The Chicago Syndicate: Paulie Vario
Showing posts with label Paulie Vario. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paulie Vario. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Henry Hill, Mobster from Goodfellas Fame, Dies

Henry Hill, the famed mobster turned FBI informant whose life story was documented in the book "Wiseguy"- upon which Martin Scorsese's 1990 gangster epic "Goodfellas" was based - has died at the age of 69.

Hill died at a Los Angeles hospital of an undisclosed illness on Tuesday, Nate Caserta, the son of Hill's fiancé Lisa Schinelli Casterta, confirmed.

"[His] heart just stopped. He had been sick for a long time," Nate Caserta told ABC News.

"I will never be the same. I lost someone I cared about a lot . Someone who loved my family and helped me a lot with life," Nate Caserta wrote in a post on Facebook. "You truly lived a life no one could live. You touched so many peoples lifes. Your spirit lives forever with me."

Caserta told ABC News that his family was talking about Hill's smoking problem while his health deteriorated.

Hill was famously associated with New York's Lucchese crime family throughout the 1960s and into the 1980s. He began his life of crime at the age of 11 while growing up on the working class East New York section of Brooklyn by running errands for Paul Vario, a captain in the Lucchese family.

"It's an intoxicating lifestyle that sucks you in. Then you get too scared, and too in love with the money, to leave," Hill told "Good Morning America" in 2004. "All people do is fear you - and that's intoxicating. It's a strange lifestyle."

Hill completed his first major robbery when he and Thomas DeSimone - who was portrayed in an Oscar-winning performance by Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas" - famously robbed Air France of a shipment of $420,000 in April of 1967.

In the 1970s Hill spent six years in prison after he was found guilty of extortion. While in prison, with the help of his wife Karen, Hill still managed to operate outside the law by smuggling drugs and food. He was eventually released early in 1978 for being a model prisoner.

Hill became an FBI informant following a 1980 arrest on a narcotics-trafficking charge, and testimony he delivered led to 50 arrests.

Hill, his wife Karen and their two children entered the witness protection program and changed their names. They were relocated to several locations in Omaha, Neb., Independence, Ky., and Redmond, Wash.

Hill and his wife were expelled from the program in the early 1990s following several arrests on narcotics-related charge. The couple soon divorced. Later he relocated to Malibu and began dating Lisa Caserta, began to sell his own artwork on eBay, and made frequent guest appearances on "The Howard Stern Show".

In 2010, Hill was inducted in the Museum of the American Gangster in New York City.

Ray Liota portrayed Hill in "Goodfellas," which was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi published the book "Wiseguy" in 1986.

Thanks to Kevin Dolak.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Las Vegas Dinner with Real Mobsters

If you've ever wondered whether retired gangsters such as Henry Hill and Frank Cullotta know which fork to use at dinner, here's a chance to find out at point-blank range.

Next Tuesday, Hill and Cullotta will join their pal Tony Montana for a good old Italian feast at the restaurant inside the Royal Resort on Convention Center Drive. Tickets to what the mob wishes was their last supper are on sale at the hotel.

For Hill, who turned on his former compatriots in the Lucchese crime family in a life story that later became the subject of Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," the dinner is a chance to get together with friends, entertain some mob aficionados and make a little scratch in the process. No longer in the Witness Protection Program, he lives quietly in Southern California and spends much of his day painting and drawing. And maybe looking over his shoulder once in a while.

The motivation for the dinner is simple. Even a retired wiseguy has to earn a living -- and a legal one, unless he wants to return to prison.

"No. 1, I kind of enjoy it," Hill says. "I like to sit down with some of my fans, tell stories and let them get up close and personal with me. I don't get rich, but it pays my gas money to Vegas and back.

"It's a legitimate hustle."

For years as a loyal member of Lucchese capo Paul Vario's crew, Hill would have sprinted from legitimate work. He was too busy committing a long list of felonies, serving prison time and generally living the life of successful mob associate. Even after he testified against his old friends, he had difficulty staying out of trouble. But he has obviously slowed down as he has gotten older. He is 68 and has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. In the Witness Protection Program, he also had difficulty earning a legal living. Federal authorities weren't keen on him surfacing for book signings and spaghetti dinners with fascinated fans.

"I was forbidden to do it by the Witness Protection people and the FBI," he says. "But I had to earn a living."

And unless you're an undertaker, there aren't a lot of square employment possibilities for guys with expertise in burying bodies.

His celebrity as a former hoodlum not only helps keep a roof over his head, it's taking him to the Sands convention center in October for a signing at the World Gaming Expo. Later this year, he'll meet fans in England.

