The Chicago Syndicate: Lucky Luciano
Showing posts with label Lucky Luciano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lucky Luciano. Show all posts

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mobsters Support Federal Economic Stimulus Plan

The federal economic stimulus plan might have unintended benefits for organized crime.

At least that's the assessment of experts who monitor groups like the Russian Mafia in Los Angeles County.

"They take advantage," said Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Larry Hastings. "The more money that's out there; if there's some type of scam they can get into, they'll go after it. If there's an angle they'll work it."

Hastings heads a squad specifically tasked with taking on organized crime. In recent years the men and women who work for him report a surge in Russian gangsters throughout the region.

"It used to be they were just on the Westside," Hastings said. "Now pretty much we are getting stuff all over. It's spread everywhere."

There's nothing new about gangsters profiting in an economic downturn. During the Great Depression, Al Capone ran rackets in Chicago, while Lucky Luciano ran them in New York and Mickey Cohen took care of business here in Los Angeles.

Those crime families, primarily Italian, are known in law enforcement as La Cosa Nostra or LCN. Their profits derived primarily from vice - bootlegging, prostitution, drugs, gambling and extortion. And, as they gained notoriety, made LCN members were glamorized in Hollywood, lived like celebrities and became huge targets for law enforcement, Hastings said.

A Godfather called the shots and his capos and lieutenants carried out the orders.
Advertisement But the new organized crime groups, while expert in all the old-school tricks, present a problem for law enforcement. Their structure is not well defined. They fly under the radar. There is no Godfather.

"It's really difficult to explain," Hastings said. "They are loosely organized and spread all over. They are not like street gangs or LCN."

Instead of cozying up to Hollywood types, Russian mobsters get close to politicians and successful businessmen, Hastings said. The new rackets are complicated fraud scams that target credit cards, ATM machines, and the fountains of government money intended for health care, welfare and a variety of other social needs.

As more and more money pours out of Washington, experts believe crime groups formed in Soviet prisons under Stalin are ready to put on a full-court press.

There's little doubt the Russian mob will use all the tricks at its disposal, according to Gerald Caiden, a USC professor of public policy, who is an expert in organized crime.

"These guys know how to diddle the system," Caiden said. "They'll figure out a way to get swing loans from (the government) using fake addresses and any other means they can."

Caiden believes Russian scam artists are primarily responsible for the collapse of our Social Security system. "It's awful what these guys have done," Caiden said.

Bottom line: a sagging economy, billions of new government dollars pouring into the system and a ruthless group intent on profiteering can only mean more trouble for already overburdened law enforcement agencies tracking these thugs.

"They are about making money," Hastings said. "What's happening now is not going to hurt them."

Thanks to Frank Giradot

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chicago Outfit and New York Families Stretch their Connections Beyond Las Vegas to San Diego

On August 31, the Union-Tribune printed an obituary on the death of Allard Roen, one of the original developers of Carlsbad’s La Costa Resort and Spa. He was living there when he died August 28 at age 87.

The U-T’s obituary was a typical, dutiful encomium. It did not mention the background of one of Roen’s major partners in La Costa and other projects, Moe Dalitz. He was among the 20th Century’s most notorious gangsters, as the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, known as the Kefauver Committee, pointed out in 1950 and 1951. In fact, a book that is now a best seller, T.J. English’s Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution, notes that Dalitz, then 47, attended the famed Havana Conference at Cuba’s Hotel Nacional in late December 1946. According to English, a select group of 22 dignitaries caucused to strategize the American mob’s plan to make Cuba a Western Hemisphere vice haven. The group included Giuseppe (Joe Bananas) Bonanno, Vito (Don Vito) Genovese, Meyer Lansky of Murder Inc. and the Bugs and Meyer Mob, Charles (Lucky) Luciano, Luciano’s sidekick and “Prime Minister of the Underworld” Frank Costello, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante Jr., Joe Adonis, and Tony (Big Tuna) Accardo, former bodyguard for Al (Scarface) Capone and later head of the Chicago mob. The book points out that Dalitz had been a partner with Lansky in the Molaska Corporation.

Timothy L. O’Brien, author of Bad Bet : The Inside Story of the Glamour, Glitz, and Danger of America's Gambling Industry, writes that Dalitz had run “the Cleveland branch of Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Meyer Lansky’s nascent Mafia.” Decades later, Dalitz was known as the caretaker “of underworld investments in Las Vegas.”

A Federal Bureau of Investigation official said in 1978, “The individual who oversees the operations of the La Cosa Nostra families in Las Vegas is Moe Dalitz,” according to James Neff’s Mobbed Up: Jackie Presser's High-Wire Life in the Teamsters, the Mafia, and the FBI.

After Prohibition’s repeal knocked out his bootlegging business, Dalitz went into the illegal casino business in southern Ohio and Kentucky. He then became the Big Boss in Vegas, arranging casino financing from the mob-tainted Teamsters Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund and keeping track of the books at such spas as the Desert Inn, where Roen was also a key figure. In the late 1940s, Dalitz resurrected crooner Frank Sinatra’s sagging career by giving him gigs at the Desert Inn.

Roen, who in the 1960s pleaded guilty in the United Dye and Chemical securities fraud, joined with Dalitz, Irwin Molasky, and Merv Adelson to build Las Vegas’s Sunrise Hospital with Teamster funds. They tapped Teamster funds for other investments. That Central States fund was essentially a piggy bank controlled by Jimmy Hoffa.

The fund played a key role in San Diego. It loaned $100 million to San Diego’s Irvin J. Kahn, a mobbed-up financier who used the money to develop Peñasquitos. He also got a concealed loan of $800,000 from a tiny Swiss bank named the Cosmos Bank, which made other mob-related loans before being closed up by joint action of the United States and Switzerland in the 1970s.

But the Central States Teamster fund’s big investment was La Costa. The interim loans were made by U.S. National Bank, controlled by C. Arnholt Smith, named “Mr. San Diego” by the Downtown Rotary Club and “Mr. San Diego of the Century” by a reporter for the San Diego Union. Following the interim loans, the Teamster fund would assume the U.S. National loans. There was a cozy relationship. Frank Fitzsimmons, who became head of the Teamsters after Jimmy Hoffa was exterminated, used to come down to watch the Smith-owned minor-league Padres play. And Fitzsimmons would play golf in San Diego with politician Richard Nixon.

The Union-Tribune’s recent panegyric to Roen mentioned that in 1975 Penthouse magazine ran an article charging that La Costa was a hangout for mobsters, and the founders sued for libel. Here’s how the U-T summed up the result: “A 10-year court battled ensued until La Costa accepted a written apology from the magazine.” This is a rank distortion. A joke.

“San Diego leadership has a tendency to fall in love with people with big bucks who come into town,” says Mike Aguirre, city attorney. The La Costa founders “were one of the first big-bucks boys who rode into town, and the welcome wagon was driven by C. Arnholt Smith.” The U-T then, and to this day, protects the roughriders who bring their sacks of money to San Diego.

Aguirre was one attorney representing Penthouse in the suit. He and his colleagues parsed every sentence in the article. The Penthouse trial lawyer rattled off to the jury the names of those who had shown up at La Costa, including Hoffa, Dalitz, Lansky, and many other hoods. And here is the key: the jury exonerated the magazine, agreeing that it had proved that everything it said was true.

It turned out that the judge, Kenneth Gale, had formerly been a lawyer for Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno, a notorious mob hit man who had begun cooperating with the government. Fratianno was to testify for Penthouse about the mobsters who habituated La Costa. Gale wouldn’t let the magazine’s lawyer question Fratianno. Judge Gale had also previously represented an infamous union racketeer, as related by Matt Potter in a 1999 Reader story.

After Gale threw out Penthouse’s victory, the magazine thought it could win a retrial, but after ten years and $8 million in legal expenses, Penthouse issued an innocuous statement, saying that it “did not mean to imply nor did it intend for its readers to believe that Messrs. Adelson and Molasky are or were members of organized crime or criminals” (italics mine). Note that Dalitz and Roen were not included in that statement. The magazine praised Dalitz and Roen for their “civic and philanthropic activities.”

Then La Costa owners lauded Penthouse for its “personal and professional awards.” It was a détente sans sincerity.

