Showing posts with label Johnny Roselli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Johnny Roselli. Show all posts

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How "Handsome Johnny" Roselli Infiltrated Hollywood for the Mob, Pulled Off a Major Scam, and Got Whacked

On July 28, 1976, “Handsome Johnny” Rosselli, a mobster who rose up through the ranks with Al Capone, had brunch with his sister in Miami before borrowing her car and driving to the marina. There, he boarded a private boat with two men, one of them an old friend. But when they got out to sea, the third man—someone Rosselli didn't know from Chicago—strangled the 71-year-old gangster to death. He wasn’t even on the vessel an hour and he was dead, rubbed out by a Mafia hitman who sawed off his legs, stuffed his body into a 55-gallon oil drum, and threw the barrel overboard into Dumfoundling Bay.

The barrel didn’t sink, and fishermen found it ten days later lodged on a sand bar in a canal, as the New York Times reported the following February.

It was an ignoble end for Rosselli, a self-styled playboy who acted as the Mafia’s ambassador both in Los Angeles in the 1930s and Las Vegas in the 1950s. A charming racketeer who held company with infamous mafiosos, Hollywood moneymen, stars and starlets, Rosselli even had some encounters with members of Congress before it all unraveled for him in Miami.

In the new book, HANDSOME JOHNNY—The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin, Lee Server explores the life and times of the man who helped bridge the gap between the movies and the mob. VICE talked to Server to find out how Rosselli made it into the organized crime mold—and how he brought mafia muscle to bear in Hollywood, at least for a while.

VICE: Was there one moment that you suspect kind of set Johnny Rosselli on a course to organized crime?
Lee Server: Rosselli had been drifting across America as a young man. He’d settled in Los Angeles in the 1920s, become a bootlegger, then a gambler and racketeer. A fortuitous encounter brought him to the attention of Al Capone, whose eye for criminal talent was second to no one. He recognized something in Johnny at a time when Capone was in need of a liaison between Chicago and the West Coast. He became a kind of honorary consul for the Chicago Outfit in LA

I think we all had a vague sense that the mob might have been involved in Hollywood productions, but this wasn't just a question of peripheral dabbling—it went to the top.
Part of Rosselli’s "assignment" in Los Angeles was to cultivate relationships with the film industry hierarchy. He knew everybody, dated movie stars, played golf with studio heads. His closest industry friend was the boss of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn. They socialized together, and Johnny was often at the studio advising the mogul on his gangster pictures. When Cohn needed a large loan in a hurry it was Johnny who put him together with East Coast mobster [Abner Zwillman]. This had its own complications, as the mobster maintained his secret piece of Cohn’s studio for many years, until he died suddenly, tortured to death or by his own hand, depending whose story you believe.

Rosselli's meddling eventually spun out of control, right?
He collaborated with Frank Nitti—Capone’s successor in the Chicago mob—on a plot to take down the entire Hollywood movie business. They did this through gaining control of a labor union, and then demanding huge under-the-table payoffs from each studio, threatening to close down all movie production if they didn’t pay. The mobsters made millions. It came undone in the end, and many of the perpetrators ended up in prison.

He did actually co-produce films like He Walked By Night and Canon City later in the 1940s—so his wasn't just a criminal gig. Did you take that as a deliberate choice, to find traditional work?
When Rosselli got out of prison on parole, he had to find legit employment. Most ex-cons usually met this parole requirement by taking day-labor jobs, working as dishwashers or similar. Rosselli being Rosselli, he got a job as an associate producer at a movie studio. He formed a production company with Bryan Foy and produced two noir crime pictures in a row. My research revealed how important Rosselli’s contribution was to developing these two great films.

I was struck by just how many public friendships he had with such big names—it was pretty brazen stuff, even after his stints in prison.
Johnny met Marilyn Monroe through the producer (and felon) Joseph Schenck. They were close for a while, lovers according to some. I could not confirm it, but the rumor was that he helped get Monroe her first prominent part in Ladies of the Chorus at Columbia.

As the virtual godfather of Las Vegas in the 50s and 60s, Rosselli knew most of the big showbiz stars who played the showrooms. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were personal friends. They partied together. Frank and Dean sponsored Johnny’s membership in the Friar’s Club.

This guy clearly had a flair for the dramatic. Was there one episode you think captured that?
The Kefauver Hearings in the early 1950s was the first in-depth government investigation of nationwide organized crime. Few people in America knew just how far-reaching was the spread of what was known then as the Mob and the Syndicate, corrupting every area of the country. The Kefauver group from Washington hauled in every top gangster, including Johnny Rosselli. Unlike most of the mobsters, who tried to play it tough and not say anything (and some went to jail for it), Rosselli answered every question, but with a strategic skill that ultimately gave nothing away.

But what got him killed if not his (repeated) Senate testimony?
I’ll echo the words the homicide detective who found his body said to me: he had pissed off a lot of people.

Thanks to Seth Ferranti.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

HANDSOME JOHNNY—The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin

A rich biography of the legendary figure at the center of the century’s darkest secrets: an untold story of golden age Hollywood, modern Las Vegas, JFK-era scandal and international intrigue from Lee Server, the New York Times bestselling author of Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing…

A singular figure in the annals of the American underworld, Johnny Rosselli’s career flourished for an extraordinary fifty years, from the bloody years of bootlegging in the Roaring Twenties--the last protégé of Al Capone—to the modern era of organized crime as a dominant corporate power. The Mob’s “Man in Hollywood,” Johnny Rosselli introduced big-time crime to the movie industry, corrupting unions and robbing moguls in the biggest extortion plot in history. A man of great allure and glamour, Rosselli befriended many of the biggest names in the movie capital—including studio boss Harry Cohn, helping him to fund Columbia Pictures--and seduced some of its greatest female stars, including Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. In a remarkable turn of events, Johnny himself would become a Hollywood filmmaker—producing two of the best film noirs of the 1940s.

Following years in federal prison, Rosselli began a new venture, overseeing the birth and heyday of Las Vegas. Working for new Chicago boss Sam Giancana, he became the gambling mecca’s behind-the-scenes boss, running the town from his suites and poolside tables at the Tropicana and Desert Inn, enjoying the Rat Pack nightlife with pals Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. In the 1960s, in the most unexpected chapter in an extraordinary life, Rosselli became the central figure in a bizarre plot involving the Kennedy White House, the CIA, and an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Based upon years of research, written with compelling style and vivid detail, Handsome Johnny: The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin, is the great telling of an amazing tale.

Hollywood and the Mafia

Bollywood's connections with the underworld are common knowledge. There is a certain level of romanticism attached to the lives of the mafiosi and their molls. But, the fact remains that even Hollywood greats like ol' blue eyes Frank Sinatra and the original bombshell Marilyn Monroe were rumored to have underworld links. Here's a look at some of the folklore:

The ChairmanFrank Sinatra, actor-singer:

Special agents from the CIA and FBI had kept tabs him on the since 1947 when he took a four-day trip to Havana. He had painted the town red with a gaggle of powerful Cosa Nostra members. Sinatra's other rumored criminal associates included Joseph and Rocco Fischetti, who were cousins of Al Capone and reigning Chicago boss Sam Giancana. When Giancana had been arrested in 1958, the police found Sinatra's private telephone number in Giancana's wallet.

In the summer of 1959, Sinatra allegedly hosted a nine-day, round-the-clock party at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City where Chicago wise guys rubbed elbows with top East Coast mobsters, including Vito Genovese and Tommy Lucchese. Charges like these plagued Frank Sinatra throughout his life, and he repeatedly and vehemently denied having any association with the mafia.


MarilynMarilyn Monroe, actress:

The extensive influence the Chicago mafia had over Hollywood is best illustrated in 1948 when Chicago Mafia boss Tony Accardo had told John Rosselli to force powerful Columbia Pictures' president Harry Cohn into signing then-unknown actor Marilyn Monroe to a lucrative multi-year contract. The usually highly combative Cohn quickly complied without opposition, mainly because Cohn had obtained control of Columbia through mob funds and influence provided by both Accardo and Rosselli.


Bugsy SiegelBugsy Siegel, mobster:

Siegel had a number of mistresses, including actor Ketti Gallian and Wendy Barrie With the aid of DiFrasso and actor friend George Raft, Siegel gained entry into Hollywood's inner circle. He is alleged to have used his contacts to extort movie studios. He lived in extravagant fashion, as befitting his reputation. The highly fictionalized motion picture Bugsy was based on his life with Warren Beatty in the title role.


Lana TurnerLana Turner, actor:

After acting in 'Johnny Eager', a mafia flick, Lana began her own involvement with a real life mobster, Johnny Stompenado, a crew member for the Hollywood mob organisation headed then by Mickey Cohen. Stompenado had confronted several of Turner's screen co-stars, including a celebrated tiff with Sean Connery.


Mickey Cohen
Mickey Cohen, mobster:


He begun his mafia career as a thug for Vegas boss Ben Siegel before moving to Hollywood. Cohen inherited Siegel's racing interests and operated a small haberdashery in Los Angeles that served as a front for a book making enterprise. Always high profile, he dressed lavishly and flaunted his money and friendships with Hollywood heavy-weights.


Steve BingSteve Bing, producer:

Best know for being the father of Elizabeth Hurley's son Damian, Bing's friends are said to include Dominic 'Donny Shacks' Montemarano, a felon and one time capo in the mafia.


Thanks to After Hrs.

Monday, January 30, 2017

How the Mafia Dealt with J. Edgar Hoover?

Excerpt from Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, by Anthony Summers:

To Costello, and to his associate Meyer Lansky, the ability to corrupt politicians, policemen and judges was fundamental to Mafia operations. It was Lansky's expertise in such corruption that made him the nearest there ever was to a true national godfather of organized crime.

Another Mafia boss, Joseph Bonanno, articulated the principles of the game. It was a strict underworld rule, he said, never to use violent means against a law enforcement officer. "Ways could be found," he said in his memoirs, "so that he would not interfere with us and we wouldn't interfere with him." The way the Mafia found to deal with Edgar, according to several mob sources, involved his homosexuality.

