By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The Mickey Mouse Mafia’s alleged shenanigans weren’t limited to the Mustang Club: Between late 1986 and early 1988, it seemed as though every cocaine dealer in Newport Beach was being ripped off by a trio of Samoan mob enforcers led by Johnny Matua, a 400-pound bodyguard for Newport Beach restaurateur and businessman Robert “Fat Bobby” Paduano. Between August 1987 and March 1988, DA prosecutor Wallace Wade probed the robberies—none of which had been reported to police—and put a string of witnesses on the stand before a grand jury in an attempt to implicate Paduano in the crimes.
Each of the robbery victims, all of whom unconvincingly claimed they had nothing to do with the coke business, alleged that Matua had shown up at their front door carrying flowers, only to pull out a gun, steal whatever cash was lying around, and then leave with a demand they either work for Paduano or get out of Newport Beach. One of the last witnesses to take the stand was George Yudzevich, a former Mustang bouncer who had recently turned state’s evidence against the mafia in a federal case in New York. He repeatedly attempted to plead the Fifth but then reluctantly answered several questions.
On March 16 of that year, someone shot Yudzevich to death at a business park in Irvine. Both Paduano and Matua were convicted of the robberies and sent to prison for several years. During the Paduano probe, Wade asked witnesses about rumors that Paduano wanted to take over Avila’s restaurant business, but he failed to elicit any useful information. “Whenever we had an organized-crime investigation, we always tried to use it to go into these unsolved murders,” Wade says. “But we never arrested anyone or had a strong lead on that case.”
Did Joe Avila—like Casino, Carroll and Yudzevich—somehow earn the wrath of the Mickey Mouse Mafia? One former Newport Beach cocaine dealer who asked not to be identified finds the fact that a motorcycle was left at the scene of the crime suspicious. “If it was the boys from down south who did this, they would have taken the bike with them,” the source said. He believes the murderers wanted both the police and Avila’s family to believe it was the work of Colombians. “They were trying to send a message that this was done by folks down south, but I think it goes to Vegas,” he said. “One time, a guy boasted to me that [the murder] was his people, and his people were from Vegas.”
But if Avila were on the Mickey Mouse Mafia’s shit list, Dino Sigliuzzo would have known about it. At the time of Avila’s murder, Sigliuzzo had the responsibility of maintaining discipline and resolving mafia grievances in Orange County. In a recent interview with the Weekly, Sigliuzzo said he knew that Avila had been threatened and possibly owed someone money he couldn’t repay. At the time of his murder, Sigliuzzo says, he was hoping to convince Avila to allow him to operate a vending-machine business in tandem with Avila’s restaurants. So when Sigliuzzo’s friend Paduano told him Avila had been threatened, he readily agreed to meet with Avila to ask him if he needed some protection.
“I was with Joey the day before he got shot,” he recalls. “He had a lot of people pissed-off. We drank and sat and bullshitted, but we never had any kind of discussion. In those days, everyone was wired, so neither of us was about to initiate anything. I tried to see what was his concern, but I had a lot on my plate, and I wound up going to New York the next day, and when I got back, all was said and done.” Sigliuzzo says that as far as he knows, Avila was on good terms with the mob, and therefore his murder had to involve a dispute with the Colombians, presumably over cocaine—“either coke or Pepsi,” he joked.
Not long after Avila’s murder, Wade hauled Sigliuzzo before the grand jury to ask him about his role in the recent robberies. Wade seemed especially eager to have Sigliuzzo implicate Paduano. “Do you know this guy Bobby?” Wade asked. “What’s your relationship with him?”
Sigliuzzo recalls thinking the question over carefully. “Platonic,” he finally said. “It was all downhill from there. I said, ‘If you have something against me, charge me.’ Nobody would testify against me, which was good, but it became a problem because the cops wanted to know why nobody would testify against me.”
Sigliuzzo was never charged with any crime relating to the Mickey Mouse Mafia. “Everyone says I was a mob enforcer, but that’s never been proven,” he adds. He believes the mob was scapegoated by the police, who had no idea who Orange County’s true arch-criminals really were. Those individuals, he explains, always stay behind the scenes, and their names will never show up in any criminal indictment, much less a newspaper article.
“What was happening on the street back then you can’t all blame on the Italians,” he adds. “You had a bunch of undisciplined rogue idiots running through the streets.” Avila’s murder was just one example of that rogue element in the 1980s, Sigliuzzo concludes. “If I’d have known Joey was in a jam or his life was being threatened, I would have stepped up to the plate. If he needed a couple of gorillas around, that was my thing.”