Quarino “Willie” Moretti was close to Mob boss Vito Genovese, pals with Frank Sinatra, and had connections to Bergen County politicians and law enforcement. He also suffered from syphilis, which caused bouts of dementia and unpredictable behavior. In 1950, the Hasbrouck Heights resident gave candid testimony before the Kefauver Committee, which was investigating organized crime. The New Jersey underworld was not pleased. The following year, as he was having lunch with fellow wiseguys at Joe’s Elbow Room in Cliffside Park, the waitress stepped away and Moretti’s supposed pals shot him in the face—a sign of respect.
Enter Scott Deitche, whose book Garden State Gangland: The Rise of The Mob in New Jersey shares such sordid tales. The book, due this month from Rowman & Littlefield, is a chronological history of New Jersey’s La Cosa Nostra, exposing the rise and decline of the Garden State’s seedy underbelly, from the Black Hand gangsters in the early 1900s to the Moretti hit in 1951 to the State Commission of Investigation hearings of the 1970s.
Deitche, who grew up in Fords and resides in St. Petersburg, Florida, is an environmental scientist by day and a Mob writer by night. Gangland is his seventh book on organized crime. He’s been hooked on the subject since the early 1990s, when he began to research the Tampa Kefauver Committee hearings.
Wading through newspaper articles, listening to wiretap conversations, and interviewing ex-wiseguys and law enforcement officers isn’t just a hobby for Deitche—it’s personal. His grandfather went to prison in the early 1970s for his Perth Amboy bookmaking operation.
Deitche currently leads Mafia tours in the Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City, but credits growing up in the Garden State with inspiring his latest book. “It had been fermenting for a while,” he says. “I want to throw a little love back to my home state.”
Often-told stories about members of the Genovese and DeCalvacante crime families drive the book’s narrative, but Deitche also gives ink to influential, yet largely forgotten, Mob characters such as Longy Zwillman and Jerry Catena.
Although the New Jersey Mafia is far from what it used to be, there are still some wiseguys running operations, says Deitche. “As long as there’s money to be made,” he concludes, “there still will be a small group of guys doing that.”