Monday, November 06, 2006

Vote Early and Often, It's the Chicago Way

I am reminded by some readers that Jason Tabour, a "friend of ours" is running for the 1st Congressional District of Illinois.

Jason would appreciate your vote.

Mobster's Granddauther, "Not Qualified", "Not Recommended", Still a Judge

Friends of ours: Jackie "The Lackey" Cerone, Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, Donald "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini

Jill Cerone Marisie, the granddaughter of the late convicted mobster Jackie "The Lackey" Cerone, is about to be elected a Cook County judge from the 13th Subcircuit. A Republican from Inverness, she has no opposition in next week's election and will proceed directly to the bench.

Although the Chicago Council of Lawyers found her "not qualified" and the Chicago Bar Association, citing insufficient legal experience, said she was "not recommended," Marisie won the primary anyway against four other male opponents.

Her grandfather was a major mob henchman for the late Anthony "Big Tuna" Accardo and an associate of mobster Donald "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini. No one suggests Marisie or her father, Jack P. Cerone, is an operative of organized crime. There is, however, a certain family pride in the patriarch. Photos of Jackie the Lackey are prominently featured at his son's suburban restaurants.

Mob connections have been an issue in the November election. Alexi Giannoulias, Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has been grilled about loans his family's Broadway Bank has given to convicted mob associates though the loans were not illegal. Giannoulias' brother George is a donor to the Marisie campaign.

State Sen. Wendell Jones (R-Palatine) also supports Marisie, saying he checked her out and found her "outstanding."

Being a judge in Illinois is virtually a job for life. Not one judge in 10 years has lost a bid for retention, so Marisie could have a long career. Though I never succeeded in reaching her, I was curious about a couple of things. Among her campaign donors are individuals with familiar last names. One of them is "Accardo." Another is "Angelini."

I'd love to know more.

Thanks to Carol Marin

Sidney Korshak was The Myth, Mr. Silk Stockings, The Duke and The Fixer

Some mobsters get ridiculous nicknames.

The Clown.

No Nose.

The Weasel.

But others, like Chicago mob lawyer Sidney Roy Korshak, get nicknames more reflective of their importance.

To the rich and powerful, Korshak was "The Myth."

He was "Mr. Silk Stockings" and "The Duke."

And most appropriately, he was "The Fixer."

Korshak was the ultimate fixer, in Chicago and later in sunny California, where he thrived in the shadows.

Need a criminal case fixed? Call Korshak.

Teamsters threatening to cripple your business and they're not in a mood to negotiate? Call Korshak.

Looking for an investment to launder the blood out of your mobbed-up money?

You get the picture.

His life spanned much of last century, and in his heyday he was the ultimate bridge between big business, politicians, Hollywood, Las Vegas and the mob. When the mob needed a smooth operator to work in the worlds where rough-hewn Chicago mobsters wouldn't fit in, Korshak -- the brother of the late Chicago Democratic politician Marshall Korshak -- was the man of choice.

He was the velvet encasing the hammer.

HeSupermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers's now the subject of a new, exhaustive look at his exploits in investigative reporter Gus Russo's magnum opus:Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers.

Russo tackled the Chicago mob in his 2003 book The Outfit. In Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers he expands on that work of melding big business and organized crime.

Russo underscores the Outfit's desire to move a lot of its money into legitimate and quasi-legitimate businesses and investments, and the need of organized crime for legitimate-looking men to help smooth that transition.

No one would typify that more than Korshak, a product of Lawndale and DePaul University Law School who started representing mobsters in Chicago courthouses and ended up charging $50,000 a year as a retainer for "labor relations" for national businesses.

Early in the book, Russo does a masterful job of establishing the ethnic and political foundations for Korshak's beginnings in the Jewish section of the Lawndale neighborhood and in the 24th Ward of consummate machine politician Jacob Arvey.

In a neighborhood filled with young men hot for success, Korshak stood out. Russo shows how Korshak's friends from the same background would weave their way into Korshak's orbit again and again throughout his life, from MCA's Jules Stein to the Pritzker family, from mobster Alex Louis Greenberg to Appellate Court Justice David Bazelon.

Russo's ambition is to mark Korshak's place in the so-called Supermob of mainly Jewish lawyers and businessmen who often got a boost from mobsters early on in their careers and dealt with gangsters with varying degrees of involvement throughout their lives.

The amount of research in the book is staggering. It's a testament to Russo's doggedness to bring the full story to light, but it also turns into one of the book's main weaknesses.

Russo empties his notebooks into the tome. Some of the tales make for a good read but are ancillary. So his story, at times, gets away from him. Still other tales undermine the confidence one has in the reporting in the book. In one instance, Russo suggests Korshak is a man with a taste for teenage girls, with little to back it up. In another, Russo makes a convincing case for how former President Reagan had close ties to members of the Supermob, only to undermine it with innuendo.

Russo shows how Reagan carried out orders of the Supermob when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild and effectively betrayed his own members in the 1950s to the benefit of Lew Wasserman's MCA. But then, Russo provides an account from the actress Selene Walters, who contends Reagan raped her one night. Two weeks later, Reagan married Nancy Davis, the woman who would become the first lady.

There are no interviews in the book with any of Walters' contemporaries at the time to see if she told them a similar story. There's no mention of any police report.

The accusation stands alone unsupported, and it's not worthy of the excellent reporting elsewhere in the book. Because salaciousness aside, Russo pulls plenty of substantive dirty deeds done by Korshak into the light.

Korshak would have cringed.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Disbarred Attorney Who Claimed Mob Elected JFK Dies

As the Kennedy clan maneuvered to get JFK elected president, they turned to the Chicago mob for help -- and disbarred Chicago attorney Robert McDonnell helped the two sides connect, according to a controversial 1997 book by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.

Mr. McDonnell, according to The Dark Side of Camelot, helped arrange a secret meeting between the future president's father, Joseph Kennedy, and then-Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. A deal was supposedly struck, with the mob helping turn out the vote.

Much later, Mr. McDonnell married Giancana's blunt-spoken daughter, Antoinette, who today doesn't necessarily buy the story.

Regardless, she allowed that Mr. McDonnell certainly had "a colorful past," which included stints as a World War II soldier, a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. It was in the latter profession that he often was in the news, representing some fearful figures such as alleged mob murderer "Mad Sam" DeStefano.

Despite expressing concern over the years that he might get whacked, when Mr. McDonnell died on Oct. 29, it was from natural causes, his family said. He was 81.

"He liked to live on the edge -- much to the chagrin of my mother and myself," said Mr. McDonnell's brother Greg. "My brother was a rogue, but he was a good rogue."

Mr. McDonnell was raised on the South Side around 82nd and Wood, said his brother. His mother was a housewife; his father worked for a family contracting business. Mr. McDonnell attended St. Ignatius High School, where he played football. He went to the University of Notre Dame and played football there, too, but left before graduating. World War II was under way, and Mr. McDonnell "went to the draft board and said, 'Take my number,' " his brother said.

He ended up as an Army infantry squad leader and was shot several times after helping overtake a German machine gun nest in Italy. A German medic helped treat him, and Mr. McDonnell later intervened on the medic's behalf after the German was captured by Americans and was going to be killed by them, Greg McDonnell said. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, his brother said.

After returning to the U.S., Mr. McDonnell finished school and got a law degree. He served as a Cook County prosecutor before becoming a criminal defense attorney.

He embraced the fast life, especially drinking and gambling, but life wasn't always pleasant. When his River Forest home burned in 1960, he reportedly went into hiding, fearing the blaze was started by the mob. Mr. McDonnell served prison time for trying to bribe a union official, and he was twice disbarred.

Services have been held.

Thanks to Robert C. Herguth

Persico/DeRoss Trial Ends in Mistrial

Friends of ours: Colombo Crime Family, Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico, Carmine Persico, John DeRoss

After a five-week trial, a Brooklyn federal judge ordered a mistrial Friday in the racketeering case against reputed Colombo crime family mobsters Alphonse Persico and John DeRoss when the jury indicated it was deadlocked.

Judge Sterling Johnson terminated the trial after the panel, in its fifth day of deliberations, sent out a note about 2:30 p.m. saying it could not reach a verdict despite a final try at unanimity. "The jury is deadlocked on all counts. We take the opportunity to apologize to the court," jurors said in the note to Johnson.

Three women on the jury dabbed at their eyes with handkerchiefs as Johnson thanked all of them for their service. "Some matters can't be resolved," Johnson said in an apparent attempt to console those who were upset.

Sarita Kedia, Persico's attorney, said, "I had hoped for an acquittal given the evidence in this case, but it seems better than the alternative."

Persico, 52, who is known as "Allie Boy" and is the son of imprisoned legendary mobster Carmine Persico, once was considered by law enforcement officials to be the acting boss of the Colombo family. Since late September, he and DeRoss, 69, had been on trial on charges they were involved in the disappearance and presumed slaying of cohort William Cutolo in 1999. Cutolo was considered a rising star in the crime family when he vanished.

Persico and DeRoss also faced other charges involving crime family rackets. Both defendants remained in custody, as they already are serving sentences in other federal cases.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Seigel said he plans to pursue a retrial, which would not occur until 2007.

Strong indications of a mistrial emerged Thursday when a flurry of notes from the jury showed at least one juror didn't believe the various cooperating witnesses called by the government. Another note suggested three jurors were voting as a bloc, but it wasn't clear if they were for acquittal or conviction.

The mistrial was the second time recently that federal prosecutors in the city have been stymied in getting a conviction in a high-profile mob case. Last month, in federal court in Manhattan, a mistrial was declared in the racketeering trial of John A. Gotti, the son of the late Gambino crime boss John J. Gotti. It was the third mistrial in that case. The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan said it would not seek another trial.

