WEST PALM BEACH — Former West Palm Beach mafia boss Joseph “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi quietly died in a Texas veterans’ hospital.
His lost battle with bone cancer ended a colorful life that reads like a Mario Puzo novel.
Iannuzzi, himself the author of several books on the mob, was a reformed Gambino and Colombo crime families soldier from Port Chester, New York, who came to West Palm Beach in the 1960s for its year-round greyhound action. His love for dog racing earned him his nickname.
But the man who, as a child, made the collections rounds with his bookmaker dad became more famous in these parts for his cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Under the watchful eyes of G-men in the early 1980s, Iannuzzi set up a phony gambling nightclub on Singer Island. It was a trap that eventually ensnared corrupt then-Riviera Beach Police Chief Boone Darden.
Married three times, Iannuzzi is survived by seven children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
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When he first arrived in West Palm Beach in 1967 after years of hustling for his Mafia bosses on the streets of New York City, Iannuzzi tried a legit job.
He worked as a drywall installer. Within months, he renewed contacts with old acquaintances and, within years, Iannuzzi was running all of the Gambinos’ illegal activities from West Palm to The Keys.
Iannuzzi oversaw numbers and sports bets, extortion, trade union racketeering and crews of petty robbers. That’s when he wasn’t rigging horse races at Miami tracks.
In time, Iannuzzi found out he was under FBI surveillance and fled to Chicago.
But he was forced to return to South Florida when the Gambinos figured out he skipped town with $22,000!
Upon his reappearance in Palm Beach County in 1981, Iannuzzi was beaten nearly to death by fellow Gambinos in a Singer Island pizza restaurant.
That’s when he decided to side with the feds, who then hatched Operation Home Run.
In 1982, Iannuzzi set up the phony Singer Island club for a 15-month sting operation.
Crime bosses, politicians, Riviera Beach officials and deputies with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office were his clients. And the club was wired for sound and video. In time, 10 people were convicted on bribery and racketeering charges.
Among them was Darden, then-chief of police in Riviera Beach. He served a prison term for offering Iannuzzi protection for the business in exchange for thousands of dollars.
Joe Dogs was sent into witness protection, where he remained for the next 20 years.
He found time to write books.
In 1995, Iannuzzi published the popular Joe Dogs: The Life And Times of a Mobster and The Mafia Cookbook.
Check out Iannuzzi talking about his life in the mob in this footage from the 1970s: