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Showing posts with label Joseph Valachi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Valachi. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

If the Parallels between the Mafia and the Trump Organization are Striking? Then, Rudy Giuliani Perfected the #RICO Template for Prosecuting Organized Crime #SDNYInvestigation

Any onetime Mafia investigator who listened to Donald Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen testify Wednesday would have immediately recognized the congressional hearing’s historical analogue — what America witnessed on Capitol Hill wasn’t so much John Dean turning on President Richard Nixon, circa 1973; it was the mobster Joseph Valachi turning on the Cosa Nostra, circa 1963.

The Valachi hearings, led by Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, opened the country’s eyes for the first time to the Mafia, as the witness broke “omertà” — the code of silence — to speak in public about “this thing of ours,” Cosa Nostra. He explained just how “organized” organized crime actually was — with soldiers, capos, godfathers and even the “Commission,” the governing body of the various Mafia families.

Fighting the Mafia posed a uniquely hard challenge for investigators. Mafia families were involved in numerous distinct crimes and schemes, over yearslong periods, all for the clear benefit of its leadership, but those very leaders were tough to prosecute because they were rarely involved in the day-to-day crime. They spoke in their own code, rarely directly ordering a lieutenant to do something illegal, but instead offering oblique instructions or expressing general wishes that their lieutenants simply knew how to translate into action.

Those explosive — and arresting — hearings led to the 1970 passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO, a law designed to allow prosecutors to go after enterprises that engaged in extended, organized criminality. RICO laid out certain “predicate” crimes — those that prosecutors could use to stitch together evidence of a corrupt organization and then go after everyone involved in the organization as part of an organized conspiracy. While the headline-grabbing RICO “predicates” were violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, arson and robbery, the statute also focused on crimes like fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering and even aiding or abetting illegal immigration.

It took prosecutors a while to figure out how to use RICO effectively, but by the mid-1980s, federal investigators in the Southern District of New York were hitting their stride under none other than the crusading United States attorney Rudy Giuliani, who as the head of the Southern District brought charges in 1985 against the heads of the city’s five dominant Mafia families.

Ever since, S.D.N.Y. prosecutors and F.B.I. agents have been the nation’s gold standard in RICO prosecutions — a fact that makes clear precisely why, after Mr. Cohen’s testimony, President Trump’s greatest legal jeopardy may not be in the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

What lawmakers heard Wednesday sounded a lot like a racketeering enterprise: an organization with a few key players and numerous overlapping crimes — not just one conspiracy, but many. Even leaving aside any questions about the Mueller investigation and the 2016 campaign, Mr. Cohen leveled allegations that sounded like bank fraud, charity fraud and tax fraud, as well as hints of insurance fraud, obstruction of justice and suborning perjury.

The parallels between the Mafia and the Trump Organization are more than we might like to admit: After all, Mr. Cohen was labeled a “rat” by President Trump last year for agreeing to cooperate with investigators; interestingly, in the language of crime, “rats” generally aren’t seen as liars. They’re “rats” precisely because they turn state’s evidence and tell the truth, spilling the secrets of a criminal organization.

Mr. Cohen was clear about the rot at the center of his former employer: “Everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming and we were going to lie for him about something. That became the norm.”

RICO was precisely designed to catch the godfathers and bosses at the top of these crime syndicates — people a step or two removed from the actual crimes committed, those whose will is made real, even without a direct order.

Exactly, it appears, as Mr. Trump did at the top of his family business: “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” Mr. Cohen said. Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen said, “doesn’t give orders. He speaks in code. And I understand that code.”

What’s notable about Mr. Cohen’s comments is how they paint a consistent (and credible) pattern of Mr. Trump’s behavior: The former F.B.I. director James Comey, in testimony nearly two years ago in the wake of his firing, made almost exactly the same point and used almost exactly the same language. Mr. Trump never directly ordered him to drop the Flynn investigation, Mr. Comey said, but he made it all too clear what he wanted — the president isolated Mr. Comey, with no other ears around, and then said he hoped Mr. Comey “can let this go.” As Mr. Comey said, “I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.” He cited in his testimony then the famous example of King Henry II’s saying, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?,” a question that resulted in the murder of that very meddlesome priest, Thomas Becket.