Thanks to Anthony M. DeStefano

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mob Boss Dies

Michael Genovese was one of the last links to a lost era - an old-school mob boss who the law never caught up with.

The head of the western Pennsylvania La Cosa Nostra is dead.

By all accounts, mob informants, FBI agents and the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Genovese was the don of the Pittsburgh mob. An old-style mob boss who ran one of 24 original mafia families in the U.S. that trace their roots back to Sicily.

Gambling, narcotics, loan sharking, even murder were all linked to the Genovese mob. But Geneovese was never indicted - never sent to prison.

Several of his underbosses - including Chuckie Porter, Lou Ruicci and other mob lieutenants - were all convicted in a federal trial in the 1990s. But they never brought charges against the reputed mob boss.

Genovese is reported to have been suffering from bladder cancer and heart disease. He was 87 years old and died in his sleep.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Pittsburgh declined comment on Genovese's death. In the past, the U.S. Attorney has said that the mob trials of the 1990s severely weakened mafia influence in the Pittsburgh area.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Sting

Winner of seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, this critical and box-office hit from 1973 provided a perfect reunion for director George Roy Hill and stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who previously delighted audiences with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Set in 1936, the movie's about a pair of Chicago con artists (Newman and Redford) who find themselves in a high-stakes game against the master of all cheating mobsters (Robert Shaw) when they set out to avenge the murder of a mutual friend and partner. Using a bogus bookie joint as a front for their con of all cons, the two feel the heat from the Chicago Mob on one side and encroaching police on the other. But in a plot that contains more twists than a treacherous mountain road, the ultimate scam is pulled off with consummate style and panache. It's an added bonus that Newman and Redford were box-office kings at the top of their game, and while Shaw broods intensely as the Runyonesque villain, The Sting is further blessed by a host of great supporting players including Dana Elcar, Eileen Brennan, Ray Walston, Charles Durning, and Harold Gould.

Thanks to the flavorful music score by Marvin Hamlisch, this was also the movie that sparked a nationwide revival of Scott Joplin's ragtime jazz, which is featured prominently on the soundtrack. One of the most entertaining movies of the early 1970s, The Sting is a welcome throwback to Hollywood's golden age of the '30s that hasn't lost any of its popular charm.

Thanks to Jeff Shannon

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bonanno's Baldo Gets Life in Prison for Murders

Friends of ours: Baldassare "Baldo" Amato, Bonanno Crime Family
Friends of mine: Sebastiano DiFalco, Robert Perrino

Baldassare Amato, a powerful Bonanno crime family figure who represents the group’s traditional Sicilian roots, stood silently with his arms crossed yesterday as a federal judge denounced him and meted out a life sentence for two 1992 Mafia murders.

As the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of United States District Court in Brooklyn, tore into him for “using murder as a business tactic,” at several points Mr. Amato raised his right hand to his chin and then crossed his arms again in front of his chest. “Mr. Amato,” said the judge, making no effort to mask his disgust, “you’re just a plain, wanton murderer and a Mafia assassin. The sentence I’m going to give you, as far as I’m concerned, is a gift.”

Mr. Amato, 54, dressed in a gray prison sweatshirt and khaki trousers, appeared unmoved when the judge handed down the life sentence, almost as though it were a cost of doing business. He and his lawyer had both declined to address the court.

After pronouncing the sentence, Judge Garaufis asked the lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant United States Attorney John Buretta, how much of a fine he could levy. Mr. Buretta said the maximum was $250,000, and the judge levied it.

Mr. Amato, who is known as Baldo and who immigrated to New York from the Sicilian fishing village of Castellammare del Golfo when he was 18, was convicted on July 12 of racketeering conspiracy charges, including the murders of two Bonanno associates.

The jury concluded that he ordered the murder of restaurant owner Sebastiano DiFalco and carried out a second killing himself, shooting Robert Perrino in the head several times.

Prosecutors had presented evidence that the Bonanno family was concerned that Mr. Perrino, a delivery supervisor for The New York Post, might help expose an infiltration of The Post’s delivery operation by the crime family.

The judge said that Mr. DiFalco was killed “possibly because Mr. Amato and his Mafia colleagues wanted to take over the business and they might have had a disagreement over price or some other detail.”

The six-week trial was a primer on the devastation that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have wrought on the Bonannos, cutting a swath through the family’s ranks and upending its traditions with a growing cadre of informers.

Mr. Amato was also stoical when Judge Garaufis rejected a request by his lawyer, Diarmuid White, for a recommendation that he be sent to a prison in the New York area so his family could visit. “It’s for them, your honor,” Mr. White said of the family.

The judge was unmoved.

“I have compassion for the defendant’s family, and I also have compassion for the members of the families of Sebastiano DiFalco and Robert Perrino,” the judge said. “This defendant made it certain that they would never visit their family member, anywhere.”

Mr. DiFalco’s two nephews were in court yesterday and said they were gratified by the life sentence and the fine against Mr. Amato. “He’s a cold and evil person,” said one of them, Sal Montoro, 42. He said Mr. Amato had gone to their uncle’s wake and vowed to help find the killer.

For Mr. Amato, after the sentence was handed down, it was a brisk, businesslike handshake and a small smile for his lawyer, and he walked out the courtroom’s side door to the holding cells, accompanied by United States marshals.

Thanks to William Rashbaum

Godfather of All My Tours

Friends of ours: Carlo Gambino Aniello "The Hat" Dellacore, Joe Columbo, Vito Genovese, Salvatore "Lucky" Luciano, "One Lung" Curran, Owney "The Killer" Madden, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, Ray Matorno, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Albert Anastasia

The best place to start mixing with The Mob is in St John's Cemetery out on Long Island. This is where the Mafia Dons of New York are buried.

Beneath their sepulchres and towering granite angles lie the bodies of such notorious mobsters as Carlo Gambino and Aniello "The Hat" Dellacore. A few tombstones away are the vaults of Joe Columbo, Vito Genovese and , Salvatore "Lucy" Luciano.

They each headed one of the Families -- the euphemistic name for the gangs who ruled New York -- with the ruthlessness of medieval monarchs. Today they remain identifiable entities only through their names carved in wood and stone. But there is not so much as a chisel mark to commemorate their links -- and fights -- with that other great Mob, the Irish Mafia. Born in the early 19th century out of street gangs protecting and exploiting immigrants from the Old Country, by the arrival of Prohibition the Irish Mafia had become a powerful player in bootlegging -- and all the crimes that went with it: burglarising shops, dominating pool halls, stealing from the docks.

No racket was too small for the Irish Mafia. And like their Italian counterparts, the Irish Bosses attracted colourful names: "One Lung" Curran, Owney "The Killer" Madden, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll.

Hard drinking, flashily dressed and always a girl on their arms, they extended the Irish Mob's influence to all the major US cities. Many of the great crimes were laid at their door. One was the Pottsville Heist, when half a million dollars was stolen in a Philadelphia bank robbery by the K&K gang in 1974. Its members were Irish born Americans, many of them blue-collar workers and the gang had become a powerful player in gambling, loan sharking and mass thievery across the State.

By the 1980s they had moved into drugs. Thirty-six K&K members were arrested. One fled to Dublin. But the gang still thrived. In 2003, its then leader, Ray Matorno, plotted to remove the Italian Mafia's hold over the Philadelphia underworld. He brought in a dozen hitmen for the coming war. But before he could issue the time-honoured order "time to go to the mattresses", he was gunned down on his way to keep a doctor's appointment. His physician was quoted as saying: "The amount of led he took would have required a foundry to plug all the holes".

To visit St John's cemetery is to step back in your mind's eye to the days of the G-men, Tommy-guns and Omerta -- the code of silence of Cosa Nostra, the generic name for the Families. It was this the Irish mafia has continued to subscribe to.

Strolling through St John's I sensed that look of surprise which must have crossed the face of Carlo, head of the Gambino family, as he had left the Brooklyn apartment of one of his mistresses in July 1972 -- to be shot dead as he entered his chauffeured car.

The roll call of names is the history of the Italian Mob in New York. Some died in harness. Most succumbed to a bullet in the head. Their silent tombs don't distinguish. But for those who want a social history of a different kind, a visit to St John's is a starting point for a journey back in time -- one that spawned probably more classic gangster movies than any other genre.

The Irish Mafia sprang on to the screen with a series of film noir movies in the 1940s starring super stars of their day like James Cagney, Spencer Tracey and Pat O'Brien. They became known in Hollywood as "the screen Irish Mafia". You can still catch them on late night movie screenings of, "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938) in which Cagney returns to New York's Hells Kitchen to reclaim his right as the area's Irish Gang Boss; or "The Racket" (1928) where Thomas Meighan plays an Irish Chicago police officer taking on the local criminal syndicate. And don't forget the "St Valentine's Day Massacre" (1967) that captures the mood of the turbulent Thirties for the Irish Mafia as well as any gangster movie. Right up to "Brotherhood" (2006) the relationships, and influence, of the Irish gangs are caught on screen.

Among the gravestones at St John's cemetery you remember the voices of other stars who played the mobsters: George Raft as the head of a Family; Mickey Rooney, the swaggering hit-man for another; Marlon Brando in his greatest of all roles, "The Godfather".

Here in the graveyard, with the wind whistling in from the Atlantic and the distant sound of planes coming and going from Kennedy Airport, you can conjure up again those memorable words of Brando: "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse."

I'll make you a promise, spend a morning in St John's and you won't regret it. Here they are, the bad and the ugly, the fat and the profane, rich beyond dream. And most venerated -- at least within the closed world of the Mafia -- is the godfather of them all. The Gangster they called the "Dapper Don".

