Showing posts with label Lou Ferrante. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lou Ferrante. Show all posts

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Former Gambino Mobster Faces Off Against Retired DEA Agent on Crime Beat Radio

On December 6th, Lou Ferrante, a former Gambino mobster, and Louie Diaz, retired DEA agent who took down Nicky Barnes, grew up in the same tough Brooklyn neighborhood. They go one on one in a discussion about their parallel lives.

Crime Beat is a weekly hour-long radio program that airs every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST., on the Artist First World Radio Network at artistfirst.com/crimebeat.

Crime Beat presents fascinating topics that bring listeners closer to the dynamic underbelly of the world of crime. Guests have included ex-mobsters, undercover law enforcement agents, sports officials, informants, prisoners, drug dealers and investigative journalists, who have provided insights and fresh information about the world’s most fascinating subject: crime.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Life and Times of a Mafia Insider - Tough Guy: A Memoir by Louis Ferrante

Hear the words "Mafia boss" and you think: olive-skinned with dark, slightly bloodshot eyes and a sharp suit. Louis Ferrante fulfils some of those preconceptions.

He is New York Italian, powerfully built, and was wearing a black shirt when interviewed for HARDtalk by Sarah Montague.

He worked for John Gotti of the infamous Gambino crime family, which pulled off some of the most lucrative heists in American history. But he is younger than you would think, given that he ran his own "crew" and did nine years in jail before deciding to change his life and become a writer.

Ferrante's moment of truth came when a prison guard at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center described him and his kind as "animals".

Two months in solitary forced him to ponder the question: was he an animal? If so, why was he one? "I thought about the people I'd victimised... and I realised I did deserve to be in a zoo," he recalls.

For the first time in his life he started reading books, looking deeper into himself and searching for some answers. He set himself the challenge to read the entire prison library.

"Prison was the greatest thing that happened to me, because it gave me time to look inside myself, the solitude that I needed to take a closer look at everything around me; to analyse myself."

He educated himself and converted to Judaism.

Given his experience behind bars, Ferrante believes the prison services should be about giving inmates the opportunity to change their lives. But before his own transformation, Ferrante's "greatest aspiration" was always to be a member of the Mafia.

He started off as a kid, sawing the tops of meters to get the coins, and hijacked his first truck as a teenager, using a gun.

"I was 17 years old. I liked girls. I liked to drive fast cars. I liked hamburgers and French fries.

"And I'd just realised that I liked to hijack trucks".

A common misconception about the Mafia is that you have to have a genetic link to a "family" in order to be a member. Not so, says Ferrante. The most famous Mob bosses were not born into "the Life".

Lucky Luciano, Thomas Lucchese, Carlos Marcello and Vito Genovese all started out as petty thieves, graduating to bigger crimes as the years passed. So did John Gotti and so did Ferrante.

Whether he is accurately described as a "boss" is debatable.

His memoir, Tough Guy, more modestly describes him as a "Mafia insider". But he was on the list being passed around the five Mafia families and was on the verge of being "made" when he was arrested for racketeering.

"I had a dozen good men under me... I was already equal to a made man, since I answered directly to the heads of my family."

In a legitimate business he would be considered middle management.

At the height of his criminal career Ferrante had the trappings of wealth. "I'd drop $10,000 at the tables in Atlantic City, pick up a $500 tab at a steakhouse, and hand out hundreds to anyone with a story."

He made his money robbing trucks, selling on bent goods bought with fake credit cards made from stolen numbers, dealing with anything from high quality white goods to government bonds.

In an early mistake he robbed a truck load of cheap underwear. "I was stuck with 500 boxes of brassieres I couldn't sell as slingshots".

But mostly his jobs were highly lucrative.

His book enables you to check what you think you know about the New York Italian underworld with reality.

You have to be Italian to be "made"? True.

Under no circumstances do you take your beef with another gangster to his home, involving his family. Also true.

He consorted with characters like Bert the Zip, Tony the Twitch and Barry the Brokester, who always maintained he could not pay you because he was broke.

Bobby Butterballs he leaves us to work out for ourselves.

He maintains that there is honour amongst thieves:

"Jimmy and I had no contract, no lawyers, no bill of sale; a handshake sealed the deal. Try that in the straight world".

And he would have you believe that he was a nice cuddly gangster. He maintains he never murdered anyone. But that was perhaps more by luck than judgement.

Ferrante glosses over quite how much he injured people, and he admits in his book that he beat someone up and left him not knowing whether he was alive or dead.

Collecting money, he says, was easy for him. "I collected $20,000 from a guy who owned a dress company in a garment centre. I threatened to hang him out the window. He paid, even though his office was on the first floor."

When HARDtalk presenter Sarah Montague asked him how he asserted himself in prison he used elliptical phrases like: I would have to "declare myself" or "express myself".

Writing his life story cannot have been an easy decision. The Mafia are not keen on insiders discussing their modus operandi.

He has changed the names to protect the innocent and conceal the guilty, and says as a matter of honour he has never ratted on his former associates.

Thanks to Bridget Osborne

Monday, January 14, 2008

Film Rights to Mobster's Memoir "Unlocked: A Journey From Prison to Proust" Optioned by The Sopranos Dr. Melfi

Like so many wiseguys before him, Lou Ferrante finally got pinched. After years of hijackings, beatings and other violent crimes, he was busted for armed robbery and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison. Life behind bars was a shock to the smart-aleck kid from Queens who had joined the Gambino crime family. But even more shocking was how he spent his time.

