The Chicago Syndicate: John Gotti
Showing posts with label John Gotti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Gotti. Show all posts

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Al Capone's Diamond Pocket Watch Sold for Over $84K at Gangsters, Outlaws & Lawmen Auction

Al Capone's diamond-studded, platinum pocket watch went for $84,375 during an auction Saturday featuring other artifacts that belonged to some of America's most notorious gangsters.

Al Capone Diamond Pocket Watch


Capone's watch as well as a musical composition he handwrote behind bars in Alcatraz were among the items up for bid in the "Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen" auction by RR Auction, an auction house headquartered in Boston. The auction was held Saturday afternoon at the Royal Sonesta hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Capone, who was born to Italian immigrants in New York City, headed a Chicago-based crime empire during the Prohibition era that raked in millions of dollars through bootlegging, gambling, racketeering and other illicit activities. He was dubbed Scarface by the press after his face was slashed during a fight, a nickname he apparently disliked.

"Unlike his more maligned moniker of ‘Scarface,’ Capone preferred that those closest to him call him by ‘Snorky,’ a slang term which meant ‘sharp’ or ‘well-dressed,'" according to a description accompanying Capone's watch on RR Auction's website.

According to the auction house, the rounded triangular pocket watch was personally owned and used by Capone. The timepiece is on its original chain made of 14-karat white gold. The exterior of the case features 23 diamonds shaped to form Capone's initials, "AC," which are encircled by 26 additional diamonds. Another 72 diamonds circle the watch's platinum face and gold-tone impressed numerals.

Online bids for Capone's watch had surpassed $17,000 prior to the live auction Saturday afternoon. Experts estimated the item would sell for more than $25,000, according to RR Auction.

A musical piece entitled "Humoresque," written in pencil by Capone when he was incarcerated in Alcatraz in the 1930s, was also up for grabs. The musical manuscript shows Capone's softer side, containing the lines: "You thrill and fill this heart of mine, with gladness like a soothing symphony, over the air, you gently float, and in my soul, you strike a note."

Experts estimated the sheet will sell for over $20,000, according to RR auction. it went for $18,750.

Also up for auction was a letter written by gangster boss John Gotti, two life-size death masks of gangster John Dillinger, a brick from the scene of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and jewelry that belonged to infamous crime duo Bonnie and Clyde.

Thanks to Morgan Winsor.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Scores: How I Opened the Hottest Strip Club in New York City, Was Extorted out of Millions by the Gambino Family, and Became One of the Most Successful Mafia Informants in FBI History

A gay man who created New York’s most notorious den of heterosexuality . . . an anxious, anything-but, hard-boiled lawyer who became one of the most successful undercover mob informants in history.

In this hilarious and fascinating account, Michael Blutrich takes you inside star-studded 1990s New York, mafia sit-downs, and the witness protection program.

Meet Michael D. Blutrich, founder of Scores, the hottest strip club in New York history. A resourceful lawyer at one of the city’s most respected firms, Blutrich fell into the skin trade almost by accident, but it was his legal savvy that made Scores the first club in Manhattan to feature lap dances and enabled him to neatly sidestep a law requiring dancers to wear pasties by instead covering their nipples with latex paint. Soon Scores, the club Howard Stern called “like being in a candy shop,” was a home away from home for everyone from sports superstars and Oscar-winning actors to pop singers and political notables alike.

The catch? The club was smack dab in John Gotti’s territory, and the mafia wanted a piece of the action. The Gambino family doesn’t take no for an answer . . . and neither, as it turns out, does the FBI. In his memoir, Blutrich recounts in detail how his beloved club became a hub for the mafia, and how he found himself caught up in an FBI investigation, sorely struggling to juggle roles of business owner and undercover spy.

As his life spiraled out of control, Blutrich would face the loss of almost everything dear to him. But whether marching a line of topless strippers as human exhibits into a trial to save the club’s liquor license or wearing wires to meetings with armed gangsters, he never lost his sense of humor or his nerve. In Scores: How I Opened the Hottest Strip Club in New York City, Was Extorted out of Millions by the Gambino Family, and Became One of the Most Successful Mafia Informants in FBI History, Blutrich finally tells all—from triumph to betrayal—in his own funny, self-deprecating voice.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Top 10: Gangsters

If you browse around your local video store, you'll notice dozens of films about the Mafia. Witness the popularity of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Casino, and Bugsy. Why have so many films been made about these tough-guy hooligans? Because men have a fascination with gangster culture and organized crime. But who are some of the most notorious gangsters of all time?

To make the list, gangsters must have had a significant impact on the Mob thanks to the way they did business. They must have done most of their business in America, their legacy must have stood the test of time, and they must have had a significant impact on pop culture.

Honorable Mention
Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1906 - 1947)

Benjamin Siegel was born in Brooklyn in 1906 and soon associated himself with fellow Jew Meyer Lansky. After running contract killings for Murder, Inc., Siegel -- who was nicknamed "Bugsy" because of his unpredictable nature -- went in cahoots with Lucky Luciano and his newly organized Syndicate. But killing for Luciano earned him enemies, and in the late '30s, he was forced to escape to Los Angeles, where he had lived glamorously with movie stars.

He then discovered the gambling laws of Nevada. "Borrowing" millions from the Syndicate, he established one of the first casino hotels in Las Vegas, the Flamingo. But the resort was losing money, and when it was discovered in 1947 that he had stolen money from his friends, he was killed.

Featured in: The best portrayals of Siegel are in Warren Beatty's Bugsy  (1991) and The Marrying Man (1991) with Armand Assante.

Number 10
Vincent "The Chin" Gigante (1928 - 2005)
Born in New York in 1928, Vincent Gigante was quite a character. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and started boxing, winning 21 of 25 light-heavyweight bouts. By the time he was 17, he had turned to crime to support himself, which resulted in seven arrests before he was 25.

Gigante's first significant act as a gangster and member of the Genovese family was an attempt to kill the powerful Frank Costello, but Gigante's bullet missed the target. Nevertheless, he continued to climb the ranks within New York's Genovese organization, eventually becoming a capo and consigliere in the early '80s.

Then, when Mob boss Tony Salerno was convicted, Gigante became the main man. What makes Gigante so memorable is his 30-year ploy of acting insane. After he successfully averted prison in the late '60s by employing psychiatrists to testify to his insanity, he took it upon himself to continue the act; throughout his career, he was often seen walking around the streets of New York wearing a bathrobe. For this reason, he was nicknamed the "Oddfather" and the "Pajama King." Imprisoned for racketeering, he finally admitted in 2003 that he was not crazy.

Gigante died in prison on December 19, 2005 due to heart complications. The Gigante family and his lawyer, Flora Edwards, filed a federal lawsuit regarding the lack of health care that Vincent received while in prison. Vincent was scheduled for release in 2010.

Featured in: Gigante was a character in the made-for-TV film Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999) and served as inspiration for an episode of Law & Order.

Number 9
Albert Anastasia (1903 - 1957)
Born in Tropea, Italy in 1903, Albert Anastasia was still a teenager when he came to America. Involved in the docks operations in Brooklyn, Anastasia was sent to Sing Sing Prison for 18 months for the murder of a longshoreman; the mysterious deaths of witnesses led to his early release. Albert Anastasia (aka "Lord High Executioner" and "Mad Hatter") was known as a killer, a reputation that led Joe Masseria's gang to recruit him. Anastasia was also extremely loyal to Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who had plans to rule America's crime world. Anastasia had no problem betraying Masseria -- by being one of four people sent to kill him in 1931 -- when approached by Lucky Luciano.

At this time, Anastasia started taking on hits for the Murder, Incorporated outfit in New York, and in 1944, he became the leader of the murder squad. Although Anastasia was never prosecuted for any killings, Murder, Inc. was responsible for between 400 and 700 murders. In the '50s, he became the leader of the Luciano family, but Carlo Gambino wanted the job. Though the murder is officially unsolved, many believe that Gambino had Anastasia killed in a barbershop in 1957.

Featured in: Albert Anastasia was a prominent character in Murder, Inc. (1960), a gangster film starring Peter Falk and Howard Smith (as Anastasia), as well as in The Valachi Papers (1972) and Lepke (1975).

Number 8
Joseph Bonanno (1905 - 2002)
Born in 1905, Joe Bonanno grew up in his native Sicily and became an orphan at the age of 15. He left Italy due to the fascist power of the Mussolini regime and made a brief stopover in Cuba before moving to the United States when he was 19. Joe joined the Mafia as a way to prevent Mussolini from taking over Sicily. Nicknamed "Joey Bananas," he joined forces with Salvatore Maranzano. Before Luciano killed him, Maranzano created The Commission, the ruling body over Mafia families in the entire country.

