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Gang Land Exclusive: Feds Tie Howard Beach Home Invasions To Last Year’s Lufthansa Heist Indictment

Jerry Capeci is regarded as an expert on the mob. His website, Gang Land News, is a paid subscription site.  This article was published with permission.

By Jerry Capeci
Gang Land News

Federal authorities have linked an imprisoned Bonanno soldier to abrazen gang of mob associates who pulled off dozens of home invasion robberies and burglaries in Howard Beach and nearby communities, Gang Lang has learned.

The wiseguy, John (Bazoo) Ragano, was one of five defendants in an indictment that charged an aging capo with the storied $6 million Lufthansa heist depicted in the 1990 mob movie classic, Goodfellas.

Sources say the feds suspect Ragano of fingering the owner of an Ozone Park auto repair shop — Bonanno associate Robert Cotrone — for robbery.

Seven weeks after Ragano’s arrest in the Lufthansa case, a trio of armed thugs invaded Cotrone’s Howard Beach home, stealing thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry.

Ragano had “worked” for Cotrone at Bam’s Auto Body, but in a telling display of mob duplicity, he allegedly gave Cotrone up to the robbery team because he knew the auto repair shop owner was on his own after his longtime mob protector was locked up. The protector, Bonanno capo Vincent Asaro, was detained without bail for the airline robbery. Cotrone has allegedly made years of “protection” payments to Asaro, even once testifying as a defense witness for him.

A law enforcement official familiar with the case put it this way: “Money, of course, was very important” to Ragano. “The guy’s a gangster. Locked up, he needs cash. The other guy (Cotrone) is unprotected; his guy (Asaro) just got put away. There’s no honor with these guys, it’s survival of the fittest.

It’s simple: He needed the money, he knew there’d be no payback. Makes no difference to him that he’s going to steal his dough.”

According to court papers in the Lufthansa prosecution, Ragano, 53, was inducted into the Bonanno crime family about three years ago, and was a ready and willing enforcer for his mob superior, Asaro, based on what Ragano was heard saying during the FBI investigation.

“When do we stab this guy in the neck?” Ragano began one conversation with Asaro about a deadbeat debtor.

And in a discussion regarding his official position as a Cotrone employee, Ragano is heard telling Asaro, “It’s not even a job, Vin. I got to be honest with you. It’s like found money from him.”

Asaro and Ragano were videotaped together at Bam’s Auto Body at 86-11 Liberty Avenue on June 17, 2013, a key date in the new Lufthansa heist investigation. That’s the day FBI agents dug up a victim allegedly murdered by Asaro and Lufthansa mastermind James (Jimmy The Gent) Burke a half a block away under a home on property once owned by Burke. Cotrone also operates a towing service and an auto glass repair shop in a block-long complex on Liberty Avenue.

FBI agents spotted Asaro there that morning, right after he drove by the FBI dig at 81-48 102d Rd., according to court filings. “Later that afternoon, he was seen again outside of the towing business on Liberty Avenue, speaking with defendant Ragano,” according to a detention memo that was filed on January 23, 2014, the day Asaro, Ragano, and the other Bonannos were arrested.

As Gang Land reported last week, a federal grand jury in Brooklyn has been investigating a violent gang of low-level Bonanno family associates for a rash of robberies and burglaries that took place last year in Howard beach and nearby communities in Queens and Long Island.

Sources say that Ragano, who copped a plea deal to loansharking charges in the Lufthansa case and is now serving a 51-month prison term, is also a target of the grand jury that has heard evidence about the armed robbery of Cotrone’s home at 78-10 160th Avenue by three masked men on March 12 of last year.

Ragano’s rap sheet — his first arrest was at age 16 for petty larceny and possession of stolen property — shows no aversion to armed robberies or other crimes of violence. At age 18, Ragano was charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, for which he copped a plea deal and served about eight years in prison.

In 1999, he was convicted of kidnapping after he robbed an accounting firm in Queens, “used flex cuffs to tie up the owners in the back room,” and sent cohorts to rob their home after getting the security code for their alarm, according to court filings by prosecutors Alicyn Cooley and Nicole Argentieri in the Lufthansa case.

On March 12 of last year, police say Cotrone, 52, was startled when he woke up that morning and saw three masked gunmen in his home who tied him up and escaped with thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry that they forced him to turn over.

Cotrone has his own long rap sheet. He has a conviction for car theft, and served two years in state prison in the 1980s on drug, assault and robbery charges, and law enforcement authorities consider him a longtime Bonanno family associate who has been a close Vinny Asaro cohort for decades.

Law enforcement sources claim Cotrone considers himself a bit of a tough guy. He’s been heard bragging with friends, they say, that “BAM,” — the name of his body shop and towing shop — stands for “Bad Ass Mother-fuckers.”

Cotrone did not respond to a call from Gang Land yesterday. His attorney, Joseph DiBenedetto, declined to comment. Ragano’s attorney, Charles Hochbaum did not respond to a call from Gang Land. The NYPD, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn and the Queens District Attorney’s Office also declined to comment about the ongoing investigation.

Cotrone demonstrated his allegiance to his mob ally in 1998 when the auto repair man was called as a defense witness in a state racketeering case. The testimony didn’t do the trick, however, and Asaro was found guilty and sentenced to 4-to-12 years for grand larceny and other charges stemming from what prosecutors said was his control of a vast network of car thieves and a chop-shop operation that made weekly tribute payments to him from 1993 to 1995.


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