The sheer number and breadth of the investigations into Mr. Trump’s orbit these days indicates how vulnerable the president’s family business would be to just this type of prosecution. In December, I counted 17, and since then, investigators have started an inquiry into undocumented workers at Mr. Trump’s New Jersey golf course, another crime that could be a RICO predicate; Mr. Cohen’s public testimony itself, where he certainly laid out enough evidence and bread crumbs for prosecutors to verify his allegations, mentioned enough criminal activity to build a racketeering case. Moreover, RICO allows prosecutors to wrap 10 years of racketeering activity into a single set of charges, which is to say, almost precisely the length of time — a decade — that Michael Cohen would have unparalleled insight into Mr. Trump’s operations. Similarly, many Mafia cases end up being built on wiretaps — just like, for instance, the perhaps 100 recordings Mr. Cohen says he made of people during his tenure working for Mr. Trump, recordings that federal investigators are surely poring over as part of the 290,000 documents and files they seized in their April raid last year.

Indicting the whole Trump Organization as a “corrupt enterprise” could also help prosecutors address the thorny question of whether the president can be indicted in office; they could lay out a whole pattern of criminal activity, indict numerous players — including perhaps Trump family members — and leave the president himself as a named, unindicted co-conspirator. Such an action would allow investigators to make public all the known activity for Congress and the public to consider as part of impeachment hearings or re-election. It would also activate powerful forfeiture tools for prosecutors that could allow them to seize the Trump Organization’s assets and cut off its income streams.

The irony will be that if federal prosecutors decide to move against President Trump’s empire and family together, he’ll have one man’s model to thank: his own TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who perfected the template to tackle precisely that type of criminal enterprise.

Thanks to Garrett M. Graff.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hitting the Mafia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Ed Magnuson

Tracing the Roots of the American Mafia

The inchoate beginnings of the Mafia in the United States at the turn of the century cannot be nailed down to one moment, but the incident that Mike Dash uses to demonstrate its public arrival is an apt one: the "Barrel Murder" of April 14, 1903. Giuseppe Morello - nicknamed the "Clutch" or "the Clutch Hand" for the maimed right arm and one-fingered hand with which he wreaked terrible violence - and his henchmen stabbed and sliced a rival to death, stuffed him into a barrel and left him on the street to be found.

That incident catches most of the elements that were to become associated with Mafia activity in subsequent years: rivalry over illegal activityAmerican Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power, extortion, intimidation, protection and other rackets (such as kidnapping) and vendettas. And, most of all, murder. Rarely was there any middle ground; the way to deal with competition was to kill its operators.

In the earliest days, gangs (or "families") were concentrated in New York City. At first they preyed, as in Sicily, on their own, demanding "protection" money from Italian merchants or controlling Italian-run businesses such as ice and coal distribution.

Crime paid. By 1908, the Clutch Hand's influence had spread through New York's five boroughs. Three years later, he was considered the boss of bosses of the entire fledgling American Mafia. But there are always hammers waiting to whack the nail that sticks up. Dash covers in great, and sometimes gruesome, detail the rival Mafiosi who rose up to challenge Morello. Most of the names are obscure, though as we get closer to the 1930s familiar ones appear, such as Joe Bonanno, Joe Valachi and Charles "Lucky" Luciano.

Hammers were wielded by the good guys, too, the most prominent among them being William Flynn, chief of the New York office of the Secret Service, and Joseph Petrosino, a member of the police Italian Squad. Both had success in investigating, prosecuting and imprisoning Morello and others.

Slowly, crime that had been "Italian" became more "Americanized" as Mafiosi such as Luciano chose to work with non-Sicilians and even non-Italians. Luciano, an equal-opportunity murderer, hired two Jewish hoods to kill a rival, Salvatore Maranzano, in 1931. But until the 1920s, organized crime was relatively small potatoes. With Prohibition came gang wars worthy of the name and gangsters whose reputations still resound, like Dutch Schultz and Al Capone, the latter of whom made so much money in the Midwest "that his influence could be felt in Manhattan." And the "industry" was, in a sense, a gift from the U.S. government.

