Thursday, July 30, 2015

Remembering the Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, 40 Years Ago Today

Odds are, 40-years ago today when Jimmy Hoffa was staring down the barrel of a revolver, I was 100 yards away looking into the stainless steel abyss of a hot fudge sundae dish.

On the anniversary of Hoffa's disappearance, July 30, 1975, this is no Forrest Gump story or even a case of mis-remembering. The once-omnipotent Teamsters Union boss was last seen alive on that day at a suburban Detroit shopping center.

He was there for a 2 p.m. meeting with mobsters Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone and Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano. The meeting was to be at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, one mile from where I grew up.

Straight across the parking lot from where Hoffa was last seen alive, was an ice cream shop known as Sanders. That summer of '75, on my way home from working a 5 a.m.-1 p.m. radio-news shift, I would stop there for one of Sanders' Detroit-famous sundaes. Or maybe a hot fudge cream puff. Every day.

It was a summertime ritual of gluttony. The front window of the ice cream shop faced the restaurant where Hoffa had come for his meeting 40 years ago today.

If only I had known that one of America's greatest all-time crime mysteries was happening, perhaps I would have paid more attention. But only a few people even knew Hoffa was there: the men he was to meet and his wife, who he called just after 2 p.m. from a pay phone in the restaurant to report he'd been stood up.

Hoffa was never heard from again.

During the last four decades, there have been dozens of suggested plots and conspiracies. There was a movie about it and an occasional excavation project based on a tip that always led to nowhere. Hoffa's body has never been found, and if there is consensus among the original investigators who are still alive, that is because his remains were dissolved without a trace.

One retired Chicago FBI agent who worked the Hoffa case in Detroit and Newark, N.J., said that within the bureau the mystery of what happened to Hoffa and why was essentially was solved - even if never brought to prosecution. Hoffa's kidnapping and murder was motivated largely by personal vendetta, according to Joe Brennan, a long-time organized crime squad supervisor.

In interviews over the years, Brennan told the I-Team that New Jersey Teamster official and organized crime boss Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano had ordered the grudge killing. The late Provenzano's role in Hoffa's disappearance has been reported over the years. But his motive has always been presumed to be a union-related, checkmate-murder designed to block Hoffa's Teamster comeback.

"Hoffa was trying to get back into labor even though he was told not to," by the courts, Brennan said. "Information we got was that the mob was concerned that his re-entry was going to create investigative interest in union activities which could cause problems (for the mob).

"Provenzano saw a great opportunity to exact revenge" under the cover of a preventive union move, says Brennan. "So, he launched a couple of his guys" to eradicate Hoffa. But Hoffa's gangland termination had nothing to do with his second coming to the Teamster. It was fueled by Provenzano's blood feud with Hoffa, from the time that both men were serving time in the same federal prison.

The FBI's information was that "Hoffa didn't show the appropriate respect for a made (Mafia) guy in prison." In short, Hoffa didn't kiss Provenzano's Cosa Nostra ring while both were at the Lewisburg penitentiary. According to the working theory, Tony Pro never let go of that hostility and eventually got revenge. The FBI was told by mob informants that New Jersey enforcer Salvatore "Sally Bugs" Briguglio and a lesser-known wheelman grabbed Hoffa and took him on his final ride, July 30, 1975.

The FBI belief is that Hoffa was grabbed, killed in Detroit and brought back to New Jersey in a 55-gallon drum for Provenzano to personally verify that he was dead. Federal agents believe the body may have then been melted into the Meadowlands sports stadium in New Jersey, dumped into the Atlantic or dissolved in a vat of zinc in a mob-connected factory. Regardless, Hoffa was declared dead in 1982.

The case is technically open today because his body was never found. Generations know Hoffa only as the punchline of jokes, fueled even by the labor leader's middle name: Riddle (his mother's maiden name.) But for me, 40 years after he vanished and after decades of coincidentally reporting on organized crime, Hoffa remains just another scoop that got away.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bust: How I Gambled and Lost a Fortune, Brought Down a Bank--and Lived to Pay for It

A North Shore butcher is having the book thrown at him by the feds—literally.

The book is called "Bust: How I Gambled and Lost a Fortune, Brought Down a Bank--and Lived to Pay for It." It's the autobiography of imprisoned gambling junkie Adam Resnick, who helped destroy a Chicago bank by pilfering more than $10 million to pay his gambling debts.

