Monday, December 05, 2016

Former Boss of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club forsees Hells Angels Takeover of Chicago

“God Forgives, Outlaws Don’t.”

That’s the menacing motto of the Outlaws motorcycle club, formed in the Chicago area in 1935, now with chapters and thousands of members around the world. But in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, a former Outlaws leader says the group isn’t nearly as fearsome or dominant as it used to be in Illinois. “The times have changed,” says Peter “Big Pete” James, 62, who lives in the west suburbs. “Somehow, there’s no testosterone out there.”

James hung up his Outlaws vest — black leather with a skull and crossed pistons patch — last year amid an internal dispute with other local leaders and his own ongoing fight with cancer.

Contrary to the biker rumor mill, James isn’t returning to the fray, he told the Sun-Times. His wide-ranging interview was unusual because so-called “1-percenter” bikers generally are loath to talk publicly about their business.

Watching from the sidelines, James says that maybe the biggest indication his old club is slipping involves the rise of the rival Hells Angels motorcycle club, which he believes is poised to overtake the Outlaws as the big-dog biker group in the Chicago area — an unthinkable development not long ago.

He predicts — but insists he isn’t advocating — renewed conflict between the two groups resulting from the shifting dynamic.

An attorney for the Outlaws responds only, “There wouldn’t be any comment at this time.” The Hells Angels didn’t respond to inquiries.

Back in the 1990s, the Outlaws and Hells Angels — both which have weathered intense federal prosecutions and allegations they’re nothing more than gangs on wheels involved in drug dealing and mayhem — were locked in “war” in Chicago, as the Hells Angels made a foray into the region, the Outlaws’ long-established turf.

After a series of bombings, shootings and stabbings, the rival clubs formed a fragile truce. The Hells Angels, formed in 1948 in California, gave up their attempt to put a clubhouse within the Chicago city limits and, instead, planted a flag in Harvey, remaining there today.

Since then, the Outlaws have maintained a stronghold in Chicago, with a South Side clubhouse at 25th and Rockwell and a North Side clubhouse on Division Street. It also has several other chapters in northern Illinois.

As regional vice president, James had domain over all of them and also was president of the North Siders. In all, he says there were maybe 100 hard-core members in northern Illinois. But James says smart moves by the Hells Angels — plus waves of prosecutions, poor leadership by some current Outlaws and changing times and attitudes — have changed things.

For one, James says local Outlaws are less willing to take orders from the top. “It used to be the boss’ word was law,” he says. “He says, ‘Ride off the cliff,’ and guys would ride off a cliff. The quality of the members has gone down.”

Fear of prison has also had an impact on some local club leaders, according to James, who’s critical of his old group for not being “entrepreneurial.”

Unlike the Outlaws, Hells Angels members are Internet-savvy, with the group’s local Facebook page accumulating more than 29,000 “likes” and the club selling T-shirts and other merchandise on its website. The Hells Angels also have made money by holding parties at its Harvey clubhouse and at bars in the Chicago area, according to James, who says the club welcomes “civilians” and members of smaller biker clubs to their parties.

“The Outlaws are losing out on the party money,” he says, along with the chance to market themselves and gain supporters.

Chicago-area law enforcement officials periodically have cracked down on both clubs. They say they’ve been preoccupied with other groups in recent years — especially the African-American gang factions behind Chicago’s staggering 50 percent rise in murders this year.

It was more than a decade ago when federal authorities charged Melvin Chancey, the former president of the Chicago-area Hells Angels, with racketeering and drug trafficking.

The last major Chicago law-enforcement crackdown of the Outlaws was more than five years ago. Chicago Outlaws member Mark Polchan was convicted of orchestrating a 2003 bombing outside C & S Coin Operated Amusements, a video-poker business in Berwyn that reputed mob boss Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno wanted to destroy to protect his own gambling interests. The pipe bomb blew out windows and damaged the building.

Polchan, who also was accused of fencing stolen jewelry for the mob at his Cicero pawnshop, was sentenced in 2011 to 60 years in federal prison.

James describes Polchan as his one-time “confidant” and says, “I love him.”

He says he has continued to receive occasional visits from federal agents looking for information on the biker world that he says he’s unwilling to give. “I try to be polite, to a point,” he says.

He figures his former club isn’t engaged in criminal activity at the same level as in the old days. Drug dealing, he says, worries graying members who don’t want to face a prison stretch lasting decades.

Even if things seem more low-key, though, “It doesn’t mean there’s not violence,” James says. “It’s just not as flagrant.” But there have been reports of Outlaws roughing up members of weaker Hispanic biker clubs in the Chicago area since James left. The apparent aim: to force them to ally more closely with the Outlaws, which has long enjoyed a “support system” from other clubs.

