The Chicago Syndicate: Carlo Gambino
Showing posts with label Carlo Gambino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carlo Gambino. Show all posts

Monday, October 08, 2018

Frank Sinatra and the Mob

"Sinatra and the Mob"

Frank Sinatra always denied his ties to the Mafia, and neither government investigators nor the press could make the rumors stick- until now. In an excerpt from their book, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan uncover the full extent of the immortal crooner's connections with Lucky Luciano and other infamous Mob figures.

Sinatra: The Life, by Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan


Debut March 18, 1939.

In a studio on West 46th Street in New York City, a band was playing Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." It was a simple place, a room with couches and lamps, hung with drapes to muffle the echo from the walls. This was a big day for the musicians, who were recording for the first time.

A skinny young man listened as they played. The previous night, at the Sicilian Club near his home in New Jersey, he had asked if he could tag along. Now, as the band finished playing, he stepped forward and spoke to the bandleader. "May I sing?" he asked.

The bandleader glanced at the studio clock to see if they had time left, then told the young man to go ahead. He chose "Our Love," a stock arrangement based on a melody from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Standing at the rudimentary microphone, he launched into a saccharine lyric:

Our love, I feel it everywhere Our love is like an evening prayer ... I see your face in stars above, As I dream on, in all the magic of Our love.

Unseasoned, a little reedy, the voice was transmitted through an amplifier to a recording device known as a lathe. The lathe drove the sound to a needle, and the needle carved a groove on a twelve-inch aluminum-based lacquer disc. The result was a record, to be played on a turntable at seventy-eight revolutions per minute.

The bandleader kept the record in a drawer for nearly sixty years. He would take it out from time to time, with delight and increasing nostalgia, to play for friends. The music on it sounds tinny, a relic of the infancy of recording technology. Yet the disc is kept in a locked safe. The attorney for the bandleader's widow, an octogenarian on Social Security, says the singer's heirs have demanded all rights and the lion's share of any potential income derived from it, thus obstructing its release.

The disc is a valuable piece of musical history. Its tattered adhesive label, typed with an old manual machine, shows the recording was made at Harry Smith Studios, "electrically recorded" for bandleader Frank Mane. Marked "#1 Orig.," it is the very first known studio recording of the thousand and more that were to make that skinny young man the most celebrated popular singer in history. For, under "Vocal chor. by," it bears the immaculately handwritten legend: Frank Sinatra

A year after making that first record, at twenty-five, Sinatra told a new acquaintance how he saw his future. "I'm going to be the best singer in the world," he said, "the best singer that ever was."

A Family from Sicily

Io sono Siciliano ..." I am Sicilian.

At the age of seventy-one, in the broiling heat of summer in 1987, Frank Sinatra was singing, not so well by that time, in the land of his fathers. "I want to say," he told a rapt audience at Palermo's Favorita Stadium, "that I love you dearly for coming tonight. I haven't been in Italy for a long time-I'm so thrilled. I'm very happy."

The crowd roared approval, especially when he said he was Sicilian, that his father was born in Sicily. Sinatra's voice cracked a little as he spoke, and he looked more reflective than happy. At another concert, in the northern Italian city of Genoa, he had a joke for his audience. "Two very important and wonderful people came from Genoa," he quipped. "One ... Uno: Christopher Columbus. Due: mia Mamma ..."

This second crowd cheered, too, though a little less enthusiastically when he mentioned that his father was Sicilian. "I don't think," he said wryly, "that they're too thrilled about Sicilia." It was a nod to northern Italians' feelings about the island off the southernmost tip of the country. They look down on its people as backward and slothful, and because, as all the world knows, it is synonymous with organized crime. It is the island of fire and paradox, the dismembered foot of the leg of Italy. Sicily: at ten thousand square miles the largest island in the Mediterranean, a cornucopia of history that remains more remote and mysterious than anywhere in Europe.

The island's story has been a saga of violence. Its ground heaved to earthquakes, and its volcanoes spat fire and lava, long before Christ. Its population carries the genes of Greeks and Romans, of Germanic Vandals and Arabs, of Normans and Spaniards, all of them invaders who wrote Sicily's history in blood.

"Sicily is ungovernable," Luigi Barzini wrote. "The inhabitants long ago learned to distrust and neutralize all written laws." Crime was endemic, so alarmingly so that a hundred years ago the island's crime rate was said to be the worst in Europe. By then, the outside world had already heard the spectral name that has become inseparable from that of the island-Mafia.

The origin of that word is as much a mystery as the criminal brotherhood itself, but in Sicily "mafia" has one meaning and "Mafia"-with an upper case "M"-another. For the islanders, in Barzini's view, the word "mafia" was originally used to refer to "a state of mind, a philosophy of life, a concept of society, a moral code." At its heart is marriage and the family, with strict parameters. Marriage is for life, divorce unacceptable and impossible.

A man with possessions or special skills was deemed to have authority, and known as a padrone. In "mafia" with a small "m," those who lived by the code and wielded power in the community were uomini rispettati, men of respect. They were supposed to behave chivalrously, to be good family men, and their word was their bond. They set an example, and they expected to be obeyed.

The corruption of the code and the descent to criminality was rapid. Well before the dawn of the twentieth century, the Mafia with a capital "M," though never exactly an organization, was levying tribute from farmers, controlling the minimal water supply, the builders and the businessmen, fixing prices and contracts.

Cooperation was enforced brutally. Those who spoke out in protest were killed, whatever their station in life. The Mafia made a mockery of the state, rigging elections, corrupting the politicians it favored, and terrorizing opponents. From 1860 to 1924, not a single politician from Sicily was elected to the Italian parliament without Mafia approval. The island and its people, as one early visitor wrote, were "not a dish for the timid."

Frank Sinatra's paternal grandfather grew up in Sicily in the years that followed the end of foreign rule, a time of social and political mayhem. His childhood and early adult years coincided with the collapse of civil authority, brutally suppressed uprisings, and the rise of the Mafia to fill the power vacuum.

Beyond that, very little has been known about the Sinatra family's background in Sicily. The grandfather's obituary, which appeared in the New York Times because of his famous grandson, merely had him born "in Italy" in 1884 (though his American death certificate indicates he was born much earlier, in 1866). Twice, in 1964 and in 1987, Frank Sinatra told audiences that his family had come from Catania, about as far east as one can go in Sicily. Yet he told one of his musicians, principal violist Ann Barak, that they came from Agrigento on the southwestern side of the island. His daughter Nancy, who consulted her father extensively while working on her two books about his life, wrote that her great-grandfather had been "born and brought up" in Agrigento. His name, according to her, was John.

In fact he came from neither Catania nor Agrigento, was born earlier than either of the dates previously reported, and his true name was Francesco-in the American rendering, Frank.

Sicilian baptismal and marriage records, United States immigration and census data, and interviews with surviving grandchildren establish that Francesco Sinatra was born in 1857 in the town of Lercara Friddi, in the hills of northwest Sicily. It had about ten thousand inhabitants and it was a place of some importance, referred to by some as piccolo Palermo, little Palermo.

