Saturday, November 11, 2006
I get all sorts of e-mails from you guys asking me about Goodfellas and The Godfather. One guy says, "I love the part when Pesci shoots Spider in the foot over a drink," and then I don't even have to read what comes next. The guy writes: "Does that kind of stuff really happen, man?"
Of course, the guy hopes that I will respond as follows: "Oh yeah! We have guys shooting each other in the foot all the time. I once stabbed a guy for breaking wind at the dinner table. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I..."
Come on guys, get serious. We don't shoot each other every few hours. We want to apply pressure to our customers, not gunshot wounds. I got news for you: These mob movies are entertaining and cinematically satisfying, kind of like a good cigar, but there are a few flaws in the logic, capisce? As much as the Hollywood babbos get wrong, though, here's a few of the things they got right.
Whack the boss and you’ll get whacked
In Goodfellas, Pesci kills a made guy and later gets killed for his insubordination.
That's right: Bosses bite back. Tommy whacks Batts, Tommy gets whacked. Gross insubordination rarely goes unpunished. I don't care what organization you're in; if you take out a top guy without it being sanctioned by the management, expect retribution. We love guys who break the rules, as long as it happened 30 years ago. As for those in the present who disrespect the status quo, just read a newspaper: The world hates them.
Keep a low profile
In The Untouchables, Capone thinks he has the world on a string, and Costner snips his fantasy.
You can't fight City Hall. Capone tried to run Chicago, and he almost did. But there's always a Dudley Do-Right growing up somewhere, some little bugger who had too much baseball and apple pie. I'm talking about Eliot Ness. Guys like him restore the world to a plausible degree of corruption. This happened in New York not that long ago, with guys like Rudy Giuliani taking down the Gotti boys. If you're a wiseguy, you have to stay under the radar and not attract the attention of chattering newsmen. The world appreciates a certain amount of underground; problems only arise when the underground starts peeking into the daylight. Unless the thugs expect a revolution, they need to check their ambition and be content to rule quietly.
Always be skeptical
Pacino backs out of a billion-dollar deal because it doesn't smell right.
Talk is cheap. Remember The Godfather? Sure you do -- your e-mails are testimony to that. When Michael Corleone goes to Cuba, he's about to enter a billion-dollar deal with a bunch of glad-handers who say, " Havana is it, baby, we're gonna be filthy rich." Michael is skeptical, and they say, "Hey, don't worry, it's all worked out. Have a drink!". A day later, the government falls to a young man named Castro. The lesson here? Get the information. Don't get sweet-talked without seeing every angle. Do your homework and don't let a room full of clever suits outweigh common sense.
You have no friends
In Miller's Crossing, Gabriel Byrne says very coldly to a friend, "Friendship's got nothing to do with it."
And he's right. In many adult situations, decisions have to transcend friendship; otherwise, you get bogged down in mediocrity. Good organizations rely less on friendship than on impartial rules of order. When the time comes for a promotion, there's a good chance you'll be pitted against a friend, and as you step on his head to climb the ladder, remember to say, "Sorry, pal, it's nothin' personal."
You can’t be Mr. Nice Guy
In Casino, De Niro compares two muffins, one with a lot of blueberries and one with very few. He calls the cook onto the carpet and says, "I want the same number of blueberries in every muffin." The cook argues, "Do you know how long that's going to take?" De Niro says, "I don't care."
Somebody's got to be the asshole. In Casino, De Niro plays an anal-retentive jerk who is obsessed with perfection in his work. He seems to go overboard, but unfortunately, running a tight ship requires a disciplinarian. Take a look at sports teams and classrooms or just go into a McDonald's; it's easy to tell where the management is working. In a perfect world, we'd have nice, soft conversations, and everyone would work hard for eight hours and go home to a family meal. The truth is, people shirk, they screw around, and they like to eat out. On a side note, it's good to have a complimentary manager to offset the "cruel" manager. Giving the underlings someone they can talk to will help morale. Nobody wants to be a doormat.
Never believe you’re invincible
In Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks is a mob enforcer on the run. Just when he thinks he's safe, he gets smoked.
What goes around comes around. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. That punk kid you roughed up way back when? He will remember you until the day he dies. There's a good example of this in Road to Perdition, when the enforcer gets a taste of his own lead medicine. Treachery never goes out of style. No matter how strong you feel, there is always someone stronger or someone who knows where the chink is in your armor. Domination never lasts forever, so it's best to keep that in mind when you have power and control. That's what they called the "wheel of fortune" before it became a game show. Things change, often much faster than you'd like.