James says there’s nothing wrong with building alliances, but it’s stupid to enlist “Neanderthal” methods, adding, “They’re not thinking it through.”

James says that when he was in charge, he created a confederation of dozens of biker clubs, part of an effort “to change the stereotype.”

He says the TV show “Sons of Anarchy,” which aired on FX from 2008 to 2014, popularized but also caused headaches for “1-percenter” biker clubs — so-called for representing the 1 percent of bikers supposedly involved in crime.

“I watched the show,” he says, laughing. “It was like an Outfit guy watching ‘The Sopranos.’ Kind of a joke.”

Fans of the show about a criminal biker group in California formed their own clubs and made pilgrimages to the Outlaws clubhouse on Division Street to ask James to “sanction” them. James says he refused to avoid giving the feds a reason to charge him with racketeering.

He says those newbies might dress the part and ride around on Harleys but don’t share 1-percenters’ “toughness.”

Jay Dobyns got a firsthand look at the 1-percenter lifestyle when he infiltrated the Hells Angels in Arizona as an undercover ATF agent in the early 2000s. No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels.

“These guys are not book smart but have their Ph.Ds in violence and intimidation,” says Dobyns, now retired and living in Arizona. “I think the term ‘brotherhood’ is very easily thrown around in today’s society. We hear it and use it a lot. They take it to a life-and-death level. When I was with the club, there were guys who would have stepped in front of a bullet for me. Now, they want to put a bullet in me.”

Dobyns says he crossed paths with Chancey — “one of the true believers that the elimination of the enemy was a critical part of the mission, the survival of their own club. In that area, the enemy was the Outlaws.”

The continued animosity between the Hells Angels and Outlaws makes James’ recent friendship with George Christie an unlikely one. Christie is a former high-ranking Hells Angels leader who left the group in 2011 and was “excommunicated.”

Christie and James both have appeared on CNN to offer their expertise on biker life and both wrote books on the subject — James’ memoir is expected to be released next year.

James says the main reason he wrote the book was to show how far things have slipped in what he regards as a once-noble brotherhood and to spur change in leadership and attitudes among the Outlaws in Illinois.

“It used to be guys banded together who believed in something, and they had fun,” James says. “There’s no brotherhood left in the Outlaws any more.”

He says the Outlaws in Chicago have a choice to make as their rival grows and encroaches. “The choice is fight or flight,” he says. “They know the Angels will push them out of town. Who’s going to light the match?”

James says he won’t be on the front lines if that happens. Last year, he had his “God Forgives, Outlaws Don’t” tattoo covered up with a new design. “I’m borderline ashamed already to say I was once one,” he says.

Thanks to Robert Herguth and Frank Main.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I Heard You Paint Houses - Updated Edition

"I Heard You Paint Houses", Updated Edition: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa,” by Charles Brandt is based on the deathbed confession of a mafia hit man who claims to have killed Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa on the orders of Russell Bufalino, the reputed mob boss from West Pittston.

“The book is huge. It flies off the shelves,” said Mike Ashworth, manger of Borders in Dickson City.

The book owes its resurgence to the travails of Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples and his friend, diocesan priest Joseph Sica, who made headlines after indictments challenged their characterization of their relationship with Bufalino, his alleged successor William D’Elia, and others.

They won’t find direct answers in the book, which never mentions DeNaples or Sica. The book is based on the recorded deathbed confession of mafia hit man Frank Sheeran, who was a friend to both Bufalino and Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa. In the book, written by former Delaware Assistant Attorney General Charles Brandt, Sheeran admits to carrying out several hits. Most notably, Sheeran said he killed Hoffa on Bufalino’s order.

Thanks to David Falchek

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mafia Links of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

The musical Jersey Boys has made Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons the toast of the West End, winning them rave reviews and standing ovations Yet the pop stars whose appeal in the Fifties and Sixties was their clean-cut image had links to the Mob, who helped them in their early career - an unsavoury connection that they strove to keep secret from adoring fans.

Growing up on the streets of Newark, New Jersey, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi had frequent brushes with the law themselves, as well as close links with the Mafia.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Gaudio, 65, the co-writer of many of the group's hits, has revealed that at the height of their fame in the Sixties, it would have been impossible for The Four Seasons to come clean about their lives.

"Back then, things were a little clean-cut, don't forget, so the idea of our story getting out was horrifying to us," he said.

Their stories included the struggling band robbing convenience stores in between gigs, breaking chairs over people's heads if they were not paid promptly and spending a weekend in jail after fleeing a hotel without paying the bill.

Massi and DeVito spent time in prison for breaking and entering and a series of petty crimes.

