Celebrity chef David Ruggerio admits he was a mob soldier
A celebrity chef who once ruled the pinnacle of New York’s restaurant scene has admitted to being an active member of the Gambino crime family and committing shocking crimes during the height of his powers in the 1980s and 90s.
David Ruggerio, 59, who once ran the kitchens of Manhattan’s top restaurants La Caravelle, Maxim’s and Le Chantilly, was candid with the shocking admission in an interview with vanity lounge released Thursday.
Ruggerio – a former Food Network star who largely disappeared after a 1998 arrest for credit card fraud – admitted in the interview to a staggering range of mob crimes, including heroin trafficking, hijackings trucks, loan sharking, book creation, extortion, and even participating in gang killings.
As he lived a secret double life, few realized he was in fact related by blood to ‘boss of bosses’ Carlo Gambino – although the FBI were not unaware of his connections, particularly after he hosted the 50th anniversary of “Teflon Don” John Gotti. party in Maxim’s luxurious dining room.
Now, despite refusing to talk about the crimes of any other living mobster, Ruggerio is breaking the seal of omerta, the mob’s code of silence, saying he regrets his life of crime.
“I wouldn’t have wished my life on anyone. I hate sleeping. The nights are very long and filled with nightmares,” he told Vanity Fair. “I didn’t want to be a criminal. I want you to understand this. I loved being a chef.
Former celebrity chef David Ruggerio said he was a Gambino foot soldier
David Ruggerio, 59, who once ran the kitchens of Manhattan’s top restaurants La Caravelle, Maxim’s and Le Chantilly, has been candid with the shocking admission that he was a gangster
Ruggerio is a former Food Network star who largely disappeared after a 1998 arrest for credit card fraud
Ruggerio’s birth name was Sabatino Antonino Gambino, and his Sicilian-born father, Saverio Gambino, was the cousin of notorious mob boss Carlo Gambino (center in 1970)
Although not widely known, Ruggerio had ties to the Gambino family since he was born in 1962 in Brooklyn.
Ruggerio’s birth name was Sabatino Antonino Gambino, and his Sicilian-born father, Saverio Gambino, was the cousin of notorious mob boss Carlo Gambino.
“I was living two lives,” Ruggerio said in the interview.
Ruggerio said that in 1977, when he was just a teenager, his father took him to Sicily to become a “made man”.
He recalled that the ceremony took place in the basement of a café in Castellammare del Golfo, his family’s ancestral village, where a man used a needle to tattoo a cross of fire on his right shoulder, as well as the words Uomo de Fiducia, Italian for ‘man of confidence’.
The most shocking confessions in the lengthy article relate to several mob killings in which Ruggerio says he participated.
He said that in March 1978, he helped Gambino capo Egidio ‘Ernie Boy’ Onorato torture and kill a 56-year-old Genovese and Colombo associate named Pasquale ‘Paddy Mac’ Macchirole at a tire repair garage in Yonkers, New York.
Ruggerio said they left Macchirole’s body in a car trunk in Brooklyn. Contemporary news reports confirm that police found Macchirole’s body in March 1978.
“Ernie was younger than my dad and weighed around 155 pounds, but he was the most ruthless mobster I’ve ever seen,” Ruggerio told the magazine.
The most shocking confessions in the lengthy article relate to several mob killings in which Ruggerio (right) says he was involved
In the 1980s, Ruggerio joined the Brooklyn team of Gambino capo Daniel Marino (above)
In another shocking incident in the summer of 1980, Ruggerio says he saw Onorato beat his friend Joey “Skeetch” Cannizzaro, a 22-year-old aspiring comedian, with a lead pipe.
Ruggerio said Onorato, who died in 1999, was furious because Cannizzaro circumcised himself to please a Jewish girlfriend and wore his severed foreskin on a gold chain around his neck.
“Ernie picked up the lead pipe and he went crazy. He beat that kid to the point where you couldn’t recognize him. Ernie turned around and I thought, I’m going to get killed next,” Ruggerio recalled.
“He put the pipe an inch from my face. It was flowing blood. He says, ‘You brought that fucking guy! It’s your fucking problem. So we started wrapping Skeetch’s body in an old rug,” he told the magazine.
“That’s when I heard Skeetch moan. Turns out he was alive,’ Ruggerio said, admitting he then weighed down Cannizzaro’s body with lead window frames and dumped him in the waters near Sheepshead Bay.
The violent incidents led Ruggerio to part ways with Onorato’s crew and work for another Gambino capo, Carmine Lombardozzi, known as the “King of Wall Street” for his pump-and-dump schemes.
Lombardozzi had a strict rule for his crew – they all had to work legitimate day jobs to deter suspicion from law enforcement, which led to Ruggerio taking a job in the kitchen of La Caravelle, then one of best French restaurants in town.
Ruggerio took a job in the kitchen of La Caravelle after his mob capo ordered the crew to all get day jobs to shake the suspicions of investigators.
Ruggerio never told his restaurant colleagues about his Mafia ties, trying to keep his two worlds separate. But he continued his work for the crime family on the side.
“I would often go with guys to little brokerages that Carmine had and lean on brokers,” Ruggerio recalled.
At the same time, he rose through the ranks of the restaurant world, trained in France and became executive chef at La Caravelle at the age of 26.
He would later run the kitchen at French fashion designer Pierre Cardin’s New York outpost of Maxim’s as well as Le Chantilly, where he became co-owner with Gambino capo Daniel Marino.
In October 1990, famed Gambino boss John Gotti asked Ruggerio to host his 50th birthday party at Maxim’s.
Ruggerio says he covered the windows so FBI agents watching Gotti couldn’t peek inside to see the gathering of 25 of the city’s most powerful mobsters.
Ruggerio landed TV deals in the ’90s with PBS and the Food Network, but it all came crashing down in 1998 when he was accused of stealing $190,000 from a credit card company by falsifying receipts credit card for payment.
Prosecutors said he forged credit card payments by inflating tips left by 26 customers at his restaurant, in one case up to $30,000.
Ruggerio rose through the ranks of the restaurant world, training in France and becoming executive chef at La Caravelle at the age of 26.
Now he says he regrets his life of crime and is working on a memoir, having recently published a supernatural mafia thriller (above)
Although Ruggerio denies the charge to date, on the advice of his attorney, he entered into a plea deal and completed probation and community service.
As a result of the scandal, Ruggerio lost his restaurants, his television contract, and moved away from the public eye, quietly operating a donut shop and other small businesses.
But after his son, who yearned for the life of a gangster, died in 2014 of a drug overdose, Ruggerio says he reached his limit when his longtime mafia partner Marino refused to attend the funeral.
“When Danny didn’t come, that’s when I said, ‘F*** that. I’m done,’ Ruggerio told Vanity Fair.
Now he says he regrets his life of crime and is working on a memoir.
“I did things when I was pushed that I’m not proud of,” he said. “But to be really, really on the street, you have to have a black heart. When you turn this switch, there can be no emotion. You have no pity. You just have to do it.’