Joe Bruno on the Mob – Lynda Milito – Part One
She was a Jewish Princess, born and bred in Brooklyn. Yet Lynda Lustig Melito not only married an Italian-American mobster Liborio (Louie) Milito, but she also became his partner in crime.
Lynda Lustig was born in 1947 to Jewish parents, Sophie (Dostis) and Louis Lustig, on West 27th Street in Coney, Island, Brooklyn. At the age of two, Lynda contracted polio. One of her first life memories was while she was lying in a Brooklyn Hospital, and Grandma Dostis kept screaming at her to stay awake so that she wouldn’t die.
Her childhood spiraled downward from there.
Lynda’s father was a nice man, who was pushed into the background by his wife, who constantly kvetched at Louie for not making enough money. In her 2003 book, Mafia Wife – My Story of Love, Murder and Madness, Lynda says about Ma Lustig, “My mother made me feel like I was some mistake in her life, and it was my fault for being born, which she did over and over again, as far back as I can remember.”
Ma Lustig was humorless; the grandmother of gloom. She disliked seeing people around her who showed any outward sign of happiness.
“There was no hugging from my mother; never a sign of warmth that I can recall,” Lynda said. “In fact, when I see her face in my memory, she’s not smiling. Forget about laughing. She refused to watch TV comedy shows and nobody else was allowed to watch them if she was in the room.”
With her mom being quite the bummer, Lynda became a student at Seth Low Junior High School on Avenue P, and then at Lafayette High School on Benson Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Lafayette High’s famous Jewish alumni include comedian Larry David, comedienne Rhea Perlman, “Judge Judy” Blum, and Larry Ziegler; better known as Larry King.
After taking a whirl at baton twirling, Lynda majored in cutting class.
“I didn’t take to pencils; I didn’t take to books and if I went to class I didn’t take notes,” Lynda wrote.
Consequently, instead of attending school, Lynda spent most of her days hanging out at Seth Low Park, or in a candy store know as “Mom and Pops,” across the street from the school. Besides, selling the standard “candy store” fare, Mom and Pops was a joint where you could make bets on sporting events, or buy or sell items that had “fallen off the back of the truck.” The hangout folks at Mom and Pops didn’t get a formal education like the students did at Seth Low, but they got a thorough education in survival on the streets; legally, or illegally.
Mom and Pops was also the hangout for an august bunch of young thugs called the “Junior Rampers.” The Junior Rampers were minor league associates of a Bensonhurst crime wave called “The Rampers,” of which Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was a chief player. The next step up from “The Rampers” was a slot in the Major Leagues of Crime – the Italian-American organized crime crew, inaccurately called the “Mafia” by law enforcement and the press (The truth is – the Mafia exists only in Sicily, but the law, in concert with the media, never lets the truth get in the way of a good story).
At the age of 15, Lynda became enamored with the opposite sex. However, her biggest impediment in attracting the young wolves at Mom and Pop’s, was stuck right in the middle of her face. Although quite pretty, Lynda’s nose was roughly the size of a sweet potato, and flattened like a fighter who had been the target of too many straight left jabs. But thanks to Dr. Silver, Lynda was fitted with a new air receptacle.
“When I took off the bandages, I felt like a new person,” Lynda wrote. “It didn’t matter about the swelling. I felt beautiful, and I loved my doctor.”
Her new nose soon led to Lynda roughly losing her virginity (raped) to a local thug named Frankie LaFonda. But then she met the man of her dreams: a soft-spoken hairdresser named Louie Milito.
They first met at a Brooklyn club called “Tommy Lee’s,” and soon they became quite an item. The only problem for Lynda was that Louie was Italian, and her parents expected her to become romantically involved with men only of the Jewish persuasion.
Lynda introduced Louie to her parents as “Bernie,” and as being half-Jewish and half-Italian.
However, Mom Lustig had her suspicions.
