Wife of former mob boss plans to leave him, witness protection

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You've seen the breakups and makeups of Tony and Carmela Soprano. But, when it comes to romantic fury, the TV mob couple has nothing on Joe and Nancy Defede.

The Defedes are the real deal. For four years, Joe was acting boss of the Lucchese crime family -- until 1998, when he pleaded guilty to shaking down garment businesses. He and Nancy have been married for 35 years (the last three in the federal witness protection program).

Living in close quarters under assumed names in a state far from Howard Beach, N.Y., has been the kiss of death for their romance. "I've had enough," Nancy tells us. "It's not a life."

Their impending split isn't stopping them from collaborating on what may be the first memoir of a Mafia marriage.

"She's the writer," says Joe, 72. "I'll help where I can. I don't want to hold her back. I dragged her through all this, and she stuck with me."

Nancy admits, "We've been fighting from the day we met."

She dates their relationship back to a New Year's Eve party in a bar in 1957. "He was on his first marriage," she says. "We were both bombed. I must have cursed at him. He whacked me one. I went to punch him back. They dragged me to the car. I said, `I pity the poor woman who's married to him.'"

Joe says, "It wasn't me."

"Oh, you have a twin brother?" says Nancy, who concedes hitting a woman would have been out of character for soft-spoken "Little Joe," as he was known in the mob.

She says he was a lot friendlier when she met him again in 1967. She knew he ran numbers out of a bar, but it wasn't until well into their marriage that a girlfriend "congratulated me on Joe's good news."

"Congratulations for what?" asked Nancy.

"Joe being made," the friend whispered.

"I never brought my work home," says Joe.

Nancy found it strange one night after they had dinner out when Joe told her to wait while he got the car. Later, she found out he was worried someone had planted a bomb in it.

She never knew that he'd been made acting boss until a wedding when "all these guys kept coming up to our table and giving him envelopes."

"Nancy didn't see it as an achievement," says Joe. "Of course, she'd heard that every wiseguy has his zumapa, or mistress."

"I almost ran him over when I found some other woman's eyeliner pencil in his car," says Nancy.

"It was my friend's girlfriend's," Joe insists. "I never fooled around."

Joe turned against the mob after other Lucchese members threatened his family while he was in jail. He doesn't blame Nancy for wanting to leave the witness program and return to New York.

"She needs a life of her own," he says. "But I'll always miss her. She's my heart."

With Jo Piazza and Chris Rovzar

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