The Chicago Syndicate: Henry Hill

Showing posts with label Henry Hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henry Hill. Show all posts

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day from the Mob

Friends of ours: Jimmy "The Gent" Burke, Al Capone, Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, Vincent "The Animal" Ferrara, Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, Angelo "Buddha" Lutz, John "Junior" Gotti, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Robert Spinelli, Paulie Vario, Henry Hill

Each and every Mother's Day until he landed behind bars, mobster Jimmy "The Gent" Burke performed a sacrosanct ritual.

Burke, the mastermind behind the $5.8 million Lufthansa heist immortalized in Goodfellas, dropped a few C-notes on dozens of red roses from a Rockaway Boulevard florist. He then toured the homes of his jailed Luchese crime family pals, providing their mothers with a bouquet and a kiss.

He never missed a year, or a mom.

Burke's gesture was no surprise to his fellow hoodlums: Mother's Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar, when homicide took a holiday and racketeering gave way to reminiscing - often over a plate of mom's pasta and sauce.

"These guys, they do have a love for their mothers," said Joe Pistone, the FBI undercover agent who spent six Mother's Days inside the Bonanno family as jewel thief Donnie Brasco. "They thought nothing of killing. But the respect for their mothers? It was amazing."

So amazing, Pistone recalled, that Bonanno member Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero once told him that the Mafia - like a suburban Jersey mall shuttered by blue laws - closed for business when Mother's Day arrived each May.

No vendettas or broken bones. Just gift baskets and boxes of candy.

"Absolutely," said mob informant Henry Hill, who described his old friend Burke's annual rite. "It's Mother's Day, you know?"

The bond between gangsters and their mothers is more sacred than the oath of omerta and more complex than anything imagined by Oedipus. Pistone watched stone murderers suddenly grow misty when discussing their moms - or her meals.

"They're not embarrassed to say how much they love their mother," said Pistone, author of the new mob memoir Unfinished Business. "I can remember guys talking about cooking: 'My mom made the best braciole.' Or 'My mother taught me how to make this sauce.' "

No surprise there: The way to a made man's heart was often through his stomach, as many mob moms knew long before their sons moved from finger paints to fingerprints.

Mob heavyweight Al Capone - a man who never needed a restaurant reservation during his Roaring 20s reign atop the Chicago underworld - preferred his mother's spaghetti with meat sauce, heavy on the cheese. (Capone's sentimentality didn't extend to other holidays. On Feb. 14, 1929, he orchestrated the submachine-gun slayings of seven rival bootleggers in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.)

Capone wasn't alone in his mismatched emotions: warm, maternal love and cold, homicidal rage. Genovese family boss Vincent "The Chin" Gigante shared a Greenwich Village apartment with his ninetysomething mother, Yolanda, even as he ruthlessly directed the nation's most powerful organized crime operation during the 80s and 90s.

New England capo Vincent "The Animal" Ferrara did a 16-year prison stretch for racketeering, getting out of prison just two years ago. His first trip as a free man: a visit to see his 90-year-old mom. But gangland mother-son ties transcend more than just geography and generations; they cross ethnic lines, too.

Abe Reles, a Jewish hit man of the 30s, was known to contemporaries as "Kid Twist" for his preferred method of execution - he would wrap his thick fingers around a victim's neck for one final snap.

Despite 42 arrests (and 11 admitted murders), the "Kid" remained his mother's loving son. And he showed up at her apartment each Friday night for a traditional Sabbath meal of gefilte fish, chicken soup and boiled chicken.

One Friday, Reles showed up with a guest. The three shared a meal before the Kid's mother left for a movie. By the time the film was finished, her son - assisted by a mob associate - had bludgeoned and strangled their guest before disposing of the body.

Mrs. Reles returned to share a cup of tea and a piece of honey cake with her boy, according to Robert A. Rockaway's mob tome But He Was Good To His Mother - a history of loving Jewish sons turned heartless killers.