Bonanno stepped up and took over one of these families. He became powerful in New York with cheese factories, clothing businesses and funeral homes, which were a terrific way to dispose of bodies. But plans to eliminate all the rival families turned against him and Bonanno was kidnapped for 19 days until he agreed to retire. In 1965, he initiated the Banana War to settle scores, but he retired for good soon thereafter due to bad health. Never in his life was he convicted of a serious offense.

Featured in: Two cable movies have been made about the crime legend: Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage (1993) with Ben Gazzara and Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999) with Martin Landau.

Number 7
Dutch Schultz (1902 - 1935)
Arthur Flegenheimer, later known as Dutch Schultz, was born in the Bronx in 1902. As a teenager, he held up crap games to impress his boss and mentor, Marcel Poffo. At the age of 17, he did some time at Blackwell's Island (now known as Roosevelt Island) for theft. With prohibition in full swing in the 1920s, he realized that money was in bootlegging. A ruthless man, he would kill whenever his temper flared, which helped keep his competition in line.

He had a part in the founding of the Syndicate, but soon Luciano and Capone became his enemies. In 1933, the law wanted to shut down Schultz, so he went into hiding in New Jersey, which left his New York territory free for a takeover; Luciano seized the opportunity. Schultz made a comeback in 1935, but members of Albert Anastasia's crew killed him in a restaurant men's room before he could do any damage.

Featured in: Dustin Hoffman was memorable as Dutch Schultz in Billy Bathgate (1991), but Tim Roth was even better in Hoodlum (1997). Other movies featuring Schultz include Gangster Wars (1981), The Cotton Club (1984) and The Natural (1984).

Number 6
John Gotti (1940 - 2002)
In the wake of the great gangsters who ruled New York, John Gotti had his work cut out for him. Born in Brooklyn in 1940, he was always quick with his fists and it was his life's dream to become a wiseguy. By the age of 16, he had joined a local street gang known as the Fulton-Rockaway Boys. He quickly became their leader, stealing cars and fencing stolen goods. In the '60s, he began associating with Mafia hoods and hijacking trucks. In the early '70s, he became a capo for the Bergin crew, a part of the Gambino family. Extremely ambitious, Gotti started to deal drugs, which was forbidden by family rules.

As a result, Paul Castellano, the Boss, wished to expel Gotti from the organization. In 1985, Gotti and his guys killed Castellano outside a steakhouse and Gotti took over the Gambino family. No matter how many times the authorities tried to indict him for being the most powerful criminal in New York, the charges were always dropped. Because of this -- and the fact that he dressed well and loved media attention -- he was nicknamed "The Dapper Don" and "The Teflon Don." He was finally convicted for murder in 1992 and died of cancer in prison in 2002.

Featured in: He was played by Anthony John Denison in the made-for-TV movie Getting Gotti (1994) and by Armand Assante in the HBO event Gotti (1996). Other TV movies featuring him include Witness to the Mob (1998) with Tom Sizemore and The Big Heist (2001).

Number 5
Meyer Lansky (1902 - 1983)

Born Maier Suchowljansky in Russia to Jewish parents in 1902, Lansky moved to New York when he was 9. He met Charles Luciano when they were just schoolboys. Luciano demanded protection money from Lansky, and when he refused to pay, the two boys fought. Impressed by Lansky's toughness, Luciano befriended the younger boy and the two remained lifelong friends. Lansky also met Bugsy Siegel when he was a teenager, and the three formed a powerful partnership. Lansky and Siegel formed the Bug and Meyer Mob, which became Murder, Inc.

Lansky's primary order of business was money and gambling, and he had operations in Florida, Cuba and New Orleans. He was an investor in Siegel's Las Vegas casino, and he even bought an offshore bank in Switzerland that was used for money laundering. A financial genius, he codeveloped the National Crime Syndicate and the Commission. But business is never personal, and he approved the murder of his best friend Bugsy Siegel when Siegel was unable to produce profits for the Syndicate. Even with a gambling racket in operation across the planet, Lansky never spent a day in jail.

Featured in: Not only did Richard Dreyfuss give a powerful performance in HBO's Lansky (1999), but the character of Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II (1974) was loosely based on him as well. The role was also played by Mark Rydell in Havana (1990), Patrick Dempsey in Mobsters (1991) and Ben Kingsley in Bugsy (1991).

Number 4
Frank Costello (1891 - 1973)
Francesco Castiglia was born in 1891 in Italy and moved to the United States with his family when he was 4. He changed his name to Frank Costello when he joined a street gang at age 13. After numerous petty crimes landed him in prison, he became best friends with Charlie Luciano; together, they dealt in bootlegging and gambling. Costello's strength was his position as a link between the Mob and politicians, especially the Democratic Party's Tammany Hall in New York, which enabled him and his associates to pay off certain officials.

Following Luciano's arrest, Costello became the man in charge, and he solidified and expanded the operation during this time. A power struggle between him and Vito Genovese (who served as Underboss) erupted in the '50s, and Vincent Gigante tried to kill Costello. Eventually, Costello grew tired of the gangster life and retired, but not before framing Genovese and Gigante for a drug bust. He died peacefully in 1973.

Featured in: The man was best portrayed by James Andronica in the 1981 miniseries The Gangster Chronicles, by Costas Mandylor in Mobsters (1991), by Carmine Caridi in Bugsy (1991), and by Jack Nicholson in The Departed (2006). (The author is actually incorrect about Jack Nicholson playing the real Frank Costello in The Departed. Only the character name was in common with the real Frank Costello. Nicholson's character was mostly based upon another gangster, Whitey Bulger.)

Number 3
Carlo Gambino (1902 - 1976)
Carlo Gambino came from a family that had been part of the Mafia for centuries in Italy. He started carrying out murders when he was a teenager and became a made guy in 1921 at the age of 19. With Mussolini gaining power, he immigrated to America, where his cousin Paul Castellano lived. He became a thug for different New York families until he joined Lucky Luciano's crew.

After Luciano was extradited in the '40s, Albert Anastasia took over. But Gambino thought it was his time to shine and had Anastasia killed in 1957. He appointed himself Boss of the family and reigned with an iron fist over New York until his natural death in 1976.

Featured in: Al Ruscio played him beautifully in the TNT movie Boss of Bosses(2001). Other "Gambino" appearances include the made-for-TV movies Between Love & Honor (1995), Gotti (1996) and Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999).

Number 2
Charlie "Lucky" Luciano (1897 - 1962)

Salvatore Lucania was born in Sicily in 1897, but his family moved to New York nine years later. At a young age, he became a member of the Five Points gang, in which Al Capone also received his education. Five years after establishing an empire based mostly on prostitution, Luciano controlled the racket all over Manhattan. After a failed but brutal attack on his life in 1929, Luciano started planning the National Crime Syndicate, an extension of Salvatore Maranzano's Commission, with Meyer Lansky.

They eliminated the competition, and by 1935, Lucky Luciano was known as the Boss of Bosses -- not just of New York City, but of the whole country. He was arrested and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in 1936, but was let out on parole in 1946 on the condition that he be deported to Italy. He had so much power that U.S. Navy intelligence sought his help when the Allies were set to invade Italy during World War II. He died of a heart attack in 1962.

Featured in: Christian Slater played him in Mobsters (1991), as did Bill Graham in Bugsy (1991) and Anthony LaPaglia in the TV film Lansky (1999).

Number 1
Al Capone (1899 - 1947)
If there ever was a gangster who earned the No. 1 spot, it is Al Capone. Alphonse Capone was born in 1899 to Italian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, where he got his start in street gangs. He then joined the Five Points gang and became a bouncer. It was during these days that a series of facial wounds earned him the "Scarface" nickname. Capone moved to Chicago in 1919 and quickly moved up the Mafia hierarchy while working for Johnny Torrio (Capone became Torrio's protege).

It was the time of the Prohibition, and Capone ran prostitution, gambling and bootlegging rings. In 1925, at the age of 26, Capone took over after Torrio was wounded in a gang war. Known for his intelligence, flamboyance and love of public attention, Capone was also known to be very violent; his role in the orchestration of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, in which key rival gangsters were murdered, proves this. In 1931, Federal Treasury agent Eliot Ness arrested him for tax evasion.

Featured in: Many movies have been made about Capone, but the most famous are probably The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) with Jason Robards, Capone (1975) with Ben Gazzara and The Untouchables (1987) with Robert De Niro.