The mob bosses had been well placed to find out about Edgar's compromising secret, and at a significant time and place. It was on New Year's Eve 1936, after dinner at the Stork Club, that Edgar was seen by two of Walter Winchell's guests holding hands with his lover, Clyde. At the Stork, where he was a regular, Edgar was immensely vulnerable to observation by mobsters. The heavyweight champion Jim Braddock, who also dined with Edgar and Clyde that evening, was controlled by Costello's associate Owney Madden. Winchell, as compulsive a gossip in private as he was in his column, constantly cultivated Costello. Sherman Billingsley, the former bootlegger who ran the Stork, reportedly installed two-way mirrors in the toilets and hidden microphones at tables used by celebrities. Billingsley was a pawn of Costello's, and Costello was said to be the club's real owner. He would have had no compunction about persecuting Edgar, and he loathed homosexuals.

Seymour Pollack, a close friend of Meyer Lansky, said in 1990 that Edgar's homosexuality was "common knowledge" and that he had seen evidence of it for himself. "I used to meet him at the racetrack every once in a while with lover boy Clyde, in the late forties and fifties. I was in the next box once. And when you see two guys holding hands, well come on! ... They were surreptitious, but there was no question about it."

Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno, the highest-ranking mobster ever to have "turned" and testified against his former associates, was at the track in 1948 when Frank Bompensiero, a notorious West Coast mafioso, taunted Edgar to his face. "I pointed at this fella sitting in the box in front," Fratianno recalled, "and said, 'Hey, Bomp, lookit there, it's J. Edgar Hoover.' And Bomp says right out loud, so everyone can hear, 'Ah, that J. Edgar's a punk, he's a fuckin' degenerate queer.'"

Later, when Bompensiero ran into Edgar in the men's room, the FBI Director was astonishingly meek. "Frank," he told the mobster, "that's not a nice way to talk about me, especially when I have people with me." It was clear to Fratianno that Bompensiero had met Edgar before and that he had absolutely no fear of Edgar.

Fratianno knew numerous other top mobsters, including Jack and Louis Dragna of Los Angeles and Johnny Roselli, the West Coast representative of the Chicago mob. All spoke of "proof" that Edgar was homosexual. Roselli spoke specifically of the occasion in the late twenties when Edgar had been arrested on charges of homosexuality in New Orleans. Edgar could hardly have chosen a worse city in which to be compromised. New Orleans police and city officials were notoriously corrupt, puppets of an organized crime network run by Mafia boss Carlos Marcello and heavily influenced by Meyer Lansky. If the homosexual arrest occurred, it is likely the local mobsters quickly learned of it.

Other information suggests Meyer Lansky obtained hard proof of Edgar's homosexuality and used it to neutralize the FBI as a threat to his own operations. The first hint came from Irving "Ash" Resnick, the Nevada representative of the Patriarca family from New England, and an original owner-builder of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. As a high-level mob courier, he traveled extensively. In Miami Beach, his Christmas destination in the fifties, he stayed at the Gulfstream, in a bungalow next to one used by Edgar and Clyde. "I'd sit with him on the beach every day," Resnick remembered. "We were friendly."

In 1971, Resnick and an associate talked with the writer Pete Hamill in the Galeria Bar at Caesars Palace. They spoke of Meyer Lansky as a genius, the man who "put everything together" -- and as the man who "nailed J. Edgar Hoover." "When I asked what they meant," Hamill recalled, "they told me Lansky had some pictures -- pictures of Hoover in some kind of gay situation with Clyde Tolson. Lansky was the guy who controlled the pictures, and he had made his deal with Hoover -- to lay off. That was the reason, they said, that for a long time they had nothing to fear from the FBI."

Seymour Pollack, the criminal who saw Edgar and Clyde holding hands at the races, knew both Resnick and Lansky well. When Lansky's daughter had marital problems, it was Pollack who dealt with her husband. He and Lansky went back to the old days in pre-revolutionary Cuba, when Havana was as important to the syndicate as Las Vegas. "Meyer," said Pollack in 1990, "was closemouthed. I don't think he even discussed the details of the Hoover thing with his brother. But Ash was absolutely right. Lansky had more than information on Hoover. He had page, chapter and verse. One night, when we were sitting around in his apartment at the Rosita de Hornedo, we were talking about Hoover, and Meyer laughed and said, 'I fixed that son of a bitch, didn't I?'" Lansky's fix, according to Pollack, also involved bribery -- not of Edgar himself, but men close to him.

Lansky and Edgar frequented the same watering holes in Florida. Staff at Gatti's restaurant in Miami Beach recall that the mobster would sometimes be in the restaurant, at another table, at the same time as Edgar and Clyde. One evening in the late sixties, they were seated at adjoining tables. "But they just looked at one another," recalled Edidio Crolla, the captain at Gatti's. "They never talked, not here."

If Edgar's eyes met Lansky's, though, there was surely an involuntary flicker of fear. "The homosexual thing," said Pollack, "was Hoover's Achilles' heel. Meyer found it, and it was like he pulled strings with Hoover. He never bothered any of Meyer's people.... Let me go way back. The time Nevada opened up, Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo. I understand Hoover helped get the okay for him to do it. Meyer Lansky was one of the partners. Hoover knew who the guys were that whacked Bugsy Siegel, but nothing was done." (Siegel was killed, reportedly on Lansky's orders, in 1947.)

According to Pollack, Lansky and Edgar cooperated in the mid-fifties, when Las Vegas casino operator Wilbur Clark moved to Cuba. "Meyer brought Clark down to Havana," Pollack said. "I was against him coming. But I understand Hoover asked Meyer to bring Clark down. He owed Clark something. I don't know what.... There was no serious pressure on Meyer until the Kennedys came in. And even then Hoover never hurt Meyer's people, not for a long time."

Like Frank Costello, Lansky did seem to be untouchable -- a phenomenon that triggered suspicions even within the Bureau. "In 1966," noted Hank Messick, one of Lansky's biographers, "a young G-Man assigned to go through the motions of watching Meyer Lansky began to take his job seriously and develop good informers. He was abruptly transferred to a rural area in Georgia. His successor on the Lansky assignment was an older man who knew the score. When he retired a few years later, he accepted a job with a Bahamian gambling casino originally developed by Lansky."

Also in the sixties a wiretap picked up a conversation between two mobsters in which, curiously, Lansky was referred to as "a stool pigeon for the FBI." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, taping a conversation between a criminal in Canada and Lansky in the United States, were amazed to hear the mob chieftain reading from an FBI report that had been written the previous day.

There was no serious federal effort to indict Lansky until 1970, just two years before Edgar died. Then, it was the IRS rather than the FBI that spearheaded the investigation. Even the tax evasion charges collapsed, and Lansky lived on at liberty until his own death in 1983.

New information indicates that Lansky was not the only person in possession of compromising photographs of Edgar. John Weitz, a former officer in the OSS, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, recalled a curious episode at a dinner party in the fifties. "After a conversation about Hoover," he said, "our host went to another room and came back with a photograph. It was not a good picture and was clearly taken from some distance away, but it showed two men apparently engaged in homosexual activity. The host said the men were Hoover and Tolson...."

Since first publication of this book, Weitz has revealed that his host was James Angleton, a fellow OSS veteran and -- in the fifties -- a top CIA officer. A source who has been linked to the CIA, electronics expert Gordon Novel, has said Angleton showed him, too, compromising pictures of Edgar.

"What I saw was a picture of him giving Clyde Tolson a blowjob," said Novel. "There was more than one shot, but the startling one was a close shot of Hoover's head. He was totally recognizable. You could not see the face of the man he was with, but Angleton said it was Tolson. I asked him if they were fakes, but he said they were real, that they'd been taken with a special lens. They looked authentic to me...."

Novel said Angleton showed him the pictures in 1967, when he was CIA Counter-Intelligence Chief and when Novel was involved in the furor swirling around the probe into the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. "I was pursuing a lawsuit against Garrison, which Hoover wanted me to drop but which my contacts in the Johnson administration and at CIA wanted me to pursue. I'd been told I would incur Hoover's wrath if I went ahead, but Angleton was demonstrating that Hoover was not invulnerable, that the Agency had enough power to make him come to heel. I had the impression that this was not the first time the sex pictures had been used. Angleton told me to go see Hoover and tell him I'd seen the sex photographs. Later, I went to the Mayflower Hotel and spoke to Hoover. He was with Tolson, sitting in the Rib Room. When I mentioned that I had seen the sex photographs, and that Angleton had sent me, Tolson nearly choked on his food. Hoover told me something like, 'Get the hell out of here!' And I did...."

With Angleton dead, there is no way to follow up this bizarre allegation. While Novel is a controversial figure, his account of seeing compromising pictures must be considered in light of other such references -- not least that of former OSS officer John Weitz. For Novel added one other significant detail, that "Angleton told me the photographs had been taken around 1946, at the time they were fighting over foreign intelligence, which Hoover wanted but never got."

During his feud with OSS chief William Donovan, dating back to 1941, Edgar had searched for compromising information, sexual lapses included, that could be used against his rival.

His effort was in vain, but Donovan -- who thought Edgar a "moralistic bastard" -- reportedly retaliated in kind by ordering a secret investigation of Edgar's relationship with Clyde. The sex photograph in OSS hands may have been one of the results.

It may be significant, too, that compromising pictures are reported as having been in the hands of both the OSS and Meyer Lansky. The OSS and Naval Intelligence had extensive contacts with the Mafia during World War II, enlisting the help of criminals in projects including the hiring of burglars and assassins, experimentation with drugs, the protection of American ports from Nazi agents and the invasion of Sicily. Lansky helped personally with the latter two operations, meeting with Murray Gurfein, a New York Assistant District Attorney who later became one of Donovan's most trusted OSS officers.

At least once, Lansky worked alongside U.S. intelligence officers on exactly the sort of operation likely to turn up smear material on prominent public men. In 1942, he arranged for the surveillance of a homosexual brothel Brooklyn suspected of being the target of German agents. "Clients came from all over New York and Washington, Lansky recalled, "and there were some important government people among them .... If you got hold of the names of the patrons you could blackmail them to death... some pictures through a hole in the wall or a trick mirror and then squeeze the victim for money or information."

