Rising of The Matriarch

The everyday lives of the women of Costra Nostra, the American Sicilian mafia, are taking the media spotlight via the popular reality television show, “Mob Wives” now airing in its fourth season. The once hidden lives of the wives, girlfriends, daughters and lovers of notable mobsters are boldly portrayed on-screen with a focus on the women's issues and not on the secrets of organized crime.

“This show is not about the guys,” Jennifer Graziano explains. “It is about the women – about their everyday lives and how it (the mob) affects them. We don’t give away anybody’s secret. We don’t know anybody’s secret and we don’t talk about anything that is not already talked about elsewhere in the media.”

Graziano is the creator and executive producer of the VH1 program now airing under the slightly altered title, “Mob Wives: New Blood.” It details the lives of several Staten Island women after either their husbands or fathers were found guilty and incarcerated for mob-related crimes. The show could potentially be subtitled, “Housewives Whose Husbands Happen to Have Criminal Jobs,” as its focus isn’t on the crime, but aims to document instead the struggle these women face to potentially sever the mob ties and care for their children without the men in their lives. Cat fights, arguments and heightened emotional drama characterize the show as its lead characters navigate the complexities of their relationships with one another.

As the daughter of Anthony Graziano, Jennifer certainly had plenty of fodder from which to script the show. Her father, a former captain in the Bonanno crime family, did five years for tax evasion, was indicted on two counts of murder as well as conspiracy charges, racketeering, bookmaking, illegal gambling and investment fraud. In 2003, he was sentenced to 11 years but was released in 2011 for reasons of compassion stemming from diabetes and bladder cancer coupled with the fact that federal rules permit 15 percent credit for good behavior once an inmate has served 85 percent of their originally sentenced time. Less than a year later, he was indicted on federal racketeering and extortion charges, found guilty and sentenced to 19 months in April 2012, but released to a halfway house in September 2013. The earlier incidents characterized her childhood and Graziano was in the fourth grade when she realized that her father might not have such a “normal” job. Still, she was a good student in high school, went to college, started a career and watched as her mother, Veronica, held the family together.

When Bravo TV hit pay dirt with its “Real Housewives” series, Graziano – working for Sony at that time, promoting artists and writing lyrics – realized that her own scripts in development had potential.

“I realized that I can do this. I have the material,” she said.

The show’s characters are a genealogical “Who was Who” in the East Coast mafia. Graziano's sister, Renee, has been on all four seasons and is involved in the fifth season, currently taping. She is the ex-wife of Hector Pagan, Jr., who ran a marijuana distribution ring, and in season two wore a wire gathering evidence against his former wife’s family. Another cast member, Drita D'Avanzo, is the wife of Lee D'Avanzo, who has ties to both the Bonanno and Colombo crime families, and spent the show’s first season in prison for bank robbery. In the second season, Angela “Big Ang” Raiola joined the cast. She runs a Staten Island bar and is the niece of Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, a deceased captain of the Genovese crime family. In season four, Natalie Guercio – the granddaughter of Nunzio Carto – joined the show.

Graziano’s close childhood friend, Karen Gravano, was a leading cast member in the first three seasons. Gravano is the daughter of Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, a former underboss of the Gambino crime family and a federal informant. Due to a breached contract during season four and a failed bid for more compensation for , Gravano was cut from the show.
That was tough on Graziano.

“I do miss working with Karen. She was a big part of the show,” Graziano said of her friend, with whom she remains in close contact. “But it is business and it is very hard to mix friendship with business. I am glad Karen was able to separate the two and understand what happened was business – and some things were beyond my control.”

Graziano maintains a business approach as cast members, Big Ang for example, get their own spin-off shows, such as “Miami Monkey,” following Big Ang as she opens a second bar on Staten Island. While Graziano supports spin-off successes, she also expects her cast members to remain loyal to “Mob Wives.”

“I would like to take the ‘Mob Wives’ brand and expand on it even further either by more core content or another spin-off or two for the girls,” Graziano said. “Having said that, they will still remain on the mother ship show and come back to ‘Mob Wives.’”

Not all of Graziano’s professional goals are connected to the TV show. Some are linked to her family heritage – specifically that part of her heritage emanating from the kitchen.

The book, “How to Use a Meat Cleaver: Secrets and Recipes From a Mob Family’s Kitchen” published earlier this year was a joint collaboration among Graziano and her sisters, Lana and Renee. She admits the title is a bit “tongue and cheek” but figured it would help with marketing.

“Although the cookbook has this cute and catchy title, it can stand against any Italian cookbook out there,” Graziano said. Noting that her family has a significant history in the restaurant business, Graziano lean heavily on the expertise of her sister Lana, a successful restaurateur whom was sentenced to five years federal probation.. . Graziano continued by saying, “We all learned from our grandparents and parents – and we wanted to share a little bit of what we know as cooks, aimed at new cooks using simplified recipes.”

Expansion of the family’s food line – Graziano Macaroni Company that launches in July – is another of Graziano’s off-screen passions. The food line takes the theme of her grandmother’s Manhattan restaurant, “Supreme Macaroni” where her parents met and fell in love and bundles up hearty Italian ingredients for preparation at home.

Learn more about, “How to Use A Meat Cleaver” online at

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