The Chicago Syndicate: Gennaro Angiulo
Showing posts with label Gennaro Angiulo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gennaro Angiulo. Show all posts

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kevin Weeks Calls Whitey Bulger #BlackMass Movie Bogus

From 1978-1994, Kevin Weeks served as a member of the Winter Hill Gang, and a close friend, confidant, and henchman to Whitey Bulger. And he says Johnny Depp’s film is bogus.

“We really did kill those people,” says Kevin Weeks, the former mobster and right-hand man to notorious crime boss Whitey Bulger. “But the movie is a fantasy.”

The film that has Weeks riled up is Black Mass. Directed by Scott Cooper, it stars Johnny Depp as Winter Hill Gang leader James “Whitey” Bulger, and depicts the menacing Irishman’s rise up the criminal ranks from low-level gangster to the most feared criminal in not just his native South Boston, but the state of Massachusetts. Whitey was able to rise so far so fast thanks to his special relationship with the FBI, especially agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton)—an old neighborhood friend on Whitey’s payroll who’d funnel him information in exchange for intel on the local Italian mafia, led by Gennaro Angiulo. Bulger was eventually arrested in 2011 at an apartment complex in Santa Monica, California, after being on the run for 17 years, and was indicted for 19 murders. He was convicted of 11 of those murders, and is serving two consecutive life sentences behind bars. Interestingly enough, while Whitey’s reign of terror was going on, his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) was the most powerful politician in the state, serving as president of the Massachusetts State Senate.

Weeks, who’s portrayed in the film by Friday Night Lights’ Jesse Plemons, started out in 1976 as a bouncer at Whitey’s local haunt Triple O’s, and by 1978 he was serving as Whitey’s driver and personal muscle. He officially joined the Winter Hill Gang full-time in 1982, and, along with Johnny Martorano and Stephen Flemmi, served as one of Whitey’s devoted henchmen. In 1999, Weeks was arrested on a 29-count indictment in a RICO case. In exchange for his damning grand testimony against Whitey, Weeks received a 5-year prison sentence. He was released in 2004, and has since penned three books, including the recent Hunted Down: The FBI's Pursuit and Capture of Whitey Bulger, which hit shelves on July 22.

And to say that Weeks is unhappy with the film would be a major understatement. “My character looks like a knuckle-dragging moron,” says Weeks. “I look like I have Down syndrome.”

According to Weeks, the filmmakers behind Black Mass “didn’t consult with anyone within the inner circle about the movie,” and as a result, there are major discrepancies between what really happened and what happens onscreen.

The Daily Beast spoke with Weeks—who saw the film opening night—who opened up about what Black Mass got right and wrong, the murders they committed, and a foiled attempt to assassinate Boston Herald journalist Howie Carr.

You saw Black Mass on Friday night. What did you think of it?

Very disappointing. The only resemblance to Whitey’s character was the hairline. The funny thing is, Whitey’s look didn’t really change at all, just his clothes. It’s like we were stuck in a time warp. And the mannerisms—the way that Whitey talked to us—he never swore at us. In all the years I was with that man, he never swore at me once. We never yelled at each other. The opening scene of me getting beaten up? That never happened. They also have me talking to a black FBI agent in the beginning of the film, but I wouldn’t talk to the FBI. I spoke to a DEA agent, Dan Doherty. And my cooperation came after Johnny Martorano started cooperating. Nothing in the film is chronological, really.

The biggest chronological discrepancy in the film was the death of Bulger’s son, which took place in 1973. The film makes it seem like his boy died later than that in order to position it as his motivation for upping his killing and crime activity.

They made it seem like that was the reason why. I wasn’t there for the death of his son—that happened before my time—but I was there for the death of his mother, which he took pretty bad. But really, Whitey was violent long before his son’s death. And the way the film portrays people like Stephen Flemmi and myself? We come across looking like a step away from Down syndrome, really. We’re portrayed as these low-life thugs that are borderline morons who haven’t washed for weeks. For all the money we were makin’, we came off like paupers. We dressed a certain way during the day, but at night we were wearing $2,700 Louis suits. There’s a scene early on in the film where Johnny Martorano’s character is at the bar Triple O’s, and is reaching into a peanut bowl, licking his fingers, and sticking them back into the bowl, and Whitey starts mocking him for it. First of all, Johnny Martorano was never in Triple O’s. Second, if Whitey ever started talking to Johnny like that—berating him—the movie would be over because Johnny would’ve shot him right then. As bad as Whitey was, Johnny was just as capable—if not more.

