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Capo’s life imitates art: Mob boss sees a shrink, a la ‘Sopranos’


April 23, 2001

Joseph (Joey Flowers) Tangorra is coping with the pressures and setbacks of life in the mob the same way as America’s best-known fictitious gangster.

He’s seeing a shrink.

And to say Tangorra has had a run of bad luck would be no small understatement.

He was accidentally shot in the back by his pal in 1992 and still suffers from a variety of ailments stemming from that botched hit against an errant debtor.

Last year, federal and state authorities hit him separately with loansharking and racketeering charges.

And recently, fellow mobsters were whispering that he had turned informant.


Tangorra, 51, hasn’t been talking to the FBI or federal prosecutors. He’s been talking to himself, prison psychiatrists and other doctors about panic attacks and a severe case of depression, according to court records, law enforcement and underworld sources.

This month, after a circuitous trip through a prison transfer station in Oklahoma City, the captain in the Luchese mob was transported to a federal prison hospital in Devens, Mass., for psychiatric evaluation, said another Tangorra attorney, Larry Bronson.

“He’s a shrunken man,” said a source who saw him three weeks ago.

“He’s lost about 65 pounds,” said another.

Joey Flowers began behaving like HBO’S New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano – whose panic attacks and visits to his psychiatrist are a regular feature of the hit television show – almost a year ago.

In May, he was spotted a block away from his Brooklyn home ranting and raving and waving a copy of the federal loansharking indictment.

“He was carrying on like a punk kid, not like a made guy, certainly not the way a capo should conduct himself over a shylocking case,” said one source.

In September, Tangorra was squeezed a bit more by the state racketeering charges.

Then in November, he was charged with federal racketeering and murder charges and held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

By early this year, Tangorra was a physical and emotional wreck.

On Jan. 19, after his lawyers complained about his deteriorating medical condition, Tangorra was taken to a local hospital, which recommended a transfer to a prison hospital.

A week later, deputy U.S. marshals removed him to the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where he remained until Feb. 14. After a few days in the nearby Westchester Country jail, Tangorra was returned to the Metropolitan Detention Center.

“You’re a rat,” taunted one inmate after another. Eventually, a fight broke out.

Tangorra and an antagonist were placed in isolation. Sources said the capo was too terrified to seek a return to general population.

Making matters worse for Tangorra’s psyche is the fact that Lester Ellis, the Luchese associated who inadvertently shot him, is now cooperating against him.

But Brooklyn federal prosecutors William Gurin and Trish McNeill are not convinced that Tangorra needs psychiatric help. They say he has reason to be depressed over the possibility of life in prison.

Brooklyn Federal Judge Allyne Ross disagreed. After examining Tangorra’s medical records, she ordered a full psychiatric examination for him.

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