Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins brings you the best in mob history with his unique perception of the mafia. In this video, Gary interviews retired Assistant US Attorney Chuck Ambrose. He tells us the story of two brothers who were mob associates. Steven Vest was married to the granddaughter of Joe Filardo. Filardo took Nick Civella to the famous Mob Meeting in upstate New York when New York State Troopers arrested them. Steven Vest was a vicious and greedy cocaine dealer. Chuck tells how a witness described a double murder and pointed out the burial site. This investigation took the FBI into a dark underground of addicts, cocaine, and drug houses. Among many other crimes, Steven and Darrell Vest murdered two Colombian drug mules, buried the body, and kept the cocaine claiming the couriers never arrived.
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mob, kansas city, book, couriers, case, money, son, homicide, brothers, food stamp fraud, prosecutors, running, kilos, business, chuck, cocaine, spend, cartel, vest, rules
Chuck Ambrose, GARY JENKINS
One thing I can get into a little bit if you want me to is that you got the old mob mythology that they never did dope. But we all know that not the case. Even the New York families were running heroin wherever the money was the fastest. That’s where they win. You are listening to gangland wire hosted by former Kansas City Police Intelligence Unit detective, Gary Jenkins.
Welcome all you Wiretappers out there back here in the studio gangland wire. And I have an old friend of mine in many ways. We crossed paths many times. But we didn’t really know each other. He worked with the guys that worked for me, I was a sergeant in the intelligence unit. So I kind of stayed out of the day to day activities. And I had, you know, 12 guys that I was overseeing what everybody was doing and, and so my guys work with US Attorney’s Office and a particular FBI agent, who was one of the best I’ve ever met Larry Tongate. We have the US attorney that’s Assistant US Attorney that a lot of the guys worked with on several narcotics cases involving the mob in Kansas City. Chuck Ambrose, welcome, Chuck. Thank you, glad to be with you. It’s great to have you and kind of get to know you. Like I said, I heard your name so many times from these guys. But somehow we just our paths never crossed, never met face to face. So it’s really been good catching up with you. Before we started recording to hear some of the stories we’re not going to tell on the area. You have been writing crime fiction, and you have used your experience as a US Attorney here in Kansas City and other places a lot to create the storylines in these books. And that’s really sounds interesting. Chuck why don’t name off some of those books.
Okay, well, the first I wrote just a little bit of background I did several years in DC before moving to Kansas City, I’d come home every day and tell my wife what we’ve been doing it work and he can’t make this stuff up, he ought to write a book. So I finally did. The first one published about 10 years ago now is Capital Kill set in DC and it had to do with a Jamaican posse and a serial killer. And most of my books are based on either real cases or real investigations. Sometimes I will blend two or three into one novel. Often I will use actual court appearances and transcripts from my cases in those novels. And what I’ve tried to do is to write realism to bring realism back into this field because we’ve all seen the Hollywood overdone model with some guy, snap shooting someone off the roof 200 yards away. And out running machine gun fire and all that other ridiculous stuff. And I’ve gotten lots of positive feedbacks, both from prosecutors and from officers and agents who say finally, someone’s getting this right. And that’s probably the most rewarding type of review that I get. I’ve gotten 2000 Plus Reviews now on Amazon with the seven books and they are all averaging four and a half stars or higher. The first book did actually go to number one in Amazon’s Kindle Store for mystery series novels. And then the fifth book that I have out. One of them award winning one of the trade magazines for general fiction book of the year. And the one that might interest you is the sixth than the series based on the time I spend Kansas City Mob Rules having to do with the outfit they’re in a very fictional sense.
I understand I understand. You were Assistant US Attorney, the FBI had their one squad or Organized Crime Squad and we had a 12 person complement in the intelligence unit and about six or seven of them, worked a lot and worked on organized crime, but they work a lot with the Bureau. And so you had the prosecutors view what everybody was doing both in the one squad and the other squads in the FBI office, and we’re working maybe some other kinds of violent crime or work and extortion or white collar crimes and mob guys will get their fingers in and narcotics do. So that leads us to the question. Well, you know, historically, they always said that the mob doesn’t deal in narcotics. And we know that’s not exactly true. And Nick’s Civella who was the Godfather boss of the Kansas City family and had been since Gosh, their early 50s or middle 50s. We know by 57 He was at Appalachian. And so historically supposedly did not approve anybody dealing with narcotics. But you ran into some of that as a prosecutor. Is that not correct?