Right. Johnny was known as “The Basin Street Butcher.”

He was a violent killer. There’s another scene later on where Whitey is yelling at Stevie [Flemmi] in the car outside the police station where they’re waiting to pick up Deborah Hussey. The language is all wrong. We never really cursed like that unless we were grabbing somebody, and Whitey never would’ve berated Stevie, either. Stevie was a psychopath. Stevie would’ve killed him. And Stevie is portrayed as a very sympathetic character.

In the scene you mention, they pick up Hussey, take her to a house, and Whitey strangles her to death.

Right. And I’m already in the house—they show me in the background. The true story is that me and Jimmy went to that house and we were waiting for Stevie. That house was for sale, and we already had two bodies buried downstairs. When I get to the house with Jimmy, he says, “Oh, we’re waiting for Stevie and Deborah. Stevie might buy the place.” I go and use the bathroom upstairs, and as soon as I come down the stairs, I see Stevie and Deborah come in, and I hear boom-boom. I walk in and see that Jimmy had strangled her. I thought she was dead, but then Stevie put his head on her chest, said she was still alive, and he put a clothesline rope around her neck, put a stick in it and twisted. And then after, Stevie dragged her body downstairs and pulled her teeth out. So Stevie wasn’t all sympathetic, mourning, and sorrowful like he is in the movie. Stevie enjoyed murder.

Back to Johnny Depp’s performance as Whitey. The film made Whitey seem—relatively speaking—like a sympathetic character. He’s portrayed as a very loving family man.

He had a son, Douglas, and he did die of Reye’s syndrome, but Jimmy wasn’t this doting father. Lindsey [Cyr] lived in Quincy, and he used to preach to me all the time, “If you’re gonna be a criminal, you shouldn’t have kids. They’re a liability.” And that scene at the dinner table between Jimmy and Douglas where he tells his son, “Punch them when the other kid isn’t looking,” he didn’t talk to kids like that. He was my older son’s godfather and I remember the way he’d talk to my son. He just talked to him like he was a young kid. Oh, you playing baseball? Normal conversation. He didn’t bring business back to the house. So his portrayal of him, outside of the makeup, I couldn’t believe it. The hairline was fine but the teeth were terrible, too. Jimmy had one front tooth and a nerve in it had died so it was one shade less than white—a little yellow, ya know. And his girlfriend, Cathy [Greig], was a hygienist, so his teeth were in great shape except for that one tooth.

Whitey looks vampiric in the film—like a ghoul.

He really does. There’s one scene I have a really big problem with, and that’s a scene down in Miami. Now, I was never down in Miami and they never met Johnny [Martorano] down in Miami. They met Johnny out in a hotel by La Guardia Airport, and it was just Jimmy, Stevie, and Johnny who discussed the John Callahan murder, which came after Roger Wheeler. In the scene in the film, they have me down in Miami and we’re all sitting there. Callahan goes to give Jimmy a big of money and Jimmy says, “Give that to Kevin.” And I take it. And then Stevie supposedly propositions Brian Halloran to kill Roger Wheeler, and Jimmy notices Halloran’s demeanor and says, “Kevin, give him the bag with the $20,000 in it, and forget what you heard here.” That never happened. In fact, I didn’t know about Roger Wheeler’s death until the Callahan murder. So just by having me be there giving Halloran the money, they have involved me in a conspiracy to kill Roger Wheeler. I’ve been libeled. I wasn’t involved in that at all, so I have a big problem with that. I just don’t know where they get the right to put events in there that did not happen.

What about the turf war between the Winter Hill Gang and the Angiulo crime family?

