Monday, April 23, 2018

Gang Member Indicted for Murder and Racketeering for Shooting Victim at Strip Club #Bloods

A seven-count indictment was unsealed in federal court in Central Islip charging Bloods gang member Lawrence Lewis, also known as “L Boogs,” with the July 29, 2017 murder of John Birt, firearms offenses, and narcotics possession and distribution.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York, Timothy D. Sini, District Attorney for Suffolk County, and Geraldine Hart, Acting Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), announced the charges.

“As alleged, this Bloods member committed a senseless murder in furtherance of his violent gang,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “The defendant’s arrest should send a loud and clear message that this Office, working collaboratively with our federal and local law enforcement partners, is committed to eradicating gang violence on Long Island and throughout our district, to make our communities safer.”

“The simple act of taking a photo ended in a man losing his life, all because a gang member was allegedly offended and decided to retaliate,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “It’s hard to fathom how the suspect in this case weighed exposing his illegal drug trade, and his illegal weapons because he wanted to prove how tough he is to his rivals. The FBI Long Island Gang Task Force is committed to rooting out the violent gangs and their destructive behavior in our communities.”

“Once murder is added to the list of allegations against Lewis, it is evident that the alleged distribution of large amounts of cocaine and heroin in Long Island neighborhoods was only the tip of his criminal activity,” stated HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Melendez. “We will not stand by while violent gang members roam free in our communities. Lewis had little regard for the life he took or the lives he affected by dealing drugs, and he will now need to face the consequences of his crimes.”

“It is a top priority of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute members of dangerous, violent street gangs to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Suffolk County District Attorney Sini. “This individual showed a total disregard for human life and for the law, which will not be tolerated. Today’s indictment is a reinforcement of our Office’s commitment to combating gang violence in our communities and our dedication to working collaboratively with our law enforcement partners to keep Suffolk County residents safe.”

“The Suffolk County Police Department will continue working with our law enforcement partners to bring criminal gang members and their associates to justice,” stated SCPD Acting Commissioner Hart. “The arrest of this murderer will send yet another powerful message to gangs across Long Island that illegal activities will not be tolerated.”

According to the indictment and statements made during the arraignment, between January 2016 and March 2018, Lewis utilized his membership in the Bloods street gang to distribute large quantities of cocaine base and heroin in Suffolk County. In order to protect his supply of narcotics and secure his ability to distribute his narcotics, Lewis possessed a number of firearms, including a Mossberg .22 caliber rifle and a Ruger .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

On July 29, 2017, Birt and several friends were posing for a photo at the Illusions Gentlemen’s Club in Deer Park when they were approached by an associate of Lewis who was also a member of the Bloods. The associate attempted to display a Bloods gang hand signal in the photo and a dispute ensued. Lewis pulled out a handgun and fatally shot Birt.

Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate

Bada-bing. For some people, The Godfather is no mere movie but a manual – a guide to living the gangster's life. They lap up all that stuff about going to the mattresses and sleeping with the fishes. The famous scene in which a mafia refusenik wakes up next to a horse's head may be macabre make-believe, but in some quarters it's treated like a tutorial.

So who are these apparent innocents taking their cues from Hollywood? None other than the mafia themselves, writes Diego Gambetta in his new book, Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate. The Oxford sociologist offers example upon example of gangsters apeing Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece – or what he calls "lowlife imitating art".

There's the Don who took over a Sicilian aristocrat's villa for his daughter's wedding – with 500 guests revelling to the film's soundtrack; the building contractors of Palermo who receive severed horse's heads if they get in the mob's way; and John Gotti's former lieutenant, Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, who confessed that plagiarism ranked among his (lesser) crimes: "I would always tell people, just like in The Godfather, 'If you have an enemy, that enemy becomes my enemy.'"

Yet Mario Puzo, The Godfather's inventor, admitted that he "never met a real honest-to-God gangster", while many of the film's most quotable lines (remember "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli"?) were improvised. So what accounts for its influence not just among the mafia but with Hong Kong triads, Japanese yakuza and Russian mobsters?

Well, strip away the mystique and organised crime is a business – one with big handicaps. It may be called "the Firm", but managing a poorly educated, violent workforce is a challenge, advertising job vacancies only attracts the law, and appraisals for underperforming staff can err on the brusque side. The Godfather and other gangster movies plug those holes, says Gambetta. They give criminals an easy-to-follow protocol and a glamour that serves as both corporate feelgood and marketing tool. Uncomfortable though it may be to acknowledge, the underworld is not above taking its cues from the upperworld.

Thanks to Aditya Chakrabortty

Friday, April 20, 2018

Scarface Reunion with Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, @TheStevenBauer and Brian De Palma at #Tribeca2018

Scarface Reunion

Old "Scarface (Limited Edition)" friends said hello again at a 35th anniversary screening Thursday that reunited stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Bauer and filmmaker Brian De Palma for an evening full of reflection on how the ferocious and garish gangster epic — like Tony Montana's rise from dishwasher to drug lord — has grown in stature.

