The Kings of Cats

Posted by: datkins in Dominick, Pete 1 Comment »

As the state proposes tougher jail time for house break-ins, we talk to Pete Salerno and Dominick Latella, the kings of the cat burglars

By Chandra Niles Folsom, Hartford Advocate, CT

Cat burglars have long been revered in criminal circles as the thinking man’s thieves — relying on brains to loot from the über rich. In law enforcement circles, Pete Salerno and Dominick Latella are regarded as the gold standard for cat burglars — finally getting nabbed on a frosty January night in 1992, after completing a successful 30-year string of scores that netted them somewhere around $150 million in cash and jewelry.

They were dubbed the Dinnerset Gang by cops, for their signature style of robbing mansions of the family jewels stashed upstairs, while well-heeled residents sipped merlot and dined on three-course meals, downstairs.

But Pete and Dom were more than just partners in crime. They married Gloria and Sandra Savino — twin sisters from a New York mob family.

There have been lots of recent reports of cat burglars who claim to trace their origins back to the Dinnerset Gang, from Alan Golder — the Dinnertime Bandit — recently caught on the run in Europe, to Walter Shaw — the media darling who calls himself the leader of the gang. In reality, the hyperbolic musings of copycats prompted Pete and Dom to come forward with the facts, and those facts convinced film producer Dick Atkins to take their story to the big screen.

It all began years earlier, when the two burglars’ paths crossed on the Redneck Riviera. There, in the balmy breezes of the Florida coastline, Pete — a streetwise native of Yonkers — was hard at work pulling lucrative heists for the mob when he met Dom, a working musician and sometime ballplayer from Harrison who had once tried out with the New York Yankees.

Pete had been schooled on the finer points of cat burglary by a former Army ranger-turned-underworld figure, but required a collaborator. After Dom hooked up with sister-in-law Sandra, the two began their partnership in crime.

“Pete had good instincts and Dom was good at planning,” said Atkins. “They knew if they were going to be successful, they had to be careful. If anything about the situation didn’t smell quite right, they dropped everything and walked away.”

They researched their jobs at local libraries, getting leads from Forbes magazine and Who’s Who in America.

Dom’s job was to hide outside in the bushes, watching the dining room to make sure nobody left the table.

“They never expected anybody to be around while they were having dinner,” said Dom, now living a quiet life in the Fort Lauderdale area. “But, if I saw anyone get up, I’d alert Pete by whistling and we’d take off.”

Meanwhile, Pete — short in height but built like a brick house — would scale the second story, slipping in through windows, undetected.

“I’d spend three minutes inside — that’s it,” said Pete, who is currently serving time in a Miami prison, on unrelated charges. “A lot of times they wouldn’t even know anything was gone until the next day.”

They boosted loot from some of the nation’s wealthiest dynasties. Their biggest score — valued at $12 million — was during the 1970s at a DuPont rental property on Juno Beach, Fla., where Pete found a leather case tucked away in a linen closet containing, among other items, a 17.65-caret flawless pink diamond worth, at the time, $1.8 million.

The Dinnerset Gang hit Fairfield, Westchester and Marion County, Penn. during summer months and flew south like snowbirds in the winter, following the rich to their vacation homes.

“We loved Fairfield County,” said Pete. “We wanted only the biggest and the best so we picked our targets.”

A life of crime definitely had its perks — they drove expensive cars and wore $500 suits. Their wives kept cash in envelopes — spending lavishly on whatever caught their eyes.

But, local Detectives Jimmy Hirsh and Billy Adams knew exactly who they were and spent 20 years on their tail.

They had enough cash stashed away to go into retirement until the end of the 1980s when Gloria was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“In our business we don’t have health insurance so in order to pay the doctor bills we headed back east looking for quick hits,” said Dom.

Still needing more money, they decided to return to a place they knew well — Fairfield County. There, they went on a rampage. “I wasn’t gonna let her [Gloria] die for lack of money, and that money saved her life,” said Pete.

That was when the cops made their move.

“During the 1992 season, we heard about a series of burglaries that fit the same MO as the Dinnerset Gang, so we knew they were back in the area,” said retired Greenwich Detective Hirsh. “Me and my partner put out an APB to all the precincts in Fairfield and WestCops were able to trace their telephone calls and then discovered who was driving the getaway car.

“They hired a new driver — Louie Cardillo, who suggested Clapboard Hill Road, in Westport, as a good place to rob even though the homes weren’t mansions,” said Atkins.

“Pete went up on the ledge and made an entry through the bedroom, and all of a sudden I saw the woman get up and I knew she heard something,” said Dom. “She called 911.”

Louie, the driver, had parked nearby, noticed the patrol cars arriving and drove away.

Pete and Dom could hear the barking of dogs closing in on them and finally decided to just sit back and wait for their fate.

“It was cold — there was snow on the ground and we were in a box,” said Dom. “I looked at Pete and said ‘this is it.’ So we sat with our backs against a tree until the dogs came.”

The Dinnerset Gang was certainly in a league of its own, but when their luck ran out in early 1992, they were forced to trade in their Armani suits for prison jumpsuits. After making a deal with the authorities, Pete served four years in prison. Dom, who wouldn’t deal, served nine.

Last week, the state legislature approved a bill that would make home invasion a new crime, and raise the prison sentences for burglary, particularly when there are people in the house, all in the wake of a break-in in Cheshire that left three family members dead.

“Prison was horrible,” said Dom. “I hated being away from my family. If I’ve scarred anyone by making them feel violated, I’m sorry. We weren’t there to hurt anybody.”

