Thursday, November 15, 2018

How "Handsome Johnny" Roselli Infiltrated Hollywood for the Mob, Pulled Off a Major Scam, and Got Whacked

On July 28, 1976, “Handsome Johnny” Rosselli, a mobster who rose up through the ranks with Al Capone, had brunch with his sister in Miami before borrowing her car and driving to the marina. There, he boarded a private boat with two men, one of them an old friend. But when they got out to sea, the third man—someone Rosselli didn't know from Chicago—strangled the 71-year-old gangster to death. He wasn’t even on the vessel an hour and he was dead, rubbed out by a Mafia hitman who sawed off his legs, stuffed his body into a 55-gallon oil drum, and threw the barrel overboard into Dumfoundling Bay.

The barrel didn’t sink, and fishermen found it ten days later lodged on a sand bar in a canal, as the New York Times reported the following February.

It was an ignoble end for Rosselli, a self-styled playboy who acted as the Mafia’s ambassador both in Los Angeles in the 1930s and Las Vegas in the 1950s. A charming racketeer who held company with infamous mafiosos, Hollywood moneymen, stars and starlets, Rosselli even had some encounters with members of Congress before it all unraveled for him in Miami.

In the new book, HANDSOME JOHNNY—The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin, Lee Server explores the life and times of the man who helped bridge the gap between the movies and the mob. VICE talked to Server to find out how Rosselli made it into the organized crime mold—and how he brought mafia muscle to bear in Hollywood, at least for a while.

VICE: Was there one moment that you suspect kind of set Johnny Rosselli on a course to organized crime?
Lee Server: Rosselli had been drifting across America as a young man. He’d settled in Los Angeles in the 1920s, become a bootlegger, then a gambler and racketeer. A fortuitous encounter brought him to the attention of Al Capone, whose eye for criminal talent was second to no one. He recognized something in Johnny at a time when Capone was in need of a liaison between Chicago and the West Coast. He became a kind of honorary consul for the Chicago Outfit in LA

I think we all had a vague sense that the mob might have been involved in Hollywood productions, but this wasn't just a question of peripheral dabbling—it went to the top.
Part of Rosselli’s "assignment" in Los Angeles was to cultivate relationships with the film industry hierarchy. He knew everybody, dated movie stars, played golf with studio heads. His closest industry friend was the boss of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn. They socialized together, and Johnny was often at the studio advising the mogul on his gangster pictures. When Cohn needed a large loan in a hurry it was Johnny who put him together with East Coast mobster [Abner Zwillman]. This had its own complications, as the mobster maintained his secret piece of Cohn’s studio for many years, until he died suddenly, tortured to death or by his own hand, depending whose story you believe.

Rosselli's meddling eventually spun out of control, right?
He collaborated with Frank Nitti—Capone’s successor in the Chicago mob—on a plot to take down the entire Hollywood movie business. They did this through gaining control of a labor union, and then demanding huge under-the-table payoffs from each studio, threatening to close down all movie production if they didn’t pay. The mobsters made millions. It came undone in the end, and many of the perpetrators ended up in prison.

He did actually co-produce films like He Walked By Night and Canon City later in the 1940s—so his wasn't just a criminal gig. Did you take that as a deliberate choice, to find traditional work?
When Rosselli got out of prison on parole, he had to find legit employment. Most ex-cons usually met this parole requirement by taking day-labor jobs, working as dishwashers or similar. Rosselli being Rosselli, he got a job as an associate producer at a movie studio. He formed a production company with Bryan Foy and produced two noir crime pictures in a row. My research revealed how important Rosselli’s contribution was to developing these two great films.

I was struck by just how many public friendships he had with such big names—it was pretty brazen stuff, even after his stints in prison.
Johnny met Marilyn Monroe through the producer (and felon) Joseph Schenck. They were close for a while, lovers according to some. I could not confirm it, but the rumor was that he helped get Monroe her first prominent part in Ladies of the Chorus at Columbia.

As the virtual godfather of Las Vegas in the 50s and 60s, Rosselli knew most of the big showbiz stars who played the showrooms. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were personal friends. They partied together. Frank and Dean sponsored Johnny’s membership in the Friar’s Club.

This guy clearly had a flair for the dramatic. Was there one episode you think captured that?
The Kefauver Hearings in the early 1950s was the first in-depth government investigation of nationwide organized crime. Few people in America knew just how far-reaching was the spread of what was known then as the Mob and the Syndicate, corrupting every area of the country. The Kefauver group from Washington hauled in every top gangster, including Johnny Rosselli. Unlike most of the mobsters, who tried to play it tough and not say anything (and some went to jail for it), Rosselli answered every question, but with a strategic skill that ultimately gave nothing away.

