The Chicago Syndicate: 04/01/2011 - 05/01/2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mobster Salvatore Volpe Paid $50,000 After Restaurant Owner Gets His Wife Pregnant

You'd have thought getting a mobster's wife pregnant would carry the ultimate price. But it turns out even a cuckolded Mafioso can sometimes forgive and forget - for the right fee.

Salvatore Volpe, a low-level Bonanno family associate, told a court in New York he accepted $50,000 from a restaurateur who impregnated his wife, in exchange for not killing him.

The 48-year-old took the stand yesterday as a government witness in the trial of Bonanno boss Vincent 'Vinny Gorgeous' Basciano, who is accused of ordering the 2004 murder of  Randy Pizzolo.

Volpe, who works as a plumber, revealed his wife had an affair with the owner of Trattoria Romana, Staten Island, in 2003.

Volpe didn't discover her infidelity until she fell pregnant - although she initially tried to pretend it was his baby, he told Brooklyn Federal Court. He claimed that when he found out the truth, he broke up with his wife then went straight to his crew boss, John Palazzolo, who sent three Bonanno gangsters to confront the owner, known only as 'Anthony'.

According to Volpe, the restaurateur had his own Mafia connections, and sought protection from the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family. Except his plan backfired, and the family were allegedly keen to take the chance to appease the Bonnanos by killing him in his own trattoria basement.

The dispute led to two tense meetings at nearby Alfredo's restaurant as the rival gangs thrashed out a deal, Volpe told the court, although he was too junior to be privy to the talks. He said the Bonnanos sought to avoid killing the man, and instead proposed a $50,000 'tax', $10,000 of which would go to the DeCavalcantes as commission for brokering the deal.

According to the New York Daily News, Volpe told the court: 'Instead of [the restaurant owner] getting killed, he'd have to pay a tax. It was basically a penalty.' He gave the usual cut to his Bonanno bosses, he said, and took the rest for himself. He told the court it was a welcome sum, as the family rarely sent any work to his plumbing business.

Volpe's revelations about the inner-workings of the mob were part of his first day of testimony against Basciano, who faces the death penalty if convicted of ordering Mr Pizzolo's killing.

Yesterday Volpe said Mr Pizzolo sealed his death warrant by boasting he was going to 'level the Bronx' in revenge for not being indicted into the crime family. That was a reference to Basciano, who was then based in the Bronx as the acting Bonanno boss.

He also said the gang discussed killing defence lawyer Gerard Marrone after he put himself forward for membership - but Mr Marrone said he never asked to join.

Volpe is the second 'mob rat' to testify at the trial. Last week the court heard from former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino, the New York mafia's highest-ever ranking informer. He agreed to wear a wire in jail to record a conversation with Basciano about the 2004 killing. Prosecutors played the recordings to the court last week, and the jury heard Basciano apparently tell his predecessor: 'I gave the order. Randy was a f***ing jerkoff.'

Bonanno soldier Anthony Aiello has already pleaded guilty to killing Pizzolo, but now his boss is on trial accused of ordering the murder.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mobster Robert Perrino Allegedly Killed for Finding Religion

A Mafia associate and newspaper delivery man was 'whacked' by the mob in a horrific murder - because he found religion.

Robert Perrino was shot in the head and brutally stabbed in the ear with an ice pick by Bonanno mobsters after they allegedly became worried that he was going to church too often.

They are said to have thought turning so suddenly to religion was an indication that Perrino, an associate of the family, might be considering grassing to police.

Perrino's skeletal remains were found in 2003 in Staten Island but he had been missing from 1992, more than a decade earlier.

At the high-profile federal murder trial of Vincent Basciano, fellow Bonanno Mafioso James Tartaglione, known as 'Big Louie', shed light for the first time on the possible reason for Perrino's horrific murder.
Tartaglione said of Perrino: 'He would go to church every day. He was praying every day. They thought he may flip -- that he found religion.'He was saying certain things that he felt a little more religious.'

He added that, as a result, underboss Salvatore Vitale ordered his murder. 'Sal had him whacked out,' he told the court.

After the order was made, Perrino, who had a job on the side as superintendent of deliveries at The New York Post, was told to go to Brooklyn social club Basile's. At the club, a hit man shot him in the head and another thrust an ice pick in his ear. Perrino’s body was not found until Vitale himself began cooperating with police.

At Vitale's high-profile murder trial last year, Perrino's widow Rosalie wrote a letter that was read out in court
She wrote: 'As a result of Salvatore Vitale’s criminal inhuman behaviour, my grandson never knew his grandfather, and he and our granddaughter have grown up without this special man. 'Salvatore Vitale caused my own life to unravel and the colour in my life to drain away.'

At the Basciano trial, prosecutors also played recordings of a meeting between Basciano and Tartaglione at the Seacrest Diner on Long Island. Tartaglione was wearing a wire.

Basciano can be heard predicting his demise during the conversation. 'The end of the day, we're all gonna be in jail,' he said. 'That's going to f***ing happen.'

Basciano, 51, sneered in court as a series of boasts about his power as a mobster were replayed to the court. He said of late mob boss John Gotti, his criminal role model: 'You know what? He did it the way he wanted, and he died the way he wanted.'

He then added, of his own methods: 'I don't need anybody that anybody's gonna give me. I got my own guys. I do it myself.'

Thanks to DMR

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

God and the Godfather

Call it the case of God and the Godfather.

A brand new seminary is going up near the campus of Loyola University. But student Stan Golovchuk, who's also an editor on the Loyola Phoenix, found something on the construction site that now has church officials scrambling.

Golovchuk noticed a dumpster labeled "D & P Construction" across the street from the student newspaper's offices, and started investigating. "I found they have business all over the city, throughout the suburbs. And I also found out not a lot of people wanted to talk about them," Golovchuk said.

Funny, cause that's the same reaction FOX Chicago News got two years ago when we began poking around D & P's business with suburban governments, including some contracts worth millions of dollars. We even got shouted at and chased away from D & P's headquarters.

On paper, D & P is owned by a woman named Josephine DiFronzo, but an FBI report says the company is actually controlled by Josephine's husband Peter DiFronzo and his brother John "No-Nose" DiFronzo, the reputed head of the Chicago Outfit. Both brothers are convicted felons.

Two summers ago, we watched John DiFronzo walk in and out of D & P's Melrose Park construction yard on an almost daily basis. At the time, he told us he "don't do nothing" for D & P.

