The Chicago Syndicate: LBJ
Showing posts with label LBJ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LBJ. Show all posts

Friday, November 22, 2019

Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination

John F. Kennedy's assassination launched a frantic search to find his killers. It also launched a flurry of covert actions by Lyndon Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, and other top officials to hide the fact that in November 1963 the United States was on the brink of invading Cuba, as part of a JFK-authorized coup. The coup plan's exposure could have led to a nuclear confrontation with Russia, but the cover-up prevented a full investigation into Kennedy's assassination, a legacy of secrecy that would impact American politics and foreign policy for the next 45 years. It also allowed two men who confessed their roles in JFK's murder to be involved in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, in 1968.

Exclusive interviews and newly declassified files from the National Archives document in chilling detail how three mob bosses were able to prevent the truth from coming to light – until now. Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination

The explosive true story of how a deranged Lyndon Johnson conspired to murder the President of the United States.

LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, aims to prove that Vice President Johnson played an active role in the assassination of President Kennedy and that he began planning his takeover of the US presidency even before being named the vice-presidential nominee in 1960. Lyndon B. Johnson’s flawed personality and character traits, formed as a child, grew unchecked for the rest of his life as he suffered severe bouts of manic-depressive illness. He successfully hid this disorder from the public as he bartered, stole, and finessed his way through the corridors of power on Capitol Hill, though it’s recorded that some of his aides knew of his struggle with bipolar disorder.

After years of researching Johnson and the JFK assassination, Phillip F. Nelson conclusively shows that LBJ had an active role in JFK’s assassination, and he includes newly-uncovered photographic evidence proving that Johnson knew when and where Kennedy’s assassination would take place. Nelson’s careful and meticulous research has led him to uncover secrets from one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in our country’s history.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Original 1960 John F. Kennedy Presidential Poster

Original 1960 Kennedy Presidential Campaign Office Poster

This gorgeous red, white and blue John F. Kennedy poster is from one of the most important presidential elections in history. It was meant to be hung in a campaign office for the candidates (generally considered by experts to be used in Massachusetts or New York offices). It is in pristine, flawless condition and has been linen backed by one of the leaders in that field of expertise. It is also professionally double-matted and framed in cherry wood.



Known as a "jugate" because of the side-by-side cameo images of the candidates, it has the all-important union seal at bottom as well as the statement, "Issued by the Democratic National Committee, Washington" in lower right, so attesting to its originality and authenticity. This Kennedy poster (with Lyndon B. Johnson) is not typically found, especially in this top grade condition. It's simply extraordinary in every sense, in particular the blazing, rich colors. These colors tend to fade out over time, but these are as strong as the day the poster was printed. Obviously someone had the foresight to "squirrel" this one away. It will look great in an office or conference room. Accompanied by a Letter of Authenticity.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's something Raab could never be convicted of.

Reviewed by JOHN SMYNTEK

Sunday, March 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Joseph Rosenbloom

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sam Giancana Ordered JFK Whacked!!

"Mafia Princess" Antoinette Giancana, daughter of the late Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, claims in her book that her father ordered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If true, this would make Sam Giancana guilty of one of history's worst crimes. But that doesn't trouble Antoinette Giancana. "The Kennedys were not kind to my father," she said. "They were just as evil and corrupt as any mafioso."

Giancana teamed up with two University of Illinois at Chicago doctors to write JFK and Sam: The Connection Between the Giancana and Kennedy Assassinations. The 217-page book was published by Cumberland House Publishing. Giancana's co-authors are Dr. John Hughes, a neurologist, and Dr. Thomas Jobe, a psychiatrist.

Jobe earlier wrote Lyndon Baines Johnson: The Tragic Self, a Psychohistorical Portrayal. He and Hughes then teamed up on a book about the JFK assassination, and enlisted Giancana's help. Hughes said he did the bulk of the research and writing. But he said Giancana is getting top billing in the list of authors because she's better known.

Giancana's best-selling 1984 memoir, Mafia Princess, was made into a TV movie starring Tony Curtis as Sam and soap opera star Susan Lucci as Antoinette. Now 70, Giancana lives in Elmwood Park. She's a sales associate for a retail chain and markets Giancana Marinara Sauce ("Just Like Dad's, Maybe Better").