Well, another scene in the beginning where Jimmy pulls up, I get in the car, then we drive somewhere and beat up a guy, and his name is “Joey Angiulo,” and he’s identified as Jerry Angiulo’s nephew. Just by saying that name, “Angiulo,” that never would’ve happened because if it did, there would have been a war. If it did, to make peace, Jerry Angiulo would’ve said, “Kill Kevin, and it’s over.” That scene did happen to another fellow, Paul Giaimo, and the story was that he’d slapped Whitey’s niece.  We got him in the car, drove up to M Street Park, proceeded to give him a beating, then drove him up to Cassidy’s and left the body out front so all his friends could see. Then we found out later on that we beat up the wrong person. But by making up this name and saying “Angiulo” and the mafia, it was so unrealistic. There would have been bodies in the streets if that happened.

As far as the FBI is concerned, the film seemed to really let the Bureau off the hook. John Connolly and John Morris are the only FBI agents in the film who seem to know about Whitey’s double-dealing, and they’re portrayed as sympathetic pawns, to a degree.

The FBI were the ones that enabled Jimmy and Stevie to survive. There’s a scene early on in the film where Connolly and Jimmy make this “alliance,” and then Jimmy goes back and tells Stevie about how they’re going to use the FBI against the mafia. That didn’t happen because Stevie had already been an important since 1965. In 1967, Flemmi and Frank Salemme blew up Joe Barboza’s attorney, John Fitzgerald, and then Stevie and Frankie went on the run, with Frankie going down to New York and Stevie going up to Montreal. Stevie comes back to Boston in 1974, and then the following year, Jimmy becomes an informant. And Connolly was on the payroll. We considered Connolly a criminal, too. He was our informant, and that’s how it was portrayed to all of us—that we were paying for his information. That’s why no one suspected that Jim Bulger was informing on us, because every time we made a score we’d put money aside to pay our contacts in law enforcement, and we were getting good information. Jimmy used to tell me, “I can call any one of six FBI agents and they’ll come to me and jump in this car with a machine gun and go on a hit.” One FBI agent actually gave us 17 kilos of C-4 which we were going to use to blow up a reporter, Howie Carr. Howie thought it was a made-up story, until he found out it was the truth.

Why did Bulger want to assassinate Howie Carr?

He was just a vicious bastard. He was attacking everybody—innocent people and everything. There was a time when we weren’t doing much and everything was running smoothly, and he wrote an article about this kid in South Boston who got killed, and Jimmy decided to make him a hobby and shut him up once and for all. When I look back on it, I wish we did kill him. He’s still the most hated reporter in Boston. Everybody hates him.

And it wasn’t just the FBI that knew about Whitey and what he was doing. Jeremiah O’Sullivan, the head of the organized crime task force, was giving information to Connolly. Every time Whitey or Stevie’s name was mentioned they’d give the information to Connolly knowing that Connolly would be giving the information to us. They were all on the payroll. All of them were receiving presents all the time—money, wine, trips. Some agents you couldn’t give money to because they’d feel insulted, so you’d give them a crystal or a Chelsea Clock. Everybody had their weakness.

One mystery surrounding Whitey Bulger is the Lady of the Dunes—the nickname for the body of the mysterious woman found at the Race Point Dunes. Many believe Bulger murdered her.

That wasn’t him. What happened was, because of Deborah Hussey and Debra Davis being killed, he used to visit Provincetown. And he’d usually have his girlfriend or a young girl he was with. But Whitey didn’t kill her. That’s just people jumping on it and saying, “It could have been him.” He didn’t do it.

But Whitey did kill Debra Davis, you’re saying? That murder was never actually proven to be Whitey’s doing.

I wasn’t there for Debra Davis—it was just Jim Bulger and Steve Flemmi—but here’s the story I was told: [Whitey] told me how when he was in the house with Stevie, they grabbed Debra, dragged her downstairs to the basement, and put her in a chair. She was being killed because she was going to leave Stevie, and he’d told her too much—including about his relationship with John Connolly. So she’s in the chair and Stevie begins putting duct tape around her. She had beautiful hair, so Jim Bulger said to me, “When the duct tape went around her face and her hair, that’s when I knew it was over.” And Stevie kissed her on the forehead and said, “You’re going to another place now.” And then Jim Bulger’s exact words to me were, “And then she was strangled.” So he didn’t say who strangled her.

