Allies say Rizzo was not thrilled with son-in-law's gambling career

Posted: August 10, 2012

Joseph "Joe Vito" Mastronardo's high-end sports-betting business - which authorities allege generated millions of dollars in income over the last three decades - provided a comfortable life for his wife, Joanna, and his son, Joseph F. "Joey" Mastronardo.

But Mastronardo's career as a "gentleman gambler" never earned him any points with his father-in-law, the late Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank L. Rizzo.

Those who knew Rizzo could only wonder how the law-and-order mayor would have reacted Wednesday to news that his daughter and only grandchild had been led into court in handcuffs to face federal charges tied to Mastronardo's gambling operation.

Proud of his daughter

Lawyer Martin Weinberg, the closest adviser to Rizzo for 20 years, said Rizzo was "not real happy" about his daughter's marriage but generally kept his feelings to himself.

"That's all I can say. I never went deeper than that with him," said Weinberg. "He was very proud of his daughter. She was a graduate of, I think, Chestnut Hill College, a schoolteacher, and he had high aspirations for her. But he kept his feelings" about Mastronardo's gambling to himself.

Former City Councilman Frank Rizzo, Joanna Mastronardo's brother, could not be reached for comment.

Joe Vito Mastronardo's gambling did create a problem once for mayoral candidate Rizzo.

City and state police had raided the Mastronardos' home in Huntingdon Valley after William J. Green succeeded Rizzo as mayor. But the first sustained coverage of Mastronardo's line of work came in April 1983, while Rizzo was running against W. Wilson Goode for the Democratic mayoral nomination.

On April 19, an hour before Rizzo and Goode were to debate on live television, city police arrested Mastronardo on gambling charges.

"I was already at the debate when somebody came up and whispered in my ear that he had been arrested," Weinberg said. "The guy was going to go tell Frank, but I told him, 'Don't say anything. I'll tell him after the debate.' They had tried to time it. . . . I kept it from him until afterward, and he was furious. . . . It wasn't the greatest night of my life."

Political rivals

Rizzo publicly blamed Police Commissioner Morton B. Solomon but told reporters it was inconceivable that Solomon had not cleared the arrest with Green. Rizzo compared it to "the KGB in Russia and Poland."

Rizzo implied that political rivals were using his son-in-law to smear him. He stopped short of commenting on his son-in-law's actions.

Another close Rizzo associate said she never heard the mayor "utter a bad word" about Joe Vito Mastronardo.

Jody Della Barba, Rizzo's secretary after he left the mayor's office, said, "His daughter was the love of his life, and Joe was her husband. He never said anything negative about Joe."

Through the mayor, she said, she got to know both Joanna and Joe Vito Mastronardo. "They're wonderful people, two of the kindest people I ever met in my life," Della Barba said. "They always treated me with respect and kindness. I can't say anything bad about them."


Contact George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.

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