Thanks to Matthew Simpson

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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Victoria Gotti's Long Island mansion and Her Sons Auto Parts Store Raided by Feds

Victoria Gotti, daughter of Gambino Family crime boss John Gotti and star of reality TV show 'Growing Up Gotti,' had her home raided by federal agents Wednesday.Her sprawling mansion in Old Westbury, Long Island, was visited by IRS agents executing a search warrant obtained from Brooklyn US Attorney’s office.

At the same time, just after dawn, the Queens auto parts store run by her sons was also raided, dnainfo reported.

This Family of Mine: What It Was Like Growing Up Gotti.

The reason why Gotti's mansion - featured heavily in the show - and the parts shop, located on Liberty Avenue near Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, were raided isn't yet known.

The parts shop used to belong to Gotti's ex-husband, Carmine Agnello.But he gave it up after serving nine years in prison on racketeering charges, separating from Victoria and moving to Cleveland.

The shop is now run by their three sons, Carmine, John and Frank Gotti Agnello.

All three sons, and their mom, were featured in 'Growing Up Gotti,' which ran from 2004-2007 on A&E.As well as her TV appearances, Victoria Gotti also wrote a series of thriller novels in the 2000s.

Victoria Gotti dumped Agnello 12 years ago after he was exposed for cheating on her with his Queens secretary - and was also convicted of racketeering.

Gotti: Rise and Fall.

John Gotti shot to fame in the late 1980s when he was given the nickname 'The Teflon Don' because of his ability to beat various rap sheets.He was also known as the 'Dapper Don' because he always appeared immaculately dressed in expensive suits in public.

Gotti became head of the Gambino family - one of five families which traditionally dominated the Mob in New York - in 1985 after ordering a hit on his boss, Paul 'Big Paul' Castellano. Castellano and his chauffeur were gunned down outside Sparks steakhouse in midtown Manhattan. Gotti apparently watched the hit go down from a car parked across the street.

Gotti was never brought to book for the Castellano murder and was acquitted of other crimes in two separate trials, both of which were surrounded by rumors of jury tampering and intimidation.

Eventually in 1992 Gotti was convicted under the new RICO laws - designed to target mafia bosses - and jailed for life without possibility of parole for racketeering and murder.

James Fox, director of the FBI in New York FBI, gloated: 'The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro, and all the charges stuck.'

Shadow of My Father.

Gotti continued to run the Gambino family from prison until his death in 2002 and was succeeded as boss by his son, John 'Junior' Gotti, who claims to have since quit organized crime. 

In August John J Gotti, 23-year-old son of Victoria's brother Peter, was charged with selling prescription drugs, including oxycodone.

And that same month it emerged that a biopic - 'The Life and Death of John Gotti' was in production, with real-life couple John Travolta and Kelly Preston as the senior Gotti and his wife.

Thanks to James Wilkinson and Chris Summers.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Gotti's Rules: The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti, and the Demise of the American Mafia

From the New York Times bestselling author of Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob--The Mafia's Most Violent Family, and The Last Gangster—“one of the most respected crime reporters in the country” (60 Minutes)—comes the sure to be headline-making inside story of the Gotti and Gambino families, told from the unique viewpoint of notorious mob hit-man John Alite, a close associate of Junior Gotti who later testified against him.

In Gotti's Rules: The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti, and the Demise of the American Mafia, George Anastasia, a prize-winning reporter who spent over thirty years covering crime, offers a shocking and very rare glimpse into the Gotti family, witnessed up-close from former family insider John Alite, John Gotti Jr.’s longtime friend and protector. Until now, no one has given up the kind of personal details about the Gottis—including the legendary “Gotti Rules” of leadership—that Anastasia exposes here. Drawing on extensive FBI files and other documentation, his own knowledge, and exclusive interviews with insiders and experts, including mob-enforcer-turned-government-witness Alite, Anastasia pokes holes in the Gotti legend, demystifying this notorious family and its lucrative and often deadly machinations.

Anastasia offers never-before-heard information about the murders, drug dealing, and extortion that propelled John J. Gotti to the top of the Gambino crime family and the treachery and deceit that allowed John A. “Junior” Gotti to follow in his father’s footsteps. Told from street level and through the eyes of a wiseguy who saw it all firsthand, the result is a riveting look at a family whose hubris, violence, passion, and greed fueled a bloody rise and devastating fall that is still reverberating through the American underworld today.

Gotti's Rules: The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti, and the Demise of the American Mafia, includes 8 pages of black-and-white photographs.

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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

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

As the Mafia grew into a malignantly powerful force during the middle of the last century, it owed much of its success to its low-priority ranking as a law enforcement target. During most of his reign as FBI director from 1924 to 1972, J. Edgar Hoover denied that the Mafia even existed. In the late 1950s, Hoover was ''still publicly in denial" that there was such a thing as the Mafia, writes Selwyn Raab in ''Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires," his engaging history of the New York mob.

Even Hoover, who hesitated to tackle mob cases because they were difficult to win and might corrupt his agents, grudgingly came around. ''Five Families," a gritty cops-and-robbers narrative and a meticulous case history of an extraordinary law enforcement mobilization, shows how the federal government finally brought the Mafia down.

Raab, a former reporter for The New York Times whose beat was organized crime, exudes the authority of a writer who has lived and breathed his subject. Indeed, Raab seems too attached to every last nugget that he has unearthed. ''Five Families" bogs down in places under the groaning weight of excessive, repetitious detail.

Even as he tosses congratulatory bouquets to the cops for having reduced the mob to a ''fading anachronism," as one of them puts it, Raab inserts a cautionary note. The redeployment since 9/11 of US law enforcement personnel from an anti-Mafia to an antiterrorism posture is providing Cosa Nostra -- as the Italian-American organized-crime syndicates refer to themselves, meaning ''Our Thing" -- a ''renewed hope for survival," Raab says.

If they are to prosper again, all five of New York's mob families (the Gambinos, Luccheses, Colombos, Genoveses, and Bonannos) must first rebuild their leadership. The top bosses of the five families, along with many underlings, have been convicted in racketeering prosecutions and sentenced to long terms in federal prison. Those prosecutions constitute ''arguably the most successful anticrime expedition in American history," according to Raab.

The decades-long jelling of the law enforcement response to the Mafia threat commands Raab's close attention. An impetus came from Democratic Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, whose subcommittee investigated labor racketeering in the late 1960s. One key behind-the-scenes figure -- an American hero, in Raab's account -- was G. Robert Blakey, who helped craft the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations legislation as an aide to McClellan and, as a crusading law professor, tirelessly promoted the statute's use after Congress enacted it in 1970.

The law enabled prosecutors to throw the book at top mobsters, who otherwise would have been able to insulate themselves more easily from criminal accountability. Electronic surveillance, which a related law authorized, added another invaluable weapon to the federal prosecutors' arsenal.

Another of Raab's heroes, G. Bruce Mouw, supervised the FBI's Gambino Squad. Mouw's relentless, six-year investigation of John Gotti stands as a model of aggressive anti-Mafia pursuit. Gotti, whom the tabloids dubbed ''the Teflon Don," beat federal charges three times. Mouw produced ironclad evidence of Gotti's guilt by identifying an old lady's apartment as the Gambino godfather's clandestine inner sanctum and bugging it. Prosecutors nailed the Teflon Don in a fourth trial.

As for the villains portrayed by Raab, they and their operatic brutality seem endless. Raab's profiles of such ogres as Joseph ''Crazy Joe" Gallo or Salvatore ''Sammy the Bull" Gravano quickly dispel any Hollywood depiction of mobsters as lovable rogues or, as in the case of Tony Soprano of HBO's prize-winning series, as an angst-ridden man groping for life's meaning.

Mobsters typically start out as losers, dropouts from school at an early age. They are natural bullies who turn to crime out of desperation and indolence. As adults, to quote Raab's description of Gotti's wise guys, they join together as a ''hardened band of pea-brained hijackers, loan-shark collectors, gamblers, and robotic hit men."

No surprise, then, that such lowlifes would resort to violence as their modus operandi. But their cavalier acts of viciousness are nonetheless shocking. Thus, when Vito Genovese falls in love with a married cousin, he apparently has her husband strangled to death so he can marry her.

Or when Lucchese thugs believe that one of their own, Bruno Facciolo, is talking to authorities, they shoot and stab him to death. They then murder two of his mob buddies, Al Visconti and Larry Taylor, to prevent them from retaliating. Visconti is deliberately shot several times in the groin because the Luccheses believe he is a homosexual and has shamed the family.