To the untold millions who have watched the movie trilogy, The Godfather, he was the inspiration for the memorable role Marlon Brando created. The "Don of Dons" was feared even from within the prison -- but a life-without-parole-prison-cell -- where he died in June 2002. He was ten years into his sentence, and the cancer finally did what no bullet had been able to do.

All it says below the brass cross on the polished wooden door to vault 341, Aisle C in the cemetery is "GOTTI". Below this word that once instilled terror throughout New York are the words: "John 1940-2002".

Born into an era when the Mob ruled New York, Gotti was given a funeral that has not been seen since those days.

Many of his peers ended their lives in New York's East River or out somewhere beyond the Statue of Liberty. Weighed down with their feet encased in concrete blocks, or iron bars welded around their waists. But instead of being laid to rest with the fishes, Gotti was carried in his hand-polished coffin through the streets of New York's Little Italy. His hearse was festooned with wreaths in the shape of horses' heads (Gotti was a great gambler); a giant cigar (one was always in his mouth); a winning hand of cards and a champagne glass (his favourite game and tipple).

The drive from the funeral home to the cemetery where he now lies in his air-conditioned vault takes about ten minutes.

For those who want to recreate the drive, a New York cabbie will oblige. Or you can do it in style, renting a gangland style white Cadillac from one of the firms which specialises in unusual tours. They're listed in the New York Yellow Pages.

Viewers of the smash-hit TV show, The Sopranos, will recognise some of the places en route to the cemetery.

There is Russo's Ice Cream Bar and Vincent's Original Clam Shop (both are close to 85th Street at 160th). Here you can sample some of the best ice cream in a Little Italy that prides itself on serving an unbeatable selection of iced confections. Or, if you fancy something more substantial, Vincent's clams are as juicy and perfectly cooked as you will find anywhere. Both places were where Gotti liked to sit with his hitmen, his accountants, and the lieutenants who ran his rackets.

Most mornings he would stroll down from his home at 160011 85th Street, his bodyguards fanned out around him, jackets bulging with guns. It must have been a scene no movie director could better.

Gotti's home is small for a man with such a huge appetite for everything criminal. It's a wood and brick fronted bungalow in Cape Cod style. The only unusual addition is the huge satellite dish on the roof, and the state-of-the-art security camera covering the front door and windows.

Gotti ran his operations from an office behind the city's Old St Patrick's, New York's first Roman Catholic cathedral. It was also the setting for the christening at which Michael takes up his duties at the end of The Godfather. The scene was recreated in a studio. But many a future Mobster was christened at the cathedral font.

Gotti's actual headquarters was at 247 Mulberry Street, just south of its junction with Prince Street. On almost any day you can see some of his men strolling along the pavement, their destination is often Umberto's Clam House. It's one of the best in Little Italy. The waiter will take your picture at one of the tables the Dapper Don like to sit at.

A slow walk away -- everyone in Little Italy seems to have that special not-quite-a-stroll way of moving -- is Mare Chiaro, at 176 Mulberry Street. The bar has been in the family for almost a century. It's also one of those places that will instantly be recognisable to anyone who has seen such movies as Kojak with Telly Savales, or Contract On Cherry Street with Frank Sinatra.

As you sip an ice cold beer you can listen to Old Blue Eyes belting it out on the jukebox in the corner. The time to go is mid-evening. The place then seems filled with characters who could have stepped out of any Mobster movie: hard-faced men and their over-painted women exchange rapid-fire dialogue few movies have ever captured.

Sparks Steak House at 210 East 46th Street has some of the best meat in town. But to eat like a Godfather you can expect to pay $100 a head -- and then comes the tip. You forget that extra 15% and you would be wise not to return.

As well as fine food Sparks is part of Mafia folklore. It was on the kerb outside that Paul Castellano, then the "Don of Dons", was assassinated on a pleasant day in 1985 by his own bodyguard -- John Gotti. Locals still walk carefully around the place where the body fell. To walk over the spot is deemed to be bad luck.

Over in Hells Kitchen, west of Time Square, is Druids on 10th Avenue. This was the headquarters of the Westies, the gang who became immortalised on film as the Goodfellas. The bar staff will tell you the bar was the place of countless murders -- and that at the end of every night their Mobster clients would always smash their glasses to destroy any evidence of fingerprints.

One evening so the story goes, a mobster took a head from a hatbox and rolled it down the bar. As it passed each drinker, he poured his beer over the head. True? Who knows? When you take a tour of the Mafia sites, it becomes hard to know what is real and what has been actually created on film.

Remember all those scenes in the old movies where a gangster is shot dead in a barber's chair? Well it did happen, more than once, in the barber's shop in the Park Sheraton Hotel at Seventh Avenue on 55th Street.

The most famous victim was Albert Anastasia who ruled Murder Incorporated until that day when a hitman shot him while he was being shaved.

The chair is still there. But the barber doesn't like to discuss it. Those days are gone, he will smile.

Maybe. But the flavour of that period still remains. And there is no better way to sample it than the New York City Mafia Tour Guide. Read it in your hotel room while watching the original Godfather. Then go out and see how many locations you can spot. It's fun -- and a rewarding way to get to know the city that never sleeps -- and where many a Mafia mobster rests, if not in peace, at least in that magnificently ornate cemetery at St John's, where the shadow of the Irish Mob hangs over their tombs.

Thanks to Gordon Thomas

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Police & Rats Balanced in Departed

Martin Scorsese sure knows how to have a kick-ass time.

After a few years of unsuccessfully trying to win Oscars, Scorsese returned to his roots: violent men inhabiting mean streets. It seems to work for him. With "The Departed," he has made a more confident, self-assured film than his previous epic, award-begging vehicles "Gangs of New York" or "The Aviator." Ironically, this film is now a prize contender.

A remake of the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs," "The Departed" faces the same challenges that face all adaptations: finding a balance between keeping a similar plot line and an original take on the story.

Much of this balance is accomplished through the film's setting. This time, South Boston's Irish working-class communities are the backdrop. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) are graduates of the police academy. Sullivan is invited into the upper echelon of the force while secretly informing Frank Costello's (Jack Nicholson) Irish mafia. Costigan does the reverse, informing the police while working within Costello's mob.

Nobody likes a rat in their circle. Police Chief Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Costello (Nicholson) each realize they have one, but flounder trying to find who it is.

Scorsese slowly lowers us into this brilliant set-up, allowing it to increasingly envelop the viewer as he raises the stakes. Loyalties are constantly shifting, and there is no easy moralizing of any character's plight or superiority.

The idea of the informant is nothing new. During a house call, a clip of John Ford's exemplary "The Informer" plays in the background. In the Irish cultural tradition of both films, informing is the most despicable thing a man could do, punishable by an execution carried out by former friends. The sides of the battle have to remain clear if either side is to succeed.

In this world, there is no guarantee of safety, regardless of which side you are on. At the beginning of the film, the Rolling Stones' hit "Gimme Shelter" blasting, Costello tells a young Sullivan that it doesn't matter whether you're in the police or the mafia when there's a gun in your face. In that moment, we all become the departed.

Sides may not matter, but morals and honor do. The double lives that Sullivan and Costigan live rips them apart and affects all aspects of their lives. DiCaprio's performance is more exterior and more successful, as viewers watch him quickly transformed from clean-cut cop to dirty, drug-dealing gangster. Damon may have the girlfriend (up-and-comer Vera Farmiga) and the cash, but he is no more at peace than DiCaprio. The world of the informer is never enjoyable; he always looks over his shoulder for someone out to get him.

Scorsese was one of the directors propagating the realism movement to the multiplexes during the Hollywood renaissance of the early- to mid-1970s. He works within this genre better than most, and films of his, such as "Taxi Driver," stand the test of time as indelible character sketches set against fascinating modern situations. In a particularly heated moment, Nicholson screams at one of his thugs, "This ain't reality TV!" But, in style and essence, it is—"The Departed" subscribes to the 21st century's incarnation of the cult of realism.

Realism does not assure success, however. As entertaining as these double-crossings are, "The Departed" does not linger in the mind for very long. Violence begets violence, but one has a sense leaving the theater that "The Departed" leaves the whole world blind with nothing to show for it.

Thanks to Mike Nugent

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Daughter of Late Mobster Arrested

Friends of ours: Albert Tocco, Clarence Crockett

The daughter of a former Southland mob lieutenant has been charged with stealing from a Frankfort country club.

Chicago Heights resident Sandra M. Andrade, 40, is the daughter of the late Clarence Crockett, a trusted aide of longtime Southland mob boss Albert Tocco, according to police and public records.

Andrade "obtained unauthorized control" of property valued at less than $100,000 at Prestwick Country Club between Dec. 29 and April 30, according to the charges. She is being held on $65,000 bail. An assistant public defender has been appointed to represent her.

Frankfort police refused to explain the charges, saying it's an ongoing investigation. "(Investigators) were hoping to talk to her, but they didn't have that chance," police Cmdr. John Burica said.

A spokesman for the Will County state's attorney's office also declined to comment, as did Prestwick's manager and an attorney for the country club.

The home address Andrade gave police is a single-story brick house on Campbell Avenue owned by Rose Crockett, who was identified as her mother. A phone message left there Wednesday was not returned.

Clarence Crockett for many years was involved in collecting the mob's "street tax," monthly payments to be allowed to operate illegal businesses, as a key aide to Tocco -- whom federal prosecutors later linked to nine murders, although he was never convicted in any slaying, according to news reports.

Crockett was convicted in 1989 with Tocco on federal racketeering, conspiracy and extortion charges and received a 20-year prison term. He was released in 2001 and died in March at 68.