There is no knowing, today, whether the OSS obtained sex photographs of Edgar from Lansky, or vice versa, or whether the mobster obtained them on his own initiative. A scenario in which Lansky obtained pictures thanks to the OSS connection would suggest an irony: that Edgar had tried and failed to find smear material on General Donovan, that Donovan in turn found smear material on him and that the material found its way to a top mobster, to be used against Edgar for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Mob Mentality that Tried to Shut Down the Filming of The Godfather

Death threats, shootings, strikes and bomb-scares ... John Patterson explains how - and why - the mafia tried to shut down the filming of The Godfather

On June 28, 1971, Francis Ford Coppola was putting certain finishing touches to his costly, controversial adaptation of Mario Puzo's million-seller The Godfather.

That day Coppola was shooting parts of the film's famous climactic massacre, in which Michael Corleone takes power of the New York mob by executing his rivals in a blizzard of machine gun-fire and Eisensteinian cross-cutting.

As Joe Spinell, playing one of Michael's button-men, pumped six slugs into a fictional New York mob boss trapped in a midtown hotel's revolving door, a for-real, blood-on-his-hands New York mob boss called Joe Colombo Sr, was being gunned down at an Italian-American rally in Columbus Circle, not four blocks away from Coppola's location.

The hit was the opening salvo in a vicious gang war declared by a newly released mafia upstart and criminal visionary named Joey Gallo. But it was the end of the strange connection between Colombo (who lingered in a coma until his death in 1978) and The Godfather, a movie that couldn't have been made without Colombo's say-so.

As detailed in C4's documentary The Godfather And The Mob (which borrows heavily from Harlan Lebo's The Godfather Legacy), Colombo had insinuated himself between the producer of The Godfather, Al Ruddy, and his own home turf of Little Italy, promising that the mob would take tribute from the movie, or not a frame of celluloid would be shot. Knowing that the movie would lose all its authenticity if shot on studio backlots, Ruddy had no option but to acquiesce, and once the media got hold of the story - a sit-down, handshake deal with the devil - they flayed him with it for months.

All this was, of course, great grist for the movie's publicity mill, and some commentators like Carlos Clarens, in his landmark 1980 study Crime Movies, recalled certain time-tested publicity-agent gambits: "the filmed-under-threat routine had worked wonders back in the days of Doorway To Hell (1930: Jimmy Cagney's second movie)." If nothing else, Lebo's book and The Godfather And The Mob prove beyond a doubt that none of this strange tale was concocted by press agents.

The details are toothsome and delectable. The Godfather was written by Puzo, an Italian-American who grew up in Hell's Kitchen but who had never met a bona-fide mafiosi. Puzo learned his mob folklore mainly from croupiers in the golden age, 1960s Las Vegas of Moe Dalitz and the Rat Pack. That didn't prevent him from achieving such an impressive degree of authenticity that by the time the movie was a runaway hit, many real-life mafiosi had begun comporting themselves according to the rituals solemnised by Puzo and Coppola - the cheek-to-cheek kisses, the quasi-papal pledging of fealty to the Godfather's ring.

The total-immersion experience of the movie - achieved by the goldfish-bowl effect of keeping the audience emotionally intimate only with mobsters, by the subterranean browns and golds of its colour scheme, and by its period, ethnic and socioanthropological authenticity - traps us in 1945, and even now it is hard to imagine that a block away from the border of the set, it was 1971 and the real New York mob was undergoing the same upheavals as everyone else in those Martian times. Although The Godfather And The Mob hints at much of this, it has no real grasp of the richness and complexity of this period in mafia history.

Colombo was the head of what had earlier been the Profaci crime family, which he had inherited in the mid-1960s only because Joey Gallo was in prison for 10 years.

In Goodfellas' famous circularshot of teenage Henry Hill's "introduction to the world" in 1955, Hill's narration says, "It was a glorious time, before Appalachin and before Crazy Joe started a war with his boss ..." Appalachin referred to a famous FBI raid of the upstate New York estate of a leading crime boss in 1957. A mob summit was taking place and agents chased dozens of top mafiosi through the snow as they dumped guns, jewels and thousands of dollars in cash (the incident is alluded to in the final episode of season five of The Sopranos, as Tony escapes the Feds, but New York boss Johnny "Sack" Sacrimone does not).

Joey Gallo, meanwhile, saw drugs as the coming bonanza for organised crime and in the teeth of stiff opposition from the abstemious old "Moustache Petes" of the Corleone/Lucky Luciano generation, he had no compunction about forging distribution partnerships with black criminals in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant and shipping major product.

The war that ensued in the late 1950s (obliquely alluded to in Godfather II - "Not here, Carmine!"), tore the mob apart, grabbed headlines, and encouraged new Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to prosecute the mob unmercifully after 1960 - focusing on such figures as Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and the mafia bosses of Chicago, Tampa and New Orleans (who may later have helped assassinate his brother John). So it was an exhausted, much harried New York criminal fraternity that greeted Coppola and Ruddy in 1971.

It was also a community that had little taste for publicity. At the movies, the words "mafia" and "cosa nostra" were rarely ever heard before The Brotherhood in 1968 (which sank faster than Johnny Rosselli in his concrete-filled oil-drum). Even J Edgar Hoover downplayed the importance of the mafia throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s - while exaggerating the moribund red menace - probably because the mob's financial genius Meyer Lansky (Hyman Roth in Godfather II) had, presciently, blackmailed Hoover over his homosexuality as early as 1935.

Still, in an era highly conscious of matters racial and ethnic, Italians like Joe Colombo found a way to express their sense of ethnic grievance, too. Although the Italian community was well served by social groups like the Knights Of Columbus and the Order Of The Sons Of Italy, Colombo became involved in a new outfit, heavily mob-influenced and called, in the spirit of the times, the Italian-American Civil Rights League. And The Godfather's arrival in Manhattan gave the group a chance to raise its profile.

The league demanded consultation rights and got them from Ruddy in exchange for access to locations. Frank Sinatra - probably not pleased at Puzo's oblique references to the manner in which he secured his comeback role in From Here To Eternity - headlined a league fundraiser at Madison Square Garden, and local politicians attended the league's first rally in 1970, decrying anti-Italian prejudice (one hears the echo of Joe Pesci's plaintive wail in Goodfellas: "She's prejudiced against Italians. Imagine that - a Jew broad!").

They had a point - up to a point: Gangsters in the movies before 1970 were redolent of grotesque and venerable stereotypes about unwashed Italian immigrants pouring off Ellis Island. On the other hand - tell it to Sidney Poitier.

Or consider a contemporary figure like Anthony Imperiale, "the White Knight of Newark", namechecked by Tony Soprano in series four. Imperiale rose in the aftermath of the 1967 Newark riots as a streetcorner agitator exploiting Italian-American fears about black encroachment on hitherto white neighbourhoods - which he patrolled after dark with carloads of excitable, albeit unarmed young men.

Imperiale disavowed any racist intent, indeed he merrily hijacked the language of the real civil rights movement, despite talking of "Martin Luther Coon" and invoking a feral, spectral "them" whenever he mentioned blacks. You can breathe this toxic atmosphere of neighbourhood insularity and racism throughout Robert De Niro's A Bronx Tale, also set in those years.

A hunger for headlines and flashbulbs seemed to be part of Joe Colombo's motivation in entangling himself with the league and the Godfather shoot. It was to be his undoing. His secretive, camera-phobic criminal cohorts got fed up with him. Working in partnership with capo di tutti i capi Carlo Gambino, Joey Gallo, free again and no less crazy, had a black criminal associate, one Jerome Johnson, gun Colombo down at the Italian-American League's second annual rally at Columbus Circle.

A black triggerman in a mob hit was then unheard of, and totally alien to the mafia's modus operandi, but no one was fooled. Johnson was gunned down in seconds by an assailant who immediately vanished, but everyone suspected Gallo because of his Harlem connections.

By the time Gallo himself was killed a year later - gunned down in a Mulberry Street clam house while celebrating his 43rd birthday - he had acquired his own taste for publicity: he was feted by writers (he'd read Camus and Sartre in the can), and was pimping his own memoir, A-Block. After Joe Colombo's fatal experience with The Godfather, you'd think Gallo might have learned his lesson. As it turned out, he died the same way as Virgil "The Turk" Sollozo at the hands of newly-minted murderer Michael Corleone, in an explosion of blood and clam sauce - just like in the movies.

Thanks to The Guardian

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Top Five #Conspiracy Theories on JFK Assassination

As the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination draws nearer, the debate over who actually pulled the trigger rages on. Did Lee Harvey Oswald, as the Warren Commission concluded, use an Italian bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to fire three shots from the Texas School Book Depository building, hitting President John F. Kennedy once in the neck and once in the back of the head? Or were there larger forces at work?

The belief that there was conspiracy to assassinate the president has only become more widespread with the passage of time.  As ABC News reports, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.” A 2003 ABC News poll showed that 70 percent of Americans believed the JFK assassination was “not the act of a lone killer,” with 7 percent believing that Oswald was not involved at all.

So what is the truth? What really happened on Nov. 22, 1963, at Dealey Plaza in Dallas? We’ll probably never know, but we can continue to speculate. Below is a list of the top five JFK assassination conspiracy theories that have been bandied about over the years.

1.) The CIA Killed JFK

The Central Intelligence Agency has always been shadowy, mysterious organization, which lends itself perfectly to a conspiracy theory involving the JFK assassination. According to the Mary Ferrell Foundation, Kennedy made an enemy out of the CIA after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. As a result of that failed operation, CIA Director Allen Dulles (who would later serve on the Warren Commission) was forced to resign and many allegedly began to see JFK as a threat to CIA interests.

As the New York Post reports, author Patrick Nolan surmises that the CIA wanted “power, self-preservation and to stop the Kennedys’ plan to make peace with Cuba and the Soviets.” Nolan theorizes that a group of rogue CIA agents, including Richard Helms (who became CIA director a few years later), James Angleton, David Phillips and E. Howard Hunt (of Watergate infamy), used three shooters placed at different locations in Dealey Plaza -- the Book Depository building, the Grassy Knoll and the Dal-Tex building -- to pull off the assassination. In his book, “CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys,” Nolan uses physical, medical and film evidence, as well as eyewitness accounts, to reach his conclusion.

2.) The Mafia Killed JFK

The relationship between organized crime and the Kennedy family stretched back decades prior to the assassination, as President Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, allegedly engaged in bootlegging during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. As the Los Angeles Times points out, it’s also believed that Joseph Kennedy used his Mafia connections to help his son win the crucial state of Illinois during the 1960 presidential election against Richard Nixon. However, the mutually beneficial relationship between the Mafia and the Kennedy family would soon come to an end.