The first time Lynda brought “Bernie” home to meet her parents, he wore a gold chain with a crucifix the size of Staten Island.
“Couldn’t he have found a bigger one?” Mom Lustig remarked.
But Lynda was stuck on Louie, and Louie was stuck on Lynda. However, what Lynda didn’t know at the time was that Louie was not exactly a hairdresser, but was, in fact, a small-time thief with big-time aspirations.
Lynda said on an episode of I Married a Mobster on the Discovery Channel, “I was so in love with Louie, if he asked me to jump off the Empire State Building, I probably would have. I was that much in love with him, and he was that much in love with me.”
Louie Milito started out as a petty thief with The Rampers, where he met Sammy Gravano, who would later play a big part in Louie’s life, and death. The five-foot-four-inch Gravano was a short, thick thug with a Napoleonic complex. However, the instant Lynda met Gravano; she knew Gravano was nothing but trouble.
“The first time I met Sammy, I looked at him and he looked at me” Lynda said. “And I knew right away – no way!”
One of the scams Louie perpetrated, with Lynda’s help was, an illegal car-sale scheme. Louie would buy wrecked cars from shady junkyard dealers, and then have Lynda scratch out the old mileage numbers on the title, and type in new attractive mileage numbers. Other times, Louie would just buy the title of the wreck, and then steal identical cars off the streets.
Louie would then sell the car with the altered title on the streets for a fraction of its true value; making sure to impress upon the buyer if anything went wrong and the law caught wind of the scheme, the buyer was to forget Louie Milito ever existed. Louie always explained the last part of the deal to the buyer, with his normal mild-mannered voice. However, Louie left no doubt in the buyer’s mind that if the buyer decided to sing the wrong tune, he, or she would most likely wind up in the hospital, if not in the morgue.
One day, when Lynda was 17, she was typing a phony title in the basement of her mother’s house. She finished typing and Louie picked up the title to examine Lynda’s work.
Quite peeved, Louie screamed at Lynda, “Look what you did here! You got the mileage wrong. I’m gonna have to pay another hundred and fifty dollars for a new title!”
That said, Louie smacked the back of Lynda’s head so hard, she fell face-first onto the basement floor. Luckily, her new nose was not destroyed.
Lynda said, “I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t understand what had happened. Nobody had ever hit me before, and here I was, lying on the floor in her (mother’s) house with the right side of my head feeling like it had been squashed in a vice.”
Still, despite Louie’s Jekyll and Hyde personality Lynda was madly in love with him. According to Lynda, Louie, most of the time, was “gentle, warm, and quiet.” He was also “considerate, polite, and he paid great attention to whomever was speaking.”
In 1964, Lynda quit school and went to work as a receptionist at an employment agency near Times Square. Her relationship with her mother still stormy, she spent most of her time living with Louie at his parent’s house in Brooklyn. For the first three years they were together, Louie ostensibly worked at the LouArt Beauty Salon in Brooklyn. While Louie styled hair in the day, at night and on the weekends, he and his pals, including his boss, Bernie, at Lou/Art, were scoring more than the New York Yankees.
Besides his car-title scheme, Louie was peddling “swag (stolen)” goods; anything from baby clothes to men’s and woman’s clothing, toys and electronics, and the occasional hot fur coat, which either fell off a truck or was pilfered from a tony department store. Louie even sold stolen diamonds.
To protect his operations, Louie knew how to properly grease the cop’s palms in the Brooklyn police precincts. In addition to the law looking the other way while Louie sold stolen goods, certain law enforcement agents would sell Louie purloined goods of their own: usually fur coats the cops came across in their daily routines.
Soon, the happy couple got their own apartment in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. It was a tiny first-floor hovel. But it came with a garage, which Louie needed for his car rackets.
Soon, with the law getting wise to Louie’s car-title scams, Louie needed a new way to make a buck. He came up with the nickel-and-dime pay-phone scam, in which, to Lynda’s dismay, they both intimately became involved.