The Colombo Mobster and the Ping-Pong Payout

Thomas ‘Tommy Shots‘ Gioeli is a former street boss of the Colombo crime family. After being imprisoned on a robbery charge in the mid-1980s, he was made a full member of the Colombos after his release, and began life in the family working under capo Vic Orena.

Gioeli was allegedly involved in several murders, including that of Veronica Zuraw, a former Catholic nun. She was killed by a stray bullet during the assassination of Colombo mobster Joseph Peraino. Gioeli claims his innocence in this death, and no charges for the Zuraw killing have ever been filed against him. However a government witness, Dino Calabro claimed that Gioeli told him he was “going to hell” for killing a nun.

In 1989, Vic Orena was appointed temporary acting boss by head of the family, Carmine Persico. Persico had been sentenced to 100 years in prison in the Commission Trial, and had no possibility of parole. While giving Orena the power to induct members and order murders on his own authority, which is unusual for an acting boss, Persico made it clear that Orena was merely a placeholder until Persico’s son, Alphonse ‘Little Allie Boy’ Persico, was released from prison.

By 1991 Orena, with encouragement from Gambino boss, John Gotti, felt powerful enough to challenge Persico for control of the Colombo family. In response, Persico tried to assassinate Orena. This attack triggered an internal conflict in the family between the Persico and Orena factions. Gioeli gave his support to Orena to begin with, then, along with many others, switched sides to the Persico faction to avoid being killed. In the late 1990s, Gioeli was promoted to capo by Carmine Persico and then underboss John DeRoss.

Thomas Gioeli
Photo: Associated Press

In May, 2012, Gioeli was convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder. He was cleared of other murder charges. On March 19, 2014, Gioeli was sentenced to 18 years and 8 months in prison and ordered to pay $360,000 in restitution.

A year later, whilst being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, NY, Gioeli took a tumble during a table tennis game and fractured his right kneecap. He spent thirty days in hospital after the fall, and his injury required surgery, physical and occupational therapy.

Gioeli brought a suit against the Metropolitan Detention Center, and attempted to sue for $10m. He attended Brooklyn federal court with the aid of a walker in June, 2018 in order to testify about the incident.

Gioeli claimed he went to retrieve a stray ping-pong ball and slipped on a puddle that often gathered outside of the unit’s showers due to a leaky slop sink.

“I got bad eyes to begin with so I didn’t see the water. I didn’t see it, just the ping-pong ball,” Gioeli said.

“I was walking to get the ping-pong ball and as I rounded the stairs I must have hit the water and I slipped and landed on my knee. My head went back and I was laying in the water,” Gioeli described.

Gioeli said the ground was so slippery “it was like ice.”

When Government lawyers asked him if tracked water from the shower shoes of the 120 inmates caused the puddle, rather than a leaky sink, Gioeli answered “They stamp their shoes in the shower and then they walk out…that’s not the type of water I fell in. I fell in a deep puddle.”

Government lawyer, Michael Castiglione, said in an opening statement that it was “a very unfortunate accident,” but that the prison, “exercised reasonable care.”

Castiglione added that Gioeli, “knowing the risk, seeing the risk went after the ping-pong ball.”

After hearing evidence, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto encouraged the two sides to strike a deal, rather than forcing her to issue a ruling on the case.

“Mr. Gioeli needs to lower his expectations,” Matsumoto said, referring to his $10 million ask. “The government ought to think about increasing its offer.”

Matsumoto indicated both sides may be at fault for the injury — the lockup for not addressing the underlying cause of the puddle, and Gioeli for chasing the ball into an area he knew was hazardous.

A deal was thought to be struck, which resulted in a reputed $250,000 settlement for Thomas Gioeli.

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