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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I Heard You Paint Houses - Updated Edition

"I Heard You Paint Houses", Updated Edition: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa,” by Charles Brandt is based on the deathbed confession of a mafia hit man who claims to have killed Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa on the orders of Russell Bufalino, the reputed mob boss from West Pittston.

“The book is huge. It flies off the shelves,” said Mike Ashworth, manger of Borders in Dickson City.

The book owes its resurgence to the travails of Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples and his friend, diocesan priest Joseph Sica, who made headlines after indictments challenged their characterization of their relationship with Bufalino, his alleged successor William D’Elia, and others.

They won’t find direct answers in the book, which never mentions DeNaples or Sica. The book is based on the recorded deathbed confession of mafia hit man Frank Sheeran, who was a friend to both Bufalino and Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa. In the book, written by former Delaware Assistant Attorney General Charles Brandt, Sheeran admits to carrying out several hits. Most notably, Sheeran said he killed Hoffa on Bufalino’s order.

Thanks to David Falchek

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Digging for the Truth: The Final Resting Place of Jimmy Hoffa

July 30 1975: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran allegedly murders Teamsters Leader Jimmy Hoffa in a house in northwest Detroit. The location of his body has been a mystery for over forty years. Follow Police Officer Jeffry Hansen's three-year journey as he investigates the most infamous disappearance of the twentieth century.

Digging for the Truth: The Final Resting Place of Jimmy Hoffa

Friday, September 02, 2016

Did @RealDonaldTrump Join Investors with Reputed Mobs Ties on First Casino?

For years, Donald Trump has boasted that his casinos are free of the taint of organized crime, using this claim to distinguish his gambling ventures from competitors. But Trump's casinos turn out not to be so squeaky clean.

One of his prime Atlantic City developments, the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, relied on a partnership with two investors reputedly linked to the mob, prompting New Jersey regulators to force Trump to buy them out. And he employed a known Asian organized crime figure as a vice president at his Taj Mahal casino for five years, defending the executive against regulators’ attempts to take away his license, according to law enforcement officials.

As the famously brash developer now considers a run for the presidency, this history could complicate his efforts to project an image of a trusted power in the business world. It exposes a seamy underside to Trump's rise to fortune -- one that involved intimate links to unsavory characters.

As voters learn more about such links between Trump and reputed organized crime figures, "it will get more difficult for him," says John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University. "Under that withering examination, his past associations and troubles will all emerge and could make it tough in a Republican primary."

In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” released to coincide with an earlier prospective presidential campaign, Trump boasted:

“One thing you can say about Trump, as the holder of a casino gaming license, is that I’m 100 percent clean -- something you can’t say with certainty about our current group of presidential candidates.”

Trump has sought to lean on such claims while sometimes intimating that industry competitors are themselves tainted by mob associations -- in order to saddle them with restrictions on their casino licenses.

On Oct. 5, 1993, Trump told a Congressional panel examining the rise of Indian casinos -- then, a rapidly emerging threat to Atlantic City -- that the proprietors were vulnerable to organized crime.

It is “obvious that organized crime is rampant,” Trump told the panel, according to a transcript, drawing a direct contrast to his own operations. “At the Taj Mahal I spent more money on security and security systems than most Indians building their entire casino, and I will tell you that there is no way the Indians are going to protect themselves from the mob.”

That broadside garnered Trump a reprimand from then-House Interior Committee Chairman George Miller, a California Democrat, who complained that he had never heard more irresponsible testimony. But Trump continued, predicting that Indian casinos would spawn “the biggest crime problem in the nation’s history.”

Trump’s neglected to mention that his initial partners on his first deal in Atlantic City reputedly had their own organized crime connections: Kenneth Shapiro was identified by state and federal prosecutors as the investment banker for late Philadelphia mob boss Nicky Scarfo according to reports issued by New Jersey state commissions examining the influence of organized crime, and Danny Sullivan, a former Teamsters Union official, is described in an FBI file as having mob acquaintances. Both controlled a company that leased parcels of land to Trump for the 39-story hotel-casino.

Trump teamed up with the duo in 1980 soon after arriving in Atlantic City, according to numerous news reports and his real estate broker on the deal, Paul Longo. The developer seized on a prime piece of property and partnered with Shapiro and Sullivan, but the state’s gambling regulators were concerned enough about Shapiro and Sullivan’s mob links that they required Trump to end the partnership and buy out their shares, according to several Trump biographies.

Trump's office did not respond to requests for comment. Both Sullivan and Shapiro died in the early 1990s.

Trump later confided to a biographer that the twosome were “tough guys,” relaying a rumor that Sullivan, a 6-foot, 5-inch bear of a man, killed Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters boss who disappeared in July 1975.

“Because I heard that rumor, I kept my guard up. I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be friends with this guy.’ I’ll bet you that if I didn’t hear that rumor, maybe I wouldn’t be here right now,” Trump told Timothy L. O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald” and current national editor of The Huffington Post.

Trump told a different story to casino regulators who were deciding whether to grant him the lucrative gambling license. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these people,” he said about Shapiro and Sullivan during licensing hearings in 1982, according to "TrumpNation : The Art of Being The Donald." “Many of them have been in Atlantic City for many, many years and I think they are well thought of.”

Sullivan's unsavory reputation did not stop Trump from later arranging for him to be hired as a labor negotiator for the Grand Hyatt, a hotel project on Manhattan’s East Side, according to People magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Trump also introduced Sullivan to his own banker at Chase, though he declined to guarantee a loan to Sullivan, reported the L.A. Times.

Longo, the real estate broker Trump used in Atlantic City on the Trump Plaza deal, says he wasn’t aware of Shapiro or Sullivan having any mob ties, and insisted Trump didn’t have any problems at all obtaining his gaming license. “In AC, you always had to be careful who you were dealing with, but Donald did things on the level,” Longo told The Huffington Post. But Wayne Barrett’s biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall,” alleges Trump considered using Shapiro as a go-between to deliver campaign contributions to Atlantic City mayor Michael Matthews, in violation of state law.

Casino executives are prohibited from contributing to Atlantic City political campaigns in New Jersey. Sullivan later claimed that he was present when Trump proposed funneling contributions through Shapiro. Trump denied the allegation in an interview with O’Brien. Matthews, who was later forced out of office and served time in prison for extortion, did not return calls from HuffPost.

Barrett also reported that Trump once met Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, front boss of the Genovese crime family, at the Manhattan townhouse of their mutual lawyer -- infamous J. Edgar Hoover sidekick Roy Cohn. The author explained that Salerno’s company supplied all the concrete used in the Trump Towers in New York.

At the time of its publication, Trump slammed Barrett's book as “boring, nonfactual and highly inaccurate.”

Barrett's book prompted New Jersey casino regulators to investigate some of its allegations, but the state never brought any charges. "If there had been a provable charge, they would have brought it,” said former casino commission chairman Steven P. Perskie.

While Trump was making his bold statements about the integrity of the Taj Mahal at the 1993 congressional hearing on Indian gaming, a reputed organized crime figure was running junkets for the hotel, bringing in well-heeled gamblers from Canada. Danny Leung, the hotel’s former vice president for foreign marketing, was identified by a 1991 Senate subcommittee on investigations as a member of the 14K Triad, a Hong Kong group linked to murder, extortion and heroin smuggling, according to the New York Daily News.

Canadian police testified at a 1995 hearing before New Jersey’s casino commission that they observed Leung working in illegal gambling dens in Toronto alongside Asian gang leaders. Leung, who denied any affiliation with organized crime, had his license renewed by the commission over the objection of the Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Back in the early 1980s, just as Trump was dipping his toes into Atlantic City real estate, the developer did express concern to the FBI that his casino ventures might expose him to the mob and “tarnish his family’s name.” He even offered to place undercover FBI agents in his casinos, according to an FBI memo uncovered by TheSmokingGun.com. When Trump asked one of the agents his “personal opinion” on whether he should build in Atlantic City, the agent replied that there were “easier ways that Trump could invest his money.”

That proved prescient: In early 2009, Trump’s casino company in Atlantic City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, just days after Trump resigned from the board.

Thanks to Marcus Baram

Monday, June 06, 2016

FBI's SAC in Detroit Provides Update on Jimmy Hoffa Investigation, Organized Crime & ISIS.

It has been anything but dull since David P. Gelios arrived eight months ago from FBI headquarters in Washington to head up the Detroit FBI office.

For one, his agents have been busy probing the highly-publicized Flint water crisis.  And then there's the kickback scandal in Detroit Public Schools that has resulted in charges against a dozen principals, a school administrator and a greedy vendor.  He says the investigation, which is still open, hit close to home because of his previous life as a school teacher.

A native of the Toledo area, Gelios graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He went on to work as a high school teacher in Bakersfield, Calif., a college volley ball coach at Ball State and an outreach officer for the University of California Office of the President.