"I just thought it was unusual that this company that has a questionable past and reputation is doing business with the Archdiocese of Chicago. In a way it's almost as if the ultimate good is working with the ultimate evil," Golovchuk said. But things got even more bizarre when Golovchuk began to ask questions about how D & P got hired. The Archdiocese refused to talk to him, and instead issued this terse statement: "We do not arrange interviews for student newspaper reporters. We only provide student reporters with direction on how to access public information on the Archdiocesan website."

"I think it's disrespectful and rude, and I was offended and surprised. Not only because I go to a Catholic university, and the Archdiocese is connected to the school. But just because I'm a student I think it's unusual they wouldn't want to talk to me," he said.

The Archdiocese was more willing to talk to FOX Chicago News. In a statement, a spokesman said "a very large number of ongoing construction projects are conducted in the archdiocese every year. Sub-contractors, especially at this level, are hired by the general contractor without consultation with the Archdiocese."

After Golovchuk began digging, the D & P dumpsters disappeared. Henry Brothers Construction, the chief contractor for the new seminary, said the Archdiocese asked them to find another company.

Thanks to Dane Placko

Mob Wives "The Bitch is Back" Episoide

The showdown continues at Carla Facciolo's birthday party as Renee Graziano and Karen Gravano both refuse to back down. When Drita D'avanzo decides to take matters into her own hands, all hell breaks loose. Old friendships are tested and new alliances are formed. While Karen rebuilds her old relationships on Staten Island, Renee clashes with her ex-husband and Drita receives shocking news from prison.

Chicago Bus Tour Of Past Mob Boss Homes

With a half-dozen people aboard a tour bus looking on, Greg Gullo chipped grounders to his son with a fungo bat in his River Forest front yard.

The bus wasn't at his house so passengers could admire Gullo's swing last weekend, but there was a time when seeing the owner of the home in the 1400 block of Monroe Street with a baseball bat in his hands would have gotten a lot of attention. As tour guide John Binder explained, the four-bedroom house was an early purchase of up-and-coming mobster Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo — nicknamed by Al Capone for his skill at pummeling people with blunt objects.

"I think the first time the tour came by, my kids were actually out in the yard playing cops-and-robbers with squirt guns," Gullo recalled. "Everyone on the bus kind of stood up and watched."

The Gullos have gotten used to the occasional tours led by Binder, their neighbor, a mob history buff and a University of Illinois at Chicago professor. He began offering tours devoted to Oak Park and River Forest's upper-class underbelly in 2005.

To be sure, the area boasts more admirable figures such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway, but it has a rich mob history as well. The 10-mile circuit of Binder's tour passes more than a dozen homes that once belonged to top mob figures, including the Oak Park bungalow where Sam "Mooney" Giancana was gunned down in 1975.

"For the most part, the hoods appear to have wanted the same things as other folks in the suburbs: someplace quiet, away from work, with good schools for their kids," said Binder, author of the book "The Chicago Outfit."

A prime suspect in the killing, Dominic "Butch" Blasi, lived just three miles away from the Giancana house. The .22-caliber pistol used in the murder was found in a forest preserve between the two houses.

The Giancana hit was a rare instance of mob violence in the suburbs, Binder said. Like their neighbors in legitimate businesses, mob bosses commuted into the city to do most of their business. In fact, after Accardo's house was burglarized in 1978, mob hit men reportedly found, tortured and killed all six suspected burglars — a revenge spree that terrified hoods across the city.

Thanks to Andy Grimm

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Longtime Gambino Associate, Joseph Watts, Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 13 Years in Prison on Murder and Assault Charges

PRETT BHARA the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JOSEPH WATTS, 69, a longtime associate of the Gambino Organized Crime Family of La Cosa Nostra (the “Gambino Family”), was sentenced to 13 years in prison on murder and assault charges. WATTS pled guilty on January 20, 2011, to a two-count superseding information that charged him with participating in murder and assault conspiracies in order to maintain and increase his influence in the Gambino Family. The sentence was imposed in Manhattan federal court by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.

U.S. Attorney PREET BHARARA stated: “Today’s sentence should serve as a sober reminder that if you kill or harm an actual or potential government witness, no matter how powerful you may think you are, we will find you and send you to prison for a very long time. The sentence Judge McMahon imposed today ensures that Watts will spend the next decade of his life paying for his crimes.”

According to documents previously filed in Manhattan federal court and statements WATTS made at his guilty plea proceeding:

WATTS was a close associate of one-time Gambino Family Boss JOHN J. GOTTI and others. Although WATTS was never formally inducted into the Gambino Family as a “made” member because of his non-Italian lineage, he was afforded the status of a Gambino Family capo.

In 1989, FREDERICK WEISS was a defendant in a case that was pending in the Southern District of New York. JOHN J. GOTTI, then-boss of the Gambino Family, suspected that WEISS was cooperating with the government because he terminated a lawyer who regularly represented Gambino Family members and associates. GOTTI ordered WEISS to be murdered—an order that GOTTI communicated to WATTS and others. WATTS then put together a murder team to carry out the hit.

In September 1989, WATTS and others went to a house on Staten Island where they expected WEISS would be. WATTS assigned different Gambino members and associates to different tasks, including digging the grave where WEISS would be buried. WATTS himself stood in the garage, holding a gun and waiting to shoot WEISS upon his arrival. Because WEISS did not show up to the house as WATTS had expected, he was not killed that day. However, a different team of shooters to whom GOTTI had also assigned the task of killing WEISS successfully located him the next day. He was shot to death in front of his apartment building.

While WATTS was serving a prison sentence in connection with his 2001 conviction for money laundering, he met Victim-1, whom he came to admire because of Victim-1’s purported stockpicking abilities. When Victim-1 was released from prison, WATTS sent an emissary to deliver approximately $350,000 to $400,000—all cash—to Victim-1 to invest on WATTS’ behalf. The investment failed. In 2002, WATTS demanded his money back from Victim-1, who returned some, but not all, of WATTS’s money.

To force Victim-1 to give him back all the money, WATTS began threatening Victim-1. On one occasion, WATTS and another individual confronted Victim-1 in Manhattan and physically assaulted him. On a subsequent occasion, WATTS threatened Victim-1 and physically shoved Victim-1 against a wall.

In addition to his prison term, Judge MCMAHON sentenced WATTS, of Staten Island, New York, to three years of supervised release and ordered him to forfeit $250,000.

During the sentencing proceeding, Judge MCMAHON stated that the murder of Frederick Weiss was “heinous,” “hideous,” and the work of a “cold-blooded killer.” Judge McMahon further stated that the maximum sentence, which she ultimately imposed on WATTS, was “the consequence of the choice he made.”