According to ABC News, one version of this theory posits that Mafia was angered with JFK after the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, as they had hoped to re-exert their presence in Cuba, which had been erased after Fidel Castro rose to power. Additionally, JFK’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had become a crusader against the Mafia in his position as the nation’s top cop.

As the Post reports, Lamar Waldron, author of the book “The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination,” theorizes that the assassination was masterminded by New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello, with help from Santo Trafficante of Florida and Johnny Roselli of Chicago. According to the Waldron, Marcello used Italian hit men, smuggling them into the country from Canada, to commit the crime. Marcello reportedly bragged about pulling off the assassination to an inmate at a prison where he was serving time in 1985. “Yeah, I had the son of a bitch killed,” he allegedly said. “I’m glad I did. I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it myself.”

3.) Lyndon B. Johnson Killed JFK

If one wants a definitive answer as to who killed JFK, look no further than the man who benefited the most from his assassination. At least, that’s what author Roger Stone says in his new book, “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.” In an interview with Voices of Russia, Stone says that LBJ -- who was sworn in as president on a plane in Dallas just hours after the JFK assassination -- used longtime associate and hit man Malcolm Wallace to do the deed. As the Post points out, Stone alleges that Wallace’s fingerprints were found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building, where the Warren Commission says Oswald fired his fatal shots.

According to Stone, Johnson insisted on both the trip to Dallas and the route through Dealey Plaza, where none of the buildings in the area were sealed off. Stone thinks LBJ both reduced the number of police officers on motorcycles on either side of the president’s car and ordered off the Secret Service agents that would have been riding on the rear bumper of the car.  In the interview with Voices of Russia, Stone believes that LBJ can be tied to as many as eight murders in Texas prior to the JFK assassination, in order to cover up his corruption, voter fraud and more.

4.) The Russians Killed JFK

To examine the theory that the Soviet Union killed President John F. Kennedy, one must look at the geopolitical situation in 1963. This was the height of the Cold War and the peak of anti-Communist sentiment in the United States. According to ABC News, conspiracy theorists frequently cite the notion that Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev was incensed at having to back down to JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before, and had the president killed by the KGB in retaliation.

Another interesting connection is Oswald’s time spent in the Soviet Union. In October 1959, Oswald -- a former Marine -- defected to the Soviet Union, where he met his future wife, Marina. Marina’s uncle was a colonel in the MVD, which is the Russian Interior Ministry service.

According to Stratfor, there are numerous anomalies about Oswald’s time in Russia, including how the two were able to get permission to marry (a requirement for any Soviet citizen marrying a foreigner), as well as why Marina, an upper-middle class woman with an uncle in the government, would agree to marry an American defector with little prospects whom she had just met one month before.

In early 1962, Oswald, Marina and their daughter left the Soviet Union for the United States. As Stratfor points out, Marina Oswald was granted permission to leave the the country with an American defector within weeks of her request, an extremely rare, if not completely unheard of, turnaround. Why? Conspiracy theorists point to questions like these as evidence of Soviet involvement in the assassination of JFK.

5.) The Cubans Killed JFK

There are two separate sub-theories surrounding Cuba and the JFK assassination. The first, as ABC News points out, is that Castro had JFK assassinated in retaliation for the numerous attempts on his life during the Kennedy administration, courtesy of both the CIA and the Mafia. In 1968, Johnson told ABC News that “Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first.”

During an interview with Bill Moyers in 1977, Castro said the theory was “absolute insanity.”

The second, perhaps more plausible, theory involves a mixture of militant anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami, the Mafia and the CIA. As the Mary Ferrell Foundation points out, the anti-Castro Cubans were enraged by Kennedy’s failure to provide crucial air support during the Bay of Pigs invasion. This could have been seen as emblematic of Kennedy’s “soft” approach to communism, a charge that had already been leveled at him after he chose not to invade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Did anti-Castro Cubans, working in conjunction with the CIA and the Mafia, assassinate JFK?



Thanks to Andrew Berry.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Robert Maheu, Who Hired the Chicago Outfit to Kill Castro, Dies at 90

For one simple reason, nearly all of the notable and notorious from Robert Maheu's life couldn't make it to his funeral over the weekend.

They were dead.

At age 90, Maheu outlived the oddballs and Outfit members who made him a legend in law enforcement circles. Howard Hughes, the richest-man recluse with fingernails as long as his bank statement; Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro who ended up 6-feet under; Johnny Roselli, the crafty gangland killer; and Sam "Mooney" Giancana of Chicago mobdom fame. They were all Maheu associates who preceded him in death.

The one surviving celebrity from Mr. Maheu's storied past who might have shown up in the pews at St. Viator Catholic Church in Las Vegas on Saturday, didn't come.

Fidel Castro.

Of course Mr. Castro is preoccupied back in Cuba with his own health problems, those pesky reports of his personal demise and that continuing U.S. trade and travel embargo.

The fact is if Maheu's biggest professional project had succeeded, Cuba today would be more a popular tourist haven than the Bahamas and Castro would be a name carved onto an ornate Havana gravestone.

Maheu (pronounced May-hew) worked for the FBI during World War II in counter-espionage. He opened his own private-eye firm in 1954 and the Central Intelligence Agency was his best client, paying him a $500 retainer. The CIA handed him "cut-out" assignments that involved illegal tactics, which if exposed would be untraceable to the federal agency.

Maheu's most spectacular cut-out assignment from the CIA was to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro by murdering him. Thirteen million was budgeted to instruct paramilitary soldiers outside of Cuba for a guerrilla assault. Dozens of those rebels were trained in a Chicago warehouse, according to law enforcement officials cited in an ABC7 investigative report a few years ago.

As the soldiers-for-hire trained, Maheu recruited two top Chicago Outfit bosses, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana, to carry out the Castro assassination. Roselli and Giancana preferred a scheme to poison Castro.

Giancana was the perfect candidate to eliminate Castro. He had the power, the firepower and the persona. In his autobiography, Maheu recalls how the mob boss enjoyed playing gangster. Once, when a young tough walked up to him, the Outfit boss put him in place.

"Without even looking at the punk, Giancana grabbed his necktie and yanked him close. Sam stared right into the kid's eyes and said, 'I eat little boys like you for breakfast. Get your ass out of here before I get hungry.'"

Recently declassified CIA records reveal that the government covertly offered Giancana $150,000 for the gangland hit on Castro but that Momo, as he was sometimes called, refused the money and wanted to do the job for free. The Chicago Outfit and the New York Mafia had an interest in getting rid of Castro.

"They'd had a grudge against Castro ever since he'd forced them out of the Havana casinos," Maheu recalled in a 1992 autobiography. "It was even rumored that Meyer Lansky had put a million-dollar bounty on Castro's head. CIA Director Allen Dulles passed the ball to his deputy director, Richard Bissell. Bissell handed off to the CIA security chief. Colonel Sheffield Edwards. And then I received the call..."

"They used the analogy of World War II," Maheu wrote. "If we had known the exact bunker that Hitler was in during the war, we wouldn't have hesitated to kill the bastard. The CIA felt exactly the same way about Castro. If Fidel, his brother Raul, and Che Guevara were assassinated, thousands of lives might be saved."

CIA memos show that at least two assassination attempts were made on Castro in early 1961 with CIA-supplied lethal pills and organized-crime support, but both failed. Testimony and evidence presented at congressional hearings in 1975 revealed that the CIA tried to kill Castro at least eight times in the early 1960s.

The attempts all failed just like the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Castro survived. Those who masterminded the plots against him didn't.

Except Robert Maheu. Until last week when he died of old age. "It's been a helluva ride," Maheu was quoted as saying in a fascinating story written in last November's Chicago Magazine by Bryan Smith, the fine freelance reporter.

Despite the morals and ethics that always tugged at his conscience, Maheu said that he might do it all again. "If I were called upon tomorrow again, and I thought it would save one American life, I think I'd be tempted."

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Monday, July 28, 2008

Frank 'The German' Schweihs - "A Killer, That's All, A Killer of a Girl"

Diane Pappas learned that Chicago isn't Camelot a lifetime ago when a tugboat captain found her sister's murdered body in the Chicago River. Eugenia "Becca" Pappas was only 18.

So last week, 46 years after Becca's death, when Diane heard the German was dead, she knew what to do: Drive out to the cemetery, to Becca's grave in the shade of a giant Norwegian pine, and talk to her little sister. "I'm going to the cemetery right now," Diane said. "I've got to be there. Now I want to tell Becca. The big, tough man. The big killer. The murderer of my sister. The German. The murderer of a girl."

If Frank "The German" Schweihs ever wondered about hell, he's not wondering now. He died last week, at 78, of cancer, waiting to stand federal trial in the Family Secrets case.

The FBI considers him the Babe Ruth of Outfit hit men, with dozens of Outfit victims, mobsters from New York to Los Angeles, murderous bosses and their turncoat business associates. Other hit men were terrified to be near him, even when he was sleeping. A glimpse of the German in Los Angeles, a chance sighting in a car window, frightened Jimmy "The Weasel" Frattiano so much that the mobster ran shrieking into the federal witness protection program.

Schweihs the enforcer was the reason those frail, old men could run things without worrying about ambitious underlings. He's the reason they made fortunes, and a president and mayors and judges.

The list of the German's dead is a history of organized crime in America. Except for Becca Pappas, a beauty, tall, slim, black eyes, black hair. "I know he killed her. I just know. She was in his car. She was driving his car the last time anyone saw her. His car disappeared. Then it was auctioned a month later, totally stripped clean, washed down," Diane said.

Becca's murder was investigated by corrupt Chicago lawman Richard CainThe Tangled Web: The Life and Death of Richard Cain - Chicago Cop and Mafia Hitman. This being Chicago, Schweihs was released without charges. Still, I agree with Diane that Schweihs killed her sister.

Why? Because, as explained to me by mob-watchers and former FBI agents, no man in Chicago, or anywhere else, would have dared approach the German's girlfriend. Not even to say hello. They wouldn't have allowed their brains to think of it. Not one. Schweihs would have skinned them alive with a paring knife.

