The Providence Mob
The remnants of "The Office" were soon finding themselves in trouble with the law or dead. Ronnie Coppola was a loan shark and bookmaker with longtime ties to the Patriarca family. Authorities had been tracking his activities for decades. In the early 1970s Coppola and Robert "Bobby" DeLuca were arrested for pistol-whipping a man outside a social club. In 1973 Coppola received a 10-year prison term in Oklahoma after trying to scam horses from a local rancher. Returning to Providence, Coppola worked for Edward "Mulligan" Romano, an aging capo in the North End.
Romano and Coppola soon had a falling out. Coppola went to work for DeLuca, who had hitched his wagon to the "Boston faction" of the Patriarca Family. Coppola became one of the most powerful figures in the loan sharking and bookmaking rackets during the early part of the 1990s.
One of the young followers of Ronnie Coppola was Bobby Buehne. The story of Buehne came to light in a series of articles, which appeared in the Providence Journal written by W. Zachary Malinowski in October 2001. A tough, muscular high school dropout, who was looking to make quick money by using his brawn, Buehne began cooperating with the local authorities when his criminal career didn't go as planned.
Coppola introduced young Buehne to Kevin Hanrahan, a tough Irish hood from Federal Hill. Hanrahan's legend began in 1975 when he was shot in the chest at a club on Atwells Avenue. Police arrived and found Hanrahan seated calmly in a chair refusing to say who had shot him. Hanrahan developed a reputation as the person to call when the mob wanted someone beaten, threatened or taken care of. Malinowski wrote, "Anytime there was a mob hit, Hanrahan topped the state police list of possible suspects."
In 1990 Hanrahan was implicated in a plot to kidnap mob associate Blaise J. Marfeo, an important bookmaker for the Patriarca Family, outside an East Side restaurant. On September 18, 1992, after having dinner with Buehne, Paulie Calenda, a millionaire businessman and mob associate, and others, Hanrahan went to a North Providence bar called The Arch, where he told several people he was expecting a "big score." After leaving the restaurant Hanrahan was walking down Atwells Avenue when two men confronted him. One pulled a .38 and fired three bullets into his face ending the life of the Irish tough guy.
In July 1993, Robert DeLuca and Anthony Michael "The Saint" St. Laurent Sr. along with 24 others were indicted for running a bookmaking operation out of the Foxy Lady strip club in Providence. DeLuca pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years, while St. Laurent received 10 months for his role. On September 23, 1993, St. Laurent would gain notoriety by being entered into the infamous Nevada "Black Book," a listing of people who are banned from setting foot in any casino in the state of Nevada.
On April 1, 1994, two more men Buehne had become associated with were murdered one was his mob mentor, Ronnie Coppola. In these murders the killer was apprehended. Antonio "Nino" Cucinotta was a made member of the New England crime family. According to Malinowski, Cucinotta "became [Junior] Patriarca's driver and gofer chauffeuring him around town, picking up his coffee and morning newspapers, feeding and cleaning his dog. Patriarca paid him $100 a week. Nonetheless, there was an upside to the grunt work. Cucinotta was seen in the company of the head of organized crime in New England. He was with the boss at weddings, wakes and funerals."
The mob prestige went down the drain when Patriarca was forced out as head of the crime family. Cucinotta soon found himself making a living as a flagman on a roadwork construction site. As times got worse and Cucinotta was short of cash he would go to Coppola for money. As the months passed Cucinotta's demeanor turned ugly. He began to drink and get into arguments. The depression he suffered was treated with large does of Valium. Feeling suicidal, he would walk alone through cemeteries. His declining emotional state reached a peak on the night of March 31, 1994. Malinowski describes the evening's events:
"...Buehne stopped by the Hockey Fans Social Club. Cucinotta was there, at a table with Nicola Leonardo. Buehne noticed that they were chatting in Italian. Calenda was there, at another table with Coppola and [Peter] Scarpellino. Buehne stayed briefly at the club...
