The Chicago Syndicate: Albert Anastasia
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Showing posts with label Albert Anastasia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Albert Anastasia. Show all posts

Friday, March 08, 2019

Carmine Persico, AKA The Snake, Legendary New York Mobster and Longtime Boss of the Colombo Crime Family has Died in Prison

One of New York’s most storied mob bosses met his end in prison Thursday — old and sick, and mired in a lawsuit over his medical treatment.

Carmine "The Snake" Persico, the longtime boss of the Colombo crime family, died at age 85, the Daily News has learned.

Carmine the Snake: Carmine Persico and His Murderous Mafia Family.

Persico was convicted of racketeering and murder in the famous mid-‘80s “Commission trial,” which put three of the city’s five crime family bosses in prison in one fell swoop. He was the last surviving defendant in that notorious case.

He was serving his sentence at the federal prison in Butner, N.C. when he died at Duke University Medical Center, confirmed his lawyer, Benson Weintraub. Among his reported pals at the medium-security prison was Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.

Persico spent the last 36 years of his life behind bars, serving a staggering 139-year sentence. But by most accounts, he remained the titular Colombo boss.

In 2016, Persico’s lawyers described a litany of health problems and called his 100-year sentence a “virtual life sentence.”

“Mr. Persico is legally blind in his right eye, and has diminished vision in his left eye. He also has limited use of his left and right arms and a deformity of his left wrist that has severely impacted his upper mobility,” his lawyer, Anthony DiPietro, wrote in March 2016. “Mr. Persico is also predominantly wheelchair-bound as a result of his emphysema. In addition, Mr. Persico suffers from anemia and a multitude of cardiac issues that require periodic medical attention.”

Persico sued the prison warden and a doctor there in December, alleging “deliberate indifference” to his deteriorating medical condition and calling for his compassionate release. He had serious infections in his legs, and was trying to block doctors from amputating his leg above the knee.

Wientraub said he suspected Persico died of the leg infections, which he said “spread as a result of deliberately indifferent treatment.”

Persico was known to his friends as “Junior” and to his enemies as “The Snake.”

He was born on Aug. 8, 1933, and grew up in the working class Brooklyn enclaves of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. His dad was a law firm stenographer, while his mother stayed home to raise Carmine and his siblings – fellow future mobsters Alphonse and Theodore, along with their sister Dolores.

Persico was a high school dropout and ran with a local street gang. His first arrest was at age 17 in the fatal beating of another youth during a melee in Prospect Park. When the charges were dropped, he was recruited to the world of organized crime – working in bookmaking and loan-sharking operations.

By his mid-20s, Persico was a made man in the family headed by Joe Colombo.

He became affiliated with fellow Brooklyn mobsters the Gallo brothers – “Crazy” Joey, Larry and Albert, aka Kid Blast. Their crew was widely credited with the execution of mob boss Albert Anastasia, famously whacked inside a Manhattan barber shop.

The hit led to an internal family war, with the Gallos taking on boss Joe Profaci over what they felt was a slight following the Anastasia killing. The younger crew expected bigger responsibilities and more cash, only to clash with family’s old guard.

Persico turned on the Gallos, aligning himself with Profaci in the war that left nine dead, three missing and 15 more wounded. He was reportedly involved in the attempted strangling of Larry Gallo inside a Brooklyn bar, a hit interrupted by a local police sergeant.

He later survived an attempted murder by the Gallo faction before a truce was declared in 1963.

Persico, though in prison for hijacking, ruled over a powerful crew inside the Colombos. After the 1971 shooting of boss Joe Colombo, he and his brothers grabbed control of the family. Persico ran the family from the outside after he was released from prison in 1979 — but his time on the street was short.

Persico was indicted for racketeering in 1984 and arrested in the home of an FBI informant. He was also charged with the heads of other four families in the “Commission” prosecution led by then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani.

Persico’s reply was to put out a contract on Giuliani.

He got a 39-year term in the first case. In the second, where he acted as his own attorney, Persico was hit with a 100-term – ensuring his death behind bars.

One small victory: Federal Judge John F. Keenan hailed Persico as “one of the most intelligent people I have ever seen in my life” for his performance as a lawyer.

While running the family from behind bars, the Colombos descended into another internal bloodbath pitting Persico loyalists against supporters of new boss Victor (Little Vic) Amuso. The war destroyed the family, which was decimated by a dozen murders and as many defectors to the government side – including the family’s consigliere and two capos. Sixty-eight made men and associates were arrested, including Carmine’s kid brother Theodore.

Persico appealed his conviction in 2016. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals shot down his request in 2017, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take the case later that year.

Thanks to Larry McShane and John Annese.

Carmine the Snake: Carmine Persico and His Murderous Mafia Family

Carmine “the Snake” Persico has been identified by the FBI and the Justice Department as the longtime head of the New York Cosa Nostra Colombo crime family.

Although incarcerated in 1987 due to his conviction in the 1986 famous Mafia Commission federal RICO caseCarmine the Snake: Carmine Persico and His Murderous Mafia Family, he reputedly still runs the Colombo crime family from prison. He made his name in the Profaci crime family as part of the hit team that shot and killed mob boss Albert Anastasia in a New York barbershop in 1957.

Anastasia, known as “The Mad Hatter” and “The Executioner,” was the co-creator of Murder Inc., the notorious enforcement arm of organized crime in New York in the 1940s. A famous photo was taken of the slain Anastasia, lying dead next to a barber’s chair as detectives look on.

In 1961, during a conflict between the Gallo crew and Joe Profaci, the Profaci crime family boss, Persico switched sides and attempted to strangle and kill his friend and fellow hit man Larry Gallo, which earned him the nickname “the Snake.” The attempted strangulation in a darkened bar was fictionally re-created in “The Godfather, Part II.”

Frank DiMatteo, who describes himself as a mafia survivor and previously wrote “The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia,” offers a “street level” view of the Colombo boss in “Carmine the Snake: Carmine Persico and His Murderous Mafia Family.” Michael Benson, a true crime author who wrote “Betrayal in Blood,” is the co-author of this book.

As Mr. DiMatteo notes in the book, his mother knew Persico when they were teenagers in Brooklyn, and his father was a bodyguard and driver for the Gallo brothers. He grew up in Brooklyn around the Gallo crew and heard numerous stories about Persico.

“Some men’s lives are measured by wealth and power. By that standard, Carmine John Persico, Jr. is a very successful man. His blood family is estimated to be worth upward of $1 billion,” the authors write in the beginning of the book. “Even allowing for inflation, he became one of the richest gangsters ever. His superpower was instilling fear. He made many thousands afraid, and they paid to stay safe.” But as the authors also point out, Persico’s life from street kid to mob boss might best be measured by the pain, suffering and death that he caused.

“Using a combination of brashness, cunning, and an appetite for extreme violence, Carmine Persico rocketed from gangbanger on a Park Slope, Brooklyn street corner to boss of the Colombo crime family, where he reputedly became the longest-reigning godfather in modern Mafia history — mostly from behind the bars of a federal penitentiary,” the authors tell us.

The book covers in detail the internecine mob war between the Gallos and the Profaci crime family, with each faction murdering and attempting to murder each other. The Gallo crew put a bomb in Persico’s car, but the detonation failed to kill him. The war ended with Profaci’s death and the murder of Crazy Joe Gallo in a restaurant.

Joseph Colombo, once a Profaci captain, later took over the organization and renamed it the Colombo crime family. Persico became a Colombo captain and later the boss of the crime family.

The book also tells of a Persico enforcer whose story would be unbelievable if told in a novel or film. The authors tell us that as Persico was heading to prison he chose Gregory “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa as his battle leader. Persico’s man was a mass murderer and a sociopath. “He was nuts, thought he was James Bond, and told his kids that he worked for the government.”