Those mobbed-up kids often had their affection reciprocated from mothers blinded by love to mounting evidence of their offspring's larcenous lifestyles.

Philadelphia gangster Angelo "Buddha" Lutz was arrested in 2001 on racketeering charges - and released on $150,000 bail when his mom put up her house as collateral. (She was later free to visit him in prison, where he was sentenced to serve nine years.)

Mob matriarch Victoria Gotti went even further for her son, John A. "Junior" Gotti, offering her $715,000 home up for his bail. When Junior went on trial three times in the last two years for racketeering, Victoria appeared in court each time - even as defense lawyers admitted that he once headed the Gambino crime family.

"If you're the president or a gangster, that has nothing to do with a mother's love," Pistone said. "I think that's one of the main reasons for their bond."

When authorities last year dropped the charges against Junior, the mob scion - his father was the late "Dapper Don" John Gotti - repaid his mom's devotion. Gotti spent Thanksgiving Day at Victoria's hospital bedside after she suffered a stroke.

For some, like Robert Spinelli, love of Mom complicated their chosen profession. Spinelli served as the getaway driver after his brother and a second man tried to kill the sister of mob informant "Big Pete" Chiodo, but he was stricken with guilt over the shooting.

At his 1999 sentencing, Spinelli stood with tears streaming down his face when recounting the botched hit against Patricia Capozzalo, who had just dropped her two children off at school. "She reminded me of my mother," the weepy gangster confessed before getting a 10-year jail term.

For Hill, his beloved mother provided a passport - Italian - into the Mafia back in the 1950s.

Young Henry was a mob wannabe, hanging around the taxi stand that served as the business office for Luchese capo Paulie Vario. When the mobsters discovered the kid with the Irish surname was half-Sicilian, on mother Carmela's side, he was greeted like a paisano. "Everything changed when they found out about my mother," Hill told author Nick Pileggi for the book Wiseguy, which chronicled his evolution from wiseguy to mob turncoat.

Hill, speaking from his current home somewhere on the West Coast, recalled that Jimmy Burke attached particular importance to Mother's Day because he was abandoned by his own parents at age 2. Hill also recalled how his hot-tempered pal wasn't so dewy-eyed one day later.

"He'd kiss all the mothers on Sunday," said Hill. "And then the next day, he'd kill their husbands."

Monday, May 15, 2006

La Cosa Nostra Tough Guy-Turned-Witness follows the Rules

Friends of ours: Bruno Facciola, Luchesse Crime Family, Alphonse "Little Al" D'Arco, Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, John Gotti, Vittorio Amuso, Paulie Vario, Henry Hill, Vic Amuso, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, Genovese Crime Family, Vincent "Chin" Gigante, Colombo Crime Family, "Little Vic" Orena, Bonanno Crime Family, Anthony Spero, James Ida
Friends of mine: Stephen Caracappa, Louis Eppolito

The killers placed the dead canary in the freezer. Later, after their work was finished, they placed the bird inside the mouth of the equally deceased Bruno Facciola.

The August 1990 mob hit followed a tip from two corrupt NYPD detectives that the Luchese family capo had turned government informant. Facciola was stabbed, shot through both eyes and shot again in the head before the bird was stuffed in his mouth. It was murder with a message: See no evil. And definitely speak no evil.

The slaying was orchestrated by one of the crime family's true believers, a diminutive thug known to fellow Mafiosi as "Little Al." Few in organized crime embraced the mob ethos more fervently than Alphonse D'Arco, a hard case from the cradle.

"I was a man when I was born," Little Al once bragged. He committed every crime except pimping and pornography, which D'Arco deemed beneath his dignity. Murder was a different story; he committed eight while rising from Luchese associate to acting boss.

Few in organized crime despised informants more than Little Al. "Rats," he'd spit, his face contorted with disgust. He did a three-year heroin rap without opening his yap. So when the word came down that Facciola was singing to the feds, D'Arco arranged for his demise. And for the canary.