In 1995, he joined the FBI, first working in the Sacramento Division. He then went on to work in a number of offices including Juneau, Louisville, New Haven and headquarters in D.C., his last stop before Detroit where he served as chief of the Inspection Division, overseeing all FBI field inspections, national program reviews and agent-involved shootings

Of his new assignment in Detroit, he says:“I like to call it one of the better kept secrets in the FBI.”

In a wide ranging interview, Gelios recently sat down with Deadline Detroit’s Allan Lengel to talk about public corruption, the challenges of encrypted communication devices and apps, cyber crime, ISIS recruiting, the Hoffa investigation and organized crime.

The following interview has been trimmed for brevity. The questions have been edited for clarity.

DD: As a former teacher, did you look at the kickback investigation into the Detroit school principals and the administrator from more than just the perspective of an FBI agent?

Gelios: I absolutely did and in my remarks at the announcement of the charges at the press conference, I said, having been a former teacher, I found it especially disturbing to me knowing what I know about education and knowing what I know about education in the city of Detroit, that people would embezzle such limited funds from a struggling school district.

DD: Being an FBI agent, does it surprise you that people would take advantage of a situation like that?

Gelios: You know in my career, nothing really surprises me any more. School districts have been embezzled from in the past and they continue to be embezzled from.

DD: Do you expect more charges in the school scandal?

Gelios: I would only say that it’s possible. It remains a pending investigation, but that’s as far as I’ll go with that.

DD: In the Flint water system mess, the state has its own investigation and the FBI has an investigation with the U.S. Attorney and EPA. Are you working with state investigators?

Gelios: We have a separate investigation, but the door is open for collaboration between the state investigation and the FBI’s investigation. But I’d best characterize it as an independent investigation being conducted with EPA and the FBI.

 DD: Are you concentrating more on federal employees and federal charges?

Gelios: It’s a pending investigation, so I’m not going to be able to say much. But I think we’re investigating the entire situation, so ours would not just be focused on federal employees. Often times when there’s a state investigation and a federal investigation, we work through the appropriate prosecutors at the state level and the federal levels to see where we can most effectively bring charges. It’s conceivable that some charges would simply be at the state level and some charges would be at the federal level, if and when there are federal charges.

DD: What would you say your priorities are for the Detroit office?

Gelios: Our priorities have to mirror those of the FBI and the number one priority today in the FBI remains the counterterrorism mission, and then counterintelligence and then cyber types of crimes.  The cyber arena is really becoming a significant challenge for the FBI. And it could increase in priority. But then every field office has an ability to identify  localized priorities, and in this area, public corruption is certainly a priority of this office. So is violent crime, gang violence, crimes against children.

DD: This city has a pretty rich history of public corruption. Are there active public corruption cases being investigated?

Gelios: That’s amongst the most sensitive investigations we conduct.  So I’m not going to say anything specifically about our public corruption investigations.

DD: You have no need to layoff agents from the public corruption squad?

Gelios: We have no need to diminish the number of people we have working public corruption matters.

DD: We hear a lot about ISIS recruiting on the Internet, particularly in the U.S. and Europe. Is that a hard thing to monitor and do you have any indication through informants or anybody else that there is an effort to recruit here?

Gelios: ISIS or ISIL. They are very very active online. Openly active. You or I a could hop on a computer today and find ISIL or ISIS recruitment types of media, videos. In addition to what’s public, they’re increasingly using encrypted telephone applications to try and communicate, like WhatsApp.  Some of that is harder for us to follow. And the issue of encryption is increasingly becoming a challenge for the FBI.

DD: Is the threat of terrorism greater here than elsewhere?

Gelios:  I’m asked frequently whether I believe the threat is greater in Southeast Michigan than other places because we have the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States. I don’t believe the threat is higher here. What I do believe though, is obviously there’s a lot of connectivity to areas of conflict and upheaval in the Middle East.

DD: How does that connectivity play out here?

Gelios: I think there are certainly some people…but I’m just not talking about Arab Americans, because there’s a good number of people we’ve looked at in the past who are white converts. They find the message of some of these extremist groups appealing. There’s a good number of consumers of this extremist propaganda in Michigan, just like there is in lots of other states.

DD: Historically, particularly the Dearborn area has had a connection to Hezbollah. Are you asked by people in the community what’s allowable in terms of donations to groups like Hezbollah?

Gelios: If we’re trying to characterize the nature of our investigations, we’re looking to those who are fundraisers or provide financial support to these groups. We look at facilitators, people who are trying to facilitate the shipment of goods overseas. And of course, finances. And we look at those people who are actually trying to get engaged in the fight either domestically or overseas. In the United States, they estimate about 250 Americans have traveled over to Syria or other theaters of conflict in the Middle East. That is a number that pales in comparison to the numbers in Europe. In Europe and elsewhere in the world I think the number is estimated to be 40,000 or 50,000 travelers from around the world to Middle East theaters of conflict.

DD: Why do you think that’s so?

Gelios: I think it’s difficult as a result of pending investigations and it’s difficult because our border security, the various authorities that look into why people travel overseas, and the investigations that exist. I think it’s difficult to travel to some of these theaters. In Europe alone, I think they’ve had about 7,000 people travel. I think we’re doing a good job preventing that. But the paradox or the dilemma for us is that these extremists are increasingly encouraging people to attack where they’re at. So that becomes the challenge and concern for us in this area, people being exhorted to conduct attacks of soft targets in the United States.

DD: Have you had any indication in the last year or two of any threats locally?

Gelios: We have certainly a publicized one that’s a pending matter. There was an individual (Khalil Abu-Rayyan)  arrested approximately two months ago now, that’s working its way though the adjudication process. But this was a young man who was making a variety of comments that led us to believe he might have the potential to conduct an attack in this area.

DD: In that particular case there were some claims by the defense that he was entrapped. When you begin something like that, does it have to be approved by Washington?

Gelios: To conduct undercover operations requires authority to do so, a higher level of approval,  headquarter approval. It’s just one of many investigative methods we use to investigate terrorism as well as general criminal matters. The struggle for us in these sorts of cases is we have to balance the public safety threat with trying to stick with an investigation long enough to figure out exactly what an individual is trying to do.  And sometimes the public safety threat in our view becomes overriding and we have to move with whatever tools we have to charge, perhaps prematurely from my own peoples’ designs.

DD: The San Bernardino shootings in December raised the issue of encryption with a cell phone. Do you have an opinion on that?

Gelios: In that instance there was a court order, stronger than a subpoena. A court order, in our system of justice, court orders, search warrants, etc., have been incontestable, and I think we go down a dangerous path if those who are subject to court orders and search warrants are asserting a position they can resist those court orders. Encryption is absolutely an increasing problem for the FBI and the intelligence community and all law enforcement.

DD: Do you worry about all the information that you’re missing through all this encryption like the phone app, WhatsApp? I know in the Middle East, WhatsApp is very popular. I know people here are communicating there in the Middle East with that app.

Gelios: I think it’s an absolute concern of the FBI and law enforcement. But the challenges are not unusual. It’s historic. As soon as we develop means to access data and information, others develop means that assure more privacy. There’s the cycle. There’s a continuing improvement in technology to give folks more privacy, and I think that’s a huge selling point  for a lot of technology providers today. It’s certainly what the public wants, and it certainly poses problems for the FBI as we conduct our investigations.

DD: Is it hard for the FBI to keep track of peoples’ comings and going between here in Detroit and the Middle East?

Gelios: I think when you look globally at the refugee issues, there’s certainly concerns about terrorist organizations using legitimate refugee organizations to place operatives or whatever, coming in undercover of being a legitimate refugee. That certainly gives us a concern. People coming in or out of Michigan, that doesn’t allow us to predicate a case simply because they came from somewhere. We have to have appropriate predication to look at someone.  It’s got to be something that gives us a reasonable basis to believe that they constitute some sort of threat to national security, if we’re talking about the terrorism arena.

DD: In 1995, we had the Oklahoma bombing. There was a connection in the Michigan Thumb. One of the bombers, Tim McVeigh, spent time there on a farm in Decker. So did co-conspirator Terry Nichols and his brother James Nichols. Suddenly we realized that there were all these people who were very anti-government. What’s your sense of Michigan regarding domestic groups like that and the Neo Nazis, militias and KKK?

Gelios: My sense in Michigan is we need to do more work to assess the level of threat in the state. There are groups that have historically had a presence in Michigan. Militia groups. Sovereign citizen groups. That’s something we have to look at.

DD: And the KKK. Any presence here?

Gelios: The KKK is not something that has risen to my radar since coming here. I don’t view that right now as being a significant threat in the state of Michigan.  But again I think we need to do a little more work to assess some of those threats.