In a sense it was true, as the Colombo hit man was a longtime FBI informant. From the 1960s on he was involved in extortion, murder and other crimes. He told his fellow mobsters that he enjoyed killing people. “Scarpa’s actual cooperation with the U.S. Government went at least as far back as 1964 when the feds used him to help solve the ‘Mississippi Burning’ murders of three civil rights workers in 1964,” the authors inform us. “Somewhere there is a tape of Scarpa cajoling a KKK member to disclose where the bodies are buried.” And by cajoling, the authors write, they mean he beat the KKK member and stuck a gun in his mouth. Scarpa later died from AIDS.

The story of Carmine Persico, the Gallo brothers and the internecine mob war has been covered previously in several books, including a fine satirical novel, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” by Jimmy Breslin.

“Carmine the Snake,” written in a conversational style with street vernacular and sprinkled with Frank DiMatteo’s personal anecdotes and reminiscences, offers another look at the infamous crime boss.

Thanks to Paul Davis.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Top 10: Gangsters

If you browse around your local video store, you'll notice dozens of films about the Mafia. Witness the popularity of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Casino, and Bugsy. Why have so many films been made about these tough-guy hooligans? Because men have a fascination with gangster culture and organized crime. But who are some of the most notorious gangsters of all time?

To make the list, gangsters must have had a significant impact on the Mob thanks to the way they did business. They must have done most of their business in America, their legacy must have stood the test of time, and they must have had a significant impact on pop culture.

Honorable Mention
Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1906 - 1947)

Benjamin Siegel was born in Brooklyn in 1906 and soon associated himself with fellow Jew Meyer Lansky. After running contract killings for Murder, Inc., Siegel -- who was nicknamed "Bugsy" because of his unpredictable nature -- went in cahoots with Lucky Luciano and his newly organized Syndicate. But killing for Luciano earned him enemies, and in the late '30s, he was forced to escape to Los Angeles, where he had lived glamorously with movie stars.

He then discovered the gambling laws of Nevada. "Borrowing" millions from the Syndicate, he established one of the first casino hotels in Las Vegas, the Flamingo. But the resort was losing money, and when it was discovered in 1947 that he had stolen money from his friends, he was killed.

Featured in: The best portrayals of Siegel are in Warren Beatty's Bugsy  (1991) and The Marrying Man (1991) with Armand Assante.

Number 10
Vincent "The Chin" Gigante (1928 - 2005)
Born in New York in 1928, Vincent Gigante was quite a character. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and started boxing, winning 21 of 25 light-heavyweight bouts. By the time he was 17, he had turned to crime to support himself, which resulted in seven arrests before he was 25.

Gigante's first significant act as a gangster and member of the Genovese family was an attempt to kill the powerful Frank Costello, but Gigante's bullet missed the target. Nevertheless, he continued to climb the ranks within New York's Genovese organization, eventually becoming a capo and consigliere in the early '80s.

Then, when Mob boss Tony Salerno was convicted, Gigante became the main man. What makes Gigante so memorable is his 30-year ploy of acting insane. After he successfully averted prison in the late '60s by employing psychiatrists to testify to his insanity, he took it upon himself to continue the act; throughout his career, he was often seen walking around the streets of New York wearing a bathrobe. For this reason, he was nicknamed the "Oddfather" and the "Pajama King." Imprisoned for racketeering, he finally admitted in 2003 that he was not crazy.

Gigante died in prison on December 19, 2005 due to heart complications. The Gigante family and his lawyer, Flora Edwards, filed a federal lawsuit regarding the lack of health care that Vincent received while in prison. Vincent was scheduled for release in 2010.

Featured in: Gigante was a character in the made-for-TV film Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999) and served as inspiration for an episode of Law & Order.

Number 9
Albert Anastasia (1903 - 1957)
Born in Tropea, Italy in 1903, Albert Anastasia was still a teenager when he came to America. Involved in the docks operations in Brooklyn, Anastasia was sent to Sing Sing Prison for 18 months for the murder of a longshoreman; the mysterious deaths of witnesses led to his early release. Albert Anastasia (aka "Lord High Executioner" and "Mad Hatter") was known as a killer, a reputation that led Joe Masseria's gang to recruit him. Anastasia was also extremely loyal to Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who had plans to rule America's crime world. Anastasia had no problem betraying Masseria -- by being one of four people sent to kill him in 1931 -- when approached by Lucky Luciano.

At this time, Anastasia started taking on hits for the Murder, Incorporated outfit in New York, and in 1944, he became the leader of the murder squad. Although Anastasia was never prosecuted for any killings, Murder, Inc. was responsible for between 400 and 700 murders. In the '50s, he became the leader of the Luciano family, but Carlo Gambino wanted the job. Though the murder is officially unsolved, many believe that Gambino had Anastasia killed in a barbershop in 1957.

Featured in: Albert Anastasia was a prominent character in Murder, Inc. (1960), a gangster film starring Peter Falk and Howard Smith (as Anastasia), as well as in The Valachi Papers (1972) and Lepke (1975).

Number 8
Joseph Bonanno (1905 - 2002)
Born in 1905, Joe Bonanno grew up in his native Sicily and became an orphan at the age of 15. He left Italy due to the fascist power of the Mussolini regime and made a brief stopover in Cuba before moving to the United States when he was 19. Joe joined the Mafia as a way to prevent Mussolini from taking over Sicily. Nicknamed "Joey Bananas," he joined forces with Salvatore Maranzano. Before Luciano killed him, Maranzano created The Commission, the ruling body over Mafia families in the entire country.

Bonanno stepped up and took over one of these families. He became powerful in New York with cheese factories, clothing businesses and funeral homes, which were a terrific way to dispose of bodies. But plans to eliminate all the rival families turned against him and Bonanno was kidnapped for 19 days until he agreed to retire. In 1965, he initiated the Banana War to settle scores, but he retired for good soon thereafter due to bad health. Never in his life was he convicted of a serious offense.

Featured in: Two cable movies have been made about the crime legend: Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage (1993) with Ben Gazzara and Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999) with Martin Landau.

Number 7
Dutch Schultz (1902 - 1935)
Arthur Flegenheimer, later known as Dutch Schultz, was born in the Bronx in 1902. As a teenager, he held up crap games to impress his boss and mentor, Marcel Poffo. At the age of 17, he did some time at Blackwell's Island (now known as Roosevelt Island) for theft. With prohibition in full swing in the 1920s, he realized that money was in bootlegging. A ruthless man, he would kill whenever his temper flared, which helped keep his competition in line.

He had a part in the founding of the Syndicate, but soon Luciano and Capone became his enemies. In 1933, the law wanted to shut down Schultz, so he went into hiding in New Jersey, which left his New York territory free for a takeover; Luciano seized the opportunity. Schultz made a comeback in 1935, but members of Albert Anastasia's crew killed him in a restaurant men's room before he could do any damage.

Featured in: Dustin Hoffman was memorable as Dutch Schultz in Billy Bathgate (1991), but Tim Roth was even better in Hoodlum (1997). Other movies featuring Schultz include Gangster Wars (1981), The Cotton Club (1984) and The Natural (1984).

Number 6
John Gotti (1940 - 2002)
In the wake of the great gangsters who ruled New York, John Gotti had his work cut out for him. Born in Brooklyn in 1940, he was always quick with his fists and it was his life's dream to become a wiseguy. By the age of 16, he had joined a local street gang known as the Fulton-Rockaway Boys. He quickly became their leader, stealing cars and fencing stolen goods. In the '60s, he began associating with Mafia hoods and hijacking trucks. In the early '70s, he became a capo for the Bergin crew, a part of the Gambino family. Extremely ambitious, Gotti started to deal drugs, which was forbidden by family rules.