But what got him killed if not his (repeated) Senate testimony?
I’ll echo the words the homicide detective who found his body said to me: he had pissed off a lot of people.

Thanks to Seth Ferranti.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

HANDSOME JOHNNY—The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin

A rich biography of the legendary figure at the center of the century’s darkest secrets: an untold story of golden age Hollywood, modern Las Vegas, JFK-era scandal and international intrigue from Lee Server, the New York Times bestselling author of Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing…

A singular figure in the annals of the American underworld, Johnny Rosselli’s career flourished for an extraordinary fifty years, from the bloody years of bootlegging in the Roaring Twenties--the last protégé of Al Capone—to the modern era of organized crime as a dominant corporate power. The Mob’s “Man in Hollywood,” Johnny Rosselli introduced big-time crime to the movie industry, corrupting unions and robbing moguls in the biggest extortion plot in history. A man of great allure and glamour, Rosselli befriended many of the biggest names in the movie capital—including studio boss Harry Cohn, helping him to fund Columbia Pictures--and seduced some of its greatest female stars, including Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. In a remarkable turn of events, Johnny himself would become a Hollywood filmmaker—producing two of the best film noirs of the 1940s.

Following years in federal prison, Rosselli began a new venture, overseeing the birth and heyday of Las Vegas. Working for new Chicago boss Sam Giancana, he became the gambling mecca’s behind-the-scenes boss, running the town from his suites and poolside tables at the Tropicana and Desert Inn, enjoying the Rat Pack nightlife with pals Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. In the 1960s, in the most unexpected chapter in an extraordinary life, Rosselli became the central figure in a bizarre plot involving the Kennedy White House, the CIA, and an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Based upon years of research, written with compelling style and vivid detail, Handsome Johnny: The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin, is the great telling of an amazing tale.

Hollywood and the Mafia

Bollywood's connections with the underworld are common knowledge. There is a certain level of romanticism attached to the lives of the mafiosi and their molls. But, the fact remains that even Hollywood greats like ol' blue eyes Frank Sinatra and the original bombshell Marilyn Monroe were rumored to have underworld links. Here's a look at some of the folklore:

The ChairmanFrank Sinatra, actor-singer:

Special agents from the CIA and FBI had kept tabs him on the since 1947 when he took a four-day trip to Havana. He had painted the town red with a gaggle of powerful Cosa Nostra members. Sinatra's other rumored criminal associates included Joseph and Rocco Fischetti, who were cousins of Al Capone and reigning Chicago boss Sam Giancana. When Giancana had been arrested in 1958, the police found Sinatra's private telephone number in Giancana's wallet.

In the summer of 1959, Sinatra allegedly hosted a nine-day, round-the-clock party at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City where Chicago wise guys rubbed elbows with top East Coast mobsters, including Vito Genovese and Tommy Lucchese. Charges like these plagued Frank Sinatra throughout his life, and he repeatedly and vehemently denied having any association with the mafia.


MarilynMarilyn Monroe, actress:

The extensive influence the Chicago mafia had over Hollywood is best illustrated in 1948 when Chicago Mafia boss Tony Accardo had told John Rosselli to force powerful Columbia Pictures' president Harry Cohn into signing then-unknown actor Marilyn Monroe to a lucrative multi-year contract. The usually highly combative Cohn quickly complied without opposition, mainly because Cohn had obtained control of Columbia through mob funds and influence provided by both Accardo and Rosselli.


Bugsy SiegelBugsy Siegel, mobster:

Siegel had a number of mistresses, including actor Ketti Gallian and Wendy Barrie With the aid of DiFrasso and actor friend George Raft, Siegel gained entry into Hollywood's inner circle. He is alleged to have used his contacts to extort movie studios. He lived in extravagant fashion, as befitting his reputation. The highly fictionalized motion picture Bugsy was based on his life with Warren Beatty in the title role.


Lana TurnerLana Turner, actor:

After acting in 'Johnny Eager', a mafia flick, Lana began her own involvement with a real life mobster, Johnny Stompenado, a crew member for the Hollywood mob organisation headed then by Mickey Cohen. Stompenado had confronted several of Turner's screen co-stars, including a celebrated tiff with Sean Connery.


Mickey Cohen
Mickey Cohen, mobster:


He begun his mafia career as a thug for Vegas boss Ben Siegel before moving to Hollywood. Cohen inherited Siegel's racing interests and operated a small haberdashery in Los Angeles that served as a front for a book making enterprise. Always high profile, he dressed lavishly and flaunted his money and friendships with Hollywood heavy-weights.