The butcher is Dominic Poeta, a short fellow with plenty of muscle in his neck and hands, like a fighter or a jockey. He's feeling pressure, and he doesn't like being squeezed like a handful of ground pork spiked with dry fennel, some sausage from a grinder.

"Please help me," he told me, as we stood Poeta's Food Market in Highwood this week. "I just want this to end. I'm not the guy they say I am. I was the go-between. I'm nobody big." But federal authorities hunting the Chicago Outfit by tracing their lifeblood—the illegal sports booking operation—believe he's big enough.

The feds, who took down a chunk of the Chicago Outfit in the Family Secrets trial, aren't finished. Some are loyal Resnick readers, particularly Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Stewart, who took copious notes on "Bust: How I Gambled and Lost a Fortune, Brought Down a Bank--and Lived to Pay for It."

Stewart argues in federal court filings that Poeta is a bookie who accepted $647,211 in checks from Resnick for gambling debts and that Poeta plays a part in Resnick's book under the alias "Luciano 'Lucky' Petrelli."

There are other wacky characters in the book, including a Tavern on Rush fixture named Marty, who augments his income by bringing high rollers to casinos for a percentage, and is described as a "slimmer, younger version of the opera singer Andrea Bocelli."

We called Tavern on Rush boss Marty Gutilla to determine whether he is a Bocelli fan but he didn't return our call.

There's also an unnamed state senator in the book, who drives with Marty and Resnick to the gambling boats, where the state senator talks and talks about sports and politics the Chicago Way. Jeepers. Do any of you know this guy?

What I do know is that last summer, I began writing about a tsunami heading toward Rush Street, and sports booking and high-end nightclubs with "bottle service," where $40 bottles of Scotch retail to the suckers for $500 so they can pour their own. Although the waves haven't hit—and I don't know if they will—you can definitely feel the rain in the wind, with Poeta due in federal court next week as the feds continue their investigation.

"They were genuine Chicago characters, veterans of the gambling scene," Resnick writes. "They had access to the underworld. . . . I felt privy to inside information about the way the city worked."

Resnick also writes extensively about the character the feds insist is the butcher Poeta.

"I was playing with another bookie. Luciano Petrelli, a star high school athlete in his mid-40s, owned a local deli and took bets while he worked" writes Resnick in "Bust" about the beginning of this decade. "When he answered the phone, you could hear him chopping in the background.

"Luciano hooked me up with a gigantic specimen of a human being, whom he introduced as a 'sometime associate of mine.' Timmy was six foot five and 280 pounds of rock."

Resnick describes the interaction between Timmy and a guy named Roberts who owed Resnick some money. When the guy said no, he didn't owe Resnick a thing, Big Timmy advocated on Resnick's behalf.

"Without even a half second of hesitation, Timmy backhanded Roberts across the face," Resnick writes. "Roberts was seeing stars."

Stunned, but certainly not stupid, Roberts quickly paid Resnick $25,000 in cash to avoid the wrath of Timmy.

In a federal deposition taken last August—one that will clearly be referred to in Monday's federal hearing scheduled for the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen—Stewart asked Poeta a series of questions about whether he was the "Luciano Lucky Petrelli" in "Bust."

"I respectfully refuse to answer, based upon my rights under the 5th Amendment," Poeta told the feds time and again. But to me, not under oath, he told a different story. No, he wasn't the bookie called "Lucky" but he was a middleman for Resnick, hanging with Resnick and Gutilla in Las Vegas, a scene described in the book.

"I'm the guy who hooked him up," Poeta told me of Resnick. "I hooked him up with guys in our area. When he got too big for them, I hooked him up with guys in Vegas. I was just a go-between.

"He would take checks to me. And I would cash them. They didn't want checks."

Poeta stood at his butcher counter, a short, tired man in old brown shoes, feeling the federal pinch. If he accepted the checks from Resnick as he says—then the feds know it—and he's got problems.

"I'm no big bookie," he told me. "If I was a bookie, I wouldn't be standing on my feet, cutting meat for 80 hours a week, would I?"

I grew up working in my father's butcher shop on the South Side.

And there's only one way to make sausage. You squeeze.

Thanks to John Kass

Don't Call Me Bugsy Documentary

A curious phenomenon occurs all too often with documentary films about organized crime. Even the most rational and high-minded documentarian tends to fall prey to the notion that they must adhere to the tropes of a gangster B-movie. Don't Call Me Bugsy, which details the rise and fall of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, is no exception. From its self-consciously hardboiled voiceover narration to its formulaic presentation, the 70-minute doc is a passable, if unexceptional, examination of the underworld figure who helped create modern-day Las Vegas.

