The Chicago Syndicate: Henry Hill
Showing posts with label Henry Hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henry Hill. Show all posts

Monday, March 25, 2019

Anthony Comello, Suspect in Murder of Mafia Boss Frank Cali, Looking at Death Penalty from the Mob

It’s Mob Justice 101, and there are no appeals: The unsanctioned killing of a Mafia boss carries the death penalty.

The longstanding organized crime maxim is bad news for the life expectancy of Anthony Comello, the suspect jailed in the Staten Island shooting death of Gambino family head Frank (Frankie Boy) Cali.

 photo 190316-anthony-comello.jpg


“He must know his life is worth nothing,” said one-time Bonanno family associate Joe Barone. “He doesn’t have a chance in hell. It’s a matter of time. Even if the wiseguys don’t get him, he’ll get whacked by somebody looking to make a name.”

Comello, 24, remains in protective custody in a Jersey Shore jail, held without bail in the March 13 slaying of Cali outside his Staten Island home. Cali was shot 10 times in what initially appeared to be the first hit of a sitting New York mob boss since the execution of his long-ago Gambino predecessor Paul Castellano.

Veteran mob chronicler Selwyn Raab, author of the seminal Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires,” said retribution might not occur instantly. But Comello’s best-case scenario is a life spent looking over his shoulder. “Very simply, the old rules in the Mafia are you don’t let somebody get away with something like this," said Raab. “As long as the Mafia exists, he’s in danger. And it’s not just the Gambinos — anybody from any of the other families could go after him. If they get an opportunity to knock him off, they will."

Even the Cali family’s initial refusal to share security video with the NYPD was consistent with the mob’s approach to crime family business.

“That’s a big message: We’ll take care of this ourselves,” said Barone, who became an FBI informant.

The Castellano murder, orchestrated by his Gambino family successor John Gotti in December 1985, led to a trio of retaliatory killings sanctioned by Genovese family boss Vincent (The Chin) Gigante.

The Greenwich Village-based Gigante was outraged that Gotti ordered the hit without his approval. The murders were spread across five years and meant to culminate with the killing of Gotti, who instead died behind bars after his underlings were picked off.


  • Victim No. 1, dispatched by a Brooklyn car bomb, was Gambino underboss Frank DeCicco in April 1987.
  • Castellano shooter Eddie Lino became Victim No. 2 after a November 1990 traffic stop on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. Unfortunately for him, the officers involved were the infamous “Mafia Cops” — who killed the mob gunman for a $75,000 fee.
  • And finally, Victim No. 3: Bobby Borriello, the driver and bodyguard for the Dapper Don, murdered April 13, 1991, in the driveway of his Brooklyn home.


The mob doesn’t always get its man. Notorious informants like Gotti’s right-hand man Sammy (The Bull) Gravano and Henry Hill of “Goodfellas” fame bolted from the Witness Protection Program and survived for decades.



Gravano, whose testimony convicted Gotti and 36 other gangsters, walked out of an Arizona prison one year ago after serving nearly 20 years for overseeing an ecstasy ring. Hill died of natural causes in June 2012 at the age of 69, although not all are as fortunate.

Lucchese family associate Bruno Facciola was executed in August 1990, with a dead canary stuffed in his mouth as a sign that he was an informer — and a warning to other mobsters.

Thanks to Larry McShane.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Why is the @FBI is Investigating College Basketball Corruption? #TheMob #OrganizedCrime

The question posed by my nephew was a fair one. It also caught me off guard. When he and I discussed my former profession, it typically related to the headlines surrounding Russia, or school shootings, or the president’s relentless hammering of certain senior-level FBI officials.

My sister’s eldest son had played Division I basketball at my alma mater, the United States Military Academy. But he now found himself embroiled in a heated debate with some of his former teammates.

“Why,” my nephew queried, “is the FBI focused on the NCAA and the open ‘dirty secret’ that is high profile basketball programs and their famous head coaches paying for the services of top recruits?”

With the recent announcements of federal corruption charges brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the college basketball world has been turned upside down. But along with the expected breathless reporting that comes with news of federal charges leveled at a powerful American sporting institution, came some unexpected pushback.

Many share my nephew’s curiosity. And with so much abundant criminality in our society, why, they posit, should the FBI lose focus on terrorists, bank robbers, pedophiles, and gangbangers? And aren’t under-the-table payment schemes used to convince young athletes to commit to a particular program as old as time?

These are fair and legitimate questions. And I’ve even encountered many who have gone further so as to condemn the FBI and DOJ for this probe. They argue that violations of NCAA rules are not tantamount to the commission of federal crimes. Some, like Sports Illustrated’s Charles P. Pierce have proclaimed that the FBI has better things to do and that these investigations are the express purview of the NCAA.

Pierce maintains that the FBI has conflated NCAA violations with crimes and is playing the unwitting heavy — the “enforcement arm,” if you will — for a feckless and ignoble NCAA. But does he have a point?

Well, let’s begin by determining just what the FBI investigates. Matters that earn the FBI’s attention are federal crimes — illegal or criminal acts — and related to specific violations of federal law. They are typically prosecuted in federal courts. This is an orthodoxy we all understand.

Universally considered the primary law enforcement agency for the U.S. government, the FBI is charged with enforcement of more than 200 categories of federal laws. And investigative priorities include, but are not limited to, matters involving terrorism, public corruption, civil rights, organized crime, white-collar crime, violent crime, and weapons of mass destruction. And that means that the FBI is hyper-focused on an infinitesimal amount of the some 5,000 federal criminal laws and 10,000 — 300,000 regulations that can be enforced federally. But how did an FBI investigation into basketball coaches at collegiate powerhouses and shady shoe company executives get approval from higher-ups at Main Justice and FBI headquarters?

Well, the solicitation of bribes is a crime. So, even though these seemingly benign, tolerated “shenanigans” are what many view as ordinary NCAA violations, they are in fact federal crimes.

Yes, the federal case targeting the impure in collegiate sports has landed ten defendants — head coaches and assistant coaches alike — in hot water for cheating NCAA rules. What brings the coaches under FBI scrutiny is that they are “agents of federally funded organizations.”

The defendants are charged with committing “fraud” against the universities that were considered “unaware” of the alleged schemes.

So why, again, are investigations like this important?

Well, firstly, there are certainly degrees of criminality. But should we ever dismiss investigations of wrongdoing or consider abuses of the public trust and breaches of the fundamental fairness expected in sports to be trivial pursuits?

The NCAA reportedly earned some $10.8 billion in media rights (from CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting) in 2012-13.

By way of comparison, the GDP for the country of Liechtenstein is $6.664 billion. And in 2016, more than 70 million people — more than the folks who voted for either candidate, Trump or Clinton, in the 2016 election — wagered more than $9 billion dollars on the NCAA’s March Madness men’s basketball tournament. And since we’re on the subject of GDP, that’s a figure some $2 billion more than Fiji’s.

So collegiate sports like men’s basketball are big business.

Look, the FBI sometimes brings cases against seemingly impenetrable and unassailable institutions to send a message, or as a deterrent. And what institution is more uniquely American than collegiate sports. And investigations into sports betting, corruption, and point shaving are also uniquely American. They also ultimately lead to one of the FBI’s investigative priorities —organized crime. Where there is sports corruption, there usually exists one of the FBI’s legendary adversaries, the Mob.

The Mob was an outside influence in the 1978-79 Boston College basketball point shaving scandal. Martin Scorsese famously chronicled the “Goodfellas” gangsters involved in the scheme, like Henry Hill and James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke. And more recently, the FBI’s New York Office — where I served for most of my 25 year career – brought a corruption case against the world’s largest athletic governing body, FIFA. If soccer is undeniably the global game, then the FBI is the world’s premier law enforcement agency. And if sports provides a blissful respite for citizens of the world during these chaotic times, then we deserve them to be free of corruption and outside influence. Every viewer deserves a reasonable expectation that outcomes are not fixed and that there exists a level playing field for all contestants.

So FBI investigations into the current NCAA scandal are deserved of resources and attention. No one really believes that the NCAA has ever done a thorough job of policing their programs. The FBI has the ability to work across investigative disciplines. Their priorities are appropriately aligned and their resources are strategically allocated to meet those requirements.

Collegiate sports are a pleasant diversion for a country starving for items to take our attention off the media’s Russia infatuation and the daily chaos emanating out of the White House.

Sports will forever be susceptible to “dirty” and corruptive forces. So allow the FBI to remain ever vigilant to ensure that these incidents are anomalies and not tolerated “business as usual” practices to be ignored and accepted.   

