I just finished reading “Mob Boss,” the life of Little Al D’Arco, by Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins. In short, Little Al was a member of the Lucchesi crew who found himself as acting boss when boss of record Vic Amuso and underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso went on the lam to avoid being arrested and tried in the Feds’ multi-mob-family “Windows Case” of the time. “Mob Boss” follows D’Arco’s life from his growing up in the Navy Yard area of Brooklyn to his sudden rise and equally quick fall to become a government witness. As I read, I found this book to be very personal. I had traveled and hung out in many of the locations mentioned and knew quite a number of major and minor characters discussed, some quite well. One person I’d come across on occasion but didn’t know at all was Al himself.
To me and to someone I knew well in Little Italy, Al D’Arco was singularly unimpressive. He seemed like an okay guy, but was not someone either of us believed believed would ever become boss, permanent or acting. My friend, respected in the area, didn’t even know D’Arco was “a friend.” Not that being a non-imposing figure is necessarily a bad thing, especially for a mob guy. It just made it surprising when we were brought up to date by our respective crews and told Little Al had been named Acting Boss of the Lucchesi Family.
Early on we see how Al grew up in an area not too far from the one I grew up in by the Navy Yard’s main entrance; in fact, I took a bus to Junior High (they call it Middle School today) closer to his house than mine. Both places had wiseguys that seemed to have more luxury goods, including beautiful women, than any of the hardworking men who broke their backs at blue collar jobs. My family was poorer than Al’s and we were constantly reminded by our parents that we didn’t have this or that because we had no money. Of course, many of us focused on getting money more than anything else, even education. That’s not an excuse, as my own brother, growing up in the same household, became a lawyer. Still can’t figure out where he went wrong?
What struck me as I read was that Little Al became involved in mob activities more as a result of happenstance; more of what opportunities crossed his path during his life than what he went out to find and execute (he was so far out of the loop when he wanted to get “made” that he was in the dark about the real reason why the books were closed for so long). Born leaders like John Gotti or Philly Rastelli or Vito Genovese, who were single-minded in their pursuit of mob activities not only earned large sums of money, but used everything they did to take another step up a rung or two on the mob ladder. Vices also drive criminal activity as well. One of the guys on the Donnie Brasco case, my dear departed friend Boobie Cerasani, told me that one Christmas season he’d stolen a couple of trailers of frozen seafood to pay his gambling debts, but by the day of Christmas Eve his bookmaker called and told him he still owed a number of thousands of dollars. He said he excused himself from the Eve’s seven fish dinner, went out and stole, dumped, and got paid for another trailer, then went home to finish the celebration with his family. Bottom line is that the unmotivated mobster is usually not boss material, but oftentimes is catapulted into acting boss status to hold a seat for a boss who’s incarcerated but wants to retain his grip on power. Little Al D’Arco appears to have fallen into that category.
Mob history is replete with stories of imprisoned bosses installing “lobby guys” to hold their places. The Colombo Family had sanguinary problems when a supposedly loyal and harmless Little Vic Orena was tapped for the acting boss position as the family’s leadership all got century-long prison sentences. Harmless proved to be malleable and easily influenced, and a present-at-the-time John Gotti helped induce Orena into an internal war with the family’s loyalist forces.
They had had a similar but bloodless problem a number of years earlier when they also placed a lobby guy in charge while waiting for chosen boss Sonny Franzese to hopefully win his appeal of a sentence in a bank robbery case he was widely known to have been framed for. The lobby, Little Joe Brancato,* wound up letting family associates from the old Gallo crew who were targeted for death over the shooting of Joe Colombo off the hook by officially transferring them to another Family. Crew members were polled and the decision was made to offer the well liked Brancato two choices: step down and retire or be killed. Joe chose the former and happily spent many of his last days of retirement at the track, hanging out with some of the boys at a Queens social club, and dining in a couple of his favorite landmark Italian restaurants in his area.
Ironically, it was the same group that took over leadership from Joe Brancato who installed the malleable Orena in the same position years later.
Once I read about Vic Amuso and Gaspipe going on the lam to avoid the Windows trial I found myself saddened at all the things I knew were to come on the following pages of the book. I knew many of the people who killed and were killed by two men too cowardly to face the music of a trial for manipulating bids for fixing windows on government buildings. Benny Aloi and others didn’t run and hide. They stood up, did their time like men, and came home when it was over. Amuso and Casso on the other hand struck out and murdered loyal men, which, as a result turned others like Pete Chiodo and Al D’Arco against them. All that blood just to protect themselves from doing a few years behind bars. It is fitting that the two murderous executives will spend the rest of their lives doing what they were so fearful of at the beginning.
Of course, from my street perspective, I’m bewildered how no one figured out that if they ambushed and killed Amuso and Casso, all the other killing would stop. I can understand it from Richie Pagliarulo, who was a close friend and partner of mine in the early days, before he wound up with the Lucchesi crew. Richie was the nephew of Larry Gallo, and spent his life trying to prove he was worthy of his uncle. Point Richie at a brick wall and he’d butt his head against it till he either got a debilitating concussion or broke down the wall. He acted more efficiently than he thought. As a matter of fact, he got his nickname of the Toupe after he’d lost his hair in his twenties as a result of a severe scalp wound he incurred in an auto smash up when I was running from cops one night. Only his rag doll condition from having consumed too much booze kept him from being killed.
It was sad reading again about Bruno Facciola, who the Amuso and Casso called a stoolpigeon couldn’t be further from the truth. Bruno had stomach cancer, and the word in the street at the time was that he didn’t have more than six months left. The idea that he would have spent those last months as a rat is absurd. His bigger problem at the time seemed to be the blacks he refused to give his brother up to over the murder of a black man in the Foster Avenue Market. When he died, it was said that blacks rode past his home tossing black power flags from the cars onto his lawn. He was a good guy and a standup guy. Amuso and Casso were probably more afraid that Bruno realized that by clipping them the wholesale killing of others would stop.
I smiled when D’Arco describes his conflicts with Frank the Wop, who was one of the more miserable guys around (we said bitticuse). Bruno tried to settle a problem I had with Frank over a business contract. The Wop promised to have his man bow out, but didn’t. Bruno, frustrated, took me to meet him at a card game in Manhattan the night before the contract had to be submitted. The old bastard flew off the handle, claiming he knew nothing about it, which embarrassed Bruno, who had promised he’d told him. I took matters into my own hands and got the Wop’s man to bow out the next morning at gunpoint. Frank the Wop went nuts, but was called on the carpet by executives on my side. One evening months later, I stopped outside the Sherwood Diner in Canarsie to make a phone call at one of the outside phones (no cell phones at that time). Frank the Wop was at the counter paying for the meals of him and his friends on the other side of the glass door (maybe stealing cigars too). When he noticed me, he started yelling inside, with his face reddening and seeming to swell. I thought at the time he might get a stroke. I hoped, anyway.
I don’t usually like reading mob pentiti books. I see through the self-serving, gratuitous bullshit to make the stoolpigeon look bigger and better than he was. For example, Henry Hill was always viewed as a piece of shit, even by those in his own crew. Because Paulie Vario seemed blind to the real Hill, it was common to hear it said about Henry, “You respect a dog for its master.” Didn’t read that in “Wiseguy” or hear it in “Goodfellas.” In fact, Hill was the dog who bit his master’s hand when he ratted out Paulie for helping him get out of halfway house with a no-show job. Paulie died in prison for his blind affection for someone many others knew to be a total scumbag.
Yes, I found a couple of minor things that gave me pause in “Mob Boss,” but they were nothing compared to the authenticity of the overall narrative. I could see how Amuso and Casso, by instituting the kind of purge that hadn’t been carried out since Lepke was on the run, turned guys who might never have thought of ratting out their friends rush to Team America for protection for their and their families’ lives. Unlike Peter Lance in his book on Greg Scarpa, “Deal with the Devil,” Capeci and Robbins also did a great job in writing in a clear way that brought everything to life for me (I found Lance’s book dry, boring, and like a sleeping pill). I don’t know if readers who have no background in real mob goings on will appreciate “Mob Boss” as much as I did, but if they’re at all interested in the subject of organized crime, it’s certainly worth their time.
*Noticed while writing this how many lobby guys, thought to be manageable and harmless to the bosses who installed them as temporary position holders had the handle “Little” before their names. Don’t remember a Little John Gotti, or Little Joe Colombo, or Little Carlo Gambino, or Little Chin Gigante. Just saying.
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc – All Rights Reserved
Stories of me:
Remembering the Poodle
No, that’s not poodle skirts, though I did think girls (I was still a boy) looked great in them. The Poodle was what we called the Brooklyn bar we hung out at during my earliest mob years. The bar was like many in Brooklyn at that time, with names like “Wander Inn,” “Black Kitten,” “Flamingo,” “500 Club,” and “1717,” which were semi-hangouts for mobsters at all levels from wannabes to bosses, some neighborhood folks, and always plenty of females. They were pretty much all dark inside, with a long bar on one side and a kitchen in the back where private conversations could be held, and the smell of stale smoke, booze, and sweaty bodies when empty and more of those fresh smells when full. Some had music on Wednesdays and weekends. All had jukeboxes that played Jimmy Roselli’s Neapolitan love songs, especially his big hit, Malafemmena:
Si avisse fatto a n’ato,
Cchello ch’he fatto a me,
While they all had those things in common, each had its own uniqueness, which wasn’t in the décor or atmosphere, but in the cast of characters, and I do mean characters, that inhabited it. This is homage to the one I knew best, to the personal memories (as everyone’s experience, though held together by the place, differed somewhat) and was central to my mob life and development: “The Cocoa Poodle.”
St’ommo t’avesse acciso…
E vuo’ sape pecche?
Like the other similar bars, the Poodle was seedy looking in the scarce daylight that filtered in through a small front window, but magically sexy on music nights with colored lights flashing over the dance floor and thumping music from the bandstand. They were even sexier on the weekends after a few of us would get arrested and the bar was mentioned in the following day’s headlines of the Daily News, New York Post, or Journal American.
Pecche ‘ncopp’a ‘sta terra
Femmene comm’a te,
Once excitement seeking females from as far away as New Jersey read about the mobsters arrested at the Cocoa Poodle, they made it their business to pack the place; sometimes in groups who’d agreed to split up if one or more could land a gangster, or with a guy who they’d change for one of the bar’s regulars when escort-boy went to the bathroom. They were so eager for the thrill of being with one of the guys that they’d sometimes become regulars, going from bed to bed of different members of the crew, becoming what they were ungenerously but accurately known as, “wiseguy humps.”
Nun ce hanna sta pe’ n’ommo
Onesto comm’a me…
That also gave them the distinction of being added to the kitchen chart of all the females who hung out with us; who had already bedded them, and the details of what they did. If one of them told one of our friends, “I’m not that kind of girl,” he’d check the chart to see if what they were telling him was true or not. And, a couple were really “good girls,” who just like being around us.
Tu si’ na malafemmena…
Enough about the girls. What really made the Poodle unique was the cast of characters, most of them forgotten by those other than their biological families. Here we remember a few:
Armando was a dwarf with a personality bigger than the tallest of the crew. He’d show up on weekend nights to amuse the crowds and enjoy himself to no end. ‘Mando was known to stash his bookmaking slips under the collar of a German shepherd as tall as he stood and kept Joey Gallo’s lion in the cellar of the social club he operated on President Street, a block away from Brooklyn’s piers. On the nights he’d hit the Poodle, it was part of the general entertainment to bring the dwarf into an open but dark backroom area, tie a red tablecloth around his neck like a cape, sit him on the back of a chair that had been laid on the floor, and have two guys slide the chair out onto the dance floor to the sound of “Batman” being blasted out by the band. As soon as the speeding chair-mobile stopped in the middle of the crowd, the little guy would jump off and start gyrating to the music, bumping against and wiggling under the short skirts of the female dancers. While he may have been small in body, Armando made a huge impression on all those who knew him.
George was the owner of record and the owner of the brown canine that the bar was named for. At first glance, he was a suave-looking man who might have stood alongside Adolph Menjou in films: grey wavy hair, trimmed moustache, wide smile, well dressed in suit and tie. It was when his drunken head would fall onto the bar that the sophisticated image disappeared. One of those times someone in the bar gave him a real hotfoot, which, before I saw that, I believed couldn’t happen, because I believed the fire would go out. A truly likeable character, George had gambled and drunk himself from owner to front man of the Poodle. He owed everyone he met money and even did a few months in jail for some kind of financial miscalculation of his with the State. George’s adventures usually resulted in some fiasco. One debt turned into a bucket of blood, but that’s another story that will come to light in the bar’s bio shortly. Another time he dragged me to uptown Manhattan, where he had to dress a friend who had met his maker while having sex with his girlfriend. The dress up was so that his wife didn’t find out what was going on. George was a standup guy that way, and waited around for the police to claim he had been hanging around with his pal when his aorta popped. While George was a source of a lot of fun for us, he was one of the truly sad characters I’ve ever known.
Ralphie Goodness was one of the colorful group of bartenders and barmaids (yes, we called females barmaids in those days) that kept the wheels of the Poodle rolling along. While all of them dibbed and dabbed in some kind of mildly unlawful side work, Ralphie was the most aggressive participant, taking shots at robberies, shylocking, and handling stolen goods. He drove a getaway car on a number of occasions, at least once for me. He was one of the most successful womanizers I’d come across at that time and had the visual power of a bat. When we had some kind of a brawl with outsiders, Ralphie would take his glasses off, come over the bar, and throw himself into the melee. We’d shove someone toward him so he could take hold of their clothes and start punching them with the force of a jackhammer. The problem was that if they got out of his grip he couldn’t see them to grab hold again and couldn’t make out who was on our side and who was on the other. We’d have fun by going from the bar to his mother’s house for breakfast on a Sunday morning. Like all Italian mothers, she idolized her son, who she called, “My Chubby.” Ralphie stood about 5’10”. When there, we’d ask how tall Ralphie was. When she’d answer he was six feet tall we’d argue. Her argument was that he looked shorter because he had bad posture. Ralphie died, not too far from me in Florida, in his kitchen from a quick but major heart attack. The marinara sauce remained simmering on the stove till his body was discovered.
Rick DiMatteo was perhaps the one I was closest to. He was my original entry into the bar and into the crew. Personable, short tempered, happy, and devoted to duty, he was as apt to sing as to fight. I can picture him, a few sheets to the wind, singing along to Jimmy Roselli tunes with an intensity of facial expression and hand flourishes that Jimmy didn’t have himself, especially to the last bars of Statte Vicino Amme. I can also picture him fighting beside me inside and outside the bar; can see his wife, Dee, and Ralphie Goodness’ wife, Lillian, screeching to a stop in front of the place in their big-assed Cadillacs with all the windows down so we could jump through to escape before the police arrived and found the bloody losers of the battle on the floor. The most memorable of those slugfests for me was one where three biker types came into the bar one weekday night demanding money that George owed them (what else was new). They claimed they would take the place apart if they didn’t get paid immediately. Ricky, as he was known as in those early days, became the negotiator for the Poodle. I slipped outside, took a baseball bat from my car, and returned with it hidden under my light grey sharkskin topcoat. Big Dom, the evening’s 500 lb bartender, washed the same glasses over and over as he monitored the conversation between Ricky and the trio’s leader just a few inches away across the bar. Ralphie Goodness sat a couple of feet away, as did another member of the crew, Roy Roy. Everyone seemed to look away while glued to the ebbs and flows of Ricky’s conversation. One moment it would get louder and everyone would tense; my hand tightening on the bat’s handle. The next moment, they’d be in agreement and chuckling together. Finally, it looked like it was all settled. Ricky and the lead biker, who claimed he had a boxing match at Madison Square Garden that coming Saturday, shook hands then ordered drinks from Fat Dom. At that moment, the lead biker said, “It’s a good thing we didn’t go to war here.” Ricky asked why. “Because I’ve got a gun in my boot.” Ricky’s punch came almost as fast as the biker’s sentence was half done. Everyone jumped into action. I kept pounding the head of the biker who Ricky’d knocked to the ground to keep him from reaching his boots before Ricky pulled them off. Had to be the most stupid thing the biker had ever said since there was nothing but smelly feet and socks in his boots. When we were done, the three were unconscious on the floor…next to Ricky, who was writhing and screaming from back pain. Roy Roy, who was as young as I was, asked what we should do if he died there. I said we could bury him in the basement. Of course, he didn’t die, but just had his back go out and had heard our conversation. Ricky swore my bat crippled him that night, which it didn’t because I was swing it vertically to keep the biker in place, not horizontally to accidentally hit anyone else. It became a running joke between us over the years when our paths would cross, as circumstances had driven us in different directions. One day, while living in Florida, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. The voice said, “Did you learn to hit the other guys with the bat and not your friends?” It was a joyful day as he informed me he’d moved down to an area, just minutes from me. We met often in the few years he had left before passing away. I’ll always remember them as a gift that linked the camaraderie of my early days to my present, and thank him for that.
Some of us hung out at the Cocoa Poodle in the day, while most of us found our way there at night after a group five course Italian dinner at Cafiero’s on President Street, Queen on Court Street, or New Corners in Bay Ridge. If we were in a fancy mood, we’d go for what we called, “High Roman” food at the Foro Romano, on Crossbay Boulevard. If we wanted to impress a girl with the high life without traveling to the Copa or some other club in Manhattan, we’d venture to the nearby Club Elegante, where an amusing maitre d’ named Don Rickles kept stone killers laughing at themselves all night. When our night was over and we were hungry at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., we’d go for steak and eggs at the Foursome or some other Greek diner, grilled sausages and brascioles at Chubby’s on Mott Street, scungilli and calamari with hot sauce at Vincent’s or the Lime House in Little Italy and Chinatown, or 68 Mott Street for the best roast boneless chicken and fried rice in the city. Life was good those nights.
Are there more stories? Tons of them. With so many of those who inhabited the Poodle gone, the building is like a tomb for them. For the few of us who live on, the Cocoa Poodle lives, because our presence there helped shape us into the people we are today.
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Impounding Calabria’s Children?
At times I am fascinated by Italy; by its food, architectural beauty, and its music (if you haven’t seen Andrea Bocelli’s concert in Portofino, you are really missing the last two at their finest). At other times I’m repulsed by their socialist leanings that constantly threaten to sink them and also to be emulated here by political left wing radicals who overlook the failures and insist on hitting us on the head with government power that diminishes people power. I scratch my head when I see European countries like Greece and Italy on the edge of economic collapse then hear leftists pushing those same policies here as if they’d worked. That starts the slippery slope that leads to the government telling us what light bulbs we can use in our homes, to efforts to further integrate zip codes with no record of discrimination, to telling us what we can and can’t eat or drink, to interfering in our healthcare (which was the best in the world till the government started tinkering with it). The slippery slope ends when the government takes your children, not just by brainwashing them in schools and on television, but physically, like Adolf did in Germany.
All this came to mind when I read an article in the BBC News, from Italy. The headline that attracted my attention was:
Children taken from mafia families to try to stop cycle of violence
By Alan Johnston BBC News, Italy
What concerned me most, other than the repulsiveness of taking kids away from their homes that could spread here if it continued there, was that I knew from experience that it was easy for the government to break the back of legal action on the back of organized crime. For example, there was a time when everyone was afforded reasonable to high bail when arrested. It was part of the Founding Fathers’ plan for a society unlike the one they’d left behind; one where the accused was innocent until proven guilty. At some point the Feds, and that includes DOJ and Judges, all of whom get their checks from the same place, decided that it was enough to call those accused of crimes associated with the mob “dangers to society” and deny them bail. Once, when I was brought before a federal judge and asked for bail the U.S. Attorney used as his sole argument the fact that I had hung out with a known mobster. The fact that the guy had been dead for three years never entered into the equation. Bail denied…danger to society. I argued with the star of a popular sitcom that once an unpopular or unfair law was broken on the back of organized crime, people no one cared about, it could be turned on other citizens; that a time would come when political protesters would be subject to those laws. Does anyone on either side of the political spectrum doubt Barack Obama and Eric Holder would use anything in their arsenal to squash political dissent? I certainly don’t.
Now Italy is in the forefront of expanding government power on the back of organized crime:
A judge in southern Italy is pioneering a program to help children of mafia bosses to escape a life of crime - by taking them away from their parents at the first sign of trouble.
"We needed to find a way to break this cycle that transmits negative cultural values from father to son," says Roberto di Bella, president of the juvenile court in Reggio Calabria, on Italy's southern toe.
This is the heartland of one of the most formidable of the country's mafias - a criminal network known as the 'Ndrangheta, the biggest cocaine smugglers in Europe.
Mafias are always built around blood ties - especially so in the 'Ndrangheta's case, making its clans particularly hard for security forces to penetrate.
"There's a religious baptism and a Mafioso baptism, which is confirmed when you reach a certain age," says Antonio Nicaso, who has written extensively on the 'Ndrangheta's family dynamics.
"So this means that, often, the children of bosses - particularly the first-born - are predestined to follow in their father's footsteps."
Daughters are sometimes compelled to marry the sons of other bosses, he says, binding separate clans together through blood relations.
Is this the next step from an American administration enamored of European failure and drunk with a lust for more and more government power? Would successful attorney Anthony Corrazzo have been forced to grow up in a welfare home, and be on public assistance now too? Would John Gotti Jr. have been placed in a home with a pedophile in charge? Would my son, who’s built a respected home improvement business on his own been taken away from his mother when I went to prison and sent from foster home to foster home? Would a judge even need for a mob figure to be convicted before taking his children? These may all sound ridiculous, but there was a time you could choose your own lightbulbs. Need more?
Across the Straits of Messina the Sicilian mafia has been undermined by the so-called "Pentiti", the "penitent ones", who have collaborated with the police and informed on their fellow criminals.
But the 'Ndrangheta clans have produced comparatively few turncoats - and codes of conduct are simply passed from one generation to the next.
So, there is a new, additional punishment for those groups that do not turn out rats. Remember public service campaigns in this country for children to turn in their parents for using or selling drugs? Notice how stoolpigeons like Sammy the Bull and Bonanno boss Joe Massino get a slap on the wrist for as many as nineteen murders while someone who won’t rat out others gets life for charges that may not include even one?
In recent years Judge Di Bella's court has been dealing with the sons of Mafiosi who he sentenced as juveniles back in the 1990s. So last year he decided that something had to be done.
"As president of the court, I took some decisions," he says
Remind you of Obama’s executive orders removing work from welfare, or refusing to enforce illegal immigration laws, or Eric Holder giving the New Black Panthers a pass? Or a mayor, like New York’s Bloomberg deciding how large his constituents’ soft drinks can be. “I took some decisions.” It’s the mounting power of government that one day could take the children of mobsters…or political protestors…or tax delinquents; maybe put them in institutions instead of private homes; maybe give them all brown shirts.
The court began focusing more on the children of well-known mafia families aged around 14 or 15 who had "started to acquire the Mafiosi mentality", as Di Bella puts it, beginning with petty crimes.
So far about 15 of these teenagers - the great majority of them boys - have been taken away from their relatives and placed in care homes. But they are not in prison and they can go back home for visits every few weeks.
The program is still being described as "experimental", and "evolving", but Di Bella says he expects a lot more youngsters will be removed from Calabrian Mafiosi families in the months and years to come, and that the program may be replicated elsewhere in Italy.
Evolving is a scary word when it comes from government. It means they can change at any time and do whatever the hell they want.
Is it different there? Yes, there is a tradition of crime that goes back nearly a thousand years, as Sicilian Mafiosi who had supplied protection and justice for Sicilian citizens from a multitude of invaders…Greeks, Bourbon French, Spaniards, Moors, etc…along with their criminal activities to fund their rule fled to the hilly backward region in the toe of Italy’s boot. Beyond the unification of Italy, Calabrians were looked upon as uncivilized scum by Italian leaders in Rome. The history of those two areas and that of Campagna around Naples explains why other ethnic groups like Irish and Eastern European Jewish immigrants to the United States saw crime as a vehicle to take them from poverty to affluence where their children would not need to participate in their gangs while Southern Italians saw it as a way of life, to be handed down to their sons and grandsons. ‘Ndrangheta, in Calabria, live in an old rural, clannish environment. While that organization is the largest and most widespread in the world, its heart is in the small village of San Luca, home of the Shrine of Our Lady of Polsi, the ‘Ndrangheta holy place. To learn more about ‘Ndrangheta, read my Mob Blog: The Hatfields, McCoys…and ‘Ndrangheta,” which directly follows this one.
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The Hatfields, McCoys…
I watched “The Hatfields and McCoys,” with Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, on the History Channel. I found the first installment dreary and pointless and vowed not to watch the next two episodes. However, since it had already been set to record, I checked in to number two a day later when there was nothing else I wanted to view. It was still dreary, but better, and then went on to number three, surprised that it turned out to be a fine presentation that I enjoyed.
As the series went on, I started to think about parallels to past mob wars we’ve had in New York where death lines were drawn between former friends in multiple Colombo and Bonanno Wars and a mob conflict in Philadelphia where one brother was murdered on one side and his sibling who chose the other side was shot and crippled. Since there is only one family in the City of Brotherly Love, the brothers started out together then lost their own brotherly love as their crew split into a violent struggle for power.
But the one Hatfield-McCoy-type story that pushed them all aside to take first place was one that began at a carnival in the dusty little village of San Luca, in Calabria, Italy.
Why San Luca? Located in a valley of the slopes of the Aspromonte Mountain, it is a municipality far enough away from concentrated military and police presence in larger cities of Calabria to maintain privacy and a position as the heart of Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta, which is that region’s criminal brotherhood. Meetings of ‘Ndrangheta bigwigs from as far away as Australia, Argentina, and Canada are held in San Luca for what have become the pre-eminent leaders of local clans to resolve their disputes, and to leave in San Luca a financial cut of their illegal and other international activities as well. ‘Ndrangheta also pays respect to their religious core at the nearby Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi, a homage to the Virgin Mary, where many of the criminal group’s gatherings are held.
Occasionally ‘Ndrangheta disputes have turned into gang wars that have taken proportionately for the areas size enormous numbers of lives; more than three hundred in the first one (1975) and six hundred in the second one (1985-1991).
Peace had barely taken hold in 1991, when during the annual September Feast of Our Lady of Polsi, would be jokers from one side tossed lemons at carnival goers from the other. That started a fight, during which two young members of the Strangio-Nirta Clan died. That caused retaliation by the victims’ crew against the Pelle-Vottari Clan. Bodies on both sides fell in multiples during shootouts until 2000, when two other clans negotiated a truce.
The funeral cortege of two men thought to have been killed in a battle
between rival clans of the 'Ndrangheta passes through San Luca, Calabria, in 2007
A terrific film portrait of the reach of Calabrian vendettas is “Flight of the Innocent,” by Carlo Carlei. It’s short on dialogue and high on images that bring the viewer into the beating heart of a young boy on the run across Italy after a rival clan has murdered his family and wants to make their victory complete by eliminating him too.
The real life feud that had held a truce since 2000 resumed in 2005 with an honor killing of a Pelle-Votari over threat to a girl. The vendetta continued, and on Christmas Day of 2006 an attack on the home a Strangio-Nirta boss resulted in the death of his wife.
Wide international attention was drawn to the feud in 2007, when members of the Strangio-Nirtas massacred six members of their rival Pelle-Vottari group in front of a pizzeria in Duisburg, Germany, where they had escaped to.
One of the dead men was believed to be the shooter in the Christmas Day murder of the Strangio boss’s wife. Spurred on by the publicity for ‘Ndrangheta, which had been able to amass a fortune larger and international influence greater than the Sicilian Mafia by avoiding the limelight and public scrutiny, other clan leaders forced a truce on the two warring families. The Italian army sent troops to deny a funeral procession for the bodies of those murdered in Germany for fear of violence breaking out at the ceremony. Police in both Germany and Italy cracked down on ‘Ndrangheta members, rounding up those suspected in the Duisburg massacre and everyone else with even the smallest connection to the organization.
By 2011 Italy convicting and sentenced eight men associated with the massacre and sentenced them to life in prison. Three others were convicted of lesser parts in the crime and given sentences from nine to twelve years. The Hatfields and McCoys’ battle took place a hundred and fifty years ago. This one recently happened in all of our time. And all over those damn lemons.
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The Rise and Fall of Magic City
I didn’t get to see Magic City until the second season. Why? Because I had no idea it existed. When I was made aware of it, I went to “On Demand” and found the first episode. I watched all eight available at the time over one weekend, and wondered then why a show so good was marketed so badly from the get go? The show was fabulous; storyline, production value, and most of all characters, both the way they were written and the perfection with which the cast brought them to life.
Of course, my favorite character was Danny Huston’s portrayal of Benny the Butcher, a tough moniker to hang on to on the screen or in real life. Most who play mob characters don’t know what they’re doing. They scream. They yell. They bully. In the streets we always said, “Those who do, do not say; those who say, do not do.” Benny didn’t say; he just did. His zero to a hundred path from quiet speech to smashing things or putting a bullet in someone’s head was so reminiscent of my old days that I felt like I was actually reliving the past.
At first I was put off by his perversion of watching his beautiful wife getting pounded by a handsome young stud, but upon second thought it drew me back down memory lane to when some girl I had scored confessed that a well respected local wiseguy liked to crawl to her on the floor and have her piss on him, and to the son of a very famous mobster who paid couples to have sex while he choked his chicken. The writing couldn’t be faulted and Huston was perfectly perverse.