The reason was sulfur, an essential commodity in the paper and pharmaceutical industries, in which Sicily was rich and Lercara especially so. Foreign companies reaped the profits, however, and most locals languished in poverty. The town was located, in the words of a prominent Italian editor, in "the core territory of the Mafia." The town lies fifteen miles from Corleone, a name made famous by The Godfather and in real life a community credited with breeding more future American mafiosi than any other place in Sicily. It is just twelve miles from the Mafia stronghold of Prizzi-as in Prizzi's Honor, the Richard Condon novel about the mob and the film based on it that starred Jack Nicholson.

It was Lercara Friddi, however, that produced the most notorious mafioso of the twentieth century. Francesco Sinatra's hometown spawned Lucky Luciano. Luciano was "without doubt the most important Italian-American gangster," according to one authority, and "head of the Italian underworld throughout the land," according to a longtime head of the Chicago Crime Commission. One of his own lawyers described him as having been, quite simply, "the founder of the modern Mafia."

Luciano, whose real name was Salvatore Lucania, was born in Lercara Friddi in 1897. Old marriage and baptismal registers show that his parents and Francesco Sinatra and his bride, Rosa Saglimbeni, were married at the church of Santa Maria della Neve within two years of each other. Luciano was baptized there, in the same font as Francesco's first two children.

In all the years of speculation about Frank Sinatra's Mafia links, this coincidence of origin has remained unknown. Other new information makes it very likely that the Sinatras and the Lucanias knew each other. The two families lived on the same short street, the Via Margherita di Savoia, at roughly the same time. Luciano's address book, seized by law enforcement authorities on his death in 1962 and available today in the files of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, contains only two entries for individuals who lived in Lercara Friddi: one a member of his own family and the other a man named Saglimbeni, a relative of the woman Francesco Sinatra married. Even if the Sinatras and the Lucanias did not know each other, Luciano's later notoriety makes it certain that the Sinatra family eventually learned that they and the gangster shared the same town of origin. Kinship and origins are important in Italian-American culture, and were even more so in the first decades of the diaspora.

As a boy, Frank Sinatra could have learned from any of several older relatives that his people and Luciano came from the same Sicilian town. He certainly should have learned it from Francesco, who lived with Sinatra's family after his wife's death and often minded his grandson when the boy's parents were out.

Francesco, moreover, survived to the age of ninety-one, until long after Luciano had become an infamous household name and Frank Sinatra an internationally famous singer. Sinatra himself indicated, and a close contemporary confirmed, that he and his grandfather were "very close." Late in life, he said he had gone out of his way to "check back" on his Sicilian ties. And yet, as we have seen, he muddied the historical waters by suggesting that his forebears came from Sicilian towns far from Lercara Friddi.

That the Sinatra family came from the same town as a top mafioso was not in itself a cause for embarrassment. The reason for the obfuscation, though, may be found in the family involvement with bootlegging in Frank Sinatra's childhood and, above all, in his own longtime relationship with Luciano himself, the extent of which can now be documented for the first time.

* * *

There was only one school in Lercara Friddi, and few people there could read or write. Francesco Sinatra was no exception, but he did have a trade-he was a shoemaker. He married Rosa, a local woman his own age, when both were in their early twenties, and by the time they turned thirty, in 1887, the couple had two sons. As the century neared its close, thousands of Sicilians were going hungry, especially in the countryside. There were food riots, and crime was rampant.

In western Sicily, the Mafia's power had become absolute. Palermo, the island's capital, spawned the first capo di tutti capi, Don Vito, who would one day forge the first links between the Sicilian Mafia and the United States. His successor, Don Carlo, operated from a village just fourteen miles from Lercara Friddi. Some of the most notorious American mob bosses - Tony Accardo, Carlo Gambino, Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante - were, like Luciano, of western Sicilian parentage.

By 1889 Francesco and Rosa had moved to a working-class suburb of Palermo. Two more sons were born there, but died in infancy, possibly victims of the cholera epidemic that ravaged the neighborhood in the early 1890s. One and a half million Sicilians were to leave the island in the next twenty-five years, many going to Argentina and Brazil and, increasingly, to the United States.

Francesco Sinatra joined the exodus in the summer of 1900. At the age of forty-three, he said goodbye to Rosa and their surviving children-there were by now three sons and two daughters-and boarded a ship for Naples. There he transferred to the British steamer Spartan Prince, carrying a steerage ticket to New York. At Ellis Island, on July 6, he told immigration officials he planned to stay with a relative living on Old Broadway in Manhattan. He had $30 in his pocket.

Francesco found work, and soon had enough confidence to start sending for his family. His eldest son, Isidor, joined him in America, and Salvatore, just fifteen and declaring himself a shoemaker like his father, arrived in 1902. Rosa arrived at Christmas the following year, accompanied by Antonino, age nine, and their two daughters, Angelina and Dorotea, who were younger. Antonino-Anthony Martin or Marty, as he would become in America-was to father the greatest popular singer of the century.

The Statue of Liberty smiled, Frank Sinatra would say in an emotional moment forty years later, when his father "took his first step on Liberty's soil." For many Italian newcomers, however, the smile proved illusory.

(Continues...)

Copyright 2005 Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan
All right reserved.
ISBN: 0-375-41400-2


Monday, January 29, 2018

An Underboss is Whacked, Because Even Mobsters Don’t Like Heroin

John Turano was working a shift at his father’s Italian-American restaurant, Joe and Mary’s, on July 12, 1979, when Carmine “Lilo” Galante walked through the door. A mob strongman and regular patron, Galante was escorted — along with two Sicilian bodyguards — to his usual table in the back courtyard. Temperatures soared that summer day in New York City, but the guards still wore full leather jackets to hide their heavy artillery. Galante, after all, had plenty of enemies.

Having served a stint in prison for attempted robbery in the late 1930s, Galante transitioned from strong-arm work for Vito Genovese to establishing his power base in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — Bonanno family territory. He shared a couple common enemies with Joe Bonanno, the most prolific being Carlo Gambino, and eventually rose to rank of underboss in the Bonanno family. While known as a cold-blooded killer — the NYPD suspected him of numerous mob-related murders — authorities could never find anyone to testify against the feared mobster.

“[Galante’s] foray into the drug world really got kicked into high gear in the ’50s,” says Christian Cipollini, author of Murder Inc.: Mysteries of the Mob’s Most Deadly Hit Squad. Galante traveled to Canada and Sicily to oversee narcotics trafficking, “and it wasn’t long before he gained recognition by law enforcement as a major player in drug trafficking.” The feds busted Galante, sending him to prison in 1962 for 20 years. Finally paroled in the early 1970s, Galante set out to regain his control of the dope business. The problem? His fellow mobsters didn’t like it.

That fateful afternoon, Galante, 69, was having lunch with a friend and bodyguard Leonard Coppola, 40, and Turano’s father, Giuseppe, 48 — also a Bonanno associate. Smoking a cigar and enjoying the conversation, Galante certainly didn’t expect what happened next. John remembers three masked men walking into the restaurant. One pointed a gun at him, telling him not to move. But before the shooters reached the courtyard, the son shouted a warning to his father. The gunman turned and fired, wounding the young Turano before joining his cohorts in the courtyard, where they unleashed a barrage of bullets.

Underboss Carmine Galante is whacked


“They blew Lilo away while he was eating lunch, in broad daylight,” says Mafia historian Ed Scarpo, author of Cosa Nostra News: The Cicale Files, Volume 1: Inside the Last Great Mafia Empire. John hid throughout the onslaught, and after the gunmen and bodyguards fled, he found the bodies. Galante had been blown off his chair and flung into the tomato patch behind him — a cigar in his mouth and a Zippo lighter in his hand. Coppola also was killed, and Turano was mortally wounded, dying later in the hospital.

Galante had reckoned he was untouchable as a former underboss to Joe Bonanno, and as a man who’d held to the code of omertà doing his jail time, he felt he deserved to get back what he lost. Assuming a leadership role without permission was one thing, but Galante had also started killing off his rivals in the Gambino family to take over the drug trade — and that was a step too far.

“His apparent desire to basically reap all the rewards of the New York Mafia’s lucrative drug trade — by cutting out most of the other mafiosi from the profits — became Galante’s ultimate downfall,” says Cipollini. Someone at Galante’s level in the mob hierarchy doesn’t usually get assassinated without a lot of other important peers giving the OK. But Bonanno family crime boss “Joseph Massino wanted him out of the way,” Scarpo explains.

Galante paid the ultimate price for “hubris and greed,” says Scott Burnstein, author of Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit. “He came out of prison and went against typical mob protocol by declaring himself boss without the universal approval of [the Bonanno] crime family.” To further complicate things, Galante isolated himself from his troops by creating his own handpicked inner circle of young native Sicilians to do his drug trafficking and strong-arm work. The irony? It was those very Sicilians — his bodyguards — who sold him out. Those armed bodyguards at his side weren’t killed that day because they had, in fact, betrayed Galante.

Galante’s rackets and drug dealings were taken over by Massino and the others who had plotted to take him down. Anthony “Bruno” Indelicato, a Bonanno soldier, was convicted of the murder in 1986 at the famous Mafia Commission trial and sentenced to 40 years.

Since then, the picture of Galante’s last meal has become an iconic image, representing what can happen when an ambitious mobster makes a power grab. While certainly not the first mobster to dabble with drugs, says Burnstein, “he was one of the first to do it so brazenly and unapologetically.” Rather than let him consolidate as a drug kingpin, the Bonnanos decided Galante had overstepped and that he had to pay the ultimate price.

Thanks to Seth Ferranti.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Carlo Gambino was born on this day in 1902

Full Name: Carlo Gambino
Nationality: Italian-American

Profession: Gangster
Why Famous: Known for being boss of the Gambino crime family, which is still named after him today.

Born: August 24, 1902
Birthplace: Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Died: October 15, 1976 (aged 74)
Cause of Death: Heart attack

Carlo Gambino: King of the Mafia.

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

Monday, December 07, 2009

Junior Gotti Visits Father's Grave After Released from Fourth Mistrial

Freshly free after his fourth mistrial, the Teflon Son went to pay his respects to the original Dapper Don on Sunday.

John A. (Junior) Gotti arrived at the gangster-packed St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, at 1:15 p.m. and spent about a half-hour alone with his departed dad.

The elder Gotti, who headed the Gambino crime family before his son, was sentenced to life behind bars after skating on three previous trials. He died in a Missouri prison in 2002. Junior, a 45-year-old father of six, spent the past 16 months behind bars until last Tuesday, when his own fourth racketeering trial ended in a hung jury.

Gotti made a point last week of saying he looked forward to visiting the graves of his father and brother. Junior's little brother, Frank, who was accidentally run over at age 12 by a neighbor who soon vanished without a trace, is also interred at the cemetery's five-story mausoleum.

Wearing a striped black track suit and white sneakers, Junior first went to noon Mass at the Church of St. Dominic in Oyster Bay, L.I., with two of his daughters.

He told reporters he planned to spend the rest of the day enjoying family time. "I'm going to cook. I always cook on Sundays," he said.

Junior made similar pilgrimages to his dad's grave after previous mistrials.

During his most recent murder and racketeering trial, Gotti said he felt his father communicated with him through specific songs that played on the radio at 10:27 p.m.

"1-0/27 is my father's birthday," he explained last week. "To me it's like a message."

Others buried at St. John's include such storied mobsters as Carlo Gambino, Carmine Galante, Vito Genovese, Joe Profaci, Joe Colombo and Lucky Luciano.

Thanks to Helen Kennedy

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 Ganglandnews.com 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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gambino Top Boss Deported to Italy

Italian authorities took into custody on Saturday a top boss from the Gambino Mafia clan who was deported from the United States after spending more than two decades in jail for drug trafficking.

The 67-year-old Rosario Gambino arrived at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport on a flight from Miami. Wearing a gray jumpsuit and looking frail he sat in a wheelchair as he was escorted out by police officers.

Gambino, an Italian-born New Jersey resident, was considered a top mobster in the New York-based crime family led by his late cousin Carlo Gambino.

In 1984 he was convicted in a multi-million-dollar conspiracy to sell heroin in southern New Jersey and sentenced to 45 years in jail.

Gambino was linked to the "Pizza Connection" probe, which broke a $1.6 billion heroin and cocaine smuggling operation that used pizzerias as fronts from 1975 to 1984.

He was released in 2007 and transferred to an immigrant detention center in California to await expulsion, Italian police said in a statement. It was not immediately clear why the sentence had been reduced.

Gambino has been wanted in Italy since 1980 on separate drug and Mafia-connected charges, and he is expected to face trial. Calls to a lawyer representing him in Italy were not answered Saturday afternoon.

Before being transferred to a Rome jail, Gambino was served the original 1980 arrest warrant signed by Giovanni Falcone, one of Italy's top anti-Mafia prosecutors.

Falcone was killed by the Sicilian mob in a 1992 bomb attack, and Gambino's return coincided with the anniversary of the murder, which was being commemorated across Italy. Salvatore "Toto" Riina, then the Mafia's boss of bosses, was arrested in 1993 and later convicted with others of plotting the hit.

Thanks to AP

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mafia Names You Should Know and Remember

No conversation about the history of baseball is complete without mentioning the last names Ruth, Mantle and Bonds, just as no conversation about American politics is complete without saying the names Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. The Mafia is no different; it’s got its legends, its hall-of-famers, if you will. I know there are a lot of my readers who love to learn about the history of the Mafia. So, for those of you who love Mafia history, pay attention (and the rest of yous, shut your traps and just read the article). So here’s a history of Mafia names you should know and remember if you think you’re a true Mafioso.

