Monday, March 20, 2017

The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia

The Mob was the biggestThe Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia, richest business in America . . . until it was destroyed from within by drugs, greed, and the decline of its traditional crime Family values. And by guys like Sal Polisi.

As a member of New York’s feared Colombo Family, Polisi ran The Sinatra Club, an illegal after-hours gambling den that was a magic kingdom of crime and a hangout for up-and-coming mobsters like John Gotti and the three wiseguys immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas—Henry Hill, Jimmy Burke, and Tommy DeSimone. But the nonstop thrills of Polisi’s criminal glory days abruptly ended when he was busted for drug trafficking. Already sickened by the bloodbath that engulfed the Mob as it teetered toward extinction, he flipped and became one of a breed he had loathed all his life—a rat.

In this shocking, pulse-pounding, and, at times, darkly hilarious first-person chronicle, The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia, he paints a never-before-seen picture of a larger-than-life secret underworld that, thanks to guys like him, no longer exists.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob

Even among the Mob, the Westies were feared. Starting with a partnership between two sadistic thugs, Jimmy Coonan and Mickey Featherstone, the gang rose out of the inferno of Hell's Kitchen, a decaying tenderloin slice of New York City's West Side. They became the most notorious gang in the history of organized crime, excelling in extortion, numbers running, loan sharking, and drug peddling. Upping the ante on depravity, their specialty was execution by dismemberment. Though never numbering more than a dozen members, their reign lasted for almost twenty years―until their own violent natures got the best of them, precipitating a downfall that would become as infamous as their notorious ascension into the annals of crime.

The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Search of Facebook Yields Arrest of Fugitive Mobster

A fugitive Italian mobster who had been living in Mexico under a false identity was behind bars Saturday after being tracked down on Facebook, police said.

Giulio Perrone, who is in his mid-sixties, had been a fugitive since 1998, when his lawyers failed in a final appeal against a 22-year prison sentence for links to the Naples mafia, the Camorra, and international drug trafficking.

He was first charged in 1993 after he and his wife were arrested while trying to import 16 kilos (35 pounds) of cocaine. Perrone disappeared the following year and had been unheard of until Italian police established, through Facebook, that he was living as Saverio Garcia Galiero, in Tampico, in the state of Tamaulipas in Mexico.

The police did not reveal details of how they traced him through the social media site.

Under the extensive powers Italian investigators enjoy when involved in anti-mafia cases, they could have been monitoring the online activity of associates of Perrone in Italy. Or they may have come across a picture of him by using image-recognition software, which is an increasingly useful tool for detectives tracking fugitives.

Perrone, who had remarried and had Mexican children, was described by police as a prominent figure in Italy's drug trade in the 1980s and early 1990s, acting as a wholesale supplier to Camorra clans.

He was arrested earlier this month at his Mexican home and deported, arriving late Friday in Rome.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Top 10 Most Wanted True-Crime Movies

We've called in some of the usual suspects and a few ringers to put together a lineup of the top 10 true-crime movies (although the names may have been changed to protect the innocent).

10. "St. Valentines Day Massacre" (1967)

Perhaps no criminal has ever been featured in more pop culture than Al Capone. From 1932's "Scarface" to Brian DePalma's 1987 adaptation of "The Untouchables," the prohibition-era Chicago gangster has become a pop icon. While those two movies are mostly apocryphal, "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" is based on an actual February 14, 1929, strike by Capone against rival gangster Bugs Moran's crew. The tall, thin Jason Robards may not look like Capone the way Robert De Niro does in "The Untouchables," and George Segal (playing a mob enforcer) couldn't be menacing in any context, but B-movie auteur Roger Corman's stylish direction makes this one of the more memorable mob movies (look for a cameo by the young Jack Nicholson).

9. "Monster" (2003)

Arguments will rage forever as to whether the Florida prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wuornos was a victimized vigilante or a pure psychopath, but few can deny the power of Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning portrayal in this 2003 film. Yes, Theron gained 30 pounds and wore hideous false teeth to obscure her natural beauty, but to reduce her transformation to mere physicality is unfair. Theron manages to make Wuornos simultaneously sympathetic and terrifying. You find yourself hoping she'll get her life together even though the film's tragic end is a foregone conclusion.