DD: There’s been quite a bit of violence in the city; shootings, murders, carjackings, rapes.  What’s the FBI’s role?

Gelios; We participate in a number of initiatives in the Detroit area and elsewhere in the state with gang task forces. We have a gang task force here in the Detroit area that has a variety of local and state law enforcement partner agencies that contribute. We have a violent crime squad here in Detroit.

DD: Particularly since Sept. 11, this office has tried hard to have a good relationship in the Arab American community. How has that gone for you? You still feel a pushback, a distrust between the FBI and the community?

Gelios: That reaction of the public, is always going to be event impacted. In general, what my predecessors created in this area, starting with Andy Arena, Dan Roberts, Robert Foley and certainly Paul Abbate, made it a much easier task for me.

DD: Do you feel some distrust still?

Gelios: Let me give you an example to answer that. A couple things. When the director visited, we had over a hundred law enforcement partners from around the state. I think he was surprised by the level of turnout. And then our community partners came in from all diverse populations and they numbered well over 100 as well. It speaks to the health of the partnerships.

And secondly, do we experience distrust? Yes, more than a month or so I go I did a “Know Your Rights” panel at University of Michigan Dearborn.  And there were some community activists, community groups representatives, and there was some law enforcement: Homeland Security, FBI, Immigration, etc. One of the people on the community-interest side of the house started out saying to the audience, if you’re ever have your door knocked on by the FBI, the first thing I recommend you do is never talk to the FBI without an attorney. And frankly, I don’t think that’s always a productive thing to do. It does bother me. It demonstrates an absolute level of distrust for us as an agency.  But the only reason I bring it up is within two to three weeks, we were working a missing person case here in the area. It was not something I really saw any evidence of foul play.  I could not see there was definitely federal jurisdiction here.  But sometimes we want to forward lean a little bit just to make sure.

And this was someone from the Arab American community who had gone missing. And by fate would have it, I ended up working with that representative and our response to that missing individual.  After about week of that person being  missing,  there was a dissatisfaction amongst the community from which he came, and in perhaps, the response of law enforcement. We were in  a matter of a day of two, able to locate him, determine he was safe and sound. He’s an adult. That’s as far as I’m going to go. I will tell you, that community representative  sent me an email. it was a transformative experience with the FBI and she really expressed a willingness to help us anytime in the future. It doesn’t mean she’s withdrawn the advice to have an attorney, but it means we built trust with that individual as a result of our response to that incident.

DD: Some of the sons and nephews of the older generation mobsters are still out there. Is there much of a traditional Mafia here these days? Do you still keep a full squad for organized crime?

Gelios: We have personnel who work organized crime.  But organized crime matters today for us are a much broader swath of groups throughout the country. We have Asian organized crime groups, Eastern European organized crime groups. It’s my view that the traditional Mafia, Italian organized crime, isn’t as significant in this area or many places in the United states today. But there are other organized crime groups, some Eastern European crime groups, that we have to keep our eye on.

DD: What kind of crimes are they involved in?

Gelios: I guess I’m going to decline to talk about the things they are involved in this area?

DD: Do you still get tips on the Jimmy Hoffa case?

Gelios: I think we still get tips, but I would say it’s probably unlikely you’ll see another dig in any immediate time frame. It would really have to be a very very significant piece of credible information to see something like that happen. I would not say the Jimmy Hoffa case is at the forefront of our investigative efforts or attention today.

DD: In terms of corporate espionage, the White House at times has been critical of China. With major auto companies here, do you have concerns?

Gelios: In Michigan with our auto industry and a lot of high-tech companies and major universities that do very very sensitive research, the threat of our foreign adversaries trying to take the route and become involved in those things and stealing their propriety information is a very very significant threat.

DD: Do you have a group here that monitors hacking?

Gelios: We have a cyber squad and we have a counter intelligence squad. I would tell you there’s the foreign state types of computer intrusions that go on and I’m not going to talk specifically about that, but there are adversaries out there who are trying to hack into computer systems and steal information, be it personally identifiable  information or technology information. Then there’s the criminal intrusions that result in financial losses to a variety of companies. One of the biggest threats we now face, is ransomware. Ransomware is where a criminal actor tries to introduce malware into a company’s computer system and they do it by spear phishing or whatever the case may be. The criminal actors will then come back and basically issue a ransom demand. And they often ask for the ransom to be paid in Bitcoin which is a new environment for this sort of thing. They’ll come in and say in exchange for a certain amount of money, they will then send decryption keys to allow you to regain access to your information that’s absolutely necessary to function as a business.

DD: There’s recently been reports about the FBI’s interest in the city’s demolition program. Can you comment?

Gelios: I’m not going to comment on that specifically. I would say though, wherever there are federal funds dedicated to state and local projects, where there’s allegations, perhaps the funds have been squandered or misapplied, or whatever the case may be, that could be something that predicates a public corruption investigation.

DD: You’ve been here since October. What are your impressions of the city?

Gelios: I was raised just west of Toledo, Ohio. But my father was born and raised in Detroit and I have a lot of family in the Detroit area. My impression of Detroit:  I like to call it one of the better kept secrets in the FBI.  As an FBI agent, if you love the work of the FBI, you want to go somewhere where there’s good work. In all our investigative programs here, there’s good work, and good cases being investigated.

I think this is an incredibly exciting time to be in the city of Detroit, and in Michigan.

DD: Were you looking forward to coming to  Detroit?

Gelios: I certainly asked for the job. I was absolutely looking forward to Detroit. Detroit is basically home or the Midwest is certainly home for me.  I couldn’t be happier about this being my assignment.  There’s something about the Midwest and I think only a Midwesterner who has been all over the rest of the country can describe the Midwest culture. I love being in the Midwest.

Thanks to Alan Lengel.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Al Capone's Successors Built a National Syndicate & Controlled America

He was dubbed with one of the all-time greatest gangland nicknames, The Fixer. The tag fit Sidney Korshak like a calfskin glove.

Born to immigrant parents, Korshak beamed his bright light on a law career and - with the connections of several underworld mentors - got his start representing wiseguys against criminal charges. But his real value to the Chicago Outfit, as the inheritors of Al Capone's criminal empire came to be called, was as a labor consultant and negotiator.

With Korshak in the foreground, Gus Russo's "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" tells the story of how a tightknit claque of mostly Russian Ashkenazi Jews rose from the rough-and-tumble rackets to seats of influence and power in some Fortune 500 companies.

In their heyday, around 1960, the gang had long tentacles in Hollywood, controlled an interest in the Hilton hotel chain and held sway over ally Jimmy Hoffa's Teamster's union. That's to say nothing of their outright, if well-hidden, ownership of several Las Vegas casinos, including the Desert Inn - the high roller's haunt where Frank Sinatra made his Sin City debut.

Organized crime's ultimate objective is to make the lucre go in filthy and come out clean, through investments in legitimate businesses. In this, the Supermob had no equal.

Their most sophisticated scheme involved buying property that Japanese-Americans were forced to sell during World War II. Korshak, his cronies and their man inside the Roosevelt administration's Office of Alien Property, turned this land grab into a dandy cash-washing machine. Their exertions were so diabolically intertwined with legal maneuvers that the exact details have eluded two generations of investigators.

The complete story, the author admits, is still unknown. This complex trail is also difficult to follow, and though germane to the work, makes for some glacially paced reading.

When he wasn't perverting a union or arranging a sweetheart loan, Sidney's activities were far more entertaining. The Fixer hustled Dean Martin out of Chicago in one piece after Dino's roving eye locked on the moll of one of the Outfit's boys. Korshak also hot-wired a hooker-filled hotel room with an infrared camera, blackmailing a Senate investigator into going easy on his Chi-town pals.

"Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" is chocked with anecdotes like this. The gangland gossip and Hollywood scuttlebutt ultimately outweigh Russo's dissection of Byzantine financial chicanery, and in the end, the book adds up to an exhaustive Who's Who of the dark power players of 20th century America.

Thanks to Peter Pavia

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sidney Korshak and The Mafia's Shadow Men

In their quest to assemble fragments of the past into a coherent explanation for why things happened as they did, historians tend to take one of two paths.

Some stick to the deeds of kings, presidents and famous military commandersSupermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, agreeing with Thomas Carlyle that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." Others contend that the engines of history are really to be found in the anonymous multitudes, whose collective needs and capabilities determine the overarching economic, technological and social realities that shape the world and its future. And then there is a third notion, usually discredited but always seductive, that history is the product of a different breed of great men: the kind who plot their schemes in dark shadows and keep their identities secret. Such a man was Sidney Korshak.