The German is said to have later shotgunned Cain at Rose's Sandwich Shop. And killed Jimmy "the Bomber" Catuara. Teamsters lawyer Allan Dorfman died in a parking lot, shot in the head with a .22. Joe Testa was blown up in his car. Sam DeStefano's arms were shotgunned off in his garage. Patsy Riccardi, Chucky Nicoletti, the list continues.

The Chicago Outfit's flamboyant Hollywood connection, Johnny Rosselli, was found stuffed into an oil drum, floating at sea. Angelo Boscarino was shotgunned, though his son was later given a piece of the failed Rosemont casino deal.

If I've missed a few names, Schweihs didn't miss.

In the late 1980s, he was held in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center at the same time as Outfit member-turned-federal informant Gerald Scarpelli. The official story is Scarpelli committed suicide. He must have seen the German in the day room and then decided to tie his own feet and hands and choke himself to death with a plastic bag in the shower. The German is also credited with torturing and killing several burglars who dared rob the home of Anthony Accardo.

"He never informed. He killed who they told him to kill. And if he was involved in the killing of that young woman—it sheds an entirely new light on his personality," said FBI Special Agent John Mallul, a supervisor of the Organized Crime Unit. "No criminal ever wanted to see this guy around. Even if they knew that Frank was coming around and knew why, they were still terrified."

Law enforcement says that just about his only friend was Chicago political figure Peter Schivarelli, currently the manager of the rock group Chicago and the former 43rd Ward supervisor of Streets and San. Schivarelli is reputed to have been around Outfit types all his life and is the nephew of late mobster Johnny "The Bug" Varelli.

One night, Schweihs was arrested after fighting with police. "Schivarelli came down to the station trying to get him out, throwing his political clout around, and all hell broke loose," former FBI agent Jack O'Rourke recalled a while back. "It was a madhouse."

"That's not my recollection," Schivarelli said when I tracked him down. He talked on the phone as if I held a subpoena. "But I'd rather not debate it. I'll respectfully decline to comment."

Too bad. I was waiting to hear that the German was kind to tiny children and animals and helped old women cross the street. None of it matters to Becca Pappas' sister. "Schweihs still lived 46 years when he shouldn't have. And people glorify him, and they glorify the mob with their movies and TV shows. But all he was, was a killer. That's all. A killer of a girl."

Thanks to John Kass

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Will the Chicago Outfit Assign Hitmen to Compose 'Trunk Music' Against the Writers Guild?

Daily Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart has come up with a novel idea to end the six-week-old writers’ strike – bring in the Chicago mafia to whack a few leaders of the striking Writers Guild.

In a column that ran in Daily Variety on Dec.10 under the headline “A way to settle so it’s all in the ‘family’” – with the word ‘family’ in quotes to make sure we all know he’s talking about the Mafia – Bart writes: “OK. I’ll admit it: I was once on reasonably friendly terms with Sidney Korshak” – the Chicago mafia’s man in Hollywood for more than 50 years.

KorshakSupermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, who was the go-to guy for the late-Universal Studios mogul Lew Wasserman when contract talks stalled, was a master of “the trade-off,” according to Bart, although in fact, Korshak was even more the master of a quite different art – the art of the implied death threat.

“Korshak died 11 years ago,” Bart writes, “but had he been alive today, he would have been dismayed by the state of disarray in Hollywood. The writers and show-runners don’t seem to appreciate what management has done for them, he would have declared. And the companies similarly seem to have lost their talent at hard bargaining.

“Korshak surely would have enhanced the proposed compensation for digital downloads (one of the sticking points in the contract talks), and had his offer not been embraced, a few individuals might have been downloaded as well. Peace would prevail.”

Here, by ‘downloaded,’ Bart apparently means whacked; and by “a few individuals,” he assumedly means union leaders, since they are the ones to whom contract offers are generally made.

“Does he know what century we’re in?” asked an astonished member of the WGA’s hierarchy. “Next he’ll be calling on Pinkerton agents to fire into our picket lines.”

Of course, Bart, who is a longtime member of the Writers Guild, may be just joking around – showing off the tough-guy image he has of himself, which is something he’s known to do on occasion. But a reasonable reader might ask: Is this anything for the editor of a newspaper to joke about during an increasingly tense strike?

Joking or not, whacking troublesome Hollywood union leaders is something that Korshak’s friends in the Chicago syndicate were known to do once in a while. One famous case was the murder of Willie Bioff, the #2 guy in the one of Hollywood most powerful unions, who in 1943 publicly identified Sid Korshak as the mob’s man in Hollywood.

Korshak’s ties to the Chicago mob go all the way back to the 1930s and the days of Al Capone. In 1943, his name came up during the sensational trial of some of Chicago’s top mobsters on charges that they’d extorted more than $1 million dollars from Hollywood’s movie studios. Unlike today, however, back then Daily Variety had an editor named Arthur Unger who wasn’t so cozy with the mafia, and who bravely crusaded against the mob, writing editorials in which he called on Hollywood to run the gangsters out of town.

The scandal began in the late 1930s when the Chicago mob seized control of one of Hollywood’s most powerful unions - the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents most of the behind-the-scenes workers in show business.

Frank Nitti, who was running the outfit while Capone was serving time for income tax evasion, controlled the union’s bosses, including Willie Bioff, who was finally indicted on charges of extorting money from the studios in exchange for labor peace.

During the trial, Korshak’s name came up when Bioff testified that he had been introduced to Korshak by one of the mob defendants, who had said: “Willie, meet Sidney Korshak. He is our man. . . . Any messages he might deliver to you is a message from us.”

Nitti had killed himself shortly after being indicted, and a lot of top mob guys went to jail, including Johnnie Roselli and Paul “The Waiter” Ricca. And in 1955, a decade after he was released from prison, Bioff was blown to pieces by a car bomb, which in those days was a signature mob hit.

Korshak, who was once described as “the toughest lawyer in America,” was never charged with any crime, and moved easily between gangsters and movie moguls. Though not licensed to practice law in California, where he lived for many years, Korshak served as an adviser to many of the top Hollywood studios. And at the same time, authorities said, he was also an adviser to such mob figures as Tony “Big Tuna” Accardo, Sam Giancana, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Gus Alex.

In 1978, the California attorney general’s Organized Crime Control Commission issued a report that called Korshak “the key link between organized crime and big business,” noting that he was a “senior adviser” to organized crime groups in California, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York. In a rare interview, Korshak denied the allegations. “I’ve never been cited, let alone indicted, for anything,” Korshak told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1978.

In Hollywood, Korshak helped broker numerous deals for some of the top studios. In 1973, he mediated in the negotiations that led to the sale of MGM’s theaters and properties in its overseas markets to Cinema International Corp., a joint venture between MCA and Paramount. MCA chairman Lew Wasserman and Charles Bluhdorn, whose Gulf & Western owned Paramount, personally negotiated the deal with MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian - with Korshak as mediator.

Bart knew Korshak back in those days, too – back when Bart was second-in-command at Paramount Studios in the 1970s – back when Korshak was the mentor of Bart’s mentor – Robert Evans, who was head of production at Paramount.

“Sidney (Korshak) was in my office every day for 10 years,” Evans said in an interview for my L.A. Weekly cover story about Bart in 1994. “There’s not a day that went by when I was in Los Angeles that Sidney wasn’t there…Sidney and Peter and I spent a lot of time together. They never broke bread. But, you know, Peter was my right-hand guy and Sid was my consigliere, so naturally they met.”

In his book, “The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Notorious Life,” Evans wrote that Korshak “was not only my consigliere, but my godfather and closest friend . . . my lifelong protector.”

Bart, whose coverage of the strike has been criticized for toadying up to management, was a newspaperman in the 1960s before he joined Evans and Korshak in running Paramount Studios. In 1990, Bart actually boasted in an article for Gentlemen’s Quarterly that he carried a gun while covering riots in Los Angeles for The New York Times in the mid-1960s. “I carried a gun in my last days at The Times,” he said, claiming that he had twice been shot at while covering a race riot. “My philosophy was: If a man’s going to shoot at me, he’s going to get it right fucking back. I was a good shot. But it was not Times policy.” (Nor is it the policy of any newspaper in the country.)

And he says he wasn’t joking about having shot people during the Watts Riots. When asked about this in 1994, he told LA Weekly that the gun he used was taken from him “by an L.A. cop who was chasing somebody that ran past. He said, ‘Hey, Pete, do you have a gun? And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Hand it to me.’ That’s the last I saw of that goddamn gun.”

So maybe he’s kidding about killing union leaders, and maybe he’s exaggerating about shooting black people during the Watts riot. But either way, maybe the Writers Guild should ask: Why is this guy still a member of this union? Isn’t there some bylaw against members advocating the murder of Writers Guild leaders – especially during a strike?

Thanks to David Robb

Magazines.com, Inc.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How the CIA Enlisted the Chicago Mob to Put a Hit on Castro

The Fixer couldn't sleep. But in that shadow hour when his wife still slumbered and the 101 Strings murmured over his rec room speakers and his swimming pool lights threw green wavy diamonds into the muggy Virginia night, he knew that sleep was not what he needed. What he needed was to think. To weigh. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Could he do it? Should he? The questions had gnawed at him ever since the proposition had been made earlier that evening.

The setting had been his recreation room, the comfortable redoubt where he often took visitors to discuss potential assignments from his most reliable client: the Central Intelligence Agency. On this occasion, the visit was from James O'Connell—"Big Jim" to his friends—and Sheffield Edwards, two operatives in the highest reaches of The Company, as the CIA was known. They had an assignment for him, they said, one so top secret that even the president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had been kept in the dark. Chicago Magazine

The Fixer was no stranger to intrigue. As a former FBI agent turned private eye, he had built his career on operating in the shadows. His fledgling detective agency had a standing arrangement with the CIA: For $500 a month, he would perform various "cut-out" operations—missions ordered by the CIA, but with which the agency could deny official involvement. One such assignment, for example, required him to procure "feminine companionship" for Indonesia's President Sukarno during a state visit to New York, with the understanding that the woman would use her wiles to gather information from the leader. In another, he helped queer a deal that would have given Aristotle Onassis, already one of the richest men in the world, control over nearly all of the oil exports coming out of Saudi Arabia.