Tocco received a 200-year sentence in 1990. His wife, Betty, was a key witness against him, testifying about his alleged involvement in the infamous murders of the Spilotro brothers who were shot and buried in an Indiana field. Tocco died of a stroke in prison 13 months ago at 76.

Federal prosecutors also went after a former mayor, three city councilmen and the deputy police chief of Chicago Heights. All were convicted on corruption charges.

Will County sheriff's police spokesman Pat Barry, a former sheriff's investigator who worked on the Crockett case, said the mob ran Chicago Heights for decades. "There was corruption from top to bottom," he said.

Today, people say the mob largely has been rooted out of Chicago Heights. When asked to comment about Crockett, Police Chief Anthony Murphy offered these words: "He's dead."

Thanks to Steve Schmadeke

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Top Ten Signs You're Watching A Bad Mafia Movie

Top Ten Signs You're Watching A Bad Mafia Movie10. Takes place on the mean streets of Appleton, Wisconsin

9. The fake blood is clearly Yoo-Hoo

8. Someone is given an offer he has the option of refusing

7. Directed by Martin Scorsese...'s brother Larry

6. When mobsters try to dump body in Jersey, they sit in traffic at the tunnel for 90 minutes

5. Instead of horse's head, informant wakes up with a delicious chocolate on his pillow

4. Punishment for snitching: No X-Box for a week

3. Boss keeps using the catchphrase, "Don't Hassel the Hoff"

2. Feds use wiretap to get famous vegetarian lasagna recipe

1. Only whacking is done by Mark Foley

Argus on Junior

New York prosecutors announced Friday they won't prosecute John Gotti Junior a fourth time after failing three previous times to convict him on racketeering charges. The first three trials ended in hung juries. That's enough casualties.

Detroit Tiger Kenny Rogers rubbed illegal pine tar on the ball as he pitched on Sunday. Instead of suspending him, the umpire told him to wash his hands. John Gotti Junior got the umpire's name and put him in his future jury foremen file.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Brewer Shadowed by Mob Heritage

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Tony Accardo, Jackie "The Lackey" Cerone
Friends of mine: Frank Sinatra, Soprano Crime Family

A ceramic bust of a Windy City mobster stares from behind the candlelit bar at Aldente Cafe and Lounge. His hollow gaze is cast in the direction of a black-and-white photograph of himself stirring a pot of sauce. Below the likeness of the late Jackie "the Lackey" Cerone, rows of bottles stamped with Iron City Beer's red label glisten in a cooler.

The connection between the beer and the bust might seem obscure, but the link is Jack P. Cerone, 66, of Des Plaines, Ill., the publicity-shy mobster's son. His family owns the Lincoln Park restaurant and he might soon own a major stake in the bankrupt Pittsburgh Brewing Co.

By all accounts, Jack P. Cerone is not a member of La Cosa Nostra. Some critics, however, contend he has done little to distance himself from the fearsome reputation his father earned as a protege of Anthony "Big Tuna" Accardo, one of the powerful bosses of the Chicago Outfit in the 1950s.

Jackie "the Lackey" Cerone ran the Chicagoland mob in the late 1960s, six steps removed from the immortal Al Capone. His term ended in 1986 when he was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in skimming more than $2 million from Las Vegas casinos. The scam was the basis for the blockbuster motion picture "Casino."

"His father's name would still carry weight in Chicago," said John Flood, a former Chicago-area law enforcement official and organized crime expert. "Everybody knew Jackie Cerone. He was a big-time Chicago mobster."

Jack P. Cerone denied repeated attempts to be interviewed for this article. Pittsburgh Brewing President Joseph R. Piccirilli has said he hired Cerone in the late 1990s to negotiate a labor contract, but he has declined to detail their relationship. "He heard of him because he's a labor lawyer? Maybe," said Jim Wagner, president of the Chicago Crime Commission. "But he probably more heard of him because of his father and the mob connection."

Stake in Iron City

Details about Jack P. Cerone's transformation from labor lawyer to financial stakeholder in the brewery are emerging in Pittsburgh Brewing's ongoing bankruptcy. Court records show Jack P. Cerone holds the lucrative trademark rights to Iron City, IC Light and Augustiner brands as well as minority ownership in the company.

Jack P. Cerone's financial involvement began three years ago, when he paid $1.5 million to purchase two brewery loans worth about $6 million. Collateral on the loans included 20 percent ownership in Pittsburgh Brewing and the trademark rights. But his stake in the 145-year-old Lawrenceville brewery could increase substantially. The company filed a recovery plan last week that could increase Jack P. Cerone's ownership stake to 40 percent and his claim against Pittsburgh Brewing to $8 million.

The brewery now must persuade its creditors and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge M. Bruce McCullough to accept the plan for Jack P. Cerone to maximize his investment. "The company would have to succeed with the current ownership in place for him to get all of his money," said George Sharkey, business agent for the International Union of Electrical Workers of America Local 144b, which represents Pittsburgh Brewing's bottlers.

Should the brewery fail, Jack P. Cerone might be in position to sell the brands to recoup his money. The value of the three flagship brews has been bandied about between $3 million and $4 million, said attorney Michael Healey, who represents Pittsburgh Brewery's unions. He said he is not aware of any formal appraisal of the trademark rights. Selling trademarks is an option, said Carol Horton Tremblay, an economics professor at Oregon State University and co-author of "The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis."

In May, Anheuser-Busch Cos. bought the rights to brew Rolling Rock beer for $82 million. The pride of Latrobe, Westmoreland County, is now brewed in New Jersey. "But Pittsburgh Brewing Co. today isn't even Pittsburgh Brewing Co.." of old, said Robert S. Weinberg, 79, a St. Louis-based beer industry consultant, "much less a Latrobe. ... There's always a renaissance, but I think there's a point beyond which brands can be resurrected -- and I think they're beyond that."Pittsburgh Brewing Co.

Kenneth Elzinga, a University of Virginia economics professor and beer industry expert, agreed. "The odds for the economic redemption of a medium-size, regional brewery producing a mainstream lager beer are not good," Elzinga said. "Most brewing firms in the United States that survive or prosper are either very large, and can exploit economies of scale, or small, and can tap into the market for special tastes and preferences. Pittsburgh Brewing is not well positioned to do either."

A private family man

While his involvement in Pittsburgh Brewing has raised Jack P. Cerone's public profile, he apparently prefers to stay out of the limelight. He graduated from Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle, Ill., then earned a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago in 1964. He joined the Chicago Bar Association in 1965 and once served as president of the Justinian Society of Lawyers of Illinois, a Chicago-based association of Italian-American attorneys.

Friends and colleagues refused to comment.

Jack P. Ceroneand his wife, Judy, have five children.

Daughter Jill C. Marisie, a Republican, is running uncontested in November for a Cook County, Ill., circuit judgeship. She was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1990 and has worked as a state prosecutor.

Son Jack runs two restaurants in Chicago -- the Rat Pack-themed II Jack's, named after father and son, and Aldente, which is replete with large photos plucked from the family album. The late Jackie Cerone is included in many of the oversized, black-and-white images -- either cooking or posing with family and friends.

Some people consider Jack P. Cerone as the real owner of the restaurants, which he has called "his" when inviting people to dine there.

In August, eight employees of a former Frank Sinatra tribute music venue, Rizzo's Live in downtown Chicago, filed a lawsuit that claimed Jack P. Cerone owes them almost $100,000 in back wages. The federal lawsuit claims he was the sole financier and controlled the business -- even though he is not listed on paper as the club owner.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported notable visitors of the popular Chicago nightspot included Dean Martin's daughter, Gail, and Federico Castelluccio, who played hit-man Furio Giunta on "The Sopranos."

"I don't know of any information received that put him in business with any (mobsters) here in Chicago, other than associating with his father and friends of his father," said Wagner, of the Crime Commission. "But there's a difference between just associating and trading off the reputation -- and I think for a while that's what he was doing."

Jack P. Cerone will not publicly discuss his father. His only published comments came in a newspaper article following Jackie Cerone's death in 1996 -- six days after being released from federal prison in Florida due to bad health. "He was a gambler, a bookmaker all his life and he ran a tavern," Jack P. Cerone told the Chicago Tribune. "He loved to be around people. He was my best friend. Whatever he did he did and kept that to himself."

Fighting for unions

Jack P. Cerone earned a reputation as a labor lawyer, fighting for union workers in numerous contract fights with Chicago city officials -- from the 1980s when he fought for Laborer garbage collectors and seasonal street cleaners to the late 1990s when he salvaged victory for the Decorators Union in a trade show row.

When Piccirilli brought him in, even union representatives said his presence helped. "He certainly knows more about the bargaining process than Joe Piccirilli, and that's no shot at Joe," said Ken Ream, international representative of the International Union of Electrical Workers.

Ream and others describe Jack P. Cerone as professional but tough. "You can tell he's been around the negotiation table before," said Sharkey, the union business agent. "He's worked both sides of the fence. He's worked for the unions, for companies and as an arbitrator."

Cutting ties

A 1986 report by the President's Commission on Organized Crime identified Jack P. Cerone as one of three sons of well-known mobsters working for Laborers-International Local 8 in Chicago. "You're talking about the old Chicago mob and their sons," said former FBI Special Agent Peter J. Wacks, who investigated the Chicago mob for 30 years and helped convict the late Jackie Cerone. "They all end up working for the same union. Doesn't that seem odd?"

Court-ordered sanctions forced labor unions to cut ties with people connected to organized crime. One casualty was Jack P. Cerone, who had business dealings with Teamsters and Laborers unions. His company, Marble Insurance Agency, lost union contracts in 1993 because of his ties to organized crime, according to a 2004 Teamsters report.