Dalitz died in 1989 at age 89, leaving a daughter in Rancho Santa Fe. She is involved in many peace and politically progressive activities. Her attorney was once San Diego’s James T. Waring, who didn’t last long as Mayor Jerry Sanders’s real estate czar.

The information on Waring ran in detail in the Reader in early 2006. San Diego’s leaders, always friendly to moneybags, didn’t appreciate the story.

Thanks to Don Bauder

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Organized Crime Evolves with Economy and Pressure from The Feds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Last Sit-Down

The Last Sit-Down is a limited edition mixed media canvas painting that is a stunning work of art romanticizing the Italian-American mafia's most glorious years in history. Thirteen of La Cosa Nostra's most notorious members transcend the different eras in which they lived and together feast in a setting fit for a Don. From left to right, Joe Bonanno, Sal Maranzano, Vito Genovese, Joe Masseria, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, John Gotti, Paul Castellano, Joseph Colombo, Carlo Gambino, Albert Anastasia, and Gaetano Lucchese await your arrival to "The Last Sit-Down".

The Last Sit Down

Friday, December 21, 2007

Las Vegas Museum to be Mobster Lite?

Where's the respect?

Las Vegas, the flamingo city of lights, has the gumption to be planning a mob museum. But since Las Vegas is the town where the mob tried to go straight, this proposed museum will probably be more like Mobster Lite.

Imagine: Chicago -- the town run by Al Capone, where the St. Valentine's Day Massacre became the iconic event of the Era of the Mobster, where John Dillinger was welcomed with a hail of bullets outside the Biograph Theater, where police and judges raked in bribes by the tens of millions during Prohibition -- being upstaged by upstart Las Vegas.

Where do they get the ego? Even the most famous Las Vegas mob hit -- of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel -- took place in Los Angeles.

Chicago, New York and maybe Cleveland were home to the real gang activity of the teens and '20s. Hundreds of larger and lesser mobsters in those towns met their violent rewards on the streets, in barber chairs and at quiet restaurants with checkered tablecloths.

Las Vegas was the Johnny-come-lately spot with only a few mob hits as the violence waned and the old crime families withered on their way to going straight.

The FBI thinks the museum is a good idea.

The feds, of course, want good local billing in it. They certainly were more successful in cleaning up Las Vegas than they were in Chicago (but far more credit in Las Vegas goes to the Nevada Gaming Commission).

At such a museum there probably is money to be raked in. They better just hope New York and Chicago mob families don't demand a cut.

Many think America's old mobsters looked like James Cagney, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and George Raft rather than Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano or syphilis-marked Capone.

Still, menacing gangsters behind glass in an air-conditioned museum would be more palatable than on the doorstep in the morning, demanding protection money as you open your mom-and-pop sundry store.Shop the Morgan Mint.com for fine collectible coins

Give Las Vegas three bars on a slot machine for coming up with another tourist draw. But this museum sounds like it might be to the old mob what fine cabernet is to bathtub gin.

Thanks to TCH

Saturday, December 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to David Robb

Magazines.com, Inc.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Brief History of the Mafia

Half the guys I know can't remember anything that happened before lunch, and worse, they have no idea about their roots. They think that anyone over 50 is a dinosaur and lived in a different world. It was a different world for the older generation, but the rules of the game haven't changed much. Anyone who wants to take charge needs to understand the history of the mafia; otherwise he'll end up making the same mistakes and looking like twice the stronzo for his ignorance.

Wise guys didn't just spring out of the earth. Guys who practice the trade today are only the latest of a long tradition, and they offer the same primary service that the first guys did back in the middle ages: Protection from the real criminals -- the government. The men who started this racket didn't open up a strip club and kick their feet up. They were regular Sicilians who saw their country falling into disarray and decided that they weren't going to allow that to happen without having something to say about it.

Roots in Palermo and SicilyCharles Tyrwhitt
Sicily and Palermo became the cradle of the Mafia. They were outlaws then as much as they are today, but in Palermo their means of making money differed from modern times. Rather than run drugs or guns, they borrowed other people's cattle and stood guard over property -- unglamorous property, like lemon orchards. Not exactly the bling we think of in 2007. The point of it all was to help the weak persevere over the strong, to form a group that had greater loyalty than that of the godless state that threatened the little man and even the wealthy.

In the 1700s, the Sicilian Mafia delivered images of a "Black Hand" to families, which might be thought of as an invoice for continued protection. Households that received the Black Hand either had to pay a tax for continued protection against invaders or they themselves became enemies of the Mafia.

Ranks and religion
In Italy they invented the rules, the initiation rights and the methods of doing business that still work today. They knew how to toe the line and follow the orders of their bosses. The Cosa Nostra has maintained its ranks for several hundred years, but it wasn't until the 19th century that they became a force within greater Italy and the United States.

They kept their religion close to them as well. The Sicilians in particular remained more faithful to the Pope, rejecting the new order of Italy, the government power that put the church in a secondary role. Because the nation posed a threat to the common people, the early Mafia turned their focus to the church as their common bond and rallying point.

Working in the cracks
The weaknesses and failures of the powers-that-be always provide cracks for motivated men to score some dough. After the formation of Italy, the outlaws quickly became organized and started staking out territory. The corruption in the Italian government officials aided the Mafia in getting a foothold in power, since bribes and threats managed to turn the loyalty of many lowly-paid bureaucrats away from their state job. Compared to wise guys in the United States, the Italian Mafia took a more active approach to changing government to work in their favor -- and they still do this today, always jumping into the cleavage of the government to get a handful.

Expanding the business
Hard times can lead to new opportunities. The Italian-American immigrants saw great opportunity in the new world for making money, particularly through prostitution, gambling and alcohol. The Mafia set up shop in every American city and started plying the trade of the old world.

One man in particular made the Mafia in the United States what it is today. Lucky Luciano is at the root of the history of the Mafia, as he murdered his way to the top of the organization and owned New York for most of his life. He was the “king pimp” of the city and ruled the Mafia during the era of prohibition -- a virtual gift from the U.S. government that allowed guys like Luciano and Al Capone to become extremely wealthy. This was the golden era of the Mafia in the United States, with all of the kingpins at play. There was Dutch Schultz, a Bronx bootlegger who later set up shop in New Jersey; Bugsy Siegel, a hit man who became one of the founders of Las Vegas; Meyer Lansky, a businessman who set up gambling operations all over the world long before globalization was even a word; and, of course, Al Capone, who whacked his way to the top and then ran Chicago's extremely profitable bootlegging business.

Working with the enemy
In desperate times, even the boss has to bend his rules. But a good boss will only do it when there is an incentive for the organization beneath him. The Cosa Nostra quieted during the period leading up to World War II. However, during the war they provided assistance to the United States and the Allies, since Lucky Luciano struck a deal with the U.S. Navy, such that he would give the Allies intelligence about Sicily and Italy if he could avoid going to prison. The Italian mob ran the ports and hated Mussolini, so Luciano's deal was music to both sides.

Re-organize after a war
Luciano came to be known as the "Boss of Bosses," not only because he put the fear of God into people but also for the way he managed the system. After the bloody Castellammarese War, a mob turf fight, Luciano called the five families of New York together to look at ways to keep their squabbles out of the media. He invented The Commission, which was a gathering of leaders of the families. This coordination of the families made the whole stronger.

After World War II, the Mafia in Italy returned to its previous state -- rather than running from Mussolini, they were running businesses. A new commodity became a moneymaker for the Cosa Nostra in the U.S.: Drugs, particularly heroin, made their way to the States via ships from Turkey, Vietnam and other places where the poppies grew.

In the years since, the families have risen and fallen in New York. The most recent one to make waves was the “Teflon Don,” John Gotti, a guy who the Feds could never nail with a crime. Over the course of his time as boss of the Gambino family, he was accused of not paying taxes, murder, racketeering, obstructing justice, loan sharking, illegal gambling, and more loan sharking.