Thanks to Roger K. Miller

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mob Boss Dies

Frank J. Valenti, Rochester's notorious mob boss who oversaw local organized crime during its heyday of gambling parlors, prostitution and extortion, died last Saturday at age 97.

While atop Rochester's organized crime mob hierarchy in the 1960s and '70s, Mr. Valenti was so infamous that the Democrat and Chronicle ran a regular update on his doings under the heading, "Spotlight on Rochester's Gambling Czar."

Mr. Valenti had been living in a nursing facility near Houston. His death was confirmed by four people, including retired law enforcers and people close to the family, who asked not to be identified. A death certificate was filed in Texas Wednesday.

Bart Maimone, who provided fuel to Mr. Valenti's construction business in the 1960s and '70s, said he would always remember Mr. Valenti as fair and generous, despite any criminal ties he may have had.

Once, Maimone said, he was prepared to go into business with a local company with organized crime ties and Mr. Valenti urged him not to. "He never wanted me to get involved with that," said Maimone, noting that he learned this week of Mr. Valenti's death.

Gentlemanly and handsome, Mr. Valenti fit a Hollywood stereotype of a gangster who could be both diplomatic and violently tyrannical.

That Mr. Valenti lived to almost a century may come as a surprise to those who saw him in 1964 when, for court appearances, he was disheveled, haggard and claimed he suffered from heart ailments and ulcers triggered by the constant attention from law enforcement. But Mr. Valenti often seemed able to appear on death's doorstep for court appearances, only to vigorously recover for meetings with his capos.

Mr. Valenti's travels read like a mob history. In 1957, he and his brother, Constenze "Stanley" Valenti, were two of the mobsters at the infamous Apalachin conference, a Mafia summit meeting held in Apalachin, near Binghamton.

Six years later, when mob turncoat and killer Joseph Valachi helped federal authorities detail the reach of organized crime, Frank and Stanley Valenti were two of the more than 300 Mafioso whom Valachi identified as central figures.

Mr. Valenti was considered to be "the most significant person" in organized crime in Rochester, said local lawyer and former district attorney Donald Chesworth, who was involved in mob investigations when he worked with the FBI in the 1960s.

With his charm, dapper attire and swept-back white hair, Valenti always seemed the center of attention within any crowd.

Rochester resident Diane Lamanna remembers meeting Mr. Valenti at a local restaurant/bar when she was a teenager. She was waiting for a friend when she struck up a conversation with him and complained about how she never had money. "He was polite," she said. "He was a total gentleman." After he left, Lamanna found a napkin he'd left her with a tip about a horse running in a race that evening. Bet on the horse, he'd written. She paid no attention. After she told her friends about the meeting, they informed her just whom she'd been talking to. And, sure enough, they checked and the horse had won.

Born in Rochester, Mr. Valenti ascended through the organized crime ranks as would-be challengers mysteriously disappeared or were slain.

"It was an interesting time and there were a lot of murders," said Hugh Higgins, an FBI special agent in Rochester during the mob era. "But they were killing one another."

Mr. Valenti moved to Pittsburgh in 1961 — "exiled" there according to news accounts — after a conviction on a voting fraud in Rochester. There, he became a prominent figure in organized crime, before returning to Rochester in 1964 and seizing control of gambling and prostitution. But Mr. Valenti apparently avoided drug trafficking, as that criminal enterprise began to grow, Mr. Higgins said. "It's a funny kind of world, but I think Frank had some morals."

The Rochester enterprise during the late 1950s and much of the '60s was linked to the Buffalo-based Maggadino crime family.

"They broke away from the Maggadino family and they were considered, quote, unquote, a 'renegade' group as far as La Cosa Nostra goes," said Richard Endler, a retired federal prosecutor. But Mr. Valenti also had connections with the powerful New York City-based Bonanno family.

Mr. Valenti was able to use that influence to instill fear in local bookmakers who always paid a portion of their illicit earnings to Mr. Valenti and his clan, said local lawyer Robert A. Napier, whose father, the late Robert C. Napier, defended many of those same bookmakers.

Napier said his father thought Mr. Valenti was able to use "more bravado than actual muscle" because of the Bonanno connection.

