The Chicago Syndicate: Jimmy Burke
Showing posts with label Jimmy Burke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jimmy Burke. Show all posts

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.

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, November 13, 2015

Vincent Asaro #NotGuilty in ‘Goodfellas’ Lufthansa heist

Vincent Asaro, the reputed mobster charged in connection with the notorious 1978 Lufthansa robbery, walked out of federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday a free man after a jury cleared him of racketeering and other charges.

The verdicts, delivered after little more than two days of deliberations, left many in the courtroom stunned, most visibly prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office, which had spent years building a case against Mr. Asaro, 80, with testimony from high-ranking Mafia figures and recordings by an informer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the case relied heavily on the cooperation of some of those Mafia figures, some of them admitted killers, and the jury rejected the government’s accusation that Mr. Asaro helped carry out a criminal enterprise engaged in murder and robbery, most infamously the Lufthansa robbery, which figured prominently in the plot of the 1990 Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas.”

When the juror chosen to deliver the verdict said “Not guilty” on the first count — the racketeering charge, by far the most complicated and serious of the charges — there was a startled silence in the courtroom.

After the “not guilty” verdict on the second and third counts, for extortion, Mr. Asaro pumped his right fist in the air three times. Once the jury left, he clapped sharply, then hugged his lawyers. “Your Honor, thank you very much,” he said to the judge, Allyne R. Ross.

As he walked out of the courthouse on Cadman Plaza, Mr. Asaro, who had been jailed since January 2014, raised his hands in the air and shouted, “Free!”

Flanked by his lawyers, Elizabeth Macedonio and Diane Ferrone, he fielded a flurry of questions from reporters, who asked what he was going to do (“play some paddleball”), where he was heading (“to have a good meal and see my family”) and what he was going to eat (“anything but a bologna sandwich”). Indeed, he appeared delighted by the commotion his acquittal had created. “John Gotti didn’t get this much attention,” he said of the Gambino boss, who was notoriously hard to convict.

The jury, in Federal District Court, had begun deliberations late on Monday and continued through the week, with a break on Wednesday for Veterans Day. The jurors, whom the judge granted anonymity, did not appear to depart through any public areas or exits in the court.

To secure a conviction on the racketeering count — for which Mr. Asaro might have faced up to life in prison — prosecutors would have had to prove two or more of the 14 racketeering acts they alleged.

During a three-week trial, prosecutors argued that Mr. Asaro, whose father and grandfather were members of the Mafia, had committed murder and robbery and performed shakedowns and other crimes on behalf of his Mafia family, the Bonannos.

The most famous one was the robbery at the Lufthansa terminal at Kennedy International Airport. It was then said to be the largest cash robbery in United States history. Mr. Asaro helped plan it, prosecutors said, and his accomplices stole $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels from a cargo vault.

Although investigators had long suspected the Mafia’s involvement, they had not brought charges against any reputed Mafia member until the case against Mr. Asaro, leaving the matter officially unsolved for decades.

Prosecutors brought a queue of informers who testified about Mr. Asaro’s role in the Mafia and in various crimes. Evidence also included surveillance photos from the 1970s on, and the testimony of several F.B.I. agents who detailed the man’s comings and goings for several decades. But the key to the prosecution’s case was an informer named Gaspare Valenti, Mr. Asaro’s cousin. Tired of Mr. Asaro’s berating him, and broke, Mr. Valenti testified he approached the F.B.I. in 2008 and began telling them about Mr. Asaro’s crimes. That had helped prosecutors link the Lufthansa crime, and many others, to Mr. Asaro. Mr. Valenti also recorded Mr. Asaro from 2010 to 2013.

In her closing argument, Ms. Macedonio attacked Mr. Valenti’s credibility. “Gaspare Valenti was an experienced liar,” she said. “Once you eliminate Gaspare as a reliable person,” she said, “then you won’t be able to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with regards to the crimes alleged against Vincent Asaro.”

Ms. Macedonio also argued that some other prosecution evidence — surveillance photos in which Mr. Asaro was not committing crimes, phone books from other Mafia members that listed him in them — proved nothing.