For someone who never got convicted of so much as jaywalking and evaded public notice for nearly his whole life, Korshak had serious clout with powerful men. Having launched his legal career by representing the heirs to the Capone mob in Chicago, he was the kind of man who could come to Las Vegas during a Teamsters conference and have Jimmy Hoffa tossed out of the presidential suite so he could occupy it himself. His occasional mistress, Jill St. John, the 1960s Hollywood "It" girl, would reportedly turn down Henry Kissinger's invitations to the White House by saying, "Sorry, I have an invitation from someone more important." His preternatural abilities as a Hollywood fixer have been credited with enabling the production of "The Godfather," in which the non-Italian consigliere character played by Robert Duvall is thought by some to be based on Korshak. Together with men such as entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, tax lawyer Abe Pritzker and real estate speculator Paul Ziffren, Korshak represented the clean face of a dirty business, according to "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers," Gus Russo's book. He was the bridge between Mafia hoodlums and the white-collar world.

Russo, an investigate reporter who has written about the Chicago Outfit in depth before, sets out here to tell the story of the mostly Jewish lawyers who were recruited by Italian mobsters and eventually came to surpass their original paymasters in money and power. He begins in Chicago's West Side, home to Russian Ashkenazic Jews who had fled the late 19th century pogroms and were determined to protect themselves from becoming victims again. "They were always aware that their wealth and position in society could be noticed and another pogrom would ensue. Thus they worked surreptitiously, choosing to focus on the substrata of a business or event." In an era when Jews were barred from the white-shoe firms, where they might otherwise have made lucrative careers, these often brilliant men became integral parts of the Mafia's attempts to extend their westward reach into legitimate enterprises, ranging from casinos to hotel chains to real estate to the Hollywood studios. In the process, Russo contends, the underworld laid its tentacles on many great men of the more famous variety -- especially in California, where the Chicago Outfit's front men played significant roles in the careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, among others.

Drawing heavily from FBI case files and countless interviews, Russo opts for thoroughness rather than a breezy prose style to make his case. The weight of evidence can make the book slow going at times, but it adds up to a compelling picture of the exercise of power in the 20th century. As a labor negotiator who eschewed written notes and mysteriously solved seemingly intractable problems with one or two phone calls from the table of his favorite Los Angeles bistro -- often reaping sweetheart deals for management from unions that had been infiltrated by hoods -- Korshak sat at the center of a wide, corrupt and stupendously profitable web. And while it can be hard to work up much outrage over the details of labor racketeering, stock swindles and real estate fraud, the human costs of such things can be heartbreaking. Russo's chapter on the shameless plundering of the assets of imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II, presided over by a bevy of Korshak's associates, is particularly stirring.

As an exercise in history, "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" is a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the "American century." Holding back from wild-eyed conspiracy theories, Russo documents unsettling connections between yesterday's underworld and a corporate oligarchy that has never been more ascendant than it is today, partly because it has adopted some of the same schemes with a still greater degree of sophistication. The conditions that spawned Korshak and his ilk have changed considerably, but only to be replaced by the likes of Enron and WorldCom. How many new Korshaks are thriving among us now, taking care to leave behind no paper trail? People like to say that history is written by the victors. What happens when the real winners have burned all their notes?

Thanks to Trey Popp

Saturday, April 02, 2016

"Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires"

Face it--there seemingly will always be a market for certain books. Just choose to chronicle some facet of the Kennedys, the Nazis or, as Selwyn Raab has opted, the Mafia, and a certain sales threshold is guaranteed. Quality seldom seems an issue. Just serve it up and the buyers will come.

Happily, "Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires" is worth every cent, and for those who haven't gotten into Mafia reading on either the fictional -- as in Mario Puzo-- level or other documentary accounts, this may well be the only book you need to read.

So well written and encompassing is Raab's effort that even at 763 pages, many readers will pine for more. And of course there could be more at some point. As the title suggests, a Mafia resurgence is more than quite possible after the John Gotti era unraveling of the more traditional operations in the 1980s and '90s. The next time, it just might not be so Italian based.

Raab serves up a history of the underworld that is long on coherency and understanding and short on the kind of mind-numbing detail other Mafia historians wander into. He gets right into the notoriously efficient work of Charles (Lucky) Luciano, whose rules of engagement ended a lot of shoot-'em-ups and kept the Mafia pointed at one goal -- ever increasing the amount of money pouring into the organization and individual coffers by corrupting American government and business, not necessarily in that order.

It was Luciano who advocated the organization adopt secretive, low-profile standards for thievery, extortion and other crimes as opposed to the over-the-top "I'm just giving the people what they want" personna that Chicago boss Al Capone advocated. And Raab pulls the thread by luring the reader to all that came after. With a reporter's love of fact and disdain for much of the fictional crap about these dark knights, we follow the organization's operations through its real birth during Prohibition, its World War II profiteering, its '50s heyday as a union corrupter and Las Vegas force and its '80s and '90s stumbling largely attributed to a name now very familiar -- Rudy Giuliani. It was Giuliani's use of RICO (the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act) that did great damage to the Mafia's traditional legal defenses in the 1980s.

While he devotes a few pages to the oft-told stories like the Louis (Lepke) Buchalter case from the '30s and '40s, Raab scores big points for telling modern Mafia tales that are less often told but are just as magnetic as the '30s-era classics. And Raab is a constant critic of the law enforcement and justice system weaknesses for not prosecuting crimes that seemed all too obvious. And back in the beginning of this review, did we mention the Kennedys?

That would propel the reader to the book's Chapter 15, titled "The Ring of Truth." The title comes from the mouth of G. Robert Blakey, an expert on both the John F. Kennedy assassination and the underworld, about utterances from Frank Ragano, a lawyer who had the opportunity to defend Mafia operators Santos Trafficante, Carlos Marcello and Detroit's own labor racketeer, the still missing Jimmy Hoffa.

Trafficante, Ragano said, confirmed that the Mafia had a hand in the drama of Nov. 22, 1963. The simple theory: Robert Kennedy's vigorous prosecution of racketeering had to be stopped and the best way to do that was by icing the man who appointed him to his job. Yes, there was plenty of bad feeling toward JFK himself, but Raab concludes, "Whether or not they had a part in it, the Mafia had triumphed as a big winner after the assassination."

One other reason to admire Raab's work: He does quite a bit of damage to the fictional image of the Mafia that is the result of Puzo's fiction and movies like "Good Fellas," "Casino" and the most current manifestation, "The Sopranos." Raab quotes organized crime boss Howard Abadinsky as saying, "They are displayed having a twisted sense of honor, 'taking no crap from anyone,' with easy access to women and money. Such displays romanticize organized crime and, as an unintended consequence, serve to perpetuate the phenomenon and create alluring myths about the Mafia."

That's something Raab could never be convicted of.

Reviewed by JOHN SMYNTEK

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit

If you wanted to grab a book for an in-depth look at mob activity in Michigan, you might not find much. Most Mafia books focus on activity in New York City or Chicago, or solely on the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. But there’s some material. West Bloomfield native Scott Burnstein, 29, has published his first book, “Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit (Images of America).”

“When I wrote this book, I was thinking, ‘What would I want to read?’” Burnstein said last week, amid a busy schedule chock-full of book signings at Borders stores in Troy, Rochester Hills, Grosse Pointe, Utica, Detroit, Flint and East Lansing.

The graduate of Roeper School, Indiana University and John Marshall Law School in Chicago dove into the research, spending hours engrossed in the pages of historical archives at Wayne State University and local newspapers. He tracked down retired FBI agents who worked the cases, interviewing them and gathering never-before-seen photographs that are among the 200 in the book.

Of all Burnstein’s research, the most interesting to him, like the general public, is the information he gleaned regarding Jimmy Hoffa. “I was able to talk to federal law enforcement who were on the case when it happened,” he said, adding that he was in the midst of his research last summer when the FBI spent weeks digging at a farm in Milford on a tip that the mobster’s body was buried there.

“Motor City Mafia” reveals new information and pictures related to the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance and murder; includes crime scene photos taken from various local murders; and captures never-before-seen mug shots of many notorious Detroit-area criminals of the past and present. It also unveils FBI surveillance photographs of numerous local wise guys, mobsters and crime syndicate leaders; and even contains photographs and stories involving alleged affairs between the Mafia and Detroit sports legends Isiah Thomas, Alex Karras, Tommy Hearns and Denny McClain. But it’s not just the sensationalist stories that interest Burnstein.

“People are interested in gangsters because of the blood and guts, but the part that interests me is the nuts and bolts [of the organization], how the power flows vertically and horizontally up the ladder, and the politics about how something like this is run,” he said. “These guys are really the crème de la crème of gangsters in the city of Detroit. They’re college educated, all incessantly trying to avoid the spotlight, where in other cities they like being portrayed as wise guys. These guys are business-like, with a corporate-like structure in terms of the underworld savvy. There’s not a lot of people who can top these guys.”