As a result, Paul Castellano, the Boss, wished to expel Gotti from the organization. In 1985, Gotti and his guys killed Castellano outside a steakhouse and Gotti took over the Gambino family. No matter how many times the authorities tried to indict him for being the most powerful criminal in New York, the charges were always dropped. Because of this -- and the fact that he dressed well and loved media attention -- he was nicknamed "The Dapper Don" and "The Teflon Don." He was finally convicted for murder in 1992 and died of cancer in prison in 2002.

Featured in: He was played by Anthony John Denison in the made-for-TV movie Getting Gotti (1994) and by Armand Assante in the HBO event Gotti (1996). Other TV movies featuring him include Witness to the Mob (1998) with Tom Sizemore and The Big Heist (2001).

Number 5
Meyer Lansky (1902 - 1983)

Born Maier Suchowljansky in Russia to Jewish parents in 1902, Lansky moved to New York when he was 9. He met Charles Luciano when they were just schoolboys. Luciano demanded protection money from Lansky, and when he refused to pay, the two boys fought. Impressed by Lansky's toughness, Luciano befriended the younger boy and the two remained lifelong friends. Lansky also met Bugsy Siegel when he was a teenager, and the three formed a powerful partnership. Lansky and Siegel formed the Bug and Meyer Mob, which became Murder, Inc.

Lansky's primary order of business was money and gambling, and he had operations in Florida, Cuba and New Orleans. He was an investor in Siegel's Las Vegas casino, and he even bought an offshore bank in Switzerland that was used for money laundering. A financial genius, he codeveloped the National Crime Syndicate and the Commission. But business is never personal, and he approved the murder of his best friend Bugsy Siegel when Siegel was unable to produce profits for the Syndicate. Even with a gambling racket in operation across the planet, Lansky never spent a day in jail.

Featured in: Not only did Richard Dreyfuss give a powerful performance in HBO's Lansky (1999), but the character of Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II (1974) was loosely based on him as well. The role was also played by Mark Rydell in Havana (1990), Patrick Dempsey in Mobsters (1991) and Ben Kingsley in Bugsy (1991).

Number 4
Frank Costello (1891 - 1973)
Francesco Castiglia was born in 1891 in Italy and moved to the United States with his family when he was 4. He changed his name to Frank Costello when he joined a street gang at age 13. After numerous petty crimes landed him in prison, he became best friends with Charlie Luciano; together, they dealt in bootlegging and gambling. Costello's strength was his position as a link between the Mob and politicians, especially the Democratic Party's Tammany Hall in New York, which enabled him and his associates to pay off certain officials.

Following Luciano's arrest, Costello became the man in charge, and he solidified and expanded the operation during this time. A power struggle between him and Vito Genovese (who served as Underboss) erupted in the '50s, and Vincent Gigante tried to kill Costello. Eventually, Costello grew tired of the gangster life and retired, but not before framing Genovese and Gigante for a drug bust. He died peacefully in 1973.

Featured in: The man was best portrayed by James Andronica in the 1981 miniseries The Gangster Chronicles, by Costas Mandylor in Mobsters (1991), by Carmine Caridi in Bugsy (1991), and by Jack Nicholson in The Departed (2006). (The author is actually incorrect about Jack Nicholson playing the real Frank Costello in The Departed. Only the character name was in common with the real Frank Costello. Nicholson's character was mostly based upon another gangster, Whitey Bulger.)

Number 3
Carlo Gambino (1902 - 1976)
Carlo Gambino came from a family that had been part of the Mafia for centuries in Italy. He started carrying out murders when he was a teenager and became a made guy in 1921 at the age of 19. With Mussolini gaining power, he immigrated to America, where his cousin Paul Castellano lived. He became a thug for different New York families until he joined Lucky Luciano's crew.

After Luciano was extradited in the '40s, Albert Anastasia took over. But Gambino thought it was his time to shine and had Anastasia killed in 1957. He appointed himself Boss of the family and reigned with an iron fist over New York until his natural death in 1976.

Featured in: Al Ruscio played him beautifully in the TNT movie Boss of Bosses(2001). Other "Gambino" appearances include the made-for-TV movies Between Love & Honor (1995), Gotti (1996) and Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999).

Number 2
Charlie "Lucky" Luciano (1897 - 1962)

Salvatore Lucania was born in Sicily in 1897, but his family moved to New York nine years later. At a young age, he became a member of the Five Points gang, in which Al Capone also received his education. Five years after establishing an empire based mostly on prostitution, Luciano controlled the racket all over Manhattan. After a failed but brutal attack on his life in 1929, Luciano started planning the National Crime Syndicate, an extension of Salvatore Maranzano's Commission, with Meyer Lansky.

They eliminated the competition, and by 1935, Lucky Luciano was known as the Boss of Bosses -- not just of New York City, but of the whole country. He was arrested and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in 1936, but was let out on parole in 1946 on the condition that he be deported to Italy. He had so much power that U.S. Navy intelligence sought his help when the Allies were set to invade Italy during World War II. He died of a heart attack in 1962.

Featured in: Christian Slater played him in Mobsters (1991), as did Bill Graham in Bugsy (1991) and Anthony LaPaglia in the TV film Lansky (1999).

Number 1
Al Capone (1899 - 1947)
If there ever was a gangster who earned the No. 1 spot, it is Al Capone. Alphonse Capone was born in 1899 to Italian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, where he got his start in street gangs. He then joined the Five Points gang and became a bouncer. It was during these days that a series of facial wounds earned him the "Scarface" nickname. Capone moved to Chicago in 1919 and quickly moved up the Mafia hierarchy while working for Johnny Torrio (Capone became Torrio's protege).

It was the time of the Prohibition, and Capone ran prostitution, gambling and bootlegging rings. In 1925, at the age of 26, Capone took over after Torrio was wounded in a gang war. Known for his intelligence, flamboyance and love of public attention, Capone was also known to be very violent; his role in the orchestration of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, in which key rival gangsters were murdered, proves this. In 1931, Federal Treasury agent Eliot Ness arrested him for tax evasion.

Featured in: Many movies have been made about Capone, but the most famous are probably The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) with Jason Robards, Capone (1975) with Ben Gazzara and The Untouchables (1987) with Robert De Niro.

Thanks to Matthew Simpson

Friday, June 26, 2015

Time to End Mob Stereotypes?

FIFTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO this fall, in the tiny town of Apalachin, near Binghamton, N.Y., Americans were unexpected guests at the coming-out party for organized crime. American popular culture has never been the same since then. Neither has the psyche of Italian-Americans.

The Apalachin conclave of 1957 was the final event in a series of truly Byzantine shifts and alliances in the world of organized crime. As the iconic "Godfather" film notes, there had been a great struggle in the mob over drug trafficking. By the spring of 1957, it had become nearly impossible to salvage the non-trafficking accord crafted by leaders some 10 years prior.

The key figure in the drama was Frank Costello, the flashy, debonair "prime minister," so-called for his political talents, who tried to maintain the sanction against drug dealing. He was allied with powerful leaders like Joe Bonanno and Albert Anastasia. However, others such as Vito Genovese favored narcotics trafficking as good business. As a result of many machinations, a contract was put out on Frank Costello in May, 1957. Most surprisingly, the attempt failed.

Costello retired from "office," but Albert Anastasia, once the CEO of Murder Incorporated, wished to hit Genovese. According to Bill Bonanno's book, Joe Bonanno convinced Anastasia to sit tight while he (Joe) was on a trip to Italy. On Oct. 25, 1957, while relaxing in a barber's chair, Anastasia was gunned down in what was the most famously reported and photographed mob hit ever.