The crimes prosecutors accused Mr. Asaro of committing as part of the criminal enterprise included murder. They said he killed a man in 1969, Paul Katz, who owned a Queens warehouse where Mr. Asaro and James Burke, a Mafia associate known as Jimmy the Gent, would unload their goods. After Mr. Asaro and Mr. Burke were arrested at the warehouse, Mr. Valenti testified, they began to suspect Mr. Katz of working with the police.

One morning in 1969, Mr. Burke and Mr. Asaro arranged to meet Mr. Valenti at a house his father was building in Queens. Mr. Valenti said they brought materials for cracking into concrete, and brought Mr. Katz’s body. Mr. Valenti said Mr. Asaro revealed that they had strangled Mr. Katz with a dog chain and that they then buried him underneath the basement concrete.

In the 1980s, Mr. Valenti said, he and Mr. Asaro’s son, Jerome, moved the body after Mr. Burke, who was in prison at the time, “caught a delusion” and worried that the body would be found.

In 2013, federal agents cracked open the Queens basement and found traces of clothing and bones from Mr. Katz, according to trial testimony. Mr. Katz’s son testified at the trial, describing how his father said just before his disappearance that he was going to move the family to the country. His father was, in fact, cooperating with the police, according to trial testimony and records.

Mr. Valenti described the Lufthansa robbery in his testimony, giving what seemed to be a remarkable firsthand view of how one of the Mafia’s most noted robberies unfolded.

Mr. Burke had organized the robbery, he said, with Mr. Asaro helping. In the dark early-morning hours, a group of Mafia members and associates drove up to the Lufthansa terminal at Kennedy Airport. Several went around the front to subdue the employees, while Mr. Valenti and another man forced a guard to open the overhead door to the terminal. They went upstairs, where they burst into the vault. They thought there would be only a couple million dollars in cash; instead, there was $5 million, along with emeralds, diamonds and gold chains.

The robbery was front page news, and barely a decade later found its way onto the big screen, in “Goodfellas.”

As Mr. Asaro packed into the passenger seat of a white Mercedes outside the courthouse, he offered some words of caution: “Don’t believe everything you see in the movies,” he said.

Still, Mr. Asaro could not help taking a last jab at the prosecution. “Don’t let them see the body in the trunk.”

Thanks to Stephanie Clifford.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Vincent Asaro's Goodfellas Airport Cash and Jewelry Heist Trial to Begin Today

For nearly four decades, it remained one of America's most infamous unsolved crimes: on Dec. 11, 1978, a crew of masked men stole $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines cargo building at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

The brazen heist, which helped inspire the gangster movie "Goodfellas," left authorities largely frustrated until last year, when federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Vincent Asaro, a member of the Bonanno organized crime family, with participating in the theft.

His criminal trial is set to begin today in Brooklyn federal court before an anonymous jury.

Most of the other suspected participants in the robbery disappeared, were killed or died, making it difficult for authorities to piece the case together.

"Once you kill one guy, you gotta kill them all, because otherwise they'll get scared," said Howard Abadinsky, an organized crime expert and a professor at St John's University in New York. "He’s one of the few guys that's still alive."

Asaro, now 80, is accused of a litany of crimes stretching from 1968 to 2013, including murder, racketeering, arson and robbery. He was arrested alongside four other alleged members of the Bonanno family, who were charged with crimes unrelated to the Lufthansa heist.

Those defendants, Asaro's son Jerome, Jack Bonventre, Thomas DiFiore and John Ragano, all pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 21 to 90 months.

Asaro's defense lawyer, Gerald McMahon, did not respond to a request for comment but has said Asaro denies all the allegations.

The only man ever convicted for the Lufthansa heist was Louis Werner, a cargo agent and the inside man. Werner passed along the idea for the robbery in order to settle gambling debts.

The robbery's proceeds, most of which were never recovered, would be worth nearly $22 million today.

James Burke, an associate of the rival Lucchese crime family known as "Jimmy the Gent," was long considered the mastermind of the robbery; he died in prison in 1996 while serving time for murder. Burke inspired the character played by Robert De Niro in "Goodfellas."