In 1995, Jack P. Cerone, saying he was not a mobster, filed a federal lawsuit claiming he'd been improperly severed from his business relationships. A district court judge rejected the claim a year later, saying Jack P. Cerone "knowingly associated with his father." The court said the union's actions "were not only appropriate, but were mandated by (an) obligation ... to rid itself of the corruption influence of organized crime," the report stated. "There's no release from that," said Wagner of the Crime Commission. "It's a permanent ban." But Jack P. Cerone's associations with organized crime figures weren't limited to his father, investigators say. Wagner said Jack P. Cerone socialized with mobsters. Wacks, of the FBI, said surveillance showed Jack P. Cerone arranging and sometimes attending meetings with "made men and top guys."

Members of the Chicago mob met at the Brookwood Country Club. According to an affidavit of a former FBI agent, some of these meetings involved the late Jackie Cerone.

At one time, the country club was owned -- in part -- by Jack P. Cerone. A jury in 1989 ordered DuPage County officials to pay Jack P. Cerone and other owners more than $10 million for the 116-acre golf course and driving range. The county took the property through condemnation because nearly a quarter of it was flood plain.

Until Jack P. Cerone's name surfaced this year in connection with the Pittsburgh Brewing bankruptcy, Chicago investigators said they hadn't heard his name in years. "His profile here has been very, very low key," Wagner said, "perhaps by choice."

Thanks to Jason Cato

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Feds Give Up on Junior

Friends of ours: John Gotti, Junior Gotti, Gambino Crime Family

For John A. (Junior) Gotti, the third mistrial was the charm.

Federal prosecutors announced yesterday they will not retry Gotti for racketeering and will abandon efforts to nail him for trying to kill radio host Curtis Sliwa. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in a statement that a fourth trial was "not in the interests of justice in light of the three prior hung juries."

That means for the first time in eight years, Gotti, 42, is a free man with no criminal charges hanging over him. That didn't sit well with Sliwa, who vowed to bring a lawsuit against Gotti seeking damages for the 1992 shooting, which allegedly was in retaliation for his on-air attacks on the late Gambino crime boss John Gotti.

"I feel as disappointed as a Mets fan today," Sliwa told the Daily News. "I would have hoped they would have prosecuted him four or five times. But I understand they have to deal with legal technicalities."

Late yesterday afternoon, Gotti - whose father's ability to beat the rap earned him the moniker the Teflon Don - returned to his gated mansion in Oyster Bay Cove, L.I., with one of his sons in a chauffeured sedan, declining to speak to a reporter.

The mob scion has expressed interest in moving out West, returning to school to study child psychology and writing a book, but he needs permission from the feds because he's still on supervised release for his 1998 federal conviction. "He's been talking about plans for the future and now John has the freedom to go on with his life," sister Victoria Gotti said. "His only option, I think, is to get off the [government's] radar and go off and live somewhere else, like the Midwest or down South."

She said the entire Gotti clan is "beat up and tired" after three trials that have taken a heavy emotional toll on her brother. Gotti already had heard the good news on the radio by the time defense lawyer Charles Carnesi reached him. "He was thrilled," Carnesi said. "As much as it was expected, it's still different when you finally have confirmation.

"He wants to leave New York as soon as it can be arranged," Carnesi added.

Sliwa said he's owed monetary damages - "I can't tell you the pain I suffer as a result of the rearrangement of my internal plumbing" - and promised to donate any proceeds to charity. But his lawsuit is probably dead on arrival, legal experts say, for the very same reason the feds failed to convict Gotti - the statute of limitations has passed.

Although the jury in the last mistrial agreed to convict Gotti in the Sliwa attack - which might have created an exception to the one-year statute of limitations for filing a civil suit - there was no verdict because they were hung on the racketeering charge.

Gotti's mother, Victoria, didn't think much of Sliwa's threatened suit. "I think the victims of all his hoaxes should sue him," she said, referring to Sliwa's admissions that he had staged publicity stunts to get media coverage of the Guardian Angels, including a fabricated claim that he had been kidnapped by a city transit cop.

Though Gotti insists he left the Mafia behind in 1999, one law enforcement source said it's "pretty impossible" to believe he's going to move away and go straight. "He sitting on a ton of money which is all ill-gotten gains," the source said. "He knows one life and it's called organized crime. Plus he has to look over his shoulder with the Gambino family because he really upset a lot of people." But mob expert Jerry Capeci said he doesn't think anyone is gunning for Gotti for speaking to prosecutors, which at one point was a serious Mafia no-no. "He never hurt anyone, never became a cooperating witness," Capeci said. "Even though three juries could never agree on whether he quit the mob, his Gambino crime family days are gone, if not forgotten."

Thanks to John Marzulli

After 3 Strikes, Gotti's Prosecutors are Out

Friends of ours: Junior Gotti, John Gotti, Gambino Crime Family

John A. Gotti, who three times in just over a year has escaped conviction on federal racketeering charges, will finally be able to pursue what he claims he has long desired: an ordinary life.

After three trials in Manhattan, each ending in a hung jury, federal prosecutors have announced that they will not seek a fourth trial on those charges for Mr. Gotti, a decision federal officials had indicated was likely. It enshrines him as a defendant even trickier to convict than his father, the Gambino family don, John J. Gotti, who beat the rap three times himself before being found guilty in 1992 and dying in a federal prison hospital 10 years later. (The younger Mr. Gotti is not invulnerable: He was convicted in a previous case and served prison time.)

In a terse statement issued yesterday, Michael J. Garcia, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said this particular case was over. “The government has concluded that a retrial of defendant John A. Gotti on the pending indictment is not in the interests of justice in light of the three prior hung juries in the case,” it read. “Accordingly, we submitted a proposed order which the court has signed and which ends this prosecution.”

That left Mr. Gotti, who has acknowledged through his lawyers that he ran the Gambino family during stretches of the 1990’s, to return to a life as normal as his name will allow — for now. This decision does not preclude the F.B.I. or other authorities from developing new evidence for a different case some day.

At the end of his third trial in September, Mr. Gotti told reporters he wanted to “move on” and expressed a desire to work with children.

His lawyer, Charles F. Carnesi, said Mr. Gotti may turn to academe. “He’s interested in pursuing a degree,” he said. “In social work or counseling or maybe something with the schools.” With the indictment dismissed, he is free to go as he pleases, and the liens on his property securing his bail will soon be lifted, Mr. Carnesi said.

Mr. Gotti’s triumph was a stinging defeat for Curtis Sliwa, the radio talk show host whom prosecutors said was a victim in the case. While the jury agreed that Mr. Gotti ordered the abduction and attack of Mr. Sliwa in 1992 after he called the elder Mr. Gotti a drug dealer on the air, they could not agree on the overall charge that this was part of a racketeering conspiracy.

In a statement from the newsroom of WABC radio, Mr. Sliwa called Mr. Gotti a criminal and a drain on society. He also called Mr. Gotti’s father a serial killer and a disgrace to the human race. He said he intended to sue Mr. Gotti “for not only the bullets that he ordered put into my body, but for the fear and abuse he has heaped on our law-abiding society over the past 20 years.”

He ridiculed Mr. Gotti’s plan to “turn over a new leaf” as a charade. “He claims that he has moved on with his life and just wants to live in peace,” Mr. Sliwa wrote. “He wants to write books for children and raise money for charity, he claims. But part of moving on in life is acknowledging the innocent people hurt in the past. The people he extorted, stole from, had beaten and shot.”

Thanks to Alan Feuer

Trying to Fix an Award for Sidney Korshak

I received an e-mail from the Wisconsin Alumni Association this week seeking nominations for its annual "Badger of the Year" awards.

The release noted: "The criteria for the Badger of the Year awards are simple - recipients are alumni who are making a difference, whether by developing a successful business, serving as an educational leader, being a philanthropist or publicly supporting UW-Madison." I knew immediately who I wanted to nominate. He's a former UW-Madison student and athlete who definitely made a difference, while developing a most successful business.

Unfortunately, when I contacted the Wisconsin Alumni Association Friday, it turned out my nominee failed to meet certain other criteria for being named Badger of the Year. He's dead, for one thing, and he didn't graduate from UW-Madison for another. The rules require a recipient to be alive and to have graduated from here. Still, I went ahead and filled out the e-mail nomination form anyway, thinking perhaps an exception could be made.

So exceptional is my nominee that a major new book about him has just been published. The book, written by the esteemed investigative journalist Gus Russo, is titled "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers."

Korshak attended UW-Madison for two years in the 1920s and won the campus intramural boxing championship in 1927 at 158 pounds.

He then left Madison (transferring to DePaul) and became, in the words of the "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" jacket copy, "the Chicago Outfit's fair-haired boy, Sidney Korshak, a.k.a. 'The Fixer,' who from the 1940s until his death in 1996 was not only the most powerful lawyer in the world, according to the FBI, but also the most enigmatic, almost vaporous player behind some of the shadiest deals of the twentieth century."

To which I would say: Who's perfect?

It all began for Korshak in Chicago, where he knew mobsters like Al Capone, and, later, Tony Accardo, who regarded Korshak almost as a son. From the outset Korshak was groomed to be organized crime's intermediary with legitimate business and politics - "the underworld liaison to the upperworld," in Russo's words.

Korshak moved easily from Chicago to Beverly Hills, where he mixed with stars like Frank Sinatra and moguls like Lew Wasserman and survivors like Robert Evans. Evans - who for years has been trying to make a movie about Korshak - was the source of the anecdote that kicks off Russo's first chapter on Korshak in California, a chapter that begins: "Sid Korshak's life in Beverly Hills was developing into a contradictory combination of sphinx-like mysteriousness and high-profile socializing with the world's most famous celebrities."