That is not to diminish the others. The females were stunning, both dressed and naked. Olga Kurylenko, as Ike Evans’ wife, Vera, was so convincing as a Cuban that when a friend said he couldn’t get past her being Russian, or whatever from that area, I argued with him; to me she was as Cuban as any dancer I’d met in a Vegas show of Cuban beauties decades ago. Both of Ike’s sons were as different as my brother and me. My sibling’s a tightass lawyer; I was always a fly by the seat of my pants crook. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also so perfect as the Maypole that all the ribbons wound around that he was unnoticed in a way that Willie Mays made basket catches look easy. Kelly Lynch as the sophisticated yet smoldering Meg Bannock illustrated the difference between old money and nouveau riche that I found in New York and Beverly Hills as well as South Florida. And, yes, I wanted to slap the shit out of Matt Ross as D.A. Jack Klein.
The last but not least beauty of Magic City was the production value. After I’d watched that first weekend’s eight shows I contacted whichever of my old pals was still alive and not in prison, and ballyhooed the show. I swore that if nothing else the phenomenal use of period cars would bring them back to their youth. Even the little things were spot on. I remember one of the girls, don’t remember which, opened a memory book. On one page was a View Master reel, which was the iPad of my childhood. Was impressed by that attention to detail.
Then came the rumors that this past season would be the final one. The buzz I got was that the show was just too expensive and didn’t brink enough new subscribers to Starz. When one considers that as a full-package-subscriber to premium cable I didn’t know about Magic City till eight shows had gone by, it’s easy to conclude the trouble was not with the show but with the twelve year old execs with pince-nez glasses to make them appear smart. They were probably so shocked to find gold in their pan that they didn’t know what to do with it. Is there any doubt that if Magic City had aired on HBO or Showtime that it would be in production for another season now to keep up with viewer demand?
The cancellation turned the final season into a relative mess. Ike Evans confronted Benny the Butcher in such an in-your-face manner that, to me, was as phony as could be. The best mob show on cable in the past was HBO’s short-lived series, “Rome.” Why? Because mob battles are not in your face, but subtleties; back stabbing. The most fear producing actions of a real mob guy known to do “work,” are the ones where they end with a pat on the back and a “Don’t worry about it. Everything’s okay.” The Havana casino deal sucked because we know it never happened. The effort for legal gambling in Miami sucked because we know it never happened. We knew all along what the consequences had to be. There could be no surprises. We got the bum’s rush at the end, with Michael Rispoli as the Butcher’s sidekick Bel Jaffe, Jimmy Caan’s Jewish boss Sy Berman, and the gorgeous Elena Satine as Judy Silver all getting killed within the hour. And the final scene between Vera and her husband’s son had a major yuck factor.
The high spot was the fact that The Butcher survived, which gives me hope that some channel with a better crew of executives to market it will pick up Magic City, and we viewers will be able to continue to enjoy it for some time to come.
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
MOB BLOG :
NatGeo’s “Inside the American Mob”
Episode One: Stayin’ Alive in the ‘70s
Episode Two: Operation Donnie Brasco
I watch mob shows because I have to. It’s like a doctor watching a show on the effects of smoking on the lungs. Doc’s not going to see anything new until humans develop new kinds of lungs at birth, but watches just in case. In that respect, National Geographic’s “Inside the American Mob” didn’t disappoint. For all the stoolpigeons the government and media have there are things they didn’t know in the past and still don’t know. Yes, they know what happened. Pick up any mob encyclopedia and you’ll know what happened. What you won’t know is why. Neither do the producers at National Geographic who did the first episode, “Stayin’ Alive in the ‘70s.”
What should they know and what should they be telling the viewer? For example, they brushed over the history and relationship that set up modern organized crime, by naming Lucky Luciano as its father then moving on. There was nothing about the relationship between Sicilians of different towns, Sicilians and other Southern Italians like Neapolitans or Calabrese, or between Sicilians and non-Italians. There was nothing about the evolution of the mob and the impact on its decades-long power due to Prohibition. What booze cost about twenty-five dollars a case to produce eventually brought in about a thousand dollars at a time when a man’s suit with two pair of pants cost fifteen dollars and leather wing-tip shoes cost three and a half bucks.
Once they stopped warring, that money gave mobsters political buying power, gave them the machine to become liquor distributors, truckers, unions, nightclub owners, etc. after Prohibition was repealed. The real high point for the mob was from that time till the early to mid-Sixties.
In error, the documentary makers focus on the 1970s as the heyday of organized crime instead of seeing that decade as the beginning of the end. I watched the degradation of the mob from within during the Sixties and Seventies. Over the past eight hundred years in Sicily (Southern Italy) and for a much lesser time in America there had been two mob threads that ran together like a braid, entwining and moving forward at periodically different paces, only to intertwine again. Those two threads were criminality and honor.
During the late Sixties and well into the Seventies, the thread of honor began to fray and shred. It was replaced by money, which braided with the criminality to make it appear stronger, though it was in reality strangling it. During that time I was constantly surprised by how much money had displaced either honor or plain old common sense.
One example came from a Lucchese Captain who had the owner of a car repair franchise feeding him money. A friend brought the Skipper papers that showed the businessman had testified against someone in the past. That would have been an automatic kick in the ass card for the businessman so that the captain wouldn’t expose anyone around him to a future problem. By that time the money was most important, and the Lucchese Captain made excuses for the franchise owner to the guy with the information instead of chasing the rat. I was there for some of the discussions that resulted in a pass for the businessman because of the money he was paying; no other reason.
In one I was directly involved with, someone knew that a wiseguy I was friendly with was doing business with a guy who had the same name as a famous entertainer and who had also testified. The person I knew brought me copies of court minutes where the mobster’s associate testified on the stand. I, in turn, brought them to my wiseguy pal. His shocking response was, “Well, he won’t rat me out if he wants to live.” Well that rat stayed true to his fuzzy grey and sent my pal to prison for a few years.
One last example I have to discuss because it was so egregious and sent a bunch of guys to prison. First, a little background: in the late-Sixties moving stolen securities was big. Mob guys would make it their business to meet so called legitimate people who worked in banks or Wall Street firms. Many times those people were girls who fell for the mobster aura. After an audit, they would steal bearer bonds and turn them over to the mobsters, who would then sell them to one of only a couple of top mobster buyers for an average of twenty-thirty cents on the dollar depending on the mobster and his relationship with the buyer. Of course the price would fluctuate depending on how much paper was involved, maybe lower if it was tens of millions of dollars of face value. The mob buyer here had connections in banks in Switzerland. He would fly out the paper, present it to his banker for a loan under a phony name (remember the paper was made out to the bearer) for approximately sixty-five to seventy-five percent. The banker would then bury them in the bank vault and take a healthy commission for himself. The missing bonds would not show up from their point of origin in the U.S. till the next audit and would never be discovered in Switzerland as they were in a vault and credited to the bank’s statement at full value while they had been obtained at partial value. Forgive me if my figures and percentages are a little off, as it was nearly half a century ago and my brain has its lapses now and then.
One night, a gambler/runner for me told me he had a guy with paper who he wanted me to meet. We got together in a Long Island diner and almost before introductions the stranger started throwing fantastic figures at me of so many millions of this kind of paper and so many millions of that. Of course, no one had that much unless they were rip-off artists or working with the Feds. I said that I had no idea what he was talking about, and before I did get into it I’d like to know one person I might know who would give him a clean bill of health; say he was someone I could do business with. He started dropping names of wiseguys he said he knew. I answered that he had misunderstood me; that I didn’t care who he knew but wanted just one who knew him.
Finally, he asked, “Did you ever hear of Joe Colombo?”
“Sounds familiar,” I said.
“Well, Joe knows me well. We did time together.” I promised to get back to him and abruptly left the diner.
When Joe Colombo heard the story he went berserk, cursing and screaming that he’d never done time. (How the hell was I supposed to know his criminal record?) Joe said to relay a message that if the guy ever mentioned his name again he would personally decapitate him. Clear enough. The problem was that the guy had disappeared and no one seemed to either want to find him or let me know where he was.
Fast forward a year or more. I walk into the lounge in Queens where a bunch of us hung out occasionally, peek into the back room and see a meeting going on between a few of my friends and the paper phony. I sent the barmaid in to bring out the main guy in the crew and told him the story exactly as written here, maybe with a suggestion or two thrown in on what to do. He said the last experience had been a misunderstanding, that he knew the guy’s uncle, and that he was “making money with him.” He asked me to do him a personal favor and not let anyone know he was dealing with the guy.
In spite of my misgivings, I agreed to make believe I hadn’t seen anything and left the bar. Yeah, you guessed it: the phony testified and all the guys at the table and a couple of more went to prison. In time, I guess the phony pulled the deal one time too many…which I read in the newspaper had became his final one.
Within a few years money had rotted the minds of mob guys so much that when a sometimes partner of mine died, a higher up called me to meet him. He wanted to know what the other guy had going for himself either with or without me. I mentioned that we were the force behind a major landmark company in New York. He asked how much money came out of the place each week. I said none, but it was also without worries as I settled any beefs there and we kept it to be able to supply jobs for those guys coming out of jail who needed them. His reply, “F_ck the guys in jail!” It was all I could do to keep from vomiting on the table. The outcome was that he gave it away, but that didn’t last long.
I could go on and on with stories like that, of how the destruction of the mob came from within and how the decade “Inside the American Mob” concludes was the high point of the mob was in truth the decade that precipitated the mob’s rapid decline. It wasn’t the long sentences of RICO, which only worked because the mob was disintegrating from within.
On another point, I was shocked to see that the producers interviewed former FBI Agent Lindley DeVecchio about the Colombo crew. For years the agent was under scrutiny then indictment for aiding and abetting Colombo Captain and long time informer under his watch Greg Scarpa on a number of murders during internal family conflicts. The charges against DeVecchio were eventually dropped on a technical point after Scarpa had died and a major witness had been assaulted and threatened. I find it strange that the producers would use an agent with a tarnished background like his and not mention his questionable relationship with Scarpa and the Colombos, which was the topic of the first episode.
Another major hole in the production was that a large information gap of a couple of years from the time Joey Gallo came out of prison to challenge Joe Colombo, through the time after Colombo was shot, through the time till Junior Persico finally rose to the top to become boss. The show completely missed events surrounding both shootings and deals that were made that finally ended the conflict, either because they don’t know, their informants don’t know, or the one or two who do know are keeping mum. I certainly hope it’s the latter.
If there was a high point it was how Michael Franzese handled himself throughout the show. He’s always been a good looking guy, but has become more polished and is an excellent speaker. I liked that unlike some other interviews, this show touched on the fact that he had cooperated with the Feds, though they didn’t specifically mention that he’d testified against one of his father’s close friends, Norby Walters. More meaningful was a question that was raised and unanswered about how he was able to walk around in the open without repercussions from the Colombos. Was there a threat of information about top guys in his family and others if something happened to him? Or was it just that no one gave a crap enough to put themselves on the line to eliminate him? Or was it money, the be-all and end-all of the mob for decades? Did he buy peace? And there are other holes, some I’m glad no one’s told and others that are probably only interesting to guys like me…especially one who’s jealous I can’t look that good for a few days.
Was the second installment, “Operation Donnie Brasco” any better? No. It was just the same stuff that has been done in a number of documentaries about the exploits of undercover FBI Agent Joseph Pistone, AKA “Donnie Brasco,” as he took down a large chunk of the Bonanno Family in the 1980s. You also saw a dramatized version in the film “Donnie Brasco,” starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. It was so much old stuff that it doesn’t even merit writing about. It was like being served a dinner of previously chewed food.
And, there’s no promise of the next installment about the Philadelphia mob, “New York-Philly War,” being any better. Naturally, I haven’t seen it but can guarantee it will have the same talking heads saying the same things about Nicky Scarfo, Angelo Bruno, John Stanfa, etc., that we’ve all seen and heard over and over on American Justice and other crime programs. They’ll use the same clips we’ve seen. We’ll get the same words from big mouth turncoat Ron Previte, newsman George Anastasia, and stoolpigeon Nick Caramandi, etc., etc., etc. Zzzzzzzz.
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
MOB BLOG :
Do Clothes Make the Man?
I read an article dictated by a woman who has dated a number of older wiseguys or wiseguy types. In it she bashes their cheapness and their clumsy, outdated way of dressing. Since I don’t know the ones she mentioned I can’t comment on whether she’s right or wrong, but like many stories I read it made me think about a larger mob theme: brash and flash vs. quiet and simple.
Just picture two bosses of the same mob family, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti. Their lives and sartorial styles were as different as two men’s could be, yet both had the responsibility for running the same enterprise with maximum efficiency. Gambino was a simply dressed man who lived an equally simple life. He was not seen at mob social clubs or hot restaurants or holding court on street corners. John, on the other hand, played his media star power to the utmost. To say that every day he left his house was a slap in the face to authorities is an understatement. Gambino’s reign lasted till he died at home of natural causes; Gotti’s a shooting star that burned out when he went to prison, where he passed away from cancer.
I came from the younger Americanized school of mobdom. My generation celebrated our success outwardly, with flashy cars and jewelry, custom European-style clothes, and cars that made female beauties’ hearts beat faster…among other things. For a time I only wore alligator shoes; my suits were made so that ties were made of floral jacket linings; my cars were top of the line bright metallic golds or blues with white leather tops and interiors. It felt normal, so, in essence, it was normal for me and my cohorts, and served an additional advantage as it projected success, which in turn brought more financial deals. I would go to a Broadway play or a shop on Madison Avenue and have people come up to me and let me know conspiratorially where I came from; what I was about. The downside was that law enforcement was just as observant, though in those days more could be bought off than not.
Early on, I had two memorable experiences with mob guys from the other old timer end of the image spectrum. The first was in the earliest days of my criminal career when I first adopted the mob look in downtown Brooklyn. One day When I was about nineteen or twenty I was walking with my immediate superior, a smallish older guy who dressed like more of a working cab driver than mobster when he stopped by a shoemaker’s shop where they also blocked hats. I waited outside. For those of you who are not of the fedora generation, not only did mobsters finish their outfits with hats, but those generally regarded as well dressed in all of society. There were specific hat stores displaying a variety of chapeaux of varying colors, fabrics, brim sizes, and prices, with staff as familiar with the needs of male heads as shoe store workers were with feet. That meant that hats had to be cleaned and reshaped, or blocked, from time to time and doing that work was a profitable trade.
When he came out and we continued our stroll, he said, “See that old guy banging nails in shoes, he’s a dunsky from the other side.” In those days dunsky was what are widely known as made guys or goodfellas today; the other side, of course was Southern Italy or Sicily. “He’s got more notches in his belt than anyone you know.” Notches being people he’d killed, which meant a lot because I was with a crew known for its violence. It made no impression on me till years later, when I saw Federal Prosecutors show photographs of mob defendants’ wardrobes and jewelry to arouse jealousy among jurors.
An incident that made a deeper impression was a few years later, when a friend asked me if I wanted to take a ride to see his grandfather, who was not well known out of mob circles, but highly placed and widely respected within. Who wouldn’t want to meet this mob legend who was nearly ninety years old at the time? I pulled my royal blue metallic Eldorado with white leather top and interior that I had hand washed every day, near a social club in Manhattan, where the crew also owned a big retail store across the street. My friend pointed to a gnomish old man in a yellow short sleeved shirt and baggy black slacks with cuffs (out of style at that time) that looked like they were from a WWII era Sears Roebuck catalogue.
At first I thought it was a joke; that my friend was pulling my leg and that the real man who was commonly called don before his name was mentioned really sat in the club playing gin or pinochle. I was wrong. In reality, many mobsters from the ghetto neighborhoods we clung to dressed in anything that “fell off the truck” whether they matched or not and powerhouses who rarely left their areas and had no one they needed to impress. Regardless of the facts, that surprise started a torrent of thoughts raising my blood pressure, How did someone so old and feeble wield so much power? It isn’t right! Guys my age could crush him with one hand… All of those were products of my youth and stupidity. All my questions were answered as time went on.
To add insult to my burning thoughts of injustice, the old man pointed at my gorgeous female magnet that we used to call The Big Blue Bird, and said, “Get rid of that car.” His bony finger ran up and down in the air in front of me, as he added, “And those clothes; the jewelry.” What?! The jewelry might have been the ruby red of my anger-flushed face. I left in a huff, assuring myself that his generation was a thing of the past and that my flash and splash was the future. As time went on I found out that our younger appearance did nothing but add to a diminishing way of life as society threw off the hats we once loved for torn jeans and sneakers. The mob had always been a microcosm of society of the day. As it changed we got left behind. Pretty soon mobsters were wearing sweat suits, jeans, and sneakers too, though younger hoods had to make sure they still got noticed for gold and diamond pendants glaring off their chests. John Gotti was the death rattle of sartorial splendor that gave hope to has-beens and wannabes, as well as those who just loved his reminders of the good old days.
Today things have come full circle. No one with any sense who still participates in what’s left of organized crime just wants to blend in with everyone else; wants to not have law enforcement take every one of their days as a slap in the face. Those that have any power today couldn’t be spotted by a GQ scout. The power is internal. It’s not just toughness but wisdom that the old gnome with the bony finger had and I didn’t. Those who denigrate mob guys for their dress make a big mistake. To repeat a cliché, “Never judge a book by its cover,” or, in this case, “Never judge a mobster by his sweater.”
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Mob Blog :
Who’s the Bad Guy?
I recently had an experience with an L.A. wannabe producer I introduced to a talent for the sole purpose of trying to mount a project. I’ve known the would-be producer for about twenty years. I’ve listened to this person’s moaning about a miserable love life and problems with an ex-spouse. None of that meant anything, because when this person finally did get an opportunity to close a deal money seemed to have become worth more than honesty or friendship, and the wannabe producer tried to weasel out of our oral agreement. I think the would-be producer had failed so often and been abused so much by the business that, like a kid whose dad beats him and grows up to be a child beater himself, this person believes that’s the way to be. But, then, I’m not a psychiatrist. All I know is that I saw someone go from Jekyll to Hyde overnight; fighting tooth-and-nail not to pay for a project that ultimately fizzled.
Fortunately, the talent I introduced honorably stood by me and will continue to get any help I or my friends can give. Though I should be warning anyone considering doing any kind of business to stay clear, I won’t print a name at this time. Why? Because the purpose of the anecdote is not to embarrass anyone, but to explain how I came to write the rest of the article; how the incident got me to first thinking about how I wished it was thirty years ago when I was operating in the street and I’d know how to handle the situation easily. I also wondered why we, as street guys or mobsters, were always the bad ones when we tried to collect money from those who tried to screw us?
One of the rules my first mob mentor taught me was that there was a difference between someone who couldn’t pay you and one who didn’t want to pay. It was a simple sentence that meant a lot in guiding me through my career in the streets. Most of the time, but not all, it would concern payment of gambling debts or shylock loans. For all those who think those businesses are terrible, remember that government locked us up for years for conducting illegal gambling that it now runs itself, and, despite of its promises to use the money for schools, it eats up a major part of the profit in its own bureaucracy and schools in those states that have lotteries and other gambling are underfunded and continuously cut back services to kids.
As far as lending money, regardless of rates, no one who ever borrowed from any of us had an alternative to borrow from bankers, who wanted them to have money before they’d lend them any, and that the majority of borrowers paid back their loans without incident.
A perfect example of someone who couldn’t pay was a semi-literate guy who had borrowed five hundred dollars for whatever he’d needed it for then lost his job. One Saturday morning, I drove past his house on the way to our local pork store and saw him sitting on the front stairs with his head in his hands. I hadn’t bothered him about the money because I knew he couldn’t pay, and was sure he would let me know when he got another job. I stopped that day and asked him what was wrong. He said he had been pissed that he hadn’t been able to get a job in so long, had smacked his wife when she’d argued with him, and put his hand through a glass pane in an interior door. The first thing I did was to take him to the store with me and buy him two large bags full of food to bring home and apologize to his wife. The next thing I did was lay out money the following week to buy him a used hot dog pushcart, get him a lower Manhattan location, and get him making money again.
He did so well that he paid me off and continued working the wagon until he got jammed up in some problem he might have gone to jail for, and bargained away information about bookmakers and shylocks he knew and did business with, EXCEPT ME. I’m not the only one who had helped those who got jammed up, but those stories are never told. It’s easier to vilify all street guys; sells more papers.
On the other side of the coin, I have three personal stories. One was a construction union official who had borrowed money from me to support a mistress because he couldn’t show a loan on paper anywhere that his wife might stumble across. During my dealing with him, I had some other problem and made myself scarce for a time. When I did, I had my partner at the time make collections in my place. When he got to this guy, he was told that the entire principle of the loan had been paid to me. I guess the bum thought that if I had been killed he could get away with paying the money back. One night, we both caught him coming home from an evening with his girl. When he saw us together he lost all his color. I asked if he’d told my partner he’d paid me. He said, “No, I, but…” My partner hit him. He then said, “Yes, I, but…” I hit him. It went back and forth a couple of times. He managed to pay us the entire loan a couple of days later. If we’d been caught or he’d reported us to authorities, my partner and I would have been arrested. However, in truth, who was the bad guy?
Then there was the Fat Man, a bookmaking customer who loved to take the money when he won, but tried to scam his way out of paying his full losses. It was at a time before OTB in New York or the new gambling center that Atlantic City has become. Those who wanted to gamble had no local outlet except bookmakers. The Fat Man was a pharmacist in a time when neighborhoods had individually owned “drug stores” like his. The owner/pharmacists did very well. The Fat Man chose to bet sports, so in baseball season he’d claim he’d played the Yankees and won instead of what he’d really called into the office, which was the Kansas City Athletics, and lost. So, the first time, I went along with him, even though I knew my man on the phone repeated each bet. The second time, I went along on a football point spread I knew he was lying about. Finally, when I got disgusted, I made the phone man record his bets. The next time he made a false claim I told him we’d recorded it and were tired of him and his phony claims. His response was indignation at being caught, and to curse me out in the street. My response was to hit him with a nearby trash can. If I’d been caught or he’d reported me to authorities, I would have been arrested. However, in truth, who was the bad guy?
I could go on and on, but will only describe one more of these lulus. Bobby was a client. He was a yuppie hustler in stocks and other businesses, had a gambling habit with sports and stocks, and borrowed when he lost. I actually liked him, even when he started to pull his crap. He’d make an appointment to meet and pay me then not show up, again and again, excuse after excuse. One time he called, and in a faltering voice said, “…Hospital…brain tumor…uhh…” Naturally, I told him if he didn’t meet me there’d be more damage to his head than a tumor. After a while I’d get so frustrated that I’d smack him or kick him. In his silly head, he probably figured it was worth it to juggle with other guys he owed. One day I told him that I believed he liked getting hit, and from that day on I’d only hit him when he paid. If I’d been caught or he’d reported me to authorities, I would have been arrested. However, in truth, who was the bad guy?
It took this incident with the TV show to make me realize how many people in the past were dishonorable when it came to pay for what they bet or borrowed, or to live up to a commitment they’d made. We didn’t deal in formal written agreements, so word meant everything. As I look at those times, I realize how we were considered the bad guys when it came to those kinds of collections (that’s not to excuse other criminal behavior) for NOT letting other people screw us. But were we really the bad guys for not allowing ourselves to get beat for loans the borrower could not get anywhere else, bets he couldn’t place anywhere else, or financial commitments he’d made for help he’d asked for and received for a personal or business problem. If we’d been caught roughing any of them up or reported to authorities, we would have been arrested. So now I ask, given an objective look, in truth, who were the bad guys?
© 2013 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
MOB BLOG :
More Mob Ties
I read an article in the New York Daily News online edition whose byline read: EXCLUSIVE: City hires firm with mob ties to demolish Prospect Plaza Houses in Crown Heights. The article was full of alleged, mob ties, known associate, etc. The alleged owner, who had taken his name off the corporation in favor of his wife and son, had been convicted of bribery in 1988, and had alleged ties to the Lucchese Mob Family, and had even had the criminal audacity to hire a known associate of that same crew. The other part of the article listed a series of botched demolition jobs performed by the company over the years. Naturally, the latter issue is an extremely valid one to cover, and should have been the byline of the story. However, leading with the question of how this company even was allowed on the bid list, let alone awarded the contract, like EXCLUSIVE: City hires firm with terrible record to demolish Prospect Plaza Houses in Crown Heights, would be less sexy and would put the spotlight on whatever dull executive signed the deal for the city, not someone who was convicted of bribery twenty-five years ago and has alleged ties to the Lucchese Family. The mob is a moneymaker for a lot of people who have absolutely no association with the mob, like reporters and FBI Agents looking to avoid dangerous terrorism details.
I have another friend who had successfully run a landmark restaurant under a license from the city for quite a number of years, but was denied a renewal because of alleged mob ties. He had no criminal record; hadn’t ever been arrested, yet the targeting by a mob turncoat as an alleged part of the group was enough to deny him his living and the city the substantial amount of money he paid it, considering no one has been able to match that since he got the boot.
That raises the question of what is fair treatment to an American citizen when it comes to targeting by any division of the Government? When someone who has done prison time or is alleged to be associated with organized crime, are they infiltrating or trying to earn an honest living for their families? Are they going to be allowed to participate in mainstream American business or are we condemning them to go commit crimes for the rest of their lives; that the latter is all that society will allow them? Would any government agency deny a license to anyone for alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood? Or would the Mayor of the City give a press conference about how tolerant we should be, and grant it? Mosque near 9/11 site ring a bell?
I’m just saying…
© 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
MOB BLOG :
Prison vs the Mob
Reputed mob boss Andy Russo was shot in the back eight times. Mob war? No, he was shot by Metropolitan Detention Center guards while on the phone during last week’s New York earthquake. Since he was the only one who got hit with those eight non-lethal bullets, it begs the question, “Was it a hit by the prison guard mob against a well known street guy?” Seems absurd, but eight? Andrew is in for a very serious crime too. When a friend of his got stabbed by a guy linked to the Gambino’s, he met with the Gambino rep to work out a deal so that their friend paid for the damages. The charge by Eric Holder (yes, the same AG who dropped voter intimidation charges on the New Black Panthers AFTER they’d been judged guilty), is that Russo “extorted” the Gambinos. Sound stupid? Yes, it is.
With any luck, the 77 year old Andrew will receive a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for not bringing a lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons. That is not uncommon. “Little Dom” Cataldo earned one by having boiling water accidentally spill on him while working in a prison kitchen. He filed suit, but got an offer he couldn’t refuse: “Drop the suit and go home.” Dom did exactly that…that time. He wound up back on another case and died there of natural causes. The Russo incident also brings up the issues of other mobsters harmed or killed in prison by staff.
Nino Gaggi was a well known Gambino captain. He became famous or infamous, depending on whether or not you lived that life, off the media exposure of his underling, “Fat Roy” DeMeo, in the book “Murder Machine.” DeMeo, who was himself murdered, was supposedly a bloodthirsty fiend who killed on orders given him by Gaggi, who, in turn, got them from Paul Castellano. In the interest of full disclosure, Fat Roy was a long time friend of mine, and was no bloodthirsty fiend. Fat Roy woke up in the morning focused only on getting a pat on the head from those higher up in his crew. Back to Gaggi. Nino was in Metropolitan Correctional Center, on Park Row, Manhattan, awaiting trial on multiple murders with Paul Castellano et al, when he was struck by chest pains that signaled more than just indigestion. He complained to the guard on duty several times, and insisted that he see some medical practitioner (most times there are no doctors on premises, but physician’s assistants). The sicker Nino felt, the more insistent he became that he get medical attention, the more irritated the hack became. Finally, the guard had a solution. He handcuffed Nino to a chair so he wouldn’t bother him until such time as he was good and ready to take care of the situation. Nino Gaggi had a massive heart attack in that chair, and died in the prison hospital.
Case three: Allie Romano was a relative of mine through marriage. Allie was one of the longest running drug kingpins until drugs were outlawed for most families in 1957, and also a captain in the Gambino Family. He was a connection to the French Connection, and had brought narcotics in from France and Corsica since the 1920s. According to the paperwork in the thirteen year old indictment Allie was arrested on (yes, five year statute of limitations, but was renewed after the first five years then again after ten), a single load brought in by ship consisted of more than three hundred kilos of pure heroin. Okay, so Allie made a shitload of dirty money and eventually was sentenced to thirty years in prison in his later years for it. An older, sicker man when he entered the penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, Allie had already had a major operation on his lungs. One night, his chest felt like it would explode. His younger brother, Dominick, who was his innocent co-defendant (that’s another story for another day) and cellmate, screamed for help. It wasn’t long before Allie, in the throes of an attack, was wheeled into the infirmary, where a physician’s assistant (remember, no doctors), rushed to take care of him. Had he thoroughly gone over Allie’s medical history, he might have guessed that it could be a collapsed lung that merely had to be blown up. Instead, he assumed it was a heart attack and pounded on Allie’s chest. Allie Romano died on that table.
Sure, the BOP has saved many more wiseguys than they have killed…especially in the prison hospitals, like at Springfield, Missouri. On the other hand, they are no different than any massive institutional or medical complexes; there are errors made all the time that we read about or see on the television news. It just happens that the incident with Andy Russo at MDC, while serious, tickled something dark and humorous in me at the same time. In my mind, it could have been a scene from a Naked Gun-type movie.
Leslie Nielson aka
However, there is a truly dark side that is always an underlying thought to inmates of prisons, but never spoken about in public. That is the rumor that in case of a nuclear attack on the U.S., prisoners in penitentiaries would be immediately killed; probably gassed. True? I have no idea. But it is a plausible rumor and has never been addressed in any open forum. Does anyone care if convicted thieves and murderers incarcerated in New York State’s Dannemora or Attica will be eliminated to avoid them roaming the streets? Or terrorists in the Feds’ Super-Max prison in Colorado that also housed John Gotti and is the current home to Vinny “Gorgeous” Bascione? But what if anyone in those facilities is a relative? Shouldn’t we know for sure?