He also gets to Las Vegas to play the slots. But times have changed for the former big-tipping gangster. He mostly plays quarters and observes wryly that it's a long way between drink comps at some Strip properties that cater to high rollers.

Cullotta, meanwhile, is the former Anthony Spilotro pal and admitted killer who eventually testified against his childhood friend. The fact Spilotro was looking to eliminate him might have been a motivating factor for Cullotta.

Of the three, Montana has remained most under the radar. The former Chicago Outfit and Spilotro associate is also the former proprietor of a dandy Italian restaurant at the Boulder City Hotel. Montana knows his marinara as well as he knows his mobsters.

Hill says of his new running mates in organized-crime marketing, "We're like the Three Amigos."

You know, only with felony records.

Speaking of felonious fellows, I hear former Gambino soldier Andrew DiDonato, also the author of a tell-all biography, will make an appearance at the mobster meatball fest.

While some locals will surely be repulsed by the concept, Hill notes, "A lot of people are fascinated with it. They're fans. To tell you the truth, I enjoy meeting them and seeing them have a good time."

Between his painting and public appearances, Hill sounds like he's finally found his niche outside the underworld.

"What can I say?" he says. "It keeps me out of trouble."

Thanks to John L. Smith


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Junior Gotti the Hollywood Scriptwriter?

He is one of the most feared men in New York, with a family history of bribery, tax evasion, extortion, and murder. But after his trial on charges of conspiracy to commit murder ended in a jury deadlock two years ago, John Gotti Jr—son of the ‘Teflon Don’ John J. Gotti, and former head of the Gambino crime family—says he’s ready to give up a life of organised crime and finally go legit.

His new job after giving up the Mafia? Hollywood scriptwriter.

“He’s willing to go all the way, revealing as much as possible [in his screenplay] without hurting anyone who’s still involved in the street life,” Tony D’Aiuto, head of the New York production company Triplicity Entertainment, told the influential film industry website Deadline Hollywood this week. D’Auito is certainly familiar with the material: he used to act as the Gotti family’s defence lawyer.

It is thought that Gotti, 46—whose sister, Victoria, was until recently a reality television star and a columnist for the New York Post—hopes to turn his life story into a Goodfellas-style feature film, full-length documentary, and a book. He intends to pitch his story to major Hollywood studios as an epic father-and-son melodrama.

It’s unlikely, however, that Gotti will want to revisit the most notorious incident of his life, when the FBI searched the basement of one of his properties in Queens and found a list of ‘made’ members of his organisation, including the names of guests who attended his wedding—examples including Big Louie, Jackie Nose, Sammy Bull, Benny Eggs, Fat Andy, and Lil Funzie— and the dollar values of their gifts.

Agents also found a gun with a silencer, a semi-automatic rifle, and $348,700 in cash.

The bust inspired headlines such as “Like godfather, like son? Not quite” and an article in USA Today describing Gotti as a ‘dumbfella’, and Gotti was later sentenced to 77 months in prison.

NeverthelessWiseguy, If Gotti’s new career is successful, it could provide the general public with the most authentic inside account of the New York mob since an associate of the Lucchese family, Henry Hill, turned his life story into the book Wiseguy in the mid-1980s. The book was later adapted for the big screen, and became the Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas.

Hill’s crimes included participation in the notorious $6 million Lufthansa heist of 1978—the biggest robbery in US history at the time—fixing basketball games in Boston, and smuggling heroin and cocaine.

Hill’s circumstances were very different to Gotti’s, however: when the publishing company Simon & Schuster bought the rights to his story in 1981 for a reported $96,250 (£63,000)—the equivalent of $230,000 today—he had already negotiated so-called ‘transactional immunity’ for his crimes in return for appearing as the FBI’s star witness in 10 trials, ultimately putting 50 of mobsters in jail, including 'Uncle Paulie' Vario and Jimmy ‘the Gent’ Burke (played by Robert De Niro in Goodfellas).

Authorities in New York later attempted to block Hill from being paid for Wiseguy under the Son of Sam law, which was first enacted to stop the serial killer David Berkowitz (who believed he was being controlled by a demon father-figure named Sam) from profiting from his crimes. The effort failed thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in Hill’s favour: it accepted Simon & Schuster’s argument that the ex-mobster's First Amendment rights should prevail, especially given that he had never even been arrested, never mind charged, for most of his crimes.

It’s unlikely that Gutty could make the same case, unless his life were heavily fictionalised.

During his most recent trial, in 2008, prosecutors attempted to link him to the murders of three men during the 1980s and 1990s. Ely Honig, an assistant United States attorney, told the court that Gotti was a dangerous man. “The defendant ordered and oversaw the three murders,” he said.

Regardless, the jurors failed to reach a verdict.

The previous case against Gotti came in 2005 when he was charged of ordered the kidnapping of Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels. As in the 2008 trial, the jurors deadlocked. Two retrials also failed.

Ironically, working on the screenplay of his life could prove to be the most dangerous thing the former mobster has ever done. When Hill was writing Wiseguy with the author Nick Pileggi, for example, a $2 million hit was put out on his life.

Contacted yesteday by The Times, Hill declined to comment on Gotti’s plans.

“He could care less,” said a representative for the ex-mobster, adding that Hill blamed the Gambino family for the execution of his former friend, Tommy ‘Two Gun’ DeSimone.

Thanks to Chris Ayres

Friday, July 27, 2007

Goodfella, Henry Hill, Says NBA Ref Donaghy Just the Tip of Scandal

Friends of ours: Gambino Crime Family, Lucchese Crime Family, Jimmy "The Gent" Burke, Paul Vario
Friends of mine: Henry Hill

Tim Donaghy was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He was an All-American kid who played baseball and basketball in high school and then attended Villanova University. Following college Donaghy eventually would reach the pinnacle of his chosen profession -- a referee in the National Basketball Association.

Henry Hill grew up in the hardscrabble streets of East New York in Brooklyn. He was hardly a student, spending most of his days hanging out with the gangsters who held court across the street from his parents' home. Hill and his colleagues would would go on to commit some of the most notable crimes of the past 30 years.
Tim Donaghy

Once you cross the line like Tim Donaghy, you're just another criminal.

You can't avoid the name Tim Donaghy these days.

If you don't know who Henry Hill is, then stop what you're doing and go and rent "Goodfellas." It's the 1990 Martin Scorsese film based on Hill's life as a soldier in the Lucchese crime family in New York City.

If you've seen the movie, you know about the Lufthansa heist (where Hill's crew stole $5.8 million from a vault at JFK Airport), the cocaine dealing (this was the genesis of Hill's downfall, courtesy of the Nassau County narcotics task force), the violence, the murders … all of it. Sure, that all led to Hill's ending up in the FBI's witness protection program, but there's one story "Goodfellas" didn't tell you and it's this story that brings Hill together with Donaghy more than David Stern would ever like to think about.

Henry Hill was the mastermind behind the the Boston College point shaving scandal in the 1978-79 season. And Hill believes this latest scandal could be a lot bigger than just Donaghy.

"There's still a million ways to do it today," says Hill. "That's why [Donaghy] didn't get caught for so long." Plus, Hill adds, "the government works in strange ways. They'll let you go and go and go until they have a huge case against you, right when you think you won't get caught the feds reel you in and you're hanging from their fishing poles. Now, with this whole NBA thing? Forget it. Now that everyone is talking they have computer records, they have everything. It's going to get a whole lot bigger than this … you wait for the trial. This is going to be the tip of the iceberg. This guy Donaghy is in a lot of freakin' trouble."

Hill always was looking to make his next score. He was a good earner for Jimmy "The Gent" Burke (Jimmy Conway in the movie, played by Robert De Niro) and Paul Vario (Paul Cicero in the movie, played by Paul Sorvino) and when he had an idea about a scam or a robbery, it usually worked out. So when Hill approached them with his latest idea, everyone jumped at the chance to make a few bucks. The idea: Get a couple guys on the Boston College basketball team to shave points off the spread so Hill and his friends could lay bets all over town and clean up.

Why Boston College? For one reason -- Hill had an "in."

Back in 1978 one of Hill's associates was Paul Mazzei, a former inmate with Hill from Pittsburgh who helped set up a lucrative cocaine business after the two got out of prison. With this new powerful connection to one of the major organized crime families, Mazzei always was bragging to his friends back home.

"Paul would talk a big game to his friends about his organized crime connections, and how they could make the [B.C.] thing happen," says Ed McDonald, who at the time was the attorney in charge of the Organized Crime Strike Force in NYC. "One of Mazzei's friends from Pittsburgh was a guy named Tony Perla, who was a librarian at a junior high school. I know, you can't make this stuff up. His brother, Rocco, grew up with a guy named Rick Kuhn who at the time was on the B.C. basketball team."

One summer when Kuhn was back in Pittsburgh, Rocco asked his friend if he was interested, it went up the chain to Mazzei and then to Hill and his crew in New York and the fix was on.

Kuhn wasn't some 18-year-old babe in the woods who just got caught up with the wrong people. He had been a pitcher in the Cincinnati Reds organization before he blew his arm out, so he arrived on the B.C. campus as a 23-year-old with a few years of pro ball under his belt.