Lots of it. Like you mentioned that whole we don’t do dope line was a public relations move, I think by the mob and as a whole, but the New York families were running heroin back in the 30s. Yeah, Capone in his mob when alcohol was essentially an illegal drug made their bones off of that. And what I ran into in Kansas City was a substantial amount of cocaine. Trade and you mentioned Nick Civella and the Appalachian conference in 57. He and his driver, his underboss, at the time to Florida, are caught outside the conference in a cornfield wearing three piece suits. And when the state police picked them up, they said, What are you doing out here and they said, we’re looking for women. The narcotics mythology is about as accurate as that was. And in fact, Joe Filardo, his granddaughter, gal named Vicki Vogliardo. Married a mob want to be by the name of Steve Vest. And in the early 90s, we had lots of people saying that they knew the Vests were trading all kinds of cocaine, but everybody was refusing to talk about them because they said these guys will kill us. And you hear that a lot. And most of the time, it’s an overblown threat, it turned out not to be the case with the best brothers. As a wedding present, the Filardo-Voligardo family gave Steve Vest a convenience store called the Roma Deli, which was attached in a common wall to the old Roma bakery. And the only way that he was able to keep that afloat not being a very good businessman was to commit tons of food stamp fraud. And when we took that away from him and the Department of Agriculture investigation, he couldn’t make it work anymore. So he burned it down. And unfortunately, Billy, for the people that had given him this business, it also took the rumbo bakery with the fire, a roll of arson proceeds into a carwash out in Blue Springs, we ended up going up on four or five wiretaps at the same time. And when we did the initial round of indictments there, I think we indicted 28 or 31 of the mid level figures there spun became a cooperating witness. And the next thing you know, we’re investigating three homicides and on top of that tremendous amount of cocaine trafficking. So both the Mob members the mob wannabes had their hands heavily in the cocaine trade in Kansas City, at least in the 90s.
I explained to the guys, this food stamp fraud, I know what it is in several of the corner stores the mob associate own corner stores out in the neighborhoods, admitted food stamp fraud, tell the folks how that worked.
Well, it can take two or three different forms. One of the more common ones is to accept food stamp fraud, or food stamps for prohibited items like alcohol or cigarettes. The other things they would commonly do is buy up food stamps from the people who are getting them paying 40 or 50 cents on the dollar. And then they would turn those in for payment as if they had been submitted for grocery purposes. And we had a Department of Agriculture undercover investigator that we ran in there several times and you use that as a justification once we were able to document the illegal transactions for taking away the food stamp license from the Roma Deli. And then next crime we uncovered was insurance fraud. When I took the insurance claim on the arson they had said they rolled that into the carwash out in Blue Springs. And then away we went.
And now you mentioned murders that they were involved there. There was one particularly gruesome double murder that these Vest brothers it was Steve and I can’t remember the brother’s name.
There were four brothers involved in the case of where I’m okay. Darrell was not involved in the homicide, but he was the main street dealer for the cocaine. The other three who were involved in the murders were Steve, Mark, and Jane. And the usual business that they were conducting was to order 10 or 15 or 20 kilos at a time from an Arizona supplier. He would then send couriers up to deliver the coat. They would pay them once they got the Coke, and then they would take the money back to Phoenix. On this last are the best brothers decided that rather than pay the couriers, they would just kill them and save themselves the money that they would have otherwise had to pay for the two kilos of coke on that one occasion of I think it was 10 kilos. And so the driver who usually drove the couriers to the Vest home to get paid, took them there he was expecting to see them get paid again. And instead the vest brothers met them withdrawn guns. These two Mexican couriers were handcuffed behind their backs. Their heads were wrapped in duct tape and they watch them suffocate. The bodies were then taken out into the woods north of the stadium complex. You have the old Washington and Lincoln cemeteries there off of Blue Ridge cut off. And they were buried in a shallow grave about 18 inches deep under an abandoned loveseat. And what it turned into a kind of illegal dump site. Once we learned of this, we were out digging the bodies up and forensic anthropology sort of the
really, how did you get on to this? How did you undercover as they have in the turn that were part of the murders? Or
When we went up on the wiretaps, we were able to recognize a lot of the drug conversations, but there were other conversations that were suspicious and kind of coded. Yeah. And we really didn’t know what they were talking about. But we were able to spin codefendant named Arturo Gonzalez, who is basically one of the mid level figures in the conspiracy, and he dropped the bomb on us. In his first debriefing. We said, well, okay, one in earnest, these guys who would drive the dope up to Kansas City, where are they now? They’re dead. Well, how did that happen? Did they have a rat going back to Phoenix? No, the Vest brothers killed them. And then he laid the story on this that he had actually seen this happened. And in fact, he had been instructed to help go bury the body. So he knew really were cool. And when we got the bodies back to the medical examiner’s office, Frank Booth, who you probably remember from the crime lab man who was an excellent forensic specialist, so that when we cut the duct tape off of the heads of these victims that were carpet fibers trapped in the duct tape, we were then able to get search warrants for the vist home where this had occurred. And were able to match those fibers to the living room carpet. And at the end of the proceedings, we never had to go to trial, because all three of the homicide defendants pled guilty at the same time and all three receive life without parole sentences.