This assassination was equivalent to a political coup d'etat. To prevent the chaos of all-out war, a number of diplomatic meetings were held to reestablish order: who would forego vengeance, who would sell drugs, how the syndicate would continue in the future. The Apalachin meeting was to be the last of these diplomatic congresses. But some good luck and some good police work put an end to the mob convention before it began. The group was dispersed, as were doubts about the existence of organized crime.

Since the coming out at Apalachin, the idea of an American Empire of Crime seized upon the popular imagination, and mob figures, books, TV dramas and movies became cultural icons. The TV show "The Untouchables," (1959-1963) portrayed Eliot Ness battling hundreds and hundreds of Italian-American gangsters. For America, it became clear that all Italian-Americans were mobsters and all mobsters were Italian-Americans.

Fortunately, Italian-Americans could proudly point to the fact that one (just one) of Ness' lieutenants was himself an Italian-American. Pheww!

This flat-out stereotyping found Italian-Americans powerless to resist it or change it.

With the release of "The Godfather" movies in 1972 and 1974, America was treated to a different view of organized crime and its Italian connections. The intense character portrayals and brilliant acting in these films made Italian-American crime lords sympathetic figures who exercised a favorable hold on the national imagination. For various reasons, movies about Louis Lepke (with Milton Berle), Bugsy Siegel and Dutch Schultz failed to create a similar standing for Jewish-American mobsters.

For the psyche of Italian-Americans, the result of the "Godfather" movies was truly schizophrenic. Should they condemn or admire the heroes of the films, even as the majority of Americans seemed to lionize them?

The release of HBO's hugely popular and successful drama "The Sopranos" brought organized crime into our living rooms, each episode willingly accepted and highly anticipated by the American public. The mobsters fleeing in the Apalachin countryside wound up safe at home in our living rooms and rec rooms!

Certifying this change has been the rise of tourism and museums dedicated to the history of mobsters and organized crime. In Chicago, there is a popular Al Capone bus tour taking tourists to gangland sites.

The Chicago Historical Museum's Web site gets 50,000 hits a month for Al Capone, but only 10,000 for the Great Chicago Fire.

In Las Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman is founding a "Mob Museum." The project is a good bet to succeed, according to some museum consultants. So it comes as no surprise that in little Apalachin, the owner of Angelo's Pizza is working with the online store, which sells mob memorabilia. The items range from Frank Costello T-shirts to special key chains, with plans to sell the tomato sauce made by Fat Clemenza in Godfather.

Since Apalachin 58 years ago, the mob has been sanitized and found fit for American cultural consumption. The Sopranos' show recently won three more Emmys.

Only one thing remains to be done. Our government should come into the 21st century and stop labeling crime groups by the names of Italian-American leaders who have long gone from the scene, replaced by other ethnic groups whose chronicles and films are now being made.

Thanks to Silvio Laccetti

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Museums Worse than the Mob?

Frank Cullotta knows having his character assassinated isn't the worst thing that can happen to a guy with his pedigree.

In his former line of work, names could hurt you, but it's the sticks, stones and bullets that do most of the real damage. Cullotta, the former Chicago Outfit hitman-turned-government witness, just received word he's depicted in less than flattering terms down at the Tropicana's new Mob Experience. Specifically, he says, the exhibit devoted to the life and death of his childhood friend Anthony Spilotro portrayed Cullotta's defection in a negative light.

On Monday, Cullotta tried not to weep openly and only briefly contemplated seeking therapy before thinking better of it. That plot line has already been used in "The Sopranos," and he probably didn't want to scare the psychologist. But that's the way it is these days in Las Vegas, where warring traditional mob factions appear to have been replaced by sparring mob museums. In this corner, wearing the black trunks, Jay Bloom's Mob Experience at the Trop. In that corner, wearing red trunks, the Oscar Goodman-inspired downtown Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, also known as the Mob Museum.

The Mob Experience has been faster on its feet and secured the cooperation and memorabilia of members of a number of mob families along with the faces of a number of gangster-movie stars. The Mob Museum, conversely, is focusing on creating a historically accurate depiction of the battle between organized crime and law enforcement. It also is gathering big-ticket items such as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre wall and Albert Anastasia's last barber chair.

Cullotta, 72, could give a graduate seminar in the Chicago Outfit and its role in Las Vegas during Spilotro's era. He also knows something about making money from mob imagery, participating in Martin Scorsese's "Casino" and co-authoring his autobiography Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness, with Dennis Griffin. (Cullotta, Griffin, Henry Hill, Andrew DiDonato and Vito Colucci will sign books at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Royal Resorts on Convention Center Drive. Bring your own bulletproof vest.)

That's the challenge for reformed wiseguys, killers and other characters who used to carry shovels and rope in the trunks of their Lincolns. How do you go reasonably straight and still earn a living?

By telling and selling your story, of course.

So that's why Cullotta is keeping his sense of humor about getting the cold shoulder from the Spilotro family exhibit. Although, he reminds me, the worst thing Tony would have received from Cullotta's testimony was a prison stretch. It was Tony's supposed friends, headed by Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, who in 1986 murdered him and brother Michael and buried their bodies in an Indiana cornfield. "I didn't give him a death sentence," Cullotta says. "If he would have went to jail, he probably still would still be alive."

In case you're wondering, Cullotta is a cooperating witness for the downtown museum. He was interviewed by museum personnel for about four hours, he says. Although Cullotta figures his books will be on display in the gift shop, "I'm doing it for free. If you think you're going to make a million dollars doing this, you're kidding yourself." But he's not joking about the irony of living long enough to see the way Las Vegas is courting the mob imagery.

"Usually it's the mob making money off legitimate people," he says. "These are legitimate people making money off the mob. They're worse than the Outfit."

A Cullotta pal took one look at the Mob Experience and suggested Frank the former hitman sue for defamation. Cullotta just laughed.

"Sue? With my character and my reputation?" the mob survivor cracks. "Are you out of your mind?"

Thanks to John L. Smith

Monday, June 15, 2009

Photo of Robert De Niro Hanging Out on Movie Set with Real Mobsters

Robert De Niro is another "GoodFella" who has hung out with the Gambino crime family.

While making the 1999 film "Analyze This," about a neurotic gangster, De Niro consulted with the late Gambino soldier Anthony (Fat Andy) Ruggiano - and the Daily News has obtained a never-before-seen photo of the Oscar-winning actor with the big-time gangster in the actor's trailer.

Robert De Niro(c) poses inside his trailer with the late mob boss Anthony 'Fat Andy' Ruggiano (r) for research on his role.

The film may have been a comedy, but Ruggiano was no joke. Ruggiano, who died in March 1999, was inducted into the crime family when the boss was Albert Anastasia. He was involved in at least seven murders, including giving the approval to whack his son-in-law.

"He did a lot of work for the family," Ruggiano's turncoat son Anthony Jr. testified recently at the trial of a Gambino hit man. "Work" is mob jargon for gangland killings. "He killed somebody with a fellow named Joe," Anthony Ruggiano Jr. recalled. "He killed a florist in Brooklyn. He killed three people in a warehouse that was robbing crap games.

"He killed somebody with me . . . and they had this guy Irish Danny killed behind the Skyway Motel on Conduit Blvd."

De Niro, who is famous for scrupulously researching his roles, was introduced to Ruggiano by reputed Gambino associate Anthony Corozzo, a member of the Screen Actors Guild and an extra on "Analyze This," a knowledgeable source said.

Anthony Corozzo is the brother of high-ranking Gambinos Nicholas (Little Nick) Corozzo, a powerful capo, and reputed consigliere Joseph Corozzo. He also appeared in another film starring De Niro, "A Bronx Tale," and forgettable flicks "This Thing of Ours, "The Deli" and "Men Lie."