© 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
MOB BLOG :
I read a post on Twitter last week that asked, “When did unions become gangsters and thugs?” I tweeted back, “Gangsters ran unions from the earliest days.” Of course, that was a simplification, but tweets are tweets.
The union movement as we know it today was basically born after the massive immigration of mostly poor Southern Italians and Eastern European Jews in the early days of the Twentieth Century. It was also fueled by the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. Of course, unions in the U.S. had begun during the 19th Century, but it faltered and sometimes failed until the first two decades of the 20th, when it blossomed. To counter the strength of the numbers of workers who would picket a clothing plant or food distributor, the owners, often immigrants themselves, would hire local thugs to disperse the crowd. Though they had overwhelming numbers, workers were still no match for the hoodlums who set upon them with bats, two-by-fours, or iron pipes. To respond, they also hired mobsters to fight on their behalf. Once mobsters were the muscle on both sides, they became the controllers; they made deals that kept peace and lined their pockets as well. One of the early mob leaders to take advantage of the worker-management situation was Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the de-facto boss of Murder Incorporated.
Lepke was far ahead of many other racketeers during the waning years of Prohibition. Some were preparing by putting a large fund together to finance legitimate operations…remember, at a time when men’s leather shoes cost $3.45 and a meal could be bought for a dime, a $25 case of illegal whiskey brought back a total of one thousand dollars. Others, like Dutch Schultz, ventured heavily into gambling, taking over the numbers business in black Harlem. For Lepke, who had his finger in all of the above and more, union control presented a lucrative and long lasting future. He saw that when speakeasies became restaurants and supper clubs, he could unionize bartenders, and those who delivered linens, and those who trucked in food and booze. However, what interested him most was the clothing business.
New York’s garment center hired many from the immigrant community to work long hours under terrible conditions. What’s more, there were a variety of steps that had to be taken to get a garment from factory to store: design, cutting, sewing, finishing, trucking, etc. Lepke realized that by controlling a union of those necessary to any of the steps along the way, he could control the whole industry; shut it down whenever he chose. He organized the cutters. Other mobsters followed him and either partnered with him or unionized under their own banners for the next decades: Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese, Joe Bonnano, Johnny Dio, and on and on. Some, like Jersey’s Tony Provenzano, focused on trucking, while others, like Albert and Tough Tony Anastasia tied up longshoremen. I use a fictitious incident involving Lepke in my forthcoming novel, “Night of the Vespers,” a three generation saga beginning in 1931, to illustrate the incestuous relationship the mob had in the early days of unionization. In this excerpt from Chapter Three, my fictional characters, Gianni Raguso, his sidekick, Dominick DiBella, and Sam Lombardi intermingle with the real life Lepke Buchalter, his partner, Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro, and their main man in the garment union, Max Rubin.
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Sam Lombardi’s left eye twitched in unison with each of Max Rubin’s accusations. “He’s a shnorrer!” the bulldog-faced Max shouted, while pointing a fat thumb in the direction of Sam’s dancing eyelid, but addressing his words to Gianni. “He’s moving tons of non-union suits here…cutting our throats!”
Gianni had all to do to contain a laugh as he surveyed the store Max said was destroying his union: homemade racks and shelves packed with drab brown and grey garments that were even less appealing in the frugally dim light; the musty odor of worn fabric, so strong it was probably imbedded for all time into the cracked plaster walls; a dampness that chilled the body even though it was spring.
What an actor, this fuckin’ Jew, Rubin…he belongs in Hollywood.
“…Every new suit he sells takes food from our babies’ mouths!” Max went on, his voice rising in pitch. “Either he’s gonna pay us, or we’re gonna close him down – Lepke’s orders!”
Sam’s watery blue eyes darted first to his brother-in-law, Kevin Lynch, then to Gianni for help. Weakness. It was all over his pretty boy face like pus pimples, Gianni thought. He compared his own nose, slightly off center with a hammer-like tip, to Sam’s perfect aquiline version; his own blue-grey jaw to Sam’s pale, waxy skin; his coarse straight hair to Sam’s fluffy brown curls. Maureen obviously didn’t marry him for his manliness – or his money.
Probably one of those finocchio motherfuckers who sucks a cunt. Dizgraziata bastard!
After letting Sam squirm a bit more, Gianni said, “The only thing you’re forgetting is that Sam’s with me. Tell Lepke I said go bother someone else.”
Sam jumped from his chair. “But I didn’t sell – “
“Shut up!” Gianni snapped. His angry glare forced Sam back to his seat.
Gianni turned to Max Rubin again. “You tell Lepke what I told you,” he said. “…And also tell him that I said the next time he sends anybody here he’ll have to fish’em out of the Gowanus Canal. Capisce?”
Max Rubin snatched his hat from the small wooden table that served as L & L’s desk, and stormed out the door. Before following, his bodyguard-associate stared at Gianni for a moment, a look of awe on his pug’s face – people just didn’t send those kinds of messages to the notorious crime czar, Lepke Buchalter…king of a group known in the underworld as Murder Incorporated.
As the scene progresses, Gianni convinces Sam to take him in as a partner, so he can filter stolen suits through the store at a large profit. Later, he and Dominick go to meet Lepke:
When Gianni and Dominick entered Katz’s Delicatessen on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Lepke Buchalter and his burly partner, “Gurrah” Shapiro were already seated. Lepke rose to embrace Gianni and shake Dominick’s hand; Gurrah slurred a greeting through a mouth filled with pastrami and rye bread.
“Sit, sit,” Lepke said. “Have something.”
“Sounds good to me,” Dominick said. “I’m starving.”
“When aren’t you?” Lepke asked.
“When I’m finished eating.”
Though he had no appetite, the excitement of success being enough to keep his body juices on the move, Gianni politely conceded to Lepke’s urging and ordered: two kosher frankfurters with mustard and a side of French fries. Dominick, who had already attacked the bowl of pickled cucumbers and green tomatoes Katz traditionally set out free at each table, ordered a club sandwich stuffed with three kinds of meat, a double portion of potato salad, and a piece of kishka. “You know,” Dominick said, “the stuffed guts with sauce.”
The waiter just smiled and jotted the order on his pad.
Gianni asked for a bottle of Pepsi Cola; Dominick a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray tonic.
Once the waiter had gone, Lepke asked, “Well, boychick, what is so urgent that you must see Lepke today?” His brown collie-dog eyes lit up with genuine warmth. Sometimes it was hard to believe that this small, soft-spoken Jew, who looked and acted at least ten years older than his actual age of thirty-five not only ruled an ever growing part of the garment and trucking industries with an iron fist, but personally pushed the buttons that set Albert Anastasia and his notorious gang of Brownsville killers loose.
Gurrah, pig-like, continued to shovel food into his fat face.
Gianni pulled a rubber-banded brown envelope from his inside jacket pocket and held it out toward Lepke – to most people he was Mr. Buchalter; to most underworld associates he was Louis or Judge Louis; to family and a privileged circle of close friends, including Gianni, he was Lepke.
“What is it?”
“Go on, take it,” Gianni said, smiling. “It’s for you.”
Lepke looked from Gianni’s face to an envelope to Gianni’s face again then plucked the envelope away. He turned it over in his hand and contemplated it for a moment.
“Mind if I open it?”
“Sure,” Gianni said. “Suit yourself.” He tried to hide his surprise at the breach of mob etiquette. Once could expect the slob, Gurrah, to count an offered gift; to be greedy enough to worry more about the amount enclosed than the respect attached, but not Lepke.
Tell me who you stay with and I’ll tell you what you are, Gianni thought with disappointment. At least Lepke’ll see that this guinea does the right thing.
Lepke carefully tore the top of the envelope lengthwise, exposing a neat stack of bills. He ruffled the edge with his thumb, much as he would a deck of playing cards.
“How much is here?”
“What’s it for?”
“It’s from the clothing store Max Rubin was at this morning.”
Lepke fingered the money again. “You get it from this guy, what’s his name…Lombardo?”
“Lombardi…an’ it’s from the business. Why, isn’t it enough?” Gianni’s skin felt like it was on fire.
Lepke laughed with a burst so uncharacteristically loud it startled Gurrah enough to stop chewing and look at him.
“According to Max,” Lepke said, “they should rename that store L & H, for Lombardi and Hoover…he says it’s very depressing.” He laughed again. From what he tells me, that business couldn’t make five hundred dollars in a year.”
As his temperature dropped with his restored faith, Gianni chuckled along. “What’s the difference where it comes from?” he asked in a half joking manner. “You deserve it.”
“What did you ask when you phoned me?” Lepke questioned, suddenly serious again. “Didn’t you ask if I would do you a favor and send someone to lean on this shmuck, Lombardi?”
“Yeah, but – “
“But nothing. To Lepke, when a friend asks for a favor, he gets a favor, not a bill…though God only knows why you want to be involved in this shlock store.” He held the envelope out to Gianni. “Please, keep your money.”
“I’ll take it,” the waiter said, laying Gianni’s and Dominick’s orders in front of them.
“Gurrattahere!” Gurrah growled, illustrating how he’d earned his nickname. A loud, hulking, slow thinking Russian immigrant, he’d been the strongarm half of the “Gold Dust Twins,” as he and Lepke had been called since the time they had worked for the Lower East Side racket boss, Li’l Augie Orgen. When Lepke had eventually decided it was time for Li’l Augie to relinquish his position, Gurrah had been the one who had actually shot him to death on a Manhattan street corner. Lepke had been boss ever since.
The waiter dropped the last dish onto the table and hurried away, his face a frightened scarlet. He went straight to the restaurant’s manager, who, upon hearing his
story then looking at who his employee was talking about, shoved him with both hands through the kitchen’s swinging doors.
“Li’l prick,” Gurrah muttered then bit into a potato knish.
Lepke just smiled.
While he ate, Gianni explained that his idea was to fix up L & L at no significant cost then turn it into a men’s shop that would sell new suits and coats on credit terms.
The model he’d formulated his plan on, he said, was that of the various “suit clubs” scattered throughout his neighborhood. Storefront social clubs, much like the one he had on Sackett Street, that were owned by tailors who, for a dollar a week, provided patrons with one hand-made suit with two pair of pants each year plus a raffle ticket for two suits and a topcoat at year’s end. All he’d be missing would be the card tables and backyard bocce courts.
If he robbed the Howard Clothes factory then changed all the labels, Gianni added, he would be able to take as much for a down payment as someone would have to pay for a used garment. Then the payments he would collect over the next six months or year would be all gravy, getting him top retail dollar for stolen merchandise rather than the usual quarter to a third of the wholesale price he would get by selling it to a fence in bulk. And, he said, he had good people to run the operation.
“Who? Lombardi?” Lepke asked. “According to Max, the guy’s a first class shmuck.”
“Well, I got his brother-in-law, Kevin, who’s officially on record with me, who’ll watch over him,” Gianni replied, more defensively than intended. “…And I got Sam’s wife to stay there every day too…she’s supposed to be very efficient.”
“Supposed to be? Didn’t you ever meet her?”
“No…well, yes…I just met her once…twice,” Gianni stammered. “…But I know she’s really good with the business.”
Lepke smiled, the dimple in his left cheek a winking conspirator to the teasing sparkle in his eyes. “I’ll bet three to one she’s some shaina maydelah…blonde or brunette?” He wagged a knowing finger at Gianni. “You can’t fool old Lepkela.”
Even Gurrah smiled.
Dominick studied the residue of his potato salad, scraping the dish with his fork and piling the creamy white potato coating into little mounds.
Gianni felt himself redden. He tried to sound even and businesslike when he replied, “No, no, nothing like that. She’s just been running the joint since it opened; doing a good job too, I hear…especially with the Depression and all…”
“But tell me one thing,” Lepke pressed on in a good natured manner. “Does she have a shaina punnum…a pretty face? Huh?”
There was no fooling the Judge, Gianni thought. Nodding slowly and grinning from ear to ear, he said, “Yes…really pretty.”
When Lepke saw that his efforts to dissuade Gianni from going into the retail business were to no avail, he offered some help. First, he directed Gianni to contact Abe “Kid Twist” Reles at Midnight Rose’s candy store in Brooklyn’s Brownsville section. In order to have a variety of inventory in his new store, Gianni would trade some of his Howard suits for those Kid Twist and his crew were stealing regularly from the nearby Simon Ackerman plant.
Until he and Gurrah opened their own manufacturing plant, Raleigh Clothing, which he said would be the largest non-union men’s suit producer on the East Coast, Lepke offered to also supply legitimate, low priced garments from other non-union shops.
“Are you kidding?” Gianni said. “I’ll be lucky to get rid of what we clip from Howard’s, let alone buy more.”
“Who knows?” was Lepke’s reply. Additionally, he suggested, he would go on record, for Joe Profaci’s benefit, as having bought in bulk all the suits Gianni would steal from Howard Clothes.
“I know that sonofabitch better than you,” Lepke said. “If he sniffs a big score you’ll never be left with enough to start or run your business properly.”
When Gianni began to protest, Lepke raised a palm. “Give him a few dollars,” he said. “Make him think ‘the Jew’ robbed you on the price and that you’re buying all your suits for the store at legit prices. He might get annoyed, but he’ll forget it right away and go shake down his other guys.”
Gianni looked to all the faces at the table. He would trust Dominick with his life – which was exactly what it would cost if Profaci ever found out he’d been screwed for the end he’d demand. Lepke? Solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Shapiro? A carfone…a slob…but not that kind of treacherous; whatever Lepke said would rule his thinking anyway.
“Thank you,” Gianni said and stretched out his hand first to Lepke then, as an insurance good will gesture, to Gurrah. “If there’s anything I could ever do for you, just call.”
Maybe, Lepke replied, he’d take Gianni up on that offer later in the year. He was planning a garment center work stoppage through his man, Sid Hillman, of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. If he should need some extra muscle…?
“Just say the word,” Gianni said. “I got the guys.”
From clothing, their conversation turned to mob matters: new pressure by the local authorities; those of their associates dirtying their hands in the drug business and its effect on all of them; the forecasted repeal of the Volstead Act that Lepke agreed was a near certainty.
Gianni, smiling, turned to Dominick. Well, now you believe me Prohibition’ll be over soon? he thought.
The sneer on Dominick’s face said it all: he still wasn’t convinced.
“Did Profaci bring you into the ‘400’?” Lepke asked, referring to an exclusive group of bootleggers, including Lucky Luciano, Ciro Terranova, and Li’l Augie Pisano, who were contributing nearly twenty-seven million dollars to a post-Prohibition war chest to be used to set up legal breweries for them after Repeal.
No, choosing to widen the gap of money and power within his biological family, Profaci hadn’t let any of his underlings to participate in the deal. Gianni couldn’t care less. He had his own plans.
Standing on Houston Street, in front of Katz’s just before departing, Gianni offered Lepke the money again. This time it was for Max Rubin and the goon who’d accompanied him to L & L.
“No, no, you’ll only spoil him,” Lepke said. He patted Gianni on the cheek. “I’m telling you one last time: retail stinks! Listen to Lepke and go wholesale – less hours, more money. I’ll even let you buy in for a piece of Raleigh, if you want.”
Gianni embraced Lepke. “I really appreciate it, but I know what I’m doing,” he said. “I got a feeling.”
Lepke smiled once more; a wry, all-knowing smile. “And Lepke knows exactly where that feeling is, hey?”
“Of course,” Lepke replied. “Anyway, say hello to your shaina maydelah for me.”
As Gianni and Dominick walked away, Gianni slightly disturbed by the reference to Maureen Lombardi, Lepke called, “Oh, and don’t forget to change the name of the store to something catchy. L & L stinks!”
That fictional situation closely resembles a real one that I had, working with a catch-all union (a union chartered for non-specific membership, unlike those whose membership is exclusive to one trade) while in my twenties; a time when I learned first-hand what unions were about and how much mob power fellow mobsters exerted within them. “Spike” Bernstein, who ran the union, and I would stop into a chosen business and threaten the owner with pickets outside his place. Most were restaurants and nightspots we believed were “connected.” At least we hoped they were. If all went well, the owner would run to whatever crew he was attached to and a meeting would be set up with Spike’s boss in the family he was with. The deal invariably worked out was that the owner would join the catch-all to avoid being unionized by a so-called “communist union,” which would, in reality, sooner close down a business than modify their demands. He would get minimal benefits for his employees, but would bring a “Christmas gift” that would be split between the union and the business owner’s boss. If businessmen were not connected, they would sign with the union with a sweetheart deal bonus under the table, or pay for bigger benefit packages for their employees once the union got them to join.
One example of the former, connected situation, was that of the Steak Loft chain, owned by Steve Rubell, who went on to own the celebrity-studded discotheque, Studio 54. Spike was tipped off to put the squeeze on Rubell by the made guy the chain was connected to, who happened also to be in the same crew. Spike and I met with Rubell and his attorney, Ian Schrager, son of Lansky associate, Max “The Jew” Schrager, who later went on to become a partner in 54, testify for the government, and now own chiq hotels like the Delano in Miami Beach and the Mondrian in Los Angeles. Rubell’s argument was that he didn’t need a union; that he kept his employees happy with constant partying and an ample supply of drugs. He and Schrager were pains in the ass, but a deal was reached behind the scenes that they had to go along with.
Mob involvement was not always a bad thing. For one, they often did save businesses from the excessive demands of communist locals that would bankrupt them. Another example is the widely known connection of the Teamsters to the mob. Members of the Teamsters will all tell you how much they have benefitted from their union’s support; their pay and benefit packages are above the national average. Teamster loans to build Las Vegas hotels and casinos have been much maligned by authorities, the press, and filmmakers. However, just stop and think what Vegas would be like without those loans and the influence of organized crime figures? Harry Reid might be the biggest personality in the desert (Good grief, Charlie Brown). Anyone who passes through Las Vegas should make a stop at the Tropicana Hotel’s Mob Museum that brings the contributions of the mob to that city to life.
Another example of good works by a mob-union connection is that of Anthony “Tony Gawk” Augello and the New York Coliseum. Gawk was no angel, but he used his authority with the union of those installing and removing displays at the Manhattan convention center to settle disputes and, above all, have a place to put guys coming out of prison a job. Granted, sometimes, in the case of mob higher ups, the jobs were “no show,” just to get them into halfway houses or satisfy their parole requirements. However, many of those connected guys came out of prison broke, and needed the work, which was not a steady nine to five, but required men when a show was about to open and when it was closing. The pay was good and it left plenty of free time to readjust to life on the streets; sometimes to get back into criminal activities and sometimes not. Oddly enough, Gawk wasn’t interested in personally earning from his influence as he was being able to provide the jobs as favors to mob brothers. That influence died when he did, as his captain, only interested in money, backed away from the union when he learned there was responsibility without pay. His words, when told that it should be kept to provide for guys in jail who need a job when they come home was, “F-ck the guys in jail! If there’s no money, get rid of it.” I wanted to vomit. That overt greed marks the changing face of the mob and a huge contributor to its demise. Mob guys no longer contribute to the well being of the neighborhoods they inhabit, like they did when I grew up, and thereby have no citizen support.
Wisconsin business owner’s car
The tweet that asked since when unions became gangsters referred to an incident recently in Wisconsin, where a non-union business owner, John King, was apparently shot by a union thug. The case is currently under investigation. My answer to the tweet was correct, that unions have always been aligned with gangsters. The difference in the beginning was that employees worked in sweatshops and under deplorable conditions that demanded someone help them lift their heads, and today the battle is just about greed.
Hey, Gordon Gekko, greed is not always what it’s cracked up to be.
© 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Jimmy Roselli R.I.P.
Jimmy Roselli died last week. If not for the technology that preserves music beyond a mortal’s lifetime, we would have lost some of the best Neapolitan vocals of the past century. Though ten years younger than Frank Sinatra, Jimmy was brought up just a few doors from him in Hoboken, New Jersey. His greatest inspiration, as he always reminded us, was his grandfather. His Neapolitan love songs always kept his grandfather alive in him. As I listen to him singing now, I’m brought back to scattered memories of my own that he always evokes.
Jimmy was popular among mostly Italian-Americans at a time when the community was repulsed by the transformation of traditional values to the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll of the Sixties. He gave them a link to their values of the past that was much more visceral than Sinatra, who was also idolized by the community, ever did. Sinatra gave you beautiful sounds and memories; Roselli reached inside you and permeated every cell; evoked emotions that made you cry with joy. The title of his 1998 book, “Making the Wiseguys Weep,” tells it all.
Yes, Jimmy Roselli had a universal following among mobsters, and, yes, he made every one of them cry at one song or another. His voice had heart, and it cracked the hearts of the toughest guys. Unfortunately, as much as they loved him, many came to despise as they got to know him better. I remember him catching a slap because of some snotty remark he passed to one guy. I remember him getting blackballed by Sinatra because he snubbed singing at a party for Frank’s mom, Dolly. But those are not the memories that will be uppermost in my mind when I hear him croon “Malafemmena,” or “Statte Vicino Amme,” or “Little Pal.”
“Malafemmena,” or “Bad Woman,” was Jimmy’s first big hit. I can see myself now, all suited up in sharkskin or mohair, with custom shirts and ties and alligator shoes, hearing the song play over and over in the Cocoa Poodle’s jukebox. The memories are of all my similarly dressed pals, milling around the bar, singing along, and watching the door: Larry, Mooney, Ricky, Ralphie Goodness, Roy Roy, Smokey, and maybe a dozen or two more (not naming those still living). I will carry a memory of each, some great, some not so much (even they get better with time), for all my days, and Jimmy’s music keeps them popping up to the front of my mind. I will always remember the intensity of their passion as Larry and Ricky sang along with Jimmy when “Statte Vicino Amme” was either playing on the jukebox or at our ringside table when Jimmy sang it onstage.
Jimmy also brings back my mother. He was the first live act she had ever seen, when I brought her to the Copacabana. She cried along with everyone else when Jimmy hit the famous high c singing “Vesta la Giubbia,” at Carnegie Hall. When Jimmy got down on one knee on my table at the Shore, and crooned directly to my sister, Susan, she slowly slid down in her chair till she was completely under the table.
I also remember Jimmy for Jimmy. I remember him dining with us on Sunday at Larry’s house; also the day his assistant smashed his head on the glass sliding doors that were so clean he couldn’t see them. There was Jimmy at the Boulevard, at the San Su San, and, of course, the Copa. We’d see him every night. One night he admired an outfit I was wearing, which I told him I would have given to him if he wasn’t too fat to wear it. Now, I’m too fat to wear it, if, in fact, I still had it lying around.
Of all the songs Jimmy has ever done, there is one that is the most important to most street guys is “Little Pal.” It is, regardless of what outsiders think, the ultimate mob song. I can see Larry singing it to a young relative on his knee when he knew he was dying of cancer. I sang it to my three year old daughter the night before I left to serve my first prison sentence. It goes:
Little Pal, if daddy goes away,
Promise you’ll be good from day to day.
Do as mother says, and never sin.
Be the man your daddy might have been.
Your daddy didn’t have an easy start,
So here’s the wish that’s dearest to my heart:
What I couldn’t be, Little Pal,
I want you to be, Little Pal.
I want you to sing, to be happy and gay.
Be good to your mommy while your daddy’s away.
Each night, how I pray, Little Pal,
That you’ll turn out just right, my Little Pal.
And if some day, some day you should be,
On a new, a new daddy’s knee,
Think about me, now and then, my Little Pal.
* * * *
And so, till we meet again,
Heaven knows, knows where or when,
Think about me, now and then, Little Pal.
Pray for me, now and then, my Little Pal.
And finally, a salute to Jimmy. You brought so many of us joy and happiness, and left us with indelible memories. Thanks. And, as you closed every show, “Rockabye Your Baby,” baby.
© 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc./www.SonnysMobCafe.com
Mob Blog :
License to Bash Italians &
The Assault on San Gennaro
It seems I get more infuriated each day by the official hypocrisy or the media and government in this country, and the general sheep-like acceptance of any crap by citizens who are either too distracted, too self-absorbed, or just too damn stupid to realize what’s going on around them.
Going back over a century or more, Italians have been a silent minority group that could be officially abused without any recourse. To say that they didn’t bring any of it on themselves would be a lie. However, history should be truth. Lately, it has become skewed toward political correctness. In going over history homework with my school age grandchildren, I have found entire paragraphs focused on minority players with good but relatively minor accomplishments while famous white inventors have been minimized to one line. That minimization of Italian/white discrimination was no more apparent than after FDR locked up people he deemed a threat to security after WWII began. Over the years, a lot has been made of how unfair it was to Japanese immigrants, including books and movies, while I would be willing to bet that a majority of those reading this now do not realize that a large number of Italians were interned too…and their countrymen didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor! In fact, the latter internment is known to Italians as “La Storia Segreto,” or “The Secret Story.” Rather than bitch and moan about the situation, Italians felt ashamed that they would be considered anything less than lovers of America, and buried the whole affair. Google it to learn more.
Now to the related story that ticked me off today:
Updated: Sun., Feb. 20, 2011, 6:46 AM
Nolita boutiques fighting 'greasy' Feast of San Gennaro
By SUSAN EDELMAN
Last Updated: 6:46 AM, February 20, 2011
Posted: 12:06 AM, February 20, 2011
It's a clash of cannoli vs. couture.
Supporters of Little Italy's famed Feast of San Gennaro -- set to celebrate its 85th year in September -- are fighting a newly passed Community Board 2 resolution urging the city to consider shrinking the boisterous, sausage-filled festival by three blocks -- including one that includes beloved St. Patrick's basilica.
The recommended cutback -- blasphemous to Italian-Americans who revere the celebration -- stems from gripes by owners of snooty Nolita boutiques about the noise, crowds, cooking smoke -- and even customers attracted to the 11-day event.
"They come in with greasy hands" and stain the leather handbags and $300 dresses, said Ying Ying Chong, owner of White Saffron, one of the hip shops that have popped up on Mulberry Street between Kenmare and Houston streets -- the blocks where the festival would be banned.
"I have cannolis frying in front of my store!" she said.
Heewon Kim, a co-owner of Coqueta, a lingerie shop across the street, said she sprays Febreze on the lacy undies to kill the smoky odor.
The street fair, scheduled for Sept. 15-25, normally stretches seven blocks on Mulberry, from Canal to Houston Streets, and fills four more blocks on side streets.
The Nolita opponents say the food and game booths hinder access to their clothing, jewelry and bag boutiques. Despite foot traffic of 100,000 people a day, "it's not our target clientele," Ying sniffed.
San Gennaro organizers are hotter than freshly fried zeppole.
"You can't understand the emotion we have -- the anger -- when we feel we're being attacked," said John Fratta, president of the Little Italy Restoration Association, who was raised in the neighborhood and whose grandfather co-founded the feast in 1926.
"This is our culture and our heritage."
More than 100 Little Italy residents and boosters jammed the community-board meeting Thursday to voice opposition to stopping the revelry at Kenmare Street.
That explosive recommendation was tucked into a larger resolution, quietly passed on Jan. 26, that approved other permit logistics. Vowing a "full-court press," supporters
distributed fliers urging community members to bombard Mayor Bloomberg and other elected officials with calls and e-mails to keep the feast intact.
Fratta and others say Nolita boutiques are always empty anyway -- and can't blame the feast if their pricey apparel doesn't sell.
As an olive branch to Nolita, the feast organizers agreed to give the shops a discount on booths to hawk their stylish wares -- and even the chance to stage a fashion show on Mulberry Street. Both offers were refused.
To prove that funnel cake and fashion can co-exist, the San Gennaro group wants to ask Giorgio Armani or another top designer, preferably Italian, to create a catwalk for the festival.
The only taboo attire will be T-shirts with words like "Mafia," "Sopranos" and "Cosa Nostra." For the first time in its history, the feast will ban the sale of garb that glorifies organized crime.
Figli di San Gennaro, a nonprofit that has run the feast since 1996, has donated $1.6 million to charities and schools from fees charged to vendors. The city collects 20 percent of the fees.
“They come in with greasy hands.” The “Nolita” (North Little Italy) merchants bitch about the smell of cooking that bothers them. First, these complaining Asian shop girls, like Ying Ying Chong and Heewon Kim, should walk through the “Solita,” or Chinatown side of the area south of Little Italy, on any summer day or night, where rotting entrails and other discards from restaurants permeate the air, before they talk about offensive smells. This is where the politically correct reverse racism I mentioned earlier comes into play. Imagine the same kind of statements being made about the smell of the Caribbean Day Parade and celebration? Or about the greasy hands of those eating in Bed-Sty fast food stores leaving fingerprints on store merchandise? Or rumors of cats being served in Chinatown? It would be a national media outrage. Reverand Al might even be leading pickets to get the stores of those who made the remarks shut down. But for a religious Italian feast and celebration, no big deal. And how many pickets and cameras would be outside Community Board 2, the creeps trying to cut down the area of the Feast, which has been in that area for a time closing in on a century if they were trying to limit the growth of Chinatown, which has spread over the area like the BP oil spill?
