Mobster Profile: Just a Good Fella?

8:56 pm Crime Stories

Page: 1A 
By DAWN SHURMAITIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

To his friends and acquaintances, he’s just plain Billy, a quiet,
churchgoing man who keeps his lawn trimmed and his blinds closed.

To state investigators, William D’Elia is a reputed mobster, positioned to
become interim caretaker of the powerful Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra.
Will the real Billy D’Elia please stand up?

Investigators describe D’Elia as a well-connected mob figure with strong
ties to crime-family leaders in Pittsburgh, New York and Philadelphia. His
friends in Hughestown and Pittston pooh-pooh the mob talk that’s haunted
D’Elia since 1980, when investigators first pegged him as a bodyguard to
the late mob boss, Russell Bufalino.

D’Elia, 47, could not be reached for comment. The woman who answered the
door to his home declined comment. His attorney said D’Elia would not talk
to the newspaper.

The Pittston native never has been charged with a crime. Subpoenaed twice
to appear before the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, which has dogged
suspected organized crime figures and held periodic hearings to gather
information, D’Elia refused to testify.

Investigators from Philadelphia’s organized-crime unit base their latest
suspicions on surveillance that put D’Elia twice in recent months at a
warehouse owned by the son of John Stanfa, who headed the Philadelphia mob
until his arrest March 17 on a 12-count indictment. Police also nabbed 23
other suspected mobsters on a variety of racketeering charges.

Philadelphia Capt. Michael Lorenzo of that city’s organized-crime unit says
the power scramble has begun.

“The guy is very well-connected,” Lorenzo says of D’Elia. “But what his
position is now I don’t know. The Stanfa Family is so disorganized at this
point; because most of them are in jail, it remains to be seen who’ll try
to take over.

“It’s not a position I would want. Not only is it hostile territory,
there’s too many people watching.”

D’Elia’s attorney, Wilkes-Barre lawyer Charles Gelso, calls reports of his
client’s alleged mob connections “nonsense.” Gelso, who represented both
D’Elia and Bufalino during crime-commission hearings in the 1980s and
co-represented Stanfa at his recent bail hearing, repeatedly has denied his
client is involved in organized crime.

D’Elia’s many friends agree. Locally, he is regarded as a businessman and a
good neighbor, husband and father.

“They’re nailing Billy to the wall,” says Pittston businessman Ray
Capozucca. “He’s never been arrested. That’s the problem in this country —
we’re all guilty until proven innocent.”

Pittston Township Police Chief Stephen Rinaldi thinks so much of D’Elia, he
let him use his name as a reference on his concealed-gun permit, on file at
the Luzerne County Courthouse. Gelso provided the second required
reference.

“He’s a great guy,” Rinaldi says. “And you can quote me.”

Trash baron

According to the commission, D’Elia rose to power under the wing of
Bufalino, a Kingston native who died last month. Bufalino served prison
sentences for extortion and conspiracy.

“Russell liked Billy,” says James Kanavy, special agent in charge of the
commission’s northeast region, which includes Scranton, Allentown and
Harrisburg. “He treated him like a son.”

Bufalino gained prominence through his lock on the local garment industry.
D’Elia’s specialty, according to the commission, is trash. The commission
has never been able to prove whether his involvement is illegal or
legitimate.

Commission reports describe the mob’s infiltration of the waste industry to
control who can dump what where. Kanavy says D’Elia buys increasingly
valuable landfill space and brokers it to haulers he has organized into a
“trash cartel.”

According to the crime commssion, the haulers are assured of a given
territory in which to operate and are able to obtain higher prices for
their services through bid-rigging. They pay the broker a kickback, money
that also can act as insurance against labor troubles.

Some of the trash dumped, Kanavy says, might be illegal — shredded
dashboards from wrecked cars, called fluff, which can contain hazardous
materials.

D’Elia “now acts as a principal coordinator in a multistate, multi-La Cosa
Nostra Family venture that has infiltrated the region’s waste-hauling and
disposal market,” the commission wrote in its 1992 report.

“Through influence, payoffs and illegal restraints of trade, La Cosa Nostra
has monopolized critical areas of the industry, including access to
transfer stations and landfill space.”

Kanavy says the crime commission based its recent suspicions, in part, on
the testimony of Al D’Arco, the acting boss of the New York-based Lucchese
Family until his indictment last year for racketeering. D’Arco agreed to
testify against his fellow mobsters in exchange for a sweeter deal.

D’Arco, who entered the federal Witness Protection Program, specifically
described organized crime’s control over a Matamoras landfill. Last year,
investigators learned mob figures used the Pocono landfill to illegally
dump $3 million worth of construction materials. D’Elia’s name was not
linked specifically to this landfill.

“No one knows if D’Elia is involved in criminal activities that are
provable in court,” Kanavy says. “So far, he’s managed to escape
prosecution. It’s a combination of luck and smarts.”

But Kanavy says D’Elia’s luck might change if he assumes a leadership role
in Philadelphia, a far cry from the small towns and deep woods of the
Northeast.

“He’ll be put under the microscope of federal and state investigators,”
Kanavy says.

A watched man

Investigators, both state and federal, have been shadowing D’Elia since the
late 1970s, thanks to his early association with Bufalino.

In the 1980 crime-commission report, he was identified as Bufalino’s
bodyguard. At that time, he was working at a Kingston appliance store.

Surveillance photos of D’Elia taken in 1981 identify him as a La Cosa
Nostra soldier in the Bufalino Family. Kanavy says at least two admitted
members of the mob — confidential informants for the commission —
indentified D’Elia as a family member.