The Fixer served other clients, too, including one almost as secretive as the CIA. Howard Hughes—the "phantom billionaire"—may have been the most paranoid, reclusive public figure in the country at the time, but he trusted The Fixer with his most sacred secrets.

Still, for all his covert, high-level adventuring, even The Fixer found the operation the two CIA agents were now describing hard to believe. The subject was Cuba. The target was Fidel Castro. The mission was assassination. And The Fixer's role was to recruit the killer.

This was August 1960, about a year and a half after Fidel Castro had led the revolution that overthrew Cuba's longtime strongman, Fulgencio Batista. At first, much of the West celebrated the young revolutionary's success. But quickly, Castro's leanings toward Communism became evident. He began cozying up to the Soviet Union. Among the disturbing implications of this partnership was the potential for a missile base 90 miles from U.S. shores—a base from which Moscow could launch nuclear weapons at virtually any part of America.

That must not happen, Edwards and O'Connell said. Castro and his regime needed to be dealt with—"neutralized." Which was where The Fixer came in. After taking power, Castro had kicked out all the CIA agents. As a result, the best contacts left in Cuba belonged to the Mafia, which, with the blessing of Batista, had largely run the island's hugely profitable casinos. Castro had effectively robbed the Mafia of those profits by closing the casinos—first temporarily, then permanently.

If he agreed to help, The Fixer would use his contacts in the underworld to recruit someone who could get close enough to Castro to carry out the assassination. The hit would be timed to coincide with the Bay of Pigs invasion, loosely planned for some eight months from then. Killing the leaders, the reasoning went, would improve the odds for the military operation. The assignment obviously was considered "super eyes-only"—perhaps only half a dozen CIA agents knew of it. Would The Fixer do it?

He was speechless. The CIA. In bed with the mob. With him as the matchmaker? It was . . . crazy. How could an arm of the federal government team with Murder, Inc.?

The two men acknowledged his discomfort, shared it, even. In a perfect world, they would never have asked this of him or any citizen. But in this case, the interests of national security justified it. Think of Hitler, the lives that could have been saved had he been taken out before the launch of World War II, they said.

The analogy pricked The Fixer's conscience. Still, he said, "I have to think about it, think very deeply. I'll give you my answer tomorrow." That night, he recalls, "I told my wife I wouldn't be coming to bed. I went down to the recreation room and locked myself in. I realized that if anything went wrong, I was the fall guy. My family could be hurt. My friends could be hurt. I could be hurt. Furthermore, I considered myself a reasonably good Catholic, and I did not like the idea of getting involved with murdering anybody. I put on some music and began to do some soul searching."

He reached his decision at dawn. As morally questionable as the plan was, he agreed with the agents. Killing Castro would serve a greater good. That day, The Fixer called with his answer: He was in.

The old man who putters around the corner with a cup of coffee and a plate of fresh-baked blueberry muffins hardly seems the cloak-and-dagger operative at the nexus of what may have been the strangest covert undertaking in U.S. history. More like a kindly grandfather delighted by the chance to chat with a visitor. The trim form Robert A. Maheu once enjoyed as an FBI agent has yielded to the comfortable stoutness of old age. A palm-treed Hawaiian shirt and black slacks with the waist pulled high have replaced the standard issue white shirt and tie.

He is 90 now, with eyes that show a pleasant, kind twinkle, but you'd be mistaken to underrate Robert A. Maheu's toughness. He seizes your hand with a clamplike grip and rattles off an impressive list of ventures with which he's still involved. Among them is the intelligence firm he helped build with his son, a group with 160 investigators in Nevada and operatives in more than 80 countries.

As for his mental acuity, ask him about his involvement in the Cuba Project: His memories come as fast and fresh as his morning muffins.

That project—the CIA's targeting of Fidel Castro, and its willingness to rely on the Mafia to achieve that end—has resonated with intrigue, drama, and mystery ever since details of it began to surface in newspaper columns during the early 1970s. The five-year program of propaganda, sabotage, and murderous intent has been linked to everything from Richard Nixon's Watergate downfall (some of the Watergate burglars, including E. Howard Hunt, were major players in the Castro plots) to the hit on the Chicago godfather Sam "Mooney" Giancana. Many think the answer to who killed JFK lies buried beneath the layers of plots and subplots in the efforts to assassinate Castro—specifically, that the project may have resulted in a counterplot by Castro to kill Kennedy.

Today, the tale has taken on fresh relevancy, thrust back into the nation's consciousness by questions over intelligence activities—the Bush administration's domestic spying program, for example, and the CIA's "rendering" of terrorist suspects to countries where torture is believed to occur.

Still, until June of this year, the CIA had failed to acknowledge publicly that its plots to murder Castro even existed. Books had been written, congressional testimony given, and newspaper columnists had uncovered detailed evidence. But an official admission to citizens of the United States and the world, no.

That changed with the release of what The Company called its Family Jewels—693 pages of declassified top-secret memos confirming some of the CIA's most infamous and illegal past activities. The Jewels grew out of the anger of CIA director James Schlesinger, who had learned through the press that his agency had provided support to two ex-CIA agents arrested in the Watergate break-in (E. Howard Hunt and James McCord). In May 1973, Schlesinger ordered "all senior operating officials of this agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this agency."

That charter barred the CIA from spying inside the United States, but did not expressly forbid assassination plots against foreign leaders. Instead, the vaguely worded National Security Act of 1947 permitted the CIA to collect and analyze intelligence and perform "other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security."

"It is through the loophole of those [last] vague 11 words that hundreds of major covert actions were undertaken, including efforts to assassinate foreign leaders like Fidel Castro," says Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a private research group in Washington, D.C. (The group was instrumental in getting the Jewels declassified, having filed Freedom of Information Act requests some 15 years ago.)

The violations revealed in the Jewels are "unflattering," admitted the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, in a public statement after release of the documents. Not to mention embarrassing. The documents, in fact, confirm plots against Castro that are so absurd, so harebrained, they seem more like fantasies dreamed up by drunken frat boys than the product of the best and brightest minds in the intelligence community. Exploding cigars, poisoned wetsuits, chemicals to make Castro's beard fall out—even a phony Second Coming—all were brainstorms of The Company's masterminds. The plots do indeed "go beyond James Bond," says Don Bohning, author of The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba. "They are really screwy."

Which raises the question: How did such schemes come to dominate the plotting? "You have to realize the enormous pressure the intelligence community was under to do something about Castro," says Bohning. "The people above them were willing to consider about anything."

As it happens, almost all of the masterminds have died, as have the people tapped to carry out their plots. Old age has claimed some; causes suspicious and violent, others. Robert Maheu may be the last living major player, the sole survivor who can bear witness to this bizarre intelligence undertaking.

Which is how I find myself at a dining-room table in Las Vegas with a plate of homemade blueberry muffins in front of me, listening to the voice of Patsy Cline drift down from ceiling speakers, while the grandfatherly spymaster across the table from me—The Fixer, Bob Maheu—unravels the tale of how he presided over the star-crossed marriage of the Chicago mob to the feds.

Though much of the thinking surrounding the Cuba Project seems bafflingly, almost comically flawed, the decision to tap Maheu as the intermediary between the CIA and the Mafia made sense. Born in Waterville, Maine, a small mill town best known as home of the Hathaway shirt, Bob Maheu stumbled into intelligence work. In search of a little extra money while in college, he applied to be a translator for the FBI. Desperate to get men into the field, the FBI hired him as an agent.

After working under cover during World War II, he quit the bureau at the end of the war to open his own intelligence gathering firm. His first clients were old FBI friends who had gone to work for the CIA. Howard Hughes heard about his success and put him to work handling minor blackmail cases from starlets Hughes had bedded. Eventually, Maheu became Hughes's most trusted adviser. Among the perks of the $500,000-a-year job were mansions to call home, access to Hughes's fleet of limos and private jets, and an introduction to a glittering Hollywood life in which he gained a first-name acquaintance with stars such as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore.

One assignment required Maheu to serve a subpoena on the elusive owner of a prominent Las Vegas hotel. Maheu asked his friend the lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, who had represented mobsters, to pull some strings. The man who ended up obliging Maheu was a fast-talking, sharply dressed, silver-haired Mafioso named Johnny Roselli.

Many months later, with the CIA's Castro assignment in hand, Maheu turned to Roselli again. Tall and hawk-nosed, Roselli had been born Filippo Sacco in Esperia, Italy, on July 4, 1905, and had immigrated with his mother to America in 1911. After settling for a time in a Boston suburb, Roselli fled to Chicago in 1922 in the wake of a murder. He changed his name to Roselli in honor of an Italian Renaissance sculptor, Domenico Rosselli, and promptly began to work his way up the ranks of the Chicago Outfit under Al Capone. By the time he met Maheu, he was the Chicago mob's representative in Los Angeles, where he was married for a time to a movie actress, June Lang. Eventually, he took over the ice concessions for the Mafia in Las Vegas.

Maheu and Roselli became fast friends. In fact, Roselli even spent a Thanksgiving at Maheu's house, where he was referred to by Maheu's children as "Uncle Johnny."

On an afternoon in late August 1960, Maheu watched Roselli swagger toward his booth at The Brown Derby in Beverly Hills. The gangster's shoes, as always, gleamed with polish. His cuticles suggested a fresh manicure. This wasn't the Uncle Johnny that visited on Thanksgiving, but "Handsome Johnny," the mob capo.

Maheu waited until coffee was served to drop the bombshell. The mobster, Maheu recalls, laughed. "Me? You want me to get involved with Uncle Sam?" Roselli said, according to Maheu's 1992 autobiography, Next to Hughes. "The feds are tailing me wherever I go. They go to my shirt maker to see if I'm buying things with cash. . . . They're always trying to get something on me. Bob, are you sure you're talking to the right guy?"

Yes, Maheu said. He was serious. The fee would be $150,000. Roselli could pick whomever he wanted to execute the hit. The only condition, Maheu said, was that "Uncle Sam isn't involved. If anyone connects you with the U.S. government I will deny it. If you say Bob Maheu brought you into this, that I was your contact man, I'll say you're off your rocker, you're lying, you're trying to save your hide. I'll swear by everything holy that I don't know what in the hell you're talking about."