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College Basketball #NCAA Throwback

Fixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College BasketballFixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College Basketball

Using extensive background research as well as interviews with the principal characters, Fixed provides the first in-depth reconstruction of the point-shaving scandal involving the 1978-1979 Boston College basketball team, from the genesis of the plot in the summer of 1978, through the uncovering of the scheme during an unrelated investigation in 1980, to the trial that captivated the sports world in the fall of 1981 and its aftermath. This multi-layered story of greed and betrayal combines sports, gambling, and the Mafia into an irresistible morality tale with a modern edge.

Goodfella's Henry Hill Plays Central Part in ESPN's "Playing for the Mob" 30 for 30

Some of it happened almost by accident, and some of it happened after years of determined work.

A chance meeting in prison. A failed minor league baseball player from Pittsburgh turned college basketball player in Boston. A talkative informant.

The combination thereof led to the downfall of a previously untouchable New York crime boss responsible for multiple murders and the largest cash heist in U.S. history, via cronies in Pittsburgh who ran a point-shaving scheme that paid a few players to keep scores within the spread at Boston College during the 1978-79 college basketball season.

That’s the story chronicled by the latest edition of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary seriesPlaying for the Mob ESPN 30 for 30, “Playing for the Mob,” which premiered Tuesday night on ESPN.

The film represented something of a white whale for executive producer and co-director Joe Lavine, who for years attempted and failed to get the project green-lighted before finally landing at ESPN.

A Trenton, New Jersey, native, Lavine grew up there about the same time as Jim Sweeney -- a schoolboy legend in Trenton who went on to star at BC. So Lavine was fascinated when he found out that Sweeney was one of a handful of Eagles players accused in connection with a the point-shaving scandal that was making national headlines in 1981.

That fascination only increased when the mobster who fingered Sweeney hit the big screen years later in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.”

“Every year I would pitch this story,” Lavine said. “I really wanted to get to the bottom of it from a personal curiosity [standpoint], and then also knowing that this had to be a great story.”

The highlights of the film are the interviews with the former mobsters, now all well past their primes after serving their time, including the gangster Ray Liotta made famous in “Goodfellas” -- Henry Hill.

At one point Hill curses, apologizes sheepishly to the camera, and then falls right back into his expletive-laden speech. It’s one of several seeming contradictions the gangster-turned-informant offers during the film, right along with this doozy early on: “I didn’t threaten him or nothin’,” Hill says in the film, “I just said, ‘It’s hard to play basketball with a broken arm.’”

Once a gangster, always a gangster.

“Playing for the Mob” makes good use of Scorsese’s classic, splicing in “Goodfellas” clips between interviews and using Liotta as the film’s narrator. The tone is set by black-and-white mug shots and film strips from surveillance of mobsters interspersed with BC team photos and action shots from newspaper coverage of the season. And, of course, there are betting lines with the pick circled and handwritten box scores with the names of the alleged conspirators highlighted.

The film also benefits from the fact that most of those involved agreed to speak on camera, including Sweeney, fellow accused BC players Ernie Cobb and Michael Bowie (who were completely vindicated), law enforcement officials and all the principals on the organized crime side of the story.

“As a matter of fact, one thing I’m really happy with in this film, is we really did get to everybody,” Lavine said. “We spoke to everybody, whether they ended up in the film or not.”

That includes Rick Kuhn, the former minor league baseball player who started the scandal and who Sweeney says got him involved in it. Kuhn was the only player convicted -- receiving a record 10-year sentence -- and served 28 months in prison. Lavine said Kuhn was “very open” but declined to go on camera, so his side of the story is told instead mostly through court testimony.

Sweeney said he decided to cooperate with Lavine and co-director Cayman Grant because he believed they would treat the subject fairly. “These people [in the mob] get glamorized or sensationalized,” Sweeney said. “And unfortunately, if you see a real-life situation that involves people like myself and others, then you say, ‘Wow, that’s the type of effect that whatever [the gangsters] do can have on others’ lives.’”

As for his role in what happened, Sweeney says he’s never run from the truth. He acknowledges taking $500, but says he never did anything to fix games. He says he believes his experience could serve as a test case for others, to help prevent anything like it from happening in the future.

“Obviously, I could’ve done things differently,” Sweeney said. “You can’t change things in life. And I never go there, like, coulda, woulda, shoulda, because that would only lead to frustration. That only leads to animosity. And I don’t have that. “I moved on many, many years ago, and I think the worst thing you can do is blame others or even blame yourself because that’s kinda like a poison that just stays with you. And I don’t think it ever stayed with me.”

The filmmakers ultimately don’t take a side on who did what, instead presenting at times conflicting accounts and letting the audience decide. “Obviously, the huge message is don’t get involved with point-shaving,” Lavine said with a laugh. “Don’t get involved with organized crime people.”

After more than a decade spent trying to make “Playing with the Mob” happen, Lavine is ready to move on to a new project. “We’re really happy with it. I think it tells a great story, I think the story is told in an entertaining fashion,” he said. “Will I ever totally leave Boston College? I don’t know. I think it will always be in the back of my mind somewhere.

“It really was over 10 years that I’ve been trying to do this, so I don’t know that I can just turn the page on it and go on to something else. I’m ready to move on from the actual filmmaking process. But I’ll always be curious about certain things that went on.”

Thanks to Jack McCluskey.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Using Witness Protection Programs to Break the Mob

It must be one of the worst choices to have to makeWitsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program ; to choose between decades behind bars or a life in hiding. But that is what confronts accused drug mule Cassie Sainsbury, now languishing in a Colombian prison. She has been asked to either inform on the people who supplied the cocaine found in her luggage at an airport back in April this year and go into witness protection, or spend 30 years in a Colombian jail.

Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program.

If she takes the deal to turn informant she will be joining a long list of people who testified against organised criminals only to lose their identity and liberty under witness protection. Programs to protect people who testify against organised criminals only came into existence in the 1960s and ’70s, even though the need for such a program goes back centuries.

Intimidation of witnesses is at least as old as courts, but it was only in the 19th and early 20th centuries that laws were passed against tampering with witnesses or that witnesses were detained so that they couldn’t be intimidated or killed.

In the US in the late 19th and early 20th century the Black Hand gangs, formed among Italian migrants, often scared away people from reporting crimes or testifying against gang members. In Chicago between 1910 and 1920, police were able to secure prosecutions in 21 per cent of homicides, but in cases relating to Black Hand killings they could only secure convictions in 4 per cent of cases.

The Black Hand: Terror by Letter in Chicago.

In the 1920s and ’30s people such as Chicago mob boss Al Capone were able to literally get away with murder by threatening or killing witnesses. But when authorities found bookkeeping ledgers meticulously detailing Capone’s ill-gotten profits, Leslie (some sources say Louis) Shumway, one of the men responsible for keeping the ledgers, was hidden away and brought to court under police guard. He became a material witness in a case for tax evasion. Capone was convicted in 1931 and sent to prison, after which police broke his control of his crime organisation, freeing Shumway of any fear of retribution. Shumway lived the rest of his life in seclusion but by the ’40s Capone was losing his mind due to late stage syphilis. Capone died in 1947 in Florida and Shumway died in 1964, also in Florida.

In 1963, mobster Joe Valachi testified at a US senate hearing about the dealings and structure of the mob. Valachi, who was already in prison, had organised his own protection. (In 1962 he beat to death an inmate he thought had been sent to collect a $100,000 bounty put out by mob boss Vito Genovese.) Valachi died in prison of a heart attack in 1971. Valachi Papers by Peter Maas.

The US Justice Department’s Gerald Shur, frustrated by not being able to get people to testify in big organised crime cases pushed for a more formal system of looking after witnesses.

In 1970 the Organised Crime Control Act provided for the relocation and protection of witnesses, a role that was taken on by the US Marshals Service under the orders of the US Attorney-General.

Since then thousands of people have entered the Federal Witness Protection Program, or Witness Security Program (WITSEC for short).

Some of the more notorious people given protection include New York City mobster Henry Hill, who was arrested in 1980 on a narcotics charge but turned informant and his testimony helped secure 50 convictions. His story was told in the book Wise Guy: Life in a Mafia Family, by Nicholas Pileggi and later turned into the award-winning Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas (4K Ultra HD) [Blu-ray].



Hill was thrown out of witness protection after he repeatedly revealed his true identity to neighbours. He died in 2012 from heart problems.

Sicilian-born mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta also made headlines in 1992 when he became the first major crime boss to turn informant. He testified into links between organised crime and politicians in Italy. He died while in WITSEC in the US in 2000.

A national witness protection program was also established Australia in 1990 under the Australian Federal Police. It gained notoriety when Reginald “Mick” O’Brien, a small-time criminal with links to crime boss Robert Trimbole, became a protected witness.

O’Brien had been arrested in relation to the importation of cannabis resin, but had made a deal with the National Crime Authority to give evidence against Trimbole. When the NCA became dissatisfied with the quality of his evidence he was dropped from witness protection. O’Brien was shot dead in Granville in January 1992. No one has ever been convicted of his murder.