"Anthony is like a liaison with the acting community," the source said.

De Niro's rep, Stan Rosenfeld, said the movie was made a long time ago and the actor doesn't recall Ruggiano. "Bob seldom, if ever, discusses his research techniques," Rosenfeld said.

Attorney Joseph Corozzo Jr. denied his uncle brought Fat Andy to the set.

Jerry Capeci of the Web site said it's no secret actors like to rub elbows with real tough guys, and the feeling is mutual. "Even Carlo Gambino, the epitome of the understated, low-key mob boss, couldn't resist the lure of posing in that now famous backstage picture with Frank Sinatra surrounded by a bunch of smiling wise guys," Capeci said.

During the filming of "GoodFellas," De Niro was interested in talking to the legendary gangster he was playing, but James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke was in jail and refused to meet with the actor, the source said.

De Niro is the latest alumnus from the film "GoodFellas" to have met with members of the Gambino family. Actor Frank Sivero posed for photos at Gambino hit man Charles Carneglia's junkyard, and actor Anthony Borgese was indicted last week for participating in an extortion with a Gambino soldier.

Thanks to John Marzulli.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Last Sit-Down

The Last Sit-Down is a limited edition mixed media canvas painting that is a stunning work of art romanticizing the Italian-American mafia's most glorious years in history. Thirteen of La Cosa Nostra's most notorious members transcend the different eras in which they lived and together feast in a setting fit for a Don. From left to right, Joe Bonanno, Sal Maranzano, Vito Genovese, Joe Masseria, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, John Gotti, Paul Castellano, Joseph Colombo, Carlo Gambino, Albert Anastasia, and Gaetano Lucchese await your arrival to "The Last Sit-Down".

The Last Sit Down

Friday, May 04, 2007

Crazy Joey Gallo's Widow Reflects on being Married to the Mob

Friends of ours: Joey "Crazy Joey" Gallo, Joe Profaci, Albert Anastasia, Jackie “Mad Dog” Nazarian, Joe Colombo, Bobby Bongiovi, Sam Wuyak

When gunfire erupted in Umberto’s Clam House, Sina Essary watched her husband of three weeks throw over the dinner table, absorb three bullets to his frail body and stumble out into Mulberry Street to die. It was April 7, 1972, in New York’s Little Italy, and Sina’s husband was no ordinary victim. He was Joey Gallo—“Crazy Joey,” they called him—an intellectual and charismatic kingpin of the New York rackets.

Today, largely unknown among her neighbors, Sina lives on a small farm in rural Leiper’s Fork, surrounded by a barn full of horses and rescued dogs and cats. Most people know her, she says, only as “that crazy woman from New York who keeps all those animals on her place.” Now 65, she has an elfin stature and a rich, resonant voice that carries just a trace of a New York accent. She is a commercial photographer by trade—trained at New York’s famed New School for Social Research—and she keeps her life very quiet and private. But in the early 1970s, at the height of gangster chic, the petite woman with the snapping dark eyes was at the center of a maelstrom. She was both a celebrity and a target. As the wife of one of New York’s most feared—and most glamorous—mob bosses, she lived among superstars and triggermen in a cosmopolitan jungle where wealth and power went hand in hand with bloody retribution. The tabloids took her picture when she became a bride. Less than a month later, they took her picture when she became a widow.

Now, safely sequestered among the peaceful hills of Williamson County, 35 years after her husband’s murder, Sina has decided for the first time to tell the story of her life with Joey Gallo. “I haven’t told it before,” Sina Essary laughs, firing up a Benson & Hedges and fending off her three-legged cat, “because I’ve been too busy wiping horses’ asses on the farm. But I’ve been writing my memoirs in my head while I’m shoveling manure!”

Sina began her adventurous life as a pregnant nun. No kidding. She attended Catholic schools and entered the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph when she was only 18. “I was very, very religious as a youngster,” she says. While Joey Gallo was growing up to join the New York syndicate, Sina was preparing to take her final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Outside the convent walls on a sick leave, however, she got together with an old boyfriend. “Before you knew it,” she says in her deep chuckle, “I wasn’t a virgin anymore.” She became pregnant from that single encounter and her short life in the convent was over.

Sina married the old boyfriend, had a child with him, divorced him and found herself a single mom working in a jewelry store. But her daughter, Lisa Essary, now a Hollywood casting director, was a theatrical prodigy. She soon became a child star on Broadway, changing Sina’s life for the better.

As Lisa’s career grew, Sina fell in love with Lisa’s music coach, a man who was destined to become a conductor of the New York City Opera and the Houston Grand Opera. She wanted desperately to marry him—she still calls him “the love of my life”—but she adds with a laugh, “What I didn’t know was he was gay!”

With a track record like that, it was perhaps inevitable that the nun would become a gangster’s moll.

Joey Gallo was a Brooklyn kid, the son of a loan shark and would-be rumrunner. A 1973 book by Harvey Aronson, The Killing of Joey Gallo, chronicles his violent rise through the ranks of the mob. He became a career criminal at a very early age, and though he was arrested many times as a youth, he was never sent to prison. He was convicted only once—for burglary in 1950—but when a court psychiatrist declared him paranoid-schizophrenic, Joey received a suspended sentence.

Joey had flair. In 1947, he saw Richard Widmark in the film Kiss of Death, and with his drowsy, heavy-lidded appearance Joey began to pattern himself after Widmark’s giggling psycho Tommy Udo. He began to dress and act like Udo and could recite long passages of the movie’s dialogue. But despite his theatrical posturing, Joey was still a violent and deadly man. Writing after Joey’s death, the legendary New York Post columnist Pete Hamill said of the young Joey:

“He might have been a fresh twenty-one-year-old kid dressed in a zoot suit, but the eyes were ancient…eyes devoid of time or any conventional sense of pity or remorse…. [H]e would joke with the cops and smile for the reporters, but the eyes never changed…tormented eyes.”

In 1957, Joey became a “made” man in the Joe Profaci organization by (it was said) assassinating Albert Anastasia, one of Profaci’s enemies and boss of the notorious “Murder Incorporated.” According to witnesses, Anastasia was having his hair cut in a Sixth Avenue hotel when two disguised gunmen rushed through the hotel lobby. They shot Anastasia dead in his chair and escaped into the crowd. No one was ever charged with Anastasia’s killing, but the story on the street was that the shooters were Crazy Joey and an accomplice named Jackie “Mad Dog” Nazarian. Tommy Udo would have been proud.

Profaci’s business was run by coercion, and Joey was his top enforcer. Multiple beatings and murders were attributed to Joey during the late 1950s, and Time magazine claimed that he stabbed one target to death with an ice pick. But nothing against him was ever proven. The Mafia code of omerta—silence—protected Joey among his own.

In time, though, Joey became disenchanted with the way Profaci was dividing the family profits. So along with his two brothers and several other Profaci henchmen, he converted a Brooklyn warehouse into a fortress and launched a revolt. As the 1950s came to a close, a gang war raged between Joey and Profaci. It was an onslaught of killings, beatings and kidnappings. It was also successful. In the end, Joey succeeded in wresting away a significant part of Profaci’s holdings.

Joey built his winnings into a small empire based on violence and extortion. For years he evaded punishment. But finally, in 1961, he was taken down for threatening to kill a Brooklyn bar owner. He was convicted of extortion and sentenced to seven to 14 years in prison. The judge who sentenced him said that Joey “[has] an utter contempt for the law and is a menace to society.”

Joey’s time in prison was marked by the Attica riots, which he helped to settle, and at least two mob attempts on his life. But he spent most of his time profitably. He set out on a project of self-education, becoming a fine painter and reading history, art, politics and philosophy.