The response to “Motor City Mafia” has so far been positive, he said, although with relatives of those mentioned in the book living nearby, he might get a little bit of flak. “I want to make it clear that I’m not passing judgment; I’m not trying to get people in trouble with law enforcement, nor am I trying to pump these guys up,” Burnstein explained. “This city has a rich tradition of underworld activity, and people are fascinated by that. It’s such a unique part of our society, but until now, there’s been nothing to read about it. This is for history’s sake.”

Thanks to Jennie Miller

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Remembering the Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, 40 Years Ago Today

Odds are, 40-years ago today when Jimmy Hoffa was staring down the barrel of a revolver, I was 100 yards away looking into the stainless steel abyss of a hot fudge sundae dish.

On the anniversary of Hoffa's disappearance, July 30, 1975, this is no Forrest Gump story or even a case of mis-remembering. The once-omnipotent Teamsters Union boss was last seen alive on that day at a suburban Detroit shopping center.

He was there for a 2 p.m. meeting with mobsters Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone and Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano. The meeting was to be at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, one mile from where I grew up.

Straight across the parking lot from where Hoffa was last seen alive, was an ice cream shop known as Sanders. That summer of '75, on my way home from working a 5 a.m.-1 p.m. radio-news shift, I would stop there for one of Sanders' Detroit-famous sundaes. Or maybe a hot fudge cream puff. Every day.

It was a summertime ritual of gluttony. The front window of the ice cream shop faced the restaurant where Hoffa had come for his meeting 40 years ago today.

If only I had known that one of America's greatest all-time crime mysteries was happening, perhaps I would have paid more attention. But only a few people even knew Hoffa was there: the men he was to meet and his wife, who he called just after 2 p.m. from a pay phone in the restaurant to report he'd been stood up.

Hoffa was never heard from again.

During the last four decades, there have been dozens of suggested plots and conspiracies. There was a movie about it and an occasional excavation project based on a tip that always led to nowhere. Hoffa's body has never been found, and if there is consensus among the original investigators who are still alive, that is because his remains were dissolved without a trace.

One retired Chicago FBI agent who worked the Hoffa case in Detroit and Newark, N.J., said that within the bureau the mystery of what happened to Hoffa and why was essentially was solved - even if never brought to prosecution. Hoffa's kidnapping and murder was motivated largely by personal vendetta, according to Joe Brennan, a long-time organized crime squad supervisor.

In interviews over the years, Brennan told the I-Team that New Jersey Teamster official and organized crime boss Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano had ordered the grudge killing. The late Provenzano's role in Hoffa's disappearance has been reported over the years. But his motive has always been presumed to be a union-related, checkmate-murder designed to block Hoffa's Teamster comeback.

"Hoffa was trying to get back into labor even though he was told not to," by the courts, Brennan said. "Information we got was that the mob was concerned that his re-entry was going to create investigative interest in union activities which could cause problems (for the mob).

"Provenzano saw a great opportunity to exact revenge" under the cover of a preventive union move, says Brennan. "So, he launched a couple of his guys" to eradicate Hoffa. But Hoffa's gangland termination had nothing to do with his second coming to the Teamster. It was fueled by Provenzano's blood feud with Hoffa, from the time that both men were serving time in the same federal prison.

The FBI's information was that "Hoffa didn't show the appropriate respect for a made (Mafia) guy in prison." In short, Hoffa didn't kiss Provenzano's Cosa Nostra ring while both were at the Lewisburg penitentiary. According to the working theory, Tony Pro never let go of that hostility and eventually got revenge. The FBI was told by mob informants that New Jersey enforcer Salvatore "Sally Bugs" Briguglio and a lesser-known wheelman grabbed Hoffa and took him on his final ride, July 30, 1975.

The FBI belief is that Hoffa was grabbed, killed in Detroit and brought back to New Jersey in a 55-gallon drum for Provenzano to personally verify that he was dead. Federal agents believe the body may have then been melted into the Meadowlands sports stadium in New Jersey, dumped into the Atlantic or dissolved in a vat of zinc in a mob-connected factory. Regardless, Hoffa was declared dead in 1982.

The case is technically open today because his body was never found. Generations know Hoffa only as the punchline of jokes, fueled even by the labor leader's middle name: Riddle (his mother's maiden name.) But for me, 40 years after he vanished and after decades of coincidentally reporting on organized crime, Hoffa remains just another scoop that got away.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

These Who Killed JFK? Conspiracy Theories Will Not Die

He defected to the Soviet Union, returned to the United States with a Russian-born wife, and tried to get Soviet and Cuban visas before assassinating President John F. Kennedy. Fifty-plus years later, only a quarter of Americans are convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Instead, nearly 60 percent say there was a conspiracy to kill the president, according to a poll by The Associated Press-GfK.

Other theories cropped up almost immediately and have endured: the Soviets murdered Kennedy or the CIA, Cuban exiles, Fidel Castro, the country's military-industrial complex, even President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Warren Commission Report found in its 879-page report on the assassination that Oswald acted alone -- but it is still being criticized from all sides. The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1979 that it was likely Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy.

What did happen in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963? Who killed Kennedy? Here are a few of those theories.

ONE BULLET OR TWO?

The Warren Commission Report concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three bullets, all from the Texas School Book Depository. But disagreements persisted over whether Texas Governor John Connally was wounded by one of the bullets that had already hit Kennedy in the neck. Skeptics pounced on the single-bullet theory and got a boost from Connally himself who testified before the commission that he had been hit separately. Tapes released by the National Archives in 1994 show that President Lyndon B. Johnson thought so too. And if the men were hit at about the same time by different bullets, there had to have been a second gunman.

This year a father-and-son team Luke and Michael Haag took another look at the controversy using the most up-to-date technology and concluded on a PBS "Nova" documentary that the one bullet could have hit both men.

A SNIPER ON THE GRASSY KNOLL?

Witnesses reported hearing shots from the now famous grassy knoll ahead of the president's limousine in Dealey Plaza. In his book, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato reports that some Dallas policemen who ran up the knoll encountered people with Secret Service credentials. Who were they? The policemen let them go, and only later discovered that there were no Secret Service agents still in Dealey Plaza, said Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and author of "The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy." Conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, poured over the amateur film made by Abraham Zapruder, frame by frame, and insisted that it showed the president being shot from the front.

In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations challenged the Warren Commission's conclusions and decided that an audio recording -- from a motorcycle policeman whose microphone was stuck in the "on" position -- caught the sound of four gunshots being fired, one possibly from the grassy knoll. The finding was discounted three years later by the National Academy of Sciences which said that the noises were made after the assassination. Sabato had the recording re-examined and says the sounds are not gunshots at all, but an idling motorcycle and the rattling of a microphone.

THE MAFIA

The Mafia is a favorite culprit because the mob disliked Kennedy's brother, Robert. The aggressive attorney general had gone after James Hoffa, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters with his own connections to the Mafia. Plus the crime bosses were angry over Kennedy's failed attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro, who had closed their casinos in Havana. Some accounts have crime bosses bringing over hit men from Italy or France for the job; others accuse the CIA of hiring mobsters to kill the president.

Then there was Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who shot Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station two days after the assassination. Ruby was connected to the Chicago mob and allegedly smuggled guns first to Castro and then to anti-Castro groups. The Associated Press reported the morning of the shooting that police were looking into the possibility that Oswald had been killed to prevent him from talking.

Oswald had mob connections too. In New Orleans before the assassination, he stayed at the home of an uncle who was a bookmaker with ties to the Mafia.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that organized crime as a group did not assassinate the president, but left open the possibility that individual members might have been involved. It singled out Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante as two men with "the motive, means and opportunity," though it was unable to establish direct evidence of their complicity.

FIDEL CASTRO

The Cuban dictator had no lack of motive to want the American president dead: the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA's attempts to kill him -- with Mob help. Only two months before the assassination, Castro said: "United States leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe."

In Philip Shenon's book, "A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination," Shenon reports that a Warren Commission staff member, William Coleman, was sent to meet with Castro and was told that the Cuban regime had nothing to do with the assassination.

A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy AssassinationNot in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination


A former BBC journalist and author of "Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination," Anthony Summers, writes on his blog that he first heard the story from Coleman in 1994, though Coleman would not describe the assignment, saying it was confidential. Summers later recounted it and Coleman's denial in a 2006 article in the Times of London. Summers says Coleman brought back documents, which he said were in the National Archives.

THE SOVIETS

The country was deep in the Cold War and Oswald had myriad connections to the Soviet Union. After a stint in U.S. Marines, he had defected there in 1959, and had married Marina Prusakova, whose uncle worked for Soviet domestic intelligence. Later while in Mexico, Oswald tried to get visas for Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Plus Nikita Khrushchev's gamble to place missiles in Cuba had failed. But KGB officer Vacheslav Nikonov told "Frontline" in 1993 that Oswald seemed suspicious to the KGB because he was not interested in Marxism.

