Target 12: Who is ‘Baby Shacks’?

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – “Baby Shacks.” “Baby Shanks.” “Baby Face.” “The Professor.” “The Old Man.”

Luigi Manocchio has had a lot of alleged nicknames in his eight decades. But federal and state investigators say one moniker stood out from all the rest.

“The Boss.”

Last month, Manocchio – described in court documents as the former head of New England’s powerful Patriarca crime family – was scooped up in the FBI’s biggest-ever one-day raid on organized crime. Authorities arrested Manocchio at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as he tried to hop a flight back to Providence.

Manocchio stands accused of using his position as the boss of La Cosa Nostra in New England to extort protection payments from several Rhode Island strip clubs, according to court documents.

The 83-year-old – who spent a decade as an international fugitive before climbing his way up the wiseguy ranks to be New England’s kingpin – now could face as many as 40 years behind bars.

From Military to Mafia

Luigi Giovanni Manocchio was born in Providence on June 23, 1927, the second of three sons born to Mary and Nicola. Manocchio’s older brother Andrew is now 89 and living in a nursing home, while the youngest, Anthony, is 79 and a gynecologist.

Unlike Luigi, the other two Manocchio boys mostly stayed out of trouble. The only major exception was in 1991, when state police arrested Anthony for his alleged role in an illegal gambling ring.

Prosecutors alleged the racket was a lucrative family business run by middle brother Luigi – then a capo in the Patriarca clan – that also involved eldest Andrew, but only Dr. Anthony was charged. He pleaded down to a lesser charge of bookmaking, receiving a suspended sentence, and never ran afoul of the law again, according to court records.

It was Luigi – or “Louis,” as it says on his Rhode Island driver’s license – whom law enforcement says rose steadily through the ranks to organized crime’s pinnacle of power.

The middle Manocchio had already been arrested once by the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army on Jan. 10, 1946. He served for a little over a year and was discharged on March 14, 1947, according to U.S. Veterans Affairs Department records in Washington.

It’s unclear what ended Manocchio’s short stint as a solider – investigators still see him going in for doctor’s appointments at the VA Hospital in Providence – but he continues to receive a monthly military pension of $985 from the government to this day, a VA spokeswoman told Target 12.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Providence Police first took notice of Manocchio in 1948 when he was arrested for robbery and given a five year suspended sentence.

He received equally light treatment four days before Christmas in 1952, when he was arrested again by Providence and charged with two counts of assault and robbery, “illegal possession of a revolver” and driving a stolen car. (The arrest report already listed two of his nicknames: “Baby Face” and “Baby Shanks.”)

Everything but the weapons charge was eventually dropped, and Manocchio escaped prison time, receiving a five-year suspended sentence instead. After that he remained off the radar screen of law enforcement for more than a decade, except for an 11-day prison stint in 1955.

That all changed on April 20, 1968, when a hail of gunfire put Manocchio on the map as a major player in New England’s organized crime world.

That was the day renegade bookmakers Rudolph Marfeo and Anthony Melei were gunned down while shopping in Pannone’s Market in Providence’s Silver Lake neighborhood. Marfeo was found clutching a .38 revolver, but he hadn’t been able to fire off a single round.

At the time, investigators said Marfeo was killed for defying then-boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca’s order to shut down a rogue gambling operation. Melei, though, was just in the wrong place at the wrong time – working as Marfeo’s bodyguard.

Six months later, Providence Police arrested Luigi Manocchio and charged him with accessory to commit murder in the Pannone’s slayings. Detectives didn’t think he pulled the trigger, but accused him of helping to plan the attack. He was released on bail.

Then the following August, prosecutors indicted Manocchio for murder accessory and conspiracy – and he vanished from the streets of Federal Hill.

The accused mobster spent the next 10 years as an international fugitive. Investigators believed he spent time hiding in parts of Europe, including France and Italy, where he learned to speak several languages.

But police also said they believe Manocchio managed to sneak back into the United States from time to time – specifically New York City – using a dummy passport and elaborate disguises; on one occasion he is said to have dressed up as a woman to elude capture.

After a decade on the lam, Manocchio finally returned to the Ocean State on July 13, 1979, and gave himself up to Providence detectives. In 1983, a jury convicted him of both accessory and conspiracy in the Silver Lake slayings.