Roselli gazed steadily at him. He tapped his fingers on the table. "I would have to be satisfied that this is a government project," he said. Maheu assured him, "It comes from high level sources." After a long pause, Roselli nodded. He would do it. But he, too, had a condition: The CIA could keep its money. Assassinating Castro, he claimed, would be his patriotic duty. Whether Roselli was simply trying to curry favor with the feds in case he needed it later, Maheu didn't care. The plot was in motion.

Unknown to either man, the CIA already had spent months brainstorming and discarding ways to get Castro, schemes ranging "from the cockamamie to sinister," says Kornbluh, with the National Security Archive. The initial plots were aimed at merely discrediting the Cuban leader. One scheme called for treating a box of cigars with a chemical, possibly LSD. "The thought was to somehow contrive to have Castro smoke one before making a speech and then to make a public spectacle of himself," according to a declassified 1967 CIA inspector general's report. Exploding cigars and cigars laced with poison were also considered. Another scheme called for agents to flood the radio studio where Castro broadcast his speeches with LSD gas so that he would ramble incoherently on the air.

One plot (the account of which some officials have claimed is apocryphal) was dubbed "Elimination by illumination." This scheme turned on spreading the word that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. Because Castro opposed Christianity, the reasoning went, his people would turn against him. To add a bit of Hollywood flair, a U.S. submarine stationed just over the horizon would hurl star shells into the night. The glow "would be the manifestation of the Second Coming and Castro would be overthrown," explained a 1975 Senate Intelligence Committee probe of assassination attempts against foreign leaders, soon after the assassination of Chile's President Salvador Allende.

On another front, agents thought they could diminish Castro's charisma—not to mention subvert his nickname, "The Beard"—by dusting his boots with thallium salts, a powerful depilatory. Without his whiskers, the agents argued, Castro would lose the manly authority that had helped him overthrow the Batista government.

Kornbluh points out that the far-fetched schemes underscore the intense, almost hysterical paranoia that marked the cold war in those days. "The bottom line is that the agency, feeling pressure from the White House for . . . a 'creative solution' to the Castro problem, wanted to 'neutralize' the Cuban leader any way it could. Poison pens and pills, exploding conch shells, sniper rifles—whatever would possibly work."

The difference between the "screwy" plots and those involving the Mafia, says author Don Bohning, "was that the others were just crazy schemes that were come up with under pressure. The Mafia plots were much more serious. They were meant to do something."

By September 1960, the project was proceeding apace. Roselli would report directly to Maheu. The first step was a meeting in New York. There, at the Plaza Hotel, Maheu introduced Roselli to O'Connell. The agent wanted to cover up the participation of the CIA, so he pretended to be a man named Jim Olds who represented a group of wealthy industrialists eager to get rid of Castro so they could get back in business.

"We may know some people," Roselli said. Several weeks later, they all met at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. For years, the luxurious facility had served as the unofficial headquarters for Mafioso leaders seeking a base close to their gambling interests in Cuba. Now, it would be the staging area for the assassination plots.

At a meeting in one of the suites, Roselli introduced Maheu to two men: Sam Gold and a man Roselli referred to as Joe, who could serve as a courier to Cuba. By this time, Roselli was on to O'Connell. "I'm not kidding," Roselli told the agent one day. "I know who you work for. But I'm not going to ask you to confirm it."

Roselli may have figured out that he was dealing with the CIA, but neither Maheu nor O'Connell realized the rank of mobsters with whom they were dealing. That changed when Maheu picked up a copy of the Sunday newspaper supplement Parade, which carried an article laying out the FBI's ten most wanted criminals. Leading the list was Sam Giancana, a.k.a. "Mooney," a.k.a. "Momo," a.k.a. "Sam the Cigar," a Chicago godfather who was one of the most feared dons in the country—and the man who called himself Sam Gold. "Joe" was also on the list. His real name, however, was Santos Trafficante—the outfit's Florida and Cuba chieftain. Chicago Magazine

Maheu alerted O'Connell. "My God, look what we're involved with," Maheu said. O'Connell told his superiors. Questioned later before the 1975 U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (later nicknamed the Church Committee after its chairman, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho), O'Connell was asked whether there had ever been any discussion about asking two men on the FBI's most wanted list to carry out a hit on a foreign leader.

"Not with me there wasn't," O'Connell answered.

"And obviously no one said stop—and you went ahead."

"Yes."

"Did it bother you at all?"

"No," O'Connell answered, "it didn't."

For his part, Maheu was impressed with Giancana. "He didn't come off as thuggish," Maheu recalls. "You could tell, he wanted attention and he got it. When he walked down the hallway, you could just sense his power. He didn't have to say a word. It was just how he carried himself. But I never heard him use foul language. He was always very well dressed and in very good shape."

The mobster could be sentimental. In his autobiography, Maheu recalls Giancana getting "tears in his eyes whenever he heard the song 'You're Nobody 'Till Somebody Loves You.' . . . He said, 'Someday I'll explain it to you.' But he never did." He could also be menacing. In the book, Maheu recalls a young man going up to Giancana at the pool and talking tough. "Without even looking at the punk, Giancana grabbed his necktie and yanked him close," Maheu writes. "Sam stared right into the kid's eyes and said, 'I eat little boys like you for breakfast. Get your ass out of here before I get hungry.'"

Born to Sicilian immigrants in a section of Chicago's Little Italy called "The Patch," Sam Giancana had forged a reputation as a crack getaway driver, a high earner, and a vicious killer. Lean and banty, he could be charming or monstrous. In his CIA-Mafia book, The Fish Is Red: The Story of the Secret War Against Castro, the author Warren Hinckle describes Giancana as "a trampy little man with hairless legs who wore baggy white socks and generally walked around looking as glum as an unpaid undertaker." Giancana's daughter, Antoinette, who lives in Elmwood Park, paints a more flattering portrait: "Sam worked at looking young," she writes in Mafia Princess Growing Up in Sam Giancana's Family. "And except for his balding head and graying hairline, he usually succeeded. . . . I can't think of anyone who looked less like the public's conception of a Mafia boss than my father in May of 1961."

Maheu forged a friendship with Giancana, meeting him every day, sounding the gangster out on his views toward Castro. Maheu quickly realized that Giancana needed little persuading to go after the Cuban leader. Not only had Castro robbed him of his casino income; Giancana had lost out on a shrimp boat operation he was trying to build, as well as on a plan to offer gambling on tourist boats traveling from Miami to Cuba. "He had all these wonderful things going for him," Antoinette Giancana told me. "As an heir to [Giancana's] estate, I can say that we lost everything to Fidel Castro. He took everything away from us." The mere mention of Castro's name in the Giancana house, the daughter recalls, "would make him flip his lid."

Accordingly, the conversations between O'Connell, Maheu, Roselli, and Giancana focused on how, not whether, to kill the Cuban leader. The CIA initially suggested a gangland-style hit, with Castro going down in a hail of bullets. Giancana balked. Too risky. It would be a suicide mission. After considering and discarding different tactics, the two sides settled on deploying what they called a Mickey Finn—a poison pill that would be slipped into Castro's food or drink.

To create the lethal capsule, the CIA turned to its "Office of Medical Services" and Dr. Edward Gunn, the CIA's equivalent of the fictional "Q," who provided James Bond with his shooting cigarettes and exploding alarm clocks. Gunn devised a pill containing botulinum, a powerful nerve toxin, but capsules didn't dissolve in water. A second batch did dissolve, but when tested on guinea pigs, they weren't lethal. It turned out that guinea pigs had a high resistance to botulinum. They tried the pills on monkeys. Success.

The pills were delivered to Giancana and Trafficante in March 1961 at the Fontainebleau. The timing was auspicious—and provided the perfect cover. The city brimmed with gangsters in town for the third heavyweight championship fight between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson. Thus, while crowds packed the hotel's Boom Boom Room to see the two fighters knock each other around, Trafficante knocked on the door of Giancana's suite without raising the least suspicion.

Waiting inside were Giancana, Roselli, Maheu, and Juan Orta, a disaffected Cuban official. Orta was angry at Castro for shuttering the gambling casinos and thereby ending his lucrative kickbacks. As payback, Orta had offered to help kill Castro, relying on the services of a chef at a restaurant frequented by Castro. The chef could put the botulinum pills in Castro's food, Orta claimed.

Testifying before the Church Committee 14 years later, Roselli recounted what happened next. Maheu "opened the briefcase and dumped a whole lot of money on [Orta's] lap," Roselli recalled. Maheu "also came up with the [poison] capsules and he explained how they were going to be used. As far as I remember, they couldn't be used in boiling soups and things like that, but they could be used in water or otherwise. . . ." (Maheu disputes the money-dumping story and says he simply passed the pills to Roselli, who gave them to Orta.) But then something went awry. The mobsters later claimed that Orta got cold feet, a view shared today by Maheu. "It's not like delivering a case of booze," he says. The more likely explanation is that Orta, who had lost his position in Castro's government, no longer had the means to pass the pills to his contact. Either way, Orta returned the poison. And Giancana and Trafficante had to find another killer.

Meanwhile, another crisis had surfaced. Giancana had fallen for Phyllis McGuire, the beautiful lead singer of the McGuire Sisters. The two had been seeing each other for several months before Giancana was approached about the Castro operation. As the plotting unfolded, Giancana, who was living at the Fontainebleau, began hearing rumors that McGuire was having an affair with the comedian Dan Rowan while the two were performing in Las Vegas.

Unhinged by jealousy, Giancana threatened to leave Miami to confront the pair. "Well, we didn't want him to leave," recalls Maheu. "We were right in the thick of things." To ease Giancana's mind, Maheu arranged for Rowan to be followed. Maheu called upon a Miami private eye he knew, Ed DuBois, to carry out the surveillance. DuBois, in turn, farmed the job out to another private investigator, Arthur J. Balletti.

What followed was a series of blunders O'Connell would later liken to the Keystone Kops. Balletti tapped the phone in Rowan's hotel room. "That was the first mistake," Maheu says. "Guys don't make phone calls when they're making love." The more serious—and ridiculous—mistake came after Rowan left his room to play golf. Balletti, apparently wanting to see McGuire's act, left his bugging equipment out—in plain view and running—in his own room, where a maid discovered it.

Had evidence of an affair been uncovered, Maheu believes Giancana would have dropped everything and gone to Las Vegas to confront McGuire. "We could not have kept him in Miami," Maheu says. "You have to remember, these two people were really in love."