Don't Call Me Bugsy touches on the essentials about SiegelDon't Call Me Bugsy, whose crazy temper earned him the sobriquet "Bugsy," a nickname he despised (hence the title of the flick). Born in Brooklyn, he aligned himself at an early age with fellow gangsters Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Lansky was the brains of the outfit and Luciano the connection to the Sicilian Mafia, but Siegel possessed the murderous instinct that made him the favored triggerman. True-crime author Tim Power notes that the trio was undeniably vicious, but "it's impossible not to admire their energy, their drive."

As Prohibition ensured there was a fortune to be made trafficking in illegal booze, the Luciano-Lansky-Siegel alliance maneuvered to head criminal activities in New York and along the East Coast. In 1931, Siegel and three others killed old-school Mob boss Joe Masseria, setting the stage for the new generation of young Turks to transform organized crime into more of a streamlined business operation. But Siegel was restless for more adventure and, in 1935, relocated to Los Angeles. Enlisting the help of childhood-friend-turned-actor George Raft, Siegel dived into Beverly Hills society. His movie-star looks and roguish charm made him a favorite among polite society, particularly with rich women.

His most significant achievement, however, came when Lansky directed Siegel to spearhead the construction of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gambling had been legal in the dusty desert town since the mid-1930s, but Lansky envisioned a gaming Mecca along the lines of what organized crime had built in pre-Castro Cuba.

Siegel took to the assignment with a vengeance, sparing no expense in his desire to make the Flamingo a world-class destination. Nevertheless, costly delays and a ballooning budget assured his own demise. In 1947, Siegel was gunned down in his Beverly Hills home, a crime that remains unsolved.

The documentary intersperses black-and-white still photographs and archival footage with a handful of interviews from true-crime experts and various folks who knew Siegel, including his lawyer, barber and next-door neighbor. While the interviewees offer some juicy tidbits, they must compete with a hackneyed voiceover narration read by Larry Moran. When relating Siegel's 1926 arrest for rape, the narrator's sonorous voice tells us, "When it came to sex, he didn't discriminate. He didn't always ask, either." Siegel's longtime girlfriend, Virginia Hill, is described as "a feisty redhead from the foothills of North Carolina." Cue the eye-rolling. It's enough to make Mickey Spillane shudder.

It isn't a bad documentary, but it is uninspired and surprisingly lifeless. Too much of the film is a recitation of facts that don't shed much light on the subject. Only when we get to the saga of the Flamingo does Don't Call Me Bugsy really grab you, and most of that is due to rarely seen footage of Las Vegas in its early days.

The Video: The full-frame picture is solid but unremarkable. A few of the modern-day interviews suffer from softness, but much of the black-and-white archival footage is in very good condition.

The Audio: The 2.0 Stereo audio track gets the job done without any fanfare. The sound is somewhat flat, but you clearly hear the interviews and voiceover narrator, which is all that an audience would need.

English subtitles are available, but it should be noted that whoever is responsible for them evidently has little understanding of when a comma is necessary.

Extras: None.

Final Thoughts: Made in 1992, Don't Call Me Bugsy is a run-of-the-mill true-crime documentary that packs more information than it does illumination. The film chronicles Siegel's extravagant tastes for the Flamingo, but there is no speculation about what prompted it. What was his vision for Las Vegas? Did he even have a vision for it? People fascinated by organized crime (a group that includes your reviewer) would be better-served elsewhere, while viewers with only a casual interest are not likely to find much here worth their time.

Thanks to Phil Bacharach

It Ain't Pretty, But It's Real

John Drummond proudly calls himself a pack rat.

A retired reporter for WBBM Channel 2, Drummond has interviewed countless people over the years, including mobsters, murderers, athletes and assorted Chicago oddballs. Drummond did more than just get those interviews on tape -- he also transcribed them. And now, the basement of his Wilmette home is filled with transcripts and tapes.

With his book, It Ain't Pretty But It's Real (Chicago Spectrum Press), Drummond offers the public a peek into his filing cabinets.

In 1998, Drummond wrote a similar book, Thirty Years in the Trenches Covering Crooks, Characters and Capers, but one book wasn't enough to contain all the colorful characters Drummond has encountered in Chicago. Talking about his reasons for writing a second book, Drummond gives a characteristically blunt explanation. "It's an ego trip," he says.