8. "Reversal of Fortune" (1990)

Our tabloid culture's perverse fascination with crime takes on an air of Schadenfreude when it occurs in high society. "Reversal of Fortune" tells the true story of socialite Claus Von Bülow's attempt to overturn a conviction for attempted murder of his wife Sunny by insulin overdose. Glenn Close plays Sunny, both in flashbacks and in a voiceover narration from her vegetative comatose state. Jeremy Irons is at his icy best as the vindicated (but perhaps guilty?) Claus in a role that won him a Best Actor Oscar.

7. "The French Connection" (1971)

Gene Hackman plays "Popeye" Doyle, a New York City police detective obsessed with capturing a French heroin smuggler in this thriller, based on an actual Turkey-France-United States drug-trafficking scheme that exploded in the 1960s. William Friedkin directed this nail-biter, one of those great, gritty '70s flicks that's painted in a dozen shades of gray. The film won Oscars for Best Picture, Actor, Screenplay and Editing and contains what many still consider the greatest car-chase scene in film history (as well as an achingly ambiguous ending that would never fly today).

6. "Heavenly Creatures" (1994)

Years before he brought to life orcs and giant apes, director Peter Jackson tackled another kind of monster in the real-life story of two 1950s New Zealand girls who murder the mother who forbids them to see each other when their close friendship becomes too obsessive. In her first film role, Kate Winslet plays the daughter who takes a brick to her mother's head — 45 times. Jackson, following up his gore-fest horror film "Braindead," crafts a movie that's part Merchant Ivory, part Martin Scorsese.

5. "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)

Sidney Lumet directs Al Pacino in arguably his best role as Sonny Wortzik, a man who attempts to rob a bank to pay for his lover's sex-change operation, only to have everything go wrong on a sweltering New York summer day. As a police standoff drags on for 14 hours, the throng of onlookers begins to root for Sonny as a champion of the oppressed. While it sounds like this is one of those "based on a true story" flicks that plays fast and loose with the details for dramatic impact, it actually hews very closely to the actual events of the robbery.

4. "Rope" (1948) and "Compulsion" (1959)

The Leopold & Loeb murder case was one of the most notorious crimes of the early 20th century. In 1924, two wealthy law students kidnapped and killed a 14-year-old neighbor merely to prove their professed Nietzschean superiority. Their subsequent trial (during which it was revealed they were lovers) caused a media frenzy, and the story inspired dozens of works of fiction. While Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" is merely inspired by the events (turning the killers into two Manhattan students who strangle a friend right before a dinner party), it's a riveting portrait of narcissism. Hitch (no stranger to sublimated urges) paints almost every character (not just the killers) with black swaths of self-absorption, forcing the audience to consider the ease with which we all say we'd like to kill someone for the mildest infraction. "Compulsion" (which changes the names of the actual parties while mostly sticking to the details) is concerned more with the trial, with Orson Welles playing the stand-in for defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The movie has an oddly anachronistic style, never quite evoking the time period, but it is buoyed by some fine performances. More permissive times would allow 1992's "Swoon," which was more about the relationship between the two killers.

3. "All the President's Men" (1976All the President's Men)

It had been not quite two years since Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States in the wake of the Watergate scandal when the film version of the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward hit theaters, so the wounds on the nation were still fresh. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford play the fledgling Washington Post reporters who uncover the connection between the White House and the break-in at the Democratic National Committee. As intricate as the story itself, the film still manages to be the most exciting "talking head" thriller you've ever seen.

2. "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" (1986)

At least in films, it used to be easy to spot the bad guys: They wore black, sported furrowed brow and sinister moustache, perhaps scarred by some past altercation. But "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" presented a new kind of terror — an otherwise normal guy who just liked to murder. Based on the confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, this brutally visceral film (directed by John McNaughton) has earned cult status over the years. Michael Rooker plays Henry alongside Tom Towles as his white-trash killin' partner Otis. The movie is made only slightly less disturbing by the revelation that the majority of the hundreds of murders to which Lucas confessed never occurred.

1. "In Cold Blood" (1967)

Truman Capote's groundbreaking 1965 book about the brutal slaying of a rural Kansas family was adapted into this chilling film two years later by Richard Brooks. The film opens by showing the parallel lives of the simple, God-fearing Clutters and Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock (Robert Blake and Scott Wilson), two hard-luck drifters who hear that there's a small fortune hidden on the Clutters' farm. The movie then cuts to the day after the murders — following the search for the killers, their capture, trial and execution — with the sad, maddening details of the pointless massacre told via flashback near the end of the film. The semi-documentary style of the movie combined with the stark black-and-white cinematography and understated performances by the cast add a harrowing air of authenticity to the film (and of course, recent events in the life of Blake have given "In Cold Blood" an ironic undercurrent that only adds to its true-crime résumé).