When Bufalino landed in jail for conspiring to kill a witness against him,
the commission considered D’Elia his top surrogate. Investigators say
Bufalino made 163 collect calls from the federal prison at Leavenworth,
Kansas, to D’Elia’s home during a four-month period in 1986.

It was also during this time, according to the crime commission, that
D’Elia began a long history of dealings with Philadelphia family members
and associates.

In the 1980s, according to the commission, D’Elia was involved in
loansharking in the Philadelphia area and held a “no-show” job at a union
construction site during boss Nicodemo Scarfo’s tenure.

In 1992, the crime commission called D’Elia the “heir apparent” to the
Bufalino crime family and said he had used that connection as an entree
into the waste industry.

It was D’Elia’s business savvy, coupled with his quiet, low-key nature,
that led jailed crime boss Stanfa to consider him for the job as interim
boss of the Philadelphia family, investigators say.

Stanfa, according to the commission, has instructed members and associates
to maintain a low profile, to secure legitimate businesses and to avoid
attracting publicity.

Perhaps most important, investigators say, D’Elia knows when to keep his
mouth shut. Years ago, mobsters would go to their grave before squealing on
family members. But an increasing number have agreed to talk in exchange
for easier prison sentences.

D’Elia would be a good leader in Philadelphia because he is a peacemaker,
Kanavy says

“He’s very low key, very businesslike,” Kanavy says. “The ultimate goal of
anybody in organized crime is to be perceived as a businessman. That’s what
so insidious about it.”

D’Elia does run a business from his home on Northview Road in Hughestown.
On his gun-license permit, he listed Camiru Inc. as his employer. According
to the state Bureau of Corporations, D’Elia’s wife, Ellen Ward D’Elia, is
the chief executive officer, secretary and treasurer of Camiru Marketing
Services Inc.

The business, established in December 1985, is in good standing, according
to the bureau, which does not provide details about companies.

Reticent suspect

Twice, the crime commission has subpoenaed Billy D’Elia to talk about his
reputed connections to organized crime. Twice, D’Elia has refused, invoking
his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

In 1989, the state Supreme Court upheld D’Elia’s refusal.

D’Elia first appeared before the commission in 1982 in connection with the
agency’s probe of organized crime’s alleged control of an Old Forge
nightclub. According to the commission, D’Elia helped finance Supper Club
100, but his association never was reported to the Liquor Control Board as
required.

In 1988, the commission tried to learn about D’Elia’s alleged “no-show”
construction job at the $65 million Philadelphia Industrial Correction
Center. Investigators allege D’Elia was hired by a Scranton building
contractor to restore labor peace at the construction site and did not work
as a night watchman, for which he received a $5,000 salary.

During the hearing, Gelso denied his client was an organized-crime member
and called the crime commission “The National Enquirer of law-enforcement
agencies” operating on rumor and speculation.

The crime commission, which has frequently been criticized for being
ineffectual, has no power to prosecute. Along with the FBI and other state
and local investigators, it maintains surveillance on suspected
organized-crime figures.

Periodically, the commission holds hearings to gather information sometimes
used by state investigators to bring criminal charges.

The commission, established in 1967, goes out of business June 30.
Lawmakers say the money used to fund the commission could be better used
elsewhere. The state police will assume all current investigations.

Mafia myth?

Billy D’Elia was born in June 1946. He graduated from the old Pittston City
High School in 1964.

In January 1988, D’Elia’s sister, Shirley Osticco, died in a car crash
after a high-speed chase by police. Osticco, 43, was a passenger in a car
driven by Richard Amico, also of Pittston.

“I always knew Billy as just a nice guy,” says Pittston Area Superintendent
Frank Serino, who was in high school with D’Elia.

“Billy was very friendly. A real nice guy.”

D’Elia is described as soft-spoken with a gravelly voice. Lanky during high
school, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound D’Elia has filled out. His dark hair is now
streaked with gray.

Today, the D’Elia family lives in a small, one-story hillside home on
Northview Road in Stauffer Heights. A view of the Susquehanna River is a
long block away. The crime commission says D’Elia drives a black 1994
Lincoln Continental and travels frequently throughout the Mid-Atlantic
region.

A William D’Elia owns another property on Searle Street in Hughestown,
according to current county tax-assessor records. In addition, records show
D’Elia co-owns a building on Oak Street in Pittston Township along with
township supervisor Walter Shandra. The building houses a day-care center,
says township manager Savino Bonita.

Hughestown, home to 1,800, is a quiet town with a low crime rate, says
Police Chief George DeLucia, who describes D’Elia as “a real sociable guy,
if you talk to him.”

“He never gave us any problems. He doesn’t bother anyone. He lives up
there, and we all get along.”

DeLucia doesn’t know what D’Elia does for a living and assumes “it’s some
sort of business.”

Democratic Rep. Tom Tigue, who maintains an office in his hometown of
Hughestown, sees D’Elia and his family during services at Blessed Sacrament
Church. D’Elia is a registered Democrat from Hughestown’s 1st Ward.

“People just ignore it,” Tigue says of reports of D’Elia’s reputed
involvement in organized crime. “I don’t know if people believe it.

“He’s done nothing in the community to draw attention to himself.”

Down the street, the boys at the Hill Inn insist the Mafia is a myth, born
from the overactive imaginations of law-enforcement officials.

“There’s no Mafia,” says a man who did not want his name used.

“Maybe when Elliot Ness was around.”

TIMES LEADER/FRED ADAMS

Hughestown Police Chief George DeLucia says reputed organized-crime figure
William D’Elia is a good citizen.

FOR PAGE 1A

1980s photo of William D’Elia from the Pennsylvania Crime Commission files.

How Pennylvania mob got started

— Page 17A

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