Mr. BHARARA praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Organized Crime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys ARLO DEVLIN-BROWN and CHI T. STEVE KWOK are in charge of the prosecution.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New Arizona State Sun Devils Logo Embraced by Satan Disciple Gangsters?

Kenneth Epich is an Arizona State fan and alum who bleeds maroon, if not gold.

He attends ASU events whenever the Sun Devils are playing in the Chicago area, whether it's football or a golf tournament. And he and his wife, another ASU grad, were among the founding members of Chicago's chapter of the ASU Alumni Association. But Epich is no fan of ASU's new Nike-designed "pitchfork" logo. Blame it on his job.

It's Sgt. Epich of the Chicago Police Department assigned to the Area One Gang Enforcement unit.

Admittedly, he looks at the world a little differently after dealing with street gangs for 25 years. And he's convinced that it is a matter of time before what he described as a "large, violent, mostly Hispanic Chicago street gang" called Satan's Disciples adopts ASU's new athletic gear because of the new trident logo.

"The gangs adopt sports teams and wear their gear," Epich said. "The S.D.'s are going to adopt the (ASU) hat as their hat of choice just as soon as they see the first person wearing one."

He probably has reason to worry. After all, there's the devil tie-in. Sun Devils and Satan's Disciples both start with an S and a D. And, of most concern to Epich, there's that trident.

Turns out the gang uses a trident similar to ASU's as one of its symbols. Gang members have them tattooed on their bodies and tag neighborhoods with them. Epich believes some of the artwork he has seen of the gang's symbol is strikingly similar to the ASU trident.

"It bothers me that, one, this gang will be wearing ASU gear, but also that ASU and Nike were so naive to develop it. In my mind, it's the spitting image of the S.D. trident."

The folks at ASU disagree. You might say the Devil is in the details.

Steve Hank, associate athletic director, revenue generation at ASU who spoke by phone with Epich about his concerns, said the Nike trident for ASU and the street art produced by Satan's Disciples members "are not even close."

It's also true that the old "Sparky" logo carried a trident and gangs didn't adopt him. Of course, a Disney-inspired cartoon probably isn't going to get you much street credit.

"The one thing we can tell you is we vigilantly defend our marks," said Hank, who also happens to be from Chicago. "If they were to use it in that way, we would take all legal action to protect our mark."

Trouble is, there isn't much ASU or any other pro or college team can do to prevent a gang from adopting its gear.

Most of the reaction we've gotten indicates that younger ASU fans and alums like the new look. Older fans, not so much.

ASU officials have predicted their revenue from merchandise sales will double over the next few years thanks to the stuff. And every pro team or college team faces the same concerns when designing gear aimed at young consumers: It's a demographic that contains current and future fans and potential recruits - but also gang bangers.

With a large ASU alumni base in the Chicago area (not to mention an ASU football game at Illinois this fall) Epich believes trouble is inevitable.

"Some unsuspecting ASU grad or the nephew of a grad or just some person who was at spring training and liked the hat is going to be wearing it in Chicago and stumble upon a car load of Latin Kings (the S.D.'s rival gang), and they're going to beat the (expletive) out of him or kill him just based on the fact he's wearing a hat," Epich said.

Epich added that he knows ASU isn't going to discard its new Nike-designed logo and branding campaign because of a street gang in Chicago.

He just wishes ASU and Nike had looked into it more closely, and he wants people to be aware of the situation and hopes ASU officials will monitor it closely.

"Of course we will," Hank said. "But you can't stop somebody from walking into a store and purchasing a cap.

"Trust me, we don't want it, and we'll keep an eye on it and take every single step to prevent that from happening."

Thanks to Bob Young

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crime Beat Radio Show Releases Upcoming Program Schedule

Crime Beat: Issues, Controversies and Personalities from the Darkside has been programming since January of this year and is currently averaging 50,000l listeners plus each week and the figure is growing.

Crime Beat is now pleased to announce its forthcoming schedule:

  • April 21: Diedre Capone, ancestor of Al Capone and author of Uncle Al Capone, shares family secrets about the godfather
  • April 28: Tom Ajamie and Bruce Kelley, the authors of Financial Serial Killers, give us an inside look at the world of Wall Street hustlers, swindlers and con men and provide advice on how to protect yourself against Ponzi investment schemes
  • May 5: Lynda Milito, the author of Mafia Wife talks about love, murder and madness.
  • May 12: Howard Campbell, the author of Drug War Zone, talks about the Mexican drug war and life on the streets today in Juarez and El Paso
  • May 19: Robert Wittman, former FBI agent and the author of Priceless, reveals how he went underground to rescue the world’s art treasures.

Crime Beat is a weekly hour-long radio program and airs every Thursday from 9 and 10 EST. Beginning with the May 5 program the show moves to the 8pm-9pm EST time slot on the Artist First World radio Network. Crime Beat presents fascinating topics that bring listeners closer to the dynamic underbelly of the world of crime. Guests have included ex-mobsters, undercover law enforcement agents, sports officials, informants, prisoners, drug dealers and investigative journalists, who have provided insights and fresh information about the world’s most fascinating subject: crime.

Crime Beat is hosted by award-winning crime writer Ron Chepesiuk ( and broadcast journalist and freelance writer Willie Hryb. Ronald Herd 11, the popular Internet radio host and regular listener of Crime Beat, said "Crime Beatsounds like an organized crime greatest hits collection...I am loving it!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Mob Wives "Made in Staten Island" Epsiode

Welcome to Staten Island, the land of fierce women who never admit to being allegedly "connected" -- until now. Renee Graziano, Carla Facciolo and Drita D'avanzo are no strangers to the good life, but now, with their husbands and fathers behind bars, they realize there is a price to pay. Left alone to pick up the pieces, these women face the harsh realities of "life" after informants have turned their families' lives upside down.

To these ladies, "loyalty is everything" so, when Karen Gravano (the daughter of infamous mob informant Sammy the Bull) arrives back on the Staten Island scene after 10 years away in Arizona -- there is hell to pay. Karen's return becomes explosive when she shows up at a party on loyalist, Renee 's, home turf.

Joseph Massino Testifies That Mob Commission is Extinct

A former mob boss has testified that the infamous Mafia "commission" glamourized in Hollywood films hasn't had a meeting in 25 years.

Ex-Bonanno crime family chieftain Joseph Massino made the claim this week while testifying for the prosecution in a murder trial in Brooklyn.