Hughes said he read more than 40 books on the JFK assassination and spent almost every weekend for 13 years writing and rewriting the book. He wrote that he used his expertise in neurology to analyze how Kennedy's body moved after he was shot. This led Hughes to conclude that there must have been a shooter on the infamous grassy knoll to Kennedy's right.

The mafia, Hughes wrote, helped Kennedy carry Illinois in the close 1960 election, assuring his victory. In return, JFK was supposed to go easy on the mob. Reneging on the deal, Kennedy unleashed his brother Bobby, the attorney general, on organized crime, the authors claim.

In 1975, Sam Giancana was gunned down while cooking sausage in the basement kitchen of his Oak Park home. The book says the CIA killed Sam Giancana to prevent him from telling a congressional committee about his role in CIA plots to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

These theories, scoffs Sam Giancana biographer Bill Brashler, "are as old as the Easter bunny. It's just silliness." Brashler said Kennedy owed his election to the first Mayor Daley, not to the mob. And even if Sam Giancana felt betrayed, it wasn't the mob's style to murder politicians, much less the president. Finally, it was a trusted bodyguard who killed Sam Giancana, not the CIA. "It was a classic mob hit," Brashler said. Brashler said he interviewed Antoinette Giancana for his book, The Don: The Life and Death of Sam Giancana. He concluded she knew next to nothing about her dad's business.

Antoinette Giancana said that for her book she was able to recall long-buried memories during extensive interviews conducted by Jobe.

Conspiracy buffs have proposed 250 theories to explain what "really" happened Nov. 22, 1963, said Ruth Ann Rugg of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a JFK assassination museum in Dallas. But Rugg said the only credible explanation is that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists simply can't accept that such an insignificant drifter changed history by himself. "We want to believe that there was more to it, that there were huge forces involved," Rugg said.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia

Longtime business associates Allen Dorfman and Irwin Weiner frequently lunched together. On a day in January 1983, they emerged from Dorfman's Cadillac onto the icy parking lot of a suburban Chicago restaurant, ten minutes late for their one o'clock reservation. According to Weiner, they were walking between parked cars when two men ran up behind them and yelled, "This is a robbery." One of the men fired a .22 automatic at least half a dozen times. Only Dorfman was hit. He fell to the ground in a large pool of blood that quickly froze into red ice. When the paramedics arrived, he showed no signs of life.

At fifty-nine, Dorfman was a nationally known figure, and his death would be reported across the country. His murder was news, but it was not a surprise. He had been a key figure in the world of organized crime for more than thirty years. Beginning with Jimmy Hoffa, successive presidents of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) had allowed him to use his position as head of the pension fund to provide sweetheart loans to mob figures, money that bankrolled the Mafia's control of several Las Vegas casinos. The union itself, which had access to top business leaders and politicians right up to the White House, was run as a virtual subsidiary of the American Mafia. A month before his murder, Dorfman, Teamsters president Roy Williams, and a top Chicago mob figure, Joe Lombardo, had been convicted of attempting to bribe U.S. senator Howard Cannon of Nevada. After his conviction in December 1982, Dorfman was released on $5 million bail pending sentencing. He stood to receive as much as fifty-five years in prison.

In addition to the bribery case, the government was also conducting an investigation of money skimming in mob-backed Vegas casinos. Dorfman knew the secrets of both the Teamsters and Vegas. If he decided to cut a deal with prosecutors, talking in return for a more lenient sentence, many gangsters-and supposedly legitimate businessmen and officials-would end up in prison. The head of the Chicago Crime Commission told The New York Times, "There's no doubt in my mind that Mr. Dorfman was killed to keep him quiet ... if he ever coughed up to investigators ... this country would be shaking for a month." Someone with access to the crime scene apparently decided to ensure that at least some of Dorfman's secrets did not die with him. He made a photocopy of the dead man's memo book and sent it to the Chicago Crime Commission.