And nobody ever was hurt. Unlike most copycats, the Dinnerset Gang avoided confrontation. They never carried weapons and would flee the scene if anyone appeared. Would they do it all again if they had the chance?

“I would have stopped before the 1980s,” said Dom. “We could have just taken the money and been gone.”

Not Pete — who gets out of prison next December.

“I don’t regret it — I loved the life, the excitement,” he said. “I’m the best and this is what I did.”

Copycats II: Dinnertime Bandit

Posted by: Pete Salerno in Pete 10 Comments »

I hear they just brought back Alan Golder – the guy they were calling the Dinnertime Bandit. Guess where they got that name from. Let me tell you how he found out about me & Don when he was a kid, and was sent out to copy us. Don told some of this to the newspapers last year when Golder was caught.

When we were the biggest in the early 70’s, everybody wanted a piece, and Figgy, one of the mob guys we knew through the family, was always puttin’ pressure. So every once in a while instead of our regular fences, we’d give his guys – Alex, a Russian who survived the concentration camps, and his son – a little something. The last package we gave Alex was in ’75, from an actress who was giving a party in Greenwich. Just before me and Don split up for a while.

So Figgy and Alex need somebody else, so they tell this kid Golder in ’76 – I hear he was like 21 – that he had to copy us, that’s how we made the money. I hear this later from the FBI, who wanted to prove a RICO case against Figgy and Alex. They did it to – Figgy and Alex both took a plea later and got 10 years each.

Golder made the mistake of bringin’ guys with guns to that house on Long Island in ’78, and the owner gets killed. They told me Golder took a 6-carat ring right off the wife’s finger – that’s when the husband went and got a shotgun and they shot him instead. Golder brought other guys in the house with him, which you can’t ever do – you have to make sure you always know where everybody is. Yeah, you can’t ever allow weapons, never confront people. Rather walk away with nothin’ than hurt anybody.

Even in our last thing in ’92, the minute we knew the woman heard something, we left. She never saw us, I didn’t take a thing. That’s the way it had to be.

Days of Gold

Posted by: Dominick Latella in Dominick 7 Comments »

A funny thing happened yesterday. My son wrote me an e-mail and showed me where the Palm Beach Post posted an article talking about Pete and myself in reference to a recent bunch of burglaries that were taking place inland around Boyton Beach while most of the people were either out or away. After reading, I could not see where there was the same type of burglary being done. This wasn’t how we did it, but none of the people who tried to copy us ever could.All I could think of was Gold, because the price of gold is going crazy again. The last time the price was so high was in 1980 around the time we did a big one in Minnesota and someone else in St. Charles, Ill. We took apart everything, including rings and it weighed 12 ounces and then we melted it into a bar. We separated 14k-18k and platinum. I recall that being a lot of fun.

In our biggest days in the early 70’s, you couldn’t buy and sell gold bars. It was illegal – I know it’s funny for me to say that – but you couldn’t get much of anything for it. So the necklaces and bracelets and broaches were just the throwaway stuff for us, compared to the big jewelry. We’d sell it for practically nothing to a gold place in Florida.

I just have to say this one time, that if we would have continued to do the same thing and stay out of the snow in the 90’s, when we went back to work and got a little careless, we probably would not be talking about this now. We were getting a ton of the gold necklaces and stuff, and if we melted it down and held onto it, damn what that old “throwaway stuff” would be worth now. Anyway, I get goose bumps when I see the price of gold. Its a shame that if anyone should read this article, they will never share the thrill I received during the Days of Gold.

Copycats

Posted by: Pete Salerno in Pete 2 Comments »

“I’m not a burglar,” I’d tell the cops who’d come to me, and they’d look at me like I’m crazy. “I’m one of the only international cat burglars alive today.” Then there’s these copycat burglars. Even while I’m locked up, I hear there’s articles in the paper in Palm Beach about thieves taking jewelry who remind the cops of The Dinner Set Gang – me and Don. But they’re nothin’ like us. All these copycats never were – they weren’t patient, go to empty houses, or jerks brought guns if people were there. They didn’t know how to do it – have the skill or guts to do it right. There’s one big reason for that – I never taught nobody, other than Don. Don and I kept it in the family – safer that way.

For years after we were done, local cops would come to us whenever there was a burglary and say “we think it was you guys.” I would ask ’em, “was it a giant mansion that was hit?” They say no. I ask, “was over a million dollars taken?” They say no. So I tell ’em, “When it is, then you come talk to me. ‘Cause it wasn’t us.” I’d tell ’em they were dealing with amateurs, bumbling idiots.

The FBI’s been tracking us for more than 26 years. One of our main FBI guys, from the time we disappeared for a while, would tell the local cops, “We took them out of circulation. If I let them loose, there wouldn’t be a diamond left in Palm Beach.”

We did come back when we had to. And there were guys from in the family and outside who heard stories, thought they could copy us. Forget it. Copycats, amateurs. Interesting the cops still compare people to us, but if we ever came back, they’d know it… maybe they wouldn’t.

Welcome

Posted by: datkins in Uncategorized 2 Comments »

Welcome to the blog site of the Dinner Set Gang, the most innovative and successful jewel thief team ever in America. Because of the enthusiastic response after Pete and Dominick agreed to appear on 60 Minutes with their story, and continuing articles in the press that refer back to their incredible exploits, the guys are willing to share some of their thoughts and memories more directly through a blog. While Dominick is free now, on parole for a bit longer, Pete is still incarcerated on a separate charge, so we can pass along and post his thoughts here for him. That should be unique – both voices, from inside and out.

So check back periodically for posts from Pete and Dominick (who’s called “Don” by Pete and the family) and feel free to comment if you like. They’ll hear about it.