Four months later, with the family in turmoil, D'Arco stepped up to become the Luchese boss. His reign abruptly ended on Aug. 21, 1991, but not in the fashion he expected: on the wrong end of a jury verdict. Or maybe a bullet. Instead, D'Arco _ disgusted by the loss of mob honor, double-crossed by men he had respected _ became what he most abhorred: a rat. And not just any rat.

He brought down mob bosses, underbosses, consiglieres. Fifteen years later, the former made man is still making inmates out of accomplices as perhaps the most devastating mob informant ever _ even better than Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who famously flipped on mob superstar John Gotti.

Alphonse D'Arco, born July 28, 1932, grew up near the Brooklyn Navy Yards. The neighborhood was heavy with heavyweight mobsters, including some of his relatives. His childhood, D'Arco once recalled, was "like being in the forest and all the trees were the dons and the organized crime guys." D'Arco walked into the woods without hesitation. He was 14 when he started hanging with the local mobsters; one year later, he dropped out of school.

Two tenets of the old-school Mafia appealed to D'Arco: Loyalty and honor. Both extended into his personal life; in 1951, during the Korean War, D'Arco volunteered for the Army, served two years and received an honorable discharge. When he returned to Brooklyn and the mob, he found a wife; they remain married to this day. The D'Arcos had five children.

In 1959, D'Arco first met future Luchese family boss Vittorio Amuso. He was soon making money for the Lucheses in a variety of ways: Hijacking. Drug dealing. Burglary. Counterfeiting. Arson. Armed robbery.

D'Arco became a made man on Aug. 23, 1982, in a ceremony held in a Bronx kitchen. "I should burn like this paper if I betray anyone in this room," D'Arco swore. D'Arco was particularly good with dates, and he always remembered this one. He remembered plenty of other things along the way. D'Arco was a guy who listened more than he spoke.

D'Arco had long ago resolved the differences between mob life and straight society. As John Q. Citizen, D'Arco would have lived by the rules. As Alphonse D'Arco, mobster, he would abide by the Mafia's code _ no questions asked. He obeyed orders and his elders, kicked money up to the bosses. And he never cooperated with law enforcement. Not even on the smallest of matters.

His capo was Paulie Vario, one of the family's most valued leaders. As the entire crew would soon discover, the erosion of mob values was under way. And it was happening in their midst.

Henry Hill was a Luchese associate and a cocaine dealer. Once arrested, Hill became the most notorious Mafia turncoat of the decade. His testimony helped put Vario away in 1984. Hill's life became fodder for the classic mob movie "GoodFellas." Vario, played by Paul Sorvino in the movie, died in a Texas prison four years later. His replacement was Alphonse D'Arco.

D'Arco's old friend Vic Amuso became the head of the family. His underboss was another pal, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, a hoodlum responsible for three dozen murders.

The mob life was good for D'Arco. He had about $1 million in loan-sharking money spread around, and ran his own crew. The family hierarchy relied on him to handle important business _ labor unions, racketeering, murder.

"He was a true believer in La Cosa Nostra," said former federal prosecutor George Stamboulidis. "He grew up in the life. It was something that he wanted, and succeeded at."

D'Arco dressed in shirts with big "wiseguy collars," and lived in an apartment on Spring Street in Little Italy. The market rent was $1,200 a month; D'Arco paid $200.

He brought his son, Joe, into the family business, and considered doing the same for another son, John. When the order came down for Joe to whack a guy in California, Al unflinchingly told his son to do it. At his father's behest, Joe committed a second mob murder in New York. The son played by his father's rules.

A few months after they exposed Bruno Facciola, the two crooked detectives provided Casso with a new bit of information: the underboss and Amuso were targeted for arrest. On Jan. 9, 1991, the pair met with Little Al at a Brooklyn bar, where Amuso pronounced him acting boss of the Lucheses. Then Casso and Amuso vanished. Top of the world, Al.