For decades during the mob's heyday, the leaders of New York City's five major crime families held occasional summits to lay down rules and settle disputes. But Massino says these commission meetings stopped happening after Gambino boss Paul Castellano was assassinated outside a Manhattan restaurant in 1985, and the heads of the other families went to prison for racketeering.

"There ain't no commission," Massino told a jury, although he acknowledged that top leaders of the crime rings do get together to talk shop now and again.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mob Wives Come to VH1

Mob Wives is a docu-soap series that follows the lives of four women at a crossroads, having to pick up the pieces and carry on while their husbands or fathers do time for Mob-related activities. They are struggling with their identities, their own families and their futures.

Mob Wives Mob Wives, Karen Gravano, Drita D'avanzo, Carla Facciolo, and Renee Grazianois a docu-soap that follows the lives of four struggling, "allegedly" associated women who have to pick up the pieces and carry on after their husbands or fathers do time for Mob-related activities. The women are long time friends who live in New York City's "forgotten borough", Staten Island. Along the way they battle their friends, families and each other as they try to do what's best for themselves and their children. It's not easy to maintain the lifestyle they were accustomed to when the family's primary bread winner is in lock up.

From The Godfather to The Sopranos to My Cousin Vinny, these women are sick and tired of the lies and stereotypes that exist about their lives. They're determined to finally set the record straight and show the world once and for all that while their lives may seem crazy at first glance, they love, laugh and get their hearts broken just like everyone else. The cast:
DRITA: Drita is a hot-tempered Albanian who married into the mob much to the chagrin of her straight-laced immigrant family. Her husband Lee is part of the New Springville Boys gang and is currently in prison for robbing a Staten Island bank. While she's been married to Lee for 12 years, she's only been able to spend 2 years with him due to his crime sprees and jail time.

KAREN: Karen is returning to Staten Island after a 10 year absence. She's thrilled to finally be able to return home to the city she loves and reunite with the girls. Karen's father is legendary Mafia informant Sammy "the Bull" Gravano. While he confessed to 19 murders in his book, he is currently serving a 19-year sentence in an undisclosed location. Karen once dated Drita's husband and as a result, there is still some underlying tension between them.

RENEE: Renee is the drama queen of the group. Even though she stirs up the most trouble, she'll give you the shirt off her back. Renee grew up in the glory days of the mob- fur, diamonds, limos, all by the age of 7 and she still carries that Mafia attitude. Renee's father is Anthony Graziano the former consigliore of the Bonanno crime family who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for tax evasion, racketeering, and conspiracy to murder. Renee is a mob loyalist and despises what Karen's father did.

CARLA: Carla fancies herself a Manhattan girl. She is used to the finer things in life and has no desire to give them up. Carla's husband Joseph is currently serving an 88-month sentence for fraud after stealing 17 million dollars from unsuspecting senior citizens in a boiler room scandal. The couple have twin 8-year olds, Joseph and Carmen, but that doesn't curb Carla's desire to party like there's no tomorrow.

Carla Facciolo of VH1's Mob Wives

Carla Facciolo grew up in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn, where she had a similar upbringing to Renee Graziano. While her father went to prison when she was young, it didn't stop her from living the lifestyle she grew to love.

Carla Facciolo of VH1's Mob Wives

When Carla was 17 she started dating street guys and really got a taste of the life. She hung out with girls like Renee, and others -- whose parents were either in the life or extremely wealthy. Carla likes the finer things in life and thought she'd met her match when she married Joey Ferragamo, a stock broker.

Although Carla thought she had finally gotten away from the lifestyle she lived growing up, her husband eventually got indicted and convicted for a boiler room scandal and Carla once again found herself dealing with the ins and outs of prison. Carla tells her twins, who she feels are too young to know where their dad is, that he is away at work. She is a stay at home mom and sales rep for a juice company. She takes good care of herself and prides herself on her hair and great body.

Karen Gravano of VH1's Mob Wives

Karen Gravano is the daughter of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, the infamous mobster who cooperated with the government to help take down John Gotti and the Gambino crime family. Karen was just 19 years old when her father turned on the mafia, a move that left Karen devastated.

Karen Gravano of VH1's Mob Wives

While her family relocated to Arizona to start over, at first Karen stayed behind in New York--her way of showing that she had trouble with her father's cooperation. After a couple years, she joined her family in Arizona where she became a licensed aesthetician, opened up a lucrative day spa, and had her first and only child, Karina.

After 12 years of coming to terms with who she is and understanding her father's choices, Karen is ready to close up shop in Arizona and return to Staten Island. Beyond reconnecting with old friends, Karen hopes that coming back will help her stand on her own, out of shadows of her father's infamous past.

Strong, driven and business minded, she has already inked a deal to write a book about her life and is ready to revisit her old stomping grounds and reconnect with her old friends.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Linday Lohan Joining the Gotti Crime Family?

A Linday Lohan Joining the Gotti Crime Family?New York press conference for John Travolta's latest project, "Gotti: Three Generations," had a surprise guest: Lindsay Lohan .

The 24-year-old starlet has been rumored to be up for the role of Victoria Gotti, daughter of the infamous "Dapper Don" John Gotti.

Producer Marc Fiore confirmed Tuesday that he's in talks with Lohan but said nothing had been finalized. He says Lohan is "a terrific actress."

Lohan has starred in such films as "Mean Girls" and "Freaky Friday." She has been plagued by legal problems in recent years and is now battling a felony grand theft charge in California over a $2,500 necklace.

Travolta will star as the leader of the legendary Gambino crime family. The biopic is set to begin filming in October and is slated for release in late 2012.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mark Wahlberg to Produce "When Corruption Was King"

Mark Wahlberg has signed on to produce the Chicago mob drama, When Corruption Was King, Variety reports.

Word of the project first hit last August when it showed up in a rumored list of upcoming projects. At the time it was said to be waiting on a draft by Frank Baldwin, who still appears to be attached as the writer.

Though set as a producer, Wahlberg has not yet committed to appear in the film, which adapts criminal attorney-turned author Robert Cooley's 2006 memoir, "When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down."

Wahlberg will next appear in the dramatic thriller Contraband and then in Seth MacFarlane's directorial debut, Ted. He is also still expected to reunite with director David O. Russell for the videogame adaptation Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

Joseph Massino Historical Mob Trial Testimony

A jailed former Mafia boss who once ordered a payback killing in the infamous "Donnie Brasco" case made gangland history Tuesday by becoming the highest-ranking member of the city's five Italian organized crime families to break their sacred vow of silence and testify against one of their own.