Manocchio was shipped off to the Adult Correctional Institution to serve two life sentences plus 10 years. Even if he stayed on his best behavior, it looked like the only way Manocchio would ever leave the prison again would be as an old man or – more likely – in a coffin.

But Manocchio had been locked up for only two years when it was revealed a key witness against him had Alzheimer’s disease and had lied in a related case. The news was a disaster for prosecutors.

Manocchio was released on bail in September 1985 and a long court battle ensued that eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, in December 1988, Manocchio cut a deal to plead no contest to conspiracy. His sentence? The two and a half years in jail he’d already served.

Manocchio was a free man, and his underworld prestige soared.

Rise to power

Rhode Island State Police Col. Brendan Doherty still recalls how, as a young detective in the intelligence unit, he would listen in on wiretapped conversations where reputed members and associates of the Patriarca crime family would refer to Manocchio simply as “that guy.”

As Doherty, a veteran organized crime fighter, steadily worked his way up through the ranks of law enforcement, Manocchio was doing the same inside La Cosa Nostra.

By the mid-1990s, when the reins of the powerful crime family had shifted to Boston and into the hands of Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, law enforcement had identified Manocchio as a capo regime – a captain – who was running a crew of bookmakers, loan sharks and thieves in Rhode Island.

“Frank Salemme and Louie Manocchio became very close,” Doherty said. “I’ve conducted surveillance on Louie with Salemme on several occasions.”

In January 1995, a major organized crime sweep netted Salemme along with infamous Irish gangster James J. “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. The center of New England’s organized crime universe soon hifted back to Providence as Manocchio was elevated to boss.

Small in stature, Manocchio is described as a “health nut” by many observers. He would rise early and jog around a Providence golf course several mornings a week. Detectives who kept watch said he would always stop at a certain tree and do a set of pull-ups, then continue his jog. He’s also said to be an avid traveler who has skied some of the most challenging mountains in the world.

“People watch mob movies and see these guys smoking cigars and living the good life. Louie Manocchio stayed in tremendous shape,” Doherty said. “He watched what he ate and would even recommend to his other mob associates they go on a diet.”

Law enforcement sources said Manocchio has had a financial interest in several Rhode Island restaurants, though his name is never found in any official documents. He is known to chat up patrons, recommending wine or speaking Italian to anyone who can understand it. But unlike the Hollywood image of the boisterous Mafioso flaunting his wealth with big cars and huge homes – think Tony Soprano or even the real-life “Dapper Don,” John Gotti – Manocchio was low-key.

“I think that he adhered to the historical Sicilian mobster image,” said Middletown Police Chief Anthony Pesare, who ran the State Police detective division for years. “Maintain a low profile, don’t dress flashy, don’t make yourself a target by being showy.”

Pesare said Manocchio was “old school,” and respected his ancestral Sicilian heritage like New England’s original underworld patriarch, Raymond L.S. Patriarca.

“Gotti’s family was from Naples,” Pesare pointed out.

Until his arrest last month, Manocchio lived in a small apartment above a cafe in the Federal Hill section of Providence. He allegedly ran the crime family’s operations from a Laundromat one building down on Atwells Ave.

Though a lifelong bachelor, intelligence files provided to Target 12 suggest Manocchio has three adult children.

‘Catch me if you can’

In the years after his 1988 plea deal Manocchio managed to steer clear of police – or at least avoid criminal charges, since detectives from several law enforcement agencies were keeping constant tabs on the reputed boss. In fact, many would drop by for impromptu visits to the Laundromat.

“He was always a gentleman to me and to law enforcement,” Doherty said. “But he made his point known that we were on the other side of the fence, and ‘catch me if you can.’”

Eventually, he did.

In 1996, Doherty arrested Manocchio for installing appliances stolen from a store in Connecticut at his elderly mother’s house in Mount Pleasant.

The appliances “were somewhat paying homage to him for a score,” Doherty said. “He was angry with himself for even getting caught up in that. Sometimes greed overtakes these people.”

In 1999, Manocchio pleaded no contest to the charges and received three years’ probation. From time to time his name would appear in federal court documents linked to other organized crime investigations – and labeled by the FBI as the boss. But he was never charged for his role as the crime family’s reputed CEO until January’s huge nationwide organized crime sweep.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Photos supplied by the state police and the Providence Police Department for this report make clear that law enforcement kept a close watch on Manocchio in his years as a ranking member of LCN.

But several investigators said Mannochio was effective at shielding himself from the down-and-dirty operations of a crime family. “He had people around him do his work for him,” Doherty said.

He went to great lengths to avoid being spotted with other reputed members of organized crime, according to sources – though undercover Target 12 Investigators witnessed Manocchio meet briefly with reputed capo regime Edward Lato on Atwells Ave. in November 2009.

A more significant meeting was watched and photographed by the Rhode Island State Police in 2006. In a picture obtained by Target 12 from law enforcement sources, Manocchio is shown leaving a Canton, Mass., diner with alleged then-underboss Carmen “The Big Cheese” DiNunzio.

Three years after that meeting, DiNunzio was sentenced to six years for a bribery scheme after getting caught on FBI surveillance trying to muscle in on a Big Dig contract. That sentence brought an end to the North End cheese-shop owner’s reign as underboss.

Manocchio himself stepped down as boss about two years later, law enforcement sources said, and power allegedly shifted back to Boston and a man there named Peter Limone.

It’s unclear what exactly triggered the change. Some in the law enforcement community say it was simply Manocchio’s advanced age; others say it was because he was well aware of a federal investigation into his alleged crimes.

As first reported by Target 12, Manocchio was dining on soup at a Federal Hill restaurant in 2008 when he was approached by two FBI agents – Special Agents Joseph Degnan and Jeffrey Cady. Sources said Manocchio had just been handed an envelope from an employee of the Cadillac Lounge strip club.

Armed with a warrant, the two agents seized the envelope and found a wad of cash they eventually traced back as alleged protection money from the strip joint to the boss.

It was three more years before Manocchio’s recent arrest in Florida on extortion charges. Also charged last month was Thomas Iafrate, 69, of Johnston, who’s accused of coordinating and delivering the extortion payments. Sources say Iafrate – who has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and extortion – was with Manocchio when the FBI interrupted his meal.

Shacks or Shanks?

Despite his years of success eluding big-time charges, Manocchio always remained a visible, perhaps even approachable, figure on Federal Hill. But those in the law enforcement community are quick to warn not to be fooled by his outer kindness.

“He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said U.S. Marshal Steven O’Donnell, a 22-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police. “He has an outward demeanor that’s polished and respectful, but he’s a conniving, cunning and vicious person.”

Top wiseguys frequently try to give off a “Robin Hood” image to gain the affection of the public, Pesare said.

“Traditionally mobsters have always maintained that front,” Pesare said. “Just because they appear to be nice guys doesn’t mean they avoid despicable behavior, up to and including murders.”

That, of course, is a reference to Manocchio’s conviction for the 1968 gangland slaying and – if one believes admitted mobster Anthony “The Saint” St. Laurent – a more recent homicidal blessing.

In a 2006 FBI wiretap obtained by Target 12, St. Laurent is heard trying to convince a mob associate to take the job of gunning down a rival mobster. In an effort to ease the would-be hitman’s concerns, St. Laurent says on the tape he got the “OK” from Manocchio.

“No repercussions,” St. Laurent said on the recording. “If you want, after it’s done, I’ll take you to him.”

The FBI said the intended target was Robert “Bobby” DeLuca, who allegedly took over as the underboss of the crime family after DiNunzio’s conviction. But the assassination never happened and in January St. Laurent pledged to plead guilty to a murder-fore-hire charge, according to court filings.

Manocchio has not been charged in that case. He is still waiting to be arraigned in the extortion case that led to his arrest in January.

The indictment against Manocchio lists his nicknames as “the Old Man,” “the Professor” and “Baby Shanks.”

The last of those nicknames sparked a storm of controversy in Rhode Island and Boston as many swore Manocchio’s real underworld moniker was “Baby Shanks,” not “Shacks.”

Colonel Doherty said he doesn’t even like “playing” with those nicknames. “I’ve heard it both ways on the street,” he said.

Back in 1996, though, Doherty got the chance to ask Manocchio for the correct nickname as the alleged boss sat in handcuffs following his arrest in the stolen appliances bust.

But Manocchio just looked up at Doherty and said: “What does it matter?”

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