Due to the recent cutbacks in government funding, the Department of Justice revealed that it must reduce WITSEC (The Federal Witness Protection Program), most notably by disbanding the New York Islanders.
Established under the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, WITSEC empowered the U.S. Attorney General to provide for the relocation and protection of a witness concerning organized crime or other serious offenses. Given the lack of understanding of, or interest in, hockey by Americans, the Justice Department created the New York Islanders for the 1972-1973 NHL season and placed key mafia witnesses on the team roster.
In exchange for testimony against the Gambino family, the Islanders selected “Denis Potvin” (formerly known as Salvatore “Tommy Gun” Cardinali) as the first pick in the 1973 draft. As the crackdown against Las Vegas mob families increased, the Long Island based hockey team became a haven for key witnesses to lead a normal life and play to the empty seats of Nassau Coliseum.
The WITSEC suffered a setback during the early 1980s when the Islanders won the Stanley Cup four consecutive years, a feat that was noticed by three New Yorkers and singer Bryan Adams. Realizing this placed WITSEC and its informants at risk, then-Attorney General William French Smith assigned two Cardoza family informants new names of “Wayne Gretzky” and “Mark Messier” and placed them in the Edmonton branch of the program.
Despite today’s dissolution of the Islanders, Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed his commitment to mob informants and witnesses and stated that they will now be placed under the care of the WNBA New York Liberty.
By Young Kim