While other prisoners slept, Ferrante would rise early to daven, reciting prayers of his newfound Jewish faith. He wore a yarmulke in the exercise yard and followed kosher dietary laws. He spent months in an upstate prison writing a Torah commentary but shoved it under his mattress when the Sabbath began on Friday night.

Desperate to pass the days, Ferrante began reading books for the first time in his life. He took up writing and cranked out a 1,200-page novel that he now admits is terrible. As his sentence ended, he told anyone who would listen that he was a changed man and that Judaism was his rock.

"I figured that with Judaism, you don't go through a middleman, you go right to the top guy and talk to him," Ferrante said, sounding like a cross between Joe Pesci and Paulie Walnuts. "That's how I used to handle business on the streets. It made a lot of sense."

Released from prison two years ago, the 38-year-old Ferrante began writing a book about his experiences. That memoir, "Unlocked: A Journey From Prison to Proust," will be published in March by HarperCollins. When he sent a copy of it to "Sopranos" star Lorraine Bracco -- contacting her through friends of a friend -- he hoped simply to get a blurb. But she called him immediately after reading it and made a pitch for the film rights.

"This story has shades of 'Goodfellas' and 'Shawshank Redemption,' " said Bracco, who played Dr. Jennifer Melfi, the shrink to gangster Tony Soprano on the HBO show. "And for whatever reason, these mob stories always seem to find me. This is the first book I've ever optioned for a film, and I'm very excited about it."

Bracco, who also played the wife of gangster Henry Hill in "Goodfellas," can't help but see the irony: Here she is, helping a real-life mobster redeem himself after playing a similar role on television. To fully explore Ferrante's tale, she said she'll be seeking creative advice from David Chase, who created "The Sopranos," and Nick Pileggi, the author of "Wiseguy" and "Casino."

"Imagine all the things he [Ferrante] has been through, the changes he underwent in prison," the actress said. "And then think about the fact that it's not just a great movie story, it's true."

Some may be tempted to dismiss Ferrante's book, because the image of a tough guy reading the Talmud invites obvious jokes. (Alternate titles might include "From Meatballs to Matzo Balls" or "The Mobster Who Became a Mensch"). But to hear Ferrante speak seriously about his life is to hear the story of a man who once brutalized others -- and vows to change. He's just moved into a new home in upstate New York and hopes to make a living as a writer.

Unlike most mob memoirs, "Unlocked" doesn't dwell unduly on criminal exploits, nor does it name many names. Although the author spent time with both John and Peter Gotti, they are rarely mentioned. Instead, he tries to provide some insight into his own behavior, something rarely found in Mafia tell-alls, according to Pileggi, who wrote a blurb for the book. Indeed, Ferrante makes no excuses for his violent behavior and begins his memoir with the story of a truck hijacking in which he and his crew terrorized an innocent driver who begged for his life.

Let the therapy begin: "He wasn't just robbing money, he was robbing the souls of other people," said Bracco, describing Ferrante's past. "When you stand with a gun and tell someone what to do, you're putting fear into their lives. You're destroying something. It's almost like a molester stealing the soul of a child."

It took nearly a decade in prison for Ferrante to realize that his career in organized crime was a physical and spiritual dead end.

He saw other prisoners slowly losing their minds behind bars and said he turned to reading, writing and religion as an escape from daily life. But what he found was the cornerstone of a new identity.

"I thought about my life," he wrote. "Why did I end up here, living with animals? I beat men up. I shoved guns in their mouths. I even bit people. I lived like an animal on the street. I didn't realize it until I was placed in this zoo. I hated myself for being one of them."

The path back to self-respect included religion, and Ferrante explored several. Shedding Catholicism for Judaism took guts, because fellow Italians viewed him as a traitor and wondered if he was snitching on them to the feds. Others saw him lose the protection of a larger group and decided he was ripe for attack.

"In jail, most American Jews are not considered dangerous," he observed. "The dozen or so I did time with were all there for nonviolent crime. I don't think anybody ever checked into protective custody saying, 'I'm scared for my life; the Jews are after me.' "

When he was finally released, Ferrante's friends were impressed with his new interest in writing. A few, including screenwriter David Black ("Law & Order"), introduced him to other authors and agents, but none was interested in his novel. They all urged him to tell his own story. Reluctant at first to revisit the past, he finally relented.

Ferrante sent a few early chapters to literary agent Lisa Queen, whom he had met through a mutual friend. She was impressed with the fluid, poetic quality of his writing and signed him up on the spot. "I sold the book about two weeks later, and it all happened very quickly," Queen said. "The book was obviously true to life. But he is also quite funny. Humor helps him tell his stories."

Like the time, shortly after his release, he ran into a Mafia big shot who was slurping matzo ball soup in a kosher diner. Ferrante realized the guy was high on the list of mobsters with whom he couldn't associate, according to his probation guidelines.

"The guy gives me a big hug, but my first question is whether he thinks he's being watched by the feds," Ferrante recalled. "He said he probably was. So I tell him: 'I'm going to have to report this whole thing to my probation officer.' That much I understood. But why he was there in a kosher restaurant, I couldn't begin to tell you."

Thanks to Josh Getlin

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