Constantly under police surveillance at his Henrietta home, Mr. Valenti grew wary of the law enforcement attention and in 1970 hatched a plot to direct police attention toward others. The ploy worked. "There were a bunch of bombings," Higgins said. "We always attributed it to civil rights leftist organizations. Turned out it was the mob."

Mr. Valenti groomed and schooled some young men who would become Rochester's organized crime leaders, including Salvatore "Sammy" Gingello, arguably the region's most famous Mafia underboss. "Valenti took Sammy under his wing," said former Rochester police Officer Ralph "Butch" Bellucco, who now has a private investigation business.

Mr. Valenti's basement was the site of initiation ceremonies, in which newcomers to the crime family agreed they would never spill Mafia secrets, would break laws only with the consent of their mob leaders, and would not sleep with a comrade's girlfriend or wife.

Some of those same neophyte mobsters decided to wrest control from Mr. Valenti when they decided he was pocketing too much of the illicit gains. In 1972, one of his closest associates was fatally shotgunned.

After a federal prison stint for extortion, Mr. Valenti moved to Arizona and stayed there for years. Meanwhile, Rochester erupted into violent gang wars between rival teams that, coupled with toughened law enforcement, destroyed the organized crime ranks. Mr. Gingello was killed in a 1978 car bombing.

Mr. Valenti was father of five daughters. His wife, Eileen, passed away years ago.

Thanks to Gary Craig

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Organized Crime Evolves with Economy and Pressure from The Feds

The Teflon Don is dead and gone. The Mustache Petes of the Mafia's old guard are mostly behind bars. And the crime rackets have gone global.

Think La Cosa Nostra is just a quaint throwback, the stuff of gangster movies? Fuggedaboudit.

Although the Mafia may not be as strong as it once was, FBI agents say organized crime is far from dead. Not only is the traditional mob still at it, but new organized crime groups also are vying for a piece of the action.

Weakened by two decades of prosecutions, the traditional Italian crime organizations plug away at what they know best: labor racketeering, infiltrating unions and construction industries, gambling and loan sharking.

"What you see in the movies about honor and code is a fallacy. That doesn't exist. It's completely about the money," said Mike Gaeta, a veteran agent who heads the FBI squad in charge of investigating the Genovese family. "As the economy evolves, they evolve."

The scams are growing in sophistication, focusing more than ever on the big money. Everyone pays the price, according to Gaeta. "There is a mob tax placed on everything from your garbage collection, food delivery, the rent that you pay," he said. "I don't know what the percentage is, but there is a premium that you pay because of the control that organized crime has on labor unions and on the contractors who are engaged in those job sites."

There are more than 3,000 Mafia members and associates in the U.S., the FBI estimates on its Web site. The presence is most pronounced around New York, southern New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The FBI has about 100 agents and 11 squads investigating mob activities at the New York hub.

The FBI touts its success against New York's five major Mafia families -- Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Colombo and Lucchese -- as one of the bureau's biggest accomplishments in its 100-year history. Major arrests and convictions in the 1980s and 1990s crippled the mob. If they didn't get whacked first, the top dogs of the five families faced multiple prosecutions and long prison terms. Among the big names to take the perp walk as a result: John Gotti, Vincent Gigante and Joseph Massino.

The federal racketeering law passed in 1970 known as the Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO, allowed agents to build stronger cases and secure stiffer sentences. It was added to the bureau's traditional crime-fighting arsenal of wiretaps, physical surveillance of targets and undercover agents.

As the years rolled by, the FBI benefited from "flipping" mob insiders like Massino, who, facing life sentences for RICO convictions, decided to violate the Mafia's code of silence -- omerta. Massino talked to avoid the death penalty for murder, becoming the Mafia's highest-ranking turncoat, and is now serving a life sentence.

Seamus McElearney, who spearheads FBI investigations against the Colombo crime family, has persuaded several mobsters to turn informant, and one case sticks out in his mind. "This individual was able to realize that he'd be going away for the rest of his life, and like anything in life, you build a rapport with someone, and you have to get over that trust factor. And he started to trust me and realize this was his best option," McElearney said, describing what it takes to persuade a witness to switch sides.