Now a word for the Figli di San Gennaro wimps running the Feast: You guys should be ashamed of yourselves. Instead of bending over for SoHo wannabe snobs, and offering them to have a fashion show, you should be fighting to preserve the tradition of probably the most famous Italian feast in America. You should also go read the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States before joining Giuliani and Bloomberg in Feast bashing by banning free speech in the form of tee shirts with sayings about Sopranos, or Mafia, or any reference to the mob. If you’re so self-loathing or wimpy, get out and let somebody else run the Feast. Like it or not, guys, organized crime is part of America’s history, and Italians have played a major role. You should be more ashamed of the rats that testify against their own brothers and fathers (are you going to allow Sammy The Bull, or Henry Hill, or John Franzese Jr. tee shirts?). Your actions would never be tolerated in an area where tee shirts carry messages about killing snitches, or spew anti-American rhetoric about Mexico taking over the West, or support Hamas or Hezbollah. The ACLU would be in court immediately in those cases. In fact, I hope the ACLU takes you guys to court and forces you to pay for Soprano tee shirts out of your own pockets for anyone who shows up. I’ll reserve a Paulie Walnuts shirt now: extra large.
Unfortunately, this deterioration of a neighborhood that many love and owe a lot to is something I wrote about two years ago, in my article, “Arrivederci, Little Italy” (scroll down to read it). It is also unfortunate that my anger may have turned out an article today that is less than fully coherent and less than what I really want to say. That anger would be just as vehement if a group were looking to decimate Chinatown or any other historic ethnic area. New York is loved because it, in spite of its faults, is a city made up of diverse areas with different and unique textures. Kill one and you can kill them all. Too bad.
P.S. I suggest all of you who are as incensed as I am, and are anywhere near Little Italy, stop in and tell Heewon Kim (photo below) and Ying Ying Chon how much you appreciate their interest in the area. Bring Ying Ying some cannolis.
Sausage man Roberto Mereneino (inset) and
other Italian merchants stink up the neighborhood,
says Heewon Kim of Coqueta lingerie.
You can also write to the Post’s author, Susan Edelman at email@example.com
She has no part in the issue, but is just reporting it. Let her know how you feel about what’s going on. Let me know too.
© 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
STORIES OF ME
I’ve never bought a lottery ticket. To me, government run gaming is no different than Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez nationalizing a business, any business. My friends and I were harassed and arrested time after time, not because there was an immoral component to what we were doing, but because we were muscled out so the government could nationalize our business. If it were you, would you give your money to someone who did that to you? Like I said, I never bought a lottery ticket.
Bookmaking was the first of my “operational” unlawful endeavors. My boss told me I was too smart to be doing the various “scores” I was involved in, and to get into a steady business that would yield maximum profit for minimum risk. He put me on a half-sheet with a florist who was also a major horse and sports gambling banker, which meant I would get half of whatever profit we were left with from my clients at the end of each week. If my guys won, we’d apply our loss toward the following week’s play, and so on. My first year was, I believe, 1965, but I can be off a year either way. I’d walk the main commercial street in the area I was working, pick up bets, and settle up there every Tuesday, since I got my weekly net figure on Monday.
As someone who didn’t gamble, I hated the fact that my income was dependent on chance, but, as they say, it was a living…and a good living. I had my first taste of the better than good living gambling could provide that summer, when baseball season arrived. Though I booked more during football season, I had some heavy baseball bettors, who seemed to be more “chasers,” doubling down on losses to try to bail out. I remember that summer there was a three game weekday series between the powerful Detroit Tigers and the hapless last place Kansas City Athletics. Surprisingly, the A’s beat the Tigers in the first game. That brought a torrent of money in the second day. Since I wanted to do all I could to help my income along, I didn’t change anything from the day before: ate the same things, went to the same places, wore the same clothes, and refused to shower. Sure enough, my magic worked and Kansas City beat Detroit for the second night in a row. Odds were that Detroit had to win that last game in the series. The line moved up to ridiculous heights to discourage Detroit money, but the amounts quadrupled at least; one player of mine bet ten thousand dollars on the game. I wanted a shower badly, and I was averse to losing back what I’d already won, so I went to the banker and told him he could keep all the money for the rest of the week; that I would shut myself out, as I sometimes did, after the second game. Of course he made a beef about it, got me to a sitdown with our boss, and got me to hang in there with him for better or worse. Damn! No food other than what I’d had for the past couple of days, same clothes, and no shower. I will always have an affinity for Kansas City, as the A’s beat back the Tigers for the third game in a row. By the next day, I tempted the bookmaking gods by eating what I felt like, changing my clothes, and showering. Fortunately, they liked me that week, and I continued the winning streak right through Sunday. Naturally, the bookmaker who had forced me to hang on wasn’t exactly thrilled…though I’m sure he made a lot more on his other runners and clients than I did.
Gambling also taught me that we were only part of a network that included players, average working people adding to their income (who didn’t know an elevator operator who took numbers?), and the authorities. Before setting up a card or crap game, the first stop was to the local precinct to inform them of the location and put them on the pad for a weekly pay. I’ve even had a correctional guard running for me once I’d moved to a position where I could have my own operation.
Another thing I accepted at the time, but didn’t realize the importance of until years later, was the way our gambling businesses supported businesses and even communities. There were numerous amounts of numbers, horse, and sports bankers making tremendous amounts of money, controllers taking a piece of the business of those below him, and only God knows how many thousands of runners, including working people, throughout New York. All of them spent money on financing businesses, cars, clothes and jewelry for wives and girlfriends (moms, sisters, and daughters too), clothing and jewelry for themselves, shoe shines, restaurants, nightclubs, and just passing out huge tips for working stiffs. At the time, clothing stores like Lou Magram, Leighton’s, Phil Kronfield, etc. all flourished within a few blocks of each other in Manhattan. Around the corners were the Latin Quarter, the Metropole, and a number of unmemorable bars and nightclubs. Restaurants were too numerous to mention. Brooklyn and Queens had the same kinds of businesses, but to a smaller scale, as did Queens and the Bronx (Staten Island was still the “country” till the Verrazano Bridge was built). All the neighborhoods made money. Waiters and waitresses, salesmen for all kinds of businesses, taxi drivers, and the owners of all kinds of small businesses in those areas where wiseguys hung around, all did well. I could go on and on, naming particular businesses. It was all good till…
Off Track Betting was the beginning of various state governments’ move to seriously muscle out citizen bookmakers for the sole purpose of taking over their businesses. The pitch to the public was that it was going to help education. The same claim came with every succeeding lottery scheme. Anyone reading this just has to ask how much of a surplus their local school has since their state began raking in gambling dollars? Short answer: they’re in worse shape than ever. Not only has the money gone to support their own bloated bureaucracies (numbers on the payroll = power), but they’ve systematically drained vibrant neighborhoods of income. The money is sucked out, never to return. Where are the small individually owned businesses that used to keep those neighborhoods alive? Gone. Sure, you can blame big corporations, chain stores, and malls for destroying neighborhoods, but state governments disarmed private citizens who might have been able to fight back and preserve their greater local prosperity. Where is the neighborhood barber who had a steady clientele, like Jasper’s, on Avenue U, in Brooklyn, where the largesse of bookmakers and gamblers helped to raise their families? Or, Alley’s and George Richland men’s clothing stores across the street from each other on Bay Parkway. Or Santarpia’s fruits and vegetables on Avenue N? Gone, gone, gone. Add that to the financially strapped public schools to understand how much states have screwed their citizens through gambling. Think, and ask yourself how much better things might have been where you live if you or your neighbor were able to make that extra income, and how that money would have been distributed to those around you. Think when you are about to feed the beast in the hope that you’ll become rich overnight. Think.
I never bought a lottery ticket.
© All Rights Reserved 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
Eric Holder’s Sleight of Hand
On Thursday, January 20, 2011, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder flipped a damaging card off the table as he played a shell game with America. On that day, he had more than 800 FBI personnel arrest 127 alleged mobsters. It looked really impressive, and immediately took the heat he’d been taking over holding terrorist trials in GITMO. All he needed was a couple of days till Obama’s State of the Union speech would dominate print and airways. Due to the complicity of the media, he got it. No one that I saw on TV really understood what was going on, and if they did they weren’t saying. Instead, they ballyhooed the arrest as if they had captured the entire upper echelon of Al Qaeda. In fact, I was contacted that day by one national TV news organization, asking if I would be willing to appear on air to discuss the arrests. In all fairness, they were having a little trouble coordinating a crew to interview me, but, I believe they decided against it when they asked what my thoughts were on the subject…and I told them.
First, numbers don’t lie. The 127 men were arrested under sixteen separate indictments. Does anyone believe they were all handed down on or even around the same day? There were so many arrested that they couldn’t even book them in proper surroundings, but had to set up an ad hoc processing center at Brooklyn’s Ft. Hamilton army base. Was that necessary? Add to that more than 800 FBI personnel took part in the arrests. 800! Who was overseeing potential terrorist activities in New York? Imagine, God forbid (Yes, libs, God!), that an explosive device went off in Manhattan that Thursday? Eric Holder would be hiding in an Afghan cave and ducking drone missiles right now.
How about the number of alleged “mobsters” arrested: 127. How many of those 127 are real? How many are wannabes, stumblebums, pretenders, or gofers? My guess is that more than three quarters fit into the latter category. If you read the indictments you find a minor gambler, someone who cashed a check, someone involved in bringing coffee to construction workers, and the killer of Cock Robin. One of the most laughable of all charges is against Andy Russo, who is alleged to be the acting boss of the Colombo crew. It seems one man allegedly affiliated with the Gambinos stabbed someone allegedly affiliated with the Colombos. A meeting was held to keep the situation from escalating into a deadly one when the victim recovered. At the meeting, Andrew suggested that the assaulter pay the hospital bills of the guy who had been sliced and diced. That launched an indictment against Andy Russo for “extorting the Gambino Family.” WHAT??? Are crime families now under the protection of Eric Holder and his gang? Will executives of the Obama-Holder Family now conduct sitdowns to settle mob disputes? Will they get a piece of the action? Are they jockeying for a seat on the Commission? It is so ridiculous that if a man’s freedom was not at stake, it would be a real rib tickler.
When a Muslim officer screamed “Allah Akbar” and shot fellow military people at Fort Hood, the President and his Attorney General cautioned us “not to jump to any conclusions,” yet when it comes to parading out “alleged” mobsters there isn’t even a presumption of innocence.
This Ringling Brothers spectacle brings out another factor that is generally whispered but not said in mixed company and certainly not even mentioned by the mainstream media: there is a racist element to this President and his administration. When Harvard Professor Gates, a black man, became an issue after his arrest, Obama, after stating that he didn’t know all the facts, claimed “The police acted stupidly.” There has been no similar misgiving about the FBI arresting 127 men on one day based on sixteen separate indictments. AFTER New Black Panther thugs were found guilty of voter intimidation, Eric Holder dropped the charges. Don’t hold your breath for similar treatment of those arrested on the mob case in question.
Joe Colombo was ahead of his time in fighting the Government for their persecution of Italians. He also understood the changing society and wanted to have his people adapt. He recognized that organized crime, both here and in Italy/Sicily had two intertwining threads, crime and honor…it was a near thousand year old way of life…and for the latter to survive, the former had to be discarded. The organization could be modeled after the Masons, with money being circulated between businesses owned by members. It could even have an initiation ceremony modeled after the classic one, including burning a picture of a saint during the process. The problem Joe had then, which will remain the same in the future, is that the enlightened members, if they do not number one hundred percent, will always be dragged down by those who refuse to advance.
A check of results one year from the date of the Holder extravaganza, on January 20, 2012, will show that the majority of the 127 arrested got little or no prison time, that most of those heavy hitters rolled over and made deals for a slap on the hand, and that a relatively few old timers, like Andy Russo, will wind up in prison for a more substantial amount of time. The money wasted will never be accounted for, the whole hoopla surrounding the events will be forgotten, and for Eric Holder the joke will be on us.
© All Rights Reserved 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
STORIES OF ME
FEDS vs STATE
Everyone knows that federal prosecutions score much higher than those in the State of New York or any of those states that had/have sizeable organized crime communities. For example, the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York boast a conviction percentage of organized crime figures of something like a normal body temperature. Their investigators, FBI agents, are better than their comparative state or city detectives, and their prosecutors are head and shoulders above their counterparts in the state; they have to be to work on organized crime, corporate fraud, or major narcotics networks. The latter are overwhelmed with rapists, street drug peddlers, spouse killers, etc. They just dull their talent with the sheer amount of low end crimes, and are not prepared for long, sophisticated multi-defendant trials. In the past, state justice workers from cops, to prosecutors, to judges have been known to be open to the occasional bribe. Every mob guy knows it. What most don't realize until they go through both penal systems is how different they can be too. One Brooklyn mobster learned it the hard way.
It started with the State Organized Crime Bureau, which infiltrated my gambling operation and became close with me over a number of years. The undercover detective ate in my house, played with my kids, and even offered to confirm my son when his godfather was late for church. Eventually, that led to my being spirited out of my home in the dead of a Friday night and brought to a secret location in a Manhattan office building where I was confronted with my employee and pal of three years wearing a detective’s gold shield. Why bring me there instead of just arresting me? It was for the offer. There’s always an offer to cooperate. Problem was, I wasn’t buying, but was concerned that two dozen of my friends and associates would be surprised by arrests that could also find guns, gambling records, etc. Since it was a Friday night and I had no other option, I threw a Hail Mary pass and said I needed the weekend to think about whether or not I would cooperate. The geniuses conferred then granted me seventy-two hours, with the understanding that I would be arrested if I decided not to play along and allow the undercover to keep working on the case. Since I knew my wife had already called my lawyer, I sat back down and refused to leave. I told them that the undercover had to be formally arrested: booked, fingerprinted, mugshots taken; everything my lawyer could find when I told him I’d been grabbed for questioning about something the undercover was being charged with and let go. Within hours, as the sun barely gave its first yawn, I met with my next guy upstairs and explained everything that had gone on, word for word. He told me to contact everyone who might have come in contact with the undercover; tell them the story and tell them to clean house before they were pinched…no gambling slips, money, or weapons around…which was exactly what I did and they complied. The dozen and a half arrests were amazingly orderly for the police, who, I’m sure, wondered why. Bail was set and everyone was immediately released through waiting bondsmen. No one even had to skip a good meal outside. They were collecting money from bookmaking and shylock customers that day. In the end, everyone walked except the target of the investigation, me, and I only went to prison because of a motion snafu my lawyer made. He was a close friend and had saved my ass many times, so I knew it wasn’t intentional.
New York State prison regulations at the time mandated ten days of each month as “good time,” which meant that if an inmate didn’t get in trouble and have days taken away, he could only do a maximum of two-thirds of his time behind bars. When I got to reception at Dannemora, after a brief stay at Sing Sing, I asked the interviewer if I had worked at a real job on the outside, did he think I would have stayed out of prison.
“I guess so,” he said.
“Well,” I replied, “if I didn’t work outside for serious money, what makes you think I would want to mop your floors for thirty-five cents a day?”
He was quick to answer, “Because if you refuse to work, we can take away your good time.”
I saw his point immediately, but got an opportunity to have it both ways when I went for the obligatory medical exam. Instead of giving me a thorough exam, the “doctor?” asked if I had any conditions. I told him I had chronic phlebitis instead of the truth: I had had phlebitis once when a cold settled in a thigh vein. He wrote it in with a recommendation that any job I took had to be a sitting one. Halfway home. They would not be able to assign me to any job where I would have to stand on my feet.
When I got to my first home prison, I was interviewed for a job. The counselor said he saw I could not stand much and asked if I typed. Of course I said no. He asked how he could get me a sitting job with no typing. I replied that wasn’t my problem, that it was his job, and that he should write on the file that I did not refuse to work. Mission accomplished.
After seven or eight months of taking sun, reading, or making phone calls to friends and family while the other inmate spent their days working at some prison labor, the counselor called me in one Friday. He said he had finally found suitable work for me: clerk in the prison hospital. For those inmates who weren’t as opposed to “working for the man” as I, that was considered the best job one could hope for. Not this incorrigible guest of the state. I asked if there was any typing required. He said none. I was forced to go to Plan B. When my wife visited the next day, I asked her to do me a favor and visit me early every day for two weeks. I said that within that time the hospital staff would get so disgusted that the clerk was never there that they would send me back to unemployment status.
That following Monday, I reported to the hospital at the ungodly time of 8:30 a.m. The first thing I asked the head nurse was if there was any typing on the job. She answered, “It’s all typing.” Ha! She would be easy. For my first assignment, I was given a list of thirty-three inmate names and corresponding numbers and told to type three Rolodex cards for each entry. “When will they be done?” the battleaxe of a head nurse asked. “What’s today, Monday,” I mused out loud. “Thursday,” I replied to her question.
Probably thinking I was just another smartass prisoner breaking balls, she shot me an impatient look then went about her business.
I took one Rolodex card, spent a ridiculous amount of time lining it up in the IBM Selectric typewriter, sized it up for a few moments, then finally said, “Nah,” and pulled it out to start over again. About a half-hour later, nurse came by again. “How’s it going?” she asked. I responded, “Fine. I’ll have them when I told you. Look, I have one done already.” She huffed off, only to be replaced by a hack who escorted me out of the hospital and back to my unit. When my wife showed up for our scheduled first visit, I told her the story, adding, “I thought it would take two weeks, not a half-hour. They’re easy.”
That’s when I got booted out and sent to another institution…
…Where I found a counselor determined to get me to work. On my first encounter with him, he said he wanted to take a chance, despite my documented medical condition, which he didn’t know was phony, and put me to work in the kitchen. Fully aware that I could lose my goodtime by refusing to work, I agreed, but asked for the exact spelling of his name. When he asked why, I responded, “Because when my lawyer sues the institution, I don’t want him to spell your name wrong.” He threw me out of his office…but he didn’t stop trying to get me to work, calling me down to his office a couple or more times a week. One day he said he would have thought I would want the money for working. “How much do they pay, thirty-five cents a day?” I said. “How about I give you thirty-five cents a day to leave me alone?” Needless to say, I went home after a couple of years without ever giving the prison system that kept me from my loved ones even one hour of my labor.
Then came a R.I.C.O. arrest by the Feds.
The United States of America vs. whoever is so powerful that the case is practically lost the moment the indictment, which the government admits is so easy they could “indict a ham sandwich,” is handed down by a grand jury. One doesn’t really have to be guilty to be rolled over by the government legal machine. Add to that the complete ruthlessness of prosecutors trying to build a record they can turn into cash when they eventually go into private practice, and it’s no wonder their conviction rate is near one hundred percent. They will fight to have decent defense attorneys thrown off cases, will show the insides of defendants’ closets to raise jealousy from juries, and out and out lie, writing scripts for witnesses. Rudy Giuliani once told an audience of law students at Fordham University that if he “thought” someone was guilty of a crime, nothing he did to put them in prison was off limits. In my case, that including coaching a witness he had never met to say he saw him meet every week with a captain in the Gambino Family…a person I had only met once or twice in my entire life, and coaching a witness during a lunch recess, and rifling through a defense attorney’s papers during another break. The judge was made aware of all those indiscretions, but it had no effect on him. It’s not hard to understand when you realize they all get their checks from the same place…they’re a team; the prosecution team for The United States of America.
Sitting in MCC, things took a bad turn for me, a now convicted R.I.C.O. offender, who had had my bail revoked upon conviction. The “danger to the community” argument the U.S. Attorney used to keep me in prison during the appeal process was that I’d associated with Anthony “Tony Gawk” Augello, someone who just happened to have been dead for three years at the time. The turn came in the form of my wife’s stepfather, Biagio, a Sicilian who would dispel every stereotype of males from the island being manly, approaching my wife with stories of indiscretions with a female and encouraging her to divorce me and move on with her life. Stuck behind bars, I called another relative, Paulie, who was a well known Gambino mobster and asked him to order my rat father-in-law to stay away from my wife. Instead, Paulie told him that I had taken out a contract on him, but that he had taken it away. Of course, that sent Biagio right back to wifey with the claim that I had tried to have him killed. Thanks, but no thanks, Paul.
I think I had more mobster close friends in MCC with me than were left out on the street. One was “Little Dom,” someone I’d done business with and stayed friends with for about fifteen years. I said I wanted to pull the same kind of ploy I had pulled years earlier with the NY State detectives, the events of which he was well aware of, and say I needed some time in the street, even a few days, to think about cooperating. I’d take care of my rodent problem and return a couple of days later. Dom laughed. He said the feds would never buy it, but that I was welcome to give it a try. That’s where I found the first major difference between the state and the feds. The feds wouldn’t even hear of any kind of play, even for a weekend, even for an hour, unless I gave them something concrete, which, of course, I couldn’t. Dom laughed at me a second time when I had to admit he was right and that couldn’t pull it off. Biagio got a pass, but faded into the background…some guys don’t realize how lucky they really are. However, the damage had already been done and I was divorced halfway through my term.
The federal difference was apparent in prison too. Even before I got to a designated prison, I decided I would pull the same no work scam I had in state prison. Instead, the feds sent me for a thorough medical checkup and determined that there was nothing wrong with me beyond morally. The first job they assigned me was outside on a lawn crew. I immediately threw my prison uniforms in the trash and showed up for work in sweatpants. I claimed I had put the clothes the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) issued me in the washing machine and someone had stolen them. I was sent back and an appointment was made for me to get new uniforms. When I got them and reported for work, I slipped on the ice and had to be sent back. I was fired before I got to work an hour.
The problem, I later found out that in the federal system you earn your good time instead of getting it given to you by statute. My shenanigans had cost me sixty days of his good time; sixty days more I would have to do in prison before ultimately getting released. Now, I HAD to find a job. Through pals in prison, I was given “no show” jobs, like tutoring a student who was only interested in writing letters to his girlfriend; I’d correct his letters from Monday to Thursday (Friday was my Trivial Pursuit day) at three o’clock in the afternoon. In yet another institution, friends got me a gig where all I had to do was sign in and out of the prison’s power plant.
I had put the brakes on my loss of time, but none of that got the sixty days back. Then serendipity struck. I heard one correction officer complain to another that he had been turned down for a job promotion because he wasn’t able to do well on the essay part of the application. The BOP posts job openings, takes applications that include an essay part, then come back with a rating, the two best being “qualified” and “best qualified.” I told the officer that if he applied again I would write the essay part, and if he got one of the top two grades, I would want a few days good time. After the first “best qualified” was returned, I became extremely popular among staff and actually got back all sixty days of the good time I’d lost.
A WORD ABOUT PRISONS:
Unfortunately, the lesson incarcerated inmates learn is that their crime was not the thing they were convicted of, but getting caught. There is an endemic corruption among those who run prisons that ranges from inconsequential to criminal, and which teaches the aforementioned lesson to those they are in charge of in the name of the government.
The corruption in state facilities is many times at the lowest level: guards. They will do innocuous things like allowing inmates to exceed the food limit for a price to carrying in drugs. Since the inmate population is generally one convicted of crimes from turnstile jumping, to rape, to murder, the guards (known to prisoners as hacks) who can stand the population on a daily basis tends to identify with them at some point and commit more base crimes, like drugs. It’s a case of “Tell me who you stay with and I’ll tell you what you are.” Those hacks also commit individual crimes like trying to shake down inmates’ families for so called advantages or protection and sexual advances to female visitors with the same promises for their incarcerated loved ones. Those things diminish considerably at prisons built in areas considered the “assholes of the earth,” where talented people leave and those who remain depend on the prisons for jobs that are otherwise unavailable. They tend to look down on prisoners, since without them they would be the bottom of the economic and social heap. State prison guards tend to be those who could not make it in the private sector.
Corruption in federal prisons is more noticeable at the top. Whole families make their careers in the Bureau of Prisons, having relatives who are wardens, assistant wardens, supervisors, etc. in other institutions. They do resemble mob families and feel the same sense of entitlement that mobsters with blood connections to executives in other crews do. Some wardens bill goods for their personal use to the institutions they run. Theft? There is a prison system of “contracts,” where inmates will buy goods or services from others and pay in cigarettes or other commissary items or money sent to the contract from relatives. Contracts can cover anything from someone doing laundry or to kitchen workers to provide food. I usually found a kitchen contract for food delivered to my cell in every prison I was in. That food was almost always whatever would be served in the mess hall that day, which allowed me to avoid that institutional inconvenience. One contract delivered a bag of food when his overnight shift ended at about 6:30 a.m. If he gave me a bag of pork chops, for example, I would eat them all day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One morning he woke me and gave me a plastic bag filled with something I couldn’t identify. The contents were white and green and had no discernable form. It turned out to be crabmeat and asparagus, something the warden had had delivered and billed to the prison, only to be brought over to his house for a Saturday night party he was about to have. My guy had stolen some of the food the warden was stealing from the government and brought it to me. I ate my entire contents of epicurean delight at that early hour.
Officials also play corrupt games. In one detention center, air space was measured from floor to ceiling in a three story rotunda and fraudulently passed off as inmate air space mandated by Washington. Not bad if the inmate was thirty feet tall. Another institution was required to submit a report that the air conditioning was working. The report had to be certified by an outside air condition specialist. Since the management didn’t want to report it was out of order, it hired an air condition specialist from a nearby state prison to certify that it was working. Martha Stewart went to prison for lying to an FBI agent. What is lying to the B.O.P. worth? Some of the cover up-type corruption seems ridiculous, like painting grass green before inspections from Regional or Washington staff or herding non-working inmates from building to building out of sight of inspectors who can report that the institution not overcrowded and is efficiently run, with no inmates hanging around units in the daytime. It may sound stupid, but teaches those convicted of crimes that their real crimes were being caught.
That corruption inmates see also goes all the way to the government itself. In 1985, a new sentencing act was to begin. That law included new guidelines for sentencing, the elimination of earned good time and replaced with a paltry fifteen percent mandatory good time, and the elimination of the Board of Parole with all current prisoners to be given a date within their sentencing guidelines. The first two were implemented immediately, but the government allowed a five year extension on the last. When you consider that all it would take to comply with the new law was checking inmates’ information on the computer and inserting a release date within their guidelines. What it also would mean is turning the featherbedding parole officers and other bureaucratic staff out to pasture. Five years would give them time to lose many by attrition, which, in reality, was stealing money to pay off their pals. If that wasn’t bad enough, at the end of the five years they asked for and were granted another five years to comply. More taxpayer stolen while they kept inmates in prison beyond their guideline dates at an additional cost to taxpayers. For those who don’t understand parole guidelines, they are determined prior to sentencing and include prior convictions, seriousness of the offense, violence, and money involved among other aggravating and mitigating considerations. So, if, after knocking all this out on the computer according to predetermined slots, an inmate was determined to have guidelines that ranged from 36-48 months, he or she would have expected to be released within that time if they obeyed prison rules and stayed out of trouble inside. However, a judge might sentence that defendant to ten years. At the time, that meant the inmate would be eligible for parole at forty months with a maximum of eighty months. The Parole Department would then have all discretion as to when to release the inmate, up to the maximum of eighty months, or thirty-two months beyond his or her maximum guidelines. The new law was supposed to bring release into compliance with guidelines, which would put parole bureaucrats out of work and harm the B.O.P. by easing the overcrowding they require to demand more money for prisons and staff, which in turn is more power. I tried at the time to interest newspapers and other media outlets in that story, which was easily verifiable. None would touch it. I don’t know if the parole board was ever completely shut down, but, after robbing ten years of money, does it really matter?
© All Rights Reserved 2011 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
Because of the January 20, 2011 arrest of 127 alleged mobsters in New York, we are reprinting this Sonny Girard article to help all understand why.
WHY SO MANY RATS TODAY?
Over the last few months I’ve had a very personal experience with a dear friend, “Blue Eyes,” rolling over for the Federal Government after having stood up for sixteen straight years in prison. I was shocked and saddened. I don’t know all the circumstances, other than what I’ve heard through the grapevine. I’m sure we’ll all be reading about it soon. All I can think of is that he’s traded the family of another guy or guys who trusted him to replace the suffering of his own…and that I lost another good friend. It is now the dominant event on my mind.
Frankie "Blue Eyes"
A while ago, when Joe Massino, boss of the Bonnano Crime Family, rolled over and began cooperating with the Feds, someone I know who was close to Joey asked me how he could do something like that. My response was to say that the phrase “wiseguys” wasn’t put together carelessly. I’m sure, I said, that “dumbguys” had never even been considered. That term, “wiseguys,” didn’t mean that people with that moniker were geniuses, but that they were slick, sharper to see opportunities than most people; had a ruthless sense of how to survive best. I told my friend that if he thought back over the last two decades, he’d see that working with the authorities had more upsides than downsides. I asked how many men who had testified against the mob since Joe Valachi had been caught up with and killed? He said, “None.” I seem to recall one, but can’t remember who, and can’t even be sure I’m right. In either case, it’s little or none. Not much of a deterrent
There have always been rats in the mob. They were harder to identify because they were virtually all “dry snitches,” which means they provided information without ever being exposed or having to take the witness stand and testify. Many times they were the highest ranking members, like Lucky Luciano, who used the authorities to reduce a case or solve a personal problem. Lucky Luciano had his rodent cherry cracked when he was just a young drug peddler in the Five Points area of Little Italy. Arrested without the heroin on him, he led the cops to where he had stashed it; working a deal for a softer charge. He reached back into his rat bag when Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel were at odds with Waxey Gordon, in what was then called “The War of the Jews.” Fearing that the war would break into a hot shooting one, with Siegel leading the charge, Luciano and Lansky sent Meyer’s brother, Jake, to the Feds with enough of Gordon’s financial records to send Waxey away on tax charges. Quiet. No one in the streets knew. War over. Poor Gypsy Rose Lee had to attend all those parties with her fornicating monkeys (yes, she used to have them entertain her guests), but without Waxey by her side. Boo hoo.
Those kind of dry snitch events are hard to document, since no one came forward to leak those crimes. However, from experience, I am absolutely positive there was much more going on than met the eye, and usually at higher mob levels than we would ever have believed. For mob leaders, it was, and remains, “Do as I say, not as I do.” And, as time went on, at least three of my own experiences had higher ups look the other way about proven stoolpigeons who were making money for them. Two of them went to prison when the informants they protected for money testified against them.