So you had a witness? And then you had forensic physical evidence that tied him to the murders. I mean, you just can’t do it better that. Can you Chuck? No, ma’am. Case closed. Yeah, that’s really interesting. What about like they killed these two? couriers? Did those couriers work for some cartel down in Mexico? Or did they work for the best brothers and whoever they fry? Was there anybody that cared about them, you always hear about the cartel, if you double cause cartel, they’ll send, you know, Sicarios up and kill you and your family. So what about that? Did you get into any of that?
We did, we were able to identify the figure that they had worked for. He had already died. natural causes. Now we were able to find some family members of the two victims, and they came up and made victim impact statements that sentences but as often happens with suppliers who live in those border towns, there may be some structure of the cartel in that town itself. But most of the time, it’ll be across the border like wave or Laredo or Juarez. And what you have essentially, are lieutenants handling the in state distribution, okay. And so we were not able to climb the chain, at least within the US, for that particular system.
Interesting. So assume these best brothers, they didn’t want to talk. And he probably didn’t maybe care if they talked, he didn’t really want to make a deal with him. Did you think about that? Did you approach them? Was there any made guys that they could bring in to this?
No, this was essentially a Steve Vest on sidespin. And I think the actual Mob members, including the Filardo and Roma bakery families, were mad enough at him already for burning down their business to where they weren’t gonna bail him out.
Okay. Interesting. Now, I remember that best brother’s deal was quite an investigation where everything came together perfectly. It was quite an investigation all those guys did.
If I can mention one other thing about Frank booth, it’s nice to have guys like that. On your side. I remember when we were taking the carpet that we got in the search warrant to the crime lab, which was then in downtown Kansas City was before they moved out on truth. We were going to take it to the usual loading dock that we would go to and he said no, don’t take it to that would take it to the other side of the building. And we looked at him said why? And he said, The only defense the theory that could ever hang this up is if we had fibers blowing around in the air conditioning enters they said that’s the separate air conditioning unit on that side of the building. So if we take the carpeting in there and then seal the sample to go to the other side for analysis, they can’t argue that we had the airborne fibers coming through the duct work could contaminate the case
and guide them down that path before where they raised that defense I’m sure out of his experience Interesting. Yeah, it is good to have people thoughtful people like that. Think of that.
I told him pleasure on our side.
Wonder if he retired and went to work for some white collar crime defense attorneys really went to work for help, right? Yeah. No, no, no. All right. Well, this has been interesting. Is there any more little side stories about that best case, since you remember,
only that Daryl, the non homicide was kind of on the fence about cooperating. And when we told him, You may be the straw that pushes your brothers in the please. And that’s the only way they’re going to live because otherwise, we’re going to certify this as a capital case, and seek the death penalty against all odds. And he ended up signing a cooperation agreement and we got notice of the plague as of the day after that. Interesting Mark Vest had also killed a girl named Jill Lamarre. Shortly after sleeping with her, he found that there were a couple of kilos of cocaine in her closet. She was also a minor level drug pusher, she was holding them for somebody else. But rather than try to pay her he decided he would do the same thing they had done with the two couriers, and he took her to one of the entries to Riverfront Park of a Front Street and put two bullets in the back of her head. So that homicide was solved in addition to the two couriers. Wow,
just for the two kilos. What were these guys doing with their money? But did you find any cash Hoard? Or were they invested in property? Or how were they watching their money?