Thanks to Troy Lennon.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia

The Mob was the biggestThe Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia, richest business in America . . . until it was destroyed from within by drugs, greed, and the decline of its traditional crime Family values. And by guys like Sal Polisi.

As a member of New York’s feared Colombo Family, Polisi ran The Sinatra Club, an illegal after-hours gambling den that was a magic kingdom of crime and a hangout for up-and-coming mobsters like John Gotti and the three wiseguys immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas—Henry Hill, Jimmy Burke, and Tommy DeSimone. But the nonstop thrills of Polisi’s criminal glory days abruptly ended when he was busted for drug trafficking. Already sickened by the bloodbath that engulfed the Mob as it teetered toward extinction, he flipped and became one of a breed he had loathed all his life—a rat.

In this shocking, pulse-pounding, and, at times, darkly hilarious first-person chronicle, The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia, he paints a never-before-seen picture of a larger-than-life secret underworld that, thanks to guys like him, no longer exists.

Friday, June 26, 2015

National Geographic Channel Infiltrates Centuries of Deadly Secrets INSIDE THE MAFIA

Four-Hour Series Pierces Inner Workings and Violent History of the Criminal Corporation With Global Reach

Through a pop culture lens, the notorious and mysterious Mafia is typically seen as entertainment: The Godfather; The Sopranos; Goodfellas; Donnie Brasco. Now the National Geographic Channel (NGC) exposes the dramatic history and infiltrates the legendary secrecy of one of the world's most powerful criminal organizations in the four-hour world premiere event, INSIDE THE MAFIA.

Narrated by Ray Liotta -- star of the film Goodfellas -- INSIDE THE MAFIA will premiere Monday, June 13 and Tuesday, June 14, 2005 from 9 to 11 pm. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (encore Sunday, June 19 from 7 to 11 p.m. ET). Four programs -- Mafia? What Mafia?, Going Global, The Great Betrayal and The Godfathers -- chronologically trace the growth of the U.S. and Sicilian Mafias, as well as the determined American and Italian efforts to stop it.

"It's not personal; it's just business" is a popular catchphrase attributed to the Mafia's code of honor. And big business it is -- its global assets were on par with some of the richest corporations in the world, bursting for a time with billions in annual profits derived from much of the world's drug trade.

With remarkable access to FBI and DEA agents as well as members of crime families, INSIDE THE MAFIA provides the complete behind-the-scenes story of this powerful enterprise known for its ruthlessness and brutality.

Featured are new and original interviews with influential mobsters like Henry Hill, portrayed by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, and Gambino family soldier Dominick Montiglio, and, on the law enforcement side, Joseph Pistone, the fearless real-life FBI agent who infiltrated the Mafia as "Donnie Brasco," and DEA undercover agent Frank Panessa, among many others.

Cutthroat deals, gangland assassinations and secret rituals within the infamous global mob are described by these insiders in intimate detail. "The bathroom door was slightly open and there were two bodies hanging with their throats cut," said Montiglio. "Everyone had butcher's kits and they sawed off everything ... chopped off the head, arms, etcetera. Then put them in a box and took 'em to the dumpster. Suffice to say, none of them were ever found."

In addition to inside access to important characters and events, the special uses contemporary and archival news footage, FBI and Italian police surveillance, telephone intercepts, transcriptions from major Mafia trials and dramatic reenactments of clandestine meetings and violent confrontations.

INSIDE THE MAFIA interweaves two parallel stories. The first is the emergence of a "new Mafia" after a historic deal between American and Italian mob families to control the international heroin trade. The second is the tale of the strong anti-Mafia campaign, spearheaded by a small group of law officers determined to permanently undermine the culture and infrastructure of the Cosa Nostra.

Over the course of the series, viewers will become familiar with a core group of warring protagonists. In the Mafia are men like Charles "Lucky" Luciano, a Sicilian immigrant who by 1931 murdered his way to the top of the American Mafia; famous mob leader Joe Bonnano; Salvatore "Toto" Riina, who emerged in the 1980s as perhaps the most ruthless and violent Mafia boss ever; Tomasso Buscetta, whose decision to break the Mafia's strict code of silence set in motion a series of events giving U.S. and Italian authorities the upper hand in identifying and tracking key mobsters; reputed Mafia godfather John Gotti; and soldiers like Hill and Montiglio, whose tales of living and working inside the Mafia are gruesome and often shocking.

Fighting the Mafia are Giovanni Falcone, Italy's legendary prosecutor who challenged the Mafia's power and paid the ultimate price; Pistone ("Donnie Brasco") who still has a mob contract out on his life ("Once folks found out about my cover, there was a contract on me," he says in the program. "It's not something I think about all the time ... if it happens, it happens ... and may the best man win."); Giovanni Falcone's sister, Maria, who was privy to much of her brother's strategy and key events in his life; and lesser-known law officers with colorful and suspenseful inside stories, like Panessa and Carmine Russo, who shadowed the Bonnano crime family.

The rise of the modern Mafia is a gripping and often tragic tale of corruption, crime, murder and betrayal by two distinct operations -- the Sicilian Mafia, running multinational efforts from Palermo, and the American Mafia, controlling one of the biggest marketplaces in the world. Their separate but symbiotic relationship is one that perpetually eluded and confounded U.S. and Italian authorities.

In 1957, a police raid on a Mafia summit in upstate New York revealed to the nation evidence of "organized crime." However, the Cold War took priority at the time, and mob activity continued to thrive. Major breakthroughs in the 1980s cracked open the Mafia's highly lucrative drug trade, and exposed the global reach and immense profits of its dealings.

In the U.S. today, the mob's activities have been scaled back, particularly now that narcotics are distributed via different mobs from the Far East and South America. John Gotti's prosecution created a domino effect, crippling all five of the crime families of New York. They are now a shadow of an organization that once claimed politicians as their friends; however, as recent arrests have indicated, the Mafia continues to operate in some capacity in the U.S. In the past few months, New York authorities indicted 32 people after a two-and-half year "Donnie Brasco style" undercover sting, and 14 Chicago Mafia members were indicted in April, a move authorities claim shed light on 18 previously unsolved murders dating back to 1970.

In Sicily, the situation is very different. The Mafia has largely abandoned its policy of violence in order to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities; however, according to the chief prosecutor of Palermo, they are even more dangerous now that many people believe that the problem is in some way over.

The days of the Mafia's massive, unchecked drug-dealing have gone, but INSIDE THE MAFIA shows that the organization -- particularly its blueprint for how national and ethnic groups can operate on a global scale -- continues to be a thriving and insidious role model for racketeering everywhere.

INSIDE THE MAFIA is produced for NGC by Wall to Wall Media. Jonathan Hewes is executive in charge of production; Alex West is executive producer; Charlie Smith is producer. For NGC, CarolAnne Dolan is supervising producer; Michael Cascio is executive producer; John Ford is executive in charge of production.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Henry Hill, Mobster from Goodfellas Fame, Dies

Henry Hill, the famed mobster turned FBI informant whose life story was documented in the book "Wiseguy"- upon which Martin Scorsese's 1990 gangster epic "Goodfellas" was based - has died at the age of 69.

Hill died at a Los Angeles hospital of an undisclosed illness on Tuesday, Nate Caserta, the son of Hill's fiancé Lisa Schinelli Casterta, confirmed.

"[His] heart just stopped. He had been sick for a long time," Nate Caserta told ABC News.

"I will never be the same. I lost someone I cared about a lot . Someone who loved my family and helped me a lot with life," Nate Caserta wrote in a post on Facebook. "You truly lived a life no one could live. You touched so many peoples lifes. Your spirit lives forever with me."

Caserta told ABC News that his family was talking about Hill's smoking problem while his health deteriorated.

Hill was famously associated with New York's Lucchese crime family throughout the 1960s and into the 1980s. He began his life of crime at the age of 11 while growing up on the working class East New York section of Brooklyn by running errands for Paul Vario, a captain in the Lucchese family.

"It's an intoxicating lifestyle that sucks you in. Then you get too scared, and too in love with the money, to leave," Hill told "Good Morning America" in 2004. "All people do is fear you - and that's intoxicating. It's a strange lifestyle."

Hill completed his first major robbery when he and Thomas DeSimone - who was portrayed in an Oscar-winning performance by Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas" - famously robbed Air France of a shipment of $420,000 in April of 1967.

In the 1970s Hill spent six years in prison after he was found guilty of extortion. While in prison, with the help of his wife Karen, Hill still managed to operate outside the law by smuggling drugs and food. He was eventually released early in 1978 for being a model prisoner.

Hill became an FBI informant following a 1980 arrest on a narcotics-trafficking charge, and testimony he delivered led to 50 arrests.