As it happened, the sheriff's office was called, then the FBI. A chagrined Maheu called O'Connell. "Well, the damned fools got themselves caught," he said. Suddenly, Maheu found himself hauled before federal agents. Charges were eventually dropped against him and the detectives he hired, but not before the FBI had discovered the Castro assassination plots and Sheffield Edwards had been summoned before attorney general Robert F. Kennedy to explain why the CIA—without his knowledge—was using two men on the ten most wanted list to kill Castro. Kennedy was furious, though not enough to nix the plan. He allowed the operation to continue with the stipulation that he must be kept informed.

The assassination plot resumed its footing with word that Trafficante had turned to another contact in Cuba to carry out the hit. Tony Varona had been prime minister of Cuba in the late 1940s and early 1950s under President Carlos Prío and now wanted to finance the overthrow of Castro. Already, according to FBI reports, Trafficante had given money to Varona for the effort, hoping to secure gambling and dope monopolies in the event Varona was successful. Now, Varona identified a contact who could poison Castro's food. Jim O'Connell took a new set of pills from a safe and delivered them—along with between $20,000 and $25,000 in cash for expenses—to Roselli, who passed the poison and the cash to Varona.

This was it. All that was needed, Maheu believed, was the "go" signal from the CIA, so that the assassination would coincide with the invasion. He waited. As did Varona. But, as Maheu would later testify, "the go signal never came."

Hinckle, author of The Fish Is Red, offers an explanation. According to his theory, at the very moment Varona was supposed to give the signal, he was being sequestered by another group of CIA agents unaware of Varona's crucial role in the hit. That group had planned to install Varona, along with several other Cuban exiles, as the provisional government to take over Cuba once the counterrevolution dispatched Castro. But fearing Varona might gab and spill the Bay of Pigs plan, the agents kept Varona locked up until the invasion was over. As a result, Varona could not get word to his contact at the restaurant.

On April 15, 1961, the drone of U.S. bombers disguised as Cuban revolutionary planes sounded over the three major airfields in Cuba, signaling the launch of the Bay of Pigs. Ill conceived, tragically executed, the invasion sent a ragtag invasion force of American-trained and -funded Cuban exiles into a Custer-style ambush. Dozens of exiles were killed and more than 1,000 taken prisoner.

For a time, that squashed the assasination project. But the CIA had not given up on killing Castro. By late 1961, the agency had turned the operation over to William K. Harvey. Squat, bald, profane, with a headlong stride that gave him the appearance of a charging bull, Harvey was considered something of a legend within The Company. And indeed, he seized control of the Castro assassination mission with the kind of slash-and-burn aggressiveness that had gilded his reputation.

Among the casualties of the new leadership were Giancana and Maheu. Harvey "told me he wanted me to have nothing to do with [them]," Roselli told the Church Committee. Roselli still had the contacts, so he stayed with it. Giancana and Maheu were dumped. Maheu says it was just as well. "To tell you the truth, I'd had it up to my bald head with the whole operation after the way the whole invasion thing was handled," Maheu told me. "I was so pissed that we allowed these kids to land there and not furnish them with the proper air cover. We put 'em in the ring; we led them there to die." Over the months of plotting, Maheu and Giancana had become friends. After the final failed attempt, however, The Fixer never saw Giancana again.

When the operation resumed under Harvey, the schemes were as absurd as ever. One idea, for instance, based on Castro's avid interest in scuba diving, involved booby-trapping a conch shell with explosives so that it would detonate when Castro picked it up off the ocean floor. (An operative "bought two books on Caribbean Mollusca," according to the inspector general's report. But "none of the shells that might conceivably be found in the Caribbean area was both spectacular enough to be sure of attracting attention and large enough to hold the needed volume of explosive.") The agency also considered arranging a gift for Castro, a scuba diving suit coated inside with a fungus that would produce Madura foot, a disabling and chronic skin disease. As it happened, someone had just given Castro a diving suit and the plan was abandoned.

One of the most curious occurrences, at least in terms of timing, came with the final unsuccessful plot. The CIA had been cultivating a dissident named Rolando Cubela since the early days of the assassination discussions. In November 1963, the same Dr. Gunn who had created the poison pills came up with a new device: a Paper Mate ballpoint pen rigged as a hypodermic syringe. Filled with Black Leaf 40, a lethal mixture of nicotine and insecticide, the pen's "needle was so fine that the victim would hardly feel it when it was inserted," according to the 1967 inspector general's report.

On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, a CIA operative met with Cubela in Paris to give him the pen. As the men were coming out of the meeting, they were given terrible news: President Kennedy had been assassinated. Conspiracy theorists have noted the timing, but nothing substantial has ever linked the CIA's plotting against Castro to the Kennedy assassination. "How could it be anything other than a coincidence?" says Kornbluh. "For it to be otherwise would mean that a whole crew of people somehow knew [Lee Harvey] Oswald would shoot Kennedy on that day."

The years following the Cuba Project were not kind to the major players. Giancana, hounded to tell Congress about the CIA-Mafia connection, fled to Mexico. Maheu's relationship with Hughes fell apart in a flurry of bitter accusations on both sides. Roselli landed in the Los Angeles County Jail for a gambling scam at the Friars Club in Los Angeles, where he had helped card cheats fleece Hollywood celebrity players. He was also nailed for having failed to register as an alien. (When Roselli's lawyer asked Maheu to confirm for the court Roselli's involvement with the CIA plot, Maheu told him, "I don't know what you're talking about." Roselli "wasn't very pleased with that, as you might imagine," Maheu says.)

Eventually, though, word of the CIA's ties to the Mafia was leaked to the press. In a front-page story on August 16, 1963, the Chicago Sun-Times' Sandy Smith reported that the CIA had been dealing with Giancana for years. (The paper did not make the connection between Giancana and the Castro assassination attempts.) In early 1971, Jack Anderson wrote a column for The Washington Post detailing the operation, naming Maheu, Roselli, Jim O'Connell, and William Harvey. Maheu thinks Roselli leaked the information to Anderson to help with his own legal troubles.

Four years later, Roselli testified before the Church Committee about his CIA work. Shortly after, his decomposing body was found in Miami in a 55-gallon steel fuel drum. He had been strangled and stabbed and his legs were sawed off. Many attribute the death to a hit put out by Trafficante, payback for Roselli's having broken the mob's omertà (code of silence).

Giancana never had the chance to testify. By 1975, the godfather had moved back to Chicago—actually, to Oak Park. Already, he'd spent a year in jail for having refused to talk to Congress. Now, he was facing another congressional subpoena. Just before he was to appear, a gunman shot the 67-year-old mobster seven times in his basement while he was frying Italian sausage and spinach, his favorite snack. The weapon, a .22 Duramatic automatic pistol, was found in brush along the Des Plaines River. The crime was never solved.

Maheu assumes the mob was behind the hit. "They didn't want to take the chance that rather than to go to jail again he might talk," Maheu says. Antoinette Giancana suspects the CIA killed her father. "The government didn't like my father and my father didn't like the government," she says.

Whoever killed the Chicago Mafia don, his daughter insists that her father had the last laugh. "Sam, in his heart of hearts, had absolutely no intention to kill Castro," she told me. "None at all. He used to chuckle, periodically, and say . . . he was never going to take Castro out. It was all a game to Sam. He was milking the government for all he could get and chuckling on the side."

"That's not true," Maheu fires back. "Why the hell would he spend all that time and have these meetings and so forth? All he had to say is 'I'm not interested.' He may have said that to her, but it just doesn't fly."

Maheu also got hauled before the Church Committee in 1975. "I was pissed," he says—furious at both the Bay of Pigs debacle and the congressional summons to reveal the plots. Maheu also feared Castro would have him killed. "He might have had a lot of friends that would want to avenge this plot," he says.

Maheu believes the congressional probe was a grandstanding effort by Senator Frank Church to gain publicity for a contemplated presidential run. Still, Maheu told the committee what he knew about the mob plot, repeating his comments afterwards to the more than 100 international press representatives who had gathered for a press conference. "I still feel we should have never disclosed the mission," he says today. "I'm very bitter. When your country pledges you into secrecy . . . and 16 years later they decide to throw you in front of a bus. I had held up my part of the bargain. That was hard to swallow."

The final irony for Maheu is that the plots revealed by him and other CIA agents helped create overwhelming pressure for President Gerald Ford to do something to ban future schemes like the one Maheu fought so hard to keep secret. The year after Maheu's testimony, Ford issued Executive Order 11905: "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."

Every U.S. president since then has reissued the ban on assassinations. Peter Kornbluh, of the National Security Archive, argues, however, that the zealous adherence to the law has faded in recent decades. The Reagan Administration "ignored it in its work with the [Nicaraguan] Contras and in efforts to assassinate [Libyan strongman Muammar] Qaddafi in Libya," he says. "Clinton decided to let the CIA go after bin Laden," and Kornbluh maintains that George W. Bush has tacitly endorsed the targeting of suspected terrorists.

The Fixer is stirred up. Having cleared away the muffin plates, he pours us both a last cup of coffee. It's morning in Las Vegas, nearly 50 years removed from his role in the twisted tale of the Cosa Nostra and The Company. His wife died many years ago. His four children are all grown. The jets and limos and mansions he once enjoyed as alter ego to Howard Hughes are all gone, having vanished from his life like desert mirages. He lives now in a comfortable ranch-style house, with sliding glass doors that look out onto the Las Vegas National Golf Course. Next door sits the home used in Martin Scorsese's mob flick Casino. Losing the fast-lane lifestyle doesn't bother him. "I'm right back where I should be," he says. "Living a modest life." He pauses. "It's been a helluva ride."

In his book, he wrote that if given the chance for a do-over he would never have become involved in the Cuba Project. But sometimes, late at night, The Fixer still turns the thing over in his mind. Right, wrong. Good, bad. "I guess the best way to say it," he concludes, "is if I were called upon tomorrow again, and I thought it would save one American life, I think I'd be tempted." The thought intrigues. Old spies, after all, don't die; they just fade back into shadow. But the thoughts don't keep him up at night. These days, in the twilight of his extraordinary life, The Fixer can sleep.

Thanks to Bryan Smith

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