"I'll tell you, because Kuhn was older, he knew what was going on, he was definitely calling the shots," says Hill. "He brought in the captain of the team and the leading scorer because he had to -- he tried to shave points and he messed up a couple games. We are all losing money until those other guys came on board."

Today Henry Hill has turned in his titles of point shaver, witness and gangster for more benevolent ones. Hill sells his art on eBay, he's opening a restaurant in New Haven, Ct., called Henry Hill's Goodfellas and his tomato sauce, Henry Hill's Sunday Gravy, will be for sale at stores and on the Internet in August. "I'm surviving. I'm doing better than surviving, I'm existing," says Hill. "I have a bunch of irons in the fire and I shouldn't even be here."

Out of the nine games they attempted to fix, Hill and his associates won bets on only six. "That's right," adds McDonald. "I used to call them 'The Gang That Could Shoot Straight.' If it were left to Kuhn, they wouldn't have made a dime."

Kuhn, the team's starting center, soon recruited two other starters. Payment to the players was set at $2,500 to $3,500 per player, per game. At times, cocaine was used as payment for Kuhn, and he wasn't even good at that. "We found out that one time, when B.C. was on their way to a tournament in Hawaii, Kuhn lost a whole thing of coke in the airplane bathroom," says McDonald. All three players were on board and everyone was "winning." Hill adds, "It was great, there was a lot of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll … and missed shots."

Goodfella, Henry Hill, doesn't think NBA Ref Tim Donaghy is the only one out there, just the only one to get caught.The questions swirling around Donaghy now include whether he made certain calls that affected games or point spreads and whether anyone should have noticed. "It's harder than you think if you're not looking for it," says Hill. "At B.C. we had three guys cooperating with us and even the coach didn't notice. Well, there was a little suspicion, but we made it through the season OK. We didn't think anything of it. I know I didn't."

As far as money, even though it's 2007, the Gambino crime family isn't making Donaghy fill out a W-2 -- organized crime is still a cash business.

"Here's how he probably did it," says Hill. "You get a nephew or a cousin or someone you trust. You meet them in a restaurant somewhere and you have them hand you the envelope. And it's cash. Always cash. Nothing on the Internet or with a bank. That stuff is too traceable. If it's more than that we get word to you to leave your keys on your tire, when you come back there's a bag of money in your trunk. Like I said, there's a million ways to do it."

But how did Henry Hill get caught? He didn't. He gave himself up.

After the Lufthansa heist in 1978, Jimmy Burke started eliminating everyone involved to avoid any possibility that someone would turn an informant -- and send him to jail for the rest of his life.

"Everyone in town knew who did it, they just couldn't prove it," says Hill. "First the feds would come to my house with B.S. warrants, then they started coming with pictures of the bodies. Everyone got whacked here. Eleven guys including two guys' wives got it. I started to see the writing on the wall, but wasn't sure until I heard the tape."

It was the tape that would end Hill's career in the mafia and begin a series of trials as a government witness. A record Hill is proud of: "Hey, we went 11 for 11. All convictions."

On that tape Hill heard Jimmy Burke talking to Paul Vario. "I hear Jimmy talking about me," says Hill. "Jimmy says 'we gotta whack him.' I couldn't believe it. That floored me. I thought I was immune to all that because of how tight I was with those two guys. In the end it didn't matter."

Almost immediately, Hill entered the witness protection program.

Hill explains that one part of the program includes signing a contract that basically states "you get caught in one lie, the whole deal was off. But I could confess to anything. I didn't commit any murders, but I was present many times when murder was committed. So when you sign that, you have to change your whole way of thinking. My life was on the line, my family's life was on the line.… They had everything I had done, even my terrible record as a kid. So, you have one choice: Be absolutely truthful."

During his debriefing, the FBI would ask Hill all sorts of questions based on the information they had -- phone records, surveillance, airplane receipts.

"They start coming at me with all these records. 'Henry, why were you talking to Jimmy right here? Why did you keep flying to Boston?' Compared to the other stuff I was doing, I didn't even think it was a crime. What was I doing in Boston? I was shaving points!"

Listening to this was McDonald, Hill's sponsor in the witness protection program.

"Man, when I told him about B.C., Ed McDonald went postal, he went ballistic," says Hill. "He couldn't believe what I was telling him."

McDonald admits they had no clue about the point shaving. "No, we wouldn't have even known about it," says McDonald. "That was totally out of the blue." Adding to McDonald's reaction was that he was a graduate of Boston College and even played on the freshman basketball team. Hill's testimony regarding the B.C. point shaving scandal resulted in multiple convictions, including Kuhn, Mazzei and Perla.