Hill, his wife Karen and their two children entered the witness protection program and changed their names. They were relocated to several locations in Omaha, Neb., Independence, Ky., and Redmond, Wash.

Hill and his wife were expelled from the program in the early 1990s following several arrests on narcotics-related charge. The couple soon divorced. Later he relocated to Malibu and began dating Lisa Caserta, began to sell his own artwork on eBay, and made frequent guest appearances on "The Howard Stern Show".

In 2010, Hill was inducted in the Museum of the American Gangster in New York City.

Ray Liota portrayed Hill in "Goodfellas," which was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi published the book "Wiseguy" in 1986.

Thanks to Kevin Dolak.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mob Month Panel & Book Signing: UBATZ Documentary Screening with Salvatore “Ubatz” Polisi and Henry Hill

Mob Month: UBATZ Documentary Screening with Salvatore “Ubatz” Polisi and Henry Hill


1/24/2012 • 7 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Clark County Library
1401 E. Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Room: Main Theater

Join us for the Las Vegas premiere screening of the gritty documentary UBATZ, about Salvatore “Ubatz” Polisi’s life in and out of the NY Mob as John Gotti’s associate and creator of “The Sinatra Club.” After the screening, stay for a revealing panel discussion with Polisi, Goodfellas mobster Henry Hill, and the film’s director David Murphy. Moderated by mob historian Dr. Michael Green.

Book sales/signing will be available at each event. All seating will be on a first come, first served basis. Entry wristbands will be issued starting at 6 p.m. from the Theater box office on day of event only. For more information about any of our Mob Month events, please call 702-507-3458.

Monday, October 10, 2011

CRIME BEAT RADIO SHOW’S UPCOMING PROGRAM FEATURES HENRY HILL, LEGENDARY FORMER WISE GUY AND GOODFELLA

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Wise Guy, Nicholas Pileggi’s true crime masterpiece and a book that has been described as “the best book on organized crime ever written.” Wise Guy chronicles the life of legendary former gangster Henry Hill, the working-class Brooklyn kid who grew up to live the highs and lows of the gangster’s life. Hill’s story became the basis for GoodFellas, Martin Scorsese’s film masterpiece. In Goodfellas, Henry Hill, the narrator, famously says, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

CRIME BEAT: ISSUES, CONTROVERSIES AND PERSONALITIES FROM THE DARKSIDE on the Artist First World Radio Network is pleased to announce that on October 13th at 8 pm. EST, Henry Hill will be a special featured guest. Mr. Hill will discuss his former life inside the Mob, the book and the film, as well his current life and activities.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Las Vegas Dinner with Real Mobsters

If you've ever wondered whether retired gangsters such as Henry Hill and Frank Cullotta know which fork to use at dinner, here's a chance to find out at point-blank range.

Next Tuesday, Hill and Cullotta will join their pal Tony Montana for a good old Italian feast at the restaurant inside the Royal Resort on Convention Center Drive. Tickets to what the mob wishes was their last supper are on sale at the hotel.

For Hill, who turned on his former compatriots in the Lucchese crime family in a life story that later became the subject of Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," the dinner is a chance to get together with friends, entertain some mob aficionados and make a little scratch in the process. No longer in the Witness Protection Program, he lives quietly in Southern California and spends much of his day painting and drawing. And maybe looking over his shoulder once in a while.

The motivation for the dinner is simple. Even a retired wiseguy has to earn a living -- and a legal one, unless he wants to return to prison.

"No. 1, I kind of enjoy it," Hill says. "I like to sit down with some of my fans, tell stories and let them get up close and personal with me. I don't get rich, but it pays my gas money to Vegas and back.

"It's a legitimate hustle."

For years as a loyal member of Lucchese capo Paul Vario's crew, Hill would have sprinted from legitimate work. He was too busy committing a long list of felonies, serving prison time and generally living the life of successful mob associate. Even after he testified against his old friends, he had difficulty staying out of trouble. But he has obviously slowed down as he has gotten older. He is 68 and has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. In the Witness Protection Program, he also had difficulty earning a legal living. Federal authorities weren't keen on him surfacing for book signings and spaghetti dinners with fascinated fans.

"I was forbidden to do it by the Witness Protection people and the FBI," he says. "But I had to earn a living."

And unless you're an undertaker, there aren't a lot of square employment possibilities for guys with expertise in burying bodies.

His celebrity as a former hoodlum not only helps keep a roof over his head, it's taking him to the Sands convention center in October for a signing at the World Gaming Expo. Later this year, he'll meet fans in England.

He also gets to Las Vegas to play the slots. But times have changed for the former big-tipping gangster. He mostly plays quarters and observes wryly that it's a long way between drink comps at some Strip properties that cater to high rollers.

Cullotta, meanwhile, is the former Anthony Spilotro pal and admitted killer who eventually testified against his childhood friend. The fact Spilotro was looking to eliminate him might have been a motivating factor for Cullotta.

Of the three, Montana has remained most under the radar. The former Chicago Outfit and Spilotro associate is also the former proprietor of a dandy Italian restaurant at the Boulder City Hotel. Montana knows his marinara as well as he knows his mobsters.

Hill says of his new running mates in organized-crime marketing, "We're like the Three Amigos."

You know, only with felony records.

Speaking of felonious fellows, I hear former Gambino soldier Andrew DiDonato, also the author of a tell-all biography, will make an appearance at the mobster meatball fest.

While some locals will surely be repulsed by the concept, Hill notes, "A lot of people are fascinated with it. They're fans. To tell you the truth, I enjoy meeting them and seeing them have a good time."

Between his painting and public appearances, Hill sounds like he's finally found his niche outside the underworld.

"What can I say?" he says. "It keeps me out of trouble."

Thanks to John L. Smith


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Junior Gotti the Hollywood Scriptwriter?

He is one of the most feared men in New York, with a family history of bribery, tax evasion, extortion, and murder. But after his trial on charges of conspiracy to commit murder ended in a jury deadlock two years ago, John Gotti Jr—son of the ‘Teflon Don’ John J. Gotti, and former head of the Gambino crime family—says he’s ready to give up a life of organised crime and finally go legit.

His new job after giving up the Mafia? Hollywood scriptwriter.

“He’s willing to go all the way, revealing as much as possible [in his screenplay] without hurting anyone who’s still involved in the street life,” Tony D’Aiuto, head of the New York production company Triplicity Entertainment, told the influential film industry website Deadline Hollywood this week. D’Auito is certainly familiar with the material: he used to act as the Gotti family’s defence lawyer.

It is thought that Gotti, 46—whose sister, Victoria, was until recently a reality television star and a columnist for the New York Post—hopes to turn his life story into a Goodfellas-style feature film, full-length documentary, and a book. He intends to pitch his story to major Hollywood studios as an epic father-and-son melodrama.

It’s unlikely, however, that Gotti will want to revisit the most notorious incident of his life, when the FBI searched the basement of one of his properties in Queens and found a list of ‘made’ members of his organisation, including the names of guests who attended his wedding—examples including Big Louie, Jackie Nose, Sammy Bull, Benny Eggs, Fat Andy, and Lil Funzie— and the dollar values of their gifts.

Agents also found a gun with a silencer, a semi-automatic rifle, and $348,700 in cash.

The bust inspired headlines such as “Like godfather, like son? Not quite” and an article in USA Today describing Gotti as a ‘dumbfella’, and Gotti was later sentenced to 77 months in prison.

NeverthelessWiseguy, If Gotti’s new career is successful, it could provide the general public with the most authentic inside account of the New York mob since an associate of the Lucchese family, Henry Hill, turned his life story into the book Wiseguy in the mid-1980s. The book was later adapted for the big screen, and became the Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas.

Hill’s crimes included participation in the notorious $6 million Lufthansa heist of 1978—the biggest robbery in US history at the time—fixing basketball games in Boston, and smuggling heroin and cocaine.

Hill’s circumstances were very different to Gotti’s, however: when the publishing company Simon & Schuster bought the rights to his story in 1981 for a reported $96,250 (£63,000)—the equivalent of $230,000 today—he had already negotiated so-called ‘transactional immunity’ for his crimes in return for appearing as the FBI’s star witness in 10 trials, ultimately putting 50 of mobsters in jail, including 'Uncle Paulie' Vario and Jimmy ‘the Gent’ Burke (played by Robert De Niro in Goodfellas).

Authorities in New York later attempted to block Hill from being paid for Wiseguy under the Son of Sam law, which was first enacted to stop the serial killer David Berkowitz (who believed he was being controlled by a demon father-figure named Sam) from profiting from his crimes. The effort failed thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in Hill’s favour: it accepted Simon & Schuster’s argument that the ex-mobster's First Amendment rights should prevail, especially given that he had never even been arrested, never mind charged, for most of his crimes.

It’s unlikely that Gutty could make the same case, unless his life were heavily fictionalised.