Though he was only an associate member, Allen Dorfman's life provided a window into the world of the American Mafia at its highest levels. Beginning in 1949, it took him just five years to rise from physical education instructor to millionaire, thanks to Hoffa's largess and the connections of his racketeer stepfather, "Red" Dorfman. At the time of his death he headed a financial empire that included insurance companies, condominium developments, resorts, and other projects, and he maintained homes in four states. He was a major contributor to various charities and was frequently honored by civic associations. Yet over his career he had been denounced by congressional committees and constantly pursued by federal law enforcement officers. He was indicted on several occasions, though he usually managed to win acquittals. In 1972 he was convicted of conspiring to facilitate a loan from the Teamsters Pension Fund in return for a kickback of $55,000, but he served only nine months in jail.

After his latest conviction, Dorfman should have been wary of his former associates. He might have known that the bosses of the Chicago mob would be worried that a man long accustomed to the affluent life might not be able to face spending the rest of his days in prison. True, Dorfman had not rolled over following any of his previous arrests. But in the Mafia world that was irrelevant. Chicago mob bosses Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone, who were also caught up in the Vegas skim, had followed very different paths from Dorfman's. Their rise to the top had been slow, prefaced by years spent doing the dirty work with guns and blackjacks. Unlike Dorfman, they could not pose as businessmen and civic benefactors. Instead, they lived by a hard code that mandated that all doubts must be resolved in favor of the organization. They could not take the chance that someone who had so much potential to hurt them would stay silent. Since it was standard mob procedure to eliminate witnesses, Weiner's survival and his tale of attempted robbery caused some investigators to speculate that he had set Dorfman up.

The fact that Dorfman was not Italian had prevented him from becoming a "made" member of the Mafia. Still, he was well aware of its rules, though perhaps he did not think they applied to a big shot like him. The same lack of understanding had undoubtedly cost his old boss Jimmy Hoffa his life eight years earlier. Then again, a lot of people on both sides of the law had always found it hard to comprehend the culture of the American Mafia.

Books about mob life often end up on the true-crime shelves of bookstores, alongside biographies of serial killers and accounts of last year's "heist of the century." In some respects it is the appropriate place for the colorful criminals of the American Mafia. Each generation has brought forth an Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Sam Giancana, or John Gotti, all of whom have fascinated the public, as have their big and small screen counterparts: Scarface, The Godfather, and The Sopranos.

Yet the American Mafia is more than just another group of criminals. Since the 1920s it has been the heart and soul of American organized crime. As such it has exercised significant influence on the political and economic life of the country. In American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power, I told the story of the organization up to the early 1950s. I described how the Mafia managed to acquire all the trappings of an independent state, flouting the authority of the United States government. It promulgated its own laws, not infrequently imposing the death penalty; it even maintained diplomatic relations with foreign countries, such as Cuba. And perhaps most critically, in both politics and business it managed to link the underworld to the upper world. That an organization that never had more than five thousand full-fledged members could exercise such immense power is one of the most phenomenal accomplishments in the history of the United States. It was not, however, a lasting achievement. The present work, an account of events from the 1950s into the twenty-first century, is the story of a declining power. Essentially it is a domestic military history, in that it describes the fifty-year war that law enforcement has waged on the American Mafia.

Words like "organized crime" or "Mafia" lack precision. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who crusaded against the organization, told his subordinates, "Don't define it, do something about it." Over the years, "Mafia" has come to be used as a shorthand for the leading element of American organized crime. Like "Hollywood" as a synonym for the movie industry, or "Wall Street" for high finance, it has become so embedded in the national consciousness that it is impossible to avoid using it. Attempts by official bodies to define the Mafia often fell short, or were misleading. In 1950-51 a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Estes Kefauver of Tennessee exposed the face of organized crime in a score of American cities. In its final report the committee declared that a Mafia, descended from the Sicilian original, controlled the most lucrative rackets in many major cities and tied together criminal groups throughout the country. A 1967 presidential commission described organized crime as "underworld groups that are sufficiently sophisticated that they regularly employ techniques of violence and corruption to achieve their other criminal ends." They explained that the core group of organized crime in the United States consist[s] of 24 groups operating as criminal cartels in large cities across the nation. Their membership is exclusively Italian, they are in frequent communication with each other, and their smooth functioning is insured by a national body of overseers.