"To pull it off at an airport – you hate to say criminals should get credit, but you have to credit them for pulling it off," Abadinsky said.

The investigation got a break in 2013, when federal agents dug up human remains from the basement of a home tied to Burke based on information from a cooperating witness. The remains were identified as Paul Katz, a former Burke associate.

Asaro and Burke strangled Katz with a dog chain in 1969 after becoming suspicious he was an informant, prosecutors said.

The evidence against Asaro includes recordings made by several cooperators, including high-ranking members of the Bonanno family, who hope to receive witness protection, according to court papers.

One expected witness at trial is Joseph Massino, a former boss of the Bonanno family who has previously testified for the government.

As recently as 2011, court filings say, Asaro was recorded complaining that he hadn’t gotten his share thanks to Burke. "We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get," he said, according to prosecutors.

The jury won't hear about the string of murders allegedly carried out in the robbery's wake to eliminate potential informants. Earlier this month, the judge overseeing the trial ruled that evidence of the killings would be too prejudicial to Asaro, who is not accused of carrying them out.

Asaro is charged with several other crimes, including setting a building on fire in Queens, robbing Federal Express of $1 million in gold salts, soliciting the murder of his cousin in the 1980s and loan sharking as recently as 2013.

Thanks to Joseph Ax.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Details on Bonanno Family Captain Vincent Asaro Indictment for Participating in the 1978 Lufthansa #Goodfellas Heist Plus Murder

Earlier today, an indictment was unsealed charging five members of the Bonanno organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra (the Bonanno family) variously with racketeering conspiracy, including predicate acts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation to murder, robbery and extortion, and other crimes. Bonanno family administration members and captains Vincent Asaro and Thomas Di Fiore; Bonanno family captain Jerome Asaro; Bonanno family acting captain Jack Bonventre; and Bonanno family soldier John Ragano were arrested earlier today and are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marilyn D. Go at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

The charges and arrests were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office.

“As alleged, Vincent Asaro devoted his adult life to the Bonanno crime family, with a criminal career that spanned decades. Far from a code of honor, theirs was a code of violence and brute force. Those suspected of cooperating with law enforcement paid with their lives. Asaro helped pull off the 1978 Lufthansa robbery—still the largest bank robbery in New York history. Neither age nor time dimmed Asaro’s ruthless ways, as he continued to order violence to carry out mob business in recent months. The arrests and charges announced today are a testament to the relentless pursuit of justice by law enforcement,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. Ms. Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the FBI for its extraordinary work in bringing these defendants to account for the charged crimes.



“These ‘goodfellas’ thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill, and a license to do whatever they wanted. However, today’s arrests of the five members of the Bonanno crime family brings an end to their violent and ruthless ways. As alleged in the indictment, Vincent Asaro and his co-conspirators were not only involved in typical mob activities of extortion and murder, but Asaro himself was in on one of the most notorious heists—the Lufthansa robbery in 1978. It may be decades later, but the FBI’s determination to investigate and bring wiseguys to justice will never waver,” stated FBI Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos.

As alleged in the indictment and a detention memorandum filed by the government, over the last 45 years, Vincent Asaro and various co-conspirators, including his son Jerome Asaro, engaged in a pattern of violence and threats of violence in order to profit from their illegal activity and evade prosecution. The indictment announced today is the result of a long-term investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that utilized, among other law enforcement techniques, consensual recordings, cooperating witnesses and confidential sources, and electronic and visual surveillance.

1978 Lufthansa Heist

Vincent Asaro is charged for his participation in the 1978 robbery at the Lufthansa Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport of more than $5 million in United States currency and approximately $1 million in jewelry. Asaro, Lucchese crime family associate James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, and their co-conspirators each expected to receive approximately $750,000 in cash and large quantities of gold jewelry from the proceeds of the robbery.

