Celebrity Chef Was Once a Secret Mafia Soldier
A celebrity chef who once ruled the peaks of New York City‘s restaurant scene has admitted to being an active member of the Gambino crime family and committing shocking crimes at the height of his powers in the 1980s and 90s.
David Ruggerio, 59, who once ran the kitchens of top Manhattan restaurants La Caravelle, Maxim’s and Le Chantilly, came clean with the shocking admission in an interview with Vanity Fair published on Thursday.
Ruggerio — a former Food Network star who largely dropped out of sight after a 1998 arrest on credit card fraud charges — admitted in the interview to a staggering range of mob crimes, including heroin dealing, truck hijackings, loan-sharking, bookmaking, extortion, and even participating in gangland murders.
As he lived a secret double life, few realized that he was actually blood related to the ‘boss of bosses’ Carlo Gambino — though the FBI was not unaware of his ties, particularly after he hosted the ‘Teflon Don’ John Gotti’s 50th birthday party in Maxim’s luxurious dining room.
Now, though he refuses to speak about the crimes of any other living mafioso, 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 to sleep. 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 that. I loved being a chef.’
Though it was not widely known, Ruggerio had ties to the Gambino family from his birth in 1962 in Brooklyn.
Ruggerio’s birth name was Sabatino Antonino Gambino, and his Sicilian-born father Saverio Gambino was cousin to 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 fiery cross on his right shoulder, along with the words Uomo de Fiducia, Italian for ‘man of trust’.
The most shocking confessions in the lengthy article concern several mob murders that Ruggerio says he participated in.
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 corpse in a car trunk in Brooklyn. Contemporary reporting confirms that police found Macchirole’s body in March 1978.
‘Ernie was younger than my father and weighed about 155 pounds, but he was the most ruthless gangster I ever saw,’ Ruggerio told the magazine.
In another shocking incident in the summer of 1980, Ruggerio says that he watched as Onorato beat his friend Joey ‘Skeetch’ Cannizzaro, a 22-year-old aspiring comedian, with a lead pipe.
Ruggerio said that Onorato, who died in 1999, was enraged because Cannizzaro had circumcised himself to please a Jewish girlfriend and was wearing his severed foreskin on a gold chain around his neck.
‘Ernie picked up the lead pipe and he went berserk. He beat this kid to the point where you couldn’t recognize him anymore. Ernie whirled around and I thought, I’m getting killed next,’ Ruggerio recalled.
‘He put the pipe an inch from my face. It was dripping blood. He says, ‘You brought this f***ing guy around! He’s your f***ing problem. So we started wrapping Skeetch’s body in an old rug,’ he told the magazine.
‘That’s when I heard Skeetch moaning. Turns out he was alive,’ said Ruggerio, admitting that he then weighed Cannizzaro’s body down with lead window sashes and dumped him in the waters near Sheepshead Bay.
The violent incidents led Ruggerio to split with Onorato’s crew and work for another Gambino capo, Carmine Lombardozzi, known as the ‘King of Wall Street’ for his stock pump and dump schemes.
Lombardozzi had a strict rule for his crew — they all had to take legitimate day jobs to deter suspicion from law enforcement, which led to Ruggerio taking a job in the kitchen at La Caravelle, then one of the top French restaurants in the city.
Ruggerio never told his restaurant co-workers 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 small stock brokerages that Carmine had and lean on brokers,’ Ruggerio recalled.
Meanwhile he climbed the ranks of the restaurant world, training in France and becoming executive chef at La Caravelle at the age of 26.
He would later run the kitchen of French fashion designer Pierre Cardin’s New York outpost of Maxim’s as well as Le Chantilly, where he became part-owner with Gambino capo Daniel Marino.
In October 1990, the notorious Gambino boss John Gotti asked Ruggerio to cater his 50th birthday at Maxim’s.
Ruggerio says he covered over the windows so FBI agents surveilling Gotti couldn’t peep inside to see the gathering of 25 of the city’s most powerful gangsters.
Ruggerio landed TV deals in the 90s with PBS and the Food Network, but it all came crashing down in 1998, when he was charged with stealing $190,000 from a credit card company by falsifying credit card receipts for payment.
Prosecutors said he falsified credit card payments by inflating the tips left by 26 customers at his restaurant, in one case by as much as $30,000.
Though Ruggerio denies the charge to this day, on his attorney’s advice he took a plea deal and served probation and community service.
Following the scandal, Ruggerio lost his restaurants, his TV deal, and drifted out of the public eye, quietly operating a doughnut shop and other small ventures.
But after his son, who aspired to the gangster life, died in 2014 of a drug overdose, Ruggerio says he hit his limit when his longtime mafia partner Marino declined to attend the funeral service.
‘When Danny didn’t come, that’s when I said, ‘F*** this. 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 really, truly be in the streets, you gotta have a black heart. When you turn that switch, there can be no emotion. You have no pity. You gotta just do it.’