Of course, the term "true-crime movie" is usually an oxymoron. Dramatic license or studio legal departments almost always force alterations of the facts. Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) may be one of film's most celebrated crime dramas, but it's hardly an accurate depiction of the notorious Depression-era, bank-robbing duo.

So please don't track us down and shoot us if some of the films on this list fall slightly short of documentary. Although that would make a great movie ...

Thanks to Karl Heitmueller.

McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld

What do Colombian cocaine, Angolan diamonds and fake Gucci bags from China have in common?

Answer: organized crime, globalization and financial deregulation.

While the Sicilian word Mafia summons fictional images of Don Corleone wearing a tuxedo or Tony Soprano smoking a cigar, the truth is that organized crime has become a real menace on every corner of the globe, writes Misha Glenny in ``McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld''

Glenny, the author of two previous books on the Balkans, covered the unraveling of the former Soviet bloc for the British Broadcasting Corp.'s World Service. For this book, he embarked on a tour of the new capitals of organized crime to collect anecdotes that illustrate the criminal bonanza that followed the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the liberalization of financial markets.

``The collapse of the Communist superpower, the Soviet Union, is the single most important event prompting the exponential growth of organized crime around the world in the last two decades,'' he writes.

The result: The criminal economy now accounts for 15 percent to 20 percent of the planet's gross domestic product, he says, citing figures from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and research institutes. Global GDP stood at $53.4 trillion last year, the IMF estimates.

Glenny treats us to dozens of stories culled during his journey, which began in the Balkans and ended in China, identified here as tomorrow's breeding ground of organized crime.

In India, he chases a former contract killer called Mahmoud through ``an elaborate game of musical cafes.'' When they finally meet, the retired assassin turns out to be affable, urbane and intelligent, he says.

``My experience in the Balkans led me to conclude that most murderers are not congenital psychopaths,'' he writes. They are, rather, people who are encouraged by circumstances to violate the commandment, ``Thou shalt not kill,'' he says.

In Zagreb, Glenny's rented Audi Quattro is stolen and goes on ``a mystery tour that would end several weeks later at a used car market 200 miles away in Mostar, the capital of western Herzegovina.''

In North America, he rides with a smuggler who's running pot into the U.S. from British Columbia. ``BC Bud'' sales in the U.S. represent a $6 billion-a-year industry, although they account for just 2 percent of America's annual cannabis consumption, he says.

Glenny displays a command of the subject and a knack for capturing characters and scenes. His style is conversational, as if the book were told at the dinner table.

He hops from continent to continent, mirroring the way dirty money flows from Moscow to Dubai, from Dubai to Johannesburg, and so on. Along the way, he shows how the licit and illicit economies are joined at the hip.

Consider how easy it is to launder money at a time when financing is so complicated that leading banks struggle to quantify their losses on U.S. subprime mortgages.

``In a world where legitimate institutions are unable to account properly for their dealings, the ability of criminals to launder their money through this merry-go-round of speculation greatly increased,'' Glenny says.

``McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld'' does lack a unifying narrative thread. The only character tying the various stories together is the author himself. And while we meet some victims of organized crime, including a Moldovan woman forced to prostitute herself in Israel, the ugliest side of the underworld is clouded by the intriguing tales Glenny tells of powerful mob bosses.

These are minor complaints for a book that helps explain how organized crime has managed to spread its tentacles so far and wide. Blame it on two contradictory trends, he says: ``global markets that are either insufficiently regulated, especially in the financial sector, or markets that are too closely regulated, as in the labor and agricultural sectors.''

This plays into the hands of creative and violent criminals. They easily overcome market restrictions, such as the former UN embargo on Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia. Then they wash their ill- gotten proceeds through prestigious financial institutions.

Mob bosses have been ``good capitalists and entrepreneurs,'' Glenny says. ``They valued economies of scale, just as multinational corporations did, and so they sought out overseas partners and markets to develop industries that were every bit as cosmopolitan as Shell, Nike, or McDonald's.''

Reviewed by Steve Scherer.