THE MILITARY-INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

Various versions have the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon or the Secret Service turning on Kennedy as a traitor and plotting his death. James W. Douglass in his 2008 book "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters," argues that Kennedy was killed because he had moved away from a Cold War view of the world and was seeking peace.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters


Oliver Stone's movie, "JFK," centers on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who conducted his own investigation of the assassination. Garrison told Playboy magazine in 1967 that Kennedy was killed not by Oswald but by a guerrilla team of anti-Castro adventurers and the paramilitary right. The CIA had plotted the assassination together with the military-industrial complex because both wanted to continue the Cold War and the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, he said.

The Warren Commission staff members who are still living say that to this day no facts have emerged undercutting their conclusions: Oswald was the assassin and neither he nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy. But the conspiracy theories are likely to linger.

Thanks to Noreen O'Donnell.

Vanished: The Life and Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, Chronicles the Gangland Mystery of Legendary Labor Leader Jimmy Hoffa

At his zenith as a Teamsters union leader, Jimmy Hoffa was reputed to be more powerful than the President of the United States. But on July 30, 1975, nearly 40 years ago, Hoffa vanished from the face of  the Earth, Today, his disappearance remains one of the most mysterious, fascinating and intriguing cold cases in crime history.

​In his book, Vanished: The Life and Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Gangland Mysteries), William Hryb chronicles the story of one of Gangland's biggest mysteries. The author painstakingly takes the  reader behind the scenes of the man who dominated the American labor movement and made the Teamsters the most formidable labor union in America. Hoffa was alleged to have close ties with organized crime, becoming the target of sensational congressional hearings into labor racketeering, spearheaded by Robert Kennedy. Hoffa and Kennedy were bitter enemies who engaged in a boiling turf battle, until the blood feud ended with Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968.

​James Hoffa's story comes alive in this one-of-a-kind narrative, making William Hryb's book a must read for unsolved crime aficionados.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

US Attorney General and the Director of the FBI Battle over the Mob

In Washington, turf warfare can be blood sport. Colin Powell versus Dick Cheney in the W years. Nancy Reagan versus Don Regan in the 1980s. Henry Kissinger versus everyone in the Nixon and Ford days. But eclipsing these power feuds is the titanic clash between Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover. This grudge match entailed much more than personality or policy. It was, in a way, a fight over the meaning of justice in America.

In “Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America,” Burton Hersh, a journalist and historian, chronicles a struggle that began years before Bobby Kennedy became attorney general in his brother’s administration and — in nominal terms — Hoover’s superior. The story is familiar. While Jack Kennedy thrived in the 1950s as a sex-crazed, drug-dependent, ailment-ridden party-boy politician, Bobby, the family’s complicated sourpuss, hooked up with the redbaiting Joe McCarthy, then spun off as a crusading and corners-cutting scourge of labor corruption. He pursued mobsters and was obsessed with Jimmy Hoffa. But there was a problem. Bobby’s father had built a fortune the old-fashioned way — by hook and by crook. As a banker and bootlegger, Joseph Kennedy had nuzzled with the not-so-good fellas Bobby wanted to hammer.

There was another problem as well. Hoover, the entrenched F.B.I. chieftain and pal of McCarthy, was not so keen on catching mobsters. He even denied the existence of organized crime and kept his agents far from its tracks, partly because, Hersh contends, Hoover knew too well that the mob had infiltrated the worlds of politics and business. Hunting the thugs could have placed Hoover and the F.B.I. on a collision course with the powerful. Communists were easier prey. So when Jack became president and appointed his ferocious brother attorney general, combat was unavoidable.

As Hersh describes it, this duel of leaks, blackmail and power plays occurred against the backdrop of Kennedy excess and pathos. The stakes were higher than the individual fortunes of Hoover and Bobby Kennedy. America was racked with crisis: the civil rights movement was challenging the nation’s conscience, a war was growing in Vietnam and an arms race was threatening nuclear war. Bobby may have had presidential prerogative on his side, but Hoover could wield files full of allegations about Jack and others. How this pas de deux played out helped define the nation at this transformational moment.

It was quite a story, with a supporting cast that was A-list — Martin Luther King Jr., Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Sam Giancana, Gloria Swanson, Lyndon Johnson, Roy Cohn — history as a Don DeLillo novel. But sad to say, Hersh, who years ago wrote a much-regarded book on the origins of the C.I.A., fails his material.

Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America” is little more than a recycling of previously published books. Hersh lists 54 people he interviewed, but about a quarter of them are authors and journalists who have tilled the overworked Kennedy field. The rest offer little that is new. Worse, Hersh appears to regard all sources as equal. If an assertion, particularly a sleazy one, has ever appeared in a book, that’s apparently good enough for him. Some eye-popping tales of Kennedy sex and corruption have indeed been confirmed by reputable authors. (Yes, Jack shared a mistress with Sinatra and the mob man Giancana. Yes, Bobby bent to Hoover’s request to wiretap King.) But mounds of Kennedy garbage have also been peddled over the years, and Hersh does not distinguish between the proven and the alleged (or the discredited). Did Bobby really tag along on drug busts in the 1950s and engage in sex with apprehended hookers? Well, one book said he did. Covering the death of Marilyn Monroe, Hersh maintains that she and Bobby were lovers and that the Mafia had Monroe killed hours after Bobby was in her company in order to frame him. For this, Hersh relies on two unreliable books, one written by Giancana’s brother and nephew, the other by a deceased Los Angeles private investigator. Monroe’s death remains an official suicide, and as Evan Thomas notes in his biography of Bobby, “all that is certain” regarding his interactions with Monroe is that he “saw her on four occasions, probably never alone.” But it’s when the book reaches Nov. 22, 1963, that it truly jumps the rails. The assassination of John Kennedy is the black hole of contemporary American history, and Hersh doesn’t escape its pull. He repeats the well-worn claims of the it-wasn’t-just-Oswald partisans and brings nothing fresh to the autopsy table. Citing one book of uncertain credibility, he claims former President Gerald Ford publicly confessed he had covered up F.B.I. and C.I.A. evidence indicating that Kennedy “had been caught in a crossfire in Dallas” and that two Mafia notables “had orchestrated the assassination plot.” An Internet search I conducted turned up no confirmation of such a momentous confession.

Hersh fares better when it comes to the bigger picture. Hoover and Kennedy, he notes, possessed profoundly contrasting views of midcentury America. For Hoover, Hersh writes, “America amounted to a kind of Christian-pageant fantasy of the System” that was threatened by “Commies and beatniks and race-mixers ... hell-bent to eradicate this utopia.” Kennedy saw “gangsters” undermining unions, corporate America and, yes, even politics. Here was the nub of their quarrel: subversion versus corruption. Though Hersh goes soft on Hoover toward the end, his book renders a clear judgment: Bobby Kennedy was closer to the mark than his rival. That he did not live long enough to better Hoover and, more important, prove the point compounds the tragedy of his sad death.

Thanks to David Corn

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Dealmakers Behind the Chicago Mob

For most Americans, real racket power in the last century hovered somewhere over the Hudson River, and no wonder. They saw New York-area gangsters featured in the best books and movies about the Mafia. Flamboyant bosses like John Gotti grabbed headlines with good sound bites and flashy trials, or the occasional high-profile hit in a crowded restaurant. But while East Coast mob families splattered each other's brains in the marinara, the Second City's less-colorful Mafia, known as the Outfit, built a criminal empire that was truly second to none. Its tentacles stretched to the West Coast and wrapped securely around Las Vegas. Not that its members didn't whack their own wayward bosses along the way, but their executions were mostly private affairs, often dispatched with a few well-placed .22s to the back of the head.

Author Gus Russo has done yeoman's work in pulling the Outfit bosses from the shadows to show how their muscle and methods came to dominate organized crime. In his 2001 book, suitably titles "The Outfit," he chronicles the Chicago mob's rise to national power after Al Capone.

Now, he weighs in with "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers." If you know about the short shrift the Outfit has received in the popular imagination, you can almost forgive the breathless title, but Russo pointedly uses the term "Supermob" to describe a band of Jewish lawyers, politicians and businessmen who acted as cat's-paws for some of the Outfit's most ambitious scams. Although he credits a Senate investigator with first using the term "Supermob," Russo takes it to a new level, suggesting a gang of white-collar kingpins as ruthless and tightly knit as a Mafia family. He is also serious about the "Super," claiming that the members of his "Kosher Nostra" would ultimately profit more from their "amoral, and frequently criminal careers" than did their Outfit allies.

Like all other Chicago gangster stories, Russo's starts with Capone, a criminal mastermind far more sophisticated than the brutal Scarface we know from the movies. Unlike gang leaders before him, he was not content with cornering the market on gambling and bootlegging. The "financial wiz" who showed him the way was Alex Louis Greenberg. He put Capone's money into real estate and service industries with free flowing cash, such as banks, entertainment venues and hotels. In the beginning, to protect the various investments, the mob used its excess money to buy politicians and its excess muscle to strong-arm unions. Eventually these inroads into the public sector and labor organizations would become lucrative sources of income themselves.