The relationship between Whitey and his brother Billy has always fascinated me—that the most notorious crime boss in Boston could have a brother who, as president of the Massachusetts State Senate, was the most powerful politician in Massachusetts.

OK, I was up at Billy Bulger’s house over 100 times with Jimmy. He never discussed any street business or crime with Billy. It was always conversations about regular family stuff. There’s no doubt in my mind that Billy knew Jimmy was involved in the rackets, but as far as the murders, if Billy did hear something about that I bet he’d choose not to believe it, because he’s a very religious man. There was the case of Senator John E. Powers, who was a judge. He fired Whitey from being a janitor at the courthouse. Billy never forgave him for that because after Whitey was fired from that job, he started committing all these crimes and stuff. So when it came to John E. Powers getting a raise or anything like that, it never made it past Billy Bulger in the Senate. So if someone was attacking his family, sure, he would stick it to that person whatever way he could legally. But as far as shielding Whitey from investigations? Billy never did that. Never.

Whitey’s attorney, Hank Brennan, recently shot down Black Mass, saying that “the real menace to Boston during that time and in other mob cases around the country—the federal government’s complicity in each and every one of those murders with the top echelon informant program.”

Well, [Jay Carney, Bulger's other attorney] is a buffoon. I mean, really. He was supposed to defend Jim Bulger, and when he stood up and gave his opening remarks, he basically admitted to every charge. What, he’s spoken to Jim Bulger for a hundred hours, and that’s supposed to make him something? Now, he speaks about Jim like he’s his best friend. He doesn’t know a thing about the real Jim Bulger, what’s happened, or anything. He’s literally a buffoon.

But it was the federal government that enabled us to get as far as we did. Without their interference, we would’ve been a short-lived gang. In some cases, we knew about investigations before they’d even been approved, or received financing. And it wasn’t just Connolly and the FBI. There was a bug in the Lancaster Street Garage that was given to us by a state trooper. The state police keep trying to pin it all on the FBI, but they were tipping us off, too. Whitey had his hands in everything. He had FBI. He had the Boston Police. He had Quincy Police. He had one guy in the DEA who was saying stuff to Connolly. He had people all over law enforcement that were giving information to him. With the movie, there’s no accuracy at all. The premise of corruption with the FBI is right, but as far as the events, the people, and the personalities? You could’ve told the truth and the movie would’ve been more violent than it is but they fabricated events. The movie is pure fiction.

Thanks to Marlow Stern.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

New Book Chronicles the Fascinating Story of Gangsters of Boston

This coming June 6, Boston will experience, no doubt, what will be organized crime's “Trial of the Century” when the infamous Whitey Bulger stands trial for murder. But before Whitey Bulger, Boston had such intriguing gangsters as Adam Worth, Daddy Black and Tony Pino.

Now, with the timely publication of Gangsters of Boston, we have the first comprehensive account of three centuries of thug life in the city where America began. Through court records, interviews, newly uncovered police documents and other information sources, Gangsters of Boston tells the incredible story of the city’s underworld. In chilling new detail, veteran Boston journalist George Hassett reveals the legendary crime stories of Boston – from Prohibition to the Mafia to the Irish Gang War and to the infamous Whitey Bulger.

The forgotten chapters of Boston gang history are also covered – from the role of street gangs in the American Revolution to Chinatown’s infamous Tong Wars to the murder of numbers king Daddy Black. It’s all here, every neighbourhood, every era and every gangster. This is a brutal Boston of warring gangs, hit men and paranoid mob bosses. Dive bars, fugitive hideouts and mob dens populate this world and Gangsters of Boston is a first class tour.

With more than fifty crisply told tales of thieves, kingpins, vicious street gangs and corrupt cops, be prepared to see the Athens of America in a new light. Boston gangsters featured include Detroit Red (Malcolm X), The Winter Hill Gang, Joe Kennedy, King Solomon, Gennaro Angiulo, Larry Zanino, The Flemmi Brothers, Campbell Brothers, Darryl (God) Whiting, Franklin Hill Giants, Tony Johnson, Corbet Street Crew, and, of course, Whitey Bulger.