During eight eye-opening months as boss, D'Arco's blind allegiance to the mob was undermined. From seclusion, Amuso and Casso started a whispering campaign against D'Arco among the Luchese faithful. A fellow mobster informed D'Arco about the betrayal; so did FBI agents.

Yet D'Arco was unconvinced until the night of Sept. 18, 1991, when he attended a meeting in a midtown Manhattan hotel room. His longtime Luchese associates appeared unnerved. A family hit man was among the group, and the vibe was ugly. D'Arco had no doubt that he was marked for death.

D'Arco managed to bolt the meeting, and reconsidered his life _ or what might be left of it. He considered going to war against the Amuso/Casso faction, handling things in the style of his Brooklyn mentors. But D'Arco had no more loyalty to the Lucheses. And he no longer viewed them as men of honor.

"So I says, `That's it,"' D'Arco explained later from the witness stand. "I washed my hands of the whole thing."

D'Arco sent most of his family to Hawaii, far from the deadly streets of New York. Accompanied by his son, D'Arco hid in his mother's Long Island home. A deal was made. On Sept. 21, 1991, Alphonse D'Arco became the most unlikely cooperating witness ever recruited. And also one of the most expensive.

The federal government spent more than $2 million to relocate the D'Arco clan. Little Al and six other families were moved from New York to parts unknown. He left behind a mob fortune; his legal net worth was about $30,000.

News of the stunning defection spread quickly through the underworld. An attorney was dispatched to the Metropolitan Correction Center to inform jailed Gambino boss John Gotti that Little Al was switching sides.

The acting boss was one of the highest-ranking mobsters to ever flip, and federal authorities took advantage. He testified more than a dozen times against his former friends and the mob's top echelon.

D'Arco was a combative and effective witness. His memory for details and dates was unshakable. He took on New York's top defense attorneys, and refused to let any put words into his mouth.

Testifying at a 1996 competency hearing for Genovese family boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante, D'Arco flew into a rage. "Don't break my chops," D'Arco warned defense attorney Michael Shapiro. "I'll break yours, too."

D'Arco's testimony helped convict ex-cronies Amuso and Casso; Gigante and Colombo boss "Little Vic" Orena; Bonanno consigliere Anthony Spero; Genovese consigliere James Ida; and an assortment of other mobsters.

He testified before uncounted grand juries, spilling about corruption in the unions, the Garment District, the airports and the Hunts Point market. "D'Arco gave them great value for the money," said criminal defense lawyer Edward Hayes. "He testified against a lot of guys, and they got convicted. D'Arco is a lunatic, but he has a story."

Once, in a Brooklyn courtroom, D'Arco stood before a federal judge who noted they had grown up in the same nearby neighborhood. "Yeah," D'Arco replied. "And we both rose to the top of our professions."

Prosecutor Stamboulidis said D'Arco embraced his new calling as fervently as his old. "When he entered an agreement with the government, he answered all the questions with brutal honesty and thoroughness," Stamboulidis said. "A true believer does everything 100 percent. He believes 100 percent in his current position."

His reward came in November 2002, when D'Arco was sentenced at a courtroom in suburban Westchester County. Little Al appeared via closed-circuit television and received time served, which essentially meant no jail time. He was fined $50, and returned to obscurity.

While mob turncoats like Gravano and Hill went back to jail, D'Arco stayed on the right side of the law. And one of the biggest trials yet remained in his future _ one that brought him back to the day when Bruno Facciola had a canary for his last meal.

It was March 2005 when federal authorities announced the indictments of ex-NYPD detectives Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito, former police partners-turned-partners in crime. The two were charged with taking $4,000 a month from Gaspipe Casso to work as Luchese family hit men.

