Memo to FBI agents: It's not a good idea to meet your informants out on the street, right near the Bureau's office.
Gang Land has learned that the cover of a longtime mob associate who was secretly working as a cooperating witness for the feds was blown about a year ago when he was spotted sitting in a car with an FBI agent a few blocks from the Bureau's branch office in Kew Gardens, Queens.
The informant's identity has not been publicly disclosed, but sources have identified him as Howard Santos, a career criminal who flipped after he was busted last year for a series of big ticket commercial burglaries throughout the metropolitan area.
Sources say Santos, 44, wore a wire for the FBI, and has agreed to tell all about Gambino mobsters he knows. The ex-burglar is prepared to testify about the "structure" of the crime family in the upcoming racketeering trial of several defendants facing sex-trafficking charges involving a minor.
Attorneys in that case - as well as defense lawyers in the commercial burglary indictment - determined that Santos was a cooperating witness in recent weeks. But his status as a stool pigeon became an open secret about a year ago, sources tell Gang Land.
That happened when Alphonse Trucchio, a Howard Beach-based Gambino capo, was driving along Queens Boulevard and thought he saw Santos's car parked on the service road not far from the FBI's office, according to several usually reliable sources.
Trucchio, 33, did not see Santos in the car, but figuring that he was somewhere nearby, Trucchio slowed down and drove around the block as he called his old pal's cell phone. Santos didn't answer, but when Trucchio circled the block and passed the car again, he saw Santos sitting in the car along with an FBI agent he recognized, sources tell Gang Land.
Gang Land was unable to learn the identity of the agent, or whether there were any extenuating reasons for the public meeting between agent and informer. FBI spokesman Jim Margolin declined to discuss the matter.
Trucchio, who was well-schooled in wiseguy ways by his mobster father, Ronald (Ronnie One Arm) Trucchio, immediately told everyone in his wide circle of friends what he had seen. Sources say that when the FBI learned from other informants that their undercover operative had been made, Santos was quickly relegated to providing historical insight he had gleaned over the years.
Sources say Alphonse Trucchio took over his father's crew after Ronnie One Arm was convicted of racketeering charges in two separate prosecutions in Florida and sentenced to life in prison three years ago.
According to sources and court records, Santos has given the feds information about several Gambino mobsters during his debriefings by FBI agents and federal prosecutors. The wiseguys include imprisoned consigliere Joseph (Jo Jo) Corozzo, who is scheduled for release to a halfway house in March; capo Daniel Marino, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy charges in the murder of his nephew, and soldier Onofrio (Noel) Modica, who awaits trial on unrelated racketeering and murder charges in the same indictment.
In addition, sources say Santos provided evidence against three codefendants, including the son of a slain Gambino mobster, who were part of a ring that stole $1 million in electronic equipment in 20 burglaries of Best Buy, Circuit City and Big Apple outlets in New York and New Jersey.
Jonathan Mascuzzio - whose father Anthony, a close associate of the late John Gotti, was shot to death in 1998 as he tried to extort money from the owner of a Manhattan disco - and two other ring members all pleaded guilty after Santos began cooperating, according to court records.
Manhattan Federal Court Judge John Koeltl sentenced Mascuzzio, 27, to two years. Koeltl gave four years to a second defendant who had been involved in a prior federal fraud case with Santos. A third defendant still awaits sentence in that case.
Sources say Santos, who served a year in state prison for a 1993 gun rap, was a familiar figure at Corozzo's Ozone Park social club in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to providing the feds historical information about the 69-year-old consigliere, Santos has also given the feds insight about Ronnie One Arm and Alphonse Trucchio, the wiseguy who burned him.
Santos could not be reached. His attorney, Frank Handelman, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Federal prosecutors in the commercial burglary case, Elie Honig and John Zach, declined to comment about the charges against Santos, which are still pending, according to the docket sheet in the case.