The FBI also uses forensic accounting and other sophisticated tools to penetrate the mob. "Looking at these guys from a financial point of view, because that's one of the best ways to hurt them is in the pocketbook ... ultimately led to the devastation of the family," said Supervisory Special Agent Nora Conley, who investigates the Bonanno family.

The mob adapted to investigations and convictions as layer upon layer of wiseguys-in-waiting stepped up. The Italians may still control the lion's share of illegal organized crime activity, but competitors are vying for a piece of the action.

Law enforcement officials say Asians, Russians and Albanians have established their own crime organizations in the United States. These groups are smaller and more disorganized than their Italian counterparts but pose their own danger.

Kevin Hallinan, an FBI supervisor who has worked organized crime for 18 years, said that groups of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese nationals, for example, are heavily involved in immigrant-smuggling, gambling, prostitution, counterfeiting and extortion of legitimate businesses as well as other crimes.

"Drugs are a serious problem," Hallinan said. "It's quick money. They have known transportation routes. A lot of the folks have international connections and know people at the ports, at the airports, and can get the drugs here."

He continued, "the big challenge for Asian organized crime and Albanian organized crime is having the finances to pay for a load of heroin, to pay for a load of cocaine, and then have the facilitator get it into the country, and then have the means of distribution, which the Italians have had in the past."

Russian and Albanian groups "are more like criminal enterprises than organized crime," observes agent Dennis Bolles, who heads the squad investigating them.

"Whether it is insurance fraud, bank fraud, identity theft, Medicaid fraud, securities fraud, mortgage fraud [or] multimillion-dollar scams, the Russians are very sophisticated," Bolles said. "They are very educated people. Some are former KGB. Some are former government officials -- masters degrees, PhDs -- and now they find themselves in the U.S., and they are using those brains to commit scams."

The FBI learned the hard way that foot-dragging on organized crime investigations can be costly.

In the 1930s, as Genovese family leader Lucky Luciano rose to power and brought the five families into a unified commission, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover resisted going after the mob. His inaction allowed the Mafia to become fully entrenched into American society and business.

It wasn't until the 1950s that the Mafia became a law enforcement priority. Sen. Estes Kefauver led congressional hearings on organized crime in May 1950, and the 1963 congressional testimony of Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi brought attention to a problem that long had been ignored. "From there, the program skyrocketed and became a very material priority for the FBI as criminal programs," Assistant FBI Director Mark Mershon said.
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FBI officials credit that effort and the intelligence-gathering skills learned in mob investigations for giving today's agents a foundation for future investigations, including of terrorists. "You have to understand who are the players, who are the leaders, how are they financed, how do they recruit, how do they handle their memberships," FBI Director Robert Mueller recently said as the bureau approached the 100-year mark.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Using Intel to Stop the Mob, Part 2: The Turning Point

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Joseph Barbara, Joseph Valachi

Capone was history. (Part 1) “Lucky” Luciano’s luck ran out when he was convicted and deported to Italy. And Murder Inc. and its professional hit men were out of business.

The FBI and its partners had scored some major successes against organized crime by the late 1940s, but hoodlums and racketeers were still operating and thriving in certain big cities—New York, Chicago, Detroit, to name a few.

During this time, we’d been using intelligence to paint a picture of criminal activities, mostly locally on a case-by-case basis. In 1946, we launched the General Investigative Intelligence Program—our first national criminal intelligence initiative—to survey the crime landscape and gather details on key players, including mobsters.

By the early 50s, we’d gained (according to one memo) “considerable information concerning the background of operations of hoodlums and racketeers throughout the country,” using informants, discrete inquiries, and public sources. We’d also pulled together intelligence through surveys on the Mafia, on bookmaking and race wire activities, and on other criminal rackets.

In 1953, the New York office—facing rising mobster activity—specifically asked to open intelligence files on 30 top hoodlums in the city to get a general picture of their activities and to keep an eye out for violations of federal law. On August 25 th of that year, we made it an official national “Top Hoodlum Program,” asking all field offices to gather information on mobsters in their territories and to report it regularly to Washington so we’d have a centralized collection of intelligence on racketeers.