During his most recent trial, in 2008, prosecutors attempted to link him to the murders of three men during the 1980s and 1990s. Ely Honig, an assistant United States attorney, told the court that Gotti was a dangerous man. “The defendant ordered and oversaw the three murders,” he said.

Regardless, the jurors failed to reach a verdict.

The previous case against Gotti came in 2005 when he was charged of ordered the kidnapping of Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels. As in the 2008 trial, the jurors deadlocked. Two retrials also failed.

Ironically, working on the screenplay of his life could prove to be the most dangerous thing the former mobster has ever done. When Hill was writing Wiseguy with the author Nick Pileggi, for example, a $2 million hit was put out on his life.

Contacted yesteday by The Times, Hill declined to comment on Gotti’s plans.

“He could care less,” said a representative for the ex-mobster, adding that Hill blamed the Gambino family for the execution of his former friend, Tommy ‘Two Gun’ DeSimone.

Thanks to Chris Ayres

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Henry Hill of Goodfellas Fame Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor Charges

A mobster-turned-FBI informant whose life inspired the movie "Goodfellas" has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of public intoxication a week after arrest warrants were issued when he failed to appear in court.

Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta in the 1990 Martin Scorcese film, received two years' probation, credit for four days served in jail and a fine of $220 in a San Bernardino court Tuesday.

Hill was twice cited in 2008 for public drunkenness when he was in San Bernardino for alcohol counseling.

The FBI leveraged a drug trafficking bust to get Hill, now 65, to testify about New York mob murders and crime rings in 1980. He was initially in the federal witness protection program, but was removed in the early 1990s because of drug arrests.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Arrest Warrant Issued for Henry Hill

Arrest Warrant Issued for Henry Hill"Henry Hill."

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Kyle Brodie matter-of-factly read the name Wednesday in a roll call of small-time suspects: the unlicensed driver; the work-release probationer.

"No answer," yelled the bailiff.

With that, the mobster-turned-FBI informant -- whose life inspired the movie epic "Goodfellas" -- was facing two $25,000 arrest warrants.

Once linked to an NCAA point-shaving scandal and a $5 million airport heist, Hill at age 65 is wanted for failing to appear on tickets alleging that he was drunk in public in San Bernardino.

"I would have been asking for his autograph," said Desiree Gallegos, 27, who was in the courtroom for a suspension of house arrest terms.

Reached by phone later in the day, Hill said he was unaware he needed to be present. He said he had visited the downtown court on Monday to advise the clerks that he would be having hernia surgery later this week and wanted a new date. "I was hoping the court would understand," Hill said from his San Fernando Valley home. "I did a few days in jail already."

The cases stem from two arrests in May 2008. In the first, a patrol officer saw an intoxicated man standing in the intersection at Redlands Boulevard and Club Drive. The second ticket came 10 days later, when a drunken man refused to leave the lobby of the Fairfield Inn on Harriman Place.

Hill said he was in alcohol rehabilitation at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center in Loma Linda at the time. He failed to appear for his first arraignment last July.

He was arrested in Los Angeles earlier this year and again booked at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

Because of jail crowding, he was released before his arraignment. "I don't remember much of all that, but I've been sober a month now," Hill said. "I don't want to drink anymore."

The Brooklyn native is a frequent caller to Howard Stern's radio showGangsters and Goodfellas: The Mob, Witness Protection, and Life on the Run, where he plugs his mob-related watercolor painting, with scenes like a rat with a handgun and three well-dressed men digging a hole in the ground.

The "Goodfellas" movie ends with Hill, played by Ray Liotta, entering federal witness protection. Drug trafficking charges were leveraged for his testimony implicating cohorts in murders and the 1978 heist of $5.8 million in cash from a Lufthansa Airlines vault at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

In real life, drug arrests caused Hill to be removed from the federal program in the early 1990s. He dabbled in restaurants and spaghetti sauce sales.

These days, when he's not collaborating on Mafia-related film, television and book projects, Hill said he works with the FBI as an organized-crime consultant and counsels young street gang members about the lifestyle.

The man who once masterminded gambling enterprises now plays bingo at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland.

"Hollywood makes it up to be glamorous, but it's not," Hill said of his days with New York's Lucchese crime family. "You're either in jail for the rest of your life or you're dead."

Thanks to Paul Larocco

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ten Commandments of the Mafia

All things being equal, Tony Soprano probably had it right: “There is no Mafia!” the bear-like mob boss snapped to his inquisitive teen daughter, Meadow, in one of the first episodes of The Sopranos.

In the next breath, in a rare show of paternal trust, Tony allowed, “Some of my money comes from illegal gambling and whatnot.” But he insisted that he worked in waste management, which was true, in a way. Tony just had a hazy job description.

Somewhere in that father-daughter moment was the reality of the modern-day wise guy. There is no Mafia, never has been, but someone is still running the rackets in New Jersey and bodies still turn up in the Meadowlands.

Like so many real-life examples, Tony Soprano had a second family that came before his own wife and kids. Tony belonged to a secret social club, of sorts, referred to as “this thing of ours.” The biggest scam ever perpetrated by the Mafia was convincing its members that it never existed.

Mob life appears real in the new documentary Ten Commandments of the Mafia (Sunday, Discovery at 8 p.m.). Every good club has its rules.

A smart pickup from the U.S. Discovery channel, the program follows on a news story that drew headlines last year: In the hills of Palermo, Italian police swarmed the hideout of the allegedly highly ranked Mafia kingpin Salvatore Lo Piccolo, who was arrested with his son, Sandro, and two other reputed godfathers at a secret mob palaver. The film includes footage of the SWAT takedown; the cops wear ski masks to protect their identity.

The big news: In Mr. Lo Piccolo's belongings, police found a document, typed in plain Italian, supposedly detailing the 10 commandments of the Mafia. An initiation script of sorts, the document included the vow of admission into the Sicilian crime family: “I swear to be faithful to Cosa Nostra. If I should betray it, my flesh must burn, just as this image burns.” The sombre initiation ceremony has been depicted on The Sopranos and in movies dating back to The Valachi Papers.

In forensic fashion, the film parallels the list against true-crime stories, as related by law-enforcement officials and a fairly impressive lineup of felons.

The program includes interviews with former Colombo crime family capo Michael Franzese and one-time mob insider Henry Hill, whose life was chronicled in the 1990film Goodfellas. There are also interviews with former wise guys who prefer to keep their faces hidden. All the men are currently in the witness-protection program and would be considered “rats” in mob parlance.

The code itself is fascinating in its crudeness. Some of the rules are obtuse, and poorly penned. No. 10: “People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra are anyone with a close relative in the police, with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.”

Some of the commandments should be obvious to any respectable waste-management executive. No. 6: “Appointments must be respected.” Or No. 3: “Never be seen with cops.”

Revealing its old worldness, the list includes no less than three very important rules regarding the woman's place in the Mafia. No. 7: “Wives must be treated with respect.” No. 2: “Never look at the wives of friends.” And most tellingly, No. 5: “Always be available for Cosa Nostra, even if your wife's about to give birth.”

In between each commandment, the film explores the history of mob hierarchy and explains the titles of boss, underboss, captain and other mob rankings. Not so remarkably, the program confirms that most of the Mafia commandments seem to apply today, with the usual bending.

The Mafia has always held a convenient don't-ask-don't-tell policy. Members steal, cheat and murder in pursuit of monetary gain (were Mafia elders kidding with Commandment No. 9?: “Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families”), all the while pretending to adhere to an archaic code of honour. Perhaps most ludicrous is Commandment No. 8: “When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.” Even the Mafia rule on lying is a lie.

For that matter, mob code still forbids the dealing of drugs, but the Mafia allegedly controls the billion-dollar global drug trade. Says one former wise guy with a shrug in the shadows: “As long as you're bringing in bagfuls of money, you can break any rule you want.”

And imagine the money set to roll in with the release of The Sopranos: The Complete Series, which landed in stores on Tuesday. Retailing at around $300, the DVD collection tops the price previously set by box sets of Six Feet Under and Sex and the City. Will Sopranos fans shell out the money? Does Paulie Walnuts wear white loafers?

In keeping with the template created by The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (both films air around the clock this weekend on AMC, starting Saturday at 8 p.m.), The Sopranos is a fictional mob saga steeped in realness. The Emmy-winning series has only expanded its zeitgeist since ending in 2006, courtesy of marathon broadcasts on A&E. Even with trimmed scenes and freakin' language adjustments, The Sopranos is still the “greatest show in TV history,” according to Vanity Fair.

Like Tony himself, the box set is bulky and imposing. Packaged in a black box and housed in a hefty coffee-table-type book, the box set features all 86 Sopranos episodes on 33 discs. All six seasons have been made previously available in DVD box sets; the draw this time is the staggering assortment of extra features.