On occasion, they also slipped the underboss inside information. They let Casso know that Facciola was reportedly working as an informant. Casso ordered D'Arco to handle the hit.

Little Al was called again to testify. The federal RICO statute, a powerful tool that allows law enforcement to link crimes committed over decades, made D'Arco every bit as valuable in 2006 as he was 15 years before. It was a big case, and D'Arco could help bring down the "Mafia Cops."

The ex-boss, now 73, looked more grandfatherly than Godfatherly as he testified, his thick Brooklyn accent unchanged by years of life outside the city. He wore a 20-year-old suit to court, one of two now hanging in his closet.

He spent parts of two days on the stand, standing firm under withering cross-examination from Hayes and former Gotti lawyer Bruce Cutler. Caracappa and Eppolito were quickly convicted, and faced life in prison.

Alphonse D'Arco went home, where his loyalty was still appreciated. But there was a moment during his testimony where D'Arco recalled a less complicated time, when he was a young man whose belief in simple values was absolute.

The burly Cutler, his booming voice filling the courtroom, recited a litany of perks that came D'Arco's way from the Witness Protection Program: No jail time. A new identity. An attorney, free of charge. "That's another reward, yes?" Cutler asked.

"I don't see anything to be a reward," D'Arco responded without hesitation. "I'd trade it all to go back on Spring Street."

Thanks to Larry McShane

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas on the Lam

Sing a sad Christmas song for Joe Dogs.

On Dec. 25, when much of the world opens presents beneath the tree or enjoys a turkey dinner, Joe Iannuzzi will spend another lonely holiday far from his family, his friends, his city. Maybe knock back a couple of drinks, probably shed a few tears.

"It's sad," says Joe Dogs, whose nickname pays homage to a long fascination with gambling on greyhounds. "Very sad." And very predictable, given Iannuzzi's past. Once a made member of New York's Genovese crime family, Iannuzzi survived a vicious mob beating in 1981 that left him near dead. He awoke in a Florida hospital to find a priest giving him the last rites.

Months later, Iannuzzi recovered. He became convinced that revenge, even more than laughter, was the best medicine. He became an informer, testified at a dozen trials, put away some old pals. A botched mob hit sent him into the federal Witness Protection Program. And now, 24 years after he flipped for the feds, every Christmas brings a reminder of what he left behind.

Joe Dogs may eat alone on Christmas, but he's not the only one. Since 1971, more than 7,700 witnesses were relocated after testifying for the federal government at the risk of their lives. Not all wound up as lonesome as Iannuzzi; 9,800 family members were relocated with them. But they're all far from home, and for many, the holidays are a melancholy time.

"There's tremendous pressure to return home. We sympathize with it, but that's absolutely forbidden," says Dave Turner of the U.S. Marshals Service, which runs witness protection.

Ianuzzi hasn't gone home. He abandoned the high-end world of New York and Florida for low-profile homes in Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama. He now resides in an undisclosed Midwest location where "I gotta travel 100 miles to go to a decent restaurant."

He's gotten used to the rootless life but not Christmas on the lam. "The very worst for me," Iannuzzi says over the phone from his apartment, his accent still betraying his New York roots. "I never had the warm feelings that a normal individual would have during that holiday. ... I haven't been around my family since 1982. "You count the Christmas days."

It wasn't always this way. When he was with the mob, every day was a holiday, and he greeted every maitre d' and doorman with a flash of cash. The son of a suburban bookie, he grew up among mobsters north of the Bronx. His first arrest came at age 14. He worked briefly as a dognapper, returning the pilfered pooches once their owners posted a reward.

Iannuzzi had a straight gig as a cook, working in diners and hot dog stands. It was at a classy restaurant in Cleveland that he received professional training, emerging as a saucier. But after a year, he longed for home. "It was time for me to leave," he says. "So I stole a car and went back to New York. It was less expensive that way. I stole a pink Lincoln. Can you imagine? I kept it for a couple of months then parked the car near a place called 'Buzzy's Big Nightclub.' "It still had the Ohio plates."