Learning from your past
Along the way, the mob has grown in income and respect, owing to guys who knew when and how to take risks, as well as how to keep their mouths shut. If there is one thing that the government will never have over the Mafia, it's loyalty. This is mainly because when it comes to getting screwed, the beat cop is always over a barrel by both sides. A regular Joe six-pack cop will take a pass on going head-to-head with wise guys since he usually has a family at home that he wants to live another day for. The Mafia doesn't want to run the country, but they are always ready to make sure the owners of the country always remain afraid of the streets. And that's a brief history of the Mafia.Charles Tyrwhitt

Thanks to Mr. Mafioso.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Rogues' Hall of Fame

Johnny Roselli was the mob's ambassador-without-portfolio, corrupting the film industry's unions in Hollywood and becoming the go-to guy in Las Vegas and Miami. After testifying before a Senate committee and emerging as a player in the mob's long-rumored involvement in JFK's assassination, his body washed up off Miami.Patriotic Skyscraper1


Meyer Lansky
was the mob's gambling czar and set up casinos in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Hot Springs, Ark., New Orleans, Las Vegas, Florida and Cuba. Refused citizenship in Israel, he retired to Miami. Immortalized by actor Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth in "The Godfather II."

Vito Genovese sought to dethrone Lucky Luciano as capo di tutti capi; conspired to assassinate mob rival Frank Costello, leading to the ill-fated mob conference in Apalachin, N.Y., that put the Mafia under the eye of investigators. Died in federal prison after mob cohorts reportedly set him up on a heroin rap.

Paul Castellano, Gambino's heir, ran meat and poultry businesses and lived sumptuously in a Todt Hill, S.I., mansion known as "The White House." Dapper Don John Gotti supposedly orchestrated his Dec. 16, 1985, assassination outside a Manhattan steakhouse.

Frank Costello was a Tammany Hall fixer and diplomat whose gravel-voiced persona supposedly was the inspiration for Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in "The Godfather." Lived on Park Avenue and in Sands Point, L.I.; retired after Vito Genovese's failed assassination bid in May 1957.

Carmine Galante, a feared hit man and dope dealer, assumed the reins of the Bonanno crime family in the '70s; was gunned down at an Italian restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where his bullet-riddled body lay crumpled on the ground, a cigar still hanging from his mouth.

Mickey Cohen, head of Los Angeles gambling rackets, maintained a host of powerful friends, including Frank Sinatra - who once appealed to him to get mobster Johnny Stompanato to stop dating Ava Gardner. Depicted by Harvey Keitel in the 1991 film "Bugsy" and by Paul Guilfoyle in 1997's "L.A. Confidential."

Carlo Gambino infiltrated the garment industry while heading the country's largest and most powerful mob family, yet managed to avoid the limelight - and the scrutiny of cops - by living quietly at 2230 Ocean Parkway in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Died of a heart attack in 1976.

James Ralph "Bottles" Capone was the lesser-known and benignly named brother of the Windy City's uber-gangster, Al "Scarface" Capone. Lived with a sister at Martha Lake, near Mercer, Wis., and was said to have had numerous arrests - but no felony convictions. He reputedly owned a vending machine business in western Chicago.

Charles "Lucky" Luciano, considered a visionary in mob history, helped engineer the five-family crime structure in New York City. Given 30 years for running brothels, he served only a decade behind bars, with the proviso that he be deported to Italy.

Thanks to Phillip Messing

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Only Mob Impacted by Whitey Sighting is Tourists

The possible sighting of the legendary Boston gangster James (Whitey) Bulger - who served as the inspiration for Jack Nicholson's savage villain in "The Departed" - is being greeted as a perverse stroke of luck by local Sicilian officials.

With the international spotlight now focused on the town of Taormina, where photographs were taken of a man resembling the now-77-year-old fugitive mobster, officials say the area is likely to become an even greater tourist destination.

"Forgive the cynicism, but it's good for tourism, and it provides a lot of publicity to Taormina at a worldwide level," city official Salvatore Cilona told Corriere Della Sera, one of Italy's major newspapers. "Taormina has always drawn famous criminals," Cilona added, noting that the infamous New York mobster Lucky Luciano stayed in the seaside resort town with a friend in 1962.

Images of a man resembling Bulger, who has been on the lam for more than 10 years, were captured by a vacationing DEA agent on April 10. The man was videotaped window-shopping with a silver-haired woman who may be his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, 56.

The FBI, which is offering a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture, conducted a facial recognition test, but it was inconclusive.

The ruthless former leader of the Winter Hill Gang has been charged with 19 murders and is suspected of having committed many more.

While ruling Boston's criminal underworld in the 1970s, Bulger was also playing ball with the FBI, serving up tips that damaged the interests of his rivals.

He vanished in 1995, just before he was hit with a racketeering indictment.

Thanks to Rich Schapiro.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to the FBI

Friday, June 22, 2007

Using Intel to Stop the Mob (Part 1)

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano

Seventy-five years ago this December, one Special Agent B.E. Sackett penned a short article for Bureau employees on what he called "organized crime conditions in Chicago."

Shop the Mystery Section of ShopPBS.By 1932, organized crime in the U.S.—though a shadow of what it is today—had started to get its legs. Al Capone, who with the help of the Bureau had just landed in federal prison, had built an empire of crime in the Windy City that would continue to morph and grow. An extensive underground of hoodlums, racketeers, and gangsters had emerged in response to Prohibition and was thriving. Hundreds of rackets that used threats of violence to force businesses to ante up a percentage of their profits for "protection" existed throughout Chicago and other cities. In New York, "Lucky" Luciano had risen to power in the Mafia and was beginning to shape it into the structured, secret society of criminals that we know today.

A "valuable weapon" against these criminal rings, Agent Sackett thoughtfully stated in his article, was "accurate information"—details on the key players, their interlocking connections, their tactics and capabilities. He talked about how Chicago agents had begun building this base of knowledge, through informants and other contacts and through an extensive index of pictures and background on more than "three hundred of the notorious criminals and members of their gangs."

He didn't call it "intelligence," a concept that was still in its infancy, but that's essentially what it was. The approach was strategic, thinking about a criminal network in larger terms, gathering information and insights to take out entire criminal organizations and their support and not just select individuals, and thus preventing a litany of future crimes.

This picture of the underworld would grow in the coming years and yield significant results for the young Bureau and its partners. We would begin puncturing these networks—exposing their activities for all of law enforcement, undercutting their support structures, and tracking their most dangerous actors and elements much in the same way that we now do with terrorist cells plotting attacks on U.S. soil.

A few examples:

  • In August 1933, we prepared a detailed analysis of organized criminals and the various ways law enforcement had succeeded in stopping them. We outlined more than a hundred "rackets" in Chicago that extorted money from electric sign companies, "candy jobbers," dental labs, and others. This analysis helped paint a picture of the threat for all of law enforcement.
  • When John Dillinger was on the run for a violent string of bank robberies, we put pressure on the many connections he and his gang had to all levels of the underworld—precisely because we had mapped out these connections. With the extensive cooperation of many police forces, this allowed us to track his movements and ultimately generated the leads that led to his death in a shootout outside a Chicago theater in July 1934.
  • We learned everything we could about the enablers of organized crime: money launderers and fences, both organized and freelance, who helped criminals hide their loot from the law; shady doctors who performed backroom plastic surgeries to help disguise mobsters and shyster lawyers who helped shield them from justice; and the corruption-backed "spas" and criminal safe havens in places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, and St. Paul, Minnesota, that mobsters used to rest, recruit comrades, and plan their next moves in relative safety.
  • Working with our law enforcement partners, we started building the criminal justice support system that has enabled a coordinated, layered attack against both criminal and terrorist networks, which includes national criminal records and crime stats…cutting edge forensic science services…and extensive training for law enforcement professionals.

In Chicago and elsewhere, the fight against organized crime had just begun. And so has our story. In the next few months, we'll run a series of articles tracing how we've used intelligence to take on mobsters and even decimate entire crime families in different times and different places over the past seven decades. Stay tuned!

Thanks to the F.B.I.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mafia Legends

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel

Biography Presents Mafia Legends is an iffy grab bag of Biography profiles on three of organized crime's most notorious gangsters: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Bugsy Siegel. A bonus fourth disc, Mob Hitman comes from A&E's American Justice series. Quickly edited, with a nice selection of archival footage and stills, these glossy but essentially superficial bios certainly move well enough, and hit the highlights of these infamous mobsters. But there's a certain nagging sense of romanticism to two of the bios which makes this collection a questionable purchase.

There are quite a few genuine historians out there who have nothing but contempt for channels like The History Channel, A&E, and The Biography Channel – as I find out every time I praise one of their DVD box set releases. But I would imagine that most viewers of those channels and their programs understand that, as with all historical studies, interpretation of facts – and the crucial omission or inclusion of certain facts – largely determines the worth or value of such an exploration. Unlike the studied historians who may occasionally email me, chiding me for recommending series like Lost Worlds or Dogfights when even the tiniest factual errors are found, most viewers of Biography documentaries such as Biography Presents Mafia Legends understand that these are entertainments first, meant to gather an audience, and serious education second.

