NEW YORK CITY — It is known as the “Papa Smurf” case — the prosecution of a reputed Mafia figure with the warm and fuzzy nickname of a popular, blue cartoon character.
But “On The Inside” has obtained the U.S. government’s secretly wiretapped conversations and surveillance photographs of the not so warm and frequently nasty world of Carmine “Papa Smurf” Franco.
The 77-year-old Franco and 29 other reputed criminals and associates are accused by federal prosecutors and the FBI of using violence, strong-arm tactics and intimidation to control a several hundred million dollar garbage disposal operation in New York and New Jersey over the past few years, forcing owners to pay tribute for protection and even handing over control of their companies.
“This is like a smorgasbord...there’s plenty for everyone,” a conspirator is heard to say on one secretly recorded tape.
Another mob associate salivating at the prospect of feeding on the spoils of the rigged cartel replies, “Wish we would have seen you a couple of years ago.”
The alleged racketeering, captured on tape mostly during 2011 and 2012, was designed to keep Papa Smurf’s hand in the waste hauling business after he was convicted in the late 1990s of having a stranglehold on hauling. Back then he was banned from the industry in New York and New Jersey.
The investigation involved carting companies in the city, Westchester County, Rockland County, Long Island and New Jersey. Federal prosecutors allege Papa Smurf and his associates exacted payments from legitimate businesses, including one owned by a company executive named “Charlie” who agreed to wear a wire for the FBI.
“The suspects controlled the activities of the businesses...and diverted most of the profits of these companies to themselves," the indictment charged.
Incredibly, during the two-year investigation, “Charlie” was actually attacked by a bat-wielding man because he owed tens of thousands of dollars to several of his government targets — all while he was under the FBI’s control, sources said. No one has been charged in the attack.
The expletive-laced recordings exhibit all the mob patter familiar to fans of "The Sopranos,” and allegedly demonstrate Papa Smurf and his tactics were back in full fury — carving up turf, making deals, rigging prices and discussing their other passion, food.
Not surprisingly, their cravings often combined, according to the tapes and transcripts.
In one illustrative recording made at a Genovese Family-controlled social club on Mace Avenue in The Bronx, the FBI informant ”Charlie” tells a gravelly-voiced Papa Smurf associate how he nearly lost his hauling business to the mob when he went looking for jobs to pay his bills.
He said he met a couple of New York criminals in a New Jersey nightclub in Lodi. He did not know what they looked like.
“Then I see there are all these guys at my table dressed to the gills, and they started introducing me to everybody, ‘You have a garbage company? How can we help you?'" Charlie says on the tape.
“I say I am not looking to sell my company, or nothing, but friends tell me you guys might be able to get me work,” Charlie continues. “I was told you guys know everybody and run everything in New York."
The gangsters tell Charlie they have to think over whether to help him. But they stick him with the dinner check anyway.
"$1,500 later, I was walking out with my tongue hanging,” he said.
“Then, the next time I see them, there are more guys, and I am ‘Oh my God,’ they are going to make me buy dinner again,” Charlie goes on as he lays out how the gangsters ultimately offered to help him.
"They say, ‘We know we can get you nightclubs in the city, construction companies that nobody else can, we have ins and can get you in,’” Charlie said on the tape.
He offers to kick back money to them for every job he gets. But they wanted the steepest price possible.
"And they say, 'Buddy, they are going to take the company,'" Charlie continues.
“‘It is not for sale,’ and they say, ‘You don’t understand, [they] will take it, and they say we will keep you around, and we will give you a job as a driver,’” Charlie continues.
Then a waiter can be heard interrupting: “Who gets the parmigiana?”
While lunch is served, Charlie goes on to explain he didn’t take that New York mob offer.
The Papa Smurf associate says he can introduce Charlie to yet another mob insider.
“But [you tell them] you were never with nobody,” the associate advises Charlie. “Nobody! Not even Carmine [“Papa Smurf” Franco]. You were never with him. You only worked with him.”
Franco and his indicted associates are due back in court in September. But sources say plea deals are already in the offing.