Mafia Ice Cream Man Billy D’Elia answered the pay phone at the Scranton half-way house in a soft, low growl.
“Billy?” I asked Tuesday afternoon.
“Yeah,” said the reputed don of the Bufalino La Cosa Nostra organized crime family.
“It’s Steve Corbett, “I said. “Welcome home. How you feeling?”
“I’m good,” he said.
“You going to be working at the ice cream place this afternoon?” I asked.
That’s when it suddenly dawned on him who was on the other end of the line. I’ve been busting Billy’s chops for more than 20 years, including the time I tried unsuccessfully to get law enforcement officials to pull his official Pennsylvania concealed weapons permit.
Billy abruptly hung up the phone.
I recognized his voice because I once called and reached him at his favorite Plains Township nightclub and asked if he wanted a sit-down to talk about FBI wiretaps detailed in a book about his offer to dig graves for Philly mobsters to drop bodies when need be.
Billy refused my invitation but wanted to know why I had a problem with him when he had no problem with me.
Here’s why: When decent people struggled for decades to pay their bills, the rent, their mortgage and provide for their families, Billy was cruising in his big Lincoln, leaning on parking meters in Pittston, scaring good people and hanging with mob trigger men.
Then his world collapsed.
I watched him cry at his federal court sentencing when he blubbered and pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his nose and signal surrender after finally getting busted for the first time then pleading guilty to drug money laundering and threatening to kill a witness.
Now Billy’s back on the street – living in a federally-funded Catholic Social Services facility in my hometown and working at M.D. Pit BBQ & Ice Cream Parlor, an “old-fashioned” sundae, shake and ribs joint in Exeter.
I found out Billy’s whereabouts from mob insiders who have no time for Billy.
My guess is that neither do the Philly mob killers he used to call his friends who must be somewhat concerned that Billy, who cooperated with government prosecutors in several cases to get time off for rat behavior, might one day turn against them,.
That’s why Uncle Sam has put the public at risk by placing Billy in an open public facility that is easy to find. That’s why U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter Smith and the Bureau of Prisons has little regard for law-abiding people who might one day get caught in the crossfire if a couple of bad fellows take a ride to Northeastern Pennsylvania to get even.
The feds should never have approved Billy’s release and job.
What’s Mafia Ice Cream Man do at work, anyway?
When I reached Pit “owner” Joe Bradigan Tuesday he at first said he had no comment about his new employee. But then he agreed to answer some questions as a way to try to control the rumors that would soon sweep the region.
Bradigan said he never met Billy until he came in for the job interview – an interview Bradigan said his “girlfriend” Nicole Ciali arranged because she knows D’Elia. Ciali has no ownership in the business, Bradigan said, even though a newspaper story published in the Pittston Dispatch calls her a co-owner.
Ciali did not return a detailed message I left for her Tuesday at her job as a Luzerne County juvenile probation officer, a position for which she is paid more than $60,000-per-year and was hired in 2004.
On Wednesday I officially requested Ciali’s county employment application. I don’t yet know who Ciali used as personal references when she applied for the job or even if she filled out a job application. Since her position falls under the courts, I also don’t know which judge signed the order to hire her.
I’m not sure if gangster judges Michael Conahan or Mark Ciavarella – who are serving federal prison sentences of 28 years and 17 ½ years respectively – signed off on her hiring during that time when the culture of corruption ruled Luzerne County and D’Elia met regularly with Conahan for breakfast meetings and sent sealed envelops to Conahan in his chamber through a county security guard.
Taxpayers also need to know if county officials agree that Ciali behaved ethically when she, as a juvenile probation officer, acted as a personal job reference for an admitted gangster and reputed Mafia don.
Billy, by the way, is engaged in “maintenance and custodial work,” according to Bradigan.
Let’s hope the feds wise up and the Billy D’Elia finds work elsewhere – like a remote secret location where his presence does not even remotely endanger the public.
Nobody needs the Mafia Ice Cream Man’s enemies to offer to make him a Rocky Road sundae he can’t refuse.