That being said, there still appears to be a slightly disingenuous slant to two of the docs presented here – Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel – that make them less-than-stellar inclusions for this themed box set. Not being a big fan of romanticized tales of real-life thugs, criminals and murderers, the tone of Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel left a somewhat bad taste in my mouth. It's not that the documentaries go out of their way to re-write history and say these psychotics were in reality good guys, but there's a persuasive feeling of almost grudging hero-worship, if you will, that illustrates a sloppy (and dishonest) approach to the filmmakers' (or the network who may have had final cut) vision.

While each documentary chronicles in full a wistful, almost fatalistic approach to these two vicious criminals, they spend almost no serious time chronicling their ugly crimes. Watching Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob, one might get the notion that Lucky Luciano was really nothing more than a patriotic American businessman who helped keep the New York docks free of sabotage during WWII, and who gave the Army instructions on how to invade Italy safely – only to be "stabbed in the back" by the ungrateful U.S. government who deported him. Expert after expert testify to his brilliance and genius, while the documentary ends on a sad note, with Lucky's final, lonely days in exile in his fabulous Italian penthouse. The filmmakers even pull out a picture of Lucky with his dog to tug at your heartstrings – I guess if he was good to his dog, he was an okay guy, right? But almost no time is spent on the early part of his life, where he earned convictions for pimping, extortions, theft, and almost nothing is said about his role in numerous murders. As well, the dubious notion that Luciano "loved" this country above all else is put forth without any serious questions, such as perhaps, as some theorists believe, Luciano and the mob were behind the dock sabotages in the first place during WWII, and they used it as extortion against the government. As with almost any philanthropic endeavor that Luciano supported, it was usually to cover his illegal activities.

Watching Bugsy Siegel, the same kind of romanticized approach is used, with Siegel coming off as some kind of starry-eyed dreamer who should be remembered as the "inventor" of Las Vegas, and not for the psychotic killer who terrified those around him. Again, almost no time is spent documenting the actual crimes that Siegel committed, including murder, extortion, white slavery, and assault, that earned him his place in organized crime. But plenty of time is spent discussing his sartorial splendor, his charm, his good looks, his Hollywood connections, his "epic" love affair with Virginia Hill, and of course, his dream of the Flamingo Hotel out in the desert. For all purposes, Bugsy Siegel may as well be a documentary on a movie star, and not a real-life vicious thug and criminal.

The other two documentaries fare much better here in the Biography Presents Mafia Legends box set. Al Capone: Scarface is brought in straight down the middle. It's factual, and dispassionate in showing not only the fame that came to Capone, but also the unrelenting violence and murderous impulses that led to his downfall. It doesn't sugar coat his life, and it certainly doesn't glamorize or romanticize it. Capone is portrayed as he was: a well-organized criminal who murdered and extorted his way to the top of an empire, and who died insane from the aftereffects of syphilis, contracted from one of the many prostitutes he frequented. It's a sobering, insightful look at a criminal who's received far more "fame" than he deserves – and almost all of that fame for the wrong reasons (the final shots of a gift store in Chicago, which has an audiotronic Al Capone, speaking like one of the Presidents in Disneyland's Hall of Presidents, is pretty mind-blowing after seeing what the guy was all about).

Even more gritty and deglamorized, Mob Hitmen, the final bonus disc in the Biography Presents Mafia Legends box set, comes from the frequently compelling A&E series American Justice, hosted by Bill Kurtis. Featuring interviews with real mob killers, and using archival surveillance footage and audio samples, Mob Hitmen plays like a junior-league Donnie Brasco, and it's a welcome, if minor note contribution to this DVD box set. While it's an intriguing documentary, it's scope is somewhat narrow in conjunction with the oversized subjects of the previous three docs, so its inclusion is not the best fit here in Biography Presents Mafia Legends. If a bonus doc was needed with a more modern slant, perhaps one discussing a major mob figure from more recent days, such as John Giotti, would have been more appropriate. Still, the always professional, low-key, and most importantly serious delivery of host Bill Kurtis is a most welcome relief from the totally inappropriate, jovial, smiling smarminess of host Jack Perkins, who hosts the other three documentaries ("Bugsy, as he was known, liked to kill people!").

Here are the 4, one hour documentaries included in the four disc box set, Biography Presents Mafia Legends, as described on their hardshell cases:

Al Capone: Scarface
In the thrilling underworld of speakeasies, Tommy guns, and turf wars, Al Capone was the undisputed emperor of 1920s Chicago. "Scarface" -- a nickname born from the consequences of a violent encounter in his youth -- was many things to many people: a ruthless and vindictive murderer, a generous patron, and a glamorous impresario. Capone's legacy, however, will forever be marked by his role as the most notorious gangster in American history. In this in-depth biography, follow Capone's journey from the immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood of his youth to the glittering circles of Chicago's powerful elite, and finally to his years of imprisonment and his death at the age of 48. Al Capone: Scarface reveals rare photographs and exclusive interviews to paint an extraordinary portrait of the rise and fall of America's ultimate anti-hero.

Biography - Bugsy Siegel (A&E DVD Archives)
He was handsome. He was glamorous. And in a seedy underworld of ruthless murderers, he was the most vicious of them all. Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel first made his mark as a hitman on the gang-run streets of Brooklyn, New York. Yet, his fame was solidified amid the Hollywood hills where his unique gangster/playboy image made him a legend. In this fascinating portrait, see rare footage of the dapper mobster and witness exclusive interviews with acquaintances and enemies alike. Examine Siegel's greatest legacy as the founding father of glittering Las Vegas, Nevada, and listen as mob insiders reveal the details of Siegel's ultimate betrayal at the hands of his best friend.

Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob
He wrote his name in blood and made himself the Boss of Bosses. Arriving in America at the age of nine and embarking upon a life of crime at 14, Charles "Lucky" Luciano rose through the ranks of the New York Mafia like a shot. By 34, Lucky ran the Sicilian mob like a major corporation: diversifying rackets, organizing gangs, and running his own political candidates. Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob investigates Lucky's 30-year career as the CEO of Murder, Inc. through rare interviews and extensive archival footage. Listen as mob insiders reminisce about meetings held in Luciano's Waldorf-Astoria headquarters and witness the top-secret war efforts that earned Lucky parole from a 50-year sentence.

Mob Hitmen
They are the most feared figures in the business of organized crime -- the triggermen whose job it is to eliminate contentious witnesses, rivals, and fellow mobsters in accordance with their bosses' orders. Today, the modern mob hitman – or woman -- is a different breed than the Tommy-gun-toting stereotype of popular Hollywood gangster films. He or she may wear several different hats in the organization, killing when ordered, but performing more mundane tasks in the interim. In this chilling expose, American Justice ventures inside the bloody mob wars that have scarred Philadelphia over the past decade. In addition to interviews with some of the mob's most notorious triggermen and women, Mob Hitman features footage and news accounts of the city's recent brutal mob hits, and introduces viewers to the police and prosecutors who have devoted their lives to catching these shadowy killers.

Thanks to Paul Mavis

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Author Comments on Thief!

Friends of ours: Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, John Gotti
Friends of mine: William "Slick" Hanner

It's strange that our fascination with the mob centers so on top bananas like Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti when, as any crime beat reporter will tell you, the most incredible stories always involve madcap misfires by the lowliest flunkies, the truly clueless nostra.

Fort Myers author Cherie Rohn ran into just such a lovable screwball more than a decade ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when, after losing her job as a TV station manager, she enrolled in casino dealer's school. One of her instructors was a well-traveled man of action named William "Slick" Hanner. "He was walking around with his notebook of 20 hand-scrawled pages in his third-grade-educated hand of his life story, looking for somebody to write it," Rohn recalls. "No money, of course, but I looked at it and it was like an electric shock went through my body. Something about this guy grabbed me and I vowed to write his story."

A decade in the writing, "Thief: The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist" is the laugh-out-loud misadventures of a savvy Chicago street kid who managed to partake in the profitable mob trifecta of booze, gambling and prostitution without ever actually becoming a made guy.