Boston, Massachusetts-based George Hassett has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in the Boston area for publications such as The Boston Phoenix, Somerville News and Cambridge Chronicle. His crime reporting has also appeared in national magazines such as FEDS and ASIS and he has been interviewed as an expert on Boston organized crime for television and radio specials.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Current New England Mob is Not Your Father's Mafia

Anthony DiNunzio, the alleged don of the New England Mafia, sat in a federal courthouse in Rhode Island last week, draped in tan prison garb, nodding as a federal judge said he faces a lengthy prison term if convicted of racketeering and extortion.

The New England Mafia. Illustrated.: With testimoney from Frank Salemme and a US Government time line.Boston Mob: The Rise and Fall of the New England Mob and Its Most Notorious Killer

Luigi Manocchio, DiNunzio’s 84-year-old predecessor, will go before a judge in Rhode Island on Friday to be sentenced for extorting protection payments from strip clubs. And Mark Rossetti, one of the most feared captains in the New England mob, is being held in Massachusetts on state charges of extortion and bookmaking. He has been cooperating with the FBI as an informant. Meanwhile, Robert DeLuca, a notorious captain from Rhode Island, has disappeared from the area and is widely reported to be cooperating with authorities against his fellow made members.

This is the leadership of the New England Mafia, a skeleton of the organization glorified in novels and in Hollywood. No more than 30 made, or sworn-in, members make up an organization that in its heyday was more than 100 strong, law enforcement officials say.

Investigators, legal observers, and court records describe an organization that continues to erode, as made members and associates abandon the code of silence and cooperate with investigators. The younger crop is addicted to drugs, and the older, wiser members have either died or have gone to jail, officials said.

“This is not your father’s Mafia,’’ said Massachusetts State Police Detective Lieutenant Stephen P. Johnson, who oversees organized crime investigations as head of the Special Service Section.

He said the arrest of the 53-year-old DiNunzio by federal authorities from Rhode Island on April 25, about two years into his reign as boss, also shows that law enforcement has been able to suppress the workings of the Mafia to the point their crimes are minimal.

DiNunzio is the sixth consecutive head of the New England Mafia to be charged: His predecessors have all been convicted, and the area has not seen a don hold as much power as Raymond L.S. Patriarca, the longtime head of the Patriarca crime family, did until his death in 1984.

Patriarca, who died at the age of 76, controlled an empire in the 1960s that stretched from Rhode Island to Maine, specializing in loan sharking, illegal gambling, and profiting on stolen goods, according to FBI documents released after his death. "In this thing of ours,’’ Patriarca once told an associate while under electronic surveillance, “your love for your mother and father is one thing; your love for The Family is a different kind of love.’’

Johnson and other investigators still expect someone will take DiNunzio’s place, knowing that, for some, the thought of living the “Sopranos’’ lifestyle is too attractive to ignore. “If it wasn’t for the Sopranos, we’d be able to suppress it even more,’’ Johnson said. “You’ve got to continually prune at the mob, because if you don’t it will grow like a weed.’’

Anthony Cardinale - a Boston lawyer who has represented a Who’s Who of Mafia figures including former bosses Francis “Cadillac Frank’’ Salemme and the late Gennaro Angiulo - said that as long as there are criminals who need protection, there will be organized crime. “As long as there’s drugs going on, and bookmaking, there will always be a mob,’’ he said. “Even with all the risks involved, there will still be somebody policing the bad guys, and that’s what the mob guys do.’’

He added, however, “as far as I’m concerned, it’s a dying occupation, in a sense that anyone who’s out there should realize that if they look to the left or look to the right, they should realize someone is working with the FBI or wearing a wire . . . which is unheard of.’’

According to prosecutors, at least two Mafia figures have cooperated against DiNunzio: One of them is a senior member of the New York-based Gambino crime family who has reportedly committed suicide, and the other is said to be DeLuca.