Although ''Five Families" detours outside New York to chronicle aspects of the Cosa Nostra story, New England's Patriarcas, who deferred to New York's Gigante family, rate only passing mention. Summarizing how officials view Cosa Nostra's once-thriving 20-odd families around the country, Raab reports that those in New York and Chicago retain a ''semblance of [their] organizational frameworks," while the others, including Patriarca's, are ''in disarray or practically defunct."

Raab has much to say about what he regards as the possible involvement of a Florida mafioso, Santo Trafficante Jr., in President Kennedy's assassination. Raab theorizes that Trafficante -- who lost his organized-crime base in Havana when Fidel Castro took over and who loathed Kennedy for not unhorsing the Cuban revolutionary -- may have conspired to kill Kennedy.

Exhibit A is the confession of a gravely ill Trafficante, four days before his death in 1987, that he had had a hand in Kennedy's murder. Raab's source for the purported confession was Trafficante's longtime lawyer, Frank Ragano. Raab collaborated with Ragano on a book, ''Mob Lawyer."

Of course, any mob role in Kennedy's assassination remains a speculative matter, as Raab concedes. But in ''Five Families," he notes that ''Ragano's assertions are among the starkest signs implicating Mafia bosses in the death of President Kennedy." To buttress his theory, Raab might have mentioned that the Mafia was at or near the apex of its power in 1963, the year of Kennedy's murder.

Reviewed by Joseph Rosenbloom

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How Joseph Charles Massino become Known as #TheLastDon

Born on Jan. 10, 1943 in New York City, Joseph Charles Massino is a former member of the Italian Mafia who was the boss of the Bonanno crime family from 1991 to 2004. During his 13 years running the crime syndicate, the powerful Massino was known as “The Last Don,” as he was the only New York mob leader at the time not in prison. However, he is perhaps best known as the first boss of one of the notorious five Mafia families to turn state’s evidence and cooperate with the government in prosecuting other Mafiosi. The ex-mobster entered the Witness Protection Program after his 2013 release from prison and his whereabouts are unknown.

One of three boys raised in Maspeth, Massino claimed he was a juvenile delinquent by age 12 and he was a high school dropout at age 15. He married Josephine Vitale in 1960, and soon began supporting his wife and three daughters through a life of crime, with brother-in-law Salvatore as one of his earliest associates.

By the late 1960s, the future Don was running a truck hijacking crew as an associate of the Bonanno family. He fenced his stolen goods and ran numbers from a lunch wagon which he used as a front for his illicit business. In 1975, Massino participated in a mob murder with brother-in-law Salvatore and future Gambino family head John Gotti. Two years after “making his bones” by killing for the mob, the Maspeth native became a made member of the Bonanno family. Joe Massino was on his way to the top of a criminal empire.

Following the 1979 murder of acting family boss Carmine Galante at a Brooklyn restaurant, Massino began jockeying for power with other Bonanno capos. Ever cunning and ready to use violence to serve his ends, he eliminated several key rivals in 1981. One capo who allegedly fell before The Last Don’s ambition was Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, who allowed undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone to infiltrate his crew under the name Donnie Brasco. Upon hearing about the unprecedented breach of mob security, Massino said of the disgraced capo: “I have to give him a receipt for the Donnie Brasco situation.”

The mobster’s climb to the top would not be without pitfalls, however. In 1987, when some believe he was already the underboss, Massino and Bonanno family head Philip Rastelli were sent to federal prison on labor racketeering charges. Following Rastelli’s death in 1991, Joe Massino was named boss of the Bonanno family while still incarcerated.

Under his leadership, the Bonanno crime syndicate regained the prestige it lost following the FBI undercover operation, and by 2000, with many other Mafia leaders in prison, Massino was considered the most powerful don in the nation. His time at the top would prove short lived. In 2004, The Last Don was indicted for murder and racketeering based on the testimony of other made mobsters, including underboss and brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale. Facing the death penalty if found guilty, Massino agreed to turn against his former associates and testify as a government witness. Although initially sentenced to life in prison, in 2013 he was resentenced to time served.

A Joe Massino quote: “There are three sides to every story. Mine, yours and the truth.”

Thanks to Greater Astoria Historical Society.

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 12, 2015

The Good Rat - A True Story

Jimmy Breslin stared helplessly out the window of his office in The Daily News one afternoon in the 1970s, seeking inspiration — through a haze of cigar smoke — from the nondescript facade of a building across 42nd Street.

He betrayed no visible brain activity, not even a flicker of the genius that infused his columns, one of which was close to being overdue. I know because I was his anxious editor. But his blank stare was an illusion. Mr. Breslin was eavesdropping. He was mining a rich lode of gossip from his assistant, Ann Marie, who was chatting on the telephone outside his office door.

Mr. Breslin is a very good listener. Almost imperceptibly, his head began to turn until he finally fixed his gaze on Ann Marie, and in one of those unheralded but defining moments in journalism, a series of columns about the underside of life in the Big City — with the names changed to protect the guilty and Mr. Breslin himself — was born.

In “The Good Rat: A True Story” (Ecco Press), Mr. Breslin recalls another of his eureka moments, which took place in a Brooklyn courtroom where he had gone to research a book about two cops turned Mafia hit men. One was fat and sad-eyed, the other thin and listless.

“Am I going to write 70,000 words about these two?” Mr. Breslin asked himself. “Rather I lay brick.” But when the trial started two years ago, he recalls, an unknown name on the prosecution witness list “turns the proceeding into something that thrills: the autobiography of Burton Kaplan, criminal.” Mr. Breslin had found his subject, a Brooklyn Tech dropout, father of a judge, who was “a great merchant, too great, and after he sold everything that did belong to him, he sold things that did not.”

And lucky for us. His book ingeniously synthesizes Burton Kaplan’s bizarre biography, his testimony, and Mr. Breslin’s memoirs of his own earlier exploits and encounters with characters who punctuated his columns but are mostly dead, imprisoned, or hidden in witness protection programs.

“You can drink with legitimate people if you want,” Mr. Breslin writes of his social circle, adding that he is a product of nights when the mobster Fat Tony Salerno looked around the Copacabana, scowled at him and asked, “ ‘Didn’t you go where I told you to?’ ”

Where had Mr. Breslin been told to go? That morning, he had encountered Mr. Salerno at a court engagement where the mobster complained, “You look like a bum,” and slipped him an East Side tailor’s business card.

“Tell him you want a suit made right away so you don’t make me ashamed I know you,” Mr. Salerno ordered.

The book is cleverly constructed, opening with an annotated cast of characters, and it delivers canny anthropological insights into organized crime (“The feds soon realized all they had to do was follow guys who kiss each other and they’d know the whole Mafia”). Mr. Breslin also criticizes John Gotti for having “violated New York’s revered rush-hour rules when he had Paul Castellano killed in the middle of it.”

Mr. Breslin’s account of a victim who was killed by mistake belies the idea that there are no innocent bystanders. And every page reveals his talent for putting a twinkle in your mind’s eye (the lawyer Bruce Cutler wore “a light khaki summer suit that could have used 10 pounds less to cover”). The book is Jimmy Breslin at his best.

Thanks to Sam Roberts

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Little Black Book of Mafia Wisdom - Secrets, Lies, Tricks, and Tactics of the Organization That Was Once Bigger Than U.S. Steel


Don’t let your tongue be your worst enemy.” —John “Sonny” Franzese
You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.” —Al Capone
I never lie to any man because I don't fear anyone. The only time you lie is when you are afraid.” —John Gotti

Despite the fact that secrecy is vital to the MobThe Little Black Book of Mafia Wisdom - Secrets, Lies, Tricks, and Tactics of the Organization That Was Once Bigger Than U.S. Steel, mobsters have revealed themselves to be notorious gossips, prone to bragging, and even outrageous loudmouths. Delve into the inner workings of the Mob and the mindset of those who run it through these mesmerizing quotes from some of the smoothest and most dangerous criminals, real and fictional, who ever made headlines. Whether they’re spilling to their lawyers or making blood-chilling threats, mobsters reveal startling insights on leadership, guilt, and loyalty. While at times shocking, crude, and even unintentionally funny, these quotes also help us to see the humanity behind these dark bosses of the underworld . . . and give us a little insight into the dark side of our own natures, as well. The Little Black Book of Mafia Wisdom: Secrets, Lies, Tricks, and Tactics of the Organization That Was Once Bigger Than U.S. Steel

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia

Thomas Reppetto is a former Chicago commander of detectives and has been president of New York City's Citizens Crime Commission for more than 20 years. Few people know as much about the American Mafia as Reppetto.

"Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia" is the sequel to his critically acclaimed "American Mafia," and once again he provides a rare inside look into one of this country's most notorious organizations. Drawing from a lifetime of experience as a member of the Chicago Police Department, Reppetto recounts the stories of the Mafia's 20th-century leadership, detailing how men such as Sam Giancana and John Gotti became household names.

According to Reppetto, during the 1980s, government crusaders and scores of ordinary cops and U.S. marshals began to gain the upper hand. As anti-racketeering laws took hold, the battles between the feds and the Mafia moved from the streets to the nation's courtrooms, where celebrity criminals such as Gotti began to receive stiff sentences.

In vivid, fast-paced prose, Reppetto writes that organized crime is far from dead. In fact, he claims that, given the right formula of both connections and shrewd business decisions, a new generation of multinational criminals could assume the role of the old Mafia and redefine itself. Unless stopped, this new criminal group could erase all of the gains made by the government during the past two decades. It's a grim prospect.

Thanks to Larry Cox

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss

Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso is currently serving thirteen consecutive life sentences plus 455 years at a federal prison in Colorado. Now, for the first time, the head of a mob family has granted complete and total access to a journalist. Casso has given New York Times bestselling author Philip Carlo the most intimate, personal look into the world of La Cosa Nostra ever seen. "Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss" is his shocking story.

From birth, Anthony Casso's mob life was preordained. Michael Casso introduced his young son around South Brooklyn's social clubs, where "men of honor" did business by shaking pinkie-ringed hands—hands equally at home pilfering stolen goods from the Brooklyn docks or gripping the cold steel of a silenced pistol. Young Anthony watched and listened and decided that he would devote his life to crime.

Casso would prove his talent for "earning," concocting ingenious schemes to hijack trucks, rob banks, and bring into New York vast quantities of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Casso also had an uncanny ability to work with the other Mafia families, and he forged unusually strong ties with the Russian mob. By the time Casso took the reins of the Lucchese family, he was a seasoned boss, a very dangerous man.

It was a great life—Casso and his beautiful wife, Lillian, had money to burn; Casso and his crew brought in so much cash that he had dozens of large safe-deposit boxes filled with bricks of hundred-dollar bills. But the law finally caught up with him in his New Jersey safe house in 1994. Rather than stoically face the music like the old-time mafiosi he revered, Casso became the thing he most hated—a rat. It broke his family's heart and made the once feared and revered mobster an object of scorn and disgust among his former friends. For it turned out that a lifetime of street smarts completely failed him in dealing with a group even more cunning and ruthless than the Mafia—the U.S. government.

Detailing Casso's feud with John Gotti and their attempts to kill each other, the "Windows Case" that led to the beginning of the end for the mob in New York, and Casso's dealings with decorated NYPD officers Lou Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa—the "Mafia cops"—Gaspipe is the inside story of one man's rise and fall, mirroring the rise and fall of a way of life, a roller-coaster ride into a netherworld few outsiders have ever dared to enter.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Carmine "The Bull" Agnello, Ex-Son-in-Law of John Gotti, Arrested as part of #OperationGoodfella

An ex-son-in-law of late New York mob boss John Gotti was arrested in Ohio on Wednesday in what police described as a scheme to scrap stolen cars.

Carmine "The Bull" Agnello was charged with theft, money laundering and conspiracy in connection with the alleged car-scrapping operation.

He was also charged with drugging race horses before competition, animal cruelty and "corrupting" sports following an investigation by Cleveland police and the Cuyahoga County prosecutors office, authorities said.

The charges were brought as part of an 18-month investigation called "Operation Goodfella."

"We are not going to let the Mafia sink their teeth back into Cleveland and make this into an outpost for their New York-based corrupt enterprises," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in a statement.

Police said they found multiple firearms and $45,000 cash in a search at Agnello's home in Bentleyville, Ohio, about 20 miles southeast of Cleveland, and also found evidence of illegal dumping at his scrap metal business in Cleveland.

Cleveland police said they had been investigating scrap metal yards after very few vehicles were recovered despite a spike in car thefts in the past three years. They focused on Agnello's yard because of the large amount of cars it processed.

Police accused Agnello of defrauding a regional scrap metal processor of more than $3 million since 2014 by weighing down stolen scrapped cars with dirt.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted police as saying Agnello paid teenagers to steal cars, usually for $20 or $25 per vehicle, and bring them to his business.

Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Edward Tomba said Agnello, who is in his mid-50s, had been convicted in New York on federal charges in 2001 similar to those brought by Cleveland and served seven years in prison.

Agnello and Gotti's daughter, Victoria Gotti, star of the reality program "Growing Up Gotti," divorced in 2002.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Did the Mob Assassinate Kennedy? The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination

It's been 50+ years since bullets were fired at the presidential motorcade as it wended its way through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, killing U.S. President John F. Kennedy and spawning decades of speculation on whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or was part of -- or victim of -- a conspiracy with tentacles in Havana, Washington and perhaps Moscow.

Did the CIA do it? Was it the mob? The Kremlin? How about a consortium of businessmen?

What if Oswald thought he was a double agent working for the CIA who planned to infiltrate Cuba and work for the overthrow of Fidel Castro?

Lamar Waldron makes the case Oswald was tangled up in CIA-Mafia machinations against the Castro regime in "The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination."

Waldron said it actually was New Orleans mob godfather Carlos Marcello who masterminded the Kennedy assassination -- something Robert Kennedy believed -- but much of the evidence was either destroyed or is still classified because of the CIA's anti-Castro activities.

The first investigation into the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination by the Warren Commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, concluded 10 months later in its 889-page report Oswald acted alone, firing three shots at Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 concluded Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy but ruled out the Soviet Union, Cuba, anti-Castro Cubans and organized crime -- but not individual mobsters -- as complicit.

Waldron said Marcello, in a fit of rage during a rant about Kennedy and his brother, Robert, blurted out in the prison yard at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, that he had Kennedy killed and wished he could have done it himself. The remark was made in front of two other inmates, one of them Jack Van Laningham, who became his cellmate and eventually wore a wire for the FBI, getting Marcello's alleged confession on tape.

Waldron said Marcello, who was incarcerated at Texarkana for his role in the BriLab insurance bribery scheme, hated the Kennedy brothers because of their war on organized crime and their efforts to have him expelled from the United States for good. He was particularly incensed about his deportation to Guatemala -- based on fake documents saying that's where he was born -- and his struggle to slip back into the United States, which took him on a trek through the jungle.

Waldron, who reviewed declassified FBI and CIA files and interviewed many of the parties involved, said Marcello's alleged confession is backed by corroborating evidence not available to Laningham or his FBI handlers at the time.

Similar confessions came late in life from Marcello's alleged co-conspirators Johnny Rosselli, an underboss for Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, and Santo Trafficante, who controlled the Tampa, Fla., mob and had run casinos in Havana during the heyday of the Batista regime.

What makes Waldron so sure Marcello's statements weren't just boasting?

"Most mobsters ... haven't ruled unchallenged an empire the size of General Motors for three decades. ... Carlos Marcello ruled Louisiana, Texas and parts of Mississippi. One way Marcello kept that empire so long was by avoiding the limelight, publicity. ... It's a totally different kind of godfather than John Gotti [the New York mobster who headed the Gambino crime family and was known as the 'Dapper Don']," Waldron said, adding because the New Orleans mob was the oldest Mafia organization in the United States, Marcello did not have to go to the national commission to clear hits on government officials.

Marcello, he said, actually planned two other attempts on Kennedy in the days preceding Dallas -- one in Chicago and one in Tampa. Like Dallas, two men -- one an ex-Marine and the other a Fair Play for Cuba member -- were positioned to be blamed for the shootings once Kennedy was dead.

Waldron said both the Warren Commission and the House select committee investigations were hampered by CIA reluctance to turn over files concerning U.S. efforts to overthrow Castro. Hundreds of thousands of pages related to those plots remain secret despite legislation requiring all files related to the Kennedy assassination be released and Waldron has started a petition on whitehouse.gov (http://wh.gov/lZurV) seeking their declassification.

Waldron said it is unlikely Marcello would have left the assassination to Oswald because the former Marine was not an experienced killer. Waldron said Marcello imported two hit men from Europe to handle the shooting.

"He [Marcello] liked to use war orphans for hits," Waldron said, "because if you killed them afterward, there was no one to ask questions."