In fact the Mafia in the United States was not an offshoot of the Sicilian version. While only men of Italian lineage could be "made" full-fledged members, the organization was not entirely Italian. Nor was the national "commission," as its body of top overseers was called, ever as clearly defined or powerful as it was sometimes portrayed.

In the nineteenth century, some people blamed the newly immigrated Italians for the prevalence of vice and crime in urban areas. But organized crime was well established in the New World long before Italian Americans arrived. Gamblers, saloon keepers, brothel madams, and other criminals paid off the police, who in turn funneled a large share of the take to their political masters. A few immigrants who came to the United States had been members of Old World criminal bands, such as the Neapolitan Camorra and Sicilian Mafia. It is clear, though, that the Italians who would turn to crime in this country (a tiny fraction of the whole) simply took advantage of what they found when they arrived. Even after Mussolini's crackdown on the Mafia in the 1920s propelled some genuine Sicilian mafiosi to the United States, the forms of organized crime they adopted were essentially American.

The Mafia in America produced bosses like Calabrians Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia, as well as Neapolitans Al Capone and Vito Genovese. For practical purposes it also included Jews such as Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel of New York, Abner "Longy" Zwillman of Newark, and Morris "Moe" Dalitz of Cleveland, and these men often exercised power equivalent to that of the Italian bosses. Lansky (nÈ Maier Suchowljansky) was generally ranked among the top three or four mobsters in the country. His success was the result of his financial skills and his ability to forge alliances with key leaders such as Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello. For similar reasons, Moe Dalitz would become a major figure in Ohio, Kentucky, and Nevada. Irish Owney Madden, though confined to the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, after his exile from New York City, managed to reinvent himself as an elder statesman of the American Mafia. Welshman Murray "the Camel" Humphreys (nÈ Humpreys) was always near the top of the Chicago mob hierarchy, as were Jake Guzik and Gus Alex, who were Jewish and Greek, respectively. To emphasize the organization's American origins and its frequently multiethnic makeup, I refer to it as "the American Mafia," though to avoid constant repetition of the term, I will usually refer to it simply as "the Mafia," sometimes only "the mob(s)," or in individual cities by its local equivalent, such as "the Chicago Outfit" or the name of a particular New York family.

One clear indicator that the American Mafia was homegrown was its organizational structure. The American gangs replicated the political machines in the areas where they operated. Chicago, for example, was dominated by the Democratic county organization, though certain ward bosses were given considerable latitude. The Chicago mob controlled the metropolitan area but allowed some of its leading figures to operate with a high degree of autonomy. New York was too large to be ruled by one political organization. Tammany controlled Manhattan, but Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens had their own machines. The New York Mafia's five-family structure dispersed mob power similarly across the five boroughs. In Tammany days, a "commission" made up of a powerful politician from Manhattan, another from Brooklyn, a boss gambler, and a representative of the NYPD regulated organized crime. After 1931, a local Mafia commission composed of the heads of the five families performed the same function. At the same time, a national "syndicate" also developed, directed by a commission that included the New York families and representatives from other cities. The national commission reflected prevailing political practices as well. The Republican and Democratic national committees were dominated by big states, such as New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. In the national syndicate, the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit mobs called the shots (sometimes literally).

The internal arrangements of the families (borgattas or simply gangs) also resembled that of the political machines. The Tammany and Cook County party chairmen and the Mafia family heads were all called "boss." Both Tammany and the Chicago organization often had number two men; in the Mafia they were called underbosses. Tammany had leaders over every assembly district, while Chicago had a party committeeman in charge of each ward, and the Mafia had its middle managers too. In the post-Apalachin period, law enforcement began referring to mob sub-bosses by terms such as "capo" (head). While neat on paper, it did not always conform to local practice. In Chicago, instead of being called capos, sub-leaders were usually referred to by the territory they controlled: boss of the Loop, the Near North Side, the Far South Side, etc. In other places they might be known as captains or crew chiefs. The Tammany wise men were called sachems; the Mafia families' equivalent was consigliere, or counselor, though the job began as a sort of ombudsman to whom aggrieved gang members could appeal. Since "Tammany" was an Indian name, its rank and file were accordingly known as braves. On law enforcement charts, the lowest ranked members of the Mafia were called soldiers, a term that might also encompass crew members who were not "made." While it is sometimes claimed that any Italian made man outranked any non-Italian, this was not the case. A mob soldier, even a crew chief, had to be very respectful around "Bugsy" Siegel or "Shotgun" Alex, men whose nicknames alone indicated their temperament and propensities.