All told, the master collection boasts 31/2 hours of bonus materials. Along with the deleted scenes, episodic commentary and soundtrack CDs, the box set features an extended interview with creator David Chase conducted by Alec Baldwin; a documentary titled Supper with the Sopranos, wherein cast members discuss the contentious series finale; and a collection of Sopranos spoofs that appeared on The Simpsons, MADtv and Saturday Night Live.

The tastiest bonus feature is The Whacked Sopranos, an hour-long filmed version of an event held last year at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. The lively panel discussion brings together five actors who came to untimely ends on the mob drama.

The unlucky group includes Steve Buscemi (Tony Blundetto), Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy) and Drea de Matteo, who went from playing the doomed moll Adriana to a lead role in the ill-fated Friends' spinoff Joey. “They killed me on HBO, and then I went to NBC to commit complete suicide,” de Matteo says. And none of the dearly departed seem particularly surprised that their respective demises barely registered with Chase, the real Godfather of The Sopranos. “It's not a big deal to me,” Chase says simply. “These are not real people.”

Thanks to Andrew Ryan

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Junior Gotti Awakens Mob Ghosts in Tampa

The ghosts of Tampa's old-time wiseguys awakened this summer when Mafia scion John "Junior" Gotti came to town in handcuffs, accused of pulling the strings in a bunch of classic mobster crimes.

The federal indictment against him reads like a plot summary for "The Sopranos." The 44-year-old Gotti — son of the late "Dapper Don" of the notorious Gambino crime family — allegedly had his fingers in everything: whacking rivals, trafficking cocaine, bribery, kidnapping and money-laundering. Earlier convictions show Gambino crews have worked for years to get a foothold in the Tampa area's criminal underworld.

If the charges against Gotti are true, then he was a Johnny-come-lately to organized crime around here.

The fabric of the Tampa region's history is richly woven with stories of ruthless gangsters who first grabbed control of illegal gambling and liquor distribution during Prohibition, executed rivals with point-blank shotgun blasts, bribed public officials, controlled the narcotics trade and eventually broadened their influence across the Sunshine State and pre-Castro Cuba.

They were menacing, old-school mobsters who went by nicknames like "The Hammer," "Scarface," "Cowboy," "The Fat Man," "The Colonel," "Big Joe" and "Silent Sam."

Infamous in the city's lore is the "Era of Blood," when 25 gangsters were gunned down on the streets as Italian, Cuban and Anglo underworld factions battled for power from the 1920s to the '50s. And a Godfather-like legend surrounds Tampa-born crime boss Santo Trafficante Jr., who took over the Sicilian Mafia in Florida from his father in 1954 and built a criminal empire that was the envy of mob families across the country.

"Trafficante was the boss of Florida," says Joseph D. Pistone, a former FBI agent whose six years undercover with the mob were chronicled in the 1997 Johnny Depp movie "Donnie Brasco." "Miami was an open city, like Las Vegas. But if you operated in Tampa or other parts of the state, you had to go through Trafficante."

During his last two years with Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano's Bonanno family crew, Pistone came to Florida often to help broker an alliance with Trafficante, whose blessing was needed for the Brooklyn crew to operate an illegal gambling joint northwest of Tampa. The eventual FBI takedown of the Kings Court club in 1981 is depicted in "Donnie Brasco."

In another movie, "Goodfellas" (1990), New York gangsters played by Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro come to Tampa in 1970 and put the screws to a guy who won't pay his gambling debts. He finally agrees to pay up after they take him to the city zoo and threaten to feed him to the lions.

That all really happened — except for the lion part. Lucchese family soldiers Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke just gave the welcher an old-fashioned beating, ending up at a dingy north Tampa bar that still stands across the street from the Busch Gardens amusement park. But it's true that the beaten bettor had a sister who worked in the Tampa FBI office, which led to arrests and prison terms for the two wiseguys.

That's trivia that few but Scott Deitche remember. He literally wrote the book on Tampa's organized crime history — called "Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld" — and followed it up last year with a Trafficante biography.

Miami might be more associated with mob activity, but Deitche says organized crime in Florida is firmly rooted in Tampa, where Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants established communities in the city's cigar-making center of Ybor City in the early 20th century. One of the early rackets was bolita, a popular, low-stakes lottery game.

"You had drugs, prostitution, rum-running, bootlegging during Prohibition, some alien smuggling, but bolita was the main moneymaker," says Deitche over lunch recently at Ybor City's historic Columbia restaurant — a favorite dining spot of Trafficante and a host of mobsters over the years.

"Through bolita you got into corruption of the local government, corruption of the sheriff's department," he says. "So from there you really saw the emergence of the Italian Mafia, and the Italian Mafia eventually eclipsed all the other ones."

Howard Abadinsky, an organized-crime expert who teaches a class on the subject at St. John's University, says the growth of organized crime in Florida mirrored what was happening in society at-large. There was opportunity and money to be made in Florida, attracting not only aboveboard entrepreneurs but mobsters from the five New York Mafia families as well. Many bought houses and lived here for part of the year.

"The mob moved to Florida just like legitimate people," Abadinsky says. "There was plenty of money for everyone."

But it was the soft-spoken, even-tempered Trafficante — known as the "Silent Don" — who put the mob on the map in Florida. He also became the most influential Mafia figure in Cuba, running hotels and casinos, buying up property and laundering money through the island before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and kicked him out.

Trafficante, in public hearings, acknowledged cooperating with secret U.S. government efforts to kill Castro. And his name is often mentioned in a conspiracy theory surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination, but he vehemently denied having anything to do with it. He never spent a night in an American jail.

Trafficante's death after heart surgery in 1987 ended the Mafia's heyday in Florida, but the experts say it hasn't been snuffed out. A 2006 federal trial in Tampa exposed the activities of a Gambino crew led by capo Ronald Trucchio, who because of a deformed limb was known by the nickname "Ronnie One-Arm."

His crew was accused of a slew of wiseguy crimes, including trying to control the lucrative valet parking business in Tampa. He and three other Gambino associates were convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to commit extortion, with Trucchio getting life in prison.

Now comes Junior Gotti, who was arrested at his Long Island home in August and hauled to Tampa. His attorney scoffs at the charges, saying the feds have mounted an "epic quest" to take Gotti down after failing to convict him in three federal trials in New York. Gotti says he retired years ago from the criminal life and has pleaded not guilty to the Tampa charges. He remains jailed without bond pending a trial, which could happen sometime next year.

Abadinsky says the mob is still around, in Florida, New York and elsewhere, but it's a shadow of its former self. Gangsters today don't wield the power, control the unions or have the political connections of their predecessors.

While the "The Sopranos," the wildly popular HBO TV series about a New Jersey mob family, was a great recruiting tool for the Mafia, there are fewer young men willing to take up the life these days, Abadinsky says.

"The new guys," he says, "are whole lot less interesting."

Thanks to Mitch Stacy

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Junior Gotti is not the Only Tampa Connection to Mafia Activity

Tampa again finds itself in the center of the latest chapter of mob intrigue.

Reported organized crime boss John Gotti Jr. was arrested in New York on Tuesday, and will be arraigned in Tampa on murder conspiracy charges stemming from an investigation that began in the Bay area.

As mob towns go <a href=Tampa is no New York, Chicago or even Philadelphia. But over the years Tampa has found itself with at least a tenuous connection to the latest news from the organized crime world.

Consider:

In the 1940s, Sicilian immigrant Santo Trafficante Sr., a known member of the Mafia, took over organized crime in Tampa. The Tampa mob ran gambling, loansharking operations, drug trafficking, stolen property rings, strip clubs, fraud and political corruption, according to Scott Deitche, author of the book, "Cigar City Mafia."

When Trafficante Jr. took over, the man authorities called Florida's "boss of bosses" testified in front of a 1978 U.S. House panel that he was involved in a plot to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He denied knowledge of any mob plot to kill President Kennedy.

In 2006, four alleged members of the Gambino crime family went to trial in U.S. District Court in Tampa on charges of racketeering and extortion. Authorities said the group, led by Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio, committed robbery, extortion and murder from New York to Miami. They reportedly ran valet parking businesses at restaurants, hospitals and strip clubs. In 2007, Trucchio was sentenced to spend life behind bars.

The city's sometimes unseemly criminal landscape has wooed Hollywood filmmakers as well.

The 1990 crime classic "Goodfellas" featured a scene at Lowry Park Zoo in which Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, and James Burke, played by Robert De Niro, terrorized a local bar owner who refused to pay a gambling debt by dangling him over the lion cage. The "Goodfellas" depiction is pretty close to the real thing, according to Deitche.

Apparently, the owner of Char-Pal Lounge at 3711 E. Busch Blvd. asked Hill and Burke to come to Tampa to persuade Gaspar Ciaccio to pay his $13,000 debt, Deitche said. They dined at the Columbia Restaurant before tracking down Ciaccio.