Like some street-smart version of Forrest Gump, Slick went from rags to riches while drifting through America's hottest post-war entertainment scenes. Whether he was fleecing poker players aboard his yacht, the Knot Guilty, in Miami Beach, driving a limo for Nevada's infamous Chicken Ranch, serving as Jerry Lewis' bodyguard or managing the poker room at the Landmark casino in Las Vegas, Slick was where the action was for the last half of the 20th century. "He was an interesting kind of a screw-up adrenaline junkie con artist who goes through life like a speeding freight train about to derail at any minute," Rohn says of her colorful collaborator.

The project was no mere samba down memory lane. Hanner's third-grade education was one obstacle, but Rohn had her challenges as well. "Aside from a couple lurid love letters, I hadn't written anything," she says. "So I had three tasks: I had to learn to write, I had to learn to write as a guy, and I had to learn to write as a guy who hung with the mob."

Rohn does a wonderful job at all three, telling Slick's first-person tale with all the swagger and latter-day slang of a high-rolling con artist of the day. "We filled it out very slowly," she says. "I actually had to put words into his mouth."

She also found that time was of the essence if she hoped to interview Slick's running mates. "Through the nine agonizing years of writing this story, a lot of people died, mostly from unnatural causes," he quips.

At 74, Slick is still doing what he does best, playing poker and consulting with Las Vegas casinos on how to thwart card sharks.

Does the guy who knows where the bodies are buried fear that some associates may take offense at his candid biography? What are you, nuts?

"We had a few death threats," Rohn admits. "I'm not going to tell you where they came from but they were real. Slick isn't one to worry. His attitude is, 'Hey, if that happens, we can sell a few more books!'"

Thanks to Jay McDonald

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Still in the Mob at Almost 100?

Friends of ours: Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Carlo Gambino, Albert "Chinky" Facchiano, Corelone Crime Family, Genovese Crime Family, Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Liborio "Barney" Bellomo, John Ardito

Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Carlo Gambino are long gone. Murder Inc. is out of business. Las Vegas has been so cleaned up it resembles Disneyland. And Havana? Forget about it since Castro took over. But Albert "Chinky" Facchiano, at 96, is still standing. And like Michael Corleone in "The Godfather III," he is still very much involved in the family business, according to the FBI.

At an age when most people are long retired and happy just to be alive, the reputed mobster was indicted earlier this year in Florida and New York. He is accused of trying to intimidate and possibly kill a witness against the powerful the Genovese family of New York in 2005. He is also accused of helping to run the rackets in Florida.

It was unclear whether Facchiano intended to break legs with his own gnarled, 96-year-old hands.

There have been plenty of elderly Mafia defendants, including 86-year-old Genovese family member Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, who pleaded guilty to federal charges recently in Connecticut. But prosecutors, defense lawyers and Mafia experts say they can't remember someone Facchiano's age facing crimes of such recent vintage.

"I don't think there's anybody older than him," said Jerry Capeci, author of several books on organized crime and operator of the Internet site ganglandnews. "The rule is, you go in alive and you go out dead. You're not allowed to quit."

It appears that Facchiano, also known as "The Old Man," lived up to that Mafia credo, according to prosecutors. Facchiano, born in 1910, has been a "made member" of the nation's largest and most powerful Mafia family for decades, but was a low-level figure, rising no higher than soldier, according to the FBI. His nickname is apparently a play on his last name.

He was a boy when Arnold Rothstein supposedly fixed the 1919 World Series. He was a young man during the Depression when he took his first arrest. He was entering middle age during La Cosa Nostra's go-go years in the 1940s and '50s, when the Mafia skimmed its share of America's postwar prosperity. And he was a senior citizen in the 1980s and '90s when John Gotti and other bosses were taken down by the FBI.

In Florida, Facchiano was indicted along with the reputed Genovese chief in the Miami area and several others on charges of extortion and racketeering. Prosecutors say Facchiano from 1994 to 2006 mainly supervised associates who committed such crimes as robbery, money laundering and bank fraud.

The New York indictment accuses Facchiano and more than 30 other alleged Genovese members, including acting family boss Liborio "Barney" Bellomo, of a range of mob-related crimes. Facchiano is accused specifically of trying in 2005 to locate and intimidate a government witness known as "Victim-5" in court papers.

In one conversation picked up on an FBI listening device, Genovese associate John Ardito said he and Facchiano were "the hit men" who were looking for Victim-5, according to federal prosecutors. Ardito traveled from New York to Florida to meet with Facchiano about Victim-5, who had "gone wrong," according to an FBI transcript.

Facchiano pleaded not guilty and is free on bail, living at a condominium in swank Bal Harbor with a daughter. Facchiano's lawyer in the Florida case, Brian McComb, would not discuss the charges. He said his client is in reasonably good health, apart from a bad back and difficulty hearing. "He's got the typical ailments of an almost 97-year-old man," McComb said. "From day to day, who knows? He seems like a very nice gentleman."

Facchiano's first arrest came in 1932, on robbery and receiving stolen goods charges out of Pittsburgh, according to an FBI rap sheet. He got a sentence of two to five years, then was arrested again in 1936 in New York on grand larceny charges and yet again in 1944 on a bookmaking count. The records do not show how much prison time he did, if any.

"Chinky" stayed relatively clean until 1979, when he was arrested on federal racketeering charges and got a 25-year sentence. He served eight years, winning release at age 79. Then, nothing until his twin arrests this year.

If convicted on all charges, Facchiano could be looking at a sentence of well over 60 years in prison. Given the slow pace of federal prosecutions, he could be nearly 100 by the time he is sentenced.

U.S. Bureau of Prisons records show that as of the end of 2003 - the last year complete records are available - there were 30 inmates 80 and older. Officials could not say whether anyone as old as Facchiano is behind bars in the federal system.

As for his chances of actually being sent to prison, Ryan King, policy analyst with the nonprofit Sentencing Project, said: "A judge might look at someone in their 90s and consider the likelihood of re-offending. Are they really going to go out and commit another crime?"

Capeci, the Mafia expert, said someone Facchiano's age might have some difficulty keeping up with the younger wiseguys if he does go free. "There's no way a guy at age 96 can threaten people, break legs, do the normal routine that guys 50 and 60 years younger can do," he said. "But the guy is, according to the rules of the Mafia, still a made guy. He still has to take orders from the superiors and do what they tell him."

Thanks to Curt Anderson

Monday, November 20, 2006

Castellammare del Golfo Exports Mobsters to New York?

From the turquoise Mediterranean lapping its shore to the winding streets where old men soak up the sun on rickety chairs, a tourist would never know this one small town has produced many of New York's most notorious gangsters. Then again, the narrow-eyed suspicion with which outsiders are greeted might be a tipoff.

So it is fitting that New York's latest mob boss has roots in the same western Sicilian town that has exported some of the city's toughest mobsters for generations. His name is Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna, 35, the reputed acting head of the Bonanno crime family.

Like the legendary Joseph Bonanno, model for "The Godfather," Montagna was born in Castellammare del Golfo. His family immigrated first to Canada (he has cousins who run a gelato business there) and then to New York.

It was last week that the Daily News exclusively reported that law enforcement authorities determined the Bonanno family, its ranks decimated by prosecutions, has turned to the youthful Montagna to take the leadership reins.

A hardscrabble fishing village clinging to a mountain rising steeply out of the sea 40 miles west of Palermo, Castellammare has been a stronghold of the Mafia for centuries, its men known for their pride, clannishness and violence when crossed.

Now a town of 20,000, its name - translated as the Castle at the Sea - comes from a ruined but still forbidding Saracen fortress near the small marina. The marble mausoleums clustered in the town cemetery bear many family names that became famous in New York: Bonanno, Profaci and Galante chief among them.

Questions about the Montagna family are greeted with some hostility. There is one Montagna listed in town, but no one answered the phone and asking around in his neighborhood wasn't fruitful. "I know him, but he's dead," said one of the old men lounging over coffee at a cafe. "Sorry."

During Mussolini's brutal crackdown on the Mafia in the 1920s, scores of Castellammarese fled to America, many settling in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The immigrants' ties to the land, each other and the Old World codes of honor gave rise to powerful, insular gangs that cornered the market on bootlegging, gambling and then-lucrative ice deliveries. Men from the town also went to Buffalo and Chicago, where they started their own mobs.

In the 1930s, New York was rocked by the Castellammarese War, which pitted immigrant mobsters from the town - led by Bonanno, Joseph Profaci and then-boss Salvatore Maranzano - against factions from Calabria and Naples, including Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. The bloody war ended when Maranzano set up an organizational structure for La Cosa Nostra and divided New York City into five families.

At 26, Bonanno was nearly a decade younger than Montagna when he came to head his own family. Then, as now, immigrants from Castellammare were prized soldiers.

BonannoA Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, in his autobiography, "A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno," wrote of their discipline and the importance of ancient family ties. He told a family legend about his Uncle Peppe ordering a younger man to strip off his shirt and take an undeserved lashing with a whip. "It's one thing to say you're never going to talk against your friends, but it's quite another not to talk when someone is beating you. I wanted to see how well you took a beating," Bonanno recalled his uncle saying.

His affection for his birthplace was evident: He spoke of playing in the fortress as a child, the taste of fresh mullet caught in the gulf nearby and the smell of lemons on the wind. When he died in 2002 at the age of 97 in Arizona, his funeral cards bore the image of Santa Maria del Soccorso, the patron saint of Castellammare del Golfo.

Another Castellammarese, Joseph Barbara, hosted the notorious Appalachian Mafia Conference of 1957, which was raided by the cops and began the mob's long slow decline.

In the past decade, Italian authorities have made a great effort to crack down on gangsters, and Castellammare is now thriving, with new six-story blocks of condos going up on the outskirts of town and fewer poor laborers leaving in search of a better life. But the port city is still a major center of Mafia activity in western Sicily.

The crew filming "Ocean's 12" in nearby Scopello in 2004 were caught up in it when 23 people - including a local police commander - were busted after a year-long probe of a sprawling Castellammarese extortion racket that included surveillance of the film set. Producer Jerry Weintraub later hotly denied widespread Italian news reports that the film crew was being shaken down with threats of arson on the set and that film's stars - George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones - might have been in danger.

The national daily newspaper Corriere della Sera said the local Mafia is known for targeting moviemakers and has a lock on the hiring of extras.

While the ancient codes still hold sway, the gangsters are keeping up with the times and enforcement has gone high-tech. When producers of a recent feature wouldn't cooperate, thugs broke into the production offices and erased the moviemakers' hard drive's to make their point.

There have been other signs of modernity. Two of the highest ranking Mafiosi arrested in a big 2004 Castellammare bust were women - the wives of the town's top Mafia chieftains. Italian authorities said it would have been unheard of even a few years ago for women to get involved in protection rackets, but bragged that their prosecutions have been so successful that most of the men are now behind bars.

In New York, parallel crackdowns on the mob have put half the Bonanno family soldiers behind bars. So once again, the family has looked to the tough men and closed mouths of Castellammare del Golfo's crooked streets.

Thanks to Helen Kennedy

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Godfather of All My Tours

Friends of ours: Carlo Gambino Aniello "The Hat" Dellacore, Joe Columbo, Vito Genovese, Salvatore "Lucky" Luciano, "One Lung" Curran, Owney "The Killer" Madden, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, Ray Matorno, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Albert Anastasia

The best place to start mixing with The Mob is in St John's Cemetery out on Long Island. This is where the Mafia Dons of New York are buried.

Beneath their sepulchres and towering granite angles lie the bodies of such notorious mobsters as Carlo Gambino and Aniello "The Hat" Dellacore. A few tombstones away are the vaults of Joe Columbo, Vito Genovese and , Salvatore "Lucy" Luciano.

They each headed one of the Families -- the euphemistic name for the gangs who ruled New York -- with the ruthlessness of medieval monarchs. Today they remain identifiable entities only through their names carved in wood and stone. But there is not so much as a chisel mark to commemorate their links -- and fights -- with that other great Mob, the Irish Mafia. Born in the early 19th century out of street gangs protecting and exploiting immigrants from the Old Country, by the arrival of Prohibition the Irish Mafia had become a powerful player in bootlegging -- and all the crimes that went with it: burglarising shops, dominating pool halls, stealing from the docks.

No racket was too small for the Irish Mafia. And like their Italian counterparts, the Irish Bosses attracted colourful names: "One Lung" Curran, Owney "The Killer" Madden, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll.

Hard drinking, flashily dressed and always a girl on their arms, they extended the Irish Mob's influence to all the major US cities. Many of the great crimes were laid at their door. One was the Pottsville Heist, when half a million dollars was stolen in a Philadelphia bank robbery by the K&K gang in 1974. Its members were Irish born Americans, many of them blue-collar workers and the gang had become a powerful player in gambling, loan sharking and mass thievery across the State.

By the 1980s they had moved into drugs. Thirty-six K&K members were arrested. One fled to Dublin. But the gang still thrived. In 2003, its then leader, Ray Matorno, plotted to remove the Italian Mafia's hold over the Philadelphia underworld. He brought in a dozen hitmen for the coming war. But before he could issue the time-honoured order "time to go to the mattresses", he was gunned down on his way to keep a doctor's appointment. His physician was quoted as saying: "The amount of led he took would have required a foundry to plug all the holes".

To visit St John's cemetery is to step back in your mind's eye to the days of the G-men, Tommy-guns and Omerta -- the code of silence of Cosa Nostra, the generic name for the Families. It was this the Irish mafia has continued to subscribe to.

Strolling through St John's I sensed that look of surprise which must have crossed the face of Carlo, head of the Gambino family, as he had left the Brooklyn apartment of one of his mistresses in July 1972 -- to be shot dead as he entered his chauffeured car.

The roll call of names is the history of the Italian Mob in New York. Some died in harness. Most succumbed to a bullet in the head. Their silent tombs don't distinguish. But for those who want a social history of a different kind, a visit to St John's is a starting point for a journey back in time -- one that spawned probably more classic gangster movies than any other genre.

The Irish Mafia sprang on to the screen with a series of film noir movies in the 1940s starring super stars of their day like James Cagney, Spencer Tracey and Pat O'Brien. They became known in Hollywood as "the screen Irish Mafia". You can still catch them on late night movie screenings of, "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938) in which Cagney returns to New York's Hells Kitchen to reclaim his right as the area's Irish Gang Boss; or "The Racket" (1928) where Thomas Meighan plays an Irish Chicago police officer taking on the local criminal syndicate. And don't forget the "St Valentine's Day Massacre" (1967) that captures the mood of the turbulent Thirties for the Irish Mafia as well as any gangster movie. Right up to "Brotherhood" (2006) the relationships, and influence, of the Irish gangs are caught on screen.

Among the gravestones at St John's cemetery you remember the voices of other stars who played the mobsters: George Raft as the head of a Family; Mickey Rooney, the swaggering hit-man for another; Marlon Brando in his greatest of all roles, "The Godfather".

Here in the graveyard, with the wind whistling in from the Atlantic and the distant sound of planes coming and going from Kennedy Airport, you can conjure up again those memorable words of Brando: "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse."

I'll make you a promise, spend a morning in St John's and you won't regret it. Here they are, the bad and the ugly, the fat and the profane, rich beyond dream. And most venerated -- at least within the closed world of the Mafia -- is the godfather of them all. The Gangster they called the "Dapper Don".

To the untold millions who have watched the movie trilogy, The Godfather, he was the inspiration for the memorable role Marlon Brando created. The "Don of Dons" was feared even from within the prison -- but a life-without-parole-prison-cell -- where he died in June 2002. He was ten years into his sentence, and the cancer finally did what no bullet had been able to do.

All it says below the brass cross on the polished wooden door to vault 341, Aisle C in the cemetery is "GOTTI". Below this word that once instilled terror throughout New York are the words: "John 1940-2002".

Born into an era when the Mob ruled New York, Gotti was given a funeral that has not been seen since those days.

Many of his peers ended their lives in New York's East River or out somewhere beyond the Statue of Liberty. Weighed down with their feet encased in concrete blocks, or iron bars welded around their waists. But instead of being laid to rest with the fishes, Gotti was carried in his hand-polished coffin through the streets of New York's Little Italy. His hearse was festooned with wreaths in the shape of horses' heads (Gotti was a great gambler); a giant cigar (one was always in his mouth); a winning hand of cards and a champagne glass (his favourite game and tipple).

The drive from the funeral home to the cemetery where he now lies in his air-conditioned vault takes about ten minutes.