No, these were not financial geniuses, Steve had his mind set on becoming a division one NASCAR stock racer. And so he was spending a lot of money on souped up engines and cars and things of that nature. But most of the time, they were just doing the drug money thing and fast cars, women and lots of expensive meals and
interesting. And they weren’t gamblers. They go to Las Vegas. They drop a lot out there. I
never got much evidence of that until they made one trip out there and spent a good bit of coin but it was nothing like we saw with some of the other drug rings in Kansas City. I had one inner city drug defender who I can’t remember the name, but we went up on the wrong phone. We ended up on his gambling and social phone. It’s this drug. And we were able to document that he spent a quarter million in one weekend trip to Vegas at the craps tables and on his escorts.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I know. I’ve talked to another guy that’s in witness protection now. And he was a marijuana smuggler. And he said he blew it all in Las Vegas, basically. And I talked to another guy who used to be a drug smugglers written a book since then. And I said, Well, how’d you wash your money? And he said, We just took it to Caesar’s Palace and just, this was kind of early before the CTRs were so important. He just we, you know, like a suitcase full of money and just deposit it with them, then they give us credit and then we could get chips that would get her money paid back to us that way and then check so it was a pretty good way to gamble or pretty good way to watch money plus those guys live on the edge anyhow. So you got Yeah, several $100,000 in cash money, you don’t know what to do with it. You know, you go out and gamble it and blow it What the heck is always more that’s what this guy is in witness protection to yet he said I blew it all of this trying to gamble.
Pretty common story. Yeah, interesting.
Okay, let’s talk a little bit about your Mob Rules book.
Anybody who is familiar with the actual figures in town could probably make a fairly educated guess on who some of these characters are based on.
Yeah, now guys in Kansas City. We have several father and son operations here, several levels. And so from the prosecutors view, and from my view to is how the Son sometimes followed the father’s into the business and kind of interesting just noticing with the passing of Willie Cammmisano, Jr, his dad Willie Rats Cammisano was a made guy out of the 40s 50s and 60s and was a really important guy on the scene on the streets, especially in Kansas City and his son moved right up on into it and his brother Willie comes on and Jjunior’s brother Jerry Cammisano lives in Nick Civella’s old house. So the Cammisano’s this father and son relationship is quite common probably in other cities too, as well as their grandkids. Their sons went into one son went into it, and then he had two boys, the grandsons of cork and Nick, they didn’t do so well because cocaine got them. One of them died just not too long ago, early age and just a healthy, unhealthy wreck of a man because of cocaine use. And the other brother is living in his mom’s basement now. So we have this tradition and there’s several other families are Moretina kids. Charlie Moretina was a made guy back in the 50s and 60s. And his son was part of Willie Junior Cammisano’s sports book, most recently, and they copped a plea and then lo time and came back out, he runs a joint today in Kansas City. So go ahead and tell us about how did you incorporate that into your book a little bit about the book.
It’s a theme that is not limited to the mob. When I was in DC, one of the major cases I worked was a heroin dealer, and the older generation of that family, if you can say that they any heroin dealer had done it right. They at least knew how to avoid detection, the older father figure there had been business for 25 years and had never been caught. And the reason why is he just had a sixth sense almost about when the heat was turning up, and when the shutdown and he would shut down operations completely. Until he thought the coast was clear. Then he ramped back up again. And he was smart enough not to be flashy, he wasn’t driving an expensive car, he wasn’t spending exorbitant amounts of cash openly, and was just a hard nut to crack and we never did. But then he retired and turned the business over to his two knucklehead kids. And of course, they not wanting to follow the wisdom of the older generation violated every rule he set for them started driving hot cars spending money like it was going out of style. And we would see the same things in the differences in the mob to some extent in Kansas City. Not that the older generation was as careful. But the younger guys seeing the faster money that the drugs were providing them. couldn’t avoid the temptation to spend it openly drive the hype cars have five date on the same night, women all this crazy stuff. And so they were a lot easier to put the hands on. And the book again, brutal mob rules. The title itself is kind of an ironic thing. When you have an organization that has rules, those rules are in place. Some of them, as we mentioned are more fiction, when they say we are not doing drug trafficking, but they always seem to pay more attention to their own rules and, and society’s rules or laws. And they take violations of those internal rules a lot more seriously. Than that’s a in thing to the book. Of course, if you cross the mob, that’s a whole different deal from breaking laws, courts, that’s the business that we’re in when we were running wires. And you probably have this experience too. I was always impressed at how hard the outfit guys work at not working. They spent more hours a day avoiding honest work than people who actually had a nine to five job, see him sleep till noon, get up and have lunch somewhere with Vinny or Joe and plot some scheme that never come to fruition. And then they go to an illegal gambling parlor because it’s just beneath them to go to a legal casino even though Kansas City had been by then yeah, dinners another meeting another scheme that probably doesn’t come to fruition, and then they’re out all night and another after hours gambling joint till four in the morning, and then they do it all again the next day. And if they’re really lucky, they might make 50 or 100 bucks on the lower level. And of course half of that has to go upstream to bosses. So it was a real education, watching the avoidance of work as much as it was the actual work done on criminal schemes.