Sammy The Bull
That doesn’t mean that there weren’t men who were real men in those days. I would say that the great majority were. They came out of the same ghetto environment that the great prizefighters of the day did. Each was fighting his way out of poverty by putting up his body as collateral. Boxers subconsciously said, “Beat my face and body, but I’m not going back there.” Mobsters said the same thing, but put their lives and freedom on the line. Becoming a rat was unthinkable and truly despised, not just with empty words to make them look good. A prime example is a well known story about the “Lord High Executioner,” Albert Anastasia. Willie Sutton was a bankrobber who was known more for his escapes from prison than his actual robberies. One day, while Sutton was enjoying a hiatus from his latest sentence, a haberdasher named Arnold Schuster spotted him and informed police where to catch him. The clothing salesman got a lot of good citizenship publicity. Unfortunately for him, some of it reached Anastasia. Despite the fact that Albert knew neither Sutton nor Schuster, he exclaimed, “I hate rats!” and ordered the latter eliminated. RIP Arnold.
On a more basic day to day level in the old days, before mass communication and the Witness Protection Program, and with leaders like Anastasia around, if someone testified against a mob figure then ran away, a local boss could pass off a story about how the turncoat was tortured and dismembered then fed to animals at the nearest zoo. Other potential turncoats sitting on the fence shook in their shoes and took a jail term instead. Today, the stoolpigeon gets a book and/or film deal, does interviews with Barbara Walters, and has photos released of him lounging by a pool with palm trees in the background. The fact that a lot of what they say in those interviews is self-serving, gratuitous bullshit means nothing. They’ve “wiseguyed” both the criminal and legal systems.
Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso
Henry Hill, for example, never told Nick Pileggi about how he was despised by most mob guys but given some modicum of respect because Paul Vario loved him and cast his wing of protection over him. The expression commonly used about Henry at the time was, “You respect a dog for its master.” Instead of that side of the story, he wove a tale of how well he was respected by all. The “facts” he told Pileggi and other interviewers was what they wanted to hear, about how the mob turned on poor him. They also mean nothing. The truth is that he turned on everyone because he was a junkie and a punk, and decided to trade the suffering of his family for those of his former friends. Paul Vario, for example, got Hill a no-show job for him to get out of prison and into a halfway house. Hill testified to that fact, which sent his former father figure to prison, where he moaned about the betrayal until he died. The fact that he tells interviewers what they want to hear makes him a media darling. In the early 1990’s I appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s show, with Hill brought in via satellite. I challenged his lies. His only defense was to nervously stammer that I was wrong. I ripped Hill a new ass, but was never invited back, while he’s always been Geraldo’s mob expert pet and has appeared numerous times over the years.
Henry Hill with Ray Liotta
The truth is that government tactics and pressure get too much credit for destroying the mob. It has destroyed itself both by natural causes, as the ghetto areas that spawned traditional mobsters are gone. Little Italy is now restaurant row. East Harlem, which produced many mob legends, is reduced to one famous restaurant, Rao’s, and a couple of social clubs for some of its geriatric neighbors. South Brooklyn is trendy Carroll Gardens. All the other ghetto areas have been turned over to those other ethnic groups at the bottom of the social and financial ladder. Young wannabes grow up in suburbs. They can shoot, but they won’t stand up to being shot at. A former partner of mine used to say, “Everybody can be a toughguy if the shoe fits. It’s when the laces get tight that you see who screams.” When these young mob hopefuls grow up, the shoe fits comfortably. They have nice homes, girlfriends, cars, and MTV. There is no one that they “needed” to help them stay alive as they grew up. They have no loyalty experiences in their background. What they need is their MTV. When the prison gates clang behind them, those laces tighten quickly and they scream. Older wiseguys feel like jerks when they realize that their co-defendants are likely to have palm trees instead of jail cells, and they too rush forward. Joe Massino might be the first official boss to roll over, but the recent past is filled with high ranking members who have chosen rolling over to standing up: Jimmy The Weasel, Acting Boss of L.A.; Ralph Natale, Acting Boss, of Philadelphia; Underboss, Sammy the Bull, of New York; Gaspipe Casso, Little Al D’Arco, and on and on and on.
Ralph Natale, Philadelphia
Another problem for the mob is its Americanization; the idea that the only goal is money. Years ago, believe it or not, there was a thread of honor that ran alongside the thread of crime. As time went on, the crime should have been discarded, with the code of honor dictating a tight, secret organization, much like the Masons, which circulated money among its members. The “Me Generation” has taken over. A number of years ago, a partner of mine died. The brass called me in to find out what he had going; what profit was out there to be had. One of the things we had our fingers in was to maintain order in a huge auditorium-type operation. The big guy asked how much was made from it. I answered, “Nothing.” He said that if there was no money coming out of the place, we should step back and let someone from another crew go in. I replied that there was no responsibility for him, since I handled all the beefs, and that we had maintained our position of authority there to guarantee that we had jobs for our guys coming out of jail. His answer: “Fuck the guys in jail.” That sort of thinking explains a lack of loyalty among underlings even further. For years, guys have gone to prison with zipped lips, many times to protect their superiors. Unless they are bosses, it is a rarity that any of their families get a cent; that they get any money themselves for commissary. In fact, more times than not, money is stolen from operations they had going when they went to jail. The Government didn’t do that. Add all the corrosion from the inside-out and you’ll see why there are so many rats and the mob is gasping its last breaths, both here and in Italy
Mafia Arrest in Italy
Twenty years ago a friend of mine from Jersey said that one day there would be a time when a bunch of mob guys would be standing on a corner when they saw another mobster coming, and one would say, “Shhh, don’t talk, he’s a stand up guy.”
That day is now.
An example of the case I’ve made is that of Chris Paciello, a Staten Island “toughguy” until he faced prison time. Paciello has had a book written about him, a television movie about him done too, and is now relocated in Los Angeles, where he mingles with entertainment figures like the cast of “Entourage,” who are excited by his past. Some may have been patrons of his hot Miami nightclub. Some will probably wind up in his bed.
This week’s events, with my now former pal rolling over against others brought to mind an article that Richard Johnson had published about Paciello in the New York Post, one that also involves MySpace.com:
MYSPACE MISERY FOR MOBSTER
January 15, 2007 -- WHILE Brooklyn mobster Chris Paciello tries to start a new life in Los Angeles, having served six years in prison for a 1993 murder, there are plenty of former friends from Bensonhurst who wouldn't mind if he got run over by a truck.
Paciello was a government witness - along with such pals as Fat Sal, Applehead and Skeeve - who helped send a dozen of his old associates behind bars, including Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico, the acting boss of the Colombo crime family.
"Paciello is a no-good snitch, a rat, and a selfish [bleep-bleep]er," says a Brooklynite surprised that Paciello didn't undergo plastic surgery and enter the witness-protection program.
Always quick with his fists, the handsome Paciello was Miami's nightclub king 10 years ago and dated the likes of Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and models too numerous to mention.
Now, one of his enemies has set up a phony MySpace page bearing Paciello's likeness and his (made-up) words: "For some reason everyone in Miami and Hollywood thinks I only ratted on four people." The entry then lists five "Springville Boys" from Staten Island he actually helped put away for sentences ranging from 3 to 10 years.
"I also took the stand against Eddie Boyle [a high-end bank burglar associated with the Gambinos] and Tommy Dono from Brooklyn. I provided information on Tommy Reynolds and Fabritzio "The Hurter" DiFrancesi, now serving 30- and 36-year sentences.
"I also snitched on my best friends from Brooklyn who I grew up with my whole life, Rico Locasio, 5 years, and Dom "Black Dom" Dionisio, 16 years."
A law-enforcement source says this account is accurate: "Paciello would have testified in a lot of other cases, but the majority of defendants pleaded guilty and there were no trials."
The MySpace hoaxer points out that even after all his cooperation, Paciello was sentenced to 10 years: "As I cried in the courtroom, the prosecutor said he would appeal the sentence. A few weeks later, I got a 7-year sentence. Basically what I'm saying is I could not do an extra three years . . . I'm a selfish rat [bleep-bleep]er."
All I can say is, “Kudos to the MySpace mischief maker.
To check out who’s infesting your neighborhood, go to www.whosarat.com
© 2010 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
The Real Story of Bugsy Siegel
The story of Bugsy Siegel is about as familiar to American organized crime watchers as that of Al Capone or John Gotti. There have been books about Siegel. There have been movies, like Mobsters and Bugsy that featured him. I’ve read just about every one of the books and seen every one of the films. I’ve also watched the documentaries about him or that featured him in telling the story of one of his cohorts, like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, or Meyer Lansky. What I haven’t seen is the real story of the man. I’ve seen the events over and over, but have not found one book, movie, or TV show that has understood what Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was all about. How do I know what those authors and producers did not? My friends were there and my friends told me things. Now, I’ll tell you.
The beginnings of modern organized crime in America is widely attributed to four men: Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Frank “The Prime Minister” Costello, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel. Each of them had a role in laying the foundation for the mob’s existence for another half-century. The most widely known was the top executive, Lucky Luciano. His story is no secret. He came up in the ranks of Joe “The Boss” Masseria, a Sicilian immigrant thug who was at constant war with his main Sicilian rival, Salvatore Maranzano. Both men were old school, “Moustache Petes,” who ignored profits for murderous vendettas. After Maranzano’s men kidnapped Luciano and beat and cut him before leaving him for dead, he agreed to set his current boss, Masseria up to be killed. A long standing Sicilian/Italian mob rule was that one could not kill his boss and succeed him. That is why John Gotti was never recognized by the Commission as the true leader of the Gambino Family, having very publicly and obviously had Paul Castellano murdered. Genovese Family members were actually indicted for a plot led by their leader, Vincent “Chin” Gigante, to murder John. Luciano, in a much less media driven day, got around this by handing off the dirty work to Bugsy Siegel, who, along with Red Levine and other Jewish gangsters, shot Masseria to death in a Coney Island restaurant while Luciano was conveniently relieving his bladder in the bathroom. Luciano later had Siegel and his Jews murder Maranzano too, and name himself boss of both sides of the conflict. Luciano was a weasel. He had proven it earlier by leading police to a stash of heroin to avoid an arrest and later by sending Meyer’s brother, Jake Lansky, to the IRS with business records of fellow mobster Waxey Gordon, to avoid a brewing “War of the Jews.” He finally elevated weaseldom to it’s peak when he got out of his prison term after helping clear the way for U.S. forces to invade Sicily and drive out the Nazis, while leaving his co-defendant, “Little Davey” Betillo to serve out his entire sentence in prison. Weasel.
Costello and Lansky had different positions in the formation of modern organized crime. Costello was a diplomat. He mingled with businessmen, politicians, and judges, and never really thought of himself as a mobster. He was good looking and smooth as silk, blending into high society much more easily than into the circles of mob underlings. The clubs he frequented were El Morocco and the Stork Club, not Mulberry Street social clubs, with neighborhood gamblers, toughs, and murderers playing pinochle and drinking espresso brewed in beat up Napolitano maganettes. Diplomat.
Meyer Lansky, as the third leg of the mob’s four-legged stool, was a businessman, more at home with an adding machine than a machine gun. He was brilliant with numbers and with seeing business possibilities that enriched the mob over decades. He set in motion business interests, like gambling in Havana and investments of union pension funds, that kept organized criminals rolling in cash for decades. Businessman.
That brings us to Siegel, the man portrayed by historians and filmmakers as a bloodthirsty maniac. The truth was that Siegel was the only true warrior in the quartet that founded modern organized crime. Did he murder? Absolutely? Did he have a mean temper? Yes, indeed. And that temper combined with a cold hearted ability to murder as needed to protect his and his partners’ interests to give him a reputation that would make generations think of him as a cross between Jack the Ripper and Dracula. No blood dripping from Siegel’s lips, unless, of course, he was in a wild bout with the love of his life, the closest thing to a female mobster, Virginia Hill. That maniacal image of Siegel is the first misconception about the man. Warrior.
But, how Siegel is understood or misunderstood in his bloodletting activities is an unimportant distinction. Remember, sticks and stones can…blah, blah, blah. What is important is to understand the relationship between Bugsy and his mob brethren AFTER he’s killed Masseria and Maranzano to form a new organization, or syndicate. One of the beefs the younger group, which Siegel was an integral part of, had with the old Moustache Petes was that they would only do business with Sicilians, and, in the extreme, only trusted those who originated from the same Sicilian areas they did. Jews, Irishmen, even Neapolitans like Costello were not welcome. To the young Americanized Sicilian gangsters like Luciano, money had no ethnic preference. Green was green, and they’d take it from or make it with anyone, anywhere. To Bugsy Siegel, that meant that he and his partners would be equals once the Moustache Petes were eliminated. But power corrupts, and once Luciano’s plan to form a more modern mob had been accomplished, he announced that there was this centuries-old Sicilian thing, at the time based on what was known as the Unione Siciliano, and that non-Italians had to have a Sicilian/Italian made guys to be their liaisons to the newly formed Commission of bosses from around the country.
Maranzano & Masseria
To Meyer Lansky, who was interested in money and not official mob position, that edict by Luciano meant nothing. His long time close friend, Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, became his “man.” Lansky never sat on the Commission, and couldn’t give a crap less about it. In fact, until recently the remaining old time Jewish mobsters and their offspring…guys like “Max the Jew” Shrager (father of luxury hotel owner, Ian) and the Jacobson brothers, Sam and Ralph, the latter who murdered the black owner of Conrad’s Cloud Room, the hot Queens nightclub…all answered to the Genovese Family, which is the descendent of Lucky Luciano’s crew after the re-organization of the mob. On the other hand, to Siegel, the warrior…the one who had done all the heavy lifting to put the Sicilian weasel and the Neapolitan diplomat in power…it sucked, and he would have no part of it. He would be his own boss and not take orders from any greaseball who was half the man he was. He would go somewhere to get away from the New York Italian-run mob…not to cut ties, as much as he despised them, and not as a point man for Luciano and Lansky, but to run his own show…and put three thousand miles between him and his pals. He set out for California, where he would be his own boss.
Again, all the events surrounding Bugsy Siegel’s wild romance with Virginia Hill and his founding of the Flamingo Hotel have been beaten to death in books, films, and TV. Everyone knows how the Flamingo cost millions more than it was supposed to and how the opening was a disaster. That’s where the common understanding of events, particularly Siegel’s murder, diverts from the truth.
A number of years ago, I had a good friend named Joe Stassi, who was known in mob circles as “Joe Rogers.” Who was Joe Rogers? Joe was like a grandfather who had been a feared killer in his early days, most notably for arranging the murder of Dutch Schultz on Luciano’s orders, who became the representative for the mob in Havana during its heyday. In his book about the mob in Cuba, “Havana Nocturne,” T. J. English writes about weekly mob summit meetings in Havana, “These meetings took place on Thursday or Friday at the Miramar home of Joe Stassi, the gravelly-voiced Mafioso…Stassi’s home was located on a winding, well-hidden road…not far from the site of Lansky’s highly anticipated Hotel Riviera…with Stassi presiding as a kind of go-between for the various parties in attendance…along with Meyer, and sometimes his brother, Jake, the participants included [Santo] Trafficante, the Cellini brothers…others in attendance were a collection of men…most with experience in the casino-gambling business – who filled out the lower ranks of the Havana mob.” Joe Rogers, was the ultimate insider…and Joe Rogers was my friend.
One day, during one of the sessions where Joe would relate stories to me of past mob events the talk turned to Bugsy Siegel. He said that all the stories about Siegel being killed because of his having lost the mob’s millions were bullshit. “If you check the numbers,” he said, “you’ll see that the Flamingo was already in the black in March. Ben got killed in June.” He went on to explain, with great authority, that after the money started coming in and Luciano and the others who had sunk millions into the hotel could breathe, they sent a message to Siegel to come back East for a meeting. According to Joe Stassi, what they wanted was to give Bugsy a dressing down followed by them demanding more points in the profits they could already forecast. If it had been Meyer Lansky or even Frank Costello, they would have jumped on a plane, listened to some harsh words, and given up some more money in what had already shown would generate untold amounts of profit. Bugsy Siegel had another approach, more in keeping with his warrior’s persona. “Bugsy sent back a message,” Joe Stassi said. “The message was ‘Fuck the WOPs!’ That was why he died.”
Do Bugsy’s real motives for going West or the real reason he was killed matter? Sometimes popular belief or fictionalized accounts are better than the reality. In Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” Paulie Vario, the Paul Sorvino character, is portrayed as a quiet, dignified, man of few words. In reality, Paulie Vario, who was also a friend of mine, was as loud as any mob guy you could ever find. His men used to call him “Magilla Gorilla.” However, in the film, Sorvino’s restrained performance worked much better as a foil for the violent antics of his crew than the reality of the man. On the other hand, the real story of Bugsy Siegel’s strained relationship with New York’s mob leaders before the whole Vegas fiasco and the real story of why he died are much more compelling than the misunderstood events portrayed in every book and film to date. It is the real story of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, thanks to Joe Stassi.
RIP my friend.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
John Gotti Jr: Prosecution or Persecution?
December 1, 2009:
John Gotti Jr got a Christmas present today when a jury, the fourth jury in five years, reported to the judge that it was hopelessly deadlocked, thereby forcing a mistrial. Four trials in five years. This from a Justice Department that dropped charges against New Black Panthers in Philadelphia, for interfering with the voting process, AFTER they had already pled guilty.
This from a Justice Department that is bringing a terrorist like Khalid Sheik Mohammud, captured in Pakistan, to New York, where he will get all the rights of an American citizen.
Why John Gotti Jr.? Why trial after trial, after trial? First of all, John Jr proffered with the Feds a couple of years ago. Proffering is where a defendant or target, accompanied by an attorney, sits down with the Feds for a conversation. There is an agreement that nothing will be held against the defendant that is a result of the proffer. Usually, that is to prove to the U.S. Attorney’s Office that someone has enough information to give about crimes of others that is worth a deal. Other times it’s an effort to do a “What a good boy am I” song and dance, in the hope that charges will be dropped to where a plea offer by the Feds is palatable enough to get the whole thing over with. A third is where a guy like Jr. Gotti feels overwhelmed by the might of the U.S. Government and just wants to plead to something and get on with his prison time and life. While the intentions of John Jr. were the latter, I’m sure, and he had no intention of rolling over, I’m equally sure that the Feds viewed it as a sign of weakness. Reality is not as important as perception, and the perception of the Feds, tainted by vengeance and prejudice, saw it as weakness. If they believed that they had little choice but to pressure him with another trial; if he was truly the weak link in the chain they believed he was, a conviction and life sentence would give them the biggest feather in their proverbial cap in history. Imagine a Gotti testifying for the Government? Even if he did nothing more than recite the phone book, the public relations coup would be immeasurable. And, if he was the man he appears to be and silently went off to spend the rest of his life in jail, they’d have won. Believe it or not, U.S. Attorneys keep win-loss records the way baseball pitchers do. Gotti win or no-hitter is the same to a U.S. Attorney’s personal fortunes.
Whatever the motives, whether to push Jr. to become a rat or just destroy him because he’s a Gotti, there should be a review of how they prosecuted him, or, more correctly, persecuted him. If you look at the charges from the first trial or two, where Jr was charged with ordering the shooting of super-ass Curtis Sliwa, who lied again when he identified my pals at Mob Candy Magazine as funded by the Gambino crew, in his ass…
to this latest trial, where the lowest group of sewer rats were brought in to testify that John Gotti Jr. was responsible for every murder over the last twenty or more years, including Cock Robin, the changes and additions seem irregular at best, contrived to be honest. John Alite, a guy who people have to hide their children when he passes by.
Is there anything Alite could say that you would believe? He even claimed to have had an affair with John’s sister, Victoria, whose denial passed a lie detector test. Why wasn’t Alite given a test about anything he claimed? Why? Because the Feds knew he was lying but didn’t care, as long as they could get the conviction of a Gotti. I have had experience with the Feds lying, coaching witnesses to lie, and other underhanded tricks. Too bad they don’t have the stomach to do the same to KSM or the New Black Panthers or to ACORN and SEIU.
Why is the Government allowed to persecute a John Gotti Jr.? Simple: because no one cares what is done to alleged mob guys. The Feds can break the back of a rule on the backs of organized crime figures at will. Will they change back when the case involves a “protected” group individual? A total criminal scumbag, Maurice Clemmens, killed four cops in Washington State the other day. He had a record as long as Kobe Bryant’s leg, was released for assaulting a cop, and then released on bail for a charge of raping a twelve year old girl. Right after that he walked into a coffee shop and shot four unsuspecting officers to death.
Mob guys, on the other hand, are routinely held without bail as a “danger to the community.” One was held with no more evidence of danger than he associated with a known mob guy, who was, incidentally, deceased at the time. Prosecution or persecution?
The persecution of John Gotti Jr., who I was told years ago wanted out, and who has been a real David vs the U.S. Goliath, should make all citizens sick, especially those bleeding hearts who cry out about how poorly we treat terrorists at GITMO.
If Attorney General Holder and his gang at the Federal Government choose to go after John Gotti Jr. again, if they take his victory, guided brilliantly by defense attorney Charles Carnesi, everyone should speak out and say, “Enough!”
To John Gotti Jr., “Congratulations.” Hope they leave you alone…but don’t count on it.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
The Mob & America: 1932-1946
In 1932, representatives of New York’s newly re-organized crime attended the Democrats’ Presidential Convention in the city most infamous for corruption, Chicago, Illinois. They had made untold millions as a result of Prohibition that they’d used to put law enforcers, judges, and politicians in their pocket. Now, they were going for the biggest prize of all. They would own the next President of the United States.
The three main contenders for the office were Governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Texan John Nance Garner, and Al Smith, a former Governor of New York and failed Presidential candidate four years earlier, in 1928. It was supposed to be an easy win for FDR, but it didn’t work out that way. He wasn’t able to muster the two-thirds he needed on the first and second votes, and back room deals went full force. One of those deals was with the mob.
A number of years ago, I got a message from Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo. As a lifelong mobster myself, Jimmy Blue Eyes was one of my early heroes. What he wanted to possibly do was write a book strictly about the 1920s and 1930s, when he, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky controlled the Democrat machine in New York, known as “Tammany Hall.” They were able to make mayors, judges, and councilmen, and had their way with any legal question, from criminal charges to licenses. One of those was the Presidency, in 1932. We never did the book because Jimmy, ever the loyal soldier, asked the boss of his family, the Genovese Family, for permission…and was denied. That denial came directly from Vincent Gigante. Though I was disappointed (I would have given anything just to hear the details), I was impressed that Chin had stuck to the letter of the law…mob law…without exceptions or excuses. That being said, it didn’t change the fact that those who controlled Tammany were at the Convention, and that they had a hand in electing the President.
Jimmy Blue Eyes
In true Machiavellian fashion, the New York contingent of organized crime split up and infiltrated the camps of both FDR and Al Smith. They never really had any confidence that Garner would be anything more than a spoiler, and, in true Texas Congressional manner, would cut a deal with one of the other two (he wound up as FDR’s Vice President). The mob had an earth shaking decision to make, and they wanted to make it right.
Luciano assigned himself to Al Smith, while Costello, a big fan of FDR’s, kept close to the candidate and actually got a brief audience with him to discuss support. Both offered the candidates not only money, but votes in key areas around the country. All Lucky and his guys had to do was send a message to Santo Trafficante in Tampa, Nig Rosen in Philadelphia, Waxey Gordon in Jersey, Nick Civella in Kansas City, or any of the bosses of major cities from coast to coast to get their troops out to pile up votes for their candidate. They negotiated directly with the candidates and finally decided, with no doubt swayed by Costello’s admiration, to throw their full and unified weight behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The news shattered Al Smith. He practically cried when he was told of their decision. He also told them that they’d made a huge mistake; that he came from the same kind of background they did, including being part of the Tammany machine, and could be trusted to keep any word he gave them, while the patrician Roosevelt would promise them anything but betray them in the end. The decision had been made. FDR won, and immediately empowered Samuel Seabury to investigate organized crime and its political connections, especially Tammany Hall, which had spawned his former rival, Al Smith. For all their dreams, efforts, and thoughtfulness, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello had made a mistake; they’d picked the wrong horse and would be trampled by their choice. Oddly enough, mobsters repeated their error in 1960, when their support helped their fellow bootlegger’s son, John F. Kennedy, attain the Presidency. He also turned on them once in office, and had his brother, Robert, as Attorney General, go after organized crime with a vengeance. In fact, the R.I.C.O. Act, so effective in mob prosecutions, was written during RFK’s reign as A.G.
It was only ten years later, in February of 1942, with the United States embroiled in World War II for only two months, that the superliner Normandie burned and capsized at its dock in New York Harbor. It wasn’t just that it was one of the fastest luxury liners ever built, but it was to be refitted to carry Allied troops. There was not a U-boat of the Fuhrer’s that could keep up with the Normandie. It wasn’t just a fire. The Government saw it as an act of wartime sabotage.
At that time, many of those who worked the New York piers were of Italian descent, and we were at war with Mussolini’s Italy. Control of the piers was also commonly known to be in the hands of organized crime. After intense discussions, it was decided by the Office of Naval Intelligence officials that they would approach the alleged Luciano boss of the piers, Joseph “Socks” Lanza, and appeal to his patriotism to help protect the docks from further sabotage. (Albert Anastastia and his brother, Anthony “Tough Tony” Anastasia, controlled waterfront interests for what would eventually become the Gambino Family)
Ever the loyal soldier, Lanza, through Meyer Lansky, contacted his boss, Lucky Luciano, who was serving a multi-decade sentence on a trumped up prostitution charge in Dannamora maximum security state prison in Clinton, New York. Lansky met with Lucky in the comfort of his decked out cell and worked a deal to have stevedores guard the piers against further sabotage. For his part, Luciano might get some kind of consideration once the war was over, but would immediately be moved from the Canadian border to Sing Sing prison, just outside New York City, in Ossining, where he could have an enhanced visitation life. Later, before his death, Lucky claimed that he had ordered the Normandie burned in order to get the Navy to come to him for help. Since there had never been an instance that would lead him to believe that at the time, the statement should be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, mobsters happen to be extremely patriotic. Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel led their thugs to disrupt Nazi Bund meetings in Yorkville, Manhattan, not for any consideration, but just to break the asses of Jew haters. In fact, patriotism ran through the Lanskys’ blood, with one of Meyer’s nephews later becoming an Army Intelligence Officer.
Luciano’s reputation among the United States war machine brass was golden. Years later, when the Allies were preparing to invade Sicily in the final push to defeat Hitler, Lucky was again approached; this time by the United States Army Military Intelligence. They were unsure how they would be greeted when they hit the shores of Sicily. Would they be given up to German troops? Would diehard believers in the now dead Il Duce engage them in battle? They knew he was well connected with Sicilian Mafia bosses, and assumed he could pave the way for an invasion unimpeded by Sicilian paisani. A firm promise was given that when the war ended, he would be released from prison and deported to Italy. Luciano, loyal to both Sicily and the United States, and very pleased with the promise, assured them that it was a done deal.
Italian WWII Campaign
As the invasion was launched, Luciano had a yellow handkerchief with his crest dropped from a U.S. plane over Sicily. That signaled underground Sicilian partisans to come forward and join the Americans to expel Hitler’s troops from their soil. For Mafiosi, who had been brutalized by Mussolini, which included the imprisonment of the most revered don in the history of the country, Don Vito Cascio Ferro, it meant a return of influence and power once Luciano’s Americans cleared the island of Nazis. Mussolini was already dead and the Mafia was thoroughly ingrained in Sicilian society. In fact, once the Germans had been routed with Sicilian support, at Luciano’s recommendation, American officials in charge installed many Mafiosi as mayors of various towns and in other top political positions.
Don Vito Cascio Ferro
In this case, Army Intelligence kept its word, and Luciano, who had been railroaded by future Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey (it is inconceivable that Luciano, the most powerful mobster in America at the time, confided his interests in a prostitution business to a druggie hooker named “Cokie Flo,” whose testimony convicted him), was released from prison in January, 1946, and deported to Italy. Since Sicily didn’t want him, Lucky was exiled to Naples, where he resided, with intermittent trips for mob meetings in Sicily and Cuba, until his death in January, 1962.
Luciano exiled in Naples
Those twelve years, from 1932, when mobsters participated in a Presidential convention, and 1946, when Luciano was released from prison and deported, were unique in that they covered two major upheavals in American history: the Great Depression and World War II. However, the U.S. Government using mob figures when they weren’t trying to lock them away, continued during America’s crises in the following decades, usually with the mobsters getting the short end of the stick. Chicago mobsters Johnny Roselli and Sam “Momo” Giancana were both enlisted to work with the CIA during the Kennedy years to try to assassinate Fidel Castro. Both Roselli and Giancana were murdered. Roselli washed ashore in an oil drum on the California coast; Momo was mysteriously shot to death in his basement apartment while under 24 hour FBI surveillance. Vito Genovese’s nephew recalls going to a hidden Florida beach with his uncle just before the Bay of Pigs fiasco, where they picked up a suitcase of money for weapons from para-military men. Vito’s quiet role helped him survive.
More successful in his dealing with the Government was Colombo mobster turned rat, Greg Scarpa, who was conscripted by the FBI to find the bodies of three freedom marchers who had disappeared in Mississippi. Scarpa grabbed a general store owner who the FBI was sure knew where the three men had been buried. He tied the storeowner up and tortured him until he revealed where the graves were. Scarpa earned himself an FBI “license to kill” until his death from AIDs.