Even the boss title could sometimes be misleading. Some who bore it were no more than titular leaders. Gaetano Gagliano was formally boss of what became the Lucchese family from 1931 until his death in 1951, when he was succeeded by his underboss, Gaetano "Tommy" Lucchese. Yet during the period when Gagliano was supposedly in charge, there was virtually no mention of him, while Lucchese was well known, just as European kings and presidents have often been overshadowed by their prime ministers. Sometimes it was unclear who was actually running a particular Mafia gang. In the 1980s the federal government prosecuted "Fat Tony" Salerno as head of New York's Genovese family even though he was actually the number two man.

The key to the American Mafia's success was its ability to buy or neutralize public officials. Until the 1920s, organizations such as Tammany Hall or Chicago's First Ward had the final say over organized crime. Then Prohibition- rich gangsters turned the tables and began to act as the partners or, in some instances, controllers of the politicians. As one criminal justice official told historian Arthur Sloane, "The mobsters have always been wedded to the political system. That's how they survive. Without that wedding they would be terrorists and we'd get rid of them." The decline of the Mafia began after the 1950s, when the mobs could not muster the political influence to protect themselves from the law enforcement assault led by the federal government.

In the present work I have adopted a broad approach, as opposed to a more narrow focus on a particular mob family or individual leader. Sometimes police or journalists have labeled gangs such as New York's Gambinos or the Chicago Outfit the premier mob families in America. Such assessments are like rankings of college football teams. The view of one expert is not always shared by another or borne out on the playing field. A similar practice is to designate an individual gangster such as Vito Genovese or Carlo Gambino "Boss of Bosses." For a long time, law enforcement followed the same narrow approach in its war on the Mafia: Go after an individual Mr. Big. The turning point in the war came in the 1980s, when the federal government broadened its targets and took down most of the leadership of all five New York families in one fell swoop.

Thanks to Thomas Reppetto

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The JFK-Marilyn Monroe Blackmail Hoax

IT WAS AN INVESTIGATIVE reporter's dream come true: a trove of documents apparently marked up with John F. Kennedy's distinctive scrawl, showing that Marilyn Monroe had blackmailed the late president. According to a series of signed agreements between March 1960 and January 1962, the Kennedys paid the actress more than $1 million for her silence--not just about a long-rumored sexual affair between Kennedy and Monroe, but about JFK's purported relationship with mobster Sam Giancana and, in the document's phrase, other ""underworld figures.'' The papers even hint, says a source who has read them, that Kennedy asked J. Edgar Hoover to arrange Monroe's murder (the actress committed suicide in 1962). For months the documents, obtained by legendary reporter Seymour (Sy) Hersh, have been a subject of gossip in media circles. The papers helped Hersh snare a $2 million TV package. If true, they would not only further tarnish the Kennedy myth but, as Hersh has claimed, ""change some elements of the history of my time.''

If true. Last week ABC News, which had bought the rights to Hersh's upcoming Little, Brown book, "The Dark Side of Camelot," admitted that the documents were fakes. ABC's ""20/20'' played the story as an expose; Peter Jennings confronted the man who had given Hersh the documents--Lawrence (Lex) Cusack Jr.--with an accusation of forgery. Visibly shaken, a trickle of sweat rolling down his face, Cusack denied the charge--and did so again to NEWSWEEK. But the documents were clearly forged by someone.