DiNunzio can be heard in wire recordings saying, “You get no shot today, no shot at all.’’

DiNunzio is the younger brother of convicted mobster Carmen “The Cheeseman’’ DiNunzio, the former underboss who was jailed for trying to bribe an undercover agent posing as a state highway worker, and separately for extortion and gambling.

Both brothers started their careers in organized crime with the Chicago Mafia, and were convicted in 1993 of extorting gamblers in Las Vegas for a Chicago Mafia crew based in Southern California. They served several years in prison before making their way to Boston.

Anthony DiNunzio became acting boss of the Patriarca family in early 2010, following the arrests of his brother and predecessors Peter Limone, who is in his late 70s, and Manocchio.

Limone is serving probation for bookmaking. Manocchio and several members of his crew have pleaded guilty to extorting strip clubs in Rhode Island.

Soon after becoming boss, Anthony DiNunzio allegedly demanded 50 percent of the strip club payments that were going to Manocchio’s crew, a demand that would prove to be his downfall. He faces up to 20 years on some charges, and a judge has ordered that he be held without bail.

Longtime Mafia observers said the arrest of DiNunzio was disappointing, embarrassing even, given that the once-proud organization has resorted to shaking down strip clubs.

“It’s just not glamorous now,’’ said Arlene Violet, a former Rhode Island attorney general and radio personality who has written a musical about the mob lifestyle. She recalls the days when made members ran businesses and matched wits with Wall Street.

“When your scheme is shaking down strip clubs, oh brother,’’ she said. “It’s so sleazy. Their crimes aren’t as sexy anymore.’’

Even in Boston’s North End, where prosecutors said DiNunzio showed up regularly at the Gemini Club, a small, members-only social club on Endicott Street, locals said the Mafia’s working was virtually non-existent.

“I’ve never heard of anybody being pressured here,’’ said Joanne Prevost Anzalone, former president of the North End Chamber of Commerce. “I think it’s always been a little exaggerated here to begin with. . . . You don’t walk down the street here and see anything you don’t see in any other neighborhood in the city.’’

But according to prosecutors, DiNunzio wanted power, and he sought to define his reign as soon as he took the helm. He explored ways to extort new businesses, and used the threats of violence to keep his underlings in order. He had questioned whether any of his members were cooperating with the FBI, and he suspected Salemme, who is in a witness protection program, was talking. He sent someone to look for the former boss.

DiNunzio had also worked quickly to reestablish a crew in Rhode Island, following the arrest of Manocchio and the arrest of his crew in September 2011.

He named an existing made member captain, so that he could continue the extortion of strip clubs, according to prosecutors. But the new captain, prosecutors said in court last week, wanted to install his own crew, to replace everyone he knew to be under investigation.

“They’re all in trouble up there, they ain’t coming home,’’ the new captain reportedly said.

Thanks to Milton J. Valencia

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gennaro "Jerry" Angiulo Underboss in New England Has Died

Gennaro "Jerry" Angiulo, the former underboss of the New England Mafia who ruled the Boston rackets from the 1960s until his headline-generating arrest and conviction in the 1980s, died today. He was 90.

Angiulo and his three brothers, Donato, Francesco, and Michele were all convicted in February 1986 in the region's first sweeping federal racketeering case against the mob. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison in the case.

The son of Italian immigrants who ran a North End grocery store, Gennaro Angiulo rose through the Mafia ranks under Raymond L.S. Patriarca of Providence because of his keen skill at making money. The Angiulo brothers were disciplined hands-on operators, who had a virtual monopoly on the region's illegal gambling and loansharking, according to law enforcement officials. But the Angiulo empire was toppled when the FBI planted bugs in their Prince Street headquarters and at a social club on North Margin Street for three months in 1981, as Angiulo ordered murders and beatings and boasted of his misdeeds.

When he was hauled by FBI agents out of Francesco's Restaurant in the North End in 1983, he yelled, "I'll be back before my pork chops get cold."

But he was wrong. He wasn't released on parole until 2007. In recent years, he has been living quietly at his home in Nahant.