The reunion, held at New York's Beacon Theatre, was one of the main events of the just kicked-off Tribeca Film Festival. The festival has made such anniversaries a regular feature in recent years, many of them celebrating classics of Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro. But the "Scarface" event was for a movie De Niro reportedly turned down, and which now lives on as one of Pacino's maximum performances.

De Palma, the celebrated 77-year-old filmmaker of "Carlito's Way" and "The Untouchables," suggested the arc of Montana in "Scarface" was reminiscent of President Donald Trump's.

"I've always been interested about making movies about people who start rather humbly and then acquire a great deal of power and then ultimately isolate themselves and live in their own world. Could that be anything we're experiencing now?" said De Palma with a laugh.

The reunion wasn't without its hitches. When the post-screening panel moderator Jesse Kornbluth — as seemingly an opening to discuss Pfeiffer's character's gaunt, cocaine-snorting habits — asked the actress how much she weighed when making the film, boos echoed around the theater. But the affection the crowd had for "Scarface" was palpable throughout the evening, with applause bursting out frequently during the nearly three-hour film for favorite scenes and cherished lines.

De Palma's 1983 film, penned by Oliver Stone, was a remake of the Howard Hawks-directed 1932 gangster film of the same name. (De Palma even dedicated the film to Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht.) The project began with Pacino being enthralled by the original.

"I was completely taken with Paul Muni's performance," said Pacino. "After I saw that, I thought: I want to be Paul Muni. I want to act like that."

The idea to update the immigrant story to Cuban refugees in Miami came from filmmaker Sidney Lumet, who was briefly attached to direct. The Mariel boatlift in 1980 brought some 125,000 refugees to Florida from Fidel Castro's Cuba. (An updated, Los Angeles-set remake to "Scarface" has been rumored, with "Training Day" filmmaker Antoine Fuqua recently attached to direct a script by David Ayer, Jonathan Herman and Joel and Ethan Coen.)

De Palma's film was a box office hit, the 16th highest grossing film of the year. But it received mixed reviews. Though some, including Roger Ebert, raved about it, critics like David Ansen of Newsweek called it "grand, shallow, decadent entertainment." Yet for many, its reputation has grown over the years, especially on dorm-room walls and in hip-hop, where "Scarface" became a revered influence.

"It's caught on in such a way, and we have experienced it," said Pacino. "This wasn't the way it started. When 'Scarface' first came out, it was extremely controversial."

The hyper-violent film initially received an "X'' rating from the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board. De Palma said he went through three edits on the film without receiving an "R'' rating before he and producer Martin Bregman decided to withdraw any changes.

"Marty said, 'We'll go to war with these people,'" said De Palma, still relishing the battle. "And that's what we did."

Some also took issue with how the film depicted Cuban immigrants as vicious drug-dealers at a time when many were trying to get a foothold in the United States.

"A lot of the old-school Cubans were concerned with me almost to the point that they weren't really sure that my participation in a Hollywood movie was worth me downgrading or degrading or tainting the image of their accomplishments in the new society," said the Cuban-born Bauer. "What I tried to convey to them was: Relax, man. It's a movie."

Pfieffer, too, said she's been asked over the years about playing a female character with so little agency in "Scarface."

"I felt that by allowing people to observe who this character is and the sacrifices that she's made said more (than) getting up on any soap box and preaching to people," said Pfeiffer.

The actress added that her experience acting alongside Pacino was life-changing.

"One of the things that hit me the strongest was watching him fiercely protect character, really at all costs and without any sort of apology," said Pfeiffer. "I have always tried to emulate that. I try to be polite about it. I think that's what really makes great acting."

Pacino also shared one of his most vivid memories. While filming the final shootout, he burned his hand badly enough to shut shooting down for two weeks. "I grabbed the barrel of the gun I just fired. My hand stuck to it. It just stuck to it," said Pacino. Pacino promptly left the set to be bandaged at a hospital.

"This nurse comes up to me later and she says, 'You're Al Pacino.' I said 'Yeah.' And she said, 'I thought you were some scumbag,'" Pacino recalled chuckling. "There's something there."

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Very Persuasive Story that James Comey Has to Tell

In his absorbing new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey calls the Donald Trump presidency a “forest fire” that is doing serious damage to the country’s norms and traditions.

“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values,” Comey writes. “His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Decades before he led the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, Comey was a career prosecutor who helped dismantle the Gambino crime family; and he doesn’t hesitate in these pages to draw a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses he helped pack off to prison years ago and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

A February 2017 meeting in the White House with Trump and then chief of staff Reince Priebus left Comey recalling his days as a federal prosecutor facing off against the Mob: “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.” An earlier visit to Trump Tower in January made Comey think about the New York Mafia social clubs he knew as a Manhattan prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s — “The Ravenite. The Palma Boys. CafĂ© Giardino.”