Keep your home in order
In Goodfellas, Henry Hill goes off snorting coke with his mistress while his home falls to pieces.
If you live a secret life and expect to have an orderly homebody wife to put up with it and wait back at the ranch to serve your every need, then in addition to "in sickness and in health," you might as well add "crazy" to your wedding vows. It's one thing to stray -- as any man may do. It's another to outright neglect your responsibilities to your home.
You have to gain people’s trust
In Donnie Brasco, Pacino puts his trust in someone who seems like a stand-up guy, but is really a narc.
You are who you say you are. Trust is something that is earned, and usually the best liar is the most trusted person. That's why guys like Donnie Brasco can infiltrate their enemies. Think about it: How do you gain trust? Really, all you have to do is make a sequence of consistent appearances, and pretty soon people will start to believe you’re the real deal. How else would a politician get elected?
The streets ain’t hollywood
Enjoy the movie, but never forget: It's a movie. Life on the street consists in a lot of rejections and hard knocks, but Hollywood likes to soup up the life, make a Cadillac out of a Chevy. I'd love it if I had as many pay days and naked babes as Tony Soprano.
Come to think of it, maybe I should have been an actor.
Thanks to Mr. Mafiosa
For 20 years, the FBI has had an informant in the Chicago Outfit who apparently is a "made" member and has taken part in major crimes, according to a court filing in a federal prosecution of top mobsters.
The information is in a court motion by lawyers for Michael "Mickey" Marcello, the half-brother of Chicago's reputed mob boss, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello. Attorneys Catharine O'Daniel and Arthur Nasser want the 2005 indictment against Michael Marcello dismissed because of the FBI's continued reliance on the informant.
The major federal prosecution involving 18 mob-related killings allegedly involving top organized crime figures is scheduled for trial in May.
In their motion, the defense attorneys blast the government for allegedly "cavorting with and protecting a 'made mob member' who still must be active in the commission of 'mob' criminal activities."
"No court should sanction the government's use of ... a past and current made member of the 'Chicago Outfit' as a confidential informant in this case," the motion argues.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago had no comment on the defense filing.
The defense attorneys do not try to guess the identity of the informant. He's referred to in court papers as CI-1 and is part of a sworn statement by an FBI agent in 2002 that asks for court permission to tape the conversations of James Marcello when he receives guests in the visiting room at the federal prison in Milan, Mich.
The defense motion appears to make some assumptions based on the FBI agent's affidavit. It assumes the informant is a so-called "made" member based on his associations with top mobsters and his criminal activity with them. And it assumes that the FBI is still using the person, even though the affidavit is four years old.
Nasser, Michael Marcello's attorney, declined to comment on the filing.
Michael Marcello also wants barred from use at trial any tape and video recordings made when he was talking to his brother in the prison visiting room.
The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on the contents of some of those conversations in February 2005. The brothers talked about the benefits of a proposal to legalize video gambling in Illinois as well as the progress of the federal case against Michael Marcello, who at the time was out of jail.
James Marcello's questions about the investigation were nothing more than "brotherly concern," according to Michael Marcello's motion.
Thanks to Steve Warmbir
The federal prosecution of organized crime figures in Chicago for 18 mob-related slayings has revealed the presence of an FBI mole, a report contends.
A court motion filed by lawyers for the half-brother of reputed Chicago mob boss, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, says that for 20 years the FBI has had an informant in the Chicago mob who apparently is a "made" member, Chicago's Daily Southtown reports.
Lawyers for Michael "Mickey" Marcello are asking that the 2005 indictment against him be dismissed because of the FBI's continued reliance on an informant who allegedly has taken part in major crimes.
The defense attorneys criticize the government for what they contend was "cavorting with and protecting a 'made mob member' who still must be active in the commission of 'mob' criminal activities."
"No court should sanction the government's use of ... a past and current member of the 'Chicago Outfit' as a confidential informant in this case," the defense motion argued.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago had no comment on the defense filing.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
The Departed is set in South Boston, where the state police force is waging war on organized crime. Young undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by gangland chief Costello (Jack Nicholson). While Billy is quickly gaining Costello's confidence, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a hardened young criminal who has infiltrated the police department as an informer for the syndicate, is rising to a position of power in the Special Investigation Unit. Each man becomes deeply consumed by his double life, gathering information about the plans and counter-plans of the operations he has penetrated. But when it becomes clear to both the gangsters and the police that there's a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin are suddenly in danger of being caught and exposed to the enemy -- and each must race to uncover the identity of the other man in time to save himself.
Monday, November 06, 2006
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
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.
He'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 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
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
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