"We certainly rubbed shoulders with a lot of unsavoury characters, but you know, the clubs were essentially owned by the Mob so it was very difficult not to be involved or around them," Gaudio said. "I saw some pretty heavy things back then, and we almost bit the dust a few times. But it was always interesting."

But Gaudio says the world where they started out gave their music an edge that set them apart from their contemporaries and helped them achieve worldwide record sales of 175 million, securing their place as one of the few bands who survived the British invasion led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

"We moved in a tough world, so our music was certainly not Beach Boys fun-in-the-sun in bikinis," Gaudio said. "It was more like backstreet in '57 Chevvys."

It was impossible to become a star in New Jersey in the Fifties and Sixties without the approval of the Mafia, who ran the clubs as well as the food and drink companies which supplied them.

Mobster Angelo '"Gyp" DeCarlo, who ran the DeCavalcante family's loan-sharking and gambling interests in New Jersey, helped the band early on. They returned the favour when he was jailed in 1972, flying down to Atlanta and performing for him and his fellow prisoners. But the relationship was not always so smooth: during the band's early days DeVito was threatened by the Mob over unpaid gambling debts.

When Jersey Boys was first rehearsed, its writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, were contacted by associates of DeCarlo who wanted to ensure his portrayal was given due respect.

The writers conducted interviews with Valli, Gaudio and Tommy DeVito - bassist Nick Massi died in 2000 - to tell the band's story.

Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in 2005 to rave reviews, winning four Tony Awards in 2006, including best musical.

The show, which includes 27 classic hits such as Big Girls Don't Cry, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and Walk Like a Man, depicts the band in their early days breaking into a club and stealing the safe.

Gaudio has been instrumental in taking the production to Broadway, and now the West End. He has also been in talks with both Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese about a possible film version.

He says he was inspired by the 1978 film The Deer Hunter, which used one of the group's songs, Can't Take My Eyes Off You. "It's very poignant, very powerful," he said. "I thought, wow, if this works in film, boy, it could sure well work on a stage some day."

Since he stopped performing, Gaudio has written and produced music for Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond. He dismissed today's pop stars who find chart success on the back of television shows such as American Idol, Pop Idol, and The X Factor.

"The manufactured stuff is disconcerting for me as I just don't believe in it," he said.

"In our case, we had a real 'f--- you' attitude: this is what we do and if you don't like it, don't put it out," he added. "It is probably impossible for bands to have that attitude now."

Thanks to Roya Nikkhah

Digging for the Truth: The Final Resting Place of Jimmy Hoffa

July 30 1975: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran allegedly murders Teamsters Leader Jimmy Hoffa in a house in northwest Detroit. The location of his body has been a mystery for over forty years. Follow Police Officer Jeffry Hansen's three-year journey as he investigates the most infamous disappearance of the twentieth century.

Digging for the Truth: The Final Resting Place of Jimmy Hoffa

Monday, November 28, 2016

Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

Was Charles Sberna wrongly convicted of the murder of Police Officer John H.A. Wilson? Was an innocent man sent to the electric chair in 1939? What reasons could the authorities have had for refusing to consider alternatives and rushing Sberna into Sing Sing Prison's death device?

'Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution' provides the details and historical background of the Sberna case. The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, Mafia bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.

Sing Sing Warden Lewis Lawes had no doubt on the evening of January 5, 1939: He had just presided over the electric-chair-execution of an innocent man. The prison chaplain and many guards also felt that convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna had been sent to his death unjustly.

Lawes made his feelings known in a published book a short time later. Syndicated Broadway columnist Walter Winchell also called attention to the flawed case against Sberna in the summer of 1939 and again early in 1942. According to Winchell, the government knew it had killed an innocent man and was providing "hush money" payments to Sberna relatives. Since then, opponents of capital punishment have included Sberna's name in collections of those deemed "wrongly executed" and have used the case as a somewhat vague example of the possibility of death penalty error. Still, little is generally known about Sberna or the circumstances that led him to the electric chair.

The story of Charles Sberna first came to Thomas Hunt's attention during research into capital punishment errors. Archived newspaper columns by Winchell revealed a story worthy of retelling. Conversations with publisher Rick Mattix relating to the startup of the On the Spot Journal of "gangster era" crime history led Hunt to assemble an article on the Sberna case for the journal's December 2006 issue. The article noted the relation by marriage of Charles Sberna and the Morello-Lupo-Terranova clan, which had been a major influence in early New York organized crime. Sberna's own family background was unknown until research into Amedeo Polignani of the NYPD shed light on the involvement by Charles Sberna's father Giuseppe in the anarchist-terrorist bombings of the 1910s. The decision to fully explore the Sberna case soon followed.

Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution.