Former Gambino family boss dies in Stamford
By John Nickerson
STAMFORD — City resident Anthony “The Genius” Megale, who rose to be the underboss of the Gambino crime family during the reign of John Gotti, died at Stamford Hospital Tuesday night.
An employee at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Farmington said Wednesday that Megale’s body had not yet been examined, and therefore a cause of death was not known.
A local law enforcement source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Megale died of a heart attack at 9:30 p.m. on his 62nd birthday. Megale was released from a Pennsylvania federal prison in December after being indicted on 38 extortion charges in 2004.
Megale’s Stamford attorney, Stephan Seeger, confirmed the cause of death was an apparent heart attack.
Megale was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison in September 2006 for his part in a tri-state racketeering enterprise centered in New York State.
Seeger said that in the 15 years he had known and represented Megale, he was always a gentleman.
“This whole mafia folklore is what the public wants to believe, but it detracts from some of his more noteworthy qualities,” Seeger said. “He was a kind man who took care of his wife and kids and he contributed greatly to Stamford and surrounding area communities.”
Seeger said he had spoken to Megale’s family and they they were taking the news hard. He requested privacy to allow them to grieve.
“There has always been a lot more to Tony than any alleged mafia folklore,” he insisted.
Although Megale denied membership in the Gambinos, he was accused by federal prosecutors and police of becoming the second-in-command of the crime family in the early 2000s. The Gambinos, one of the five alleged New York mafia families, has traditionally made Fairfield County, especially Bridgeport, its Connecticut turf. In 1989, Megale admitted to being Gotti’s top man in Connecticut, a confession Seeger said he never meant to make.
Megale was handed a 135-month sentence for extorting thousands of dollars from the owner of a Greenwich restaurant named Valbella, a New Jersey trucking company and a Westchester County, N.Y.-based construction company.
He was among 32 members and associates of the Gambino crime family who were arrested by the FBI in 2005 during a New York crime sweep that involved a decade-long racketeering scheme of violent assault, extortion, loansharking, union embezzlement, illegal gambling, trafficking in stolen property and mail fraud.
Authorities said the crimes were exposed during a three-year investigation, in which an undercover FBI agent infiltrated the Gambinos and made hundreds of secret tape recordings of high-ranking members at sites throughout the Bronx, N.Y., and Westchester County, including the United Hebrew Geriatrics Home in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Former Connecticut Post and Stamford Advocate reporter Frank Fedeli, who wrote dozens of articles about Megale while covering the organized crime beat, said Megale was given his mob moniker in a back-handed way.
Fedeli said Megale was dubbed “The Genius” on a federal wiretap by an upset and angry Gotti, who apparently thought Megale was anything but a genius.
Fedeli, now Stamford’s customer service supervisor, said in the late 70s and early 80s Megale ran Tony’s Italian Restaurant on the corner of State and Atlantic streets. While it wasn’t known for its ambiance, the place had a well-respected fra diavolo sauce and was a favorite place for the Gambinos to catch up with their New York brothers. Federal officials and Stamford police knew about the arrangement and kept close tabs on the eatery.
Fedeli said Megale had great help rising through the mafia’s ranks through his uncle, Cosmos Sandalo, who was a very well-liked and low-profile gentleman mobster. Megale, who was a street soldier and known to be a good mob earner, was also helped by a pitched mob war from 1978 to 1981 that rubbed out many of the older established mafia bosses.
“The vacuum was created and he walked into it,” Fedeli said.
Megale’s health declined in the months surrounding his sentencing on federal charges in Connecticut in early 2006. He suffered two heart attacks and underwent two heart surgeries in the spring of that year.