Colombo
The Colombo family is one of the five families of New York. Before it was called the Colombo family, it was known as the Profaci family. The name changed in 1963 when Joseph Colombo became the capo. Joseph Colombo was unlike any capo before… or since. He didn’t shun the spotlight one bit. When the FBI began scrutinizing his activities, Colombo responded by calling it harassment against Italian-Americans. He even went so far as to organize the Italian-American Civil Rights League. His group began doing demonstrations such as picketing outside of the New York FBI building. He attracted the likes of government officials, as well as prominent entertainers like Frank Sinatra, to help his cause, and he received a lot of national attention. It was at one such Italian-American rally that Joe Colombo approached the podium and was shot three times in the head by a man named Jerome Johnson. A second gunman appeared and shot Johnson and disappeared into the crowd. To this day, nobody knows for sure who was really behind Colombo’s death. Many argue that is was Joey Gallo, a member of the Colombo family and critic of Joe Colombo’s. Others argue Carlo Gambino set it up.

"The Attorney General hates our guts. I think the President is behind it. I want to make the League the greatest organization in the country, the greatest organization in the world, so that people will be proud of us no matter what we do, where we are -- even if we are in prison."
- Joe Colombo

Gambino

Gambino is the name of one of the five crime families in La Cosa Nostra in New York. Gambino has become synonymous with Mafia life since the 1950s. At times, the Gambino family has been the most powerful of the five families of New York, and there was one man that made that happen: Carlo "Don Carlo" Gambino. To this day, the family still calls itself by the name of its greatest boss. Don Carlo ruled the outfit from 1957 to 1976, and eventually became the boss of bosses. During this time, his outfit was the most profitable it had ever been; he had at his command over 1,000 Soldatis and is said to have had rackets worth $500,000,000 per year. Gambino is most remembered for his ability to keep himself out of the press and out of jail -- he never spent a day behind bars.

“Judges, lawyers and politicians have a license to steal. We don’t need one.”
- Carlo Gambino

Capone
No list of famous gangsters would be complete without talking about Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone. He was known as “Scarface.” In his youth in New York, he insulted a sister of a Mafioso named Frank Gallucio. Capone apologized and said it was a misunderstanding, but Gallucio slashed him three times across the face, and that’s how he got his nickname. In 1921, Capone moved to Chicago and joined the Chicago Outfit. The rest is history, as they say. Capone became famous for the way that he completely took over the city of Chicago, including its police officers, judges and city officials. They were all on his payroll, and they all took orders from Capone. He lived in the Lexington Hotel, which the Chicagoans called Capone’s Castle. He didn’t need to shy away from the spotlight because he controlled just about everything in Chicago. Because of his power in Chicago, he caught the eye of the FBI. They called him a public enemy and began looking for ways to take him down. It was in 1931 that they got Capone for income-tax evasion, and Capone’s empire fell once and for all.

“This American system of ours -- call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will -- gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.”
- Al Capone

Luciano
Charles “Lucky” Luciano is one of the most famous and best-remembered of all gangsters. He is like the Joe DiMaggio of the Mafia. He got his name “Lucky” when he was kidnapped and attacked by three assassins in 1929; they beat him and stabbed him multiple times and left him to die on the beach in New York. He survived the ordeal, which is why they called him “lucky,” but he received the scar and droopy eye that he became famous for. What Luciano did from there is what makes him famous: he plotted to kill his capo, Joe Masseria, with Salvatore Maranzano on the condition that Maranzano make Luciano an equal capo when Masseria was gone. After he took out Masseria, Maranzano went back on his word; he declared himself the capo di tutti capi (the boss of bosses) and demanded payments from Luciano. Luciano tolerated this until he found out that Maranzano was plotting to whack him. When Luciano heard this, he sent his men to Maranzano’s office dressed as FBI agents, so they wouldn’t receive any resistance, and they mowed Maranzano and his closest men down, including the man that was supposed to assassinate Luciano. From this point on, Luciano ruled as the capo of the Genovese family. He is remembered by some to be the father of organized crime.

"I learned too late that you need just as good a brain to make a crooked million as an honest million.”
- Charles “Lucky” Luciano (born Salvatore Lucania)

Thanks to Mr. Mafioso

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

Monday, March 31, 2008

CW to Detail Mafia's Connection to the Fashion Industry

Just when it seemed Seventh Avenue had shed its cloak of organized crime, it could be pulled right back in.

Lewis Kasman, a former trim producer who once fashioned himself as John Gotti's "adopted son," is expected to turn state's evidence this week in the latest Mob crackdown. A federal court in Brooklyn unsealed an 80-count indictment last month charging 62 alleged mobsters with a list of crimes, from racketeering conspiracy and extortion to theft of union benefits and money laundering.

Although the indictment focuses on the connection between the Mafia, the construction industry and its unions, testimony by Kasman, who is alleged to have for years run a fashion industry front for the Gambino crime family, might also illuminate connections between organized crime and the New York fashion industry over the past three decades — although the ties go back longer than that.

Kasman is slated to appear in federal court Thursday and is expected to testify on his background as an associate of the Gambino crime family and his relationship with its leaders, including Joseph "JoJo" Corozzo. The government also has filed a motion to disqualify Corozzo's son, Joseph, an attorney on the case.

The indictment outlined crimes dating back to the Seventies and ensnared reputed associates of the Gambino, Genovese and Bonanno organized crime families with movie-ready nicknames such as "Vinny Hot," "One Eye" and "Fat Richie."

The three-year investigation also included a cooperating witness who wore a wire, according to the indictment, although it could not be determined at press time whether that witness was Kasman.

"The evidence relating to many of the charged crimes consists of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations secured by a cooperating witness who penetrated the Gambino family over a three-year period," said a statement last month from the office of U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell, who oversees the Eastern District of New York.

Despite the breadth of the current wave of indictments, this won't be Kasman's first time in a courtroom. He was a principal with the now-defunct Albie Trimming Co., a family-owned trimmings manufacturer with a storefront operation and warehouse at 229 West 36th Street that supplied materials such as zippers, linings and buttons to garment industry companies, but was said to be a front for the Gambino family, then headed by John Gotti. At the time, the Gambino family had a stranglehold on Seventh Avenue's trucking activities.

Kasman, who often played up his relationship with Gotti by saying he was like an "adopted son" of the convicted murderer and racketeer, pleaded guilty in 1994 in Federal District Court in Brooklyn to lying to a grand jury in 1990 by saying he was not familiar with the terms "Gambino," "capo" or "consigliere." Kasman was sentenced to six months in prison, was given a $30,000 fine and was sentenced to three years of supervised release once he was out of prison, with the stipulation that he not associate with any members of organized crime.