Thanks to Shelley Murphy

Sunday, May 21, 2006

And the Oscar goes to ... Gregory DePalma?

Friends of ours: Gambino Crime Family, Gregory DePalma, Vincent "Chin"Gigante, Joe Bonanno, Gennaro Angiulo, Stefano Maggodino, Aniello "Neill" Dellacroce
Friends of mine: Ilario Zannino

Gregory DePalma, the powerful Gambino family captain, allegedly bragged about his Academy Award-caliber performance playing a desperately ill man looking for a sentence reduction. It worked; a federal judge jailed DePalma for less than six years instead of the 13-year maximum back in 1999.

There was just one problem: The federal government was secretly taping DePalma's post-sentencing review. And now he's back in court, allegedly battling another debilitating illness as prosecutors attempt to convince another jury that DePalma is a racketeer.

The 74-year-old mobster, sitting at the defense table with an oxygen tube in his nose and his feet resting on a small stool, is the latest Mafiosi caught in a medical controversy over competency to stand trial. The government inevitably insists the defendant is a healthy candidate for prosecution; the defense is equally insistent that he is not.

"Surveillance photos will show you Gregory DePalma on the move, an energetic, active man," Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Marrah said in his opening statement at the reputed mobster's trial in Manhattan.

Not so, said defense attorney John Meringolo. DePalma was "a broken-down man who has a big mouth and is living through the past," Meringolo argued.

Trying to dodge prosecution through illness _ the "Sicilian flu," as federal agents once derisively called it _ is a long-standing Mafia defense. The most famous of all was Vincent Gigante, the so-called "Oddfather" who avoided conviction for nearly three decades by publicly acting like a loon.

Gigante strolled through his Greenwich Village neighborhood in bathrobe and slippers, whether it was time for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Gigante avoided conviction from 1970, when he first launched the ruse, until a 1997 conviction for racketeering and murder conspiracy.

FBI agents serving Gigante with a subpoena once found him standing naked in a running shower, clutching an open umbrella.

"With some of these guys, it would be hard to tell if it's dementia or just the way they are," said mob expert Howard Abadinsky. "They're that nutty."

The majority of cases run to heart problems rather than head cases.

Joe Bonanno, one of the founding fathers of New York City's mob, was summoned to testify in 1985 at a federal prosecution of the Mafia's ruling "Commission." Then 80, he was retired and living in Arizona - where he was definitely too ill to take the witness stand, said his lawyer, William Kunstler. The stress of testifying, Kunstler insisted, was too much for the octogenarian mobster. Bonanno did 14 months for contempt, coming out of prison in 1986. He died ... 16 years later, at the ripe old age of 97. Kunstler had died seven years earlier at 76.

Ilario Zannino, an associate of New England mob underboss Gennaro Angiulo, managed to avoid prosecution - albeit temporarily - after he was hospitalized with heart problems in 1985. He died in jail 11 years later at age 74.

Buffalo boss Stefano Maggodino, following his arrest, once claimed he was too sick to get fingerprinted. At a bedside arraignment, he told the assembled authorities, "Take the gun and shoot me. That's what you want!" He survived for another five years.

Not everyone lived as long as those three. Aniello "Neill" Dellacroce was arraigned by telephone in April 1985 from his Staten Island home, where he was laid up with heart disease and cancer. Dellacroce was dead before the end of the year.

"When you start to think of the lifestyles these guys live, there's a good chance it's not going to be so healthy," said Abadinsky. "One of the things that always fascinated me is that these guys didn't die earlier."

The Gigante case, with a mob boss feigning dementia to maintain his freedom, has become part of pop culture. Junior Soprano, on the hit HBO show, went from malingering to menacing mobster this year when he shot nephew Tony in a case of mistaken identity. The long-running hit TV show "Law And Order" did an episode using the Gigante premise. And author Jimmy Breslin did an entire book, "I Don't Want to Go to Jail: A Good Novel," that parodied Gigante with a character called Fausti ("The Fist") Dellacava.

"Gigante got a lot of exercise walking around the Village," Abadinsky said of the mobster who lived to age 77. "He just said he was nuts."

Thanks to Larry McShane

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