"Later, Calenda walked over to Cucinotta's table and said that he understood Italian.
'"What's the big deal that you understand Italian?' Cucinotta responded.
"Cucinotta was offended that Calenda was trying to impress him. A few minutes later, Scarpellino approached Cucinotta.
'"You know, Nino,' Scarpellino said in a low voice, 'I was told to tell you that you're not welcome in the club.'
"Cucinotta froze. He was infuriated that he a made guy would be subjected to such treatment from a nobody like Scarpellino. To make matters worse, the order was coming from his longtime friend Coppola."
Cucinotta left, but not for long. He got a gun and returned. Walking into the social club, he headed directly toward the table where Coppola and Scarpellini were seated playing cards.
"Who the f- is going to throw me out? You?" Cucinotta barked.
With that he fired two bullets into Ronnie Coppola's head, killing him instantly. Scarpellini ran shoeless to the bathroom and locked himself in. Two shots fired through the door ripped through his neck and back killing him.
The following day Jack White, a news reporter for one of the local television stations, stopped at Paulie Calenda's place of business. White had been told by his police sources that Calenda was actually the intended target of Cucinotta. When White relayed this info to Calenda, he responded by ordering him to leave. Later, after White did a live feed from the Hockey Fans Social Club, Calenda showed up and began to pummel him, splitting his lip in the process. White refused to press charges.
Cucinotta eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in May 1995, and agreed to become a government witness and testify against the Patriarca family.
In the wake of Coppola's death, Buehne took up with Ronnie's young widow, Paula. The couple became an item in Providence and Buehne soon moved in with her drawing the ire of some of the old timers who felt this went against mob tradition. Edward Romano, Coppola's one-time capo, let his feelings be known that Buehne deserved "a bullet in the head."
Around this time Gerard T. Ouimette was released from prison. Ouimette was a "feared and ruthless" figure whose arrest record dated back to the 1950s. In 1972 Ouimette was found guilty of conspiring to murder a former associate and sentenced to 10 years. Malinowski describes Ouimette's stay with the state of Rhode Island:
"...Ouimette had free run of the state Adult Correctional Institutions. His meals were catered from local restaurants. His 5-year-old son was smuggled into the prison for a sleepover. For a while, he head a phone installed in his maximum-security cell."
Ouimette, at the time of Coppola's murder, was looking forward to working with him once he got out. After his release to a halfway house Ouimette and Paula Coppola had an affair. Buehne was upset with Paula over the incident and notified his police handlers that Ouimette was back on the street.
Ouimette told Paula that Buehne's friend, Paulie Calenda owed him and Bobby DeLuca $125,000 and that they was going to collect. Buehne saw this as an opportunity to set up Ouimette and with the help of the police and Calenda they lured the dangerous felon into a bugged meeting in Calenda's living room. During the recorded meeting Ouimette tried to impress his audience with tales of his relationship with John Gotti and the other New York families. Malinowski shares a portion of the conversation:
"I got some nice friends in New York, you know what I mean? You know I was around John for about 10 years. His brothers are dear friends of mine. John writes to me. His brother writes to me from the can. And I got a good relationship with every crew in New York."
The police had Buehne and Calenda set up a payment schedule to satisfy the debt, but the plan was for Calenda to renege. At Camille's Roman Garden, the former Marconi's restaurant on Federal Hill, Buehne and Paula met Ouimette to tell him that Calenda refused to pay the whole amount. During dinner the entire conversation was recorded by Paula, who was outfitted with a hidden bug in her bra.
"Tell him, 'If you don't come up with the [amount] it's open season on him,' Ouimette told them"
On March 18, 1995, Providence detectives broke down Ouimette's door with a battering ram and arrested him. On February 1, 1996, Ouimette was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of trying to extort $125,000 from Calenda with Robert DeLuca. Ouimette became the first criminal in Rhode Island to be sentenced under the new "three-strikes-and-you're-out" law. DeLuca received 10 and a half years.