He’d been caught robbing a posh restaurant across the street from the Waldorf-Astoria. One of Cuomo’s pals was shot dead and a cop wounded. His picture ran in the papers, blood streaming down his face, a patrolman tauntingly pointing a gun at his head. Back home and looking for a new start, Cuomo opened a pizzeria on the ground floor of an old tenement at 27 Prince St., where he’d grown up. He had a white pizza, no tomatoes, that drew crowds. Oldest of the clan was Joseph “Joe Beck” Di Palermo, a short, wispy man with thick horn-rim glasses considered by law enforcement to be “the dean of the dope dealers.” Younger brothers Charles “Charlie Brody” and Peter “Petey Beck” Di Palermo served as able assistants.
But the line had been crossed when his gangland pals had let it be peddled on their own streets. That I was on parole and couldn’t take the chance.” Meanwhile, Ray’s Pizza was a bigger hit than ever, the name now synonymous with the city’s best pies.
Selling drugs was supposed to be against mob rules, a potential death penalty for violators. Mafia members and crews broke the rule regularly, with apparent impunity. But he hadn’t seen needles going into the arms of friends, or rent and food money going to feed the addictions of parents instead of their children. Now it was in his own family, flowing into the veins of his own children. A few weeks later, Cuomo called Al into the club next to the pizza parlor. Cuomo briefly branched out, opening another Ray’s on the Upper East Side, but he soon sold it.
They had a guy in the bank on their payroll who handled the money for them. Arrested and convicted in 1983, he served three and a half years in prison.
When Al D’Arco got back to Little Italy, he found Raffie Cuomo and the Prince Street crew still flourishing. “I blamed the Prince Street crew, Petey Beck, his brothers, and all of them.” He wasn’t the only one.
“They were selling drugs out of that store and their own grandchildren were going to the school on the corner.
This nun from the school went out and screamed at them, right in front of their club there on Prince Street.” Al D’Arco wasn’t about to become a crusader. Drugs sold and consumed elsewhere, he rationalized, had nothing to do with him.
“He’d be at the racetrack three or four times a week, the Meadowlands.
And he was at the casinos in Atlantic City all the time, didn’t matter how much he lost.” He still had enough loot left over for side investments.
While the name became famous, its real business wasn’t pepperoni and cheese — it was heroin. The chef’s supply chain for narcotics came via a notorious family that lived around the corner on Elizabeth Street.
In 1959, a lean, dark-haired young hoodlum from Little Italy named Ralph “Raffie” Cuomo was released from prison after serving a stretch for armed robbery. (He would later explain that “Ralph’s Pizza” sounded too “feminine.”) He was a good cook. The Di Palermo brothers were all leading members of the Luchese crime family, the Mafia borgata of which Little Al D’Arco would later become acting boss.
Only now their drugs were being sold locally, to neighborhood kids. Drugs had been sold out of a small Puerto Rican-owned bodega down the street from St.