When Gotti, also known as the "Dapper Don," died in prison in 2002, Kasman told newspapers, "He's a man amongst men, a champion."

During its investigation that led to Gotti's conviction, the government said Albie Trimming and an associated firm, Scorpio Marketing, existed "merely to provide the appearance that John Gotti and other Gambino family members have a legitimate income." Gotti was even said to have an Albie Trimming card that identified him as "salesman."

It was the same Gambino crime family that was prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in 1992 for illegally controlling garment industry trucking. Then-assistant district attorney Eliot Spitzer, in his opening remarks in the trial of Thomas Gambino and Joseph Gambino, sons of crime family founder Carlo Gambino, said the Gambinos and their associates resorted to an occasional show of force "where the velvet glove comes off."

Spitzer won acclaim for his successful prosecution and used it as a stepping stone to his now-disgraced governorship of New York.

The level of the Mafia's involvement in Seventh Avenue today is a matter of debate, with some contending that the corporatization of the industry and the federal government's repeated crackdowns have stifled the Mob, but others saying it's still around. Whether Kasman's testimony will shed the kind of light on the garment industry and organized crime that past state's witnesses have remains to be seen. Sources told WWD after the Gambino trucking trial in state court in 1992 that one reason Thomas and Joseph Gambino pleaded guilty of restraint of trade was that prosecutors were prepared to call Mob-turncoat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano to testify how the family and its associates used strong-arm tactics and unscrupulous bookkeeping to form a garment industry cartel. In a separate federal trial that same year, Gravano was the star witness against Gambino crime family head Gotti and his damaging testimony led to Gotti's conviction and life sentence for racketeering and murder.

Thanks to Evan Clark and Arthur Friedman

Magazines.com, Inc.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New York's 5 Crime Families to Get Corporate Sponsors?

Maybe the Mafia needs a new business model. The old one hasn’t been working well of late. That seems a reasonable surmise after the mass arrests that had a huge chunk of the Gambino crime family — pardon us, a huge alleged chunk of the Gambino crime family — parading around in manacles the other day.

It is said that the mob prides itself on being a solid business, with diversified interests and assorted revenue streams. If so, organized crime is missing out on a scheme that has been an enormous cash cow for some other businesses.

There is a fortune to be made from selling naming rights to New York’s five Mafia families.

Why should sports teams be the only ones to turn a buck by putting their stadiums and arenas on the auction block? Citigroup, to cite one of many examples, is paying the Mets $20 million a year to have the ball club’s new stadium in Queens called Citi Field.

That’s small potatoes compared with revenue possibilities for the gilded Yankees, who say they have turned down offers of $50 million or more from an unnamed corporation wanting to slap its name on their new Bronx stadium.

In similar fashion, the mob could market itself to certain companies, most likely those in serious trouble themselves.

Imagine an outfit like Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. It suffered a scandal-induced collapse. But while it struggled to stay alive, it might have done well to attach its name to a mob family. The way things were going, that kind of maneuver would have been a step up in class. And goodness knows the Mafia could use some new names. The existing ones are mustier than a “bada bing” tabloid headline.

Carlo Gambino has been dead for three decades, yet his name still graces (or disgraces) a crime group that has not lacked for famous latter-day leaders, men like Paul Castellano and John Gotti.

The same holds for the other families: Bonanno, Genovese, Luchese and Colombo, all named for men who died or faded away ages ago. The nomenclature dates to the early 1960s, with the exception of the gang once led by Joseph Colombo; his name supplanted that of Joseph Profaci in 1970. Still, that’s not exactly last week.

What gives with all this yesteryear? In any business, isn’t an occasional sprucing-up required?

In this regard, the mob is not much different from many corporations, said Thomas Reppetto, the author of “American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power” (Henry Holt & Company).

“Sears, Roebuck started out with two guys who were not running the company very long, but it’s still called Sears,” Mr. Reppetto said.

“I think, too, that it’s better to keep an established name,” he said. “It makes it appear more powerful when you say the family has been around a long time.”

A similar thought was offered by Mark Feldman, a director at BDO Consulting in Manhattan. He used to track organized crime for the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn. “I don’t know for sure,” Mr. Feldman said, “but it would seem to me that a brand name means something even in criminal circles.”

Selwyn Raab, who used to report on the mob for this newspaper, says the five families’ labels really began with law enforcement agents, who saw it as a convenient way to distinguish one group from another.

“A guy in the Genovese family didn’t know he was in the Genovese family till he saw it in the newspapers,” said Mr. Raab, the author of “Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires” (St. Martin’s Press). “All he knew was that he worked for Mike. He would say, ‘I’m with Mike,’ or ‘I’m with Al,’ or ‘I’m with Tony.’ ”

Even so, rebranding is not an entirely alien concept to the mob. Look at Joseph Massino, who was the Bonanno paterfamilias until he landed in prison a few years ago and started, as they say, singing to the feds. Mr. Massino appreciated what’s in a name.

“He wanted it to be known officially as the Massino family,” Mr. Raab said. “He had a little bit of, I guess, an ego. He’s gone now, too.”

Nobody said that selling naming rights to the mob would be easy. But opportunities abound, and are likely to continue regardless of last week’s “End of the Gambinos” headlines.

“The F.B.I. continues to use the same five names because it’s simple,” Mr. Raab said. “Also, for them it’s a good public relations ploy — that we wiped out the Gambino family. This is the third time in my lifetime that they’ve wiped out the Gambino family. They ought to call this Operation Lazarus.”

Thanks to Clyde Haberman

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Look Back at the Philly Mob

Pop culture is riddled with more mob movies and TV shows than an unlucky gangster's body is with bullets. Americans are fascinated with the dark side and have made “The Sopranos” the poster children for the Mafia and Victoria Gotti, daughter of John “The Dapper Don” Gotti, and her spoiled-rotten offspring its royal family with the reality show “Growing Up Gotti.”

But contrary to what pop culture loves to portray, the mob is far from glamorous and exciting. Just take a look at where Cosa Nostra — Sicilian for “our thing” — landed South Philly's own tough guys, all of whom made headlines at one point or another: Angelo “The Gentle Don” Bruno, Phil “Chicken Man” Testa and his son Salvatore Testa got whacked, while Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, John Stanfa, Ralph Natale, “Skinny” Joey Merlino and Ron Previte are all in prison for racketeering and murder among other offenses,

George Anastasia, who has written extensively about the mob for The Philadelphia Inquirer since the late 1970s and authored four bookson the subject, noted, “If you look at the list, you see where these guys have ended up,” Anastasia, a native of the 1700 block of Watkins Street who now lives in South Jersey, told the Review.

Bruno was the longest running crime boss and perhaps one of the most respected for the low-key approach that earned him his nickname.