As for evidence the fatal bullets came from the Texas School Book Depository, "the angle is in huge dispute. It varies by 20 degrees," Waldron said.

The Warren Commission said the bullet that injured Connolly, the so-called magic bullet, went in the back of Kennedy's neck and exited just below his Adam's apple. But Waldron said that's false. The bullet actually went in 6 inches below the top of Kennedy's collar -- something Waldron said the late Sen. Arlen Specter, then an investigator for the Warren Commission, changed to make the trajectory line up. Additionally, an exit wound generally is larger than an entrance wound and the hole beneath Kennedy's Adam's apple was smaller than the back wound.

Waldron said Kennedy aides riding in the chase car were convinced at least one shot came from the grassy knoll but were pressured to change their stories for national security reasons.

History Professor Randy Roberts of Purdue University, who has written about the assassination's effect on American culture, argues conspiracy theories "always sound good" but they don't hold up.

"It sounds really persuasive but then when you read the documents, they don't really say what you think they say," Roberts said.

Roberts, who will appear on the History channel's "Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live" Friday, said the ballistics evidence "is pretty convincing" and he doesn't think Oswald's calling himself "a patsy" means much, considering he was seen carrying a package that investigators said was likely the Mannlicher Carcano rifle (Waldron said the package was too small to be the rifle and never made it to the book depository in any event) used to shoot the president and injure Connolly.

"If Oswald was a patsy, why did he shoot a policeman and try to shoot more policemen [as he was cornered at a movie theater]?" Roberts asked. "Why did he leave his ring with his wife ... on his way out? ... There's so much logical evidence."

Waldron said the evidence implicating Oswald in officer J.D. Tippit's killing is questionable and there are indications Oswald already was inside the movie theater at the time. As for resisting arrest, Waldron said at that point Oswald probably had figured out things weren't going down the way he had been led to believe they would.

Best-selling author Robert Tanenbaum, a former New York City prosecutor who served as chief assistant counsel to the House select committee, said he doesn't think the assassination has yet been adequately investigated. He quit the panel when he became convinced members weren't that interested in what really happened.

"I don't believe Oswald could have been convicted based on the shoddy evidence they had, particularly with all the other evidence," he said, citing, for example, the statements of Dr. Charles Crenshaw, a young doctor who treated Kennedy when he was brought to Parkland Hospital.

Crenshaw said one of the bullets entered Kennedy's throat from the front right while a second bullet entered his head from the side "consistent with [a shot fired from the] grassy knoll," Tanenbaum said. But Crenshaw was never even questioned by the Warren Commission and his testimony was ignored by the House committee.

"I believe without question there were shots that came from the side, the grassy knoll," he said.

Roberts doesn't buy it though, especially since there are so many conspiracy theories.

"If there was a conspiracy, only one of [the theories] can be right. They can't all be," he said.

Misconceptions about the assassination still affect U.S. foreign policy. Waldron said the reason the United States never normalized relations with Cuba is because high-ranking officials still are convinced Castro was behind the assassination based on trumped up evidence periodically trotted out by the CIA.

"[Secretary of State] John Kerry is only the latest government official to say there was a conspiracy, but he pointed a finger at Fidel Castro," he said. "The mob planted a lot of phony evidence pointing to Castro. [Former President Lyndon] Johnson elieved Castro killed Kennedy. [Former CIA Director John] McCone believed Castro killed Kennedy. People like [former Secretary of State Alexander] Haig -- they didn't know all of the evidence implicating Fidel was debunked in 1963 and 1964. ... It can all be traced back to the mob."

Friday, June 26, 2015

National Geographic Channel Infiltrates Centuries of Deadly Secrets INSIDE THE MAFIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hitting the Mafia

The aging bosses seated at the defense table in the packed federal courtroom in lower Manhattan look harmless enough to be spectators at a Sunday-after noon boccie game. Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, 75, the reputed head of the Genovese crime family, sits aloof and alone, his left eye red and swollen from surgery. White-haired Anthony (Tony Ducks) Corallo, 73, the alleged Lucchese family chief, is casual in a cardigan and sport shirt. Carmine (Junior) Persico, 53, is the balding, baggy-eyed showman of the trio. Elegant in a black pinstripe suit, a crisp white shirt and red tie, the accused Colombo crime boss is acting as his own attorney. "By now I guess you all know my name is Carmine Persico and I'm not a lawyer, I'm a defendant," he humbly told the jury in a thick Brooklyn accent. "Bear with me, please," he said, shuffling through his notes. "I'm a little nervous."

As Persico spoke, three young prosecutors watched, armed with the evidence they hope will show that Junior and his geriatric cohorts are the leaders of a murderous, brutal criminal conspiracy that reaches across the nation. In a dangerous four-year investigation, police and FBI agents had planted bugs around Mafia hangouts and listened to endless hours of tiresome chatter about horses, cars and point spreads while waiting patiently for incriminating comments. They pressured mobsters into becoming informants. They carefully charted the secret family ties, linking odd bits of evidence to reveal criminal patterns. They helped put numerous mafiosi, one by one and in groups, behind bars. But last week, after a half-century in business, the American Mafia itself finally went on trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, whose bushy mustache could not hide his tender age of 32, addressed the anonymous jurors in calm, methodical tones. Chertoff charged flatly that the Mafia is run by a coordinating Commission and that the eight defendants, representing four of New York City's five nationally powerful Mob families, were either on this crime board or had carried out its racketeering dictates. "What you will see is these men," he said, "these crime leaders, fighting with each other, backstabbing each other, each one trying to get a larger share of the illegal proceeds. You are going to learn that this Commission is dominated by a single principle -- greed. They want more money, and they will do what they have to do to get it."

Across the East River in another federal courthouse in Brooklyn, a jury was being selected for the racketeering trial of the most powerful of all U.S. Mafia families: the Gambinos. Here a younger, more flamboyant crime boss strutted through the courtroom, snapping out orders to subservient henchmen, reveling in his new and lethally acquired notoriety. John Gotti, 45, romanticized in New York City's tabloids as the "Dapper Don" for his tailored $1,800 suits and carefully coiffed hair, has been locked in prison without bail since May, only a few months after he allegedly took control of the Gambino gang following the murder of the previous boss, Paul Castellano.

Gotti, who seemed to personify a vigorous new generation of mobster, may never have a chance to inherit his criminal kingdom. Prosecutor Diane Giacalone, 36, says tapes of conversations between Gotti and his lieutenants, recorded by a trusted Gambino "soldier" turned informant, will provide "direct evidence of John Gotti's role as manager of a gambling enterprise." If convicted, the new crime chief and six lieutenants could be imprisoned for up to 40 years.

The stage has thus been set for the beginning of two of the most significant trials in U.S. Mob history. Finally realizing the full potential of the once slighted Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, federal prosecutors are trying to destroy Mafia families by convincing juries that their very existence is a crime, that their leaders should be imprisoned for long terms and that, eventually, even their ill-gotten gains can be - confiscated. Success in the New York cases, following an unprecedented series of indictments affecting 17 of the 24 Mafia families in the U.S., would hit the Mob where it would hurt most. Out of a formal, oath-taking national Mafia membership of some 1,700, at least half belong to the five New York clans, each of which is larger and more effective than those in any other city.

"The Mafia will be crushed," vows Rudolph Giuliani, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who has been leading the major anti-Mafia crusade and who takes personal affront at the damage done by the Mob to the image of his fellow law-abiding Italian Americans. Declares G. Robert Blakey, a Notre Dame Law School professor who drafted the 1970 RICO law now being used so effectively against organized crime: "It's the twilight of the Mob. It's not dark yet for them, but the sun is going down." Insists John L. Hogan, chief of the FBI's New York office: "We are out to demolish a multiheaded monster and all its tentacles and support systems and followers."

More cynical, or possibly more realistic, law-enforcement authorities doubt that these grand goals can be achieved. But they nonetheless admire the determination and the sophisticated tactics that the current prosecutors are bringing to a battle that has been fought, mostly in vain, ever since the crime-breeding days of Prohibition. Even the doubters concede that the new campaign is off to an impressive start.

From 1981 through last year, federal prosecutors brought 1,025 indictments against 2,554 mafiosi, and have convicted 809 Mafia members or their uninitiated "associates." Many of the remaining cases are still pending. Among all criminal organizations, including such non-Mafia types as motorcycle gangs and Chinese and Latin American drug traffickers, the FBI compiled evidence that last year alone led to 3,803 indictments and 2,960 convictions. At the least, observes the FBI's Hogan, all this legal action means the traditional crime families "are bleeding, they're demoralized."

