The Illusionist

By 1994 Ponzo was moving in on the tributes that were supposed to be paid to Salemme himself. According to court testimony from an FBI informant, Ponzo told Joseph Cirame, a reputed bookie who owned an Everett sports bar, that from now on the envelopes Cirame had been giving to Salemme were to go to him instead. In September 1994 Ponzo headed out to Everett to collect from Cirame and brought along Michael Romano Jr. and a third associate. Romano Jr. was the son of Michael P. Romano, a higher-up, the government would later claim, in the rogue mob faction. As the three set out to collect from the bookie, their car got a flat. Romano Jr. began fixing it. The other associate left to grab some food. Ponzo said he had to make a call and walked off. As Romano Jr. changed the tire, a van pulled up, and he was shot in the head.

In his grief, Romano Sr. grew suspicious. Why hadn’t Ponzo fixed the tire? It was his car. And why had Ponzo, who had a cell phone, left the scene to make his call? Had Ponzo flipped and ordered the hit?

A couple of weeks later Ponzo met with Portalla and a few other guys at the Northgate mall in Revere, according to subsequent trial testimony from an FBI informant. Romano Sr. had asked to talk to Ponzo, but was late to the meeting. The longer Ponzo waited, the more anxious he became — until he couldn’t take it and left, saying that if Romano doubted his allegiance, then he’d go, right now, and kill someone loyal to Salemme. The message was relayed to Romano Sr., but he wasn’t pacified.  

Ponzo now had reason to fear his own faction, and also had plenty to worry about from Salemme’s crew. Then in December, the state police filed drug charges against him and Portalla.

Right about then, Enrico Ponzo disappeared.

IT’S BEEN SIX WEEKS since the feds arrested Ponzo, and I’m approaching Marsing, Idaho, from the hills of Highway 55. The town, 35 miles east of Boise, is green, a fertile valley that supports everything from vineyards to apples to wild speculation about its most infamous former resident.

With just under 1,000 people, Marsing is small enough for everyone to have an opinion about Ponzo — and they all do. But nobody’s life has been transformed the way Kelly Verceles’s has. Ponzo called Verceles after the arrest and asked him to move into his place, to pay the property taxes and sort through his personal effects.

One evening I pull up the gravel driveway, past the open cattle gate, and park next to the green Dodge Ram that Jay Shaw used to drive around town. Other cars and trucks in varying states of decrepitude circle the driveway. A black dog barks just outside my door.


Listen to Paul Kix as he talks about his experiences researching Enrico Ponzo and reveals snippets of his interviews from his Idaho visit. 

  • Idella Tanna

    This is one of the best posts I have seen on this topic. Let me know if you do any further related posts and I’ll come check them out!