Then in 1971, after serving almost 10 years, Joey was released and began parlaying his newfound education and refinement into a fresh image around New York. Tommy Udo was gone. In his place—as far as the outside world could see—was a well-mannered and intelligent man.

That’s when he met Sina.

Even though she grew up in a large Italian American community, Sina knew very little about the Mafia. Born into a close-knit family in Ohio, she grew up in comfortable circumstances. She attended private Catholic schools. She lived a somewhat sheltered life.

Sina’s maternal grandfather had come to America from Bari, Italy, an old city on the Adriatic coast, and developed a thriving Italian grocery business. Her maternal grandmother became famous in America for hosting a popular radio show called The Italian Hour—all Italian opera and popular songs—every Sunday afternoon.

Her aunt Dorothy attended Juilliard and later sang with the San Francisco Opera. “I was raised listening to opera,” Sina says. “My earliest recollection as a baby was hearing my aunt sing ‘Un bel di’ to me in my high chair. Even today I keep Live From the Met and WPLN playing in the barn to keep the horses company.”

Sina’s only exposure to organized crime came from a family legend she heard from her grandparents. After her grandfather’s business began to prosper, she says, figures from a local syndicate came to him and demanded that he surrender part of his business as tribute. He refused. As a result, both he and Sina’s grandmother were beaten. Her grandfather stood firm, however, and eventually the gang gave up. He had a strong temperament, and Sina inherited it.

In due course, Sina and Lisa moved to New York and quickly became well known on Broadway. Lisa landed big parts in a number of plays, and the two of them became friends with some of the biggest names in show business. Soon Lisa was attending private schools, and they moved into the penthouse of an upscale apartment building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 15th Street.

Life was good. Sina never dreamed she was about to meet, and marry, a man like Joey Gallo.

While Joey was still languishing in prison, his old enemy Joe Profaci died. Control of the Profaci mob passed to Joe Colombo, one of the “new” Mafia dons who knew something about politics and public relations. He formed an organization he called the Italian American Civil Rights League and used it to rally support against the FBI’s claim that he was a mobster. With the league as his mouthpiece, Colombo maintained that there was no such thing as “the Mafia” and that he was “just an honest businessman.” The league was hugely successful and so powerful that Colombo was able to win concessions from the producers of The Godfather about the way Italian Americans were portrayed in the film.

The Profaci organization’s racketeering remained profitable too, but many of Colombo’s subordinates were bridling at the way he ran the business and divided the spoils. To his hardened street enforcers, Colombo was a lightweight and a publicity seeker. Dissension in his family was building.

Into this unsettled world, Joey arrived fresh from prison, bearing a 10-year grudge against the Profaci family. Joey might have been flashing his new cleaned-up image in public, but in secret he was re-energizing the Gallo gang. He planned to depose Colombo. Less than six weeks after his release from prison, Joey demanded a $100,000 tribute payment from Colombo as a condition for staying away from his business. Colombo refused to pay. Instead, he placed a contract on Joey’s life.

On June 28, 1971, just four months after Joey’s release from prison, Colombo held a rally of his Italian American Civil Rights League in Columbus Circle, just off Central Park. Thousands of people attended the noontime affair. But as Colombo began making his way to the dais to speak (along with the mayor and several other luminaries) he was shot and severely wounded by a black man later identified as Jerome Johnson.

No one ever discovered who Johnson was working for. As fate would have it, he was immediately shot and killed by yet another never-identified gunman. Colombo was left in a near-vegetative state and was off the board as far as the rackets were concerned. The event made the cover of Time magazine the following week.

Joey claimed that the FBI was behind the Colombo attack, but most reasonable minds concluded that Joey had engineered it himself. He had a clear motive, and he was certainly capable of pulling it off. While the police and FBI looked for clues, the heirs to Colombo’s power renewed the contract on Joey’s life. By July 1971, one month before he met Sina, Joey had less than a year to live.

The obvious question is why a respectable former nun like Sina Essary would fall for a mobster with a price on his head. Sina chuckles and says, “The story is kind of complicated.”

Sina first saw Joey on her apartment building’s elevator. She lived in the penthouse and Joey happened to live in an apartment downstairs. Joey was smitten by Sina, but she was not immediately attracted to him. The first few times she encountered him, with his retinue of bodyguards, she says he appeared “extremely frail and pale. He looked like an old man. He was a bag of bones.” What Sina didn’t know was that Joey still bore the marks of 10 years in prison.

Still, Sina says, Joey had an attractive aspect. “You could see the remnants of what had been a strikingly handsome man in his youth,” she remembers. “He had beautiful features—beautiful nose, beautiful mouth and piercing blue eyes.”

Joey also had a special charisma, she adds. “People were mesmerized by him,” she says. “He had that quality that attracted people to him, no matter who they were. He was extremely intelligent and he could talk about anything. He could talk about art, theater, politics, philosophy—all the things he had been reading about in prison.”

Joey launched an immediate pursuit of Sina, even though he had recently remarried his former wife, Jeffie. “She looked like a movie star,” Sina says. But nothing stopped Joey, and during the following weeks he began to win Sina over with gifts and plates of Italian food. Before long, their children were playing together and Sina was having dinner at Joey’s apartment. Because Joey was married, Sina felt safe from a more complicated relationship.

Sina gradually learned of Joey’s past, but he told her he wasn’t in the rackets anymore. He still carried bodyguards out of necessity, he said, but he was no longer strong-arming anybody. “It didn’t bother me much that he had been in the Mafia,” Sina recalls. “He told me he was through with the mob. I thought, so what, this is New York, so he’s in the mob, big deal. I didn’t realize who he actually was until I married him and had my picture in the newspaper!”

What Joey really wanted, Sina says, was to get into show business. Several years earlier, Jimmy Breslin had written a comic send-up of the Mafia called The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, supposedly based on Joey and his gangland pals. The book spawned an equally popular movie starring Jerry Orbach—that’s right, the same Jerry Orbach who played Lenny Briscoe on Law & Order—as a Joey-like character named “Kid Sally Palumbo.” Joey didn’t like the way the film portrayed him, but he liked Orbach and wanted a meeting. They quickly became friends, as did Sina and Orbach’s wife Marta.

From that point forward Joey was hooked on celebrities, and before long they were hooked on him too. There was an aspect of danger about Joey that appealed to show business people. Being with Joey gave them a vicarious sense of living the romantic life depicted in The Godfather, which had just opened to acclaim and unprecedented box office. The movie ushered in an intense new public fascination with the underworld. Joey exuded excitement, and people loved it. “He loved walking into Sardi’s,” Sina recalls. “You could hear a pin drop when he came in.”

In addition, many people knew about the Colombo hit and the possibility that Colombo’s soldiers might try to kill Joey. That gave his relationships with friends an unusual intensity. Orbach told Time magazine, “Joey compressed time with us because he knew…he might not have much time, that he could go at any minute…. [A] minute talking to Joey was like an hour spent with someone else…. It was startling to talk with him.” Women were particularly drawn to Joey’s fatal aura. “Joey was a terribly sexy person,” Marta Orbach admitted to Time. Even highbrow critic Susan Sontag wanted to meet him.

Pretty soon the former nun and the gangster became lovers. Sina was a beautiful 29-year-old, and Joey had just spent 10 celibate years behind bars. For Sina’s part, she says, “Part of me was craving that sexual thing which I hadn’t had for 10 years. I’d been divorced for 10 years and all the men I ever hung around with were gay!”