The Government and the mob have been more interrelated than most people realize. The Government has always found organized crime an easy target when it needs more funding or a diversion from other problems. In between, they have no compunction about using mobster crackdowns to achieve its goals. Now that the mob is in its final throes, it won’t be able to do either much longer.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
It’s no secret that females have always been attracted to mobsters. Anyone who visits a nightclub or restaurant where mob guys hang out will see the hens flock around those criminal roosters. And why not? Mobsters usually have great cars and clothing, have disposable cash, have plenty of spare time to entertain in and out of the bedroom, and, most of all bring an aura of daring and violence that women find vicariously thrilling. For those who haven’t been around the mob, take my word for it. As a young man, I once had a fling with an Irish beauty who had mistakenly been told that I was my infamous boss (we were dressed similarly and standing next to each other when she had inquired with the bartender). I also had the wives of men who wanted to hang around with mob guys like me make offers of affairs and one girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day till she saw me beat a drunk in a barroom incident (I almost got pinched by two undercover detectives who were also watching the incident). What proves that the money and flashy possessions take second place to the aura of violence? Just look at the Hollywood harem that jumped into bed, and were rumored to have jumped into bed with wiseguys, as those females wondered how much blood was on the hands that sizzled on their naked flesh.
Not all relationships wound up well. Thelma Todd was a former Miss Massachusetts (1925) who made her way to Hollywood and worked in more than forty mostly comedy films of the late 1920s and early 1930s with names like the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Jimmy Durante. In the early 1930s, she opened a cafe at Pacific Palisades, called Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Café. The eatery became a hit and became a place where Hollywood celebrities could be seen, which attracted tourists as patrons. With beauty and business success came a series of relationships, including one with her jealous partner, Roland West, and another with a mob connected ex-husband involved in bootlegging and prostitution, Pat DeCicco. That ex-hubby also had a record of violence against women. On the night of December 15, 1935, Thelma had a nasty exchange with Pat at a party at the Trocadero, one of the most popular nightspots in L.A., run by actress Ida Lupino’s father, Stanley Lupino. She dismissed DeCicco, and went on to become the life of the party. The next morning she was dead; found in a car in her garage with the motor running. The police ruled it a suicide (Why the hell would a successful, beautiful, party girl commit suicide?), but rumors and alternate theories have continued to this day, one of the most popular being that she refused to allow DeCicco and others in Lucky Luciano’s family to use her club as a front for a gambling operation, and for her to participate in orgies that Lucky seemed to be fond of (and who isn’t?). More likely, DeCicco would have been angered because of jealousy or a refusal by his ex- to put him on her payroll.
Gypsy Rose Lee, real name Rose Louise Hovick, was a living burlesque legend of the day at the same time Thelma Todd was having her best days. Raised under poor conditions by a whacky mother, Gypsy was drawn to vaudeville at an early age. By the age of 13 she married. Mama Hovick had her young son-in-law arrested, but blew the case when she met him at the police station with a gun. She tried to shoot him, but the safety was on. The cops were happy to get rid of everyone in that crew, and filed no charges against anyone. Mama Hovick eventually shot a man to death, which, with the influence of her daughter’s fame and money, was ruled as a suicide by the victim. Gypsy was a world renowned stripper who needed constant stimulation, mentally and sexually. Her string of lovers and husbands included the famous, like film icon Otto Preminger and international promoter Mike Todd, a number of unknowns, some women, and a gangster: Waxey Gordon. Waxey was a bootlegger and high level associate of the most infamous names of the day: Lansky, Luciano, Costello, etc. He was tough as nails and ran his own gang. That excited Gypsy, whose appetite for excitement was insatiable. The fact that she could tame the thuggish Gordon was orgasmic. He was also tough enough to make sure no one gave her a hard time, and was so enthralled with her that he gladly put up with her quirks, like having monkeys perform sex acts at her parties and orgies, and was there to intimidate anyone who had a beef with her. But Waxey seemed to have picked up some of the craziness that Gypsy had inherited from her mother, and, egged on by Gypsy, got into a pissing match with Meyer Lansky that went to the brink of all out war. Luciano and Lansky believed that a “War of the Jews” would be bad for business, and sent Meyer’s brother Jake to the IRS with Gordon’s second set of records. Waxey was convicted and went to Federal Prison. Gypsy had no control now on her behavior, and as her public career faded she remarried and divorced again, but had financial success as a film writer, art collector, and entrepreneur…and never forgot Waxey, who eventually was released, later rearrested for heroin trafficking, and sent to prison, where he died. Did she need Waxey’s money? No. Was it his good looks or stunning personality? Certainly not. Once again, it was the aura of danger that surrounded him and excited a successful Hollywood star.
Gypsy Rose Lee
Janice Drake was another celebrity whose fascination with the mob led to tragedy. Janice, the wife of comedian Alan Drake, liked to move around as eye candy in mob circles…not that she brought them any good luck. She was with Albert Anastasia the night before he was shot to death in the Park Sheraton Hotel, presumably by Joey Gallo as a favor to Vito Genovese. She also dined with a garment center mover named Nat Nelson the night he was killed. That alone should have made mobsters…hell, men in general… treat her like a leper. But the ever imprudent Li’l Augie Pisano, whose real name was Anthony Carfano, never met a…how do we say this delicately?... female body part, he didn’t want, decided to take a chance with destiny and have a fling with Janice, who was later believed to have provided some service to the mob on the occasions of the murders and as a courier at other times. Bad luck caught up with her when she didn’t get out of the way of Li’l Augie’s body being aerated in his car. Or, was it Janice they were after? Or both, taking care of two birds with one stone? In either case, it was Mrs. Drake’s fascination with the mob that made her famous…and dead…slumped in a car; a bullet hole clean through her forehead.
Janice & Li’l Augie’s last date
Famed Schwab’s soda counter discovery turned international pinup girl and top actress, Lana Turner, also had a tragic turn with a minor mob character, Nicky Stompanato, who was particularly associated with Mickey Cohen. Lana loved being around mobsters and being known as the tough girl who walked the walk, and a sexually active female who had had a stable of lovers. One old time mob guy told me a story about how Sinatra, who was rumored to have been “made” by Sam Giancana, finally broke up with red-hot beauty, Ava Gardner, that involved Lana Turner as well. He claimed to have been in a Luciano crew wiseguy’s after hours club in Harlem when the two beauties stopped in after bouncing around the city’s top night spots. Half lit, they proceeded to drink it up and entertain the crowd of wiseguys and their associates with racy jokes and sexy body language. According to the old mobster, a few more drinks and the two actresses were bare-assed on the bar, with each one’s legs wrapped around the other’s head and tongues flicking away at high speed.
Frank & Ava in better days
When word hit Giancana’s ears, he immediately gave Ol’ Blue Eyes a choice: her or us. Sinatra was heartbroken, but chose the latter.
At the end
Johnny Stompanato had no such scruples and apparently neither did mobster Mickey Cohen. He was also known as a male gold digger to mobsters, and they ignored him. The relationship didn’t end well when supposedly her 14 year old daughter, Cheryl, stabbed Johnny to death when he was having another of his violent fights with her mother. At 14, Cheryl was a sympathetic character, and never really at risk of going to prison. The case was ruled justifiable homicide. However, popular underworld theory, which is usually more accurate in matters of murder, was that Lana was actually the one who shot him when she caught him having sex with her daughter. A film is now in the works about that affair.
Lana, Johnny, and Cheryl
One of the most famous celebrity-mobster romances was that of singer Phyllis McGuire, youngest of the popular McGuire Sisters, and Chicago crime boss, Sam “Momo” Giancana. That romance was immortalized in a Showtime movie “Sugartime,” with John Turturro playing the smitten Giancana against Mary-Louise Parker’s McGuire. That romance was at the center of Frank Sinatra losing his license to own part of the Cal-Nev Casino, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, on the California border. In July of 1963, Giancana, who was staying in the hotel, had a battle with Phyllis’ road manager, Victor Collins. Before long it turned into a physical battle, which drew the attention of the Nevada Gaming Commission, which, after interviewing Sinatra about Giancana’s presence (he was banned as an undesirable character) at his hotel, the singer’s license was pulled and he had to sell his ownership position. Giancana, who would never be considered handsome, went on to another famous affair when he shared Judith Campbell Exner with President Kennedy. The old mob boss also went on to become enmeshed with the CIA in a plot to kill Fidel Castro and possibly one to assassinate the President. He wound up with fatal lead poisoning…from a bullet…under conditions that smacked of a government hit (he was under FBI surveillance at his home when a seemingly invisible assassin slipped into the house, killed him, and left, again unseen).
Giancana & McGuire
Many other female celebrities have been rumored, and not always confirmed, to be associated with mobsters: Redheaded actress Rhonda Fleming with “Crazy Joe” Gallo; Marilyn Monroe with Sinatra and his pals; Virginia Hill with Bugsy Siegel; Singer Janice Harper with Joe Carlo; a still living former TV sitcom star with my deceased pal, Benny, when she met him at a crap game he was running; a famous comedienne who, upon meeting another friend at a house party, was so impressed by his mob position that she gave him oral sex in the kitchen. Yes, it is common knowledge that the money, power, and violence of mob guys is an aphrodisiac for many women who find their own lives dull by comparison. But celebrity life is far from mundane, yet the attraction seems to be just as strong. Go figure.
Turturro & Parker as
Giancana & McGuire
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
GREAT MOB MOVIES
YOU MAY NOT HAVE SEEN
If I asked you what the great mob movies are, I’m sure most would run off the Godfather films (NO, NOT III), Goodfellas, maybe Casino too. But there are a number of mob genre films around that have not been as widely seen, and really do have a place in a legitimate top ten. Take it from me, someone who’s lived the mob life for decades, that if you like mob films, you’ll love these:
1) Once Upon a Time in America – Probably the best mob movie outside of Godfathers I & II, about Jewish mobsters growing up on the Lower East Side of New York, and starring Robert DiNiro and James Woods. It is a period look at mobdom that spans the time of Prohibition through a couple of more decades. Sergio Leone created this masterpiece, only to have it arbitrarily edited down by Fox to allow more showings. Eventually, he bought back the negative from the studio, restored the footage cut, and released it in its entirety as a video. It is now considered a classic.
2) Mean Streets – Martin Scorsese’s first mob film, also starring a very young DiNiro, portrays the gritty, not too glamorous, day to day life of mobster wannabes in Little Italy, New York. It is not as refined as Scorsese’s later work, but is about as authentic as any film you’ll see about how it was being a young man growing up in the underworld in the Sixties.
3) Flight of the Innocent – This Italian film (subtitled) is a down to earth portrayal of two Calabrian N’drangheta families in a life and death dispute. A young boy sees his family murdered by another over a kidnapping plot’s ransom money and barely escapes with his life. His travels from city to city to find relatives who are part of his family’s cosca with the money as he is being pursued by the killers illustrates the breadth of Italian criminal organizations like the aforementioned N’drangheta, Napolitano Camorra, Sicilian Mafia, and Pugliese Sacre Corona Unita. The cinematic beauty is in how much of the film is told with a camera without accompanying dialogue. It is a law of film that a page of screenplay translates to a minute of screen time. Flight of the Innocent dispels that theory, with a film that must have had a substantially shorter script. In Italian with English subtitles.
4) Johnny Stecchino (Johnny Toothpick) – Not all mob theme movies have to be serious or bloody. One of the funniest movies of any genre is Roberto Benigni’s film about a woman who finds a look alike for her mobster turned informant, Johnny Stecchino, who, true to his name, always has a toothpick hanging out between his lips. She brings the unaware look alike to Sicily to have him killed so that no one will look for her beloved Johnny when they run away. Besides the fantastic perfomances by the cast, especially Benigni, the writing is amazingly funny. After Benigni’s stumblebum character arrives in Sicily, he is always talking to people who are talking about something else, yet they always make sense to each other. I’ve watched this film a number of times, and always found something new to laugh at. In Italian with English subtitles.
I’ve seen “Gomorrah,” the highly hyped film about the Neapolitan Camorra. For all its awards, I think the first two Godfathers, Casino, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, and any of the four listed here beat it, though it is closer to “Mean Streets” in it’s gritty portrayal of the Neapolitan mob’s underbelly.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
Mobsters, Lawyers, and the Law
I have secrets that I will take to the grave. Because of that, I turned down a firm book deal from my publisher years ago to do a bio. How would I address crimes (yes, believe it or not, mob guys commit crimes) I was never charged with or those I was charged with and beat? A lot of that was because of other people, living and dead, who I would not expose, even if statutes of limitations had passed. If I’d wanted to do confessions, I told my editor, I could have saved years of prison time. I would have to lie, and I hate liars. No, I said. I would write only fiction and meld my experiences in without exposing anyone else. The names would be changed to protect the guilty.
Today, everything changed.
Today, I read an article on Canada.com about a new book, The Sixth Family: The Collapse of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto, by Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphreys, the latter a reporter for the National Post. In it, Montreal police claim that, “’…the so-called ‘lawyers’ branch’ is a distinguishing feature of the Montreal-based clan’s operations and a key to its success.’ Mr. Humphreys said such extensive co-operation between members of the legal profession and the criminal underworld is unprecedented. ’That was one of the things that was so astounding to us,’ he said in an interview. ‘We have never encountered such systematic, large-scale and apparently purposeful misuse of the legal system.’"
Obviously, Mr. Humphreys hasn’t spent time in Brooklyn…or any of the other New York boroughs, or other large Northeastern cities, for that matter…a few decades ago. I know. I lived it, and I’ve got just a couple or more true anecdotes to relate that showed how deep the connection was between mobsters, lawyers, and the law back in the “good old days.”
My very first adult arrest illustrated how deep the connections went. Sure, I’d seen the patrol car pull up to the club where we stayed and get a brown paper bag of money passed to them through the window in broad daylight each Friday, but it didn’t mean anything personal to me. It was a bag full of money for things I didn’t understand yet. Then came my first big arrest. I was at the club when a phone call came from detectives who had broken down the door to my apartment and had my mother, lying down with an icy compress on her forehead, and my young sister hostage. They suggested I come home immediately, which I did.
One of the detectives in my door-less apartment told me to come into a bedroom with him. I’d seen that crap before as a teen: a smack or two in the head, a kick in the ass, then sent on my way. I knew I was about to be hit harder now. I sat at the edge of the bed and watched the detective’s body language as he paced in front of me. At least I could roll with the first punch. He rambled on as he walked back and forth just inches from my knees. I stared without hearing. To my surprise the incident ended with me free of new bruises.
Dutch Schultz with attorney Dixie Davis
I waited at the courthouse bullpen to be bailed out. It was the big time now, and my pals at the club would take care of everything. Finally, the lawyer showed up. I was full of pride, ready for the praise he’d heap on me for keeping my mouth shut. In fact, his first words were, “You moron!” WHAT?? I’d kept so quiet I hadn’t given them anything more than my name. “You’re a fuckin’ moron, and you’ll always be a fuckin’ moron!” Stunned, I asked, “What did I do? I didn’t say a word. If they told you I did, they lied!” My attorney answered, “What the detective told me was that he took you in the bedroom and talked himself blue in the face trying to get you to offer him some money to give back the bookmaking slips and not pinch you. I told him you’re just a fuckin’ moron.” Hmmm…mobster, lawyer, and the law. (we beat it anyway on an illegal search and seizure; his warrant had been to search and leave, not wait for a payoff)
Oscar Goodman: clients Meyer Lansky, Nicky Spilotro, etc.
I got a quick lesson on how money talked, and how much we could get away with if we directed that money toward various officers of the law. On the lowest level, at that time, being stopped by a traffic cop meant holding a ten or twenty dollar bill (fees went up…inflation that came with a better car and pinky ring) out the window and saying,” My name is Mr. Green and I’m in a hurry,” to the cop who showed up with a pad full of blank tickets. There was also no way I was going to open an after hours club or a card or craps game without making a deal with the local precinct first. In fact, one time I opened an after hours club in Manhattan with a prominent lawyer as a partner. He took care of the cops, which was easier for me.
One time, years before Serpico and the Knapp Commission blew bribery off the chart as business as usual, the money option didn’t work and the cop pinched me for bribery. He then searched my car and found gambling paraphernalia and a weapon, adding two more charges. I hired a lawyer who didn’t think I was as much an idiot as the first one had…at least he didn’t say it out loud. How would I get out of this when the officer was a hard-nosed rebel? Not to worry, said my attorney, who had been sent to me by a higher up in the mob hierarchy. I worried. He acted. For a fee, he arranged for the weapon and gambling material to disappear from the property clerk’s office. Without that, of course, for a few dollars more funneled through my attorney, it was easily arranged for the bribery to be thrown out.
Bruce Cutler with client John Gotti
It was a time when my first lawyer, who was an uncle of my boss, lived next door to a judge. They were such good pals that they ripped down the fence between their backyards and build one big outdoor party site. He was so sure of his connections with judges that he would sit at trial with his nose buried in a law book…one that held a scratch sheet for him to dope out his daily horse bets. None of us ever had a problem in Brooklyn State Court with that relationship to fall back on, though lawyer number two had left the D.A.’s office to become our friend and fixer. He did an even better job when I busted up a guy who attacked me then pressed charges when he suffered the result. I was sent “on the lam” while my guys tried to get the guy to drop the charges. In the mid-Sixties, they offered the battle’s loser (okay, he got hit with a Louisville Slugger) one thousand dollars. He drooled over the money, which was a tidy sum in those years, but his battleaxe of a wife wouldn’t let him. She said, “I’m going to see that guy go to jail!” To make a long story short, when I finally got arrested, we gave the judge five hundred dollars, and he dropped the case.
Attorney Frank Ragano with top echelon mob clients
Were these two attorneys the exception? Absolutely not. They were just part of a whole network of lawyers who were confidants and defenders of organized crime figures, mostly for money, but sometimes just out of admiration and friendship. Admiration, you ask? Yes, mob guys in the past have had the admiration of many people from all walks of life, maybe for doing what they themselves wished they could do, or just got vicarious thrills from being around them and letting their imaginations provide the rest. One attorney was thrilled when someone mistook him for one of us. Another got too involved with his clients, messed up, and wound up in the front seat of his car with a bullet in his head. Lawyers have always been an arm of organized crime. Montreal is not unique in that respect, regardless of what the authors write. Just look at famous mob lawyers in New York, Chicago, Tampa, etc. Name a wiseguy and you’ll be able to attach the name of an attorney who not only defended him, but others in the same business: Gotti-Cotler, Colombo-Slotnik, Franzese-Jacobs, Ianello-Goldberg, Trafficante-Ragano, and on and on. These attorneys and dozens of others all have a rolodex full of mob-related clients.
Joe Colombo’s attorney Barry Slotnik
Lamothe and Humphreys write, “It’s frustrating simply because sometimes you’re investigating a major crime and you hit a stumbling block because of a lawyer,” said Ben Soave, a former chief superintendent, who wrote an unclassified report about the abuse of lawyer-client privilege. “You’re prevented from taking down a whole criminal organization.” Guess what, Mr. Soave, that’s just too goddamn bad. In both the United States and Canada, those charged with criminal acts, even reputed organized crime figures, have a right to the best attorneys they can get to defend them. That should make you proud, not frustrated. It is immeasurably better to have a mobster win a case because his lawyer was better than the legal hacks prosecuting the case than have the government steamroll everyone they didn’t like or suspected of a crime. I have a nephew who is a lawyer today. When he was young, he argued with me and his other uncle who was also in the streets, about justice. Rudy Giuliani, who was U.S. Attorney at the time, was his hero (go figure?). One day he came home very upset from a lecture Rudy had given at Fordham Law School. The crimebuster had said that if he merely believed someone was guilty of a crime, nothing he did to convict him was out of bounds. Unwilling to be a part of that system, my nephew switched from criminal law to business law…thank God.
Mob Nemesis Rudy Giuliani
I know the authors have a book to sell, but the hyperbole is unnecessary. The Bonnano-Canadian relationship that wound up with scattered bodies around New York is a good story without the awe, real or contrived, or exaggeration.
* * * *
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
Dealing with Pirates
Okay, here we are with Somali pirates capturing unarmed merchant ships at sea and holding their crews for ransom. So far, wimpy Europeans and others have paid these bandits approximately one hundred million dollars and are trying to negotiate the release of a couple of hundred hostages. These are the same Somalis that news photographers shot with flies around their lips and pumped to the U.S. to instigate action in the early 1990s. These are the same Somalis that dragged dead “Blackhawk Down” American troops through the streets for news photographers to shoot and pump over to the U.S. to instigate an embarrassing withdrawal. Conditions are awful in Somalia, but it is no one’s fault except Somalis. If there was ever an argument for Colonialism, Somalia’s it. Without control over them, a Mob President would handle the piracy issue as follows:
First, “You’re either with us or against us,” would be the message I would send to all other countries. “Step up to the plate and help us take care of these pests or go it on your own once we take care of ours, and stop complaining when you get burned. On the other hand, if you whiners are too timid to do what has to be done, and want the piracy to stop, you’ll have pay us to provide protection for your ships. That doesn’t mean a fee that reduces us to common extortionists or thugs for hire. What it means is that we become minor partners in the value of ships and contents. If you agree that we own a negotiated percentage, you will have the right to fly an American flag alongside your country of origin once we get started on the pirates. The deal is forever, not just till the piracy is under control. Remember, one hundred percent of nothing is nothing, and once pirates are scared to death of boarding a ship with an American flag your percentage of exposure will become MUCH greater. If you fly our flag without permission, we’re going to take your ship and its contents, since the flag will indicate it’s ours anyway.”
Now to the pirates/terrorists: “When we catch you, we kill you on the spot, whether it’s on land or sea; in the commission of an act of piracy, or just preparing for one.” I am told that U.S. satellite surveillance can read a matchbook cover of someone standing on a street corner in Budapest or Boston. I would use those satellites to scan the seas off the coast of Somalia. When a “mother ship” was spotted, with armed bandits aboard, a signal would be sent to the nearest missile launching vessel. Bang. No more mother ship. No prisoners. No young man brought to the United States to be tried in court, given a sentence to a prison that is a better quality of life than where he came from, release him to the United States because he claims he won’t be safe in his own country (it WILL happen in the case of the young bandit they just dragged into Federal Court in N.Y.), give him a green card, welfare, and all the bells and whistles then bring his entire family here. Dead. From there, we move to the coast; block the ports and board every suspect boat leaving for parts unknown. If we find weapons, we confiscate them then sink the boat with the pirates aboard. A few insecticide forays inland to the camps that turn out these pirates (and terrorists too), and suddenly all's quiet on the Somali front. (Wasn't there a book like that? :) The worst any of us will suffer is the wails and shrieks of liberals calling us murderers, Nazis, killers of Cock Robin, etc.
In the film “Bronx Tale,” Sonny (Chazz Palminteri) is asked whether he would rather be loved or feared. He answers with a thoughtful but firm “feared.” (If you want to see the whole exchange, get the DVD) I strongly affirm his correct decision. One of the biggest mistakes in U.S. foreign policy is an almost obsessive need to be loved, especially by those who want to kill our citizens. Others are just jealous of America’s standard of living, wealth, and military power. “You don’t like us? Boo hoo. Just remember to respect us.” If we practice that, Somali pirates will be as much a memory soon as Captain Kidd or Henry Morgan.
Review of “Gomorrah”
I read a review of the new Italian film, “Gomorrah,” which is based on Roberto Saviano’s book; a book that has driven him into hiding because of death threats from Camorra, the Napolitano version of Sicily’s Mafia. The film won big at Cannes, and will be, I’m sure, an international hit. What struck me in the review, which I’ve posted below, is how little understanding outsiders have of traditional organized crime, here and abroad. They convey events to you, the reader, with comments designed to convince you that they know what they’re talking about. Mostly, they don’t. Yes, they know the events, but not what’s behind them. For me, that’s a good thing. For readers interested in mob history, personalities, and current events. My site, www.SonnysMobCafe.com probably presents the only information you can depend on.
The great flaw in the article reviewing the film is that it compares Matteo Garrone’s work to that of Scorsese, without understanding that they are comparing apples and oranges. They assume, because of the grittiness of “Gomorrah,” that it is the most honest presentation of mob life, and that Scorsese’s work, like in “Goodfellas,” is more of a glorified snapshot. To begin, Scorsese’s work is accurate for the time in mob history it portrays. I remember wearing the outfits shown in “Casino,” and did the whole Copa thing that “Goodfellas” shows. Scorsese presents the mob in his films as they were in the last days of what mobsters consider “the good old days.” He has not presented the demoralized and disintegrating mob that exists today. Where Scorsese goes wrong in “Goodfellas” is in the self-serving, gratuitous information he received from rodent Henry Hill. Nowhere in the film is the actual opinion of Hill that other mobsters had; of their referring to him as a dog respected for his master, in this case his mentor, Paulie Vario, who treated him like a son, and who Hill sent to prison, where he died.
On the other hand, the Italian cousins always have had different lifestyles and ways of running their thing than Americans. That has always been a source of conflict between the two groups; Italians thinking the Americans weak and stupid, and the Americans believing the Italians to be untrustworthy and crude, referring to them derisively as “zips” and “greaseballs.” I remember passing a shoemaker’s shop (remember them?) with one of my first bosses. The cobbler worked in the window of his shop, and when he spotted my boss, waved. My guy told me the shoemaker was a “dunsky from the other side” who had murdered more men than anyone we knew. The man dressed poorly and generally went unnoticed. He’d return to Sicily when he was needed, do his sanguinary work, then come back to fix shoes and block fedora hats.
Yes, “Gomorrah” will be a big hit, and will probably portray Camorristi accurately. But they will never be the mob of Scorsese, nor will Americans anymore.
‘Gomorrah’ paints a dark portrait of the mob
Friday, February 27, 2009
All of the glamour of organized crime is brutally shattered within the first few minutes of the new film “Gomorrah,” as several gangsters are gunned down while pampering themselves in a tanning salon. The violence that erupts within the film’s first scene loudly proclaims that this particular gangster movie is nothing like “Goodfellas.”
Whereas American cinema since the 1930s has often portrayed gangsters as having elaborate and intriguing lifestyles, the real-life crime syndicate known as the Camorra is depicted onscreen by Italian director Matteo Garrone as coarse and ultimately bleak.
Director Martin Scorsese has helped develop a distinct fashion in which the mafia is portrayed on film, romanticizing a lifestyle that offers unlimited lavishness as well as a solidified notion of respect that all “wiseguys” strictly abide by.
While Scorsese’s film is based on true events, the lifestyle presented is more of a fantasy. The protagonist of “Goodfellas,” actual one-time gangster-turned-FBI informant Henry Hill, is completely attracted to the sophistication of life in the mafia and the entire film revolves around the desire to be a part of it.
This fantasy lifestyle becomes the main attraction in “Goodfellas,” and while the film is to some degree realistic, “Gomorrah” emphasizes the fact that life in the mafia is not always as fantastic as many perceive it to be.
As well as a play on words of the actual crime syndicate’s name (Camorra), the film’s title is also derived from the name of the biblical city of Gomorrah, which was said to have been destroyed by God in response to the wickedness of those who resided there. The title is fitting because, while takes center stage in Scorsese’s film, ruthlessness is the overwhelming theme in “Gomorrah.”
Set in the city of Naples, Italy, five different perspectives on the Camorra unravel together and produce outcomes that are both positive and tragic. The narratives range from young kids to middlemen, all the way up to the top of the ranks.
By separating the narrative, instead of having one concrete storyline, the film completely filters the already established idea of organized crime and reveals all elements, no matter how minimal or trivial some of them might initially seem to be. The truth is that there is no difference between an established boss and a small boy who grimly witnesses his first murder.
All areas of the Camorra are plagued by viciousness without the slightest hint of glamour.
The people who are killed at the hands of the mafia are mostly insignificant; women and even children are killed for trivial reasons that oftentimes remain ambiguous, never really adding to the bigger picture of what the Camorra actually desires.
The actual crimes committed are not lavish, either. One mob boss makes a considerable amount of money by dumping toxic waste. The criminals themselves encompass all forms of human waste, both figuratively and literally.
So where is the decadence?
There are no nice suits, fancy cars, popular nightclubs and most important there is no mutual respect. The honor and loyalty found in films like “The Godfather” has been eradicated by greed and a lust for power.
The gangsters here are all almost always overweight, filthy and unattractive. They live in small apartments that are just as dirty as they are and spend time worrying about who might want to kill them next.
“Gomorrah” presents the mafia as more dangerous because the common attitude is pure apathy. The gangsters do not care how horrible they have become as long as business is taken care of.
These are not the gangsters of Hollywood. There is not a single attractive aspect about life in the Camorra, and without taking any credit away from a filmmaker like Scorsese, who is in fact credited as the film’s presenter, the true gruesome nature of the mob is revealed.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is that one character, a cocky wannabe member of the Camorra, has a fascination with the film “Scarface.” He often proclaims himself to be Tony Montana, as well as wearing similar clothing and even quoting many of the fictional character’s lines.
He deliberately wants a life of violence because popular culture has presented him with an elaborate image of this lifestyle. He, like American cinema, is fascinated by the gangster fantasy, while at the same time is completely unaware of its often fatal repercussions. “Gomorrah” abundantly distinguishes the glamour from the overwhelming brutality of life in the mafia.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
Response to NY Daily News Article
“21st Century Mob: How the Mafia Learned
to Adapt for the Future”
Today I read the above titled article by News Staff Writers John Marzulli, Thomas Zambito, and Greg B. Smith. The article was so fundamentally flawed at first glance that I posted a comment on the News, promising readers that I would have a full length posted response to it within 24 hours. This is it.
