One of them is believed by the authorities to be a mob associate who extorted owners of garbage-hauling companies in New York City suburbs. The other is believed to be at least 542 years old, very short and wise, with blue skin and a white beard.
One was arrested on Wednesday. The other stays close to his village, far from humans and laws and garbage-collection companies.
But they have the same name: Papa Smurf.
Fascination with mob nicknames goes back long before Vincent (Chin) Gigante, before Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano and Thomas (Tommy Karate) Pitera. For generations, G-men have been studiously scribbling down nicknames overheard on wiretap recordings for tough guys with tough nicknames like — literally — Thomas (Tough Tommy) Contaldo, Ettore (Killer) Coco and Anthony “Tony Miserable) Vellucci.
The nicknames were often the only names the federal agents had, as nobody seemed to know their names given at birth.
But what of the Papa Smurfs? The ones who, perhaps in name only, were not tough? Carmelo Sansone, born in 1912, was an important Mafia drug trafficker in New York City. Why did people call him Schnozzola?
Earl (Squint) Coralluzzo, we’re looking at you. Sorry — squinting.
The suspect nicknamed Papa Smurf has the government name Carmine Franco. It was not clear on Thursday where his nickname came from, although photographs show a grandfatherly looking man who may very well dispense wisdom to younger generations like the blue-skinned Papa Smurf.
Most nicknames are firmly in place long before a mobster-to-be is out of short pants.
“It probably comes from childhood,” said Edward McDonald, the chief of the Eastern District Organized Crime Strike Force in the 1980s, and later, a defense lawyer. “Every guy in the neighborhood had a nickname, some dopey nickname.”
Hence, say, Alphonzo becoming Funzy. A funny name for a tyke in his diaper; less so for the grown man with the fruit stand and the gun, but there it is.
The authorities arrested nearly 125 suspected mobsters in a swoop in January 2011. Among the names on the indictment were Vinny Carwash, Tony Bagels and Junior Lollipops.
Richard Cantarella was a capo in the Bonanno crime family until he testified for the government in a murder trial and entered the Witness Protection Program. Only he and his closest circle know whether he is still called Shellackhead, for his liberal application of pomade.
Vincent Basciano was called Vinny Gorgeous because he owned a hair salon called Hello Gorgeous in the East Tremont section of the Bronx. But you know what? Not a bad looking guy. Gerlando Sciascia, on the other hand, was presumably easier to find. You just had to ask for George from Canada.
And nicknames aren’t limited to mobsters in America. On Wednesday, a well-known Russian gangster was on the wrong end of a bullet that killed him as he walked out of a restaurant in Moscow. He was popularly known as Grandpa Hassan.
Some nicknames come not from crazy Uncle Vinny at birth, or from fellow mobsters, but from the police. The boss of the Colombo family, Carmine Persico, was Junior to his pals but called The Snake by the authorities. Another Colombo figure, Hugh McIntosh, was “Mac” to some, but, to the police, he was “Apples.” And then, of course, there was the Teflon Don.
The list goes on, and on, and on. But pretty soon you start sounding like George (Blah-Blah) Smurra.