By Robert Rudolph
© The Star Ledger 1996

     The man described as acting boss of one of New Jersey's most powerful organized crime factions was arrested by the FBI early yesterday on sweeping racketeering charges. The arrest, federal authorities said, should decimate the already hard-hit operations of the Genovese crime family in the state. Thomas ''Pee Wee'' DePhillips, 68, who authorities say took the reins of Genovese operations once controlled by legendary godfather Ruggiero ''Richie the Boot'' Boiardo, was taken into custody at his Belleville home.

In a series of related raids, FBI agents arrested five alleged associates, including two identified as made members of the Genovese family. One of the five was identified as a former Newark police officer. The six were charged with taking part in a violent multimillion-dollar gambling and loansharking operation with tentacles in both New Jersey and New York. U.S. Attorney Faith Hochberg said DePhillips stepped in to take over the operation for one-time Boiardo associate Andrew Gerardo, who has been portrayed as heir to the Boiardo crime empire. Gerardo is in failing health and has been living in semi-retirement in Florida. DePhillips, authorities charged, took over day-to-day operations in 1992, following his release from prison on state charges. Although assuming the mantle of leader, he remained answerable to Gerardo, they said. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Scott Thompson, the racketeering charges, contained in a 21-count federal indictment unsealed yesterday in Newark, outline a massive gambling network authorities said made millions taking wagers on sporting events, and then charging 156 percent interest on bettors who fell into debt to the organization. The operation, authorities said was conducted out of a Newark-area social club and an apartment on Division Street in Manhattan. The Star-Ledger has learned the case stemmed from information provided in part by a mob turncoat who infiltrated the organization and secretly tape- recorded meetings with the suspects. In one instance, those recordings captured two of the suspects coaching an alleged mob enforcer on the best way to collect debts. Explaining that threats were no good because the victims could go to the police, the enforcer was instructed to ''hit (the victim) with a ... bat, where nobody sees you'' or simply kill the victim. In addition to DePhillips, arrested were Salvatore Cetrulo, 56, of North Caldwell and his brother, Joseph, 58, of Wayne; Philip DeNoia, 51, of Bloomfield; Mario Mauriello, 67, of West Caldwell and Vincent ''Skippy'' Squatrito, 51, of Belleville. Squatrito was identified as a former Newark cop who left the force in the mid-1970s. Authorities identified DePhillips and Salvatore Cetrullo as ''made members'' of the Genovese family, along with a third suspect who was not specified by name. The others were described as close associates. Five of the six suspects were picked up by the FBI at their homes shortly after dawn and taken to the FBI office in Newark. Squatrito was taken into custody at a luncheonette. Following a bail hearing before U.S. Magistrate Dennis Cavanaugh later in the day, the six pleaded innocent to the charges and were ordered released on bonds of up to $250,000. The diminutive DePhillips, who is reportedly suffering from a blood disorder requiring periodic transfusions, appeared shaken at the hearing as he sat shackled and handcuffed. ''I'm starting to get the chills,'' DePhillips told Cavanaugh, adding that he had missed one of his scheduled transfusions as a result of his arrest. His attorney, Richard Roberts, said DePhilips ''denies any allegation concerning his role in any crime family,'' while another defense lawyer characterized the charges as a ''glorified gambling case.'' According to Hochberg, however, the case could put the defendants behind bars for up to 15 years. Hochberg said the DePhillips organization represented the ''main crew'' of the Genovese family in northern New Jersey. She said recent mob prosecutions have ''successfully removed the old leadership'' of the family and that the current case ''cleans out the rest of the operation.'' The Genovese family, which has become the most powerful crime organization in the metropolitan area since the conviction and imprisonment of rival Gambino family boss John Gotti, has been the subject of a series of federal assaults in New Jersey. With the indictment of DePhillips, Hochberg said, the remainder of the family's New Jersey base has been ''decimated.'' Barry Mawn, special agent in charge of the FBI in New Jersey, said the charges made public yesterday stemmed from a two-year probe. As pieced together from court documents and federal law enforcement sources, the case took shape when a longtime mob associate began cooperating with authorities and agreed to make tape recordings of meetings with other mob members. Leads provided by that informant led authorities to a Morris County man, identified as an enforcer for the gambling operation. The suspect, Ronald Castellano of Sucasunna, was arrested after he drove an unidentified loanshark victim to a remote area of Branch Brook Park in Newark and stabbed him in the stomach. Sources confirmed that Castellano has agreed to cooperate in the probe. 1995/09/08 Friday Page: Section: NEWS Edition: FINAL Size: 0 words"