Joey soon began insisting that they get married and, after Joey sent Jeffie packing, they did. The wedding was held in the Orbachs’ apartment in March 1972. “The ceremony was performed by the same pastor who had married Tiny Tim and Miss Vicky on the Johnny Carson show,” Sina says, laughing. Joey’s best man was the comedian David Steinberg, and the small ceremony was reported the next day in the pages of the New York Post and the New York Daily News. But in three weeks Joey would be dead.

Not long after the ceremony, Sina began to realize that Joey was not entirely free of his past. On April 5, 1972, three weeks after the wedding and two days before Joey died, the apartment building’s doorman buzzed Sina to say that a deliveryman was in the lobby with a package for her. Sina told the doorman to send the man up, but when Joey overheard her he got angry. At his instruction, two of his bodyguards intercepted the deliveryman at the elevator and attacked him, pulling a gun and choking him. “Joey feared that the package contained a bomb,” Sina says, “but it turned out to be a Tiffany ice bucket for me from the producer Bruce Jay Friedman.”

Joey blew up at Sina, throwing her into a chair and raging at her. He screamed at her never to do something like that again, with a ferocity that Joey’s associates in the mob knew well. For Sina, it was an abrupt and terrifying wake-up call. “I didn’t know this was part of the deal,” Sina says. “I realized there was something I didn’t know about going on, there was something bigger than me. That was the day I knew it was over, that I couldn’t live like that.” So she threw Joey out of her apartment. “If this is what my life with you is going to be,” she told him, “you have to leave.”

The following day, however—April 6, 1972—was Joey’s 43rd birthday, and there was a celebration planned at the Copacabana with the Orbachs, Steinberg, comedian Don Rickles and Joey’s usual crowd of celebrities and hangers-on. Still intending to leave Joey, Sina nevertheless relented and agreed to go to the party with him.

Late on the evening of the 6th, Joey’s group picked Lisa up from her performance in Voices at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (she had third billing behind Julie Harris and Richard Kiley), and they drove to the Copa. It was a great night. Rickles introduced Lisa from the stage, and everyone sat and drank champagne until almost 4 a.m. Then the Copa closed and they all went in search of breakfast.

The party now consisted of Joey, Sina and Lisa, along with Joey’s sister and a single bodyguard, Pete “The Greek” Diapoulos. Another bodyguard, Robert “Bobby Darrow” Bongiovi, had left earlier in the evening with a woman from the Copa. By then, it was early morning, April 7, 1972.

The search for breakfast took them to Umberto’s Clam House at the corner of Hester and Mulberry streets in Little Italy. No one in the party had been to Umberto’s before, but it was the only place open at that hour. “We were all sitting around a big heavy table, with Joey facing the door and Lisa and I sitting next to the wall,” Sina remembers. “Joey thought the food was excellent and ordered seconds for everybody.”

Without warning, several gunmen burst through the door and began firing. Accounts vary as to how many shooters were involved, but Sina swears there were five. Colombo’s wiseguys had apparently seen Joey going into the restaurant and had rounded up some of Colombo’s soldiers to put him away.

When the shooting started, Joey turned the table over to protect the others while Sina dragged Lisa to the floor and covered her with her coat. In a matter of seconds, more than 20 shots were fired. Joey was struck three times—in his arm, his spine and finally in his carotid artery. He staggered out the door, followed by his assailants’ fire, and collapsed on the pavement. When the shooting stopped, there were 17 bullet holes in the wall behind Sina’s and Lisa’s chairs. Joey lay dying in the street.

“Joey had an intense sense of destiny,” Marta Orbach says. “If he was truly marked for dying, this old-fashioned way—in style—would have been a point of honor with him. Joey’s death would have appealed to his sense of drama.” Pete Hamill called it “a supreme New York moment.” But for Sina, huddled with her daughter on the floor of a restaurant filled with shells and screams and blood, it was anything but supreme.

“I thought I was observing all this through the eyes of death,” Sina says today. “In fact, I thought I was dead.” Her next thought was an irony that struck her in light of their earlier fight. “Fancy that,” she thought, “somebody was trying to kill him. My God, he wasn’t kidding!”

Today Sina tells her stories in the living room of her modest farmhouse, surrounded by photographs of her family and friends. These include a prominently placed picture of Joey. At 65, she still retains her classic Italian beauty and charm. She lives alone and maintains only a few close friendships. Hearing her relate her stories in the quiet of her living room or outside her sunny barn is a surreal but wholly believable experience.

Sina came to Tennessee in 1991 to get away from her notoriety. She says she had become almost a novelty in New York. “I wasn’t introduced to people as Sina Essary anymore,” she says. “I was ‘Joey Gallo’s widow.’ I had become like a stop on a sightseeing bus, like the Statue of Liberty or something.” She was besieged with requests for interviews in New York, all of which she declined. She even turned down an invitation to appear on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.

But she had good reasons to keep quiet. One, she says, was the possibility that she herself might be marked for murder. She had been a witness to Joey’s shooting, after all, and might have identified the killers. For a long time afterward, she was followed by FBI agents, the NYPD and members of the Gallo gang in what she calls “an unholy alliance” to protect her from the Colombo crew. After a while, it all became too much for her.

For Sina, the attraction of Tennessee was its entertainment business. “I felt I could practice my photography in Nashville,” she says. “I had been in the business of photographing celebrities in New York, so I figured I could do it in Tennessee too.” She is presently planning a retrospective show at the Nashville Design Center in Melrose, where she intends to represent the large portfolio of pictures she has amassed over the years. In perhaps the richest irony of all, she photographed a young actress who would play the most famous Mafia wife of all: Edie Falco, who stars as Carmela on The Sopranos.

Sina admits that her move to Tennessee was also an act of “menopausal madness” which in some respects she still regrets. “I had always planned to go back to New York,” she says. “I had my box at the Metropolitan Opera, my rooftop rose garden and, of course, all my friends. For three years after I moved here I kept my apartment on Fifth Avenue, thinking I might go back. But when I bought my first pregnant mare, I fell so in love with her baby foal that I knew I could never leave. I still love New York, and I cry when I think about it, but I love my horses more.”

Sina has no fear from the Mafia today. Those days have passed, and the principal actors have died. She still speaks and corresponds every month with the only remaining member of the Gallo gang she knows, Bobby Bongiovi, the bodyguard who left early on the night Joey was killed. Bobby, movie-star handsome in his youth, is old, sick and now serving a life sentence in Dannemora for the murder of another mobster, Sam Wuyak, the year after Joey died. Bongiovi denies killing Wuyak, but he told Sina, “There is plenty of other stuff they could have sent me up for.” According to press accounts, when Bongiovi received his sentence at the hearing, Sina Essary was there, brushing away tears.

Joey’s life has been written about a number of times, but the accounts have not always been consistent. Some facts are hard to come by, and arguments about Joey still simmer among scholars of the Mafia life. Perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of Joey’s career is the Aronson book, though Sina says that it too contains errors. But Joey’s death only hastened his passing into myth. In 1974, Italian director Carlo Lizzani made a biopic called Crazy Joe starring the young Peter Boyle as Joey, with Eli Wallach, Paula Prentiss and even Henry Winkler in supporting roles. It was a spaghetti-Western take on gangland life, but critic Jerry Renshaw called it a gem—“a rawer Scorsese without the polish or panache, relying instead on pungent dialogue and gritty performances.”

By 1976, the fallen mobster had been rehabilitated as the romantic hero of “Joey,” from Bob Dylan’s 1976 album Desire—a combination Tom Joad and Pretty Boy Floyd whose “closest friends were black men ’cause they seemed to understand / What it’s like to be in society with a shackle on your hand.” In 1993, soon after Sina’s move to Nashville, Dylan even paid a visit to her home. They spent an afternoon discussing life in New York, shared acquaintances—and, of course, Joey.

