The Chicago Syndicate: Owney Madden
Showing posts with label Owney Madden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Owney Madden. Show all posts

Thursday, October 31, 2019

John Gotti Once Ordered a Mob Hit on Don King, According to Sammy "The Bull" Gravano

It’s pretty much common knowledge that the mob and boxing had a long standing connection. And, although gangsters are no longer known to dominate the fight game, names like Owney Madden and Frankie Carbo will always stand out for having tarnished the sport’s reputation. Now another famous gangster, or former gangster, has come out with some rather revealing stories and opinions regarding the sweet science and organized crime.

Sammy “The Bull”Gravano was about as big a mobster as one could find. Connected to nineteen murders, he stood as underboss of the powerful Gambino crime family up until he early 90s, when he decided to testify against his boss, notorious mobster John Gotti.

Now in his 70s, Gravano is out of jail and going public in a big way. He recently was the subject of a terrific, if not disturbing,interview with Patrick Bet-David, where he talked about Gotti actually putting a hit out on famed promoter Don King. As Gravano tells it, he had a fighter who he wanted to have face Mike Tyson during Tyson’s prime. “He was a tough fighter,” Gravano says of the possible opponent in the interview, “and he was a little bit over the hill.”

Someone Gravrano refers to as “a street guy” was sent to King, who was promoting Tyson at the time, in order to generate interest. To his credit, the controversial King, who had done time in prison himself, didn’t want to get involved with the Gambinos. “I’m not doing any of that bullshit,”Gravano quotes King as saying. Taking the news of King’s refusal back to family boss Gotti, Gravano was given a pat order. The “street guy” was “to go back,make another appointment (with King), and kill him.” Gravano expressed surprise, but Gotti claimed the “street guy” should return to King and “hit him with a proposal” that would essentially stand as an offer King couldn’t refuse.“If he says no,” Gravano quotes Gotti as saying, “take a gun out and shoot him.”

Fortunately for King and the world of boxing, the hit never went down. Gravano claimed the “street guy” got cold feet and disappeared. Left without a hit man, Gravano had no interest in pursuing a matter he wasn’t crazy about to begin with. “I’m definitely not going after him,” Gravano reflects with a laugh, “because this is insane now. We’re hitting a guy because he doesn’t want to do a deal? We’ll be hitting guys every other week.”

Yet Don King isn’t the only figure Gravano talks about inthe interview. “Teddy Atlas is an asshole,” the former hit man says to Bet-David. Gravano, who liked to box, was once questioned by Atlas: “Are you afraid?” Gravano said no. “He took it,” Gravano goes on to say, “to a different level, meaning that’s cowardice.” While admitting Atlas is “a tremendous trainer,” Gravano also presents a personal challenge on camera.

“Teddy,” he says, “come down and put the fucking gloves on with me, I’ll show you how scared I am of you. And you’re a fucking bitch.”

It ain’t Shakespeare – but it gets the point across.

Thanks to Sean Crose.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science

More than any other sport, boxing has a history of being easy to rig. There are only two athletes and one or both may be induced to accept a bribe; if not the fighters, then the judges or referee might be swayed. In such inviting circumstances, the mob moved into boxing in the 1930s and profited by corrupting a sport ripe for exploitation.

Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science, Jeffrey Sussman tells the story of the coercive and criminal underside of boxing, covering nearly the entire twentieth century. He profiles some of its most infamous characters, such as Owney Madden, Frankie Carbo, and Frank Palermo, and details many of the fixed matches in boxing’s storied history. In addition, Sussman examines the influence of the mob on legendary boxers—including Primo Carnera, Sugar Ray Robinson, Max Baer, Carmen Basilio, Sonny Liston, and Jake LaMotta—and whether they caved to the mobsters’ threats or refused to throw their fights.

Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science, is the first book to cover a century of fixed fights, paid-off referees, greedy managers, misused boxers, and the mobsters who controlled it all. True crime and the world of boxing are intertwined with absorbing detail in this notorious piece of American history.


Monday, January 30, 2017

How the Mafia Dealt with J. Edgar Hoover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Italian-Americans' Love/Hate Affair with the Mafia Mystique

Years ago, writing about the legacy of Mario Puzo, I said, "If there is a God and he is indeed Catholic, then Puzo is burning in hell." Before The Godfather was published in 1969, historians of organized crime in the 20th century told us that some major stars of the modern mob had names like Arnold Rothstein, Owney Madden, and Logan and Fred Billingsley.

After The Godfather, the only major crime figures who got any attention were the ones whose names ended in vowels.

Thanks to this myth-mongering hack, Frank Sinatra will forever be remembered as the man who, through his fictional counterpart, Johnny Fontaine, crooned "I Have But One Heart" at his godfather's daughter's wedding. It is now taken for fact that Sinatra owed his comeback and hence his success not to his talent but to the Mafia; apparently they held guns to the heads of people, forcing them to buy all those Sinatra albums.

The provocative and lively An Offer We Can't Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America by George De Stefano, a journalist and cultural critic whose work can be most often read in The Nation, has convinced me that I've been too tough on Puzo. The Godfather, the book and the movie, did, after all, succeed in reviving interest in Italian-American culture at a time when it appeared to be fading into the suburban landscape. I can only speak for members of my father's family, who rather enjoyed the attention and even reveled in the idea that they might actually be a bit feared because of their name.

For De Stefano, as for many of our generation, Francis Ford Coppola's film was an epiphany. The gay baby boomer son of a Neapolitan auto mechanic and a Sicilian housewife, De Stefano, by the time he was in college, had drifted far from his parents' world: "The Stones' Sticky Fingers was on my stereo and a Black Panther poster adorned my dorm room wall. My identity was radical hippie freak. ... My ethnic background was just that, background."