Steve BingSteve Bing, producer:

Best know for being the father of Elizabeth Hurley's son Damian, Bing's friends are said to include Dominic 'Donny Shacks' Montemarano, a felon and one time capo in the mafia.


Thanks to After Hrs.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Change in Whitey Bulger's Medical Classification Led to Prison Transfer, #Conspiracy Grows

Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s medical classification was suddenly and inexplicably changed to suggest his health had improved, leading to his transfer to the West Virginia prison where he was murdered last week, US Bureau of Prisons records show.

Two organized crime figures from Massachusetts suspected of killing Bulger have been placed in isolation at the US Penitentiary Hazelton while federal investigators work to build a case against them. But investigators are also trying to figure out why Bulger, a frail 89-year-old who used a wheelchair, was transferred from the US Penitentiary Coleman II in Florida to a prison where he had access to more limited medical care despite his advancing age and declining health.

A Bureau of Prisons official who is familiar with Bulger’s treatment said the Florida prison considered Bulger a nuisance and wanted to transfer him.

“They lowered his care level to get rid of him,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case.

That official said he did not believe the intent was to get Bulger killed. But he acknowledged that sending Bulger to Hazelton and immediately placing him in the general population was negligent and amounted to “a death penalty.”

Sandy Parr, who works at a federal medical facility and is president of a union representing federal prison workers, said the Bureau of Prisons regularly changes medical classifications “even though they shouldn’t” to move troublesome inmates.

Prison records reviewed by the Globe show that prison authorities deemed Bulger’s medical treatment was complete. But, Parr said, “no one with his [medical] history would ever have medical care completed.”

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman on Tuesday declined to answer questions about why Bulger’s medical classification was changed, saying, “We are not releasing any information due to the ongoing investigation.” But beyond Bulger’s classification being changed to allow his transfer to Hazelton, questions remain about why officials at Hazelton allowed Bulger to be placed in the prison’s general population, which included several organized crime figures from Massachusetts who would have been familiar with Bulger and might pose a danger to him.

As the Boston Globe reported last week, two of those figures, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, a Mafia hit man from West Springfield serving life for two gangland murders, and Paul J. DeCologero, who was part of a Mafia-aligned group who murdered and dismembered a 19-year-old Medford woman, are now suspects in Bulger’s murder.

When Bulger was sentenced to life in prison in 2013 for 11 murders, he had already suffered several heart attacks and was sent to “medical care Level 3” prisons, first in Arizona, then in Florida, that offered specialized care for “fragile” inmates who require frequent treatment.

In April, Bulger could no longer walk when authorities at the Florida prison sought permission to transfer him to a federal medical center that provided round-the-clock care, according to prison records reviewed by the Globe.

After that request was denied, authorities renewed their request to transfer Bulger in October -- only this time they claimed that his health had dramatically improved, the records show. He was reclassified as a Level 2 inmate with minimal medical needs, making him eligible for his transfer to Hazelton, a Level 2 medical care prison, where he was beaten to death by fellow inmates hours after his arrival.

During his last eight months at the Florida prison, Bulger had been held in the Special Housing Unit, or solitary confinement, after he threatened a prison staffer, records show. The prison official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Bulger told a female nurse, “Your day of reckoning is coming.”

According to the records, Bulger was originally given 30 days in solitary for the infraction in February, but that confinement was extended three more times, stretching out over eight months.

Parr, the union official, said she didn’t understand why Bulger was transferred for making a single threatening remark. “We don’t transfer inmates because of that. It’s common,” she said. “If there was an actual physical assault, we might do something. But for one verbal threat, and eight months in SHU, that doesn’t make sense.”

By his own account in letters sent from prison, Bulger despised being in isolation. Joe Rojas, president of Local 506, which represents prison workers at Coleman, said Bulger didn’t have any problem with fellow inmates while in general population at USP Coleman II.

Rojas said Bulger was assigned to the so-called “dropout unit,” made up of former gang members, informants, and other inmates who might face threats.

Bulger had “his own bodyguards,” Rojas said, and “some of the younger inmates would bring him his lunch and dinner.”

In a 2016 report, the District of Columbia Corrections Information Council found that Hazelton was overcrowded, understaffed, and employed a single physician, “which is not adequate to care for the medical needs of all inmates, especially those who require chronic care.”

The Bureau of Prisons uses a software system called Central Inmate Monitoring to warn prison officials if an inmate might be in danger from another prisoner, information that is crucial when inmates are initially placed or later transferred. In Bulger’s case, he fell under the system’s category of “broad publicity,” which the Bureau of Prisons lists as “inmates who have received widespread publicity as a result of their criminal activity or notoriety as public figures.” Bulger having been publicly identified as an FBI informant also placed him squarely in the CIM system, according to a Bureau of Prisons program statement on CIM.

