He dropped out of high school on the first day of his freshman year, after attending Italian (the one class he figured he could pass) and lunch. He's a little fuzzy on history (he refers to General George Custer as "that prick they killed at Little Big Horn"), and he never reads newspapers, except to check daily racetrack tips. But there's one subject that he can talk about with authority: New York's organized-crime world.
The 57-year-old Perri spent nearly four decades as a member of the Colombo crime family, going from one racket to another, making tons of money, blowing it just as fast, and casually, as he says, "making people disappear" whenever the situation demanded. His only steady occupation was "knocking around": a combination of gambling, "swagging" (stealing goods from the airport), and loan-sharking, which he calls "Shylock" work.
When he was growing up, the wiseguys nicknamed Perri "The Head," because his head was overly large for his stubby frame. These days, he looks like a gray-haired version of Joe Pesci's character in the movie GoodFellas, with voice and potty-mouth vocabulary to match. Like Pesci's character, he can actually make "Ya prick, ya" sound like a term of endearment.
Perri has little respect for most Mob-related films, but he likes GoodFellas. He proudly points out that many of its settings were based on real locales near his Queens neighborhood of Ozone Park. He also claims that he knew practically every person portrayed in the film.
There's one thing about the movie that bothers him, though. Near the end, mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill is shown stepping out of his house to pick up the morning papers. He has the paranoid look of someone who never knows when the next bullet might be heading his way; someone who feels utterly alone.
Perri knows that feeling. He's been hiding from the Mob for the past seven years, ever since he set up four reputed Mafia associates in a money-laundering sting operation and helped the FBI confiscate a 97-acre horse farm in Old Westbury, New York. What he objects to is GoodFellas' depiction of Hill living in a nice house, in an affluent neighborhood. Perri thinks the scene conveys the impression that the Witness Protection Program provides you with a life of luxury.
To hear Perri tell it, the Witness Protection Program is a big crock, a bunch of empty promises from the feds that they'll set you up with a new life, a new identity and a lush existence. He likes to say that when he entered the Witness Protection Program, he got "$1,000 and a kick in the ass."
Perri says two FBI agents convinced him to help in the 1992 sting by promising him 25 percent of the horse farm, a piece of property that was later sold for $5.6 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. He contends that he put himself in extreme physical danger for what he thought would be the payday of his life, and the government screwed him, just like the backstabbing Mob weasels he'd grown so fed up with over the years.
So, in 1993, Perri dropped out of the Witness Protection Program, went to the lawyers of the indicted crime-family members and offered to sign an affidavit saying that the FBI had entrapped them. His former friends let him stay in New York for a year, until their trial ended when they agreed to plea bargains.
Perri uses a different name in the Valley. But he wanted his real name used for this story to protect his local identity. He says he decided to tell New Times the story of what he thinks of as his betrayal by the federal government because he's filed suit against the FBI and is frustrated at the slowness of the legal system.
Much of his tale about being an FBI informant is contained in a thick legal volume on file in a Washington, D.C., federal court. The FBI has disputed very little of it. FBI agents named in the case, who Perri says promised him wealth in exchange for his help, refused to talk to New Times about Perri. Two federal officials, one from the FBI and one from the Justice Department, spoke only on the condition that their names not be used.
But much of what Perri talked about was his life as a mobster, a wiseguy on the streets of New York and later Las Vegas. And how he came to be desperate enough to seek help from federal agents.
It's a story filled with Perri's confessions of corruption and violence. Many of his tales, particularly of his years with the Colombo crime family, could not be independently verified.