In Chicago, where the "Outfit" has always been strong, the conviction last January of four top local mobsters for directing the tax-free skimming of cash from two Las Vegas casinos has forced the ailing Anthony Accardo, 80, to return from a comfortable retirement in Palm Springs, Calif., to keep an eye on an inexperienced group of hoods trying to run the rackets. The same skimming case has crippled the mob leadership in Kansas City, Milwaukee and , Cleveland. The New England Mafia, jolted by the convictions in April of Underboss Gennaro Anguilo, 67, and three of his brothers, who operate out of Boston, is described by the FBI as being in a "state of chaos." Of the major Mob clans, only those in Detroit and Newark remain relatively unscathed. But the muscle of organized crime has been most formidable in New York City. Prosecutors have been attacking it with increasing success, but expect to score their biggest win in the so-called Commission case (dubbed Star Chamber by federal investigators). Chertoff and two other young prosecutors handling their first big trial will have to prove that a national Commission made up of the bosses and some underbosses of the major families has been dividing turf and settling disputes among the crime clans ever since New York's ruthless "Lucky" Luciano organized the Commission in 1931. Luciano acted to end the gang warfare that had wiped out at least 40 mobsters in just two days in September of that year. Before that, top gangsters like Salvatore Maranzano had conspired to shoot their way into becoming the capo di tutti capi ("Boss of Bosses"). Maranzano, who had organized New York's Sicilian gangsters into five families, was the first victim of Luciano's new order.

For more than two decades the Mafia managed to keep its board of directors hidden from the outside world, until November 1957, when police staged a celebrated raid on a national mobsters' convention in Apalachin, N.Y. In 1963 former Mafia Soldier Joseph Valachi told a Senate investigating subcommittee all about La Cosa Nostra, the previously secret name under which the brotherhood had operated. After the Mafia had been romanticized in books and movies like The Godfather, some mobsters became brazen about their affairs. In 1983 former New York Boss Joseph Bonanno even published an autobiography about his Mafia years.

Reading that book, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, helped Giuliani realize that the little understood 1970 RICO act could be used against the Mob. "Bonanno has an entire section devoted to the Commission," Giuliani recalled. "It seemed to me that if he could write about it, we could prosecute it."

Bonanno, 82, seems to have had second thoughts about what he triggered. The aged boss has left his Arizona retirement mansion to serve a contempt-of-court sentence in a Springfield, Mo., federal prison rather than give testimony in the Commission trial. The mobster turned author, says one investigator, "is hearing footsteps."

Brought to bay in a courtroom, the Mafia bosses have adopted an unusual defense: rather than fight the Government's efforts to prove the existence of La Cosa Nostra, they admit it. "This case is not about whether there is a Mafia," thundered Defense Attorney Samuel Dawson. "Assume it. Accept it. There is." Nevertheless, he told the jury, "just because a person is a member of the Mafia doesn't mean he has committed the charged crime or even agreed to commit the charged crime." Dawson depicted the Commission as a sort of underworld businessmen's round table that approves new Mafia members and arbitrates disputes. Its purpose, he insisted, is "to avoid -- avoid -- conflict."

Much more sinister conspiracies will be described by Government witnesses in the trial. The prosecutors will contend that the Commission approved three murders and directed loan-sharking and an extensive extortion scheme against the New York City construction industry. The killings involve the 1979 rubout of Bonanno Boss Carmine Galante and two associates. Bonanno Soldier Anthony Indelicato, 30, and alleged current Bonanno Boss Philip (Rusty) Rastelli, 68, are accused of plotting the hit, with the Commission's blessing, to prevent Galante from seizing control of the Gambino family. (Rastelli, already engaged in a separate racketeering case, will face trial later.) The jurors will see a videotape of Indelicato, who is a defendant in the Commission case, being congratulated shortly after the killings by high-ranking Gambino family members at its Ravenite Social Club. "Watch the way they shake hands, watch the way they are congratulating each other," said Prosecutor Chertoff.

The crux of the Government's case, however, is more prosaic than murder. It details a Commission-endorsed scheme to rig bids and allocate contracts to Mob influenced concrete companies in New York City's booming construction industry. Any concrete-pouring contract worth more than $2 million was controlled by the Mob, according to the indictment, and the gangsters decided who should submit the lowest bids. Any company that disobeyed the bidding rules might find itself with unexpected labor problems, and its sources of cement might dry up. The club dues, actually a form of extortion, amounted to $1.8 million between 1981 and 1984. The Mob also demanded a 2% cut of the value of the contracts it controlled.

The key defendant on this charge is Ralph Scopo, 57, a soldier in the Colombo family, and just as importantly, the president of the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council before he was indicted. Scopo is accused of accepting many of the payoffs from the participating concrete firms. Scopo's lawyer admits the union leader took payoffs, but he and the other attorneys deny it was part of a broader extortion scheme. Since the Mafia leaders own some of the construction companies, said Dawson, the Government was claiming "that these men extort themselves."

Although the Commission trial involves four of New York's five Mob families, a more recent murder plot has prevented the Gambino family from being represented. Former Gambino Boss Paul Castellano and Underboss Aniello Dellacroce had been indicted. But Dellacroce, 71, died last Dec. 2 of cancer. Just 14 days later Castellano, 72, and Thomas Bilotti, 45, his trusted bodyguard and the apparent choice to succeed Dellacroce, were the victims of yet another sensational Mob hit as they walked, unarmed, from their car toward a mid-Manhattan steak house.

Law-enforcement agents are convinced that Gotti, a protege of Dellacroce's, helped plot the Castellano and Bilotti slayings to ensure his own rise to the top of the Gambino clan. No one, however, has been charged with those slayings. The Castellano hit may not come up at the racketeering trial of Gotti, his brother Eugene and four Gambino associates. But two other murders and a conspiracy to commit murder are among 15 crimes that the Government says formed a pattern of participation in a criminal enterprise. The defendants are also accused of planning two armored-car robberies, other hijackings and gambling, and conspiracy to commit extortion.

The major evidence in the Gotti case was provided through a bugging scheme worthy of a James Bond movie. In 1984 Gambino Soldier Dominick Lofaro, 56, was arrested in upstate New York on heroin charges. Facing a 20-year sentence, he agreed to become a Government informant. Investigators wired him with a tiny microphone taped to his chest and a miniature cassette recorder, no bigger than two packs of gum, that fitted into the small of his back without producing a bulge. Equipped with a magnetic switch on a cigarette lighter to activate the recorder, Lofaro coolly discussed Gambino family affairs with the unsuspecting Gotti brothers. Afterward he placed the tapes inside folded copies of the New York Times business section and dropped them in a preselected trash bin. Lofaro provided the Government with more than 50 tapes over two years. Says one admiring investigator: "You can't help wondering how many sleepless nights he spent knowing that if caught he would get a slow cutting job by a knife expert."

The increasing use of wiretaps and tapes, says another investigator, is "like opening a Pandora's box of the Mafia's top secrets and letting them all hang out in the open." Both top Mafia trials will depend heavily on tapes as evidence, as have numerous RICO cases around the country. The FBI's bugging has increased sharply, from just 90 court-approved requests in 1982 to more than 150 in each of the past two years. The various investigating agencies, including state and local police, have found novel places to hide their bugs: in a Perrier bottle, a stuffed toy, a pair of binoculars, shoes, an electric blanket, a horse's saddle. Agents even admit to dropping snooping devices into a confessional at a Roman Catholic church frequented by mobsters, as well as a church candlestick holder and a church men's room. All this, agents insist, was done with court permission.

An agent posing as a street hot-dog vendor in a Mafia neighborhood in New York City discovered which public telephone was being used by gangsters to call sources in Sicily about heroin shipments. The phone was quickly tapped, and the evidence it provided has been used in the ongoing "pizza connection" heroin trial against U.S. and Sicilian mobsters.

The agents were even able to slip a bug into "Big Paul" Castellano's house on Staten Island some two years before he was murdered. Ironically, they heard Castellano apparently complaining about Sparks Steak House, the site of his death. "You know who's really busy making a real fortune?" Big Paul asked a crony. "(Expletive) Sparks. I don't get 5 cents when I go in there. I want you to know that. Shut the house this way if I don't get 5 cents." In Mob lingo, authorities speculate, he seemed to be warning that the restaurant would be closed if it did not start paying extortion money to the Gambino family.