I have a long time street pal who has called me periodically over the years to remind me that something he read or saw on TV about the mob was wrong. My answer was always, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” But that was when traditional organized crime was active; deteriorating but still alive. Today it’s not. Today the mob is in its final stages, and to argue that it isn’t is just a falsehood, propagated by the authorities and the media.
The article in question starts out with a sentence about the mob in the 21st Century that ends with the words, “…still armed and still dangerous.” Okay, where does that come from? Name the last mob rubout you can remember? Those on Sopranos don’t count. Wonder how many the writers can mention that occurred in their own city in the last year, two years, three…? Any of those involved under fifty years old? Under sixty? The New York Post reported that “One night in 2003, Albanian gang leader Alex Rudaj showed up at famed Italian eater and mob hotspot Rao’s in East Harlem. It was one year after the death of Gambino crime leader John Gotti, and Rudaj demanded the Italian’s old table. When he was refused, he came back with dozens of cronies, who hovered menacingly as Rudaj had a one-on-one with the restaurant’s owner. After a short conversation, the table had a new regular.” The Post article went on to say the Albanians had also taken over Greek gambling dens run by the Gambinos and Luccheses. The alleged acting boss of the Gambinos purportedly arranged a meeting with the Albanians, where “The Gambinos had bats and guns; the Albanians had Uzis. When [the acting boss] pointed a gun at Rudaj, one of the Albanians pointed his shotgun at the gas pump, threatening to blow the whole place up. The Italians dropped their guns, and left Soccer Fever to the Albanians….” Armed, yes, but dangerous? And, this was the old guard involved in the two incidents.
“Today’s traditional Mafia family has ventured far from its roots as an ultra-secret society formed in the streets of New York at the dawn of the Depression.” Won’t go into it too much because I’ve written extensively about it, but there is no “Mafia” organization in the United States. However, the article falsely claims the roots of traditional organized crime, that it calls “Mafia,” go back to the Depression. If they’re talking about the Mafia, it goes back centuries in Sicily. If they’re talking about American traditional organized crime, the early 1930s were a transitional period, when young men with names like Luciano, Siegel, Genovese, Lucchese, Profaci, and Mangano overturned old fashioned Moustachio rule. The wars between families ended in the name of business. All shooting conflicts after that have been internal power struggles within families.
The only totally true statement, though not intended to be, from the authors, is that “To some, it appears a gang of criminals has turned into a popular culture commodity, spawning movies and TV shows that will long outlast the real-life story. In that version, the bosses are in jail, the gang is undone and all that’s left is the book and movie deal.” The perception they write about is true, true, true.
The authors go on to quote Michael Gaeta, supervisor of the New York FBI’s organized crime unit, “Despite our attacks, they’ve managed to adapt.” Who are these adaptors? Anyone with an Italian name? I can provide a long list of convicted organized crime figure, all elderly, most in the age range from their sixties to their nineties. How many can Gaeta name who are actual members of the mob who can adapt to a changed meatball recipe, let alone criminal behavior. Many have no idea how to work a computer, couldn’t explain how financial markets work, could identify a hedgehog faster than a hedge fund. Gaeta and the rest of the FBI’s organized crime detail will identify every young criminal with an older relative in the mob or just an Italian last name as part of an organized crime that has “adapted.” If they admit how much disarray the mob is in they may be transferred to an anti-terrorist unit, where the targets have no scruples about chopping off an FBI Agent’s head or attacking his or her family. Does that mean that no younger, more sophisticated criminals are not connected, but certainly not all. I have done many TV, radio, and print interviews in this country, Canada, and Italy. I am invariably asked about what kind of people mobsters really are. I tell them that the mob is a microcosm of the rest of society. If society, as it is today, self indulgent, self absorbed, and without self-discipline then mobsters will be too. However, for traditional organized crime to flourish, it depends on discipline. Without it, the mob has more than one foot in the grave.
Further on, FBI supervisor Gaeta illustrates how savvy mobsters are, because “…they make sure everyone leaves their cell phone at the door.” With security like that, how can they ever be destroyed? I am awed by their genius, and am sure the planted bugs and weak-kneed rats-to-be won’t have any effect at all on their freedom. The fact that many of their associates may have insurance with the carrier company, Federal Witness Protection Program, means nothing at all. Duh. Right after that, the G-Man says that they “…no longer perform the ornate induction ceremonies in which a card depicting a saint is burned and a gun is displayed. They’ve ditched the saint and the gun.” Okay, then, I ask what makes them members of whatever name authorities want to call traditional organized crime? If my father worked in the Post Office and I bring a letter to the mailbox, am I a mailman? If it doesn’t quack like a duck, swim like a duck, or waddle like a duck, what the hell makes it a duck? In truth, the membership ceremony is necessary to traditional organized crime as a carrot to hold out to younger crooks, to keep the paydays coming and to maintain discipline. Without discipline, the organized comes out of organized crime, and all society is left with is crime…often chaotic crime.
The article goes on to list various businesses that “mob-linked” companies have participated in, like subcontracting on construction projects that include “…highway repair, the midtown office tower boom, the massive water treatment plant in the Bronx, even the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.” He then says, “They were taking advantage of that – even if it was only removing waste from a construction site.” No, not removing waste! They’d have their favorite companies getting jobs.” Ever hear of ACORN? “If the union was a problem, they’d take care of it.” Once again, all I’m left with are questions. Are the actions involved in the aforementioned projects illegal? If so, why not arrest the participants? If they’re legal, why not? Would the authorities insist that those who have been associated with the mob in the past, or are still associated on a social level, be doomed to only commit crimes as a source of income? Should people, regardless of their past or associations, be barred from legitimate business? Someone with very shady associations was elected President of the United States. Does being Italian carry less rights to succeed in the legitimate world than any other ethnic background? If the authorities can find a crime, by all means they should do their job and try to convict the offender. If not, let them live and let live, and move on to crimes that endanger our citizens in a real, 9/11 type way.
The next issue brought up in the article is the Wall Street boom, and that a Lucchese soldier formed a “fake” hedge fund and “…conned hundreds of wealthy investors into putting their money in bundled mortgage securities – one of the major causes of the economy’s collapse.” What?!! The Lucchese Family busted the United States’ economy? How about the world’s economy? How about killed Cock Robin? Forget those small time chumps like Bernie Madoff, or Morgan Stanley, or AIG, or other huge hedge fund operators…it was a Lucchese soldier that caused the economy of the entire universe to collapse. Boo!
The article cites what they call “The Gambino Family” that stole credit card numbers through internet porn sites, true in as much as the thief was the son of a convicted Gambino executive, but I remember seeing a bunch of non-Italian names involved in the crime. Is the young man even part of the Gambino crew? The Feds found a crime and convicted and imprisoned the perpetrators, but have not proven any link between this yuppie crook and the Gambino Family? They also have charged Gambino members with having taken over a water company and laundering money through it. How new age is that? And, those charged are primarily in their late sixties. The article takes too much liberty mixing apples and oranges, yuppie crooks and organized crime figures.
The last business mentioned regards illegal offshore betting on the Web. First of all, gambling has always been the purview of the mob. Going from writing down bets on a slip of paper to taking action over the phone was not a major move, and neither is going from the phone to the Web. In fact, some time ago, a huge internet gambling operator out of Canada wanted to advertise his service on television. Friends of mine in the advertising business tried unsuccessfully to get a network that would allow the operation to sponsor a boxing event, which is what the owner wanted. Organized crime sticking its dirty tentacles into legitimate business? Trying to infiltrate boxing? Take over a TV network? None of the clichés applied in that case because the owner of the gambling operation happened to be a Hasidic Jew.
Suddenly, the article takes a contradictory turn. “As part of the new mob order, the penchant for violence has diminished.” Could that be because the mob order is in disorder? The authors take the reader on a tour of ‘80s violence and ‘90s rats then say that law enforcement sources admit that since 2000 violence has dropped precipitously. They conclude that “…the mob once again craves a lower profile to avoid scrutiny.” So we should conclude that a drop in any city’s general crime figures indicate and underground conspiracy to commit more crimes? Is there no good news for the Feds? (Remember the terrorist assignments) Can’t the lower violence seen in the mob be seen as a result of the mob’s falling apart? “They try to keep things looking legit. They’d rather take 5 cents from 1,000 people than $10,000 from one.” Doesn’t that belie the crimes they’ve charged? The credit card scam from porn sites they mentioned earlier amounted to over 800 million dollars. Oh, they forgot to mention that. Incidentally, of it all, they claim the son of the Gambino exec raked in as much as 30 million, if you choose to believe that figure, or, according to them, less than five percent of what the rest of the group made.
If you remember, I cited the authorities’ claim that what they now call organized crime under a bunch of erroneous names does not do the membership ceremony anymore. They now add, “Three of the five families have retired the official boss altogether, forming flexible leadership panels that mediate disputes and enforce the so-called rules.” No membership ceremony, no official boss, and apparently from the tone, no firm rules. Again, I ask, what makes those involved part of the Mafia (not in America) or La Cosa Nostra (a false term fed to the world by a moron, Joe Valachi, which became a proper noun even by members), and not JUST PLAIN CRIMINALS with Italian names? The authors go on to list the names of social clubs, like Gotti’s Ravenite, used by mobsters that have gone by the wayside, but again decide that means that “…just because they can’t be seen doesn’t mean they aren’t there.” Each reader has to figure out how much sense that makes when combined with the other points in this paragraph.
The mob is in the throes of death. It always depended on discipline, on rules that would be disobeyed by one’s own peril. As long as low level mobsters rolled over and testified against others, discipline could still be managed to some extent. Once higher ups like Joe Massino, Gaspipe Casso, Little Al D’Arco, et al became rats discipline was lost. From the beginning of mob time there was always a system of “going on record,” or reporting to superiors everything that was done or would be done, ostensibly for the family to protect the underling in the event of a beef with another crew, but more truthfully to extract money for every little score and to limit crimes that could have implications on higher ups. Going on the record is gone. Anyone who reports anything incriminating that will make its way up the ladder to the boss has to be out of his mind. Today, real mob figures are old, in large part imprisoned, and mostly suffering with chronic illnesses. When they ride off into the sunset, traditional organized crime will finally go the way of the Wild West. America will still be left with crime, but it will be chaotic crime. However, there will still be books, films, and television shows to let future generations know what if was like. To do that, the writers of those formats have to know what they’re talking about…not depend on the self-serving gratuitous words or turncoats like Henry Hill or law enforcement personnel dependent on the Mafia bugaboo to gather funds and work in a safe place.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
“Turning Mob Myths, From the Inside and Out, Inside-Out”
Because of the secretive nature of organized crime, there have been many myths propagated by insiders for a variety of reasons and outsiders because they didn’t know any better. Some have been so ingrained in the public consciousness that gangsters themselves now believe them. I have no reasons to lie and, as a former inside player in that world, know better, so I’ll affirm or debunk some of those myths honestly and accurately for you here.
MOB MYTH #1: Everyone must “make their bones” by murdering someone before they can become a made member of the mob – FALSE.
You don’t have to be an insider to count. For example, the number of made men the FBI claims are in all five New York Families runs anywhere from one to three thousand, depending on who’s counting and how much more funding they’re looking for. Now find the substantially lower number of mob-related murders, at most in the low hundreds that have taken place in the last two decades and are not related to a war, like the last Colombo Family conflict of the Early 1990s. Those war figures are discounted because most of the successful hits are by guys who are already made. Now discount the fact that there are guys walking around with double digit notches in their belts. They are the workhorses. One former pal died with a mere eleven dead bodies to his credit; another, an astonishing forty-nine. As a matter of fact, when he was sentenced and the judge mentioned that he was to be sentenced for forty-eight murders, he corrected the judge to make sure it was an accurate forty-nine he’d go to prison for. After considering those figures, it would be virtually impossible for every made man to have killed someone.
From the inside, it’s almost laughable that every “goodfella” left a body somewhere. I’ve known some that couldn’t kill a rubber duck. They were given the honor of membership to keep them…and their assets…within a particular family. Rules are that if the crew one is associated with won’t propose him for membership another family can. Big earners are not turned over to another family under any circumstances. Money overcomes principal in the legitimate world, why not in the mob? One reason Albert Anastasia was murdered was because he was thought to have sold “buttons” for fifty grand apiece. In the 1950s, that was a lot of scratch. After Albert was gone, his successor, Carlo Gambino, had “the books” closed for decades. A more recent, but very telling, story has it that a proposed member who was bothered by never having fired a gun decided to take a few shots into a tubful of water. Embarrassment replaced experience as the bullet ricocheted around the porcelain and into his body. He got made anyway. Remember that the next time some unlikely hood intimates he’s a killer. Chances are if he’s trying to make you think he is, he isn’t. An old Sicilian saying goes: Those who say, do not do; those who do, do not say.
MOB MYTH #2: Once in the mob, you can’t get out – FALSE.
Aside from becoming a rat and joining the Witness Protection Program, there are ways for both associates and members to get out of the mob, if not totally, at least in effect. One happens when someone is “put on the shelf.” Most times it’s not by choice. On the other hand, sometimes it is. During the 1931 “Night of the Vespers,” when more than sixty Sicilian “Moustache Petes” were murdered to make way for the new order of Americanized organized crime, led by Lucky Luciano and pals, one of the followers of the old order was also shot, but survived. Through a relative aligned with the young crowd, the shooting victim pleaded not to be shot again. He was not of a mind to seek revenge, he said, and begged to be “put on the shelf,” where his button status would be suspended. If granted that wish, he swore to work legitimately for the rest of his life, which he did. More recently, a few made guys who were at odds with the leadership of their crew were all placed on the shelf instead of becoming targets. That meant that they no longer had the backup of their family in disputes with those from others. They would be automatic losers in beefs with other mobsters. It might have been uncomfortable, but, on the other hand, may have been a gift in disguise, leaving them to rein in any activities that might have landed them in prison again. I was fortunate enough to do part of my federal time with my direct superior. I told him I’d written a novel, and didn’t want to do anything in the streets anymore. I saw the handwriting on the wall, that we, as a way of life, were finished. Besides, I said, I thought I’d earned it. I pointed out a so-called friend of ours who was a crybaby through his whole prison time. I pointed out that this guy would go right back to his old life, but would never do time again. His ace in the hole would be information. Not for me. That, I said, didn’t leave me many choices. He agreed with one caveat, that if I decided to go back to the street life, it would be back to where I’d come from; no jumping horses. I didn’t go back; I didn’t jump horses; we remained friends until he passed away. R.I.P. pal. Of course, there are a couple of other ways of effectively being released from obligations: distance, illness (real or feigned), alcoholism (exaggerated so no one thinks of depending on you). Yes, there can be life without dishonor after a life of crime.
MOB MYTH #3: You must be one hundred percent Italian to be made – FALSE.
It started out as only Sicilians being “straightened out” when the organizations were controlled by Sicilian Moustache Petes. Before 1931 and the Night of the Vespers, Sicilians were killing other Sicilians because of vendettas from the old country and because there were old time rivalries from one town or region to another. That all changed when the new order was formed by younger, more Americanized gangsters like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, etc. At that time a rock solid requirement for membership was that one’s family tree, on both sides, had to be traced back to Sicily or mainland Italy. That rule remained in effect for around a half century. But, as Italian ghettos disappeared, so did the number of those qualified to join. After Carlo Gambino died and the “books” were opened for new members to bolster every family’s depleted ranks, the Italian heritage requirement was modified, so that one’s father only had to have Italian/Sicilian roots. I knew it to be accurate when a long time friend who had previously been “knocked down” for membership because of a German-American mother was finally given his “badge.”
MOB MYTH #4: Mob bosses hire outside killers for certain jobs – FALSE.
I watched a documentary recently on a guy dubbed “The Iceman.” I loved the persona of this guy as he described a variety of murders he’d committed. Very matter of factly; almost rehearsed. No doubt he’d murdered a number of people; there was enough evidence of that. However, when he began claiming he’d been hired a number of times by mobsters, at least one a close friend of mine, to kill for figures in the high thousands, I laughed. Fact: Top level mobsters are the cheapest SOBs around. One was even nabbed trying to beat a bridge toll; another friend used to steal cigars from a diner on his way out. Yes, they’ll throw money around for girls, cars, clothes, food, booze, and other entertainment or luxuries, but to pay for something they can get for free? I don’t think so. Killing is easy. Kids do it. So do women. Every mobster of any stature has underlings who would pay them for a chance to prove themselves by killing someone. The higher up the mob guy, the more underlings and the more free opportunities to eliminate those targeted. Would he bypass the freebee and pay fifty or seventy-five thousand dollars to an outsider? Answer that one yourself. One of the people the Iceman says paid him was a dear friend of mine. He had a crew under him that was second only to Murder Incorporated. Would he pay the Iceman? C’mon.
MOB MYTH #5: Married mobsters all have girlfriends – MOSTLY TRUE.
What are the biggest factors in anyone cheating on a spouse? Accessibility and opportunity. Mobsters have an accessibility to women that is only matched in Hollywood. Females are attracted to the danger and power they associate with organized crime. As a matter of fact, a large number are attracted to any kind of bad boy, from drunks to motorcycle gang members to ex-cons. We used to have a bar in Brooklyn where some of us were periodically arrested on a nonsense charge just for the irritation factor. Each time, the newspapers would run articles about the mob figures rounded up in that bar. The next weekend, the bar would overwhelmingly be filled with females from as far away as New Jersey. One even rode from the Garden State to Brooklyn on her bicycle, just to meet gangsters. I also learned not to speak well of any of my associates to any female. Legitimate guys attracted to mobsters would go home with stories of how wonderful they were. By the time wifey met hubby’s ballyhooed mobster pals she was ready to drop her drawers and jump in the sack with them. Sometimes, many sacks. They were affectionately known as “wiseguy humps.” Power brokers in any business have groupies, usually associated with their profession. Mobsters and Hollywood players get them from every walk of life.
Opportunity means having time on your hands to play around. That’s what makes housewives such easy targets for smut novels and movies. A lot of that writing is fantasy; a lot of it is true. The infamous Alice Crimmins had enough time to bed her kids’ barber, the stock boy from her local supermarket, the cop on the beat, etc. And, Alice was not alone. Mob guys have time on their hands. Add that to the access and the fact that they don’t want to expose their wives to much of what they do and you’ve got a recipe for chronic cheating. At least it was that way years ago. Today, it seems, mobsters can’t keep anything secret…even incriminating stuff. Unfortunately for most wiseguys who cheat, they fall in love The overwhelming number of those who cheat actually wind up with two wives. They assume a second set of obligations. They have to put up with double nagging. And, they disclose business secrets about themselves and others that they would never let their wives know. They’re simply, in my opinion, out of their minds. Some comarri, or, girlfriends, even wind up going to prison as a result of their new partnerships. Of course, there are those, few and far between, who are solid family men, not just to their mob families but to their biological ones as well. Hats off to them for loyalty, respect, and, most important if you are in that life, limiting an unnecessary vulnerability. Same with Presidents of the U.S.
MOB MYTH #6: Mob bosses are loyal to their troops – FALSE.
People think of la famiglia…the family…as a vertical structure that insures loyalty up and down the ladder. Not so. Mob loyalties are more horizontal than vertical. Of course, there’s always the “me” factor, which outweighs any loyalty at all, but the tendency, once someone is initiated into traditional organized crime, is to become part of a caste system. Typically, when a wiseguy goes to a sitdown for some underling or associate’s beef, the first thing he will do is invite the wiseguy representing the opposition outside. That’s where the deal is made: “Fuck them both. I’ll make my guy pay; you tell your guy he lost, and we’ll cut up the money.” That same conversation goes on when captains are representing wiseguys and when bosses are representing captains. Loyalties are horizontal. A captain will sooner side with another captain, who might wind up in a higher position one day and be a good connection with that crew, than with the guy under him, who he can silence with a word. Same with bosses. Why do you think there’s a rule in place that you can’t kill your boss and become boss. Horizontal protection of position. That’s why John Gotti was never recognized as a real boss by Chin and others. Can’t kill your boss and become boss.
MOB MYTH #7: Mobsters hate rats – SOMETIMES.
Only when they’re not profiting from them. Balance two things on a scale: $$$$ - rat, $$$$ - rat, hmmm, $$$$ - rat? $$$$ will win more times than not. Sadly, I’ve seen this myself too often. It didn’t mean much when I was really young and heard a famous mob captain make excuses for a business owner who was called a rat, because he was making money with him. As time went on I occasionally heard those same kinds of charges and excuses made by others surrounding me. I sort of dismissed them because I had no direct involvement with those guys, and thought that the term rat might have been thrown around too easily. Then the experiences got closer.
One of my associates out on Long Island told me he had a guy who was dealing in paper. In those days, paper meant stocks and bearer bonds that male and female workers in banks or Wall Street brokerages were stealing from cages and selling to street guys for a small percentage of the face value. Ten hundred-thousand dollar notes might put ten grand in their pockets. Some were girls just happy to make a mobster they were bedding happy, and got a television at best…along with their romps between the sheets. Those papers were turned over to only one or two central guys for around ten percent who had connections in Swiss banks that would in turn give no-questions-asked loans of up to seventy percent or so. The Swiss bankers would stash the paper in their vaults and own the stocks or bonds at a profit of thirty percent when the loan defaulted. Everyone made money. So, at my associate’s behest, I went to meet his connection.
When I sat down, the paper broker started shooting his mouth off about how he had millions of this and millions of that. No one had that kind of volume unless they were rip off artists or stool pigeons. I asked who knew him; someone I could verify his reliability with. After a while, he asked if I’d heard of Joe Colombo; he claimed they’d been in prison together. I said it sounded familiar and that I’d get back to him. Joe went ballistic, especially since he’d never been in prison, he said. I went back to find the guy, who’d disappeared. Fast forward a couple of years, and I found a close friend of mine in deep conversation with the same paper broker. I called him outside and told him the story. His response was to tell me the guy was really a good guy and he was making money with him. He begged me not to say anything to anyone, and I didn’t. The broker eventually took the stand against him and seven others. They all went to prison.
I brought another wiseguy pal actual court minutes of an associate of his testifying against someone else at trial. His response was to say, “He won’t rat me out if he wants to live.” The fact that the guy had testified against someone else meant nothing. $$$$ had once again overcome the rat factor. His pal eventually sent him to prison also. It happened again when a wiseguy in the Bronx stepped in for a guy on the run after he’d actually brought police into a mob club where stolen merchandise was stored. The wiseguy’s plea: “I’m making money with him.” Sounds ridiculous, but each story is one hundred percent true. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
MOB MYTH #8: The FBI destroyed the mob – FALSE.
At the beginning of Mel Gibson’s film, “Apocolypto,” there is a printed statement on screen to the effect that no great civilization has ever been defeated from the outside until it had already decayed on the inside. Same with the mob. Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, the American mob, wrongly dubbed La Cosa Nostra by that idiot, Joe Valachi, was doomed the minute it set foot on United States soil. First a word about the name. As a young man, I had heard the term cosa nostra, with lower case letters, to mean this thing of ours that has no name. When Valachi, semi-literate boob that he was, testified before the Senate Committee on Organized Crime, he mistook the lower case cosa nostra for the proper noun Cosa Nostra. It was immediately seized upon by the media and authorities, and so permeated the culture that by the Nineteen Nineties even top mobsters like John Gotti were using the term as if it were the official name of the mob.
To realize why the mob was doomed here in America is to understand history. Every immigrant group to enter the United States had organized gangs. The Irish had gangs like those portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s film, “Gangs of New York.” Eastern European Jews had the Bug & Meyer Gang, Murder Incorporated, and Lepke & Gurrah. Each group viewed crime as a vehicle to take them from poverty to affluence. The Sicilian/Italian was the only one to view it as a way of life, to be handed down to their sons and their sons’ sons. They had a tradition that went back some eight hundred years on an island that was constantly run by invaders that spoke a different language and had little or no interest in the Sicilian people. There was no justice. To find justice, a sub rosa government was formed: the Mafia. Like all governments, this one had to tax people to survive, which in this case came in the form of theft, extortion, kidnapping, and other rackets. When Sicilian immigrants came to America they found the same conditions. The local governments were run by people who didn’t speak their language and had little or no interest in their well being. Italians were considered scum by the reigning WASPs, Irish who had immigrated a half-century earlier, and German Jews who had also been in America for decades. They needed justice. The Mafia gave it to them.
Had it not been for Prohibition, Sicilian mobs would have vanished by the mid-Twentieth Century. But the enormous revenue, power, reputation, and businesses that illegal booze had given to them carried the mob for another half-century. What no one realized was that this is not Sicily, and as new generations grew Americanized the need for justice was no longer in their hands. The tradition was gone. The immigrant ghettos that had turned out true toughguys no longer existed. Historically, when Italian gangsters were at their peak so were Italian prizefighters. Each group was fighting its way out of poverty, one by anteing up its life and freedom, the other by having its body pummeled. Look around. Name some Italian champs today. Can’t? What does that tell you. If one group is gone, so should the other. The ghettos are gone for Italians. The tradition doesn’t exist, and has in fact been perverted, where the old code of honor that ran parallel to criminal activities has been discarded and the latter clung to. Had the opposite occurred on the inside, maybe the there would have been no destruction from the outside. Toughguys today are not so tough They don’t grow up in conditions that build loyalty or inner strength. . Instead, they grow up in suburban areas and are as spoiled rotten as any American youth. A former partner of mine used to say that everyone was a toughguy as long as the shoe fit; it was when the laces got tight that you saw who screamed. Add that to the American obsession of money over honor and the demise of organized crime became inevitable, FBI or no FBI.
R.I.P. cosa nostra.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
Lansky and Miami
Outside of Las Vegas, there is probably no city in the United States that owes more of its development to the mob than Miami and, in fact, all of South Florida. And, most of that development, one way or another, had Meyer Lansky’s finger in it. A lot of myth surrounds Meyer. Here is some of the facts, partially supplied by Meyer’s nephew, Mark Lansky, as we work on a book proposal about his uncle: “Meyer and Me: The Man and his Memories”
Right now there is a stage play ending its run in Los Angeles, directed by Joe Bologna, called “Lansky.” It focuses on Meyer’s battle to stay in Israel under the Right of Return policy for Jews, and has been favorably reviewed by at least one member of the Lansky family, Mark Lansky, who is in the process of writing a book about his cousin. There have been dozens of books about him or including him, films that presented parts of his life…the early years, his role in Havana, his relationship with Lucky Luciano and the Unione Siciliano…and countless stories and myths about the man. He’s alternately been called the brain of modern organized crime, its CEO, a cold blooded killer, and a member of the fabled Commission of mob family leaders. He was some of the first, less of the next two, and none of the third. But whatever you think of Meyer Lansky, no matter how bad you think the man was, in the course of his life he left his mark in a number of places both here and in Cuba, but none as lasting as in South Florida.
Lansky was a genius. Numbers spun around his head like a roulette wheel and always came up with the right numbers. From his youth, when he’d first encountered crap games in the alleys of the Lower East Side of Manhattan ghetto that his Polish-Jewish parents had emigrated to from Grodno, Russia, he’d been able to calculate odds and find a way to turn them in his favor. One way of doing that was foregoing the daily routine of a twelve to fourteen hour workday for the freedom of the hoodlum’s life. He’d do just about anything to survive, and as a small man fought doubly hard to earn the respect of other young thugs he’d come across, like Bugsy Siegel, Albert Anastasia, Lucky Luciano, and Frank Costello, who would become lifelong friends and business partners. In that diverse group, where each member brought a significant and unique talent…Bugsy was the warrior, Lucky was the manipulator (that’s why he became boss), and Costello was the diplomat…Meyer was the financial brain. His was the brain that brought gambling in Miami, New Orleans, the Bahamas, and Cuba to the mob. He was even invited by Cuba’s strongman Fulgencio Batista to sit on the gaming board of his country. For a time, Meyer really was a CEO, using his executive power to clean up Cuban casinos’ crooked gambling and draw players from the States in record numbers…especially to the Nacional, a hotel that still stands in Havana, where he and his partners had a substantial ownership position.
Cold blooded killer was not what Lansky was about. Surely, in his early years, he may have accumulated a notch or two in his belt, but just as easily might not have. Once he’d partnered up with Bugsy Siegel to form the Bug and Meyer gang, he didn’t have to. Meyer stepped into his first leadership position and ran it with his brain….a brain tutored by another Jewish gangster actually nicknamed “The Brain,” Arnold Rothstein.
Bugsy was, as previously mentioned, a warrior. He’d kill fast and hard, and would not hesitate to use those talents to protect his friends and their earning potential, or to remove a thorn in any of their sides. Since a mob rule has always been that one cannot kill his boss and become boss, it was Bugsy, along with his Jewish cohorts, like Red Levine, who eliminated both Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano to make way for Lucky to take overall power (that rule kept John Gotti from being recognized by the Commission a half-century later). Lansky was not among the shooters. Instead, he was expanding the financial interests of his partners with the millions they’d made from Prohibition. While known for his gaming business prowess, Lansky also used their overflowing funds to invest in land, nightclubs, hotels, and anything else that made sense. Much of that investment was in South Florida.