Korshak's new bride learned early that her charming husband conducted his business on a need-to-know basis, and among the things she was not to know were the names of his friends. Returning from their honeymoon, Bernice Korshak checked for messages and found that the following people had tried to reach her husband: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

"Your friends sure have a strange sense of humor," Bernice said. "Who are they?"

"Exactly who they said they are," Sidney replied. "Any other questions?"

Evans, told the story by Bernice, noted, "Fifty years later, Bernice has never asked another question."

Hollywood historian Dennis McDougal would note that by 1960, "Korshak's influence surged beneath the surface of Hollywood like an underground river." He could start or stop labor strikes; get an actor a role or prevent it from happening; he was everywhere and nowhere. Korshak's photo was never to be taken, his name never included when a press agent puffed a list of party-goers to a gossip columnist. He lived in the shadows and it was from the shadows that Korshak and his supermob identified their next target, an arid land fit for growing nothing, nothing except money - Las Vegas.

So it went - a lucrative land grab here, a tax dodge there, somewhere else a quiet favor for a friend of a friend. Gus Russo's digging gets as close to the real Sidney Korshak as anyone ever has, and yet some mystery remains. It could not be otherwise.

As for that Badger of the Year award, I'll admit it's a long shot. But reading Russo, it seems Korshak's true vocation - fixing - might have got its start in Madison. Russo, quoting a UW student newspaper, says that in his championship campus boxing match, Korshak was out-punched and badly beaten by his opponent. "Consequently," the paper noted, "when the judges awarded the fight to Korshak, there was a great deal of surprise in the crowd."

It was a fitting beginning for "The Fixer."

Thanks to Doug Moe

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ghost of Capone Haunting Alcatraz?

Friends of ours: Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly

In the late 1850s, the first inmates to occupy Alcatraz were military prisoners who were put to work building a new prison that later became known as "The Rock." The U.S. Army used the island until 1933, at which time the Federal Government decided to open a maximum-security, minimum-privilege penitentiary to deal with the most incorrigible inmates.

Alcatraz was designed to break rebellious prisoners by putting them in a structured, monotonous routine until their release. Prisoners were given four basic things - food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Receiving anything beyond that had to be earned. Famous criminals, such as Al Capone, George "Machine-Gun" Kelly, Alvin Karpis and Arthur "Doc" Barker, spent time in Alcatraz. Mobsters in other prisons often managed to manipulate special privileges from guards, but not at Alcatraz.

Tough Punishment

The Strip Cell

Prisoners refusing to follow prison rules risked being confined to the Strip Cell, located on the lower tier of D Block. It was a dark steel cell, where inmates would be stripped naked and given water and bread once daily, an occasional meal and a mattress at night. The only 'toilet' was a hole in the cell floor and there was no sink. While there, convicts had no contact with others, spending their time in pitch-dark solitude.

The Hole on D Block
Similar to the strip cell, there were five 'hole' cells also on the lower tier, where prisoners were kept in isolation for up to 19 days. The cells had a toilet, sink, lightbulb and a mattress provided during the night only.

Prison Closure
Because of the huge cost to refurbish the prison it was closed in 1963. Later the island and parts of the prison were reopened by the Parks Services for daily public tours.

Tales of Torture
The fact that Alcatraz was built on an island and kept so isolated from public view, tales of inmates being tortured and of their bitter spirits coming back to haunt the halls of Alcatraz began to circulate.

The Ghost Stories of Alcatraz

The Utility Corridor
One of the areas which some claim is the most active with paranormal activity is a utility corridor where inmates Coy, Cretzer and Hubbard were plummeted with bullets after a failed prison escape. It is there that in 1976 a night security guard reported hearing unexplained eerie clanging sounds coming from inside.

Cell 14D
Cell 14D, one of the 'hole' cells is believed by some to be very active with spirits. Visitors and employees have reported feeling a raw coldness and at times a sudden 'intensity' encompasses the cell. Tales have been told of an event in the 1940s, when a prisoner locked-in 14D screamed throughout the night that a creature with glowing eyes was killing him. The next day guards found the man strangled to death in the cell. No one ever claimed responsibility for the convict's death, however the next day when doing head counts, the guards counted one too many prisoners. Some of the guards claimed seeing the dead convict in line with the other inmates, but only for a second before he vanished.

Warden Johnston
Other stories have circulated that Warden Johnston, nicknamed "The Golden Rule Warden," also faced a bizarre event while showing some of his guests around the prison. According to the story, Johnston and his group heard someone sobbing from inside the prison walls, and then a cold wind whisked past the group. Johnston could never explain any reason for the occurances.

Cell blocks A, B, and C
Visitors to cellblocks A and B. claim they have heard crying and moaning. A psychic visiting wrote that while in Block C he came upon a disruptive spirit name Butcher. Prison records show that another inmate in block C murdered Abie Maldowitz, a mob hitman known as Butcher.

The Ghost of Al Capone
Al Capone, who spent his last years at Alcatraz with his health in decline from untreated syphilis, took up playing the banjo with a prison band. Fearing he would be killed if he spent his recreational time in the "yard," Capone received permission to spend recreation time practicing his banjo in the shower room. In recent years, a park ranger claimed he heard banjo music coming from the shower room. Not familiar with the history of Alcatraz, the ranger could not find a reason for the sound and documented the strange event. Other visitors and employees have reported hearing the sound of a banjo coming from the prison walls.

More Paranormal Reports
Other odd events experienced over the years include guards smelling smoke, but finding no fire; sounds of unexplained crying and moaning; unexplained cold spots in areas of the prison and claims of seeing ghosts of prisoners or military personnel. Could it be Alcatraz is haunted? Ghost hunters have said they feel parts of the island and areas of the prison evoke a certain "strangeness," but it is mostly employees who are in areas of the prison alone who have reported most of the unexplained events that haunt the dark corridors of Alcatraz.

Thanks to Charles Montaldo

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Federal Probe Alleges Mobster Involved in Naperville Hit

Friends of ours: Nick Calabrese, Anthony Chiaramonti

It was a crime in the heart of Naperville that had the markings of a mob hit.

Rosemarie Re was shot seven times in broad daylight July 16, 1997, outside Linden Oaks Hospital, where she was to meet her estranged husband to discuss one of their children. Police found Randall G. Re in the hospital lobby after the shooting, and the husband denied involvement. The gunman escaped, but detectives have suspected for almost 10 years Re was behind the attempted hit on his wife, who survived.

Their investigation sparked unrelated federal charges that landed Re and a reputed mob enforcer - who authorities say may be the gunman - in prison for extortion. As Re's accomplice, Anthony N. Calabrese, faces new allegations in the federal probe, authorities are hoping for a break in the long-unsolved attempted murder.

On Monday, Naperville police Detective Mike Cross met with top DuPage County prosecutors to discuss why there might now be enough evidence to indict the 52-year-old ex-husband on solicitation to commit murder charges. Rosemarie Re also met with the prosecutors.

The 51-year-old woman underwent 15 surgeries and still has three bullets lodged in her body. She lives in Venice, Fla., with the former couple's three children, now ages 21 to 16, and suffers from chronic pain. "I feel like it's close," she said after the meeting. "I'm real optimistic." Charges may come in the attempted murder by year's end, sources said.

Rosemarie Re filed for divorce six months before she was shot. The Lisle woman survived after spending three months in Edward Hospital, where she was guarded around the clock and registered under an assumed name. She remained in a coma for six weeks.

Police released Randall Re without charges after 24 hours of questioning, but they said he remained the prime suspect.

In April 2003, Re and Calabrese were sentenced to seven years in prison for trying to shake down a Florida businessman in 1997. Calabrese, a reputed member of the Chicago Outfit's Bridgeport-Chinatown Crew, beat the businessman with a baseball bat after he opened a warehouse in Florida next to one Re owned.

Rosemarie Re hasn't been able to identify her shooter. Law enforcement officials suspect Randall Re paid Calabrese at least $10,000 to do the hit.

Both men remain in federal prison. Re is scheduled for release in February 2009. Last month, prosecutors indicted Calabrese and four others in connection with three armed robberies in the Lockport and Morton Grove areas. Calabrese, 45, formerly of Lockport, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.

Federal authorities also are investigating Calabrese in connection with an unrelated mob shooting, this one deadly. He surfaced as the suspected triggerman who killed loan collector Anthony "The Hatch" Chiaramonti Nov. 20, 2001, in the vestibule of a Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant on Harlem Avenue in Lyons, according to a federal indictment. The getaway driver who implicated Calabrese in the Lyons murder, Robert G. Cooper of Bridgeport, is serving a 22-year federal prison term after pleading guilty in 2003 to first-degree murder.

Although Calabrese has not been charged with killing Chiaramonti, authorities hope the two ongoing federal probes will lead to a break in the Naperville case. Cross recently interviewed Randall Re, and Calabrese and his co-defendants in the three armed robberies.

This development is just the latest in the twisted saga. The investigation was complicated in 1998 when a DuPage County judge allowed Randall Re's divorce lawyers to question Cross. Cross, whose work led to the federal charges, was forced to reveal some of the details of the attempted murder investigation during the deposition. Both former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan and DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett unsuccessfully fought the court order requiring Cross to testify.

Also, one of Randall Re's divorce attorneys was disbarred for stealing $2.5 million from his clients, including money from the sale of Re's warehouse meant for his children. Rosemarie Re has since recouped most of her losses. But in a development that netted some progress in the case, police in August 2002 recovered at the bottom of the Cal-Sag Channel in Alsip the .22-caliber gun used in the Re shooting. Police said the gun was found just a block from a business owned by Calabrese, who an informant involved in the Florida case said was known to toss his weapons in the channel. A ballistics test done at the FBI's crime lab in Quantico, Va., later confirmed it was the one used in the Re shooting, officials said.