In Boston, FBI agents acquired details on the interiors of two Mafia apartments in the city's North End. With court approval, agents picked the locks early in the morning and planted bugs that produced 800 hours of recordings. The monitoring agents learned fascinating tidbits about Mob mores. Ilario Zannino was heard explaining how dangerous it is to kill just one member of a gang. "If you're clipping people," he said, "I always say, make sure you clip the people around him first. Get them together, 'cause everybody's got a friend. He could be the dirtiest (expletive) in the world, but someone that likes this guy, that's the guy that sneaks you." They heard Zannino and John Cincotti complaining about a competing Irish gang of hoods. Said Cincotti: "They don't have the scruples that we have." Zannino agreed. "You know how I knew they weren't Italiano? When they bombed the (expletive) house. We don't do that."

A major break in the Commission case came on a rainy night in March 1983 when two agents of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force carried out a well-rehearsed planting of a tiny radio transmitter in a 1982 black Jaguar used by "Tony Ducks" Corallo. In a parking lot outside a restaurant in Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island, one agent carefully opened a door, pressing the switch that would otherwise turn on the interior lights. Another helped him spread a plastic sheath over the seats so that rain would not spot the upholstery. With a stopwatch at hand, they quickly removed the dashboard, installed the bug, replaced the dash and closed the car door. The operation took 15 minutes.

For four months the bug transmitted intimate Mob conversations between the Lucchese boss and his driver, Salvatore Avellino, to agents trailing discreetly in various "chase cars," which rebroadcast the signals to a recording van. "It was the most significant information regarding the structure and function of the Commission that has ever been obtained from electronic surveillance," declared Ronald Goldstock, chief of the Organized Crime Task Force. After building his own case against the Lucchese family for a local carting-industry racket, Goldstock alerted Giuliani to the broader implications of using the evidence to attack the Mob's controlling Commission.

Where federal agents and local police once distrusted one another and often collided in their organized-crime investigations, a new spirit of cooperation is proving effective. In New York, state investigators have been invaluable to the FBI in probing the Mob, and some 150 New York City police are assigned full time to the New York FBI office.

The current wave of Mob trials has benefited as well from the number of former gangsters who have proved willing to violate the Mafia's centuries-old tradition of omerta (silence) and provide evidence against their former partners. Racket victims are less fearful than before of testifying. Nationwide, says Giuliani, "we've got more than 100 people who have testified against Mafia guys." To be sure, many witnesses are criminals facing long sentences; they have a strong self-interest in currying favor with prosecutors.

That is a point that the defense lawyers attack forcefully. "I can't tell a witness in jail to come and testify for me and I'll give him his freedom," Persico told the Commission jury. "The Government can do that. They're powerful people . . . Not me." Persico, a high school graduate who learned legal tactics working on appeals during some 14 years behind bars, is described by his longtime attorney, Stanley Meyer, as "the most intelligent fellow I have ever met in any walk of life." His unusual self-defense role also gives him a chance to come across as an unsinister personality to jurors. Persico's strategy, says one court veteran, "is brilliant, if it works." But he runs a risk: his questions must not convey knowledge of events that an innocent person would not possess.

The Commission trial is not expected to produce a turncoat as high ranking as Cleveland Underboss Angelo Lonardo, the top U.S. mobster to sing so far. He learned how to be a turncoat the hard way. Charged with leading a drug ring, Lonardo was convicted after a lesser hood, Carmen Zagaria, testified about the inner workings of the Cleveland Mob. Zagaria described how the bodies of hit victims were chopped up and tossed into Lake Erie. Lonardo, who wanted to avoid a life sentence, then helped prosecutors break the Las Vegas skimming case.

John Gotti is haunted by the deception of Wilfred ("Willie Boy") Johnson, a Gambino-family associate. Caught carrying $50,000 in a paper bag in 1981, Johnson invited New York City detectives to help themselves to the cash. They charged him with bribery. After that Johnson, who hung out at Gotti's Bergen Hunt and Fish Club, kept the cops posted on how the rising star was progressing. He also suggested where bugs might be placed.

The most loquacious turncoat may be James Frattiano, 72, once the acting boss of a Los Angeles crime family. He not only confessed publicly to killing eleven people but also wrote a revealing book, The Last Mafioso, and has taken his story on the road, testifying at numerous trials. All this public testimony means that the Mafia is losing what Floyd Clark, assistant FBI director in charge of criminal investigations, calls a "tremendous asset: fear and intimidation. That shield is being removed."

The willingness of some hoodlums and victims to defy the Mob is partly due to the existence of the Federal Witness Security Program, which since it started in 1970 has helped 4,889 people move to different locations and acquire new identities and jobs. At a cost to the Government of about $100,000 for each protected person, the program has produced convictions in 78% of the cases in which such witnesses were used. For some former gangsters, however, a conventional life in a small town turns out to be a drag. They run up fresh debts and sometimes revert to crime.

A more significant reason for the breakdown in Mob discipline is that the new generation of family members is not as dedicated to the old Sicilian-bred mores. Some mafiosi may have been in trouble with their families already. "Often, they're going to be killed if they don't go to the Government," says Barbara Jones, an attorney in Giuliani's office. Others feel that a long prison sentence is too stiff a price to pay for family loyalty. The younger mafiosi, explains one Justice Department source, "are much more Americanized than the old boys. They enjoy the good life. There's more than a bit of yuppie in them." Contends RICO Author Blakey: "The younger members are a little more crass, a little less honest and respectful, a little more individualistic and easier to flip."

The combination of prosecutorial pressure and the slipping of family ties may be feeding upon itself, creating further disunity and casting a shadow over the Mob's future. Certainly, when the old-timers go to prison for long terms, they lose their grip on their families, particularly if ambitious successors do not expect them to return. Younger bosses serving light sentences can keep operating from prison, dispatching orders through their lawyers and visiting relatives. They may use other, less watched inmates to send messages. Prison mail is rarely read by censors.

Still, the convicted dons run risks. The prison pay phones may be legally tapped. When the feds learned that the late Kansas City boss Nick Civella was directing killings from Leavenworth prison in Kansas, they bugged the visitors' room and indicted him for new crimes. But can prison bars really crush the Mob? Giuliani contends that as the Italian-American community has grown away from its immigrant beginnings, La Cosa Nostra has been losing its original base of operations and recruits. Pointing to the relatively small number of "made" Mafia members, Giuliani says, "We are fighting an enemy that has definable limits in terms of manpower. They cannot replenish themselves the way they used to in the '20s, '30s and '40s." The Mafia seems aware of the problem: U.S. mobsters have been recruiting hundreds of loyal southern Italian immigrants to run family- owned pizza parlors, help with the heroin traffic, and strengthen the ranks. Experts point out that the Mafia remains a wealthy organization that collected at least $26 billion last year. The Mob has deep roots in unions and labor- intensive industries such as building construction, transportation, restaurants and clothing. In many industries, says Ray Maria, the Labor Department's deputy inspector general, "the Mob controls your labor costs and determines whether you are reputable and profitable."

Repeated prosecutions alone will not put the organization out of its deadly business. Veteran observers of the Mob recall the prediction of the imminent demise of the Chicago Outfit in 1943 when its seven highest hoods were convicted of shaking down Hollywood movie producers. The bell of doom seemed to be tolling nationwide in 1963 when Joseph Valachi's disclosures set off an FBI bugging war against the families. In 1975 the most successful labor racketeering prosecution in U.S. history was supposed to have cleaned up the terror-ridden East Coast waterfront from Miami to New York. None of those highly publicized events had lasting impact.

Still, today's zealous prosecutors have a new tool that gives them a fighting chance to take the organization out of organized crime, if not actually to rub out the Mob. The same RICO law that allows prosecutions against criminal organizations also provides for civil action to seize their assets, from cash to cars and hangouts. A prime example of this technique was the action taken in 1981 against Teamsters Local 560 after it was shown to have been dominated by New York's Genovese family. A civil suit led to the discharge of the local's officers. The union was placed under a court- appointed trustee until free elections could be held. While such suits have been attempted against organized-crime figures only ten times, top Justice Department officials concede they have underestimated the leverage the law can give them. They vow to follow up the convictions they have been winning with civil suits against the family leaders.

The crusading Giuliani admits that the old practice of locking up a capo or two "just helped to speed the succession along." But by striking at all levels of the Mob families and then "peeling away their empires," Giuliani insists, "it is not an unrealistic goal to crush them." Perhaps. But first there are two new and potentially historic courtroom battles to be fought. For the Mob, and for an optimistic new generation of federal crime fighters, it is High Noon in New York.

Thanks to Ed Magnuson


Crime Family Index