Joseph Massino Joseph Massino Historical Mob Trial Testimonytook the witness stand at the Brooklyn trial of Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, who served as one of his captains in the Bonanno crime family. Prosecutors say that Massino secretly recorded Basciano admitting he ordered a hit on an associate who ran afoul of the secretive Bonannos.

"You will hear the defendant did not tolerate being disrespected or disobeyed and that the penalty for both was death," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Argentieri said in opening statements.

Moments after being sworn in, Massino pointed across the courtroom and identified Basciano — "the guy sitting in the gray suit" — as the crime family's former acting boss. The defendant stared back at the government's star witness, steadily chewing on a piece of gum.

In clipped tones, Massino gave the anonymous jury a colorful tutorial on the Mafia.

By cooperating, he explained, he was violating a sacred oath he took during a 1977 induction ceremony to protect the secret society. It was understood, he said, that "once a bullet leaves that gun, you never talk about it."

He testified that when he took control of the family he gave strict orders to never utter his name — a precaution against FBI surveillance. Instead, his soldiers touched their ears to refer to him, earning him the nickname "The Ear."

Asked about his duties as boss, he replied, "Murder. ... Making captains. Breaking captains" — lingo for promoting and demoting capos. He said he also had to assess talent. "It takes all kinds of meat to make a good sauce," said Massino, the one-time proprietor of a Queens restaurant called CasaBlanca. "Some people, they kill. Some people, they earn, they can't kill."

Massino, 68, broke ranks and began talking with investigators after his 2004 conviction for orchestrating a quarter-century's worth of murder, racketeering and other crimes as he rose through the ranks of the Bonannos. The bloodshed included the shotgun slayings of three rival captains and the execution of a mobster who vouched for FBI undercover Brasco in the 1980s. Brasco's story became a movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.

While imprisoned together in 2005, the former Bonanno boss agreed to wear a wire and betray Basciano.

The understudy "told me that he killed him," Massino said in recounting a conversation about the 2004 slaying charged in the current case. "He said (the victim) was a scumbag, a rat, a troublemaker, a bad kid."

In his opening statement, defense attorney George Goltzer told jurors that Basciano took credit for the coldblooded murder to protect the real killer — a friend in the Bonannos who acted without proper permission — "from the wrath of Joseph Massino." The lawyer described Massino and other turncoats slated to testify for the government as deceitful opportunists. "The United States government needs to make deals with the devil. ... You don't have to accept what they say," Goltzer said.

Prosecutors say Basciano, the one-time owner of the Hello Gorgeous beauty salon, rose to his leadership role after a series of Bonanno defections and successful prosecutions in the 2000s decimated its leadership.

The 50-year-old defendant, known for his explosive temper, could face the death penalty if convicted of racketeering, murder and other charges. He already is serving a life term for a conviction in a separate case in 2007.

Massino is serving two consecutive life terms for eight murders. He testified his cooperation spared his wife from prosecution, allowed her to keep their home and gave him a shot at a reduced sentence.

He said he hoped "one day maybe I'll see a little light at the end of the tunnel."

And what about Donnie Brasco?

Massino said he had never met the real-life undercover. Asked whether the movie was accurate, he started to move his hand in a dismissive way before the judge cut him off. "Jurors, disregard this," the judge instructed while making the same motion.

Thanks to Tom Hays

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jeff Pesek May Lose School Board Endorsements After Reputed Connections to Mob Associates & Drug Traffickers Are Alleged

Several Berwyn politicians are rethinking their endorsement of embattled Morton High School District 201 Board of Education President Jeff Pesek. A recent Chicago Sun-Times report revealed Pesek had business and personal connections with convicted drug traffickers and mob members. Berwyn CARES, a local education advocacy group has called for his resignation.

Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero along with Aldermen Theodore Boyajian and Nona Chapman sent emails to constituent urging them to vote for Pesek, as well as several other candidates supported the Democratic Citizens of Berwyn. All three officials are members of that party.

Lovero attempted to deflect some of the criticism from Boyajian and Chapman, saying, “Both of these two just forwarded what I sent them.”

In a prepared statement, Lovero said, “I, like the majority of citizens, endorsed Mr. pesek due to his prior performance as High School District 201 Board President... I am satisfied that his concerns are for the betterment of our young men and women.

“The newspaper article nowhere states that he was or has been accused accused of any crime. If we are to be judged by our past affiliations, then our system of justice crumbles,” Lovero's statement said.

Chapman said that she knew nothing of Pesek's shady connections prior to her endorsement. “I've worked with Jeff on National Night, and quite honestly, a write-in candidate is very hard to endorse,” said Chapman, alluding to Rita Maniotis, who ran a write-in candidacy after being booted due to a technical objection from a former treasurer for the Democratic Citizens of Berwyn.

Chapman stopped short of calling for Pesek's resignation, saying, “I don't know enough about it really.”
Boyajian was more direct in his rebuttal. “I knew nothing about it and if I did, I never would have endorsed him. Anybody who knows me knows I do not condone that,” Boyajian said.

Boyajian also stopped short of calling for Pesek's resignation and said that should be left up to his fellow board members.

The board of education's next meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday at Morton West High School.

Thanks to Berwyn Life

Mafia II Adds Three New Value Packed Editions

2K Games announced that the notorious mobsters Vito Scaletta and Joe Barbaro of the epic crime drama, Mafia II, are returning in three new value-packed editions of the epic crime drama: Mafia II Greatest Hits for the PlayStation 3 computer entertainment system; Mafia II Platinum Hits for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft; and Mafia II Director's Cut for PC.

Mafia II Greatest Hits and Mafia II Platinum Hits are currently available at select retailers for $29.99, and will become available at additional retailers worldwide throughout April. Mafia II Director's Cut for PC will become available in the coming months. Each includes the standalone game, plus the action-infused escapades of the previously released downloadable content, providing more than double the content of the original game. These editions mark the first time that Xbox 360 and PC players can experience The Betrayal of Jimmy, featuring intense arcade-style gameplay that keeps Jimmy driving, shooting and fighting throughout Empire Bay. All three value-added editions offer extended storylines, with different playable characters and leaderboard challenges, making them an offer that players can't refuse.

This pistol-packed period piece transports players to Empire Bay, a fully realized and immersive urban cityscape set in America during the 1940s and 1950s. The action unfolds with white-knuckled car chases, explosive gunplay, compelling characters and an engaging narrative set against a backdrop of meticulously detailed period environments that showcase the difference a decade can make in the evolution of music, fashion, advertising and automobiles.