""Big deal,'' Hersh told NEWSWEEK. Plenty of good reporters chase promising leads that fail to pan out; Hersh says he has cut the phony story from his book and from a TV documentary scheduled to appear in November. Maybe so, but Hersh made an awful lot of money before he began entertaining serious doubts, and how he parlayed the documents into a multimillion-dollar media package reveals a great deal about the continuing fascination with the Kennedy legend and the unrelenting pressure for the big score in the worlds of both publishing and TV. The tale of Hersh's failed scoop has enough intrigue to fill a made-for-TV movie--and will be the source of big-name recriminations for years to come.

Sy Hersh, 60, is, aside from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, the most famous name in investigative journalism. Beginning with his Pulitzer Prize-winning revelations about the massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops at My Lai in 1970, Hersh has broken a number of big stories about spying and international intrigue, including the full account of how the Soviets shot down KAL 007 in 1983. Like many investigative reporters, he has an interest in conspiracy theories, but he is extremely persistent--so much so that his sources sometimes complain he browbeats them. In August 1993 Hersh signed a million-dollar contract with Little, Brown to do a book on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The focus of the book shifted, however, when he found Lex Cusack, a New York paralegal who had a cache of truly explosive papers--and, as Hersh would later discover, a severe credibility problem.

The son of a lawyer who represented the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Cusack told Hersh that he had found a store of 300 documents in his father's files. According to Cusack Jr., his dad did some work for Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the clan. The elder Cusack's most interesting duty: cover up JFK's trysts with Marilyn Monroe, as well as family ties to the mob. In March 1960 the actress agreed to keep quiet about Kennedy's relationship with ""any political or underworld personalities.'' Over time, according to the papers, the deal was amended and enlarged. Frequently mentioned is Sam Giancana, the Chicago mob boss who was being used by the CIA in a failed attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. On Jan. 7, 1962, for instance, Monroe and JFK purportedly signed an agreement requiring Monroe to surrender to a ""designated representative'' (supposedly Robert Kennedy) ""any and all notes and letters'' about any meetings she may have observed between Kennedy and Giancana. Other notes--apparently in Kennedy's handwriting--refer to ""Chicago friends'' and ""meeting with Sam G.'' And in one document, Hoover threatens to blackmail Kennedy after discovering that father Joe had deducted $600,000 of the Monroe payments from his income tax.

Historians have long speculated about ties between Kennedy and the mob. FBI wiretaps indicate that JFK, while president, was having an affair with Judith Campbell Exner, who was a Giancana girlfriend. From his bootlegging days in the 1920s, Joseph Kennedy was said to have kept connections to the Chicago mob, which supposedly helped Jack Kennedy steal both the West Virginia primary in April 1960 and, in the general election, the state of Illinois. But Cusack's documents would have been the first tangible proof that Kennedy and Giancana had actually met. By the same token, though Kennedy clearly flirted with Monroe, who seductively sang ""Happy Birthday, Mr. President'' to 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden in 1962 while wearing a sequined dress--and little else--no one has ever been able to say for sure whether the relationship was consummated. Probably the most responsible account, by Monroe biographer Donald Spoto, indicates that JFK and Marilyn met four times between October 1961 and August 1962; Monroe later told her closest confidant that she and the president had had one sexual encounter in that period. Despite years of rumors, Spoto says there is no evidence that Robert Kennedy and Marilyn ever had a tryst.

Throwback to October, 1997, courtesy of Evan Thomas, Mark Hoseball and Michael Isikoff.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

These Who Killed JFK? Conspiracy Theories Will Not Die

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

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

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

ONE BULLET OR TWO?

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

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

A SNIPER ON THE GRASSY KNOLL?

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

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

THE MAFIA

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

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

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

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

FIDEL CASTRO

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

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

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


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

THE SOVIETS

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

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

THE MILITARY-INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

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

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


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

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

Thanks to Noreen O'Donnell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FBI Agent James Hosty's "Assignment: Oswald" provides fascinating, shocking details that shed definitive light on the JFK Assassination

Special Agent James Hosty began investigating Lee Harvey Oswald in October 1963, a full month before the JFK assassination. From November 22 on, Hosty watched as everyone from the Dallas Police, the FBI, the CIA, Naval Intelligence, and the State Department up through the Warren Commission to J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson reacted to and manipulated the facts of the president’s assassination—until Hosty himself became their scapegoat. After seeing his name appear in three inconclusive federal investigations and countless fact-twisting conspiracy theories (including Oliver Stone’s motion picture), Hosty decided to tell his own story.