Despite all of the twists, Rosemarie Re said she remains hopeful and is indebted to the Naperville Police Department, especially Cross, for never giving up on her case. "When I remember those nanoseconds of the shooting, I still feel the searing pain, like it was yesterday," she said. "Victims never forget.

"I'll always suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and will probably always be in counseling, but at least (with charges) my kids and I will have closure. We can move on with our lives."

Thanks to Christy Gutowski

Mob Boss Son to Increase Brewery Equity Stake

Friends of ours: Jackie Cerone

Bankrupt Pittsburgh Brewing filed its long-awaited reorganization plan yesterday, saying it intends to modernize the 145-year-old Lawrenceville brewery with $7 million from investors and lenders.The son of Jackie Cerone, Jack P. Cerone, will double his ownership of the Pittsburgh Brewing Company based upon the latest reorganization plan

The investment would be used to pay bankruptcy-related expenses and purchase a new boiler and a keg system, which would allow the brewery to expand sales to taverns. Remaining funds would be used for marketing. The plan is based on estimated annual savings of $1 million by revising its labor agreement and terminating a union pension plan.

Pittsburgh Brewing's plan, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Downtown, does not disclose the investors or who would provide financing to the company. The loans would be in addition to a $500,000 line of credit the company has arranged through Craig Newbold, an East Liverpool, Ohio, native whose fortune is based on a software venture he developed and sold.

Some long-suffering creditors will likely object to the 18-page plan, which contests claims filed against Pittsburgh Brewing by several major creditors, most of them government agencies. Unsecured creditors would get 33 cents for every $1 they are owed. They would get less if creditors win claims the brewery is disputing.

Members of the IUE/Communications Workers of America have thus far rejected the wage and other concessions the brewery is seeking, saying they will base their final decision on the merits of the reorganization plan.

President Joseph Piccirilli, who would continue to run the brewery, would increase his ownership of the company to 50 percent under terms of the plan. Jack P. Cerone, the son of a former Chicago mob boss who has an $8 million claim against the company, would double his ownership stake to 40 percent by converting the unpaid loans he provided to the brewery to equity.

Other secured creditors who would be paid in full include the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority, which would receive $577,700 owed on a $1.4 million, five-year loan it provided in 1996; a union pension plan that would receive $200,000 in overdue contributions; and the City of Pittsburgh, which would collect $50,800 in unpaid real estate taxes. Mr. Piccirilli would also receive $112,000 in unpaid wages.

Pittsburgh Brewing is contesting a $2.7 million claim by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. The agency's threat to terminate service over unpaid bills triggered the brewery's decision to seek bankruptcy protection Dec. 7.

The brewery also is contesting the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.'s $1.8 million claim over a terminated pension plan; a $309,500 claim by the Internal Revenue Service; $120,000 of an $814,400 claim for unpaid federal excise taxes filed by the U.S. Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau; $136,100 in claims by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue; and a $38,200 claim for Allegheny County real estate taxes.

Unsecured creditors have filed claims in excess of $18 million, but the brewery estimates legitimate claims at $6 million, a figure the 33-cent-on-the-dollar payout is based on. Robert Sable, attorney for the unsecured creditors, declined comment, saying he wanted to review the plan with his clients.

The brewery provided estimates of its financial results based on the reorganization plan. It projects losses of $1.6 million this year and $347,000 next year before turning profits of $575,000 in 2008 and $1.1 million in 2009.

Thanks to Len Boselovic

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Judges Tied to Syndicate? Criminal Contempt is the Response

Michael Lynch's campaign to expose what he says are judges involved in a conspiracy linked to organized crime was put on hold Friday when a judge sentenced him to 60 days in Cook County Jail for criminal contempt.

Lynch once headed Michigan Avenue Partners and turned Chicago-based McCook Metals into a major aluminum force. The New York Times wrote of his entrepreneurial skills when McCook offered a higher bid than Alcoa for Reynolds Metals.

Now fighting bankruptcy, he tells judges to their faces in federal and state court that he thinks they have ties to organized crime and need to recuse themselves from his cases -- such as those seeking to foreclose on his Lake Forest home.

Cook County Judge Paddy McNamara, who gets good ratings from lawyers' groups, sent him to jail Friday after a two-hour hearing in which he repeatedly accused other judges of getting mob money and then produced what he said were some of the judge's own financial records.

Lynch sees a conspiracy of judges linked to law firms that represent Alcoa trying to take him down. He suspected his own lawyers were involved. Lynch said when one judge seemed ready to rule in his favor, the case was suddenly transferred to another judge who ruled against him.

Cook County Judge Alexander White -- as highly rated as McNamara -- told Lynch two weeks ago "Counsel, that's libelous. . .. I have never received a penny," in response to Lynch's demand that White "admit or deny" ties to organized crime.

On Friday, Lynch asked McNamara to let him bring in a source from an organized crime family to back up his claims, but the judge said she had heard enough.

Thanks to Abdon M. Pallasch

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dapper Don Instigated Bloody Mob War

Friends of ours: John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Gambino Crime Family, Colombo Crime Family, Carmine "The Snake" Persico, Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo, Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico, Vic Orena, John "Junior" Gotti, William "Wild Bill" Cutolo

The late Gambino boss John Gotti instigated the bloody civil war within the Colombo crime family in a diabolical scheme to consolidate his power on the Mafia Commission, a turncoat witness testified yesterday. Gotti falsely branded jailed Colombo boss Carmine (The Snake) Persico "a rat" in an attempt to get him replaced by another Colombo gangster who was close to Gotti, according to former Gambino capo Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo.

DiLeonardo, testifying at the racketeering trial of Persico's son and acting boss Alphonse (Allie Boy) Persico, surprised Brooklyn Federal Judge Sterling Johnson when he matter-of-factly said that Gotti was behind the conflict that left a dozen gangsters dead and an innocent bystander slain outside a Brooklyn bagel shop in the early 1990s.

"John Sr. instigated it?" the judge asked the witness.

"Oh, yeah," DiLeonardo replied.

DiLeonardo explained Gotti's strategy this way: "John was close to Vic Orena and figured if he could get him in, and Allie out, he [Gotti] would have a majority vote on The Commission," DiLeonardo said. "He [Gotti] owned Vic Orena."

During the war, DiLeonardo said he accompanied John A. [Junior] Gotti to Rockaway Beach for secret late-night meetings with members of the Orena faction to try to iron out a settlement.

DiLeonardo said he thought that it was wrong that the Dapper Don had slurred the elder Persico's name. "Allie found out about it and wasn't happy," he recalled. "I told him it wasn't right and I set out to try and make things right."

Alphonse Persico is charged with ordering the 1999 murder of Colombo underboss - and Orena loyalist - William (Wild Bill) Cutolo.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jack Nicholson Researches for Role in The Departed

The Departed topped the box office nationwide Sunday, starring Jack Nicholson as a cocaine-snorting, hard-drinking, womanizing Mafia boss. He had to do a lot of research for the role. He had no idea what it's like to be a Mafia boss.<br><br>

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Departed Gets it Right

Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" is set in Boston among the Irish mob and Irish cops, a story of betrayal and lies by a director who has made his life's work the study of the consequence of sinMartin Scorses's The Departed

"I didn't want to be a product of my environment," says Boston mob boss Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, in a raspy voice over a black screen at the outset. "I want my environment to be a product of me."

Naturally, it begins with an altar boy sipping a soda in a store, with Nicholson in shadow, muscling a terrified shopkeeper. The shopkeeper hands over some cash in the shakedown, and Nicholson then begins flirting with the teenage, female cashier. The boy silently takes all this in, the threats, the cashier's receptive smile, and there is a glint in the boy's eye. He's charmed by such leverage. He's an intelligent boy drawn to the possibilities of power. And so he becomes the servant.

There is no one who does sin better than Scorsese.

"The Departed" is a story of the mob infiltrating the police, and the police infiltrating the mob, and others leveraging the feds in scheme after scheme. They rat each other out, and the consequences fall upon them, inevitably, like snow on a graveyard in December.

With all the intrigue, it could easily have been set in Chicago, and should have been, although we don't seem to do that kind of movie here. Here, we have history enough for Scorsese to make a trilogy on the Outfit and local law enforcement.

We've had hit men cops and jewel thief cops who've been portrayed as heroes until their arrests; and honest police officers stuck for their entire careers hauling drunks out of wagons, others sentenced to 25 years in blue without ever making sergeant. It is a circumstance that can only happen in a highly political town, a town where everything is traded, a bartertown like Chicago, like Boston.

Another element missing were the politicians. The Outfit has owned several freight trains of politicians in Chicago, including mayors. And in Boston, there's Democratic political boss William Bulger and his brother, James "Whitey" Bulger, the hit man charged with 19 murders, and who also corrupted an FBI agent. There weren't any politicians in this one. Maybe next time.

I saw the film on Friday morning. Though I've written about the Chicago Outfit and it's penetration of local law enforcement in the case of former chief of detectives William Hanhardt, I'm no movie critic. But I did go to film school at Columbia College and ran the projector for free screenings for a month or so, watching post-war Italian films involving sad dogs and sad clowns during lunch. So why can't I rate this one?

I happily give "The Departed" four broken knuckles, or four bullets, or four lead pipes, or four broken thumbs, if you will.

Not for the violence (it's supposedly terrible to celebrate violence, but it makes for great cinema when done right), but for the acting of Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin.

And a special bonus for the scene in which DiCaprio's character asks the alluring female police psychiatrist if she has any cats.

"You don't have any cats?"

"No," she says.

"I like that," he says.

I'm not going to spoil what happens next. You'll have to trust me. You might believe what happens immediately after the cat scene, but you won't believe the rest.