For those who want to recreate the drive, a New York cabbie will oblige. Or you can do it in style, renting a gangland style white Cadillac from one of the firms which specialises in unusual tours. They're listed in the New York Yellow Pages.

Viewers of the smash-hit TV show, The Sopranos, will recognise some of the places en route to the cemetery.

There is Russo's Ice Cream Bar and Vincent's Original Clam Shop (both are close to 85th Street at 160th). Here you can sample some of the best ice cream in a Little Italy that prides itself on serving an unbeatable selection of iced confections. Or, if you fancy something more substantial, Vincent's clams are as juicy and perfectly cooked as you will find anywhere. Both places were where Gotti liked to sit with his hitmen, his accountants, and the lieutenants who ran his rackets.

Most mornings he would stroll down from his home at 160011 85th Street, his bodyguards fanned out around him, jackets bulging with guns. It must have been a scene no movie director could better.

Gotti's home is small for a man with such a huge appetite for everything criminal. It's a wood and brick fronted bungalow in Cape Cod style. The only unusual addition is the huge satellite dish on the roof, and the state-of-the-art security camera covering the front door and windows.

Gotti ran his operations from an office behind the city's Old St Patrick's, New York's first Roman Catholic cathedral. It was also the setting for the christening at which Michael takes up his duties at the end of The Godfather. The scene was recreated in a studio. But many a future Mobster was christened at the cathedral font.

Gotti's actual headquarters was at 247 Mulberry Street, just south of its junction with Prince Street. On almost any day you can see some of his men strolling along the pavement, their destination is often Umberto's Clam House. It's one of the best in Little Italy. The waiter will take your picture at one of the tables the Dapper Don like to sit at.

A slow walk away -- everyone in Little Italy seems to have that special not-quite-a-stroll way of moving -- is Mare Chiaro, at 176 Mulberry Street. The bar has been in the family for almost a century. It's also one of those places that will instantly be recognisable to anyone who has seen such movies as Kojak with Telly Savales, or Contract On Cherry Street with Frank Sinatra.

As you sip an ice cold beer you can listen to Old Blue Eyes belting it out on the jukebox in the corner. The time to go is mid-evening. The place then seems filled with characters who could have stepped out of any Mobster movie: hard-faced men and their over-painted women exchange rapid-fire dialogue few movies have ever captured.

Sparks Steak House at 210 East 46th Street has some of the best meat in town. But to eat like a Godfather you can expect to pay $100 a head -- and then comes the tip. You forget that extra 15% and you would be wise not to return.

As well as fine food Sparks is part of Mafia folklore. It was on the kerb outside that Paul Castellano, then the "Don of Dons", was assassinated on a pleasant day in 1985 by his own bodyguard -- John Gotti. Locals still walk carefully around the place where the body fell. To walk over the spot is deemed to be bad luck.

Over in Hells Kitchen, west of Time Square, is Druids on 10th Avenue. This was the headquarters of the Westies, the gang who became immortalised on film as the Goodfellas. The bar staff will tell you the bar was the place of countless murders -- and that at the end of every night their Mobster clients would always smash their glasses to destroy any evidence of fingerprints.

One evening so the story goes, a mobster took a head from a hatbox and rolled it down the bar. As it passed each drinker, he poured his beer over the head. True? Who knows? When you take a tour of the Mafia sites, it becomes hard to know what is real and what has been actually created on film.

Remember all those scenes in the old movies where a gangster is shot dead in a barber's chair? Well it did happen, more than once, in the barber's shop in the Park Sheraton Hotel at Seventh Avenue on 55th Street.

The most famous victim was Albert Anastasia who ruled Murder Incorporated until that day when a hitman shot him while he was being shaved.

The chair is still there. But the barber doesn't like to discuss it. Those days are gone, he will smile.

Maybe. But the flavour of that period still remains. And there is no better way to sample it than the New York City Mafia Tour Guide. Read it in your hotel room while watching the original Godfather. Then go out and see how many locations you can spot. It's fun -- and a rewarding way to get to know the city that never sleeps -- and where many a Mafia mobster rests, if not in peace, at least in that magnificently ornate cemetery at St John's, where the shadow of the Irish Mob hangs over their tombs.

Thanks to Gordon Thomas

Friday, October 06, 2006

Taste of Mob Life at Little Italy in New York

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family, Corleone Crime Family, Tony Soprano, Vito Corleone, Al Capone, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, "Crazy Joe" Gallo, Mickey Cohen, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, John "Junior Gotti

Once home to New York's huge immigrant Italian population and a hot-bed of mafia activity, Little Italy still draws crowds fascinated by mob life.

Now a popular tourist destination, there is little in Little Italy to back its violent history and visitors are unlikely to encounter anything more unusual than the smell of fresh garlic wafting from family-owned restaurants. But a recent exhibition, "Made In America, the Mob's Greatest Hits," gave fans of fictional mobsters Tony Soprano and Vito Corleone a taste of what the community used to be like with curator Artie Nash in talks to take the show elsewhere.

The exhibition housed in a small museum in Little Italy, featured a collection of original photographs and arrest warrants of some of the most notorious Mafiosos, including Al Capone and Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano was the Italian-U.S. mobster behind the explosion in the international heroin trade on whom the character of Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" was loosely based.

Nash, curator of the exhibition, spent the best part of 15 years putting the collection together piece by piece, from both police department sources and from the estates of some of the most famous figures in organized crime. "I am mainly fascinated by the relationship that the American public have had with organized crime. It really has, over the last 75 years, permeated our popular culture to such a great degree," Nash told Reuters.

The mob enjoyed its hey-day during the backbreaking years of the Great Depression and Prohibition in the 1920's and 30's, when gangs all over the country carved out an existence in bootlegging, drug-dealing, blackmail and racketeering.

New York and Chicago were home to some of the most active branches of the mob and violent rivalries between different Mafia "families" often resulted in bloodshed.

Hollywood and the media have contributed in large part to glamorizing the life of the mobster, often depicted as fiercely loyal foot soldiers who struggled to protect their families.

The exhibit has attracted a wide variety of visitors, including students, high-ranking police officers, and even some current crime figures, Nash said.

Actor Leonardo Di Caprio even took a tour of the collection to check out the real "Gangs of New York," the 2002 Martin Scorsese film in which he played a gangster in the blood-soaked turf wars set in the 19th century in the notorious "Five Points" slum in what is now downtown Manhattan.

Popular items include a fedora worn by "Crazy Joe" Gallo, a ruthless Brooklyn-born killer, the day he was shot on Mulberry Street and a collection of silk pajamas from the lavish wardrobe of diminutive dapper Los Angeles don, Mickey Cohen.

The collection also features a series of gruesome photos of the victims of "Murder Inc," a crime organization that carried out hundreds of hits on behalf of the Mafia in the 1920's.

Public interest in the Mafia has been revived in recent years by hit TV drama "The Sopranos" and real-life events such as the trial of accused mob boss John Gotti, son of the late John J. Gotti, former head of New York's Gambino family.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Book Club: Five Families: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires

Friends of ours: Gambino Crime Family, Bonanno Crime Family, Colombo Crime Family, Lucchese Crime Family, Genovese Crime Family. John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Vincente "The Chin" Gigante, Charles "Lucky" Luciano

Selwyn Raab recently met with Gotham Gazette's Reading NYC Book Club to discuss his book Five Families: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires, a history of the Mafia from its origins in Sicily to the present day. The following is an edited transcript of the event.

GOTHAM GAZETTE: Mr. Raab, your book focuses largely on the fall of the New York crime families, but the title includes the phrase "resurgence." What's going on with the Mafia in New York City right now?

SELWYN RAAB: Up until 9/11, there had been a 20-year long, concentrated attack against the Mafia, based on the Racketeer Influence Corruptions Act, popularly known as RICO. What was important about RICO was that for the first time it gave prosecutors an effective tool to go after the big shots in organized crime. At the attack's peak, there were 200 people working full time on just investigating the five Mafia families in New York -- the Gambino, the Bonano, the Colombo, the Lucchese, and the Genovese. The FBI had a specific squad following each family, and were able to bust John Gotti, Vincente "The Chin" Gigante, and other bosses, even though they didn't pull a trigger or shake anyone down themselves.

