As FBI agents cuffed Boston Mafia leader Gennaro "Jerry" Angiulo and hauled him out of Francesco's Restaurant in the North End on Sept. 19, 1983, he yelled, "I'll be back before my pork chops get cold."
He never did get to finish that meal.
The 88-year-old Mafioso, serving a 45-year prison term for racketeering, is about to taste freedom for the first time since his arrest nearly a quarter century ago.
The US Parole Commission quietly granted Angiulo's request for parole two weeks ago and ordered his release from the federal prison hospital in Devens , a spokesman for the commission confirmed yesterday. Angiulo had been slated for release in May 2010.
The former underboss of the New England Mafia, who ruled the Boston rackets from the 1960s into the '80s from an office at 98 Prince St., won't be able to return to his old North End haunt, Francesco's, when he is released because it has gone out of business, replaced by an upscale pizzeria. But many longtime residents said Angiulo won't find the essence of the neighborhood much different.
"The houses haven't changed, the restaurants hardly changed, but one thing that has changed is that there aren't many of us left," said Fred Sarno, 69, sitting on a chair yesterday outside an apartment building on Endicott Street. He was a child when he first met Angiulo, Sarno said. "Many of his friends are gone, but I'll be glad to see him,"
Angiulo and his three brothers, Donato, Francesco, and Michele, were all convicted in February 1986 in the region's first sweeping federal racketeering case against the mob.
Michele, who served a three-year prison term for illegal gambling, died in November of lung cancer. But Francesco, 86, is back living on Prince Street after his release from prison seven years ago. Donato, 84, who finished his sentence in 1997, resides in Medford.
The son of Sicilian immigrants who ran a North End grocery store, Gennaro Angiulo rose through the ranks under Raymond L.S. Patriarca of Providence because of his keen skill at making money. The Angiulo brothers were disciplined hands-on operators, who had a virtual monopoly on the region's illegal gambling and loansharking, according to law enforcement officials.
But the Angiulo empire was toppled when the FBI planted bugs in their Prince Street headquarters and at a social club on North Margin Street for three months in 1981, as Angiulo ordered murders and beatings and boasted of his misdeeds.
A self-styled jailhouse lawyer, Angiulo represented himself in numerous unsuccessful bids to get his conviction overturned.
In one failed petition to the court in 2002, Angiulo said he was framed by the FBI and its gangster informants, James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi. It had been revealed in federal court in 1998 that Bulger and Flemmi had visited Angiulo's Prince Street headquarters at the FBI's request, then drew them a diagram with instructions on where the bugs should be planted in 1981.
In an affidavit filed in federal court three years ago, Angiulo wrote that he was in poor health and that his term was "tantamount to an illegal death sentence."
Angiulo's former lawyer, Anthony Cardinale, said that the Angiulos might have been acquitted if it was revealed during their trial that Bulger and Flemmi were informants who had corrupted some of their handlers.
"He's not getting a break," Cardinale said yesterday, adding that Angiulo became eligible for parole in 1996. "He's actually doing considerably more time than anybody would expect him to do."
After a June 11 hearing, the Parole Commission approved his parole on June 22, according to Stephen Husk, a commission spokesman.
Husk said the commission doesn't disclose reasons for granting a parole. However, he said generally the commission considers an inmate's age, health, and any changes in his or her case.
Retired Massachusetts State Police Colonel Thomas J. Foley, a longtime organized crime investigator, said the landscape in organized crime circles has changed dramatically since Angiulo went to prison.
"In those days, organized crime was built around omerta," said Foley, referring to the Mafia's code of silence, which has been shattered as mobsters facing heavy sentences have cooperated with law enforcement.
"The old mystique about the LCN [La Cosa Nostra] is gone now," Foley said. "Even if Jerry Angiulo wanted to get back into it, he'd have no control over those people. You don't have soldiers willing to make that type of commitment."
Angiulo is expected to return to his Nahant home, where his wife, Barbara, lives. Chief US Probation Officer John M. Bocon said his office will supervise Angiulo, who will have to comply with standard conditions of release, as well as any special conditions that the Parole Commission might impose. Those on parole must get permission to travel outside Massachusetts, can't own firearms, and can't associate with anyone engaged in criminal activity.
Bocon said parolees are generally prohibited from associating with anyone convicted of a felony, but as in Angiulo's case, where close relatives are convicted felons, exceptions can be granted.
As news of Angiulo's imminent release spread through the North End, many longtime residents said yesterday they would be happy to see the old don back.
"We'd welcome him with open arms," said one man, identifying himself only as Mickey, who was standing with a group of men near a park bench on Endicott Street.
"He was good to this neighborhood, and I am glad to see him out, that he didn't die in jail like the feds wanted him to," said a man sitting on the bench who identified himself as Maggie. "He's done a lot of good in this neighborhood. He kicked the junkies off the sidewalks."
But for some his name carries no cachet. "I don't really know who he is," said Maria Polverilli, a waitress at Mike's Pastry on Hanover Street. ". . . He was before my time."