As the schemes got more complicated, the mobsters needed the help of lawyers, politicians and frontmen with relatively clean criminal records. It was a Faustian bargain, but it helped launch some of the most prominent names in Chicago's Jewish community. For example, according to Russo, Outfit funds and connections formed the foundation on which lawyer Abe Pritzker's family built the Hyatt hotel chain.

At the nexus of mob influence and political corruption was lawyer Jacob Arvey, the most important Jewish cog of the city's multiethnic Democratic machine. His clout with the Truman administration put a protege in charge of property seized from German companies and interned Japanese-Americans. Russo documents how these West Coast assets were sold for a fraction of their value to silent mob partners and the young lawyers, Arvey accomplices, who served as their frontmen. Some of these young lawyers then set up shop in California and duplicated Chicago's Democratic machine there, fueling their candidates' campaigns with money donated by the mob and its related unions. But the Outfit's insidious control of unions most drove its westward expansion. Back in the earliest days of moving pictures, Chicago mobsters used the threat of projectionist walkouts to shake down local theaters. These extortion schemes worked their way back to the studio lots. According to Russo, the movie moguls did not mind seeing leftist organizers pushed to the side by mob goons, who could at least be paid off to keep the cameras rolling.

Producers also got squeezed by the stars in front of the cameras, especially those managed by Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman of MCA, Hollywood's first powerhouse talent agency. Back in Chicago when Stein started the firm as Music Corporation of America, he was booking area bands and using a "union racketeer" to throw stink bombs in nightclubs that wouldn't take his acts. He was supposedly a silent partner with Outfit bosses in the hot spots where his bands played, and according to Russo, he would continue to blur the line between ownership and union influence throughout his career.

Later, when Wasserman client Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild, he helped push through a waiver permitting MCA to be the only agency that could also produce programs for the burgeoning TV industry. This competitive edge helped Stein and Wasserman gain control of Universal Pictures and create Hollywood's first multimedia behemoth. In return for the SAG waiver, Russo asserts, Wasserman secretly cut Reagan into production deals (counter to SAG rules) and helped transform him into the ubiquitous TV presence that launched his political career.

The Outfit had its hooks in Las Vegas from the start (a Chicago mobster bribed Nevada legislators to pass the Wide Open Gambling Bill), but if the bosses hadn't had their fingers in the Teamsters pension fund, the city wouldn't be what we know today. From 1959 to 1961, they took $91 million from the union to build or improve one casino after another. Over the next decade, as Las Vegas' popularity soared, the Outfit was perfectly positioned to dominate the scene, with its control of corrupt politicians from both parties, its manipulation of the service unions and even its access, through Hollywood back channels, to the hottest entertainers, like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Eventually millions in cash skimmed from the casino counting rooms would make its way to Chicago's mob bosses.

Members of Russo's Supermob were pivotal resources in each of the Outfit's connections to Las Vegas, but none more so than Sidney Korshak. An obscure labor lawyer from Lawndale, Korshak would ultimately be dubbed the most powerful man in Hollywood. By the mid-'60s, the same would be true in Las Vegas. His brother Marshall had gone on to a very public career in Chicago as a lawyer, Democratic politician and city officeholder. Though Sidney would have his own notoriety, the source of his power would lurk in the shadows. Working on a flat retainer of $50,000 per job, Korshak was anointed the official labor negotiator for almost all of the Outfit-connected businesses. With just a phone call he could spark or quell strikes--a fearsome power in the seasonal hotel industry or during the massively expensive process of film production. But the contacts with his clients went far beyond labor matters. Moguls like Wasserman called him virtually every day. He helped negotiate deals for casinos and even business conglomerates on the backs of envelopes, often keeping a small piece of the action for himself. No favors were too big or too small for his clients, whether a Chicago hotel room for Warren Beatty during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, or a pardon from President Richard Nixon for ex-Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. Ironically, he may have even contributed to the success of the film "The Godfather" by prying Al Pacino away from another studio.

Many a Korshak miracle was worked from the corner booth at Bistro, a posh Beverly Hills eatery, where a private phone was brought to his table. Russo fails to note that this setup closely emulated the notorious corner table at Counsellors Row, a restaurant across from Chicago's City Hall where the Outfit's kingmaker, Pat Marcy, ruled supreme. Like Marcy, Korshak would walk guests outside the restaurant to talk about especially confidential subjects. Some of the best yarns in "Supermob" come from a book written by Bistro's owner, Kurt Niklas, who kept tabs on the strange bouillabaisse that simmered around Korshak: It could include producer Bob Evans, actor Kirk Douglas, Gov. Jerry Brown, coarse Teamsters and, on rare occasion, cursing mobsters. One later testified that an Outfit boss warned him to stay away from Korshak because " `he's our man, been our man his whole life. [But he] can't be seen in public with guys like us.' "

In other words, the mob had to keep him subservient and separate. This was one of many conflicts in Korshak's fascinating life. He went to great ends to quash any media coverage of his activities, but he gladly relented to fawning mentions by Joyce Haber, the Los Angeles gossip columnist who, Russo says, coined the term "A-list" to describe the celebrities in the Korshak inner circle. He was a doting husband to his glamorous, shopaholic wife and a serial philanderer, not embarrassed to be seen on the town with paramours like Jill St. John. He dressed and collected art with impeccable taste but still exuded a threatening though soft-spoken manner. At one moment he could lament the unbreakable ties to his Outfit overseers and in the next threaten a recalcitrant business executive with " `cement shoes.' " In the words of one producer, " `Sidney was a very loud man in a very quiet way.' " Unfortunately, Russo does not give us much insight into how Korshak or his friends could bridge such contradictions. While "Supermob" is long on anecdote, it's much too short on analysis. No doubt there was something different about either Chicago or its Jewish community to produce the players Russo writes about. He only scratches the surface in trying to understand the world they came from. The closest he gets is a quote about Greenberg: " `[L]ike almost everyone who became rich through racketeering, respectability was what he sought most.' " The words came from long-time Sun-Times reporter Irv Kupcinet, a close friend of Korshak's and another macho Jewish guy who loved rubbing shoulders with the mob.

In fact, most of the Supermob families Russo writes about did find legitimacy, if not for themselves then for their heirs; hence the shock some of us may feel at discovering the roots of their fortunes. The same is true for some Outfit clans as well. Perhaps there is something about the institutional memory in Chicago that has helped ease the transformation. Kupcinet was a gossip columnist but a nice one, the sort who never delved too deeply into the dark sources of power. When he spotted you on a prestigious perch, like Booth One at the Pump Room, a mention in his column brought some glow of fame without the painful questions about how you got there.

Thanks to Hillel Levin

Friday, August 01, 2014

Record Producer for Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Elton John, the Who and Marvin Gaye, Faces Charges on Mob Gambling Operation

A record producer pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges he helped run a gambling operation with mob ties.

Joe Isgro, 66, of Woodland Hills, Calif., was released on a $250,000 bond after being arraigned on gambling, conspiracy and money laundering charges in Manhattan Criminal Court.

The Manhattan DA’s office says Isgro and six others have participated in a conspiracy since 2005 to promote and profit from the use of illegal online gambling software.

The software was licensed to the Gambino crime family by an Arizona couple and various mob soldiers, operating both in the U.S. and in wire rooms in Costa Rica, the indictment says. Isgro was identified as one of those soldiers.

Isgro — who helped launch the careers of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Elton John, the Who and Marvin Gaye — was also an executive producer of 1992’s “Hoffa,”starring Jack Nicholson as Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa.

Thanks to Barbara Ross.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Was Jimmy Hoffa Killed by Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran

It all started, and ended, on this day nearly four decades ago.

It was a hot July afternoon, nearly 92 degrees, when Teamsters president and labor icon Jimmy Hoffa is said to have opened the rear door of a 1975 maroon Mercury in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and climbed in.

He was never seen again.

The FBI has expended countless resources in the ensuing decades in the hopes of finally solving this enduring American mystery with no success. But I believe, based on my 2004 investigation, that Frank Sheeran did it.

"Suspects Outside of Michigan: Francis Joseph "Frank" Sheeran, age 43, president local 326, Wilmington, Delaware. Resides in Philadelphia and is known associate of Russel Bufalino, La Cosa Nostra Chief, Eastern Pennsylvania," reads the 1976 HOFFEX memo, the compilation of everything investigators knew about Hoffa's disappearance that was prepared for a high level, secret conference at FBI headquarters six months after he vanished.

