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Police fears as gangster befriends Celts star EXCLUSIVE; Thug uses footballer to boost reputation in pubs and clubs SPOTLIGHT ON SCOTS CRIME BOSSES.

Byline: By CHARLES LAVERY

DETECTIVES fear a gangland thug linked to protection rackets and drug-dealing is trying to befriend footballer Neil Lennon.

Drugs squad officers watched underworld heavy Tony Pignatiello meet up with the Celtic idol outside a nightclub.

A confidential police intelligence report seen by the Sunday Mail and circulated to senior officers details how a surveillance team watched as the men met in Glasgow.

The monitoring officers informed their superiors but were unable to warn Lennon for fear of exposing their operation.

A force insider said: ''People like Pignatiello tend to gravitate towards people with money or status in the hope it rubs off.

''Lennon is a perfect target and he needs to be careful.

''These people aren't his friends. They would split him into pieces in a second if he crossed them.''

Pignatiello, who is known as Tony P, was introduced to the 32-year-old by Martin Reilly, the player's representative in Scotland.

The Northern Irish midfielder is unaware of Pignatiello's background or fearsome reputation.

But officers fear the thug may try to exploit his relationship with Lennon tobolster his reputation in the city's pubs and clubs.

The Strathclyde Police intelligence report says: ''Pignatiello was observed just after 11 pm in the company of the Celtic player Neil Lennon.

''Both were observed at the front door of the nightclub shaking hands with the assistant manager. Neither had to wait in the queue.

''Pignatiello and his associates, Nello Orsi and Thomas Campling are well known throughout the division for their involvement in violence, disorder, drug dealing and extortion.''

The intelligence bulletin, issued atthe end of last year, warns officers to be on the lookout for Pignatiello and his gang.

His associates include violent drug dealer Nello Orsi and thug Thomas Campling, both of whom have been jailed for running a protection racket.

The men are also linked to Barry ''Braveheart'' Hughes, the boxer revealed in last week's Sunday Mail to be at the centre of a police inquiry into money laundering.

The report also states that two other associates of Pignatiello have recently made threats against a witness at the trial of Orsi, who has only just been freed from jail.

They targeted a witness from Orsi's trial.

The bulletin asks for any sightings of the gang to be reported immediately. But a police source said: ''Tony Pignatiello is the main associate of Orsi.

''They are very tasty boys who spend their time trying to muscle their way into security contracts.''

Pignatiello, 34, wears the latest designer clothes and sports black glasses.

As he tours his favourite bars in the city he never drinks much or stays too long at any given venue.

Originally from Paisley, he made his reputation by fighting his way up the gangland scene to gain a foothold in the drug scene.

He is so feared in Glasgow nightclub circles he has been barred from almost every club in the city centre.

But he can be seen regularly at Cleopatra's nightclub in the city's west end, surrounded by heavily built associates.

He and his gang are regular weight lifters at a city centre gym and have connections across the west of Scotland.

Orsi was last year sentenced to 19 months in jail for his part in an extortion racket on Glasgow nightclubs.

Orsi threatened to kill bosses if they refused to let his dealers sell drugs on their premises.

He wrecked their clubs, attacked their cars and terrorised staff and customers.

Orsi and his henchmen are responsible for former Trash nightclub owner Mark Woodhouse fleeing Glasgow.

He refused to cave in to their demands of hundreds of pounds each week.

Orsi, 35, pleaded guilty to four charges at Glasgow Sheriff Court last June.

The thug admitted to breach of the peace when he threatened to kill Cube nightclub bosses Michele Pagliocca and Carlo Citti.

A staggering 65 witnesses were cited to appear at the trial.

Many were escorted to the court by police officers amid fears of intimidation.

Pignatiello and his gang warned one witness he would be ''dealt with'' upon Orsi's release, and detectives have no doubts over the severity of the threat.

CAPTION(S):

Mover and shaker: Pignatiello, who wears trendy black glasses and designer gear, likes to be seen with famous faces like Lennon; Report: Police intelligence is targeting Pignatiello
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 25, 2004
Words:718
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