All three editions will include:

  • The full edition of the gripping crime-drama, Mafia II, where Vito and his buddy, Joe, are making a name for themselves on the streets of Empire Bay, working their way up the Mafia family ladder with crimes of larger reward, status and consequence.
  • The Betrayal of Jimmy: Players take on Empire Bay through an alternate perspective of the mob through the eyes of Jimmy, a mercenary. Jimmy is the guy the other guys call when they need to finish the job. The Betrayal of Jimmy features dozens of intense arcade-style, city-based missions that keep Jimmy driving, shooting and rampaging through Empire Bay.
  • Jimmy's Vendetta: Once the mob's most effective ally, Jimmy is now its greatest enemy. Fueled by rage, Jimmy takes on Italian and Irish mobsters in a slew of unlockable city quests, including assassination and timed vehicle pursuits ending in dramatic shootouts.
  • Joe's Adventures: Play as Joe Barbaro as he rampages through Empire Bay in the wake of Vito Scaletta's prison sentence. Joe must uncover the traitor who betrayed Vito while overcoming the challenges of moving up the ranks in the mob.
  • Four Style Packs including Vegas, Renegade, Greaser and War Hero — each with two cars and two suits for in-game use.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jeff Pesek, President of Morton High School District, Linked to Mob Bombing Associate

A local school board president in Cicero has ties to a notorious large-scale drug dealer as well as a ranking member of a motorcycle gang who is a trusted associate of the Chicago mob, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Jeff Pesek, 38, president of the Morton High School District 201 board, which oversees several thousand students from Cicero, Berwyn and other suburbs, has been partners in business with admitted wholesale cocaine dealer Enrique “Henry” Rendon, according to court testimony and documents.

Pesek and his younger brother Craig, 34 — who sits on the town’s library board — were also caught on an FBI listening device in July 2007 discussing the mob-ordered bombing of a Berwyn business in 2003 with the man later convicted of the crime, Mark Polchan. Polchan was the treasurer of the Outlaw motorcycle gang and a key associate of mobster Michael Sarno. The FBI says Sarno ran the Cicero mob crew.

Polchan is heard predicting to the brothers — about a year before he was arrested — that he will be charged in the bombing and asks them if they will post his bond, according to a previously sealed court document obtained by the Sun-Times.

The three men discussed an individual named Kyle Knight, who had already been charged in the bombing. “Specifically, the three individuals talked about the fact that Knight was already incarcerated for another federal offense . . . and that the ‘feds’ had made Knight an offer for a cooperation deal, however Knight had declined,” according to the court document.

Polchan expressed confusion over why federal agents would arrest Knight but not him. “They know me absolutely,” Polchan told the Pesek brothers, according to an excerpt of the conversation. “I, I, I just, I cannot believe they indicted the guy and not f------ drag me into it.

“Let’s have a party right now,” Polchan told the brothers.

After his arrest, Polchan never got bond. A federal judge determined he was a danger to the community and a flight risk.

The Peseks’ relationships with the two criminals came to light during testimony at Polchan’s bombing trial late last year, as well as from a once-sealed court document from the investigation. Polchan was convicted at trial and faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Neither Pesek has been charged with any crime, nor did either respond to a request for comment.

Polchan, who has been arrested more than a dozen times, worked for several years in security for the Peseks at their popular downtown Chicago nightclub called Ontourage.

Craig Pesek is listed as the sole owner of the nightclub on its liquor license, while Jeff Pesek has helped run it, records show. But Craig Pesek had other investors he never told the city about, according to court testimony.

Rendon testified under oath that he was a silent partner in Ontourage as well as a liquor store and bar in Cicero that Jeff Pesek bought called Austin Liquors.

At Polchan’s trial, Rendon explained how he and Jeff Pesek started Ontourage. “Jeff and I basically got Ontourage with basically no money down. We got investors. We built the club,” Rendon testified.

Later, a defense attorney asked Rendon, “And you said, correct me if I’m wrong, that Mr. Pesek put up the money for Austin Liquors?”

“Yes, he did,” Rendon confirmed.

Rendon said he put up no money in the Austin Liquors deal but gave Pesek $500 a week in rent. Rendon testified that he put several mob-owned video gaming devices in the bar.

Jeff Pesek also testified at the trial of Polchan, who was once a close childhood friend. Pesek testified under a grant of immunity from prosecution.

While not discussing it in detail, Jeff Pesek acknowledged in his testimony there were other investors in Ontourage besides his brother Craig. “My brother is the owner,” the school board president testified. “There was other individuals who helped him out in the beginning, yes.”

“Were they not declared as investors in filings with the City of Chicago?” asked federal prosecutor Amarjeet Bhachu.
“No, there were no other declarations, no,” Jeff Pesek said.

Rendon, who estimated in his testimony that he sold roughly 200 kilos of cocaine, two tons of marijuana and 7 kilos of heroin in his decades-long career as a drug dealer, had high praise for Jeff Pesek. “He is a good guy,” Rendon testified.

Rendon said it was no secret among people who knew him that he was a drug dealer. “Everyone knew I did,” Rendon testified.

Rendon was charged in 2009 in federal court for providing drugs to a middleman who in turned sold it to street gangs. He pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, marijuana and heroin and faces 10 to 13 years in prison. In 1996, he was sentenced to six years in state prison after pleading guilty to another drug crime. And in 1999, he was sentenced to three years behind bars for kicking and hitting an off-duty Chicago cop in the face during a fight in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

Rendon and Jeff Pesek have been portrayed in unrelated civil lawsuits as partners in other business ventures as well. Rendon also was listed in court records as one of the people signing a lease for an oil-change shop with Craig Pesek.

Jeff Pesek also testified that he bought between eight and 10 televisions from Polchan, who routinely sold stolen merchandise at his Cicero pawn shop.

Pesek did not address in his testimony whether any of the televisions, for which he paid cash, were stolen, but he indicated that Polchan at one point couldn’t sell him a television after Pesek had come over to buy one. “He just said the guy that was bringing them got busted,” Pesek testified.

In addition to their businesses, the Peseks have been key players in Cicero politics. The brothers, their family and their companies have contributed or loaned about $100,000 to help elect Cicero Town President Larry Dominick, who campaigned on a reform platform and a promise to end cronyism in town government.

After Dominick was elected in 2005, the brothers were eventually hired as town consultants, earning about $850,000 in fees, according to town rec­ords.

