Matty Ianniello was quietly released from prison last April after serving two years on a recent racketeering and tax evasion conviction, and one queries whether the 89-year-old reputed Genovese capo ever intends on retiring. Ianniello perhaps is best known for the dozens of gay bars and discos in New York City with which he allegedly was involved during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s including the hustler bar Haymarket, the tranny bar Gilded Grape, and the circus-like disco GG Barnum's Room. Indeed, no man had more of an instrumental role in gay nightlife in New York City than Ianniello, and although straight he probably should receive an honorary plaque recognizing his achievements from the city's Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
The late R. Thomas Collins Jr., a Daily News reporter and editor from 1974 to 1979, has several pages on Ianniello in chapter 6 -- "The Sultans of Midtown" -- from his book NewsWalker a brief portion of which is excerpted below:
Who was Matty the Horse? Matthew Ianniello—well known to law enforcement as one of the biggest racketeers in Manhattan, a genuine golden goose for the mob. He was a made member of the Genovese crime family who paid tribute to every one of the five families and who dealt at the highest council of the notorious Mafia commission. * * * [I]n October 1975, Ianniello and others were indicted on bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges in Operation Cleveland, an undercover sting that had cops running Gerro Trucking Company. The defendants were charged with extorting $5,000 from Gerro in exchange for labor peace. In November 1976 they were all acquitted. My NYPD contacts led me to undercover investigators who got me old police Intelligence Division profiles, which explained details. Ianniello, born in 1920 on Broome Street in Manhattan's Little Italy, lived in Old Westbury, Long Island. His history in the files began with the notation that in 1940 he had worked as a waiter for his uncle Joseph Zarrella, in the Brooklyn shipyards from 1941 to 1943, when he entered the Army. He served in uniform honorably in the South Pacific and was decorated for valor. After the war, Ianniello went back to work with his uncle and in 1949 became his partner in Matty's Towncrest Restaurant. In 1951 Ianniello was arrested for receiving and selling 22 pounds of heroin. He was indicted, but the charges were later dropped for lack of evidence. It was this episode that led to his nickname Horse, though others believed it was his thick neck and hulking size. After the charges were dropped, Ianniello opened Matty's Mardi Gras, a night club and saloon. It expanded rapidly, as did his reputation as a tough but likable guy. Matty also ran a dice game at Shelton Towers in Manhattan for years, renting Room 2303. To mob elders he was a comer, a good front man. In 1960 he formed a partnership with one of the Sultans, Edward L. DeCurtis, a k a "Eddie Dee," financier of afterhours gay joints in the Village. Such after-hours spots were a specialty of the rackets because their patrons were homosexuals who drank like fish. You could serve liquor in private clubs without a license, and nobody watched the cash. Besides, such customers sometimes were involved in legitimate business one might wish to "invest" in. While growing in this new line of business, Ianniello was sponsored into the Genovese crime family by Frank "Funzi" Tieri. Now a made Mafioso, Ianniello did business with John "Sonny" Franzese, one of the city's most notorious, feared and respected hoods, whose patronage put a shield of protection around Ianniello. Another patron of Ianniello's was Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo, a right-hand man to Vito Genovese, easily the most vicious gangster in the city at the time. * * * Eventually they turned to the smut rackets. They got in through the bars, the dirty book stores, the gay after-hours joints and all the businesses—garbage, vending, talent, advertising, whatever—that fed off them. But they had a problem with cash: They had too much and had to find ways to hide or dispose of it. By 1964, Ianniello had grown so big that he and a partner bought a bank in Miami. Unlike the rest of the city, which had defined neighborhoods for one crime family or another, Times Square was open to all the crime families. In the past there had been some shootings, vendettas and minor rivalries in the area, but in the bars and restaurants Ianniello was the king. But in 1971, the five families called a sit-down to ensure that Ianniello's interests and their own were kept intact. Afterward, Ianniello, though a made member of the Genovese family, was working for them all: the Genoveses, the Bonnanos, the Tramuntis, and the Gambinos. Through this network of enterprises, with interlocking ownerships and fronts, Ianniello and his crew were reputed to control dozens of the city’s most notorious bars and sex joints. * * Matty also owned Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy, which became famous as the site of the mob assassination of "Crazy" Joe Gallo in 1972. * * * Ianniello's operation earned millions from some 80 midtown bars and restaurants, many with nude and topless dancers, and which were connected with sex rackets catering to pimps, prostitutes and homosexuals. His organization controlled the service companies for the bars, as well as interests in U.S. and foreign hotels, casinos and tour agencies that sponsored gambling junkets. * * He finally fell to racketeering, tax evasion and fraud charges in 1985 that would keep him behind bars for years.
"The Sultans of Midtown" by Collins provides a great narrative of the smutty Times Square in the mid-1970s, including much more on Matty Ianniello and whacked Gambino porn king Robert DiBernardo, and is well worth the read. For example, with respect to the gay hustling bar Haymarket in which Ianniello had an interest, Collins writes:
The crowds were at the gay bars, which cops told me the mobsters opened in a cynical attempt to attract a clientele from an underserved market. I got to the Hay Market, at 772 8th Ave. just before midnight. The bar was five deep with men and boys hustling, talking, laughing—and drinking. Lots of drinking. The air was thick with cigaret smoke. The jukebox played loud pounding rock music. Patrons moved unselfconsciously to the beat. The bar was long and thin, with a shelf of liquor lined against the back wall. Against the opposite wall hustlers were seated against a railing, some of the boys looking as young as 15. One was staring into space, his thin frame covered with a faded denim jacket, scruffy jeans and black boots. Several of the men from the bar across the way were watching. Several of the boys wore varsity jackets with leather sleeves. Others had shiny plastic jackets. They were all working. One of the men at the bar in his early twenties wore an elegant camel's-hair jacket, black pants and silk ascot. A portly, balding man in a business suit sat next to him. He wore rimless glasses and could have passed for an accountant at any midtown office. Another boy came up to the balding man and whispered in his ear. Two stools down, a handsome man smiled at the mirror. Behind him stood a goon wearing a T-shirt with barbells stenciled on front, with the sleeves rolled up. His arms were folded across his chest and he flexed his biceps. In the doorway, a young boy with a woolen stocking cap blocked the way, forcing everyone who came in or walked out to ask him to move.