The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. Dishonesty, he writes, was central “to the entire enterprise of organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic,” and so, too, were bullying, peer pressure and groupthink — repellent traits shared by Trump and company, he suggests, and now infecting our culture.

“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” is the first big memoir by a key player in the alarming melodrama that is the Trump administration. Comey, who was abruptly fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, has worked in three administrations, and his book underscores just how outside presidential norms Trump’s behavior has been — how ignorant he is about his basic duties as president, and how willfully he has flouted the checks and balances that safeguard our democracy, including the essential independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Comey’s book fleshes out the testimony he gave before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2017 with considerable emotional detail, and it showcases its author’s gift for narrative — a skill he clearly honed during his days as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The volume offers little in the way of hard news revelations about investigations by the F.B.I. or the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (not unexpectedly, given that such investigations are ongoing and involve classified material), and it lacks the rigorous legal analysis that made Jack Goldsmith’s 2007 book “The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration” so incisive about larger dynamics within the Bush administration.

What “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership" does give readers are some near-cinematic accounts of what Comey was thinking when, as he’s previously said, Trump demanded loyalty from him during a one-on-one dinner at the White House; when Trump pressured him to let go of the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn; and when the president asked what Comey could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.

There are some methodical explanations in these pages of the reasoning behind the momentous decisions Comey made regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign — explanations that attest to his nonpartisan and well-intentioned efforts to protect the independence of the F.B.I., but that will leave at least some readers still questioning the judgment calls he made, including the different approaches he took in handling the bureau’s investigation into Clinton (which was made public) and its investigation into the Trump campaign (which was handled with traditional F.B.I. secrecy).

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” also provides sharp sketches of key players in three presidential administrations. Comey draws a scathing portrait of Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal adviser David S. Addington, who spearheaded the arguments of many hard-liners in the George W. Bush White House; Comey describes their point of view: “The war on terrorism justified stretching, if not breaking, the written law.” He depicts Bush national security adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as uninterested in having a detailed policy discussion of interrogation policy and the question of torture. He takes Barack Obama’s attorney general Loretta Lynch to task for asking him to refer to the Clinton email case as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” (Comey tartly notes that “the F.B.I. didn’t do ‘matters.’”) And he compares Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to Alberto R. Gonzales, who served in the same position under Bush, writing that both were “overwhelmed and overmatched by the job,” but “Sessions lacked the kindness Gonzales radiated.”

Comey is what Saul Bellow called a “first-class noticer.” He notices, for instance, “the soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless blue eyes”; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than his own “but did not seem unusually so”; and points out that he never saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

During his Senate testimony last June, Comey was boy-scout polite (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) and somewhat elliptical in explaining why he decided to write detailed memos after each of his encounters with Trump (something he did not do with Presidents Obama or Bush), talking gingerly about “the nature of the person I was interacting with.” Here, however, Comey is blunt about what he thinks of the president, comparing Trump’s demand for loyalty over dinner to “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony — with Trump, in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man.’”

Throughout his tenure in the Bush and Obama administrations (he served as deputy attorney general under Bush, and was selected to lead the F.B.I. by Obama in 2013), Comey was known for his fierce, go-it-alone independence, and Trump’s behavior catalyzed his worst fears — that the president symbolically wanted the leaders of the law enforcement and national security agencies to come “forward and kiss the great man’s ring.” Comey was feeling unnerved from the moment he met Trump. In his recent book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” Michael Wolff wrote that Trump “invariably thought people found him irresistible,” and felt sure, early on, that “he could woo and flatter the F.B.I. director into positive feeling for him, if not outright submission” (in what the reader takes as yet another instance of the president’s inability to process reality or step beyond his own narcissistic delusions).

After he failed to get that submission and the Russia cloud continued to hover, Trump fired Comey; the following day he told Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office that firing the F.B.I. director — whom he called “a real nut job” — relieved “great pressure” on him. A week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During Comey’s testimony, one senator observed that the often contradictory accounts that the president and former F.B.I. director gave of their one-on-one interactions came down to “Who should we believe?” As a prosecutor, Comey replied, he used to tell juries trying to evaluate a witness that “you can’t cherry-pick” — “You can’t say, ‘I like these things he said, but on this, he’s a dirty, rotten liar.’ You got to take it all together.”

Put the two men’s records, their reputations, even their respective books, side by side, and it’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Trump and Comey: They are as antipodean as the untethered, sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”; or the vengeful outlaw Frank Miller and Gary Cooper’s stoic, duty-driven marshal Will Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic “High Noon.”

One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.

The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.