It’s important to understand: at the time, most racketeering activities—including gambling and loan sharking—were beyond our jurisdictional reach. Still, we needed to build a bank of information to better understand the threat and to be prepared if federal laws were broken.

Three key developments would help us further expose the length and breadth of organized crime generally and the Mafia specifically in the years to come.

* In 1957, New York State Police Sergeant Edgar Croswell discovered a secret meeting of top Mafioso at the rural estate of mob leader Joseph Barbara in Apalachin, New York. We immediately checked the names taken by Croswell. We had information in our files on 53 of the 60 mobsters; forty had criminal records. Croswell’s discovery led us to intensify our interest in these figures (not begin it, as some have speculated) and to arrest mobsters who violated federal law. In part because of Apalachin, we realized that local and regional crime lords were conspiring and began to adjust our strategy accordingly.
* In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy created an Organized Crime and Racketeering Section in the Department of Justice to coordinate activities by the FBI and other department agencies against the criminal threat.
* In 1963, thanks in part to the FBI, the first major Mafia turncoat—Joseph Valachi—publicly spilled the beans before a Senate subcommittee, naming names and exposing plenty of secrets about organized crime history, operations, and rituals.

As the threat became clearer, Congress began giving us more tools to combat it—including jurisdiction over more mobster related crimes like gambling and, in 1968, the ability to use court-authorized electronic surveillance in cases involving organized crime.

As a result of these intelligence efforts and new tools, our campaign against the mob turned a corner. The next key piece of the puzzle would come in the early ‘70s, with the passage of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations or “RICO” statute that would enable us to take down entire mob families. More on that later.

Thanks to the FBI

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Goodbye Fellas

Friends of ours: Joseph Valachi, Bugsy Siegal, Frank Sinatra, Sam Giancana, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, John Gotti

The perspective on organized crime that Thomas A. Reppetto developed from his career in law enforcement and more than 20 years as president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, tempered by a Harvard Ph.D., paid off handsomely in his 2004 book, “American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power,” which described the mob’s growth to its pinnacle in the mid-20th century. The writing was lucid, concise and devoid of sensationalism, rare qualities in the plethora of books by turncoat mobsters and their ex-wives, journalists, cops and aged Las Vegas insiders. This equally well-written sequel, “Bringing Down the Mob,” chronicles the Mafia’s near demise over the past 50 years. Following this specific thread of American history, general readers will benefit from Reppetto’s cogent examples of how changes in the culture at large affected both the mob itself and the tactics employed by law enforcement. Organized-crime buffs will be familiar with much of the material, but unaccustomed to seeing it assembled into so big and coherent a picture.

In 1950 and ’51, the Kefauver Senate committee’s televised hearings on the Mafia introduced mobsters into American living rooms, the lasting images being close-ups of Frank Costello’s manicured hands — he did not want his face on camera. The public outcry was short-lived and the Mafia cruised comfortably until 1957, when, in Apalachin, N.Y. (population 350), more than 60 Mafia notables attended a conference that was raided by the state police. As Reppetto says, the media have often presented the raid as “some hick cops stumbling on a mob conclave.” He debunks that interpretation and shows how the publicity moved the resistant J. Edgar Hoover to action, so that “from Apalachin on, the United States government was at war with the Mafia.”

As attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy led the next sustained attack on organized crime. He focused obsessively and successfully on Jimmy Hoffa, who was allied with the Mafia while serving as president of the two-million-member Teamsters union. Kennedy also brought before the TV cameras Joe Valachi, a low-level Mafia soldier who, with some coaching, provided extensive information “without revealing that much of it had been obtained through legally questionable electronic eavesdropping.” A new name for the Mafia emerged from the hearings — La Cosa Nostra — which allowed Hoover to say he had been right all along: there was no Mafia; there was a Cosa Nostra organization, exposed by the F.B.I.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Las Vegas provided a battlefield on which the F.B.I., armed with bugging equipment (and caught using it illegally in 1965), defeated the mob, which had been involved from the start of significant gambling in Nevada in the 1940s. Bugsy Siegel put up one of the first casinos on the Strip, the Flamingo. Las Vegas was designated an “open city,” in which any mob family could operate. As Reppetto writes, mobsters “secured Teamster loans to build casinos that they controlled through fronts, or ‘straw men.’ ” (Frank Sinatra lost his license as owner of a Nevada resort for allowing the Mafia boss Sam Giancana, reputedly his “hidden backer,” to frequent the hotel.) These casinos had overseers appointed by the controlling family to run “the skim,” cash siphoned off before the casino take was put on the books for tax purposes. The poorly chosen overseers played a large role in bringing down the mob in Las Vegas, generally being far too violent and unsophisticated to operate in a milieu that demanded a veneer of respectability. Reppetto points out the factual basis of much of Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese’s script for the film “Casino ,” including the chilling scene of Joe Pesci squeezing a victim’s head in a vise until an eye pops out (although that incident actually happened in Chicago). The mob’s management of Las Vegas turned out to be “a disaster,” Reppetto says. “Once it was the Mafia that was well run, while law enforcement plodded along. ... The situation was now reversed.” In the 1980s, corporations began to take control of the casinos.

One of the great hurdles the government had to clear at the start of its war on the Mafia, Reppetto says, was that the approach required to bring down a criminal organization ran “counter to general principles of American criminal justice”: “The usual practice, investigating a known crime in order to apprehend unknown culprits, was reversed. Now the government was investigating a known criminal to find crimes he might be charged with.” The most potent weapon was developed in 1970 — the RICO statute, to which Reppetto devotes a full chapter, pointing out that it took its creator, G. Robert Blakey, a decade of proselytizing before prosecutors would employ it.

A minor quibble: I think the book gives short shrift to the effect of the witness protection program, without which far fewer mobsters could have “flipped” over the years. As to Reppetto’s belief that the Mafia is in serious decline? At any time in the past, asking an average American to name major mob guys might well have elicited several of the following: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, John Gotti. Who comes to mind today?

Thanks to Vincent Patrick whose novels include “The Pope of Greenwich Village” and “Smoke Screen.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Brothershood Mob Squad

Friends of ours: Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Joseph Valachi, John Gotti, Lucchese Crime Family, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, Gambino Crime Family
Friends of mine: Soprano Crime Family, Louis Eppolito, Stephen Caracappa

The phenomenon of Mafia nostalgia is so ingrained in the American consciousness, one might think Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia were among the founding fathers. In fact, our fascination with modern Italian-American organized crime dates only to the early 1960s, when the traitor Joseph Valachi first laid bare its internal structures and codes. Interest in the Mafia has proved far more enduring than the syndicates themselves, which have never recovered from the jailing of John Gotti and so many other godfathers in the 1980s and early 1990s. All we have left are Tony Soprano, the best work of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, and our memories. Ah, the bad old days.

The Mafia has been very good for Hollywood producers and newspaper reporters, which explains the media circus that surrounded the trial earlier this year of New York’s two infamous “Mafia cops,” Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who today remain in jail even though a judge has vacated their convictions. The now-retired detectives, dragged from their gaudy Las Vegas old-age homes to face the tabloid pack, were shown to have funneled sensitive intelligence and actually carried out murders for the crazed Luchese family godfather Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso back in the 1980s. The whole episode felt plucked from another era, as if these were the last two American turncoats to be prosecuted for cold war espionage.

Any number of books and movie projects are said to be in the works, and the first, “The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia,” by Guy Lawson, a veteran crime reporter, and William Oldham, a former New York Police Department detective who helped break the case, has now arrived. The good news, at least for Mafia aficionados, is that Lawson and Oldham have this material down cold. They seemingly had access to every Police Department document, every recorded conversation and every exhibit employed to convict Eppolito and Caracappa.

The bad news is that it’s all here: every dull dinner between the two detectives and an F.B.I. informant, page after page describing a screenplay Eppolito once wrote, apparently every case Oldham ever worked. “The Brotherhoods” is a perfectly fine book that could have been much, much better had the authors only known when to clam up. One suspects that within this overstuffed, ultradense 511-page anvil is a lean, nimble 275-page claw hammer yearning to swing free, a sequel to breezy underworld page-turners like Howard Blum’s “Gangland.” It’s not just that Lawson and Oldham throw in the kitchen sink. Like Gambino soldiers gleefully raiding a Canarsie warehouse, they haul out a refrigerator, 18 microwave ovens, 82 dinette sets, 994 Viking ranges and, still feeling a tad light, the entire inventory of the New Jersey Turnpike Ikea.

