Joe Bruno on the Mob – Lynda Milito- Part 2
As Lynda related in Mafia Wife, it started when Louie came home one night with a pay phone that looked like it had been ripped right from a public wall. He also had several paint-by-the-numbers sets, which he handed to Lynda as a present, instead of flowers
Louie told Lynda, “This is your new hobby.”
The public pay phones had a little door, with a cover containing a lock, where the coins fall after someone makes the contribution required to make a phone call. The trick is to pick the locks on these black boxes, as quickly as possible, with a lookout/accomplice watching for the law, and then pocket the small change, which quickly adds up to big dollars.
When Louie told Lynda the setup, she told him, “This is illegal!”
However, Louie Milito had an answer to justify anything.
He blurted out, “It’s white-collar crime. It’s not stealing; it’s manipulating money out of people. If the telephone company doesn’t want people taking the change, why are they putting it out there?”
In order to pick the pay-phone cover-plate locks, hard steel picks were needed; unlike anything that could be bought over the counter.
No problem for Louie Mileto, who was handy with his hands.
Louie bought loads of Allen wrenches, and he spent nearly three months, using blowtorches, metal files, and vices, to create his own set of super-duper pay-phone cover-plate lock picks.
Now, having the proper tools, Louie was ready to spend countless hours at home, picking dozens of covers-plate locks he had somehow accumulated. While Louie was involved in his delicate maneuvers, the house had to be completed quiet – no television, no radio, no sounds of any kind. This is where the paint-by-the-numbers sets Louie had bought for Lynda came into play. Painting is relatively quiet, and Louie needed complete silence to perfect his work.
After a few months of Louie picking and Lynda painting, Lynda told Louie she was tired of painting. So, he bought her two parakeets (non-talking – of course) to keep her busy while he toiled away at his increasing lock-picking skills.
Finally, after three months of agony, Louie was ready and able to take his show on the road. However, he needed an accomplice to watch his back while he stole the coins from every pay phone he could get his hands on. That accomplice, although she didn’t know it at the time,
One day, after a hard day at work, Lynda came home to Louie, now manic with anticipation
On the table in front of him were several cover-plate locks. As Lynda watched with amazement, Louie picked each one of them as simple as hitting the side of a barn with a baseball bat.
After he finished lock-picking, Louie told Lynda, “Keep your coat on; you’re coming with me. I need you to watch out while I pick these phones.”
Lynda told Louie to go fly a kite, or something similar, but Louie would have none of that.
“I don’t want to hear that shit,” he told her. “Either you come with me or you can get the fuck out of here right now.”
The first night robbing pay phones was a cinch. In those days, most pay phones were located in phone booths with folding doors. If you closed the door all the way, a light went on. However, Louie was so brilliant at picking the locks, he kept the door half-closed, and bent over as he worked in the dark.
Lynda stood behind Louie, blocking anyone’s view. If someone got too close and looked like they wanted to use the pay phone, Lynda would blurt out, “We gotta go!”
Louie would drop what he was doing and they would both hurry away.
His operation was so lucrative; Louie was bringing home an average of a dozen pay-phone, coin boxes on every trip. And each trip netted him an average of a thousand bucks in coins, tax free.
In addition to being the lookout, Lynda also had the job of counting out and stuffing the coins into bank issued wrappers: blue wrappers for nickels, green for dimes, and orange for quarters.
The next and most important part of the scheme was to get rid of the change, which Louie had stashed throughout the house; in closets, inside refrigerators, and in any type of furniture he could stuff coins.
Louie knew a couple of neighborhood guys who worked at banks. For a cut of the pie, these bank geeks would take the coins from Louie and give him crisp new bills. Louie also visited the neighborhood businesses; owned by people he could trust. Whether it was the owners of candy stores, grocery stores, car washes, diners, or Laundromats, these pals of Louie would take the coins and give Louie the major percentage in bills. Louie was smart enough to deal only with people he knew, and who knew Louie’s reputation for violence.
Louie had a nose for a fast buck and he knew that a small percentage of his stolen coins were collector items. That led Louie to buying coin catalogues and coin collection books. And before Louie let a gem-of-a-coin go at face value, he’d pluck the beauty from his piles of change, put them in the appropriate coin book, and then sell the completed coins books for a nice price. For months, Louie obsessed over finding a three-legged buffalo nickel, but, alas, it was not meant to be.
With the pounds of coins magically transformed into stacks of bills, Louie needed several places to stash the paper cash. Besides, stuffing bills all over their small apartment, Louie hid a tidy sum in a large brown suitcase in his mother’s attic. That way if Louie’s apartment got raided, he still had a nice bundle waiting for him to tide him over through a rough stretch.
Of course, Louie had intentions of making his way into the upper echelons of the Gambino Crime Family, led by Carlo Gambino, who Louie affectionately called “The Nose.” To do so, you have to start at the bottom, and Louie did so by kicking up a nice percentage of his illegal setups right up the Gambino ladder until it reached “The Nose” himself.
Unfortunately, doing this kind of dirty work led to stints in the can, which ironically further endeared Louie to the Gambinos. In this line of work, doing prison stretches was akin to working on your Master’s Degree on Mobdom. As to be expected, Louie was pinched twice for possession of burglary tools, and he did two stretches in Rikers Island.
Louie did these stints standing on his head, and after he was released from prison, he was moved up a notch in the Gambino pecking order. Louie Milito was far from a made man, but with diligence and hard work (whacking whomever the bosses said needed to be whacked), that would come later.