Assignment: Oswald is the authoritative insider’s account of one of our country’s most traumatic events. Combining his own unique, intimate knowledge of the case with previously unavailable government documents—including top secret CIA files recently released from the National Archives—Hosty tells the true story behind the assassination and the government’s response to it, including the suppression of a documented Oswald-Soviet-Castro connection. Hosty offers an exclusive insider’s knowledge of the mechanisms, the power structures, and the rivalries in and among the various intelligence and law enforcement agencies and why they have determined who knows what about the assassination. Here, at last, is an unmistakably expert and responsible account of the murder of President Kennedy.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to David Corn

"The Go-Between: A Novel of the Kennedy Years" by Frederick Turner

It is important that the reader recognize this is presented as a work of fiction, although there will always be a tremendous and probably natural temptation to treat all the details it presents as historical fact, for they certainly ring true.

The author's method is an exceedingly verbose and sometimes even tedious monolog. In sympathetic fashion he tells the story of the young woman who became notorious as the mistress of not only handsome young President John F. Kennedy and singer Frank Sinatra but also, significantly, of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancanna. Sinatra and other entertainers owed considerable loyalty to Giancanna, who was also was carrying on an affair with popular singer Phyllis McGuire.

Judith Campbell Exner also is remembered as the woman who, innocently or otherwise, served as the courier between the newly elected Kennedy in Washington and the mobster in Chicago. JFK and his brother, Robert - his attorney general - thought Giancanna could help dispose of the threat to national security posed by the revolutionary Fidel Castro in Cuba.

By the time Exner - who was a household name in the early '60s - died of breast cancer in 1999, she had long vanished from the nation's headlines. She's remembered as a woman who knowingly and willingly had a sexual relationship with a married president - a glamorous president at that. Hers was a shadowy presence at Camelot, although when that era is remembered the dominant female figure is always Jackie Kennedy, barely present in this novel.

If this fictional account is to be believed, Exner's liaison with JFK and her courier role preceded and contributed to his election. There has long been speculation that the vote results in Illinois and West Virginia, results that helped Kennedy win the Democratic primaries in those states and ultimately propelled him into the Oval Office in 1960, may have been "arranged" by the Chicago mob.

Giancanna and his goons were enlisted (if this novel is to be believed, the transaction was carried out in a Chicago courtroom) on the candidate's behalf by his father, former ambassador Joseph Kennedy, a notorious wheeler-dealer with heavy political ambitions for Jack. His first hope had been that an older son, Joseph, would become president; Joe, however, died in a World War II airplane crash in England.

The author's approach is deceptively simple and effective (despite his verbosity and his excessive use of the first person singular): He imagines he is a down-on-his luck newspaper hack who accidentally gains access to Exner's diaries. As he pores over them, he tells his readers, as if he's talking across a dinner table, what he thinks her sometimes cryptic entries in those diaries must have meant. The result is a narrative that will appeal to readers who have an interest in national politics and in particular the Kennedy administration.

Thanks to Al Hutchison

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

5 things you might not know about JFK's assassination

This year will mark 51 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Whether you were alive at the time or not, you probably know that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President, only to be fatally gunned down by Jack Ruby two days later.

You probably also know there are hundreds of conspiracy theories about who was behind the assassination, and whether Oswald was the lone gunman or if there was another shooter on the infamous grassy knoll.

Here are five things you may not know about the assassination of the 35th president of the United States:

1. Oswald wasn't arrested for JFK killing

Lee Harvey Oswald was actually arrested for fatally shooting a police officer, Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippitt, 45 minutes after killing Kennedy. He denied killing either one and, as he was being transferred to county jail two days later, he was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby.

2. Assassinating the president wasn't a federal crime in 1963

Despite the assassinations of three U.S. presidents -- Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley -- killing or attempting to harm a president wasn't a federal offense until 1965, two years after Kennedy's death.