Sheeran, known as "The Irishman," told me that he drove with Hoffa to a nearby house where he shot him twice in the back of the head. Our investigation subsequently yielded the corroboration, the suspected blood evidence on the hardwood floor and down the hallway of that house, that supports Frank's story.

No one who has ever boasted about knowing what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa has had their claims tested, scrutinized, and then corroborated by independently discovered evidence... except Frank.

He is also the only one of the FBI's dozen suspects who has ever come forward and talked publicly about the killing, let alone admit involvement.

Every other claim that you have ever heard about, from Hoffa being buried in the end zone of Giants Stadium to being entombed under a strip of highway asphalt somewhere, came from people who were never on the bureau's list of people suspected of actual involvement.

For that reason, Frank stands alone.

Six weeks after Hoffa disappeared, Frank, along with the other suspects, was summoned before the Detroit grand jury investigating the case. He took the Fifth.

When I met him in the spring of 2001, Frank freely talked.

My meeting with Frank was arranged so that I could take his measure, and he mine, for a possible in-depth investigation, interview and news story about his claims. He was accompanied by his former lawyer Charlie Brandt, the author of Frank’s then-proposed biography, which tells the Hoffa story. Charlie had been able to spring Frank from a Mafia-related federal racketeering prison sentence, and for that reason was taken into Frank's confidence.

It would be three years before the book, ""I Heard You Paint Houses": Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and the Inside Story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the Last Ride of Jimmy Hoffa" would be published by Steerforth Press, and before the first of my many news stories about Frank, and our investigation, would air on television.

His story is this: He and others were ordered by the Mafia to kill Hoffa to prevent him from trying to run again for the presidency of the Teamsters union. Hoffa had resigned after serving prison time for jury tampering, attempted bribery and fraud convictions. Frank picked Hoffa up at the restaurant, accompanied by two others, to supposedly drive Hoffa to a mob meeting. When they walked into the empty house together, with Frank a step behind Hoffa, he raised his pistol at point-blank range and fired two fatal shots into his unsuspecting target, turned around and left. He said the body was then dragged down the hall by two awaiting accomplices, and that he was later told Hoffa was cremated at a mob-connected funeral home.

Frank had an imposing, old-school mobster way about him that even his advanced years -- he was 80-- did not betray. His menacing aura was not diminished by a severe case of arthritis that crippled him so badly that he was hunched over when he slowly walked with two canes, struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

I found Frank tough, determined, steely.

As I listened to his matter-of-fact recounting of what he said went down at that house, and giving such detail, I remember thinking what he was saying could actually be true.

Here's why:

There is no doubt that Frank was a close confidant of Hoffa, someone who Hoffa trusted. And Hoffa didn't trust very many.

Frank was both a long-time top Teamsters Union official in Delaware as well as an admitted Bufalino crime family hit-man and top aide to the boss himself.

The FBI admits that Frank was "known to be in Detroit area at the time of JRH disappearance, and considered to be a close friend of JRH," as the HOFFEX memo states.

Hoffa's son, current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, told me in September 2001 that his father would have gotten into the car with Frank. He said that his father would not have taken that ride with some of the other FBI suspects whom I mentioned.

Frank, in the book, says that he sat in the front passenger seat of the car as a subtle warning to Hoffa, who habitually sat there. He felt a deep friendship and loyalty to Hoffa, yet knew what his own fate would be if he failed to carry out the lethal order from his mob masters. So he sat in the front seat hoping Hoffa would realize something was wrong. He did not.

The FBI did find "a single three-inch brown hair...in the rear seat back rest" of that car that matches Hoffa, and three dogs picked up "a strong indication of JRH scents in the rear right seat."

During my interview, I asked Frank if he remembered how to get to the house. I thought finding where Hoffa was killed, and investigating everything about the house, could be key to the case. Frank rattled off the driving directions from the restaurant and described the house's interior layout.

Killers may not remember an exact address of a murder scene, but they never forget how they got there and what they did when they arrived.

"Sheeran gave us the directions," Charlie wrote in the book. "This was the first time he had ever revealed the directions to me. His deepened voice and hard demeanor was chilling, when, for the first time ever, he stated publicly to someone other than me that he had shot Jimmy Hoffa."

A year after our meeting, Charlie and Frank drove to Detroit to try to find the house, and when they did Frank pointed it out to Charlie. They did not go in.

Three years later, in 2004, I, along with producer Ed Barnes and Charlie, first stepped foot into the foyer where Frank said he shot Hoffa, looked around the first floor and as it turned out, Frank's description fit the interior to a tee.

Ed and I arranged with the homeowners to actually take up the foyer and hallway floorboards and remove the press-on vinyl floor tiles that they had put down over the original hardwood floors when they bought the house in 1989.

We hired a forensic team of retired Michigan state police investigators to try to find any blood evidence. They sprayed the chemical luminol on the floors, which homicide detectives routinely use to discover the presence of blood.

We found it.

The testing revealed a specific pattern of blood evidence, laid out like a map of clues to the nation's most infamous unsolved murder. Little yellow numbered tags were placed throughout the first floor foyer and hallway, to mark each spot where the investigators' testing yielded positive hits.

The pattern certainly told the story of how Hoffa was killed.

The greatest amount of positive hits were found right next to the front door, where Hoffa's bleeding head would have hit the floor.

Seven more tags lined the narrow hallway toward the rear kitchen, marking the drops that perfectly mimic Frank's story of Hoffa’s lifeless body being dragged to the kitchen by the two waiting accomplices, who then stuffed it into a body bag and carried it out the back kitchen door.

We arranged for the Oakland County prosecutor's office to remove the floorboards for DNA testing by the FBI, though Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca cautioned that it would be "a miracle" if Hoffa's DNA was recovered.

I knew those odds. A DNA hit was beyond a long shot.

Experts told me that such tiny samples of genetic material, degraded by the passage of 29 years and exposure to air and the elements under a homeowner's heavily trafficked floor, would likely not provide enough material to result in a DNA match.

The FBI lab report says that chemical tests were conducted on 50 specimens; 28 tested positive for the possible presence of blood, and DNA was only recovered from two samples.

The FBI compared what was recovered to the DNA from a known strand of Hoffa's hair. One sample was found to be "of male origin," but it was not determined from whom. The other result was "largely inconclusive."

Was I disappointed that a DNA match was not possible? Yes. Was I surprised? No. Did I think this disproved Frank's claim? No.

Think about it.

What are the chances of any random house in America testing positive for blood traces from more than two dozen samples, in the exact pattern that corroborates a man's murder confession?

What would luminol reveal under your home's floor?

There are other reasons to believe why Frank's scenario fits.

The house was most likely empty on that fateful summer day. It was built in the 1920's and owned for five decades by a single woman, Martha Sellers, a teacher and department store employee. By the summer of 1975, Sellers was in her 80s, and not even living there full time. Her family told The Detroit News and Free Press that she had bought another home in Plymouth, Mich., where she would move permanently the next year.

In his book, Frank says that a man he called "a real estater" lived in the house. The Sellers family remembered that boarder, who they recalled resided in an upstairs bedroom. He was described as "a shadowy figure...who would disappear. He never said more than a few words and they know nothing about him, not even his name."

It is quite possible that "the real estater," was the link between the house and the Detroit mob, providing an empty house as needed, when Sellers was absent, for whatever purpose...including using it as a Mafia hit house to murder Jimmy Hoffa.

The FBI clearly believed Sheeran had credibility.  Agents visited him in his final years, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his cooperation.

While we were conducting our investigation in Detroit in 2004, the FBI, I was told, tried to find the house even before we aired our story.

And the views of those closest to Jimmy Hoffa, his son and daughter seem especially relevant when assessing Frank's credibility.

Not only did James P. Hoffa confirm that his father would have driven off with Frank, but his sister, Hoffa's daughter, Barbara Crancer, wrote Frank a poignant letter begging him to come clean about their father's fate.

The one-page heartfelt note, handwritten to Frank on March 5, 1995, is detailed in the book.

"It is my personal belief that there are many people who called themselves loyal friends who know what happened to James R. Hoffa, who did it and why. The fact that not one of them has ever told his family -- even under a vow of secrecy, is painful to me..." Hoffa's daughter wrote.

She then underlined: "I believe you are one of those people."

Crancer confirmed to me that she wrote that letter.

Sadly for the Hoffa family, Frank never directly honored her request. When I sat with him, he said that his No. 1 priority was not to go back to "college," meaning prison. He decided that the best way to avoid that possibility, while also revealing his story, was to cooperate with Charlie for the book and to share his secrets with me for my investigation and reporting.

Frank died on Dec. 14, 2003. He was 83.

While authorities no doubt will continue to respond to more tips, as they should, I believe that we already know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

Frank described the most precise and credible scenario yet to be recounted, and the evidence that we found from the floor backs up his confession.

Thanks to Eric Shawn.


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