So see it soon, before other people you know see it themselves and invariably spoil it for you, the way some idiots spoiled "The Usual Suspects" (directed by Bryan Singer) a few years ago.

People who saw "The Usual Suspects" before you did just couldn't keep their mouths shut about it, could they? They pretended they didn't want to say anything, but they couldn't resist the temptation of dropping some stray detail, which zinged back through your memory as you sat in the theater, moments before you learned the identity of Keyser Soze.

Don't let anyone do that to you this time. See the movie. And except for the cats and the altar boy, I'm not going to spoil or divulge anything from "The Departed," except for this one little thing.

A woman behind me at the movie started talking, alone, to herself during the ending. As I turned, she was rattling her popcorn bag, her fingers glistening like washed baby carrots.

She kept saying "Come on!" and "Gosh!" and "Oh!" and I kind of lost my temper, just a bit, and politely told her to shut her mouth or I'd pull a Jack Nicholson on her.

"Wow!" she said.

"Madam, will you please be quiet! Please!" I hissed.

"Oh all right," she said, mumbling something under her breath, before the final scene, which I won't tell you about. You've got to see it for yourself.

Thanks to John Kass

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Organized Crime to Help Terrorists? Fughgeddaboudit!!

FBI officials in Washington have said that they worry terrorists will ally with organized crime in America to plot terrorist attacks. That's insane. Not even the janitors union struck the World Trade Center when John Gotti protected New York.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"JP" Helps the Syndicate

Friends of ours: Gambino Crime Family, Albert "The Blast" Gallo, Genovese Crime Family, Colombo Crime Family, Crazy Joe Gallo, Larry Gallo, Vincent "Chin" Gigante, Frank "Punchy" Illiano

On your "Gambino Crime Family" profile chart you list Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo as a Friend of Ours. He's actually a made member of the Genovese Family. He started with the Colombos in the crew run by his brothers--Crazy Joey and Larry Gallo. He went through the Gallo-Profaci War with them. He was supposedly a favorite of Vincent "Chin" Gigante until The Chin died this past December.

Then Albert "Al the Blast" Gallo Jr. (his full name and I don't think he uses the "Kid Blast" nickname anymore) switched allegiance to the Genovese Family in the mid-1970s after Larry died of cancer and Joey was hit in 1972 at Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy. Nearly the whole crew switched to the Genoveses.

Former Gallo crew member Frank "Punchy" Illiano is now a capo in the Genovese Family and Al Gallo is a made guy in his crew (or it could be the other way around, Gallo's the capo and Illiano's the top member of his crew--reports are conflicting on exactly who the capo of the crew is).

Thanks to "JP" who emailed this information to me.

Will The Departed Lead to an Arrest by the Police?

Friends of ours: James "Whitey" Bulger

The Tulsa Police hopes a piece of Hollywood will finally end a murder case that began 25 years ago.

The movie, "The Departed" opened Friday in theatres and stars Jack Nicholson playing an Irish Mafia boss in Boston. That character is based on real life Irish mobster, Whitey Bulger.

Bulger has been on the run since 1995 when corrupt FBI agents warned him he was about to be indicted. Tulsa Police want him in connection with the mob murder of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler in May of 1981.

They hope this movie will lead someone to turn Bulger in. Tulsa Police Sgt. Mike Huff: "We would love to see him captured. It'd be wonderful to finally put this thing to an end. I have never seen a case that has drug on this long. It changed a lot of people's lives." Bulger has a $1-million price tag on his head and is on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted fugitive list.

Police say he was spotted in Oklahoma as recently as three years ago, at the Luvs in Henryetta.

Scorses is the New Boss with The Departed

Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" is an instant gangster classic, a gritty, intense and electrifying work from a master who knows this turf better than any director who ever lived. The moment it was over, I wanted to see it again.
The DeParted
In Jack Nicholson's opening monologue as longtime crime boss Frank Costello, he spews a nasty racial slur as casually as you'd say "hello." You're not going to like this man. He doesn't want you to like him. Even before he emerges from the shadows of the narrative and reveals his hardened face, Nicholson is serving notice that he's going to keep the familiar tricks -- the lovable bad boy grins and the arched eyebrows -- in the drawer in favor of serving up an authentic, searing performance. It's some of the best work he's ever done -- and it's one of a half-dozen nomination-worthy performances in the best movie so far this year.

With "The Departed," Martin Scorsese returns to the gutter-level gangster genre he practically re-invented with "Mean Streets" (1973) and then perfected with "Goodfellas" (1990) -- but this time, his camera is prowling the streets and alleys and abandoned buildings and taverns of Boston, and most of the criminals and the police are Irish to the core. We actually spend more time with the cops than the crooks -- not that you can always tell one from the other, even with a scorecard.

"The Departed" is based on the Hong Kong classic "Infernal Affairs" (2002), but there are major revisions in the story and a shift in focus on some of the characters, most notably Nicholson's mob boss, a rather minor force in the original who becomes the central figure in the epic American version.

Nicholson's Frank Costello is a 70-year-old career criminal who rules his turf with all the subtlety of a lion in the wild. With his unkempt hair flying every which way and his mad eyes darting about, Costello grabs what he wants with both hands and stomps his enemies with bloody glee. Whether he's singing an Irish tune with an exaggerated, self-mocking accent, harassing a pedophile priest in a restaurant, sitting in an opera box with two dates whose combined ages don't match his, or meeting with an informant in a porn theater, Costello is the dominating force in the room, lapping up every moment while there's still time.

When Frank asks one tavern patron about his mother's health, the man says, "She's on her way out."

"We all are," says Frank, as he begins to make his exit. "Act accordingly."

It's a giant and sometimes funny performance, but Nicholson isn't clowning around or vying for our affections a la his villainous work in "Batman" or "The Witches of Eastwick." He's a man and he's a monster, albeit a very entertaining one.

Scorsese has cinematically adopted Leonardo DiCaprio, who follows his fine work in "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator" with the best performance of his career as Billy Costigan, a smart hothead who tries to escape his criminal family ties by joining the Massachusetts State Police Department's Special Investigations Unit, which is obsessed with bringing down Costello and his crew. Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, an equally promising recruit who fast-tracks his way through the department -- but even as Sullivan gets assigned to the elite unit tracking Costello, he's working his second cell phone every step of the way, letting the mobster know exactly where the investigation stands. Sullivan isn't a good cop gone crooked --he's a plant who was handpicked as a teenager by Costello to join the force as the ultimate mole. This guy is an informant a dozen years in the making.

In the meantime, Costigan washes out of the force, gets convicted of a crime, does some jail time and winds up hanging around with his idiot drug dealer of a cousin -- but that's all by design as well. Only two men on the force -- a Notre Dame-loving captain (Martin Sheen) and his foul-mouthed second-in-command (Mark Wahlberg) -- know that Costigan in fact has never left the force and has been tabbed to infiltrate Costello's crew.

Never have cell phones played such an integral part in a crime thriller, with Costigan and Sullivan text-messaging and calling their respective bosses with key bits of information, even as both units try to flush out the rat in their midst. (There is a moment late in the film when they have their own cell phone "meeting," and nothing is said, and yet everything is said. The tension is almost unbearable.) But when you spend a year pretending to be a gangster, or for that matter a hard-charging cop, how much of it begins to rub off? Damon and DiCaprio are so skilled at portraying moral ambiguity, and Scorsese is so adept at keeping these stories racing along until their inevitable collision, that there were times when it was difficult to remember who was the good guy and who was the real crook. It's a house of mirrors, but one never feels manipulated.

Complicating matters is Vera Farmiga's Madolyn, a psychiatrist who seems like she needs her own time with a therapist. She's dating Sullivan (whom she believes to be a good cop) and counseling Costigan, to whom she is also attracted. Each man feels as if he's closest to being himself when he's talking to Madolyn, but neither is telling her the truth. Everybody in "The Departed" is a professional liar, with the possible exception of Sheen's Captain Queenan and Alec Baldwin's Captain Ellerby, a hilariously intense veteran whose gut bulges against his sweat-stained dress shirt as he rails about his hatred for Costello.

Scorsese is an original artist, but "The Departed" contains all sorts of touches and echoes of other films, from "True Romance" to "The Third Man." A number of signature Scorsese moves come into play as well, from the sublime use of 1970s rock-soundtrack staples such as "Gimme Shelter" and "Comfortably Numb" to the pervasive Roman Catholic imagery in scene after scene, to the shocking jolts of violence that somehow feel more real than the gunplay and bloodshed in just about any other gangster movie.

"The Departed" is about men who live in a world of casual violence, whose workdays routinely include battering skulls or attending funerals. It is funny, shocking and brutal, and it's filled with brilliant performances, with some of our best actors sinking their teeth into a great screenplay from William Monahan. Scorsese reinforces his reputation as one of the greatest living directors. He may get his sixth Oscar nomination and he might even win, but does it matter? Along with "Goodfellas," this is one of the best gangster movies in film history, whether or not there's ever a gold trophy attached to it.

Thanks to Richard Roeper

Scorsese's World

Director Martin Scorsese practically invented the gutter-level gangster film:

Not so much a gangster movie as a perceptive, sympathetic, finally tragic story about how it is to grow up in a gangster environment. Johnny Boy is played by Robert De Niro and it's a marvelous performance, filled with urgency and restless desperation. (R, 1974) **** Roger Ebert

A masterful examination of guilt, greed and violence in the American Mafia, "Goodfellas" tells the real-life story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), a mobster who lusted after the recognition and status he could find as a professional criminal, but who was never really top material. (R, 1990) **** Ebert

The New York Times Company Store

The New York Times Company Store - The Best Gifts Tell a Story

Deeply Discounted Books

Crime Family Index