[This prosecution was coupled with a] concentrated effort to knock the Mafia out of some industries. Waste collection and construction were two immense moneymakers for them, and they've been hurt in both industries, especially commercial garbage collection. There is now some oversight by city agencies, licensing etc. The Mafia has been severely wounded in some of these big industries – but not mortally.

As soon as 9/11 occurred, terrorism justifiably became a prime concern and objective for the FBI and most police departments, including New York's. This created a reprieve – suddenly you had this tremendous diminution of people investigating the mob.

Today, the Mafia is still making money in gambling and loan sharking. The penalties for these crimes are very small, nobody goes away for a long time, and bosses are never brought up on charges. Still, this is terrific seed money to keep them going.

The Mafia is still very big on Wall Street, counterfeit credit cards, and phone scams. But a lot of the most recent action has been in the suburbs, where the theory is the local police departments don't have the expertise to stop them.

FORMING THE MAFIA

GOTHAM GAZETTE: Is there a fundamental difference between the Mafia and other types of organized crime?

SELWYN RAAB: We've always had organized crime groups – you had Irish and German gangs on the Bowery, Jewish bootleggers, the Italians, and so on. To oversimplify, prohibition changed all these gangs from street thugs to executives. The money was so big that they could expand, and when prohibition ended, they had big organizations to go into different things like labor racketeering.

But the Italians had a business genius named Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano saw the handwriting on the wall – prohibition was going to end, and what were gangs going to do for loot? He also saw the lack of a central organization. Luciano had a major convention [of Italian gangs] in Chicago in 1931, and said we can't have fights among ourselves anymore, because it's bad for business. He turned the Italian gangs into a semi-military organization based on what had been going on in Sicily, where each family had a boss, underboss, consigliere, and soldiers.

If you knocked out the leaders of the Jewish or Irish gangs, they dissolved, because there was no military setup. But Luciano set up the Mafia so that the individual is secondary to the organization; the theory was that the organization had to survive at any cost. If the boss died or was arrested, the organization replaced him, and he set up another hierarchy.

To stop disputes between families, Luciano created something called the Commission comprised of representatives from each of the five New York families. Immediately, they had more power than anyone else in the country.

Luciano also urged the Mafiosi to diversify their activities. Instead of having just gambling or loan sharking as other gangs did, they went into labor racketeering. They were a mirror image of capitalism: whatever works.

That distinction still exists today. The Mafia has such a lot going for it. The Latin Americans – Columbians and Mexicans – are into one thing: narcotics. They don't have the know-how to do these other kinds of crimes. Same thing with the Asian gangs, the Chinese. They may be involved in smuggling immigrants, or do shake down rackets on stores or restaurants in Chinatown and Queens. But they're not involved in other things.

THE IMPACT OF ORGANIZED CRIME ON NEW YORK CITY

GOTHAM GAZETTE: Why did New York City's Mafia families have such a disproportionate amount of power within the nationwide Mafia right from the beginning?

SELWYN RAAB: We can thank Benito Mussolini partly for this. The Mafia had always been very strong since it started out in Sicily in the 18th century, where people once thought of them as liberators because they fought against the foreign invaders, protecting the small farmers, peasants, and businessmen. They developed into a tyrannical organization, and they grew very powerful both politically and financially. When Benito Mussolini came into power, he saw them as a threat and started a crackdown. He rounded people up and put them in cages, sent them away for life, or killed them.

Because of this, a lot of the young Mafiosi in the 1920s emigrated to the United States, and the major place they went was New York City. They liked New York. It was very profitable. There was a big Italian American population, bigger than anywhere else. They settled into New York because they were welcomed here.

The curse of New York is that there are still five powerful Mafia families here. In the rest of the country it wasn't that hard to combat the Mafia – you just had to knock off one family and there would be no one around to fill their shoes. Here, if there is a devastating blow to one family, that vacuum can be filled by one of the others. They know if it's a good opportunity, and they'll take advantage of it.

PHILIP ANGELL: In New York City organized crime families were involved in a lot of very public rackets – the trash business, the construction business, the ready-mix concrete business. These were pretty open secrets for a long time. Do you have any sense of why this was tolerated by the political, financial, and law enforcement establishment?

SELWYN RAAB: Well, one major reason was that J. Edgar Hoover didn't want the FBI to do anything with the mob. They didn't do anything until after his death in 1972.

I started as a reporter in New York in the 1960s on the education beat. I was working for a year when there was a big scandal: schools were falling apart. I was assigned to the story and found so many connections. There were secret Mafia partners to all these construction firms that were allowing ceilings to collapse, and building shoddy buildings. There was a big investigation, and eventually the city got rid of some of the people who worked for the Board of Education and banned some of the contractors. But they never went after the Mafia.

So I started asking around: Why don't you do anything about the Mafia? "It's too hard," I was told. But the real reason was that the Mafia was paying off the politicians and the judges. Every stone you turned up in this town had to do with the Mafia. Garbage, the fish market, you name it.

Also, when you talked to mayors off the record they'd say: 'everything runs smoothly now. If you fool around with the construction industry, there will be a strike. If you do anything about trying to regulate the garbage industry, they won't pick up the garbage. If you try to do anything about the fish market, restaurants won't get any fish. Leave well enough alone. They're not bothering anybody.'

GOTHAM GAZETTE: Can you point to any industries that the Mafia ruined or ran out of town?

SELWYN RAAB: I used to speak to people in the garment center, and they said you had a choice: either you get protection from the mob, or you sign up with the union and pay the union dues. The union will let you be non-union, but you have to be hooked up with some family. In fact, the corrupt unions were getting part of the payoffs.

There were mob families running all the trucking in the garment center – the Colombos and the Luccheses. You couldn't be an independent trucker and go into the garment center. You'd have flat tires, and your drivers would be beaten up. These weren't the only reasons – there were runaway industries for cheaper labor elsewhere, too– but they added an extra inducement. Why bother?

It wasn't just the garment industry. Garbage haulers wouldn't come into New York because they knew it wasn't worth the effort. If you came in you'd be shaken down, and if you didn't pay them off there would be a strike, because they controlled the Teamsters on the garbage locals.

A lot of fish wholesalers wouldn't come into New York for many years. They would rather go to New England, or the big fish markets in Baltimore, where they wouldn't have this trouble.

PHILIP ANGELL: And the important thing to remember is that it was underwritten by violence, no matter what industry.

ROMANTICIZING THE MOB

GOTHAM GAZETTE: Why do people have such a romantic view of this?

SELWYN RAAB: Well, that's Hollywood. American entertainers have always had a vicarious love affair with criminals. They're interesting people; you're more interested in rogues than good guys. Do you want to do a story about the founder of the Red Cross or Salvation Army? No one is too interested in that.

One of my pet peeves is a movie like the Godfather, where we set up the idea that there are good Mafiosi and bad Mafiosi. Don Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, he's a white hat, a good guy cowboy. At one point, he's opposed to narcotics, and as a result there's an attempt on his life by the bad Mafiosi. But who wins? The good guys. They try to create this image that it's not so simple, that you can identify with them.

I don't watch the Sopranos every week, but when I do watch what I see is a soap opera not about a mob family, but a dysfunctional suburban family. If you're a middle-aged man, you can easily identify with Tony Soprano. His kids are rebelling against him, his wife is smarter than him and wants to leave him, he doesn't have the old time loyalty when he goes to the office anymore. He has all these midlife crises, even though he lives in a mini mansion, has a harem of beauties throwing themselves at him, and he's got big cars and all the money in the world. Yet he's got these crises; you can sympathize with him. You don’t see him for the most part killing people.

You get a vicarious kick out of watching these people. Look at the great lives they lead: they sleep late, they don't have to go to work, they make a lot of money, they have a lot of woman friends. It looks good.

There's one other aspect which I think is a subtext to all of this, which makes these movies popular and is why people romanticize the Mafia: they're antiestablishment. In the Godfather, they talk about how the Italian Americans couldn't get a break. They had to become a government onto themselves, because the WASP establishment wouldn't allow them to become bankers or big businessmen. You can see it also in the Sopranos. His father was a laborer. What a choice: drive a truck for a living, or could he work for the mob and make a lot of money, be comfortable, take care of your family?

GOTHAM GAZETTE: But how much of that is true?

SELWYN RAAB: Well, I've talked to a few made men. They always rationalized what they did and why they did it. But they have always been into anything that will bring them money.

Thanks to the GOTHAM GAZETTE

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