Bruno ruled from '59 to March 21, 1980, when he was shot to death in his car with driver John Stanfa in front of Bruno's home at 934 Snyder Ave. Under the Sicilian immigrant's tenure, “he did everything low-key — he didn't do any public shootings in restaurants or in the street” unlike how later-day mobsters such as the ruthless Scarfo conducted business, Capt. Charles Bloom of the police department's Central Intelligence Bureau said. “If you had to describe Bruno, you could say, ‘make money, don't make headlines,'” Bloom said.

His attitude in life did not mark his death. His violent end received press from outlets such as The New York Times, which covered the fallout from Stanfa's trial for perjury in connection to the killing to FBI testimony in '81 that Scarfo was the new head of the family.

Stanfa suffered a graze wound in the Bruno ambush, Anastasia said, adding, “To this day there's conflicting reports. Some people believe Stanfa was part of the plot and he knew what was going to happen and others say he didn't. I tend to believe the former.”

Under Bruno's reign, the Philadelphia crime family was among the most powerful in the United States, trailing closely being New York and Chicago. The Gentle Don carved out a close relationship with Carlo Gambino, leader of New York's family — a friendship that saved Bruno when short-lived Philly boss Antonio Pollina wanted him killed in '59.

As the story goes, Bruno pledged his loyalty to Pollina despite being passed over for the job, but the new boss still felt threatened. When Pollina ordered a hit, Gambino intervened by not only halting the slaying, but putting his new friend in charge of the Philadelphia crime family. The first notch in Bruno's belt of civility was sparing Pollina.

According to Bloom, the Philly mob, which controlled this city and South Jersey including Atlantic City, has always been in New York's shadow and the former often cannot operate without the latter's blessing.

Bruno's death at 69 paved the way for a slew of flamboyant, young wiseguys to take the helm. “That totally destabilized the organization and it's been destabilized since then. It's been disorganized organized crime,” Anastasia said.

The new guns included Bruno underling Testa, who was blown up March 15, 1981, on his front porch on the 2100 block of Porter Street in Girard Estate by a nail bomb and later immortalized in Bruce Springsteen's song “Atlantic City,” whose lyrics say, “Well they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night/Now they blew up his house too.” The song, featured on the Boss' “Nebraska” album, which made it to No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Album charts, brought the scene to the attention of countless music fans worldwide.

More than 20 years later, Testa's fatal bombing is still making news. An Oct. 7 Time article cited the killing in its piece “The Sicilian Connection,” which explores the U.S. Cosa Nostra's alleged link to the Sicilian Mafia.

Months after the Chicken Man's demise, Scarfo had Frank Narducci and Rocco Marinucci whacked for the unauthorized hit of his mentor, according to Anastasia.

Long before he ascended to power, Scarfo was banished to AC by Bruno in the '60s after the young hothead knifed a man inside Oregon Diner, 302 W. Oregon Ave, the writer said. Scarfo stayed in AC — a wasteland at the time — but hung around long enough to benefit from gambling when the casinos hit town.

With Testa gone, Scarfo took over in '81 and made Testa's son Salvatore a capo. That same year, Testa and two others survived an ambush outside the Italian Market, but three years later, the capo wasn't as lucky when Scarfo had the young man killed Sept. 14, 1984. So much for loyalty to his mentor — he had his son killed, Anastasia said, adding, “That's the way he was.”

Testa was lured to a now-gone candy store on Passyunk for a meeting, where a Scarfo hit man shot him, wrapped his body in a rug and dumped it by a dirt road in Gloucester County, N.J., the writer said. Scarfo told his organization he had Testa killed because he broke off an engagement with Salvatore Merlino's daughter, Maria, but according to Anastasia, Scarfo saw Testa as a possible threat. “He used the broken engagement as an excuse,” the author said. In years to come, Merlino's son Joey would become a reputed mob boss.

Scarfo held control for six years until his arrest and conviction for a racketeering case that included counts of murder, Anastasia said. Little Nicky got 55 years and remains in the Big House. But his impression was indelible. In a '91 Time interview with former soldier-turned-informer Nicholas “The Crow” Caramandi, interviewer Richard Behar refers to Scarfo as the “most vicious Mob boss of his generation” and proceeds to ask Caramandi about working under him, as well as the killing of Salvatore Testa.

In '89, Bruno's former driver Stanfa, who grew up on Passyunk Avenue near the Melrose Diner and later moved to Jersey, became boss. In '95, he got five life terms for racketeering and murder.

That opened the way for Natale. After serving 15 years for drug dealing and arson, Natale was released in '95 and became boss in an alliance with Merlino, who was his underling, Anastasia said. Merlino associate Previte helped build a case against Natale by wearing a wire for the feds. The tapes resulted in the then-69-year-old Natale and then-37-year-old Merlino arrested on drug charges in '99 with Natale tied to a major South Jersey meth ring and Merlino to a Boston cocaine ring. Natale became the first mobster to cooperate with the feds and, as a result, got a 13-year sentence, which he's serving in a protected witness wing, Anastasia said.

That leaves Merlino, who by all appearances may be one of Philadelphia Cosa Nostra's last bad boys.

Despite the feds pursuing him aggressively for years, the style-conscious young turk with the striking wife did not shy away from the media, becoming a magnet for his organized softball league and Christmas parties for the poor. In typical Merlino fashion, his 2001 trial on murder and racketeering charges was a press event. And, he may have beaten the rap for Joseph Sodano's '96 murder in Philadelphia court, but a federal judge in New Jersey upheld charges in the same case against the reputed mob boss in October 2001. The New York Times, among other national and international papers, covered the trial.

Merlino and seven codefendants — including Previte — were convicted of bookmaking, racketeering and extortion. These days, “Skinny Joey” is serving a 14-year sentence, set to be released in '11, Anastasia said.

The reigning alleged crime boss has been identified as 68-year-old Joe Ligambi, who was with the Stanfa organization. In '89, Ligambi was sent away for 10 years after being convicted of murder, which was overturned on appeal. Ligambi came back to South Philly in '99 and, when Merlino went to jail, became acting boss, Anastasia said. According to the author, “he's kind of gone back to the Bruno model of low-key, not flashy.”

Bloom contends Cosa Nostra is still very much alive and well. “It's not as powerful as it was 20 years ago but it's still there. They haven't gone away. They took a lot of hits from law enforcement pressure and each other, but they didn't throw in the towel,” the captain said.

Thanks to Lorraine Gennaro

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mob Candy

Friends of ours: John Gotti, Carlo Gambino
Friends of mine: Soprano Crime Family

Tony Avella, a City Council member and founder of the Council’s Italian-American caucus, was home in Whitestone, Queens, watching the local news when a segment about a new magazine caught his attention. Inaugural Issue of Mob CandyThe magazine was called Mob Candy, its publisher, Frank DiMatteo, told the camera in what he calls broken Brooklynese, and its focus was the gangster lifestyle.

“Everyone likes to read about Mafia stuff; that’s why ‘The Sopranos’ did so well,” said Mr. DiMatteo, a balding man with forearms that display Popeye-like tattoos of a Marine Corps bulldog and the names of his three children.