It's also a trip into the past for readers. Drummond writes about organized-crime trials, conspiracy theorist Sherman Skolnik, boxer Tony "The Man of Steel" Zale, and Frank Pape: "the toughest cop in Chicago."

On the comical end of the spectrum, Drummond remembers Ted Serios, a mentalist who claimed the ability to photograph people's thoughts. Serios was not able to pull off the feat when Drummond tried to film him doing it. "He'd just make a lot of noise and grunt and groan," Drummond recalls. The Polaroids never came out.
Criminal intent But while Drummond's first book focused on eccentric people like Serios, criminals dominate his second book. "In the first book, those people didn't get a lot of play," he says. "I thought, 'You know, there's a lot of stuff I left out.'"

One of the most memorable bad guys Drummond ever interviewed was Silas Jayne, the horseman who went to prison for conspiring to murder his brother, George, after years of bitter feuding. "He was considered a bogeyman," Drummond remembers.

In the book, Drummond recalls a disagreement in 1978 with an editor at Channel 2 who didn't see the news value in Drummond's exclusive interview with Jayne -- who just happened to be visiting home on a furlough from prison at the time. "He didn't know Silas Jayne from Joe Six-Pack," Drummond says of the editor, who was new in town.

The editor postponed the broadcast, but then when newspapers got wind of Jayne's temporary release from prison, he rushed it onto the air. "That was quite a scoop at the time," Drummond says.

Drummond says Jayne had an intimidating stare, but that the man also knew how to turn on the charm. "I enjoyed interviewing Silas Jayne," he says. "I have a soft spot for him, I have to admit."
Nice wise guys

At the same time, Drummond says he knew that Jayne could be dangerous. The same is true of the many mobsters Drummond covered. They rarely agreed to appear on camera, but when they chatted with Drummond and other reporters, they often seemed like amiable fellows.

"They claimed they were providing goods and service to the public: girls, gambling, whatever people wanted," Drummond says. "But you have to remember they're very ruthless."

Drummond still gets phone calls with tips about investigations and crimes. He does occasional reporting as a freelancer, including the Family Secrets trial. He says that case revealed the continued decline of the Chicago Outfit's power.

"The Family Secrets trial is very significant, but the trial that devastated the mob as we know it occurred in Kansas City 20 years before," he says. That case -- Operation Strawman -- is another chapter in Drummond's book.

Years ago, his fellow journalists started calling him Bulldog Drummond. In part, it was a reference to a detective who appeared in a series of 1920s novels, but it also seemed like an apt description of this newsman.

"They thought I was very tenacious," he says. And so he still is.

Thanks to Robert Loerzel

Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss

Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso is currently serving thirteen consecutive life sentences plus 455 years at a federal prison in Colorado. Now, for the first time, the head of a mob family has granted complete and total access to a journalist. Casso has given New York Times bestselling author Philip Carlo the most intimate, personal look into the world of La Cosa Nostra ever seen. "Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss" is his shocking story.

From birth, Anthony Casso's mob life was preordained. Michael Casso introduced his young son around South Brooklyn's social clubs, where "men of honor" did business by shaking pinkie-ringed hands—hands equally at home pilfering stolen goods from the Brooklyn docks or gripping the cold steel of a silenced pistol. Young Anthony watched and listened and decided that he would devote his life to crime.

Casso would prove his talent for "earning," concocting ingenious schemes to hijack trucks, rob banks, and bring into New York vast quantities of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Casso also had an uncanny ability to work with the other Mafia families, and he forged unusually strong ties with the Russian mob. By the time Casso took the reins of the Lucchese family, he was a seasoned boss, a very dangerous man.

It was a great life—Casso and his beautiful wife, Lillian, had money to burn; Casso and his crew brought in so much cash that he had dozens of large safe-deposit boxes filled with bricks of hundred-dollar bills. But the law finally caught up with him in his New Jersey safe house in 1994. Rather than stoically face the music like the old-time mafiosi he revered, Casso became the thing he most hated—a rat. It broke his family's heart and made the once feared and revered mobster an object of scorn and disgust among his former friends. For it turned out that a lifetime of street smarts completely failed him in dealing with a group even more cunning and ruthless than the Mafia—the U.S. government.