The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to what he is saying, someone so self-conscious about his reputation as a person of integrity that when he gave his colleague James R. Clapper, then director of national intelligence, a tie decorated with little martini glasses, he made sure to tell him it was a regift from his brother-in-law.

One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic view of the world. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one of his own books. In another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong from consuming the weak.”

Until his cover was blown, Comey shared nature photographs on Twitter using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr,” and both his 1982 thesis and this memoir highlight how much Niebuhr’s work resonated with him. They also attest to how a harrowing experience he had as a high school senior — when he and his brother were held captive, in their parents’ New Jersey home, by an armed gunman — must have left him with a lasting awareness of justice and mortality.

Long passages in Comey’s thesis are also devoted to explicating the various sorts of pride that Niebuhr argued could afflict human beings — most notably, moral pride and spiritual pride, which can lead to the sin of self-righteousness. And in “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” Comey provides an inventory of his own flaws, writing that he can be “stubborn, prideful, overconfident and driven by ego.”

Those characteristics can sometimes be seen in Comey’s account of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, wherein he seems to have felt a moral imperative to address, in a July 2016 press conference, what he described as her “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information,” even though he went on to conclude that the bureau recommend no charges be filed against her. His announcement marked a departure from precedent in that it was done without coordination with Department of Justice leadership and offered more detail about the bureau’s evaluation of the case than usual.

As for his controversial disclosure on Oct. 28, 2016, 11 days before the election, that the F.B.I. was reviewing more Clinton emails that might be pertinent to its earlier investigation, Comey notes here that he had assumed from media polling that Clinton was going to win. He has repeatedly asked himself, he writes, whether he was influenced by that assumption: “It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”

He adds that he hopes “very much that what we did — what I did — wasn’t a deciding factor in the election.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Comey stated that the very idea that his decisions might have had an impact on the outcome of the presidential race left him feeling “mildly nauseous” — or, as one of his grammatically minded daughters corrected him, “nauseated.”

Trump was reportedly infuriated by Comey’s “nauseous” remark; less than a week later he fired the F.B.I. director — an act regarded by some legal scholars as possible evidence of obstruction of justice, and that quickly led to the appointment of the special counsel Robert Mueller and an even bigger cloud over the White House.

It’s ironic that Comey, who wanted to shield the F.B.I. from politics, should have ended up putting the bureau in the midst of the 2016 election firestorm; just as it’s ironic (and oddly fitting) that a civil servant who has prided himself on being apolitical and independent should find himself reviled by both Trump and Clinton, and thrust into the center of another tipping point in history.

They are ironies that would have been appreciated by Comey’s hero Niebuhr, who wrote as much about the limits, contingencies and unforeseen consequences of human decision-making as he did about the dangers of moral complacency and about the necessity of entering the political arena to try to make a difference.

Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.

Ralph Santaniello and Giovanni Calabrese Sentenced to Prison on #LaCosaNostra Extortion Charges

Two associates of the Genovese La Cosa Nostra (LCN) crime family were sentenced in federal court in Worcester on extortion-related charges.

Ralph Santaniello, 50, and Giovanni Calabrese, 54, both of Longmeadow, were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman to five years in prison and two years of supervised release, and three years in prison and two years of supervised release, respectively. In November 2017, Santaniello and Calabrese each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats or violence; one count of interference with commerce by threats or violence – aiding and abetting; one count of conspiracy to use extortionate means to collect extensions of credit; and one count of using extortionate means to collect extensions of credit – aiding and abetting. Santaniello and Calabrese were arrested and charged in August 2016 along with three other associates, Gerald Daniele, 52, of Longmeadow; Francesco Depergola, 62, of Springfield; and Richard Valentini, 51, of East Longmeadow.

According to plea documents and evidence presented in court, Santaniello, Calabrese, and their co-defendants, were associates of the New York-based Genovese LCN crime family and engaged in various criminal activities in Springfield, Mass., including loansharking and extortion from legitimate and illegitimate businesses, such as illegal gambling businesses and the collection of unlawful debts. The defendants used violence, exploited their relationship with LCN, and implied threats of murder and physical violence to instill fear in their victims.

In 2013, Santaniello, Calabrese, Depergola and Valentini attempted to extort money from a Springfield businessman. Santaniello assaulted the businessman, and Santaniello and Calabrese threatened to cut off the man’s head and bury his body if he did not comply. Over a period of two months, the businessman paid $20,000 to Santaniello, Calabrese, Depergola and Valentini to protect himself and his business.

In addition, during a six-month period in 2015, Daniele extended two extortionate and usurious loans to an individual, and then, along with Santaniello and Calabrese, threatened the individual if he did not make payments on the loans.

In March 2018, Daniele was sentenced to two years in prison. In December 2017, Depergola pleaded guilty and Valentini was convicted by a federal jury; they are both scheduled to be sentenced on May 11, 2018.

Mafia Library


Crime Family Index