Dominick is “very satisfied” with the work that the Peseks have done and believes they are “professionals and dedicated to their work performance,” according to town spokesman Ray Hana­nia.

Hanania noted that neither Pesek has been accused of wrongdoing, and the information that came to light at trial would have no effect on their employment with the town.

Craig Pesek, a high school graduate who had previously worked at his family’s hot dog restaurant, was hired soon after Dominick was elected to be a project manager at $6,000 a month.

His responsibilities and fees grew as his consulting company was hired to oversee the construction of municipal buildings as well as economic development in the town.

Jeff Pesek went from suing the town in a major lawsuit under the past administration to working for it when Dominick took over as town president.

In 2004, before Dominick was elected, Jeff Pesek filed a lawsuit against the town, contending it was trying to muscle him out of a piece of property in Cicero that he had an interest in.

After Dominick won the town president’s job, the town settled the lawsuit with Jeff Pesek for $1 million, a deal approved in federal court.

Jeff Pesek described his motivation in helping Dominick in a deposition from his 2004 lawsuit against the town. “I thought I would do anything and everything humanly possible for me and that I would get any and all resources I could to help him win because that’s what I could do for the town of Cicero,” Pesek said. “That’s what I was going to do to win my lawsuit — not to win my lawsuit, but to — because of my lawsuit,” Pesek said.

Jeff Pesek was hired in October 2008 to be the town’s director of services and recreation as well as Cicero’s safety director at an annual salary of $94,322, according to town records.

The Peseks’ mother, Elaine, was appointed to Dominick’s town literacy office starting in 2006 and has earned more than $38,000 for her service.

Elaine Pesek, a former teacher, helps promote literacy in town. In 2009, Craig Pesek won a seat on the Cicero library board. He is also a state Republican central committeeman. Even though he is a consultant and not a town employee, he has received town health insurance since 2007 because Pesek sits on a town committee.

In a September 2006 interview published in the Town of Cicero newsletter, Craig Pesek expressed appreciation for his job with the town. “I am grateful to be a part of an administration that truly cares so much about its residents and takes such pride in our town,” Pesek was quoted as saying.

When asked if there was something most people don’t know about him, Craig Pesek said, “If most people don’t know, it’s probably because I want it that way, so let’s keep it that way!”

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Arthur Nigro and Henchmen Found Guilty of Murder

A former boss of New York's Genovese crime family and two henchmen were found guilty of murder and other crimes in the latest blow to the Big Apple mafia.

Arthur Nigro, a former acting boss of the Genovese, was found guilty following a three-week trial in New York.

Nigro and two other defendants were convicted in the 2003 murder of a mob rival who had made contact with the FBI. Nigro's two associates were also convicted in a second slaying that year.

The three also were found guilty of a slew of other crimes, including attempted murder, murder conspiracies, racketeering and extortion. They all face mandatory life sentences.

"The jury's swift verdict in this case takes some very dangerous men off the streets -- men who clearly did not think twice about killing anyone who got in their way," Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. "Today's verdict makes it clear that those who so flagrantly and repeatedly violate the law will be punished."

La Cosa Nostra in New York has been severely weakened since the widespread breaking of the previously solid code of silence, with mobsters repeatedly informing on former comrades in exchange for leniency.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Latin King Leader, Augustin Zambrano, Convicted on RICO Charges

A federal jury on April 6th convicted the highest-ranking leader nationwide and three other high-ranking leaders of the Latin Kings street gang of racketeering conspiracy (RICO) and all other charges against them involving narcotics trafficking and related violence that plagued numerous neighborhoods on the city's north, south and west sides. From its origin and base in the west side Little Village community, the Latin Kings spread throughout Chicago and Illinois and established branches in other states, where local leaders acted with some autonomy but adhered to the rules and hierarchy of the Chicago gang, according to the evidence in the six-week federal trial. Among the defendants convicted was Augustin Zambrano, 51, identified at trial as the "Corona," making him the highest-ranking leader nationwide of the Almighty Latin King Nation and responsible for overseeing the illegal activities of all factions of the powerful street gang, which evidence showed has approximately 10,000 members in Illinois alone. Zambrano, also known as "Big Tino," "Tino," "Old Man," and "Viejo," and three co-defendants were found guilty of running a criminal enterprise to enrich themselves and others through drug-trafficking and preserving and protecting their power, territory and revenue through acts of murder, attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, extortion, and other acts of violence.

Zambrano is the highest-ranking leader of the Latin Kings to be convicted since Gustavo "Gino" Colon, who also holds the title of "Corona" and is serving a life sentence that was imposed in 2000 for running a continuing criminal enterprise.

All four trial defendants remain in federal custody and face potentially lengthy prison terms without parole. U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle scheduled sentencing for Zambrano on Aug. 23, and set sentencing for the other three defendants Aug. 24-26.

Also convicted of RICO conspiracy and other crimes were: Vicente Garcia, 33, identified at trial as the "Supreme Regional Inca," who was in charge of all Latin Kings in Illinois; Jose Guzman, 34, identified at trial as a former "Nation Enforcer" in the 26th Street, or Little Village, faction; and Alphonso Chavez, 26, identified at trial as the "Inca," or leader of the gang's 31st and Drake faction.

"This verdict inflicts a serious blow to the to leaders of the Latin Kings," said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. "It demonstrates that the combined and coordinated efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement can assemble cases looking at disparate crimes—such as selling false identification documents in Little Village—and tie them all the way back to the gang leaders responsible for a broad array of criminal conduct.

Evidence at trial included audio and video recordings of three beatings inflicted upon gang members for violating the rules and testimony documenting 20 shootings in the Little Village area, including at least one in which the victim died. Zambrano and Garcia were both convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon.

The four trial defendants were among a total of 31 co-defendants who were indicted in September 2008 or charged in a superseding indictment in October 2009. Of those 31 defendants, 24 pleaded guilty, four were convicted at trial, and three remain fugitives. Three of the defendants who pleaded guilty testified as government witness at the trial.

The RICO conspiracy count included evidence that Zambrano and several co-defendants conspired to demand and receive payment from an organization illegally selling fraudulent immigration documents in Little Village by threatening, and actually engaging in, the use of force and violence against members of that organization unless the defendants received regular cash payments. Trial evidence proved federal charges that Latin Kings leaders extorted "street tax" from non-gang members, referred to as "miqueros," who sold false identification documents.