Mr. Avella, whose father’s family came from the Naples area, was incensed by what he saw as pejorative stereotyping of Italian-Americans. In the past, he has spoken out against “Shark Tale,” the animated film in which criminal sea creatures speak with Italian-American accents, and attacked PBS for naming a series “The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance.”

On July 20, Mr. Avella took to the steps of City Hall to protest Mob Candy, accompanied by representatives of several Italian-American groups. He held a copy of the cover of the magazine’s premiere issue, which depicts a scantily clad, Glock-toting moll. “The magazine glorifies criminality,” he said. “It’s offensive to Italian-Americans and it degrades women.”

The other day, sitting at the bar of a Court Street pizzeria in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, just blocks from where he was born, Mr. DiMatteo pondered Mr. Avella’s position.

“Am I glorifying crime?” asked Mr. DiMatteo, 51, whose grandparents, like Mr. Avella’s, come from southern Italy. “Maybe I am, but I’ve had a lot of great teachers: The Post, The News, The Times, the History Channel, Hollywood.”

Mr. DiMatteo, who previously distributed the pornographic magazine Screw, said his new magazine offers “an entertaining history lesson.” And he added, “I ain’t making nothing up here.”

The 92-page first issue, which costs $4.99 and should be on newsstands by Thursday, offers an article about the legacy of Carlo Gambino and a history of a half-century of what the magazine describes as Mafia rats. There is also a pull-out poster. On one side is a collage of photographs of John Gotti; on the other, an image of the cover model, wearing a lace-up bustier and garter belt, toying suggestively with a grape Blow Pop. “That’s the candy side,” explained Tyrone Christopher, 39, the magazine’s co-founder.

Despite the publication’s glossy appearance, all the articles in the first issue were written by its two creators, and there are no advertisements. In the opinion of Mr. DiMatteo, the attention Mr. Avella called to his magazine may change that situation. “Ultimately,” he said, “it helps.”

Thanks to Emily Brady

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pizza Connection Mobsters Cooking New Dish?

Sicilian mobsters - with their infamous history of violence and drug trafficking across several continents - are re-emerging as major powers in the Big Apple, The Post has learned. And their ranks within New York's crime families are only expected to grow with the recent release of notorious "Pizza Connection" Mafiosi, including a convicted heroin trafficker once linked to "Mafia Cop" Louis Eppolito.

The hardened mobsters giving the feds the most agita include the heroin-trafficking Gambino brothers Rosario, John and Joseph, who were once the Sicilian mob's chieftains here. They had been cooling their heels in jail since the mid-1980s and 1990s, refusing to squeal in exchange for deals with the feds and reputedly waiting to reclaim their lucrative organized-crime slots.

Now they're free to get back in the game.

The Post has learned that the resurgence of the Sicilian-led mob has been so strong that the FBI and the Italian government have established a special "cooperative venture" that involves stationing U.S. agents in Rome and having cops from the Italian National Police working at FBI Headquarters in Washington.

The initiative - dubbed "The Pantheon Project" - guarantees that the FBI and its Italian counterparts share surveillance and intelligence on developing cases and track the connections between La Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the United States, officials said. "Despite convictions and crackdowns both here and in Sicily, the Sicilian mob is still part of the Mafia culture and have been reconstituting their power bases in the U.S. and abroad," a top Mafia expert said.

Given that the Sicilian Mafia's single greatest asset is its ability to move narcotics, federal agents believe that the jail-hardened Pizza Connection-era gangsters - who had been trafficking heroin through pizza parlors around the country - will likely return to the narcotics trade now that they're out. But they will be shifting their enterprises into moving huge amounts of marijuana.

Selling pot is just as lucrative as heroin, sources said, but the penalties are far less severe than the decades-long sentences meted out to the Gambino brothers and rising crime-family star Lorenzo Mannino, who once tried to get Frank Sinatra to help crooner Al Martino find work in Las Vegas - evoking images from the book and movie "The Godfather." Martino, incidentally, played Johnny Fontane, a character loosely based on Sinatra, in the movie.

"Mafia Cop" Eppolito, whose father and other relatives were mobsters, was related to Rosario Gambino, an old-world mob figure. In 1984, Eppolito was brought up on departmental charges for allegedly passing confidential NYPD files to Gambino, but beat the rap. He's now in jail for carrying out hits for other big mobsters.

The trio of Gambino brothers, all relatives of the crime syndicate's namesake, Carlo Gambino, have been freed. Joseph was deported back to his native Sicily.

"Do you think they have been rehabilitated by prison?" a federal official asked sarcastically. Federal officials suspect these Gambinos, as well others due for release soon, will return to doing what they know best. "Narcotics is something they understand, they have the network and, as importantly, they have the respect," the federal source said.

Numerous Sicilian gangsters and associates - many targeted recently by the FBI and federal prosecutors - not only trace their heritage to the lush mountains of towns like Borgetto and Castellammare Del Golfo, their fathers and close relatives are key "Godfather"-like figures running the Mafia in their native land.

For example, Sicilian brothers-in-law Vito Rappa and Francesco Nania are presently under federal indictment for paying $70,000 to bribe a U.S. immigration official to keep Nania from being deported. The case also snared Gambino crime-family members, including mob captain George DeCicco, 78.

According to federal court records, Rappa's father is the "official head of the Mafia based in the Borgetto region of Sicily."

Nania, a fugitive wanted for mob-related crimes in Italy, is the son of an "influential member of the Mafia based in Partinico, Sicily," a long-established mob stronghold in Italy, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf's prosecutors wrote in a detention memo.

And then there is Vito Rizzuto - dubbed the John Gotti of Canada and a leading figure in the Bonanno crime family. The 70-year-old Rizzuto is related by marriage to the godfather of the agrarian town of Cattolica Eraclea, where Rizzuto was born.

Rizzuto accepted a 10-year, plea-bargained sentence last week for his role in the spectacular 1981 rubouts of Bonanno captains Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Philip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone and Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera. The slayings were a murderous trifecta immortalized in the movie "Donnie Brasco" and carried out to stem an internal coup.

Despite these indictments and convictions, law-enforcement sources say the Sicilians still hold sway over a string of key New York spots.

Dominic "Italian Dom" Cefalu is currently considered the reputed underboss of the Gambinos, the largest crime syndicate in the nation, sources say. Cefalu, 60, a convicted heroin trafficker, was "made" by John Gotti 17 years ago.

Thanks to Murray Weiss

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Author Comments on Thief!

Friends of ours: Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, John Gotti
Friends of mine: William "Slick" Hanner

It's strange that our fascination with the mob centers so on top bananas like Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti when, as any crime beat reporter will tell you, the most incredible stories always involve madcap misfires by the lowliest flunkies, the truly clueless nostra.