Three marriages and five kids followed as Iannuzzi burrowed deeper into organized crime. He moved to Florida and became the protege of Gambino soldier Tommy Agro - a hoodlum straight off a Hollywood lot, with a flashy wardrobe, a big bankroll and a short fuse.

Iannuzzi provided muscle for Agro, who loaned him money to launch a loan-sharking operation. But as Joe Dogs fell behind on the payments, their friendship faded and Agro's anger grew. On Jan. 19, 1981, inside a Florida pizzeria, Iannuzzi took a terrible beating from his one-time mentor and some cronies.

His last memory before everything went black was Agro's alligator loafer sinking forcefully into his ribs. When he finally recovered, Iannuzzi joined up with the FBI and taped his fellow Mafiosi discussing their illicit businesses. "All these guys convicted themselves with their big mouths," Iannuzzi says. "All I did was tape it. They all talked their heads off."

When the chatter finally stopped, Colombo boss Carmine "The Snake" Persico went to jail along with another dozen mobsters - including the brutal Agro, who died of cancer in 1987.

Iannuzzi went into witness protection after surviving a murder attempt on a Florida interstate. Today he demurs when asked if he's ever killed somebody: "My answer is, 'That's a rude question.' Let's go onto another subject."

Iannuzzi soon was supplementing his witness protection stipend as a writer. But he was booted from the program in October 1993 after violating its rules: He returned to New York to promote "The Mob Cookbook" on David Letterman's show. He would have to protect himself.

Iannuzzi just published another book, "Cooking on the Lam," which intersperses recipes for brook trout amandine and strawberries with Grand Marinier sauce with tales of life in and out of the mob. It's his fourth book; in his biggest non-mob score, he was paid $250,000 for his autobiography. "How many people wrote one book, much less four?" he asks. "I'm trying to do things the hard way: honest."

Iannuzzi stays in contact with one of his daughters, who calls him 10 times a day. "She loves her dad," he says. He avoids contact with all of his other old friends and stays away from New York and its environs.

Iannuzzi knows sitting alone on Christmas is not necessarily the worst thing. Henry Hill, the infamous mob informant whose story became the Oscar-winning movie "GoodFellas," won't be alone this Christmas - he'll share his meal with the rest of the inmates at the Lincoln County Jail in North Platte, Neb. Hill, a fellow witness protection alumnus, is finishing up a six-month stretch following his July arrest on drug charges.

At 74, Joe Dogs has slowed down quite a bit. He recently survived "triple A surgery" - operations on his aorta, abdomen and an aneurysm. He shares his apartment with two Yorkshire terriers and confides some of the tamer old tales to a few locals.

"Some of them are still scared to death of me," says Iannuzzi. "I don't know why. I'm a nice guy. I say that every day to myself."

Thanks to Larry McShane

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Badfella Henry Hill

Henry Hill, the former mobster immortalized in "Goodfellas," was sentenced Monday to 180 days in jail for threatening his wife and another man last summer. The judge ordered the sentence to be served concurrently with a six-month term Hill is already serving for attempted methamphetamine possession. Hill pleaded no contest to making terroristic threats.

Hill, portrayed by Ray Liotta in the 1990 mob movie, was also given credit for time served after Hill's wife and the other victim wrote letters on his behalf. The victims told the judge they didn't want Hill to receive additional jail time. Hill, 62, will complete both the sentences Dec. 29.

Police say Hill threatened his wife with a knife on July 8 at a hotel, then followed her after she left and threatened the man who had been waiting for her. Hill told The Associated Press last week that this current jail sentence had given him a chance to sober up, and now he has another chance to live a "normal life."

Hill sought refuge in the witness protection program after agreeing to testify against his former New York mob bosses. He has since left the program and lives in North Platte with his wife, who is from the area.

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