An Offer We Can't Refuse invites Italian-Americans of all backgrounds to the family table to discuss the issues of how mob-related movies and television shows have affected the notion of what their heritage still means in the 21st century.

It's a big table. At the head is Richard Gambino, whose 1974 book Blood of My Blood - The Dilemma of Italian-Americans was the first serious work of nonfiction written on the subject; sitting in the middle are Gay Talese, Nicholas Gage, and nearly every other prominent, second-generation Italian-American journalist; and fighting for attention down at the end of the table are third-generation would-be personas importante such as Maria Laurino, Maria Russo, Bill Tonelli and, in the interests of full disclosure, me (I am quoted twice by De Stefano). As you can imagine, it's one heck of a noisy table.

The principal topic of discussion is not so much the Mafia, whose power most experts seem to feel is dwindling, as the Mafia's mystique. But as journalist Anthony Mancini puts it, "It's just too good a myth to abandon."

The best movies and shows about mobsters and their families - Coppola's The Godfather DVD Collection movies, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (Special Edition), The Sopranos, the late, lamented cult TV series Wiseguy - were never really about the mob anyway; they were always about the vicissitudes of Italian-American family life and the perils of maintaining tradition in the face of assimilation, a metaphor for the American immigrant experience.

As a Russian neighbor of mine put it, "I never really thought The Godfather was about crime. I thought it was about the part where Don Corleone tells Michael he wanted something better for him than he had had."

These shows provide an answer to why the people who gave the world Dante, da Vinci, Boccaccio, Verdi and Rossini have produced so few literary artists in this country. Their grandparents might have come here without being able to write in their own language, much less English, but Coppola, Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino and several others have used their experiences to give the world the poetry that their ancestors couldn't. Don Corleone gave Michael something better after all. But, says De Stefano, "Consider another possibility. Italian Americans owe their high visibility in American popular culture in large measure to the very gangster image so many deplore. If the mafioso as cultural archetype were to become extinct, might Italian Americans themselves drop off the radar screen?"

In other words, if the Mafia myth peters out, does that mean the end of the Italian-American as a protagonist in our popular culture?

It's a dicey question, but after careful consideration De Stefano answers with a resounding "no." The Mafia myth, he steadfastly maintains, cannot be the last word: "Ethnicity remains a riveting, complicated drama of American life, and popular art that illuminates its workings still is needed ... Italian America still has many more stories to tell."

Thanks to Allen Barra

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Thomas Reppetto

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

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Long Before the Mafia, There Was the Irish Mob - PADDY WHACKED on The History Channel

Once called the "National Scourge," "The Shame of the Cities" and "The White Man's Burden," the Irish Mob rose from hellish beginnings to establish itself as the first crime syndicate in the United States. From "Old Smoke" Morrissey to "Whitey" Bulger, a parade of characters used ruthlessness, guile, and the diabolical power trio of "Gangster, Politician, and Lawman" to rise to power in the underworld. Their 150-year legacy of corruption is chronicled in the new special from The History Channel, PADDY WHACKED, a world premiere Friday, March 17 at 8 pm ET/PT on The History Channel.

After the devastating mid 19th century potato famine killed nearly a third of Ireland's population, the Irish looked across the ocean to America for salvation and opportunity. They arrived in New York City in droves, starving, destitute, determined ... and loathed by native New Yorkers. Gang wars soon enveloped the streets, and from the chaos rose the first mob boss, James "Old Smoke" Morrissey, as proprietor of gambling joints, saloons, and whore houses who aligned himself with the corrupt power corridors of Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed. Soon, the Irish carried the dubious distinction of dominating the lower rungs of the immigrant ladder. For the next century-and-a-half, they rose and found power and glory in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Hollywood, before being done in by Italian foes, infighting, and eventually the law. PADDY WHACKED is the story of a long rise to power and a violent and bloody collapse, with a steady drumbeat of unforgettable characters along the way.

Highlights of PADDY WHACKED include:

* Re-creations of the early New York City gang wars made famous in
Martin Scorsese's film Gangs of New York.

* "King" Mike McDonald's efforts to establish the Irish Mob in Chicago,
under the philosophy of "There's a sucker born every minute" and
"Never steal anything big, the small stuff is safer," and the
portrayal of the mobster as "the man behind the man."

* The rise of bootlegging as a primary source of income for the Irish
Mob during Prohibition, an effort led by Dean O'Banion in Chicago and
Owney Madden in New York.

* The first glorification of the Irish mobster in Hollywood films
starring James Cagney.

* The arrival of ruthless foes like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer
Lansky, who wipe out Irish bosses by the dozen as the mafia rises to
power, while government foes such as FDR and Thomas E. Dewey doggedly
struggle to end corruption in the United States.

* The legitimization of the Irish in the upper levels of American
society crests in the 1950s and 1960s as Irish gangsters begin to take
over legitimate businesses. The son of upper-crust Irishman Joseph
Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, is elected President of the United States
after a multitude of back-channel dealing seals his Democratic Party
nomination.

* The JFK assassination signals the beginning of a murderous era of
bloodshed that leads to Wild West-style shootouts in Boston between
the Mullin Gang, the Winter Hill Gang, and the Charlestown Boys.

* James "Whitey" Bulger's rise as the last great Irish Boss is fueled by
protection from his state-senator brother and his best friend in the
FBI ... a shining example of the "Gangster, Politician, Lawman"
triumvirate that was so hard to crack. But even the untouchable Bulger
can't hide from the government's most powerful weapon, RICO.

Executive Producer for The History Channel is Carl H. Lindahl. PADDY WHACKED is produced for The History Channel by Joe Bink Films Inc.

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