As part of the RICO conspiracy, evidence also showed that defendants kept victims in fear of the gang and its leaders by enforcing what it referred to as an "SOS"—shoot on sight or smash on sight—order against Latin King members who cooperated with law enforcement in order to enforce the gang's grip on the community and control over its members and associates.

Mr. Fitzgerald announced the verdict with Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Andrew L. Traver, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Chicago Police Department and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Chicago, also had significant roles in the investigation, which was conducted through the federal High Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force and under the umbrella of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).

The trial and earlier guilty pleas showed that many of the defendants were leaders of the 24 sections that comprised the 26th Street Region in Little Village, who conspired in late 2007 to sell powder cocaine twice a month to fund the "Nation Box," a kitty that the regional hierarchy used to purchase weapons and ammunition, and pay for funeral and attorney fees for fellow gang members. Located along 26th Street, a main east-west thoroughfare, the region is bounded roughly by Fairfield Avenue (east) to Millard Avenue (west), and 21st Street (north) to 33rd Street (south). The region's 24 sections are typically named after a street or intersection, with each section having its own leadership and "soldiers," ranging between approximately 20 and 100 gang members.

The RICO conspiracy count encompassed a pattern of illegal activity since 2000, including drug trafficking, extortion, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, murder, attempted murder, and solicitation to commit murder, and intimidation. Evidence of the RICO conspiracy also included proof that the defendants and their associates:

  • conducted the gang's affairs through a series of laws and policies, some of which were codified in a "constitution," as well as a "manifesto," and the "26th Street rules." The laws included a three-page list of 25 rules establishing procedures for homicides, "security," and the sale of counterfeit identification documents;
  • attended regular meetings, known as "demos"—or, when held by Nation officers, "Nation demos"—at which they discussed, planned, and otherwise engaged in criminal activity, including violent crimes, narcotics distribution, and obstruction of justice;
  • initiated members by causing them to endure physical assaults conducted by other members at various gang-related gatherings; and
  • managed the procurement, transfer, use, concealment, and disposal of firearms and dangerous weapons to protect gang-related territory, personnel, and operations, and to deter, eliminate, and retaliate against competitors and other rival gangs and individuals.

The convictions resulted from sustained, coordinated investigations by multiple federal law enforcement agencies, working together with the Chicago Police Department and other state and local partners, to dismantle the hierarchy of the Latin Kings and other highly-organized, often violent, drug-trafficking Chicago street gangs. In late 2006, ATF agents led an investigation that resulted in federal drug trafficking and firearms charges against 38 Latin Kings members and associates. In 2008, the FBI led an investigation that resulted in state and federal charges against 40 Latin Kings members and associates, including a dozen of the Zambrano co-defendants. In total, more than 80 Latin Kings members and associates have faced state or federal charges since 2006 and, of those, approximately 65 have been convicted federally, with only a few fugitives still facing federal charges.

The RICO conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, and assault with a dangerous weapon counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Garcia was convicted of using a firearm during a violent crime, which carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison to a maximum of life. The various narcotics counts carry sentences ranging from a mandatory minimum five years to a maximum of life and a fine up to $4 million. The Court must impose a reasonable sentence under the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Porter, Nancy DePodesta and Tinos Diamantatos.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Entertainment and Family History Mixed at Las Vegas Mob Experience

Mobster Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, infamous for his brutality, once reportedly squeezed a man's head in a vice until his eyes popped out of their sockets.But when he wasn't carrying out brutal interrogations or fulfilling contract killings -- duties required of him as a made man for the mob -- he was playing the role of dutiful father.

Spilotro and other mobsters with a Las Vegas connection all had softer, gentler sides that have rarely been acknowledged, says Jay Bloom, founder and managing partner of the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana.

Bloom hopes the new attraction changes that by showing publicly the soft guy side that Spilotro, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Sam Giancana, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky possessed.

The Las Vegas Mob Experience celebrated its grand opening Wednesday. It is not to be confused with the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, popularly known as the Mob Museum, which is scheduled to open later this year in downtown Las Vegas.

The Mob Museum will concentrate more on the law enforcement perspective, says Michael Unger, chief executive officer of Eagle Group Holdings, the parent company of the Mob Experience, while "we will focus on the bad guys."

The "show-seum is a little bit entertainment, a little bit excitement and a little bit history all rolled together," Unger says. "We expose the human side of these men, if you will. Siegel was a great father. Same thing with Spilotro. They were good family men."

Several family members of the infamous men, including Millicent Siegel Rosen, daughter of Siegel; Spilotro's son, Vincent, and his widow, Nancy; Meyer Lansky II and Cythina Duncan, grandchildren of Lansky; and Giancana's grandson, Carl Manno, donated or loaned more than 1,500 artifacts to be displayed. Among them are Spilotro's baby shoes and his handguns; Siegel's home movies, furniture and love letters; and Lansky's golf clubs and personal diaries.

"It's quite a showcase," says 80-year-old Rosen. "People have been after me for years to do something about my father, but I never wanted to get involved in anything. But when I met Jay, his ideas were different. I was very impressed with the way he treated my father."

Visitors to the attraction will get to watch home movies shot by Siegel while learning about how he built the Flamingo and helped popularize Las Vegas as a vacation destination. He wouldn't like today's Vegas, Rosen adds. It would be much too corporate for his tastes.

Don't go in expecting to hear the whole story of the mob, though. The Mob Experience covers prohibition and gaming apart from the family history.

"The narrative they're telling seems to have some problems," says David Schwartz, director of University of Nevada, Las Vegas' gaming studies. "It seems to skip over some of the stuff organized crime did in America."

And though the artifacts may have historical value, it may be difficult to understand why, because many of them are out of context, Schwartz adds.

Attraction organizers chose to focus strictly on mob figures who played a role in the rise and spread of casinos, Unger says.

In addition to the artifacts, the Mob Experience offers a pseudo-mob "experience" in which guests can become a made man, a snitch, get whacked or have a shootout. At the ticket counter, guests give their names and some personal information in exchange for a mob nickname and a badge embedded with radio frequency identification, or RFID.

The Mob Experience is divided into three acts: the immigration of the mob figures, the rise of the mob, and the decline and fall of the mob. A three-dimensional guide accompanies visitors through, offering facts and helping to navigate the mob. As a guest enters each area, computers sense the RFID badge and greet each person by his or her mob nickname.

Actors portraying various mob characters are situated throughout the 26,000-square-foot attraction and interact with guests. Your response to each character plays a role in your fate at the end, Bloom says.

Thanks to Sonya Padgett

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