What remains unclear, because the Bureau of Prisons refuses to comment, is whether CIM system protocols were followed in Bulger’s case. Bulger was found dead in his cell within 14 hours of his arrival at Hazelton on the night of Oct. 29.

Several law enforcement officials say they can’t understand why Bulger wasn’t initially placed in isolation at Hazelton until officials there could determine whether he would be safe in general population. Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., said placing Bulger in the general population in Hazelton amounted to a “death penalty.”

Thanks to Shelley Murphy and Kevin Cullen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

6 Reputed Chad Brown Gangsters Charged with Running Organized Crime Enterprise #RICO

Six alleged Chad Brown gang members and associates are facing federal charges that they ran a criminal enterprise by engaging in drive-by shootings, drug trafficking and federal firearms offenses — all intended, authorities say, to protect their territory from rivals and preserve their reputation on the streets.

A federal grand jury last week indicted the six men, ages 22 to 30, for violating the Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organization (RICO) Act, a federal law created to combat organized crime and public corruption in the United States that is now being used in an effort to dismantle street gangs. The last time is was aimed at a street gang in Rhode Island was in the mid-1990s during the prosecution of the murderous Latin Kings.

Four of those indicted are alleged to have participated in drive-by shootings that came in retaliation for the shootings and murders of Chad Brown gang members and associates by East Side rivals, according to authorities.

“These groups have been going at it a very long time,” U.S. Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch said at a news conference announcing the indictments.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives linked one gun owned by the men and shared among the gang members to six shootings, Dambruch said. Three of the shootings charged in the indictment involved that gun, a .40 caliber Beretta, authorities said.

Kenneth Kwak, assistant special agent in charge of the ATF’s Boston field office, said investigators began focusing in when a pattern emerged indicating a “group or small group” of people was responsible for the shootings.

“That’s when the partnership really began,” Kwak said, referring to the joint investigation by federal and state prosecutors, the ATF and the Providence police. “They are the most violent we’ve seen ... and that’s why we targeted them,” Kwak said. The idea is to put as many resources as possible to taking down “the worst of the worst — trigger-pullers,” he said.

“It really takes out key players from Chad,” Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré said. He described those charges as very active, upper-ranking Chad Brown members.

The conflict began heating up in June 2013, with the shooting death of Chad Brown member José Sanchez, whose murder remains unsolved, according to the indictment. Sanchez’s family said at the time of his shooting that he was not involved in gangs.

Those facing charges and now in custody include:


  • Delacey Andrade, 24, of North Providence, is charged with violating RICO; four counts of committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering; two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm; three counts of using a firearm to commit a federal crime of violence; and distribution of cocaine. Andrade is being held at the Adult Correctional Institutions after admitting to gun and drug charges in state court.
  • Keishon Johnson, 29, of Providence, is charged with violating RICO; three counts of committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering; three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime; possession with intent to distribute marijuana; and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. He is being held at the ACI for violating the terms of his probation after being charged in April with firearms and drug offenses.
  • Montrel Johnson, 22, of Providence, is charged with violating RICO; two counts of committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering; use of a firearm to commit a federal crime of violence; four counts of obstruction for allegedly refusing to testify before a grand jury, despite being ordered by the judge; and criminal contempt of court.
  • Marcel Jones, 30, of West Warwick, is charged with committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering; being a felon in possession of a firearm; and use of a firearm to commit a federal crime of violence.
  • Kendrick Johnson, 27, of North Providence, is charged with violating RICO; committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering; being a felon in possession of a firearm; use of a firearm to commit a federal crime of violence; and six counts of distribution of cocaine.
  • Christopher Britto, 25, of Warwick, is charged with committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering and use of a firearm to commit a federal crime of violence.


Britto, Kendrick Johnson and Montrel Johnson are in federal custody. Kendrick and Keishon Johnson are brothers, while Montrel is a cousin, according to police.

“The case is in its infancy. I’ll wait to see what discovery the government produces,” Kendrick Johnson’s lawyer, Gary Pelletier, said.

Asked why the investigation targeted the Chad Brown gang instead of East Side rival gangs, Dambruch said, “This is just getting started. This is not the end of the story.”

Providence Police Detectives Theodore Michael, Jonathan Primiano and Timothy McGann assisted in the investigation along with Assistant Attorney General James Baum and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gerard Sullivan and Sandra Hebert.

Thanks to Katie Mulvaney.


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