Murder of Paul Katz

Vincent Asaro is charged with the murder of Paul Katz, who disappeared in 1969, and Asaro and his son Jerome are also charged with accessory after the fact for their roles in moving Katz’s body to prevent its discovery by law enforcement. Vincent Asaro and Burke allegedly strangled Katz with a dog chain because they believed he was cooperating with law enforcement. They then buried his body in the basement of a vacant home in Queens, New York, where it remained until the mid-1980s when, alerted to a state law enforcement investigation into Katz’s murder, Vincent Asaro directed Jerome Asaro and another individual to dig up Katz’s body and move it. Almost 35 years later, in June 2013, the FBI executed a search warrant at the Queens residence, which was still owned by the Burke family, and recovered remnants of Katz’s remains buried in the basement. Katz’s identity was confirmed through DNA testing.

Solicitation to Murder

Vincent Asaro and Jerome Asaro are charged with solicitation to murder their cousin, identified in the indictment as John Doe #1, because he was perceived to be a “rat” for testifying against another family member in a federal trial on fraud charges.

Armed Robberies

Vincent Asaro and Jerome Asaro are charged variously with participating in additional armed robberies and armed robbery conspiracies, including the robbery of approximately $1 million in gold salts.

Extortion

All five defendants, including Thomas Di Fiore, the highest ranking member of the Bonanno family at liberty, are charged with using and conspiring to use extortionate means to collect an extension of credit from a Bonanno family associate. During an April 26, 2013 consensual recording of Vincent Asaro and John Ragano, Ragano asked Asaro, “When do we stab this guy...in the neck? That’s what I want to know.” Asaro responded, “Stab him today.” Asaro continued, “I told you to give him a...beating. Give him a...beating, I told you that. Listen, I sent three guys there to give him a beating already, so it won’t be the first time he got a beating from me.”

The case has been assigned to United States Senior District Judge Allyne R. Ross. If convicted, Vincent Asaro faces life imprisonment, and each of his co-defendants faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nicole M. Argentieri and Alicyn Cooley.

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defendants:

Vincent Asaro
Age: 78
Howard Beach, New York

Jerome Asaro
Age: 55
Bethpage, New York

Jack Bonventre
Age: 45
Campbell Hall, New York

Thomas Di Fiore, also known as “Tommy D”
Age: 70
Commack, New York

John Ragano, also known as “Bazoo”
Age: 52
Rockaway, New York

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

Monday, June 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to John Marzulli.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Did Victoria Gotti Have an Affair with Key Witness Against Her Brother?

Before he became a mob rat, Gambino associate John Alite says he was a horndog who had a secret affair with Mafia princess Victoria Gotti.

Alite took center stage Monday in Brooklyn Federal Court in the murder trial of reputed hit man Charles Carneglia, but much of his testimony was about how close he was to John A. (Junior) Gotti - and the mob scion's older sister.

Did Victoria Gotti Have an Affair with Key Witness Against Her Brother?"I was fooling around with his sister Vicky Gotti on the sneak," Alite said, roughly fixing the time frame in the late 1980s, when she was married to her then-husband, Carmine Agnello.

Alite said the husband came after him and he ended up shooting one of Agnello's goons. Alite said Junior refused to give him permission to retaliate against Agnello.

Reached for comment, Victoria Gotti ridiculed the heavily-tattooed thug's claim of a tryst with her. "He's an out-and-out liar - he's vermin," she said. "This animal [Alite] had a crush on me from the first time I met him. He was in our bridal party and he tried to kiss me at my wedding. He missed the cheek by a lot.

"Carmine knew he had a crush on me. That's why he despised him.

"In Mr. Alite's dreams would someone like me even give him a second glance let alone 'fool around' with him. I was raised a good Catholic girl and always played by the rules.

"I met and married my first and only boyfriend. I never slept with Alite or anyone else.

"Dare him to take a lie detector test. I will take a lie detector test anytime, anywhere."

Alite said Junior Gotti's refusal to approve a retaliatory strike against Agnello was one of the reasons their close friendship broke up.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Burlingame, the witness said he grew up around gangsters in Woodhaven, Queens, and had a promising future at one time as a baseball pitcher.

He said he threw out his arm after one semester at the University of Tampa and returned to his old stomping grounds selling cocaine in bars on Jamaica Ave. in Queens.