But this relationship between say fathers and sons Now how did you play that out in the book? I mean, the sons sometimes they officially get inducted in to the family and or their associates for quite a while. And how does a father like give pieces of action or direct the son to criminal action activities? Or are they may be given to another mob guy to kind of groomed to bring along? Well,
the father is always hoping that he can groom his son to be a made man, and that he can follow the rules and bring what they call honor to that side of the family. And sometimes it works. Often it does not. And the book is basically about what happens when the son gets so out of control. And it’s such an embarrassment to the mob itself that the Father may end up even having to choose between the Outfit and his own son. Interesting with some deadly consequences.
Yeah. And I know one of these relationships that we’re talking about is a son did bring a lot of embarrassment on the rest of the family. For some of the things he wasn’t even making money. He was just angry. And he was jealous. And he did a lot of things that got his name in the paper. And so because you put those kinds of scenarios in there, that would be some young guys. They have a woman that rejects them. And so then they stalk or they threaten or things like that you put those kinds of things in there, because I know that’s happened.
I do. Yeah, I had to try a case like that. I’m impressed by prosecutors who say they have 100% conviction rate mine was about 98%. Because there were a couple of cases I felt compelled to bring to trial that were very hard. And one was an extortion case like that, which was essentially a he said, she said, and unfortunately, we ended up with, in my opinion, the wrong judge and a jury right before Christmas, who didn’t want to spend the time to do the hard work. And so after two to three votes, they acquitted and we all had to go home, but it was still a trial worth undertaking because it needed to be done,
because that’s the kind of the grants that you are pulling from to put in this Mob Rules book was like, interesting. Yeah, sounds like a really interesting look at the Mob and Kansas City, especially you Kansas City fans out there, you probably ought to get this book. And I think if you know anything about the Mob and Kansas City I’m representing, you gotta recognize Out of state Chiefs fan here. So anyhow, that’s really interesting. This has been a fascinating check in, I want to get you back some time. And we’ve got what we call the Young Italians case and got really kind of involved, I got some sound bites from Larry Tongate, I need to sit down and go through those. And we’ll go in more depth of what we call the young Italians case where Chuck prosecuted the grandson of Willie Cammicano, Willie Rat’s, grandson on a multi kilo deal and how that all came about, it’s a really interesting story came all about and we were talking just before, it’s like, any successful operation is by 90% work and 10% luck. And so a lot of work went into it. And then a little bit of luck happened at the end. And
detectives and investigators say I’d rather be lucky than good. We’re dealing with, as you mentioned, Larry Tongate, who has always been both.
Okay, this is an FBI agent that worked with my guys in the intelligence unit during the 90s. On when after the bureau was given the mandate to work on narcotics, they didn’t work on those products in the 60s 70s. Not until really the late 80s. And then the 90s. And he was a guy that he was good. And he was the hardest working man in show business. Just like James Brown. I’m telling you, he was good at working with Larry. All right, Chuck, I really appreciate you coming on. And we will be in touch to do another show pretty soon. And remember you guys I like ride motorcycles. So watch out for motorcycles when you’re out there on the street. And if you have a problem with PTSD, or you have a friend or relative that has a problem with PTSD, and they’ve been the service, then you can go to the VA website and get that hotline and there’s help available for you out there. So thanks a lot, Chuck, and we’ll talk to you later. Thank you Gary.