Part of the problem is that “The Brotherhoods” is not one book but two. The first is a straightforward if exhaustive narrative of the case, presumably written by Lawson. After putting down the galleys for the 15th time, unable to thrash my way through thickets of paragraphs so dense I began looking for hobbits, I took a hard look at his prose. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. His sentences are spare, his adverbs scarce, his name-pronoun exchanges are good, his transitions are functional if unspectacular. The trouble is Lawson’s use of detail. There’s a world of difference between “telling” detail and telling every detail. At one point I had to stop and shake my head when I realized he was actually explaining the brand name of a chair Oldham uses during a prison conference.

The second book really slows things down. This is Oldham’s lengthy interjections into Lawson’s prose, which come in paragraph after paragraph of quotation, sometimes five and six at a time. While Oldham’s views can be informative and entertaining, the effect is akin to a director’s commentary on a DVD film. Oldham strives to provide context, but too often serves up platitudes. To cite just one example of dozens: “In major organized criminal investigations there is not an obviously straightforward cause and effect. Conspiracies occur in parallel universes and timelines. What is the chronology of the crimes that are investigated? What happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Why did it happen?” This might be catnip for cops, but ahem, sir, could you please stop talking during the movie?

For those willing to wade through it, “The Brotherhoods” has its rewards. The authors do a stellar job of portraying the Police Department as a dysfunctional bureaucracy, making us see how Caracappa, who worked in the elite Major Case Squad alongside Oldham, was a much bigger fish than Eppolito, a blowhard toiling in deepest Brooklyn. They are adept at conjuring organized crime’s inbred world of social clubs and row houses; every cop in the book seems to have a cousin Joey “in the life,” and vice versa. Rarely have Mafiosi seemed like such losers as they do here, obese men in track suits debating whom to kill once they finish their ziti. Gaspipe Casso comes off as a cut above his knuckle-dragging peers, but his story was told just as well — and faster — in Selwyn Raab’s “Five Families.”

Of the two cops, the pathetic, porcine Eppolito — whose cinematic ambitions peaked with a goombah cameo in Scorsese’s “Goodfellas ” — is the most vividly drawn, this due to his mind-bogglingly wrongheaded memoir, “Mafia Cop,” in which he boasted of his Mafia lineage, which included his father, Ralph Eppolito, known as Fat the Gangster, and an uncle, Jimmy the Clam. Caracappa remains a cipher throughout, a wary, watchful figure with the look, and apparently the personality, of an undertaker on downers. Both could have used additional reporting to flesh out their careers and back stories; there aren’t many clues in the text as to what a pro like Caracappa would see in a mook like Eppolito. But Lawson, presumably viewing Oldham as the Ken Jennings of criminalia, falls prey to the common trap of letting only the caged canary sing. Isn’t there anyone else who knew these two detectives?

The book also suffers from several factors out of the authors’ control. For one thing, they cannot tell the full story of what Eppolito and Caracappa actually did, because the two detectives have never publicly discussed, much less admitted, their crimes. So what we get is a narrative engine built around Oldham’s investigation. This is interesting if unremarkable material, in part because his probe was a whodunit only in its infancy. After Casso, in an abortive attempt to reduce a life sentence for murder, told prosecutors about Eppolito and Caracappa in 1994, the next 10 years of story line are purely an exercise in proving what the unreliable Casso claimed.

In the end, for all Oldham’s dogged work, the case is broken when Casso’s conduit to the cops, the aging fence Burton Kaplan, finally cuts a deal of his own after nine years in prison. The authors do their best to wring drama from Oldham’s jailhouse tango with Kaplan, but Kaplan is bland beyond belief. The narrative payoff, the eureka moment the authors spend 300 pages building up to, comes “after dozens of calls and six weeks of talking,” of which little is said. “I think we got a deal,” Kaplan’s attorney tells Oldham. Memo to: Ahab. From: Whale. I think we got a deal.

Thanks to Bryan Burrough

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