Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Myth of Mob Gallantry

Dorothy Fiorenza: The Things We Do For Love

The New York Daily News called her a "brainy beautician" when Dorothy Fiorenza took the stand in 1999 as the key witness against her former lover, Colombo family boss Andrew Russo, but the cosmetologist-turned-lawyer-turned-government informant sure didn't act too smart by getting romantically involved with Russo, angering the boss by marrying a dying Colombo family soldier, and helping to obstruct justice along the way. Fiorenza helped turn a hum-drum mob trial into a soap opera after she agreed to cooperate with the government in order to get a lighter sentence for her husband, Lawrence "Larry Tattoo" Fiorenza, who at the time of the Russo trial was serving a life sentence and was terminally ill with AIDS and cirrhosis of the liver.

Andrew Russo
Andrew Russo
Appearing on the witness stand with newly dyed platinum tresses, Fiorenza told the federal court how she had used her lawyer status to pass communiqués between Russo and his son, Joseph "Jo Jo" Russo. It was an alternate juror in Jo Jo's trial that had been recognized by another Russo mistress. The Colombo family then hired a private investigator to track down the alternate, but Jo Jo ended up taking the fall anyway. The juror reported the attempt to the judge in Jo Jo's case, who referred it to the Justice Department. The FBI began an investigation and eventually was able to build a case against Russo.

Over three days of testimony, with a different exotic hairstyle each day that garnered as much press as her devastating testimony, Fiorenza recalled how she met Russo while working at a New York barbershop and was invited to the mob boss's Christmas party in 1995 while her first marriage was collapsing.

The next day, according to court records, Russo's nephew told Fiorenza his uncle thought she "was the best thing since sliced bread." The 32-year-old law student and the 60-something mobster hit it off immediately and began an affair.

Russo took Fiorenza to dinner at Elaine's and to see "Phantom of the Opera." She told the court how he often complained about the "heat" he was under from police who wanted to see that he was sent back to prison where he had just finished serving an eight-year stretch. Swept up in the romantic notion of being a mafia goumada, or girlfriend, Fiorenza became even more valuable to Russo after she passed the New York State Bar Exam and was able to pass almost unobstructed through security at the Metropolitan Corrections Center, where Jo Jo was being held.

Speaking with Jo Jo in carefully scripted conversations that prosecutors alleged were filled with secret messages, Dorothy later claimed she had no idea that her discussions were actually bits of coded advice from father to son.

The relationship soured when Dorothy realized that Russo was interested in a monogamous relationship on her part while he played the field and remained strangely loyal to his wife. Along the way, Fiorenza met Teresa Castronova, the "other" other woman who had ID'd the alternate juror in Jo Jo's trial. Teresa was hiding out at an upstate New York horse farm while the FBI tried to find her so she could explain the jury tampering attempt. In the elder Russo's trial, Fiorenza admitted that she knew she was obstructing justice by not going to authorities with Teresa's location.

"He wanted to be with me but not exclusively," a weeping Fiorenza testified. "He was obligated to other people -- to his wife as well."

"And you wanted him exclusively for you?" Russo's lawyer asked.

"Yes," she replied. "There were other people around who he was involved with and it was getting crazy."

The one-way monogamy requirement was troubling to the self-described "mob groupie" who had met Larry Tattoo while visiting Jo Jo in the MCC. When she announced to Andrew Russo that she was ending the relationship to marry Larry, the boss was furious, she testified.

Russo was infuriated that she was involved with a lower-ranking mobster, she testified, adding that a friend of Russo's told her that many members of the Colombo family feared both she and Larry Tattoo would "sing and fly."

In the end, that's almost what happened. When the appeals she filed on Larry's behalf went nowhere, afraid for her life and concerned that her new husband was going to die behind bars, Dorothy went to federal prosecutors and spilled her guts.

"We went to the government for assistance, security, for our safety," she said.

Prior to taking the stand in the elder Russo's trial, Fiorenza pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for her role in the scheme.

Like so many other women who are suckered by the romance of the mob, Dorothy paid a very high price for her blind love. She lost her license to practice law and was portrayed by the defense in Russo's case as a mentally unbalanced and "troubled" woman whose life went downhill when she married a convicted murderer.

Shortly after Russo was convicted, Larry Tattoos and Dorothy Fiorenza entered the federal witness relocation program. By 2001, they had separated and Dorothy had applied for reinstatement to the New York Bar, claiming she had been mentally ill with bipolar disorder when she pleaded guilty to obstruction. The court turned down her request.

Categories
Advertisement