketeering case decimated what was left of organized crime in the area once run at various times by crews representing Buffalo and New York City’s Colombo Family.”

I read the Utica Press daily back then, but it appears their writers were very cautious about what they wrote, because I always thought “Sin City” was before my time, regardless of my contributions, “but the last gasp of mob activity was in the 1970s and 1980s and a hell of a gasp it was with almost a dozen gangland murders in the city’s underworld landscape in those twenty years.”

“The Last Utica Mob Hit Parade (1970-1990)” Personal and some place names were changed to protect the maybe innocent and the possibly guilty, but otherwise the information is as it was reported in “The Last Utica Mob Hit Parade.”
• February 28, 1970 – Mob associate Christopher Moltasante is blown up by a grenade attached to his car door after leaving Mr. Tony’s restaurant and tavern in North Utica. (An unproven assertion, possibly a rumored assertion, is that it was also a great place for bargain prices on almost anything that ever fell off a truck.”)
• July 4, 1971 – Mob associate Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri is shot to death, his body dumped near Oneida Lake just outside Rome, New York city limits.
• October 3, 1976 – Rogue mob figure Big Wussy Bonpensieri killed in a hail of bullets walking towards his apartment in East Utica following dinner at Mariano’s Ristorante. Big Wussy had openly boasted about taking over the area’s mob operations and his murder was toasted the next evening at a mob get-together held inside Nuovo Vesuvio Ristorante in Utica’s hardscrabble “Cornhole District.”
• December 20, 1976 – Syracuse produce dealer and mob associate Richie Aprile is killed; shot to death and left on the side of a road near the county line.
• December 3, 1979 – Mob wife Livia (the Haridan) Soprano is strangled and bludgeoned to death for skimming money from her son’s crew and possibly cooperating with the authorities.
• February 14, 1980 – Utica bar owner and mob associate Bobby Baccalieri’s bar is bombed in an attempt on his life, but Baccalieri was already in police custody after word of the pending murder contract hit the street. Baccalieri had recently testified in a trial regarding the Richie Aprile slaying.
• January 4, 1983 – Young criminal attorney Ralph Cifaretto is shot to death inside his office, either in a case of mistaken identity – Cifaretto was a protégé of and worked for well-known Utica mob mouthpiece Vito Spatafore – or as a macabre message to his mentor.
• January 15, 1983 – Mob associate “Crazy”Artie (the Chef) Bucco is shot in the back of the head in a hotel room in New Haven, New York.
• January 17, 1983 – Topless dancer Jennifer Melfi is stabbed to death inside her Oriskany, New York apartment.
• September 16, 1983 – Mob soldier Furio Giunta is gunned down while drinking at the bar of the Bucetto Social Club in Utica’s seedy Oathill neighborhood.
• October 23, 1983 – Mobster Little Johnny Sacramoni — imprisoned crew boss Big Al Sacramoni’s’s brother — is severely injured in a porch bomb attack at his Utica home after he had gotten into a beef with members of the old Minestrone regime
• February 11, 1989 – Longtime local bookie Hesh Rabkin is killed inside his apartment for refusing to pay the mob tribute money in order to run his sports gambling operation in the area.

Holy shitski Batman, a couple of those murders were during my time in Westmoreland, and I was completely unaware of what was happening next door. For the sake of the area economy, I was an equal opportunity sinner from Canandaigua on the west to Albany on the east, Watertown to the north and Binghamton on the south, with my wining, dining, and dancing escapades, but had I known what I know now about “Sin City,” I wouldn’t have spent even a single wooden nickel inside city limits, even though my nickname wasn’t Big Wussy — probably because I was slim back then.

Reading this account of what was happening during my years in Westmoreland, and what happened later, curdled my puddings or puddled my curdles, whatever the old English saying says, from the realization that I probably had dinner in the restaurants mentioned; not sure about one, but pretty sure of another where after his dinner there “Rogue mob figure Big Wussy Bonpensieri was killed in a hail of bullets walking towards his apartment in East Utica following dinner at Mariano’s Ristorante.” What if I’d glanced over at Big Wussy’s table, and he’d asked, “You lookin’ at me?”

Before seeing the Joe Pesci movies, I may have innocently answered, “yes,” which would have really ruined my weekend. Read Samuel Clemens’s “Innocents and Broads,” and my Utica life could have been chronicled therein. If “Innocents and Broads” isn’t available, try “Innocents Abroad” by Mark Twain– same book, same author, just an earlier printing and copyrighted differently.

This is all Amy Westmoreland’s fault!



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