Hill and Burke apparently beat up Ciaccio in the back room of the Char-Pal and then threatened him at the lion cage at Busch Gardens, said Nicholas Pileggi, who adapted his book "Wiseguy" into the screenplay for "Goodfellas."

"It all really happened," said Pileggi, who came to Tampa to take pictures of the area and interview people for his book.

The reason organized crime appeared to flourish in Tampa seems as varied as the experts who have studied it.

Pileggi said Tampa's organized crime spun off from Prohibition days in the 1920s and '30s.

Many of Florida's elected leaders and law enforcement officers either didn't enforce the laws or were in cahoots with bootleggers, Pileggi said. "There was an infrastructure of corruption," he said.

Deitche focuses on the large influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Mob bosses in New York and Chicago generally didn't speak Spanish, so the Trafficantes leveraged their links with Cuba and Latin America to dominate organized crime in Florida for more than three decades, he said.

Authorities credit the Trafficante family with creating a mob language known as "Tampan," a hybrid of Italian and Spanish created to confuse police.

Howard Abadinsky, an organized crime expert and professor of criminal justice and legal studies at St. John's University, said the reason the mob moved into Tampa and South Florida had more to do with the shifting economy. The mob bosses followed the money, he said.

They saw thousands of retirees from the East Coast and rustbelt states flee to sunny Florida for the winter, bringing their money and spare time.

Tampa's growing population would have been irresistible for organized crime families with ties to garbage hauling unions, shipping interests, gambling, bars, strip clubs and other ventures. "They are always on the prowl for opportunity," he said.

Deitche, Abadinsky and others agree on thing: High-profile, organized criminal activity has been on the decline for decades. Criminal investigations are credited with part of the decline. But mostly, the old-time mob bosses have died off.

Trafficante Jr. died March 17, 1987, after heart surgery in Houston.

"Since then, it's sort of subsided," said Bill Iler, who worked for the Tampa Police Department from 1966 to 1986, much of it investigating organized crime. "All the old guys hooked up with the Mafia are about dead now."

Thanks to Baird Helgeson

Monday, March 31, 2008

Henry Hill Tours His Goodfellas' Turf

GoodFellas was the definitive mafia film - and it is the story of one man, Henry Hill, one of the only survivors of a ruthless gang of robbers and killers.

Hill walked the streets of New York as a king - an associate of the Lucchese crime family. He stole big, he spent big and took vast quantities of drugs.

Then he got caught and spent 30 years in the witness protection programme, telling the police all they needed to know to put his mafia bosses behind bars.

"I couldn't walk around this neighbourhood ten years ago," he says standing, smoking outside Junior's diner in Long Island City. "There'd be bullets flying all over the place."

His morning started with fried calamari washed down with a glass of wine and a shot of whiskey. But it was not the Dutch courage that meant he dared to visit his old haunting grounds on this murky spring day.

"I'm old enough to die, just as long as they do it quickly," he says, pointing to his forehead.

Hill is a very different looking man from the one shown on the big screen. He is short, grey-haired, with lines on his face. A cigarette barely leaves his hand. The same goes for a bottle of beer.

After Junior's, it was on to his mistress's house. She was called Janice Rossi in the film, Linda in real life, and Hill confirms the famous scene where his wife, Karen, is madly pressing apartment buzzers and screaming that Janice is a "whore". But he says in reality he was in the apartment too and had to climb down the drainpipe to get out and reach home before Karen returned.

Hill says: "If you can't love two people at once, there's something wrong with you."

I point out that his wife probably did not see it that way. "Obviously she didn't," says Hill.

After a short interlude where he tries to persuade a traffic warden not to give us a ticket - "Sistergirl, please," he says - we are off to Robert's Lounge.

The club was owned by Jimmy Burke (Robert de Niro's character in the film) and was the scene of Spider's (played by Michael Imperioli) death. "Spider was killed in the basement," Hill says. He describes the dark room filling up with smoke and the deafening echo of bullets in the tiny space. He says Spider was buried in the basement along with several others killed there or nearby over the years. With a grim look he says: "This is a graveyard."

GoodFellas contained several scenes of visceral, shocking violence and it was not an exaggeration.

Joe Coffey became a policeman because the mafia shot his dad. It happened when he was eight and they did it right in front of him.

"GoodFellas is probably the best mafia movie as far as showing them for what they really are," he says today. "The Godfather, Casino, they show them as sort of folk heroes. GoodFellas pins them down to exactly what they are - street thugs."

Hill says he never killed anyone although he did ''bust some heads", and he admits he does not know whether his victims lived or died.

He smiles as he talks of how much he stole, though. "We stole anything we could sell," he says, as we pass a Bulova watch factory.

He claims they used to stake out the trucks as they brought shipments in and then hold up and pay off the drivers. The watches could then be sold on the black market.

His most famous crime was the Lufthansa robbery of 1978 when a reported $5m (£2.5m) was taken from a vault at New York's John F Kennedy International Airport.

Hill says the police told him more than $100m (£50m) had gone through his hands, although he himself has no idea how much he stole and spent.

He knows where it went though: "Slow horses, drugs and rock and roll."

Now he makes his money selling his story. He is promoting a new Sky Movies mafia season, and has written several books (including a cookbook - real spaghetti and marinara sauce, not egg noodles and ketchup).

He adds that he made half a million dollars advising on GoodFellas.

I ask him how he thought the victims of his crimes would feel knowing about that.

He takes a drag of his cigarette and replies: "Do you know something? I don't give a heck what those people think, I'm doing the right thing now."

Thanks to Heather Alexander

Friday, July 27, 2007

Goodfella, Henry Hill, Says NBA Ref Donaghy Just the Tip of Scandal

Friends of ours: Gambino Crime Family, Lucchese Crime Family, Jimmy "The Gent" Burke, Paul Vario
Friends of mine: Henry Hill

Tim Donaghy was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He was an All-American kid who played baseball and basketball in high school and then attended Villanova University. Following college Donaghy eventually would reach the pinnacle of his chosen profession -- a referee in the National Basketball Association.

Henry Hill grew up in the hardscrabble streets of East New York in Brooklyn. He was hardly a student, spending most of his days hanging out with the gangsters who held court across the street from his parents' home. Hill and his colleagues would would go on to commit some of the most notable crimes of the past 30 years.
Tim Donaghy

Once you cross the line like Tim Donaghy, you're just another criminal.

You can't avoid the name Tim Donaghy these days.

If you don't know who Henry Hill is, then stop what you're doing and go and rent "Goodfellas." It's the 1990 Martin Scorsese film based on Hill's life as a soldier in the Lucchese crime family in New York City.

If you've seen the movie, you know about the Lufthansa heist (where Hill's crew stole $5.8 million from a vault at JFK Airport), the cocaine dealing (this was the genesis of Hill's downfall, courtesy of the Nassau County narcotics task force), the violence, the murders … all of it. Sure, that all led to Hill's ending up in the FBI's witness protection program, but there's one story "Goodfellas" didn't tell you and it's this story that brings Hill together with Donaghy more than David Stern would ever like to think about.

Henry Hill was the mastermind behind the the Boston College point shaving scandal in the 1978-79 season. And Hill believes this latest scandal could be a lot bigger than just Donaghy.

"There's still a million ways to do it today," says Hill. "That's why [Donaghy] didn't get caught for so long." Plus, Hill adds, "the government works in strange ways. They'll let you go and go and go until they have a huge case against you, right when you think you won't get caught the feds reel you in and you're hanging from their fishing poles. Now, with this whole NBA thing? Forget it. Now that everyone is talking they have computer records, they have everything. It's going to get a whole lot bigger than this … you wait for the trial. This is going to be the tip of the iceberg. This guy Donaghy is in a lot of freakin' trouble."

Hill always was looking to make his next score. He was a good earner for Jimmy "The Gent" Burke (Jimmy Conway in the movie, played by Robert De Niro) and Paul Vario (Paul Cicero in the movie, played by Paul Sorvino) and when he had an idea about a scam or a robbery, it usually worked out. So when Hill approached them with his latest idea, everyone jumped at the chance to make a few bucks. The idea: Get a couple guys on the Boston College basketball team to shave points off the spread so Hill and his friends could lay bets all over town and clean up.

Why Boston College? For one reason -- Hill had an "in."

Back in 1978 one of Hill's associates was Paul Mazzei, a former inmate with Hill from Pittsburgh who helped set up a lucrative cocaine business after the two got out of prison. With this new powerful connection to one of the major organized crime families, Mazzei always was bragging to his friends back home.