The biggest erroneous story about Meyer Lansky was that he was part of the now fabled Commission of organized crime. Nothing could be farther from the truth. To understand why Meyer never made it to a seat on the Commission, is to go back to the murders of Moustachio mob bosses Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano and the subsequent murder of more than sixty more Sicilian old timer Mafiosi from September 10th to the 11th, 1931, in what is now known as the “Night of the Sicilian Vespers.” The Moustache Petes, as they were called, had lived and died for vendettas during their rule; for wars between themselves and those of other towns and regions of Sicily. Those continuous battles cost a lot of profit to everyone involved. They also refused to do business with anyone except other Sicilians. Mainland Italians were as bad to them as Jews or Irishmen. To a group of younger, more Americanized gangsters, made up of men like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Bugsy Siegel, and Meyer Lansky, not only didn’t the Moustachioes rule make sense, but something had to be done about it. With Bugsy Siegel in the lead, dozens of old timers across the country were murdered. Little Davey Petillo, who later went to prison with Luciano on the prostitution charges brought by Thomas Dewey, was just a boy at the time of the Vespers. When a top Moustachio escaped the first round of murders, Little Davey was dispatched to the Mafioso’s city. He set up a shoe shine box outside the boss’s club and ingratiated himself to the Sicilian mobsters with glossy spit shines. When the extra cautious boss finally put a foot out for Davey to shine, the boy pulled a pistol from his shine box and shot both the boss and his bodyguard to death.
When the smoke cleared, and the new order was ready to go to work, Lucky Luciano surprised everyone by claiming that though all ethnic groups would be welcome to do business, the Unione Siciliano would reign supreme. He divided the Unione into five families under Sicilian rule, and assigned other ethnic associates to Sicilians who would act as their “liaisons.” To Bugsy Siegel, who had done the heavy lifting in murdering Masseria and Maranzano, this was unacceptable. When he left for the West Coast, it was to be his own boss, not, as commonly thought, to establish mob outposts. For Lansky, who was only interested in making money, it didn’t matter what status he did or didn’t receive. He would accept one of his closest friends, Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo as his man in the mob (notice that the Lansky character’s man in Godfather II was named Johnny Ola, Alo backwards, as was the relationship portrayed). Lansky was forever an associate, not member, of the traditional mob, though he remained a trusted advisor to the mob’s hierarchy throughout his life, a life spent in a large part in South Florida.
There are a lot of businesses and structures in Miami and the greater South Florida area that owe(d) their existence to Meyer Lansky. To this area that catered in large part in early- to mid-Twentieth Century years to vacationers and escapees from cold northern states, Meyer brought organized gambling: crap and card games, horse betting, and slot machines. With gambling came bigger hotels that brought national celebrities and beautiful showgirls. As South Florida grew it needed an economic infrastructure to support vacationers’ paradise: wholesalers, hotel workers, grocers, haberdashers and women’s clothing salespeople, police, and, especially, restaurants. Some world famous hotels like the Eden Roc and restaurants like the Forge owe their very existence to the foundation that Meyer Lansky and his organized crime cohorts set down. Hospitals expanded with Meyer Lansky donations. Mobsters and Lansky front men for businesses like the Singapore Hotel threw money around like it was confetti, making locals well to do and leaving a legacy of extreme public tolerance of mobsters that remains today. South Beach embraced a small time gangster wannabe, Chris Paciello, until he turned rat when prison loomed. Chances are if Paciello returns to Miami tomorrow, locals and celebrities will embrace him just the same. South Florida has grown up with a live and let live attitude.
Part of that is because of Meyer himself; the man he was when he was not scheming how to wash money or bury it in Swiss bank accounts. Meyer’s cousin, Mark, who Meyer always referred to as his “little nephew,” tells of an incident in which members of the Lansky family were having dinner at the Embers restaurant, in Miami Beach. Behind Meyer, at the next table, a man that he had never met went on and on to his party about how much of a pal he was with Meyer Lansky. All of the family members in Meyer’s party ate and drank with knots in their stomachs, wondering what their fabled gangster patriarch would do. When their meal was done, Meyer approached the liar behind him. The Lansky relatives held their breaths. The man turned ashen. However, instead of berating the man, as he certainly had the right to do, Meyer graciously stuck out his hand and greeted the man as if he were a long lost friend; said it had been a long time, and asked how he was, elevating the man in the eyes of his guests and making him beam with, albeit surprised, pride. That was the kind of good feeling toward the mob that Meyer Lansky infused into South Florida’s culture, including Hollywood, which had been the early sight of his largest gambling operations, and Hallandale, which at that time was often referred to as “Lanskyland.” That generous gesture toward man at dinner was typical of the man he was.
Of course not all of Miami’s mob history is peaches ‘n cream and full of good will. There were bodies that happened to turn up every now and then, and one story, true or not, which stands out as an example of the violent undertones that weren’t far from sunshine and palm trees. The story is that Meyer’s close pal and mob go-between, Jimmy Blue Eyes, was approached by an acquaintance who pitched him on the idea of opening an informal café or diner-type eatery that would import New York newspapers for the overwhelming number of visitors to that area who seemed to be lost without knowing what was going on back home. After all, it was not a time of cell phones or a 24 hour television news cycle. Blue Eyes agreed to finance the operation, but with one stipulation: there would be one table set aside for him in a corner that no one else would ever be allowed to sit at. The café became an instant success. No one visiting Miami Beach from the north didn’t breakfast or lunch there and read the news from New York, Philadelphia, or Boston. Lines formed to get in. One day, Blue Eyes passed a queue of waiting diners and stopped dead in his tracks. “What the f_ _ k is going on?” he angrily asked his partner, who explained that he was so overwhelmed with business that he’d sat a group at the table. He gulped more of the coffee he drank all day to keep him hyper enough to handle the business then swore the people would be leaving soon. Blue Eyes left and returned later, when that meal’s rush was over. He ate and drank while his partner continued to apologize, swearing that the offense would never be committed again. “I’m sure it won’t,” Jimmy Blue Eyes replied. A short time later the restaurateur collapsed and died from a cup of coffee laced with arsenic. Blue Eyes, a silent partner, laid out more money when he sympathetically purchased the eatery from the dead man’s wife for a new partner of record to run.
Long after Meyer Lansky’s most active days in the gambling business were over, and after F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover had passed away, the Feds jumped all over him for tax evasion. Maybe they knew that Lansky had blackmailed Hoover to lay off the mob for too long (Lansky privately claimed to have proof of Hoover’s homosexuality); maybe it was for headlines. Whatever the motivation, the aging Lansky tried to escape to Israel, depending on that country’s Right of Return policy for Jews to protect him from American charges. Sand, sunshine, and the sea reminded him of his beloved Miami Beach. He was a confident and happy man as he fought to stay in Israel. The problem was that Israel owed more to the U.S., which financed and protected its very existence, than it did to any Jewish gangster. Meyer was returned to Miami in 1972, when he was seventy years old.
Lansky’s last years were spent in Florida. He was not just an important part of Miami…a true King of Miami…but the city was an important part of him and his family as well. He lived with his second wife, Teddy, in Miami Beach; one son, Buddy, ran the switchboard at the Hawaiian Isles Hotel; Sandy, his only daughter, lived close to him; a stepson, Richard Schwartz, murdered a relative of a mobster at the Forge restaurant and was later murdered in revenge. Had Lansky truly been a Commission member, as he was believed to be, he could have saved the lives of both his stepson, Richard, and his friend and partner, Bugsy Siegel.
Meyer Lansky was indirectly a contributor to America as well, having been the go-between for Lucky Luciano to order longshoremen to protect the U.S. docks against sabotage and helping with the invasion of Sicily in WWII; having broken up Nazi meetings in New York by sending in a crew to break heads; by indirectly having his family produce a foreign service diplomat at the United Nations, who he was infinitely proud of, and a CIA Agent. His last days were spent modestly and increasingly ill, with his greatest pleasure coming from walks with his beloved Shih Tzu, “Bruiser.” There was no evidence in his life of the hundreds of millions of dollars he is purported to have stashed away. Meyer Lansky succumbed to lung cancer in 1983, at the age of 81, and is buried in the place that was most important to him throughout his adult life: Miami.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
Arrivederci, Little Italy
I remember Manhattan’s Little Italy from years ago, when people actually lived there. There were well known regional Italian restaurants like Grotto Azurra, Angelo’s, and Luna. Each had claims to fame and some kind of attractiveness of its own besides the food. Grotto Azzurra had served food to Lucky Luciano, was downstairs, and was close enough to Police Headquarters for mobsters to mingle with police brass, some of the latter who were on the former’s payrolls. Angelo’s was upstairs, fed President Reagan, and had been a more well known name for decades. Luna was the first restaurant you saw on your right as you crossed Canal Street from Chinatown, was where “Crazy Joe” Gallo made the threat that sent him to prison. Chubby’s was the best: open all night on weekends, with brasciola, sausage, pork livers grilling in the window, all served with sweet or hot peppers and whisky or wine in a coffee cup. You could meet drunken “friends” from all over New York at 4 or 5 a.m.
DAYS GONE BY STORY: Across an open parking lot from Luna was Marconi’s Restaurant, also a popular tourist and celebrity magnet. One night, while Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. were dining at Marconi’s, they were told that Dean Martin was across the parking lot at Luna’s. However each side found out the other was across the lot, when their meals were over they all came out with cannolis, which became ammunition for a duel between these international stars. That was what Little Italy was in the good old days.
Besides the numerous Italian restaurants, there were espresso cafes where tourists mingled with residents and mob social clubs with “Private – Members Only” signs on darkened doors and windows for the general public but invisible “Welcome” signs for pals. The Ravenite became the most famous after Paul Castellano was murdered on orders from John Gotti, but there were so many with innocuous names like the Alto Knights, on Mulberry and Kenmare Streets (where the actual murder in a bathroom that Martin Scorsese portrayed in “Mean Streets” took place), the Chatham Square Association, or the Old Mill Club, that catered to legitimate residents and wiseguys alike. There were also Italian restaurants, bars, even funeral parlors on the Chinatown side of Canal Street: Antica Roma, The Lime House, Bunny’s Bar, Bacciagalupo Funeral Home. They were the last remnants of what had become Little Italy at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, when the Irish were moving out and up and the Five Points area was being filled by Southern Italian immigrants; when Paolo Vacarelli called himself Paul Kelly when he took over the Five Points Gang to make the ethnic transition easier.
It has always been the pattern of those on the lower end of the socio-economic urban ladder to move out of a neighborhood to make room for the group on the rung below them. Bedford-Stuyvesant was once home to Jews; the same with Harlem; the Irish left the Five Points to the Italians; East Harlem was Italian before it was almost totally inhabited by Hispanics and blacks. This change, however, is different. This is a change from a vibrant, expensive neighborhood that is an ethnic tourist attraction and slice of what once was and what might have been, to a lesser variety in the patchwork quilt that makes up New York City. The beauty of Manhattan is that you can walk from the Bohemian-style Greenwich Village, to the ever bustling Chinatown, to artsy SoHo, to Little Italy in a matter of a couple of hours. The way it’s going, Little Italy will soon be removed from that list. The current demise of Little Italy can only be compared to the decades-long downward plunge of Atlantic City and Miami before their rebirths. Little Italy will have no such rebirth.
Neighborhood residents have different opinions of when their area started its downward cycle. Johnny “Cha Cha” Ciarcia, the undisputed unofficial Mayor of Little Italy, believes it began when the James Center of the Children’s Aid Society, that spanned Hester Street from Elizabeth Street to Mott Street, was abandoned for commercial use in the 1960s. “The James Center’s playground that I used to play in as a kid was sold to make a parking lot,” says Cha Cha. “It was a shame then, and set a pattern of nobody giving a flying f_ _k about the neighborhood. They only care about their pockets.” He’s one of the few diehards who have clung to their roots all their lives. His Caffe in Bocca in Lupo, at 113 Mulberry Street is a landmark. The walls are covered with photos of celebrities who are friends and patrons: Tony Danza, Danny DeVito, Robert DeNiro, and on and on and on. “When God takes me, that will be the end,” says a saddened Cha Cha. “My cafe will probably be turned into a dim sum joint.”
Oddly, the big sale began when the buildings with stores on the bottom and apartments above were selling for five figures instead of the seven today. Older residents who had raised children on Mulberry Street, or Grand Street, or Hester Street wanted to desert the city for suburban areas. The recently built Verrazano Bridge gave them an opportunity to permanently live in an area that they had taken the ferry during the summers to spend some time in bungalows. It had then been called “the country.” The problem was that they were so eager to move and upgrade their living conditions that they sold to whoever offered them as low as five thousand dollars more…usually Chinese. Obviously, loyalty was a word that wasn’t in their vocabulary. Few saw what would happen to the neighborhood that had given them so much and looked beyond the pittance.
Those Little Italy heroes sold to Italians who wanted to build the area into a major tourist attraction for Southern Italian-style hospitality. Some, like my dear departed friend, “Joe Carlo” Calabro, talked the talk, cursing out the neighborhood traitors, and walked the walk, refusing to sell a building he had to Chinatown expansionists. Oddly enough, one major hero in the survival of Little Italy was a Jew, Sidney Saulstein, a haberdasher and owner of many properties in both Chinatown and Little Italy. Though he was married to an Asian woman, he refused to sell his Little Italy properties to anyone but Italians, even if he had to take less money, and made sure he did the same for Chinese buyers on the Chinatown side, helping to preserve the ethnic individuality of each area for decades. Saulstein had the distinction of doing exactly that when he sold to Robert Ianello, “Matty The Horse” Ianello’s brother, who built Umberto’s Clam House at the location… a seafood restaurant later made famous when “Crazy Joe” Gallo was gunned down there one night. Instead of the killing scaring visitors away, they flocked to the eatery in such numbers that now it has moved to a larger location where it can offer a full Italian menu instead of the limited fried seafood items it originally served (okay, the scungilli wasn’t fried. Nitpickers!). That says more about the sanguinary fascination of society than it does about Little Italy. God Bless Sidney Saulstein.
THE FEAST OF SAN GENNARO: In 1927, Neapolitans in Little Italy staged the first Festa San Gennaro in the history of New York. Over the following decades it became internationally famous for food (fried calamari, sausage and pepper sandwiches, zeppoles, etc.) and fun (Ferris wheel, barkers calling to pitch a ball or bet on which hole a mouse will disappear to, card games, souvenirs, etc.). It was the most concentrated Southern Italian experience in the country each September…that is, until political correctness and political pressure brought San Gennaro to his knees…something a Roman furnace and beheading couldn’t.
By the 1980’s, a politically correct shift had brought an inordinate number of non-Italian spots into the Feast. There were always a scattered number of tables or booths that peddled incongruous things: fortune tellers, egg rolls, maybe a tee shirt or two with outsider messages, but suddenly there were Rastafarians with multicolored caps and shirts, falafel, cactus kitchen magnets, and things that I turned my head away too fast to capture in my memory. The feeling was ebbing. Less of the people I knew showed up. Less of the unique feeling that I’d get even in a garlic festival. Less special.
An assault by Mayor Giuliani threatened the Feast’s survival as he relentlessly fought the windmills of organized crime. I haven’t been to New York’s Festa San Gennaro for years, instead participating in the founding of the first feast by that name in Los Angeles’ history. The dedication of a few men, like restaurateur Frankie Competelli, Jimmy Kimmel producer Doug DeLuca, and filmmaker Gregg Cannizzaro combined with the newness of the experience on that coast has resulted in a more pure ethnic experience. How long will that last in L.A. before the PC police gets to it? Who knows? Hopefully, eighty years like New York.
All of those things have contributed to the creeping demise of Little Italy, but none as much as the sellouts who betray their heritage for money. The Manna family of Luna’s Restaurant, which includes the newest mob rat, Nicholas “P.J.” Pisciotti, is only the latest. Are they all headed for the Witness Protection Program with him? A Luna’s in Iowa or Idaho? It’s shameful and it’s sad, and all New Yorkers and visitors to New York are the losers. It would be just as sad if Chinatown were lost. Or Greenwich Village. Or SoHo.
But Chinatown, Greenwich Village, and SoHo are not in jeopardy; Little Italy is because of greedy property owners who owed so much to the neighborhood and chose to pay back nothing. Shame on them.
P.S.: There are many “dogs” who have hurt the neighborhood for their own greed. I’ve collected the names of many of them and was going to list them. However, after some thought, I decided it would only hurt their children and grandchildren, none of whom had any part in the betrayal. The dogs know who they are, and so do others. That’s enough.
WILL OUR KIDS GET TO SEE THIS SIGN?
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
The Joseph Petrosino Story
My background is organized crime. There aren’t many crime fighters who I hold in high esteem. For most of my life they were corrupt, enabling those of us in the business of crime to operate with virtual impunity. When I couldn’t pay an accuser off to get out of an assault case, the judge took half the money we had offered the so-called victim (I call him that because he attacked me, then yelled cop after he’d gotten the worst of it) to drop the charges. In fact, after my first major adult arrest, my attorney showed up to bail me out. Instead of praising me for keeping my mouth shut, he berated me, calling me every synonym for idiot he could think of. Why, because, he said, the detective told him he had given me every hint he could that I could pay him off to let me go and I hadn’t responded. The truth was, I had been to busy waiting to roll with the punch if he slugged me to hear anything he said, and hadn’t had the experience yet of that scale of bribery. That’s just the way it was. Later, when the Knapp Commission scared most law enforcement to stop taking bribes, they cut the limbs we were on out from under us and walked away mostly unscathed. More recently, when the U.S. Attorneys and FBI Agents won victory after victory against mobsters, I gave more credit to the internal disintegration of the mob than to good police work. Without scumbags trading other people’s families and freedom for their crimes, how many cases would the Feds have successfully prosecuted?
However, there is one lawman from long ago that I’ve come to greatly admire; so much so that I’ve recently completed a screenplay based on his life. The name of the screenplay: “DAGO.” His name: Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino.
By the time the great wave of poor Southern Italian immigrants landed in New York at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Joe Petrosino had been there for nearly thirty years. He’d arrived in New York from Padula, Italy in 1873, at 13 years of age, at a time when a wealthier middle class of Italians, mostly from north of the Mezzogiorno, came to America to springboard their offspring to an even better life. Many were skilled workers or artisans, and tended to live in ethnically mixed areas as they moved up the American ladder, not in the ghettos abandoned by the second generation Irish as the later, poorer arrivals from Italy did. Joe’s father was a tailor and opened a Manhattan shop that became successful enough to comfortably support his family.
Young Giuseppe shined shoes outside Police Headquarters, where he developed a friendship with a Captain of Police. That friendship led to his getting a job as a “white winger” or street cleaner, which was controlled by the Police Department at the time. White wingers were named for the white uniforms they wore as they made their way through New York’s streets, picking up litter in with small brooms and dustpans and depositing in barrels on wheels that they dragged along. Later on, since crime in the Italian ghetto was out of control and the Police Department was made up of primarily German Jews and Irish, the Police Commissioner bent the 5’7” height minimum rule to admit the 5’3” Petrosino to the force. He quickly distinguished himself by his ability to solve crimes that English speaking law enforcement community couldn’t. He was quickly promoted to Sergeant by Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Though his professional life moved forward, Petrosino’s personal life was virtually nonexistent. His insecurities about his looks, his station in life, and, later, a preoccupation with his work kept him from entering into any serious relationships. Danger was another factor that added to his lonely life. Constant threats of murder forced him to move from his parents’ apartment to a solitary one in order to protect them.
Petrosino’s style was rough. He regularly beat criminals, especially if he felt they would be released without punishment by the courts. On his first day as a detective he beat two men senseless who he caught assaulting a black man. When he found that one pimp he particularly detested was being deported back to Sicily, Petrosino got him alone in an office on Ellis Island, where the man was being held, and knocked out all his teeth with a ring of keys. His actions were picked up by the press, which saw him as a hero among an immigrant community they feared and believed was criminal in nature. He had no such support from the Tammany Hall politicos, who, more likely to take bribes from criminals than support their convictions, were a constant thorn in his side. Most Italian newspapers also denigrated him and his actions, probably because of their own connection to the community’s toughs. At that time, Southern Italian gangs preyed on their fellow immigrants only, since neither group could speak anything but their dialect from the old country. Gangsters, many using Black Hand symbols to strike fear into their paisani, couldn’t deal with English speaking groups. Italian victims’ inability to communicate with authorities kept them from getting protection or justice.
Petrosino was also an innovator in police procedure and methodology that has lasted far beyond his life. He was one of the first to make regular use of forensics in solving crimes. Things that were generally overlooked didn’t escape Petrosino’s eye. He would dig out bits of substance to determine points of origin of evidence and relations and background of a murder victim. One of his most famous cases took place in the early 1900s, when a body was found in the Italian immigrant section of New York, in a barrel of sawdust, cut up with the cadaver’s genitals in its mouth. Immediately, a call went out from the Police Commissioner, of, “Get me the Dago!” In what was labeled “The Body in the Barrel Case,” merely by examining the barrel, its contents, and the possessions of the victim, Petrosino found both the location of the murder (a Sicilian café frequented by criminals) and a relative (a Sing Sing inmate serving time for counterfeiting) who supplied the perpetrators and motive for the murder. He also did a lot of undercover work to gather criminal intelligence in Italian communities in and out of New York City. He might pass as a construction hand, a bum, or a Hasidic Jew. His rate of crimes solved in Little Italy, where few police even spoke the language and had to deal with a wall of fearful silence, was especially high, though he was plagued by a turnaround court system that regularly had the criminals back on the street almost before they could post bail. Frustrated by the system, he begged to be sent to Sicily to investigate whether many of the criminals had warrants that he could use to deport them. Over a period of years he was turned down time and again, mostly because of budget considerations and a lack of understanding by politicians of the impact criminals were having on the Italian immigrant community.
Personal law enforcement success, like single-handedly rescuing the kidnapped thirteen year old daughter of an extortion plot victim by sliding down a rope thrown through a skylight, brought not only more adulation from the American press and continued derision from the Italian newspapers, but numerous death threats. He made important enemies like “Lupo The Wolf” and Vito Cascio Ferro, who would later become one of history’s most important Sicilian Mafia dons, and who carried Petrosino’s photo with him as a reminder of his vow to personally kill the detective by his own hand. Ferro’s and Petrosino’s lives intertwined in a way that would eventually bring a fatal confrontation for one or the other.
Petrosino also made powerful friends, including Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who, as New York Police Commissioner, had promoted Petrosino to Detective Sergeant. Further appointments made him New York City’s first Italian Detective Lieutenant and the head of what was labeled “The Italian Squad,” made up of Italian police who would be able to communicate with immigrant victims and identify criminal elements in their area.
In the early part of the Twentieth Century, before Lucky Luciano and pals had put the “organized” into “organized crime,” Italian ghettos were plagued by four major crime problems: anarchism, Black Hand extortion, prostitution (Sicilian hoodlums would write to the old country saying they needed a wife, then beat the supposed bride when she arrived and pimp her off), and counterfeiting. During one months-long undercover investigation while on loan to the U.S. Secret Service, Petrosino, under an assumed name, worked as a tunnel digger and lived in a rooming house with suspected anarchists in New Jersey. During that time he discovered that there was a plan to assassinate President McKinley. Anarchists had already murdered King Umberto, of Italy. Joe notified Vice President Roosevelt, who arranged a face to face meeting with the President at the White House. McKinley refused to take Petrosino’s information seriously, stating that anarchist assassinations happened overseas, but not in the U.S., and that in general people loved him. Why, if Americans didn’t like the job he was doing, they could always vote him out of office. There was no need in this country to murder any President, he insisted. President McKinley was later assassinated by an anarchist while giving a speech in Upstate New York. Petrosino sadly attended the funeral for the President, but remained a close friend and supporter of Theodore Roosevelt throughout his Presidency.
He also became a friend of legendary opera singer, Enrico Caruso, when the latter became the victim of a Black Hand extortion plot. Caruso, fearing for his life, reached out for Petrosino. The detective supplied bodyguards for Caruso while he investigated the plot. Eventually, he found the conspirators, put the fear of death into them, and had them deported back to Italy.
In spite of all his high profile exploits, the body in the barrel became Petrosino’s signature case. The Jewish Commissioner at the time was so ignorant of not only Italian culture, but his own, that he believed “INRI” on the victim’s crucifix indicated some secret organization or cult killing. Petrosino discovered the murder was part of a counterfeit money deal. His experience in working with the Secret Service on counterfeit investigations helped him track down the conspirators, which included his sworn enemies, Lupo The Wolf and Vito Cascio Ferro. Arrests were made, but bail was made while Petrosino was off chasing another criminal who had fled the city. By the time Petrosino returned, Vito Cascio Ferro had disappeared, on his way back to Sicily, and the man believed to be the actual murderer, Tomasso Petto, had substituted a look alike for himself at the re-arrest if the crew and had also run away.
Joe Petrosino was not just a gung-ho crime fighter, but a man of justice. When he found that a man had been sentenced to die in the electric chair for a murder he hadn’t committed, he found out who the real murderer was and tracked the man all over the country and Nova Scotia as the latter moved from place to place in an effort not to be discovered, at least until the wrongly accuse man had been disposed of and the case officially closed. The chase ended with Petrosino delivering the real killer to authorities a week before the innocent man’s execution. The detective also wound up with pneumonia as a result of terrible weather in Nova Scotia and other cities during his efforts to right the wrong.
In 1908 Joe Petrosino finally married. Thirty-seven year old Adelina was a childless widow who worked in her family’s restaurant, and within a year of their wedding bore him a daughter. It was the high point of Petrosino’s life, as he’d hurry home each day to marvel in his infant offspring. He cut back on his work hours to spend time cuddling the infant in his arms. At that same time, the investigative trip to Sicily he no longer wanted suddenly materialized. Three months after his daughter was born, the dutiful Petrosino departed under an assumed name on a supposedly secret mission to discover those warrants and to pay informers to supply him with ongoing information once he returned home.
While Petrosino was on the ship to his first stop, Rome, on his way to Sicily, his mission was leaked to the press by a Police Department superior. His cover blown, Petrosino continued on to Palermo, where he incurred opposition from the authorities as well as danger from Mafiosi. He refused police bodyguards because he didn’t trust them. One night a man approached him as he ate in a small restaurant near the hotel he was staying at. He hurriedly left for a local train station’s piazza, where he was shot to death. A gun and his derby lay by his bloody body. Legend has it that Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who had become the most powerful Mafioso in Sicily after having been run out of the United States by Petrosino’s relentless pursuit, had been told of his nemesis’ location. He dispatched someone to lure Petrosino to the deserted station with a promise of information. At the appointed time, he left a dinner party with top Palermo politicians, went to the piazza, murdered Petrosino himself, and returned to the dinner. Joe Petrosino had only gotten to spend three months with his precious daughter before being dispatched to Sicily, where he died.
The reaction to Petrosino’s death in the U.S. was pure outrage. Calls were made by newspapers and politicians to deport all Italians, overlooking the fact that Joe Petrosino was himself of Italian descent. Joe’s coffin arrived in New York by ship from Sicily nearly a month after his murder. His funeral procession, begun at St. Patrick’s Church on Mott Street after a Mass by Joe’s old friend, Bishop Lavalle, drew more than 250,000 mourners following from Lower Manhattan’s narrow streets uptown to Fifth Avenue, keeping other movement in the city to a crawl. To this day, Lt. Detective Joseph Petrosino is the only American detective ever killed overseas in the line of duty, and is remembered in Lower Manhattan with a statue of him that stands guard in a tiny park that bears his name, and is just steps from the old police headquarters on Grand and Baxter Streets.
Though Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino fought the forerunners of my friends and associates, his name is forever linked with organized crime, and, due to his exploits in defense of a victimized Italian immigrant community, he is a figure deserving of admiration…even by me.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.
R.I.P. Bill Bonanno
Just as the new year began, on January 1, 2008, Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno, son of Giuseppe “Joe Bananas” Bonanno, namesake of the Bonanno organized crime family, suddenly passed away. Bill was seventy-five years old, but considering that his father died little more than five years ago, in his nineties, it came as a shock to everyone who knew him.
In looking at some of the comments posted in various newspapers that announced his death, I was surprised at some of the animus from some of the contributors. It doesn’t take a genius to know that these people love to talk without knowing what they’re talking about. I guarantee not one had ever met the man.
I only met Bill once, but had had some dialogue with him through mutual friends occasionally over the years. He was a gentleman, in fact more than I was in one particular exchange, who I considered a victim more than a predator. I have a steadfast belief that sons of mob higher ups should be automatically barred from membership. Bill was an example why. His early life was much more sheltered than any of those who clawed their way through life, stealing, fighting, doing all the things to rise above impoverished beginnings. Bill had the potential to step up in mainstream society if he hadn’t had its course changed by his father, a self-absorbed, ego-driven man whose real mob legacy is that he was chased out of New York and became responsible for Rudy Giuliani’s “Commission Case,” where top members of New York’s mob were ultimately sent to prison for life. I have heard him referred to by members of that family as a rat more than once because of his declaration in his book, “A Man of Honor,” that a ruling commission ruled over major organized crime matters. He will not be remembered by those who know inside mob workings as the regal figure he thought he was, much like his mentor Salvatore Maranzano, who was murdered to make way for a more modern organization, but as a rat in more ways than one. What they won’t remember is that one of the worst things he did was turn his own son’s life upside down.
It is to Bill Bonanno’s credit that while he did not grow up in the rough and tumble way most mobsters did, he did the best he could to live up to his father’s expectations and, unlike other mob scions like Michael Franzese, didn’t trade someone else’s freedom to secure more of his own, and did nearly twelve years in prison. It was during his later years that Bill blossomed into the writer and businessman I believe he was always meant to be.
Bill Bonanno did not choose a mob life; his father chose it for him. If there is any bad feelings by the public for a Bonanno it should be for Joe Bonanno. To the family and friends of Bill Bonanno, I send sincere condolences. To Bill: R.I.P.
© 2009 R.I.C.O. Entertainment, Inc.