More measured accounts of Joey’s life have revised the romantic image he carried while he was alive. He was a man capable of ruthless, and remorseless, brutality. His war with the Colombo family continued for a long time after he died, and several more killings took place, including those of two innocent people. The ferocity of the gang war caused Jimmy Breslin to change his thoughts about the rackets, writing that he considered The Godfather “hardcore pornography” and his own The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight “the product of demented thinking.”

Still, Sina has no regrets about marrying Joey. “It’s part of life,” she shrugs.

Joey’s funeral was huge, front-page news in all the papers. Pictures showed Sina and Lisa, grieving, standing on the steps of the church. The local parish priest refused to bury Joey—whether for doctrinal reasons or fear of Colombo mob reprisals was never made clear. So Sina arranged for a substitute priest to fly in from Cleveland to conduct the service.

Along the route to the cemetery, the sidewalks were jammed with people paying their respects to Joey Gallo. They strained to catch just a glimpse of his gleaming copper casket. Because of the attendance of so many gangland figures, police lined the streets and the rooftops to head off further violence.

Looking back, in the faraway seclusion of her Williamson County farm—a lifetime ago from the vendettas and tangled allegiances of Little Italy—Sina Essary says the procession would have appealed to Joey’s sense of show business. Tommy Udo was dead, and Sina says, “You would have thought the Pope was passing by.”

A former nun should know.

Thanks to Wayne Christeson

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Brothershood Mob Squad

Friends of ours: Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Joseph Valachi, John Gotti, Lucchese Crime Family, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, Gambino Crime Family
Friends of mine: Soprano Crime Family, Louis Eppolito, Stephen Caracappa

The phenomenon of Mafia nostalgia is so ingrained in the American consciousness, one might think Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia were among the founding fathers. In fact, our fascination with modern Italian-American organized crime dates only to the early 1960s, when the traitor Joseph Valachi first laid bare its internal structures and codes. Interest in the Mafia has proved far more enduring than the syndicates themselves, which have never recovered from the jailing of John Gotti and so many other godfathers in the 1980s and early 1990s. All we have left are Tony Soprano, the best work of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, and our memories. Ah, the bad old days.

The Mafia has been very good for Hollywood producers and newspaper reporters, which explains the media circus that surrounded the trial earlier this year of New York’s two infamous “Mafia cops,” Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who today remain in jail even though a judge has vacated their convictions. The now-retired detectives, dragged from their gaudy Las Vegas old-age homes to face the tabloid pack, were shown to have funneled sensitive intelligence and actually carried out murders for the crazed Luchese family godfather Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso back in the 1980s. The whole episode felt plucked from another era, as if these were the last two American turncoats to be prosecuted for cold war espionage.

Any number of books and movie projects are said to be in the works, and the first, “The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia,” by Guy Lawson, a veteran crime reporter, and William Oldham, a former New York Police Department detective who helped break the case, has now arrived. The good news, at least for Mafia aficionados, is that Lawson and Oldham have this material down cold. They seemingly had access to every Police Department document, every recorded conversation and every exhibit employed to convict Eppolito and Caracappa.

The bad news is that it’s all here: every dull dinner between the two detectives and an F.B.I. informant, page after page describing a screenplay Eppolito once wrote, apparently every case Oldham ever worked. “The Brotherhoods” is a perfectly fine book that could have been much, much better had the authors only known when to clam up. One suspects that within this overstuffed, ultradense 511-page anvil is a lean, nimble 275-page claw hammer yearning to swing free, a sequel to breezy underworld page-turners like Howard Blum’s “Gangland.” It’s not just that Lawson and Oldham throw in the kitchen sink. Like Gambino soldiers gleefully raiding a Canarsie warehouse, they haul out a refrigerator, 18 microwave ovens, 82 dinette sets, 994 Viking ranges and, still feeling a tad light, the entire inventory of the New Jersey Turnpike Ikea.

Part of the problem is that “The Brotherhoods” is not one book but two. The first is a straightforward if exhaustive narrative of the case, presumably written by Lawson. After putting down the galleys for the 15th time, unable to thrash my way through thickets of paragraphs so dense I began looking for hobbits, I took a hard look at his prose. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. His sentences are spare, his adverbs scarce, his name-pronoun exchanges are good, his transitions are functional if unspectacular. The trouble is Lawson’s use of detail. There’s a world of difference between “telling” detail and telling every detail. At one point I had to stop and shake my head when I realized he was actually explaining the brand name of a chair Oldham uses during a prison conference.

The second book really slows things down. This is Oldham’s lengthy interjections into Lawson’s prose, which come in paragraph after paragraph of quotation, sometimes five and six at a time. While Oldham’s views can be informative and entertaining, the effect is akin to a director’s commentary on a DVD film. Oldham strives to provide context, but too often serves up platitudes. To cite just one example of dozens: “In major organized criminal investigations there is not an obviously straightforward cause and effect. Conspiracies occur in parallel universes and timelines. What is the chronology of the crimes that are investigated? What happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Why did it happen?” This might be catnip for cops, but ahem, sir, could you please stop talking during the movie?

For those willing to wade through it, “The Brotherhoods” has its rewards. The authors do a stellar job of portraying the Police Department as a dysfunctional bureaucracy, making us see how Caracappa, who worked in the elite Major Case Squad alongside Oldham, was a much bigger fish than Eppolito, a blowhard toiling in deepest Brooklyn. They are adept at conjuring organized crime’s inbred world of social clubs and row houses; every cop in the book seems to have a cousin Joey “in the life,” and vice versa. Rarely have Mafiosi seemed like such losers as they do here, obese men in track suits debating whom to kill once they finish their ziti. Gaspipe Casso comes off as a cut above his knuckle-dragging peers, but his story was told just as well — and faster — in Selwyn Raab’s “Five Families.”

Of the two cops, the pathetic, porcine Eppolito — whose cinematic ambitions peaked with a goombah cameo in Scorsese’s “Goodfellas ” — is the most vividly drawn, this due to his mind-bogglingly wrongheaded memoir, “Mafia Cop,” in which he boasted of his Mafia lineage, which included his father, Ralph Eppolito, known as Fat the Gangster, and an uncle, Jimmy the Clam. Caracappa remains a cipher throughout, a wary, watchful figure with the look, and apparently the personality, of an undertaker on downers. Both could have used additional reporting to flesh out their careers and back stories; there aren’t many clues in the text as to what a pro like Caracappa would see in a mook like Eppolito. But Lawson, presumably viewing Oldham as the Ken Jennings of criminalia, falls prey to the common trap of letting only the caged canary sing. Isn’t there anyone else who knew these two detectives?

The book also suffers from several factors out of the authors’ control. For one thing, they cannot tell the full story of what Eppolito and Caracappa actually did, because the two detectives have never publicly discussed, much less admitted, their crimes. So what we get is a narrative engine built around Oldham’s investigation. This is interesting if unremarkable material, in part because his probe was a whodunit only in its infancy. After Casso, in an abortive attempt to reduce a life sentence for murder, told prosecutors about Eppolito and Caracappa in 1994, the next 10 years of story line are purely an exercise in proving what the unreliable Casso claimed.

In the end, for all Oldham’s dogged work, the case is broken when Casso’s conduit to the cops, the aging fence Burton Kaplan, finally cuts a deal of his own after nine years in prison. The authors do their best to wring drama from Oldham’s jailhouse tango with Kaplan, but Kaplan is bland beyond belief. The narrative payoff, the eureka moment the authors spend 300 pages building up to, comes “after dozens of calls and six weeks of talking,” of which little is said. “I think we got a deal,” Kaplan’s attorney tells Oldham. Memo to: Ahab. From: Whale. I think we got a deal.

Thanks to Bryan Burrough

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Godfather of All My Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Gordon Thomas


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