Detailing Casso's feud with John Gotti and their attempts to kill each other, the "Windows Case" that led to the beginning of the end for the mob in New York, and Casso's dealings with decorated NYPD officers Lou Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa—the "Mafia cops"—Gaspipe is the inside story of one man's rise and fall, mirroring the rise and fall of a way of life, a roller-coaster ride into a netherworld few outsiders have ever dared to enter.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Francis Ford Coppola Gift Basket from The Director of The Godfather

Francis Ford Coppola Loves Food and Wine - Gourmet Gift Basket

Oscar-winning director, writer and producer, Francis Ford Coppola, loves creating. Not only are the wines produced under his direction, but as an avid cook, he has created "Mammarella," a line of authentic organic pastas and sauces honoring his mother, Italia Pennino Coppola. Included in this package are the Diamond Series Claret and Cabernet Sauvignon, two types of artisan pasta, classic tomato/basil pasta sauce, red pepper packets and a "Mammarella" kitchen towel. Delicioso!

Mobster and Las Vegas Casino Owner Moe Greene Actor from The Godfather, Alex Rocco, Has Died

Alex Rocco, the veteran tough-guy character actor with the gravelly voice best known for playing mobster and Las Vegas casino owner Moe Greene in The Godfather, has died. He was 79.

Rocco died Saturday, his daughter, Jennifer, announced on Facebook.

No other details of his death were immediately available. Rocco, who studied acting with the late Leonard Nimoy, a fellow Boston-area transplant, also was the voice of Roger Meyers Jr., the cigar-smoking chairman of the studio behind “Itchy and Scratchy” on The Simpsons, and he played Arthur Evans, the father of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, on the stylish Starz series Magic City.

Rocco starred as a white Detroit detective who is reluctantly paired with a black detective (Hari Rhodes) in Arthur Marks’ Detroit 9000 (1973) and voiced an ant in A Bug’s Life (1998). “That was my greatest prize ever in life, because I did about eight lines as an ant, and I think I made over a million dollars,” he said in a 2012 interview.

Rocco won an Emmy Award in 1990 for best supporting actor in a comedy for playing sneaky Hollywood talent agent Al Floss on the short-lived CBS series The Famous Teddy Z, starring Jon Cryer.

He also had regular roles on The Facts of Life (as Charlie Polniaczek, the father of Nancy McKeon’s character, Jo), The George Carlin Show, Three for the Road, Sibs and The Division.

In the 2012 interview, Rocco said that landing the role of Jewish mobster Moe in The Godfather (1972) was “without a doubt, my biggest ticket anywhere. I mean that literally.” “When I got the part, I went in to Francis Ford Coppola, and in those days, the word was, ‘Read [Mazio Puzo’s] book,’ which I already did, and then the actor would suggest to him which part they would like. Well, I went for … I dunno, one of the Italian parts. Maybe the Richard Bright part [Al Neri]. But Coppola goes, ‘I got my Jew!’ And I went, ‘Oh no, Mr. Coppola, I’m Italian. I wouldn’t know how to play a Jew.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, shut up.’ [Laughs.] He says, ‘The Italians do this,’ and he punches his fingers up. ‘And the Jews do this,’ and his hand’s extended, the palm flat. Greatest piece of direction I ever got. I’ve been playing Jews ever since."

"And people on the golf course will say, ‘Hey, Alex, would you call my dad and leave a line from The Godfather?’ I say, ‘OK. “I buy you out, you don’t buy me out!” “He was bangin’ cocktail waitresses two at a time …” “Don’t you know who I am?” ’ [Laughs.] But I enjoy doing it. It’s fun. I’ve been leaving Moe Greene messages for 40 years.”

Born Alexander Federico Petricone in Cambridge, Mass., Rocco came to L.A. in the early 1960s and made his movie debut in Motorpsycho! (1965), directed by Russ Meyer, and he was a henchman on Batman in 1967 in the episodes in which the Dynamic Duo meet up with the Green Hornet and Kato. Rocco worked frequently with Alan Arkin, being paired with him on such films as Freebie and the Bean (1974), Hearts of The West (1975), Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975) and Fire Sale (1977).

His film résumé also includes The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Joan Rivers’ Rabbit Test (1978), The Stunt Man (1980), Herbie Goes Bananas (1980), The Pope Must Diet (1991), Get Shorty (1995), That Thing You Do! (1996), The Wedding Planner (2001), Smokin’ Aces (2006) and Find Me Guilty (2006). He recently showed up on Episodes and Maron, where he played another agent.

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