Fort Myers author Cherie Rohn ran into just such a lovable screwball more than a decade ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when, after losing her job as a TV station manager, she enrolled in casino dealer's school. One of her instructors was a well-traveled man of action named William "Slick" Hanner. "He was walking around with his notebook of 20 hand-scrawled pages in his third-grade-educated hand of his life story, looking for somebody to write it," Rohn recalls. "No money, of course, but I looked at it and it was like an electric shock went through my body. Something about this guy grabbed me and I vowed to write his story."

A decade in the writing, "Thief: The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist" is the laugh-out-loud misadventures of a savvy Chicago street kid who managed to partake in the profitable mob trifecta of booze, gambling and prostitution without ever actually becoming a made guy.

Like some street-smart version of Forrest Gump, Slick went from rags to riches while drifting through America's hottest post-war entertainment scenes. Whether he was fleecing poker players aboard his yacht, the Knot Guilty, in Miami Beach, driving a limo for Nevada's infamous Chicken Ranch, serving as Jerry Lewis' bodyguard or managing the poker room at the Landmark casino in Las Vegas, Slick was where the action was for the last half of the 20th century. "He was an interesting kind of a screw-up adrenaline junkie con artist who goes through life like a speeding freight train about to derail at any minute," Rohn says of her colorful collaborator.

The project was no mere samba down memory lane. Hanner's third-grade education was one obstacle, but Rohn had her challenges as well. "Aside from a couple lurid love letters, I hadn't written anything," she says. "So I had three tasks: I had to learn to write, I had to learn to write as a guy, and I had to learn to write as a guy who hung with the mob."

Rohn does a wonderful job at all three, telling Slick's first-person tale with all the swagger and latter-day slang of a high-rolling con artist of the day. "We filled it out very slowly," she says. "I actually had to put words into his mouth."

She also found that time was of the essence if she hoped to interview Slick's running mates. "Through the nine agonizing years of writing this story, a lot of people died, mostly from unnatural causes," he quips.

At 74, Slick is still doing what he does best, playing poker and consulting with Las Vegas casinos on how to thwart card sharks.

Does the guy who knows where the bodies are buried fear that some associates may take offense at his candid biography? What are you, nuts?

"We had a few death threats," Rohn admits. "I'm not going to tell you where they came from but they were real. Slick isn't one to worry. His attitude is, 'Hey, if that happens, we can sell a few more books!'"

Thanks to Jay McDonald

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Still in the Mob at Almost 100?

Friends of ours: Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Carlo Gambino, Albert "Chinky" Facchiano, Corelone Crime Family, Genovese Crime Family, Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Liborio "Barney" Bellomo, John Ardito

Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Carlo Gambino are long gone. Murder Inc. is out of business. Las Vegas has been so cleaned up it resembles Disneyland. And Havana? Forget about it since Castro took over. But Albert "Chinky" Facchiano, at 96, is still standing. And like Michael Corleone in "The Godfather III," he is still very much involved in the family business, according to the FBI.

At an age when most people are long retired and happy just to be alive, the reputed mobster was indicted earlier this year in Florida and New York. He is accused of trying to intimidate and possibly kill a witness against the powerful the Genovese family of New York in 2005. He is also accused of helping to run the rackets in Florida.

It was unclear whether Facchiano intended to break legs with his own gnarled, 96-year-old hands.

There have been plenty of elderly Mafia defendants, including 86-year-old Genovese family member Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, who pleaded guilty to federal charges recently in Connecticut. But prosecutors, defense lawyers and Mafia experts say they can't remember someone Facchiano's age facing crimes of such recent vintage.

"I don't think there's anybody older than him," said Jerry Capeci, author of several books on organized crime and operator of the Internet site ganglandnews. "The rule is, you go in alive and you go out dead. You're not allowed to quit."

It appears that Facchiano, also known as "The Old Man," lived up to that Mafia credo, according to prosecutors. Facchiano, born in 1910, has been a "made member" of the nation's largest and most powerful Mafia family for decades, but was a low-level figure, rising no higher than soldier, according to the FBI. His nickname is apparently a play on his last name.

He was a boy when Arnold Rothstein supposedly fixed the 1919 World Series. He was a young man during the Depression when he took his first arrest. He was entering middle age during La Cosa Nostra's go-go years in the 1940s and '50s, when the Mafia skimmed its share of America's postwar prosperity. And he was a senior citizen in the 1980s and '90s when John Gotti and other bosses were taken down by the FBI.

In Florida, Facchiano was indicted along with the reputed Genovese chief in the Miami area and several others on charges of extortion and racketeering. Prosecutors say Facchiano from 1994 to 2006 mainly supervised associates who committed such crimes as robbery, money laundering and bank fraud.

The New York indictment accuses Facchiano and more than 30 other alleged Genovese members, including acting family boss Liborio "Barney" Bellomo, of a range of mob-related crimes. Facchiano is accused specifically of trying in 2005 to locate and intimidate a government witness known as "Victim-5" in court papers.

In one conversation picked up on an FBI listening device, Genovese associate John Ardito said he and Facchiano were "the hit men" who were looking for Victim-5, according to federal prosecutors. Ardito traveled from New York to Florida to meet with Facchiano about Victim-5, who had "gone wrong," according to an FBI transcript.

Facchiano pleaded not guilty and is free on bail, living at a condominium in swank Bal Harbor with a daughter. Facchiano's lawyer in the Florida case, Brian McComb, would not discuss the charges. He said his client is in reasonably good health, apart from a bad back and difficulty hearing. "He's got the typical ailments of an almost 97-year-old man," McComb said. "From day to day, who knows? He seems like a very nice gentleman."

Facchiano's first arrest came in 1932, on robbery and receiving stolen goods charges out of Pittsburgh, according to an FBI rap sheet. He got a sentence of two to five years, then was arrested again in 1936 in New York on grand larceny charges and yet again in 1944 on a bookmaking count. The records do not show how much prison time he did, if any.

"Chinky" stayed relatively clean until 1979, when he was arrested on federal racketeering charges and got a 25-year sentence. He served eight years, winning release at age 79. Then, nothing until his twin arrests this year.

If convicted on all charges, Facchiano could be looking at a sentence of well over 60 years in prison. Given the slow pace of federal prosecutions, he could be nearly 100 by the time he is sentenced.

U.S. Bureau of Prisons records show that as of the end of 2003 - the last year complete records are available - there were 30 inmates 80 and older. Officials could not say whether anyone as old as Facchiano is behind bars in the federal system.

As for his chances of actually being sent to prison, Ryan King, policy analyst with the nonprofit Sentencing Project, said: "A judge might look at someone in their 90s and consider the likelihood of re-offending. Are they really going to go out and commit another crime?"

Capeci, the Mafia expert, said someone Facchiano's age might have some difficulty keeping up with the younger wiseguys if he does go free. "There's no way a guy at age 96 can threaten people, break legs, do the normal routine that guys 50 and 60 years younger can do," he said. "But the guy is, according to the rules of the Mafia, still a made guy. He still has to take orders from the superiors and do what they tell him."

Thanks to Curt Anderson

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