"Paul would talk a big game to his friends about his organized crime connections, and how they could make the [B.C.] thing happen," says Ed McDonald, who at the time was the attorney in charge of the Organized Crime Strike Force in NYC. "One of Mazzei's friends from Pittsburgh was a guy named Tony Perla, who was a librarian at a junior high school. I know, you can't make this stuff up. His brother, Rocco, grew up with a guy named Rick Kuhn who at the time was on the B.C. basketball team."

One summer when Kuhn was back in Pittsburgh, Rocco asked his friend if he was interested, it went up the chain to Mazzei and then to Hill and his crew in New York and the fix was on.

Kuhn wasn't some 18-year-old babe in the woods who just got caught up with the wrong people. He had been a pitcher in the Cincinnati Reds organization before he blew his arm out, so he arrived on the B.C. campus as a 23-year-old with a few years of pro ball under his belt.

"I'll tell you, because Kuhn was older, he knew what was going on, he was definitely calling the shots," says Hill. "He brought in the captain of the team and the leading scorer because he had to -- he tried to shave points and he messed up a couple games. We are all losing money until those other guys came on board."

Today Henry Hill has turned in his titles of point shaver, witness and gangster for more benevolent ones. Hill sells his art on eBay, he's opening a restaurant in New Haven, Ct., called Henry Hill's Goodfellas and his tomato sauce, Henry Hill's Sunday Gravy, will be for sale at stores and on the Internet in August. "I'm surviving. I'm doing better than surviving, I'm existing," says Hill. "I have a bunch of irons in the fire and I shouldn't even be here."

Out of the nine games they attempted to fix, Hill and his associates won bets on only six. "That's right," adds McDonald. "I used to call them 'The Gang That Could Shoot Straight.' If it were left to Kuhn, they wouldn't have made a dime."

Kuhn, the team's starting center, soon recruited two other starters. Payment to the players was set at $2,500 to $3,500 per player, per game. At times, cocaine was used as payment for Kuhn, and he wasn't even good at that. "We found out that one time, when B.C. was on their way to a tournament in Hawaii, Kuhn lost a whole thing of coke in the airplane bathroom," says McDonald. All three players were on board and everyone was "winning." Hill adds, "It was great, there was a lot of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll … and missed shots."

Goodfella, Henry Hill, doesn't think NBA Ref Tim Donaghy is the only one out there, just the only one to get caught.The questions swirling around Donaghy now include whether he made certain calls that affected games or point spreads and whether anyone should have noticed. "It's harder than you think if you're not looking for it," says Hill. "At B.C. we had three guys cooperating with us and even the coach didn't notice. Well, there was a little suspicion, but we made it through the season OK. We didn't think anything of it. I know I didn't."

As far as money, even though it's 2007, the Gambino crime family isn't making Donaghy fill out a W-2 -- organized crime is still a cash business.

"Here's how he probably did it," says Hill. "You get a nephew or a cousin or someone you trust. You meet them in a restaurant somewhere and you have them hand you the envelope. And it's cash. Always cash. Nothing on the Internet or with a bank. That stuff is too traceable. If it's more than that we get word to you to leave your keys on your tire, when you come back there's a bag of money in your trunk. Like I said, there's a million ways to do it."

But how did Henry Hill get caught? He didn't. He gave himself up.

After the Lufthansa heist in 1978, Jimmy Burke started eliminating everyone involved to avoid any possibility that someone would turn an informant -- and send him to jail for the rest of his life.

"Everyone in town knew who did it, they just couldn't prove it," says Hill. "First the feds would come to my house with B.S. warrants, then they started coming with pictures of the bodies. Everyone got whacked here. Eleven guys including two guys' wives got it. I started to see the writing on the wall, but wasn't sure until I heard the tape."

It was the tape that would end Hill's career in the mafia and begin a series of trials as a government witness. A record Hill is proud of: "Hey, we went 11 for 11. All convictions."

On that tape Hill heard Jimmy Burke talking to Paul Vario. "I hear Jimmy talking about me," says Hill. "Jimmy says 'we gotta whack him.' I couldn't believe it. That floored me. I thought I was immune to all that because of how tight I was with those two guys. In the end it didn't matter."

Almost immediately, Hill entered the witness protection program.

Hill explains that one part of the program includes signing a contract that basically states "you get caught in one lie, the whole deal was off. But I could confess to anything. I didn't commit any murders, but I was present many times when murder was committed. So when you sign that, you have to change your whole way of thinking. My life was on the line, my family's life was on the line.… They had everything I had done, even my terrible record as a kid. So, you have one choice: Be absolutely truthful."

During his debriefing, the FBI would ask Hill all sorts of questions based on the information they had -- phone records, surveillance, airplane receipts.

"They start coming at me with all these records. 'Henry, why were you talking to Jimmy right here? Why did you keep flying to Boston?' Compared to the other stuff I was doing, I didn't even think it was a crime. What was I doing in Boston? I was shaving points!"

Listening to this was McDonald, Hill's sponsor in the witness protection program.

"Man, when I told him about B.C., Ed McDonald went postal, he went ballistic," says Hill. "He couldn't believe what I was telling him."

McDonald admits they had no clue about the point shaving. "No, we wouldn't have even known about it," says McDonald. "That was totally out of the blue." Adding to McDonald's reaction was that he was a graduate of Boston College and even played on the freshman basketball team. Hill's testimony regarding the B.C. point shaving scandal resulted in multiple convictions, including Kuhn, Mazzei and Perla.

That closed the book on one of the biggest scandals sports has ever known. But what about Tim Donaghy and his partners?

Hearing reports that it wasn't until after a few days that Donaghy's name was made public that he requested police protection, Hills says, "That's a joke he doesn't have protection. He's probably under wraps with the feds. I bet he's going into the witness protection program."

Hill thinks Donaghy will "probably get 10 years and they'll make him go to Gamblers Anonymous. Then they'll suspend the sentence probably. Hey, the guy has a disease, he's a degenerate gambler and he's a fool for what he did. Still, he'll try to cut the right deal and get immunity if he can for everything." But there's still the question of how Donaghy and his partners got caught.

Hill thinks it's because everyone got greedy. It would make sense not to go overboard and fix too many games … and of course never talk. You don't know who's listening.

"Sense isn't part of it, once [organized crime] got their hands on him, they were never going to let him go," says Hill. "They owned him and they were calling the shots, no question. They're too greedy because they're betting money everywhere now: the Internet, Vegas, every bookie they can find, and everyone wanted a piece. It can get out of hand real fast."

According to Hill, everyone from himself to Donaghy is subject to the failings of the human condition -- that's why you'll never see him bet on sports again.

"Maybe I'll make a pinky bet for 10 bucks with a guy if we're watching a game, but that's it," says Hill. "All these people are humans -- they're greedy, they use steroids, maybe they have a coke habit. Who knows? Look at the bike guys in the Tour. It's everywhere. There's too much money involved. And the guys that are helping them? Players, officials, whatever -- they know they're only in the game for a few years and that's if they stay healthy. They all want to put something in the cookie jar. They buy all sorts of stuff with cash only. Cars and art, all that B.S. Hey, art goes up in value. I know. That's my main source of income, my art. You can find it on eBay, by the way."

Hill doesn't think Donaghy is the only one out there, just the only one to get caught. "I'm pretty sure there are guys all over on the take," says Hill. "They're going to get these guys good, because like always, they're after the Gambinos. And I'll tell you, I wouldn't be surprised to see some players involved."

Of course, like Hill said, this is nothing new. "Back in the '70s I had a joint on Queens Boulevard right between Aquaduct and Belmont. Every jockey in town came in and bet there." Other athletes had places as well. "There were athletes and bookies everywhere back then."

Hill would run into a few of them -- they were hard to miss. "Joe Namath used to fool around with my girlfriend's roommate back then," says Hill. "I used to see Joe over at the apartment every couple days. Before he left for Super Bowl III though, he told me to 'bet the f------ farm' on the Jets. I went down there and took the money line. Man, did I clean up."

Hill didn't just run into athletes in his line of work. "I used to have a guy that reffed games in the Garden in the '70s," says Hill. "I don't want to use his name, but he was a degenerate gambler. He'd come to Belmont or Saratoga and tell one of us 'I want $4,000 on the seven horse' or whatever. And we'd send someone in front of him to make his bet. That guy would leave the tickets on the table and the ref comes up and bets a couple bucks on something else, then, when he walks away, he palms the ticket for the $4K bet. I mean, what the hell is a ref doing betting $4,000 on a race?"

As Hill learned, it all comes to an end. Money, friends, easy living … it all disappears.

"My father was strict as they come," says Hill. "He realized who I was involved with when I was a kid and he would say 'stay away from those bums across the street.' Well, I didn't listen. As my mom used to say, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, I got blinded by that life. I thought it was the good life. Good living, Cadillacs and diamond rings. In reality, it's just jails, institutions or death."

Welcome to the rest of your life, Mr. Donaghy.

Thanks to Mike Philbrick

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