3. TV networks suspended shows for four days

On November 22, 1963, at 12:40 p.m. CST -- just 10 minutes after President Kennedy was shot -- CBS broadcast the first nationwide TV news bulletin on the shooting. After that, all three television networks -- CBS, NBC, and ABC -- interrupted their regular programming to cover the assassination for four straight days. The JFK assassination was the longest uninterrupted news event on television until the coverage of the September 11 attacks in 2001.

4. It led to the first and only time a woman swore in a U.S. president

Hours after the assassination, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One, with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side, an event captured in an iconic photograph. Federal Judge Sarah Hughes administered the oath, the only woman ever to do so.

5. Oswald had tried to assassinate Kennedy foe

Eight months before Oswald assassinated JFK, he tried to kill an outspoken anti-communist, former U.S. Army Gen. Edwin Walker. After his resignation from the U.S. Army in 1961, Walker became an outspoken critic of the Kennedy administration and actively opposed the move to racially integrate schools in the South. The Warren Commission, charged with investigating Kennedy's 1963 assassination, found that Oswald had tried to shoot and kill Walker while the retired general was inside his home. Walker suffered minor injuries from bullet fragments.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Mafia Involvement in JFK's Killing Investigated in Assassination Theater

After decades of controversy, investigating the Kennedy assassination has earned a reputation as bad news for many reporters, a radioactive topic no one wants to approach.

“It’s one of the black holes of journalism,” said investigative reporter/playwright Hillel Levin. “It’s the sort of story reporters get sucked into and are never heard from again.”

That, however, hasn’t stopped him from spending seven years working on “Assassination Theater,” a theatrical investigation making a case for an organized crime conspiracy to kill JFK. The play debuts with a one-night-only staged reading Aug. 9 in the Arts Center of Oak Park.

Levin, an Oak Park resident and former editor of Chicago magazine, has made a specialty of true-crime books since co-authoring 2004’s “When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down” about the ’90s Gambat trials exposing the Chicago mob’s rigging of the city’s legal system.

After that book and a 2007 Playboy article about the burglarizing of Chicago mafia boss Tony Accardo’s home (a movie version starring Robert De Niro will be shot this fall in Chicago), Zachariah Shelton, an FBI agent featured in that story, asked Levin why he didn’t write the real Chicago mob story. Namely, their active involvement in the Kennedy assassination.

“I admit that I cringed a bit when he said that,” Levin said. “But having leaned about the mob here, about their power and influence, I couldn’t easily dismiss it. And I could understand why they might have been motivated to do it, since they were very involved in building Las Vegas in 1963 with funds from the Teamsters Central States pension — and the Kennedys, especially Bobby Kennedy as attorney general, were threatening that by going after Jimmy Hoffa.”

Levin said he was never a believer in the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted as a lone assassin, but he had never thought of the mafia as a likely suspect until Shelton showed him FBI evidence he had discovered by accident, along with corroborating evidence the agent uncovered in a private investigation. And even then, he wasn’t convinced until he’d spent years going over the official evidence, including medical reports and statements from witnesses unsealed in the ’90s.

His findings are dramatized by four actors in “Assassination Theater,” one playing himself, one playing Shelton and two playing various characters including Oswald, LBJ, Jack Ruby, autopsy morticians, mob figures and more. A large screen shows photos supporting their statements, including one purporting to show an assassin walking away from the grassy knoll immediately after the shooting.

“I’m not a zealot and I’m not saying everyone has to believe me,” Levin said. “But I think anyone who looks at the evidence with any attention will realize Oswald couldn’t have done it alone. My central thesis is that it was theater in a lot of ways and part of the show was putting the blame on only one actor, when in fact he was part of a much bigger production.”

Hence, in large part, Levin’s decision to present his findings on stage instead of writing a book. That, plus his belief that theater provides an immersive experience that will help people process the information and come to an understanding of it.

“The thing about the assassination I’d most like to dispel is people simply accepting the idea that this is a mystery that can never be known. I believe a great deal of it can in fact be known — that it is not unfathomable,” he said.

“That’s the way I hope everyone will feel when they leave the theater.”

Thanks to Bruce Ingram.

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