The Chicago Syndicate: Sopranos Flip to the FBI at Newark's 100th Anniversary Celebration

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sopranos Flip to the FBI at Newark's 100th Anniversary Celebration

They turned one of his lieutenants into an informant. They sneaked through the woods to hunt him down. And eventually, FBI agents put Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni, the New York mob boss, behind bars.

Then the gangster took an elevator ride to a fifth-floor parking garage in Newark and walked out to find himself surrounded by federal agents once again. This time there were hundreds of them. "I thought this was all over with you guys," he sighed to a round of laughter.

Johnny Sack, of course, was a character on the "Sopranos," HBO's hit show about a dysfunctional Jersey mob family. Vincent Curatola, a Bergen County resident, is the actor who played him. Curatola and several of his cast mates were featured guests at a luncheon in which the FBI's Newark Division celebrated the 100th anniversary of the bureau.

Each division around the nation marked the occasion in its own way to recognize the FBI's growth from a team of 34 investigators to an elite agency with more than 30,000 employees. In Alabama, there was a picnic. In Pittsburgh, an office party. In Philadelphia, a formal dinner. But in Newark, there was Johnny Sack (Curatola), Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico), Furio Giunta (Federico Castelluccio) and Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese).

Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark division, invited the actors, saying it was a way to pay tribute to a significant part of the FBI's history and New Jersey culture. "Fighting organized crime is part of our legendary success," he said.

On the show, as in real life, the FBI agents and the mobsters were engaged in a protracted cat-and-mouse game. Today's odd pairing gave real-life crime fighters a chance to compare notes with the fictional wiseguys.

William Evanina, special agent in charge of the FBI's Trenton office, said plenty of New Jersey agents were fans of the show. "We waited to see every Sunday whether they would get it right," he said. He recalled watching his fictional counterparts execute a search warrant at Johnny Sack's home with their guns drawn. "That would never happen," he said -- a simple knock was more likely. "The majority of the stuff they got right. But obviously you've got to take liberties with television."

On another episode, an FBI agent who tipped off Tony Soprano to the whereabouts of an enemy cheered when the rival got whacked. "We're not as bad as they make us out to be. And I'm not sure the real organized crime figures are as good as they are made out to be. But it's great entertainment," said Edward Kahrer, assistant special agent in charge of the Newark division.

Sirico, a Brooklyn actor, joked that if his fellow wiseguys knew he was hanging around a bunch of G-men, "they'd probably whack me."

Chianese's character, Uncle Junior, once complained on the show that he had the feds so far up one part of his anatomy, he could "taste Brylcreem."

Curatola teased Chianese today as they readied to pose for photos with agents. "Did you make a deal with these people? Are you going to flip?" Curatola asked.

Seth Gilliam, who played Sgt. Ellis Carver on "The Wire," a Baltimore police drama and another widely acclaimed HBO series, also was on hand. "I'm the only celebrity here who played a cop. Everybody else is a mobster. Until the special agents came in the room, I felt a little outnumbered," he joked.

Former FBI director and New Jersey native Louis Freeh was the luncheon's keynote speaker. During his remarks, he acknowledged that television and movies have helped burnish the bureau's image for decades, turning the FBI into a "global icon" and name brand. "We certainly thank Hollywood," he said. "But the essence of the FBI is really a direct result of the quality and integrity of the men and women who have served there."

Thanks to Jeff Whelan

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