Alite met Junior Gotti in the early 1980s and began paying him a cut of his $1 million-a-month drug profits. He said he and Junior were best friends for a decade. After rival drug dealers robbed an associate, Junior Gotti accompanied them on a drive-by in which two of the rivals were shot, he testified. "After that [Junior] didn't look at me like some college kid no more," Alite said.

Getting close to the younger Gotti was Alite's opening to the Mafia big leagues. They became inseparable, and Junior and his late father, Gambino crime boss John Gotti, reaped the profits of Alite's litany of crimes.

"You name it, we did it," Alite said.

Alite was Albanian, so he could never be inducted into the Gambino family, but he had his own crew, as did two other non-Italian, uniquely powerful mob associates - James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke and Joseph (Joe) Watts.

On Feb. 14, 1988, Junior Gotti was best man at Alite's wedding in Queens. The date was selected not because it was Valentine's Day, but as a sign of respect for Junior because it was his birthday.

Wearing a gray sweat suit, the heavily tattooed thug said Junior's bad-mouthing of his other close friends left him feeling it was only a matter of time before he would be left out in the cold, too.

"I didn't believe in the life," Alite said. "It's kind of like reading a brochure when you're a kid. You're going to Paradise Island and everything looks nice, but you forgot to read the fine print."

Thanks to John Marzulli

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

Friday, July 25, 2008

Growing Up as A Gambino

When it comes to the Mafia, there are five infamous surnames: Lucchese, Colombo, Genovese, Bonanno and the best known—my own—Gambino. And that name inevitably provokes two words that I've heard more times than I can count, so I might as well just spare you the breath: Any relation?

Truth is, I don't entirely know. Some details lend themselves to speculation. My father was born in Ozone Park, Queens, which was the stamping ground of John J. Gotti, who seized control of the Gambino Family in the 1980s. And when my dad and the rest of the family (that's "family," not "Family") moved to Long Island in 1960, it was James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, the true-life Robert De Niro character in GoodFellas, who bought our house. Then too, my uncle goes by the name "Choppy" and is in the construction business. But despite the circumstantial evidence, this branch of the family tree is clean. (Choppy is "Choppy" because his sister couldn't pronounce Charles, his given name, when she was young.) If we're related to the crime family, it's distant.

Blood relative or not, Gambino is a hefty weight to carry. I'm actually a mutt when it comes to ethnic background—more Irish than Italian—but the Italian in me trumps all. As a toddler, I had a T-shirt blazoned with "Bambino Gambino."

I wasn't aware that my last name connected me with a surly underworld until I was old enough for people to ask me about it. In high school, my history teacher warned boys they might find themselves wearing concrete shoes at the bottom of a lake if they messed with me. But I took everything in stride. In fact, I soon learned the name has its benefits.

A couple of years ago, I drove from Vermont to Boston with a few friends from college. While navigating my way through the Big Dig, I mistakenly drove down a street restricted to government vehicles and got pulled over. The officer took my driver's license, stepped away from the car to write up the ticket—then hastily returned. He said he didn't want any trouble; I could barely suppress a smile, as my slack-jawed friends looked on. My boyfriend, who happened to be in the car that day, hadn't met any I-talians before me. But now even he gets comments by association. When Gambinos made headlines this past February with the largest Mafia takedown in memory, his Swedish-American godfather asked him just what he had gotten himself into.

The power of the name grows stronger the closer I get to the Big Apple. (I've found the speed with which I can get a pizza delivered to be a good gauge of its clout.) Not long ago, my family made a reservation at Gallagher's Steak House in Midtown Manhattan. When we got there, the entryway was lined with the entire kitchen and wait staff; as we walked the gantlet to our table (far from any windows), I heard one waiter ask another, "Which one is Mr. Gambino?" But regardless of where I am, whenever a hostess, bouncer, retail worker, librarian or whoever else asks about my family ties, I tend to say "Nah" with a half-smile, to leave some room for doubt. And if any readers have any smart ideas about sending me less-than-complimentary letters about this piece, you might want to reconsider. Hey, you never know.

Thanks to Megan Gambino of the Smithsonian Magazine

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

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."

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