That closed the book on one of the biggest scandals sports has ever known. But what about Tim Donaghy and his partners?

Hearing reports that it wasn't until after a few days that Donaghy's name was made public that he requested police protection, Hills says, "That's a joke he doesn't have protection. He's probably under wraps with the feds. I bet he's going into the witness protection program."

Hill thinks Donaghy will "probably get 10 years and they'll make him go to Gamblers Anonymous. Then they'll suspend the sentence probably. Hey, the guy has a disease, he's a degenerate gambler and he's a fool for what he did. Still, he'll try to cut the right deal and get immunity if he can for everything." But there's still the question of how Donaghy and his partners got caught.

Hill thinks it's because everyone got greedy. It would make sense not to go overboard and fix too many games … and of course never talk. You don't know who's listening.

"Sense isn't part of it, once [organized crime] got their hands on him, they were never going to let him go," says Hill. "They owned him and they were calling the shots, no question. They're too greedy because they're betting money everywhere now: the Internet, Vegas, every bookie they can find, and everyone wanted a piece. It can get out of hand real fast."

According to Hill, everyone from himself to Donaghy is subject to the failings of the human condition -- that's why you'll never see him bet on sports again.

"Maybe I'll make a pinky bet for 10 bucks with a guy if we're watching a game, but that's it," says Hill. "All these people are humans -- they're greedy, they use steroids, maybe they have a coke habit. Who knows? Look at the bike guys in the Tour. It's everywhere. There's too much money involved. And the guys that are helping them? Players, officials, whatever -- they know they're only in the game for a few years and that's if they stay healthy. They all want to put something in the cookie jar. They buy all sorts of stuff with cash only. Cars and art, all that B.S. Hey, art goes up in value. I know. That's my main source of income, my art. You can find it on eBay, by the way."

Hill doesn't think Donaghy is the only one out there, just the only one to get caught. "I'm pretty sure there are guys all over on the take," says Hill. "They're going to get these guys good, because like always, they're after the Gambinos. And I'll tell you, I wouldn't be surprised to see some players involved."

Of course, like Hill said, this is nothing new. "Back in the '70s I had a joint on Queens Boulevard right between Aquaduct and Belmont. Every jockey in town came in and bet there." Other athletes had places as well. "There were athletes and bookies everywhere back then."

Hill would run into a few of them -- they were hard to miss. "Joe Namath used to fool around with my girlfriend's roommate back then," says Hill. "I used to see Joe over at the apartment every couple days. Before he left for Super Bowl III though, he told me to 'bet the f------ farm' on the Jets. I went down there and took the money line. Man, did I clean up."

Hill didn't just run into athletes in his line of work. "I used to have a guy that reffed games in the Garden in the '70s," says Hill. "I don't want to use his name, but he was a degenerate gambler. He'd come to Belmont or Saratoga and tell one of us 'I want $4,000 on the seven horse' or whatever. And we'd send someone in front of him to make his bet. That guy would leave the tickets on the table and the ref comes up and bets a couple bucks on something else, then, when he walks away, he palms the ticket for the $4K bet. I mean, what the hell is a ref doing betting $4,000 on a race?"

As Hill learned, it all comes to an end. Money, friends, easy living … it all disappears.

"My father was strict as they come," says Hill. "He realized who I was involved with when I was a kid and he would say 'stay away from those bums across the street.' Well, I didn't listen. As my mom used to say, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, I got blinded by that life. I thought it was the good life. Good living, Cadillacs and diamond rings. In reality, it's just jails, institutions or death."

Welcome to the rest of your life, Mr. Donaghy.

Thanks to Mike Philbrick

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day from the Mob

Friends of ours: Jimmy "The Gent" Burke, Al Capone, Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, Vincent "The Animal" Ferrara, Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, Angelo "Buddha" Lutz, John "Junior" Gotti, John "Dapper Don" Gotti, Robert Spinelli, Paulie Vario, Henry Hill

Each and every Mother's Day until he landed behind bars, mobster Jimmy "The Gent" Burke performed a sacrosanct ritual.

Burke, the mastermind behind the $5.8 million Lufthansa heist immortalized in Goodfellas, dropped a few C-notes on dozens of red roses from a Rockaway Boulevard florist. He then toured the homes of his jailed Luchese crime family pals, providing their mothers with a bouquet and a kiss.

He never missed a year, or a mom.

Burke's gesture was no surprise to his fellow hoodlums: Mother's Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar, when homicide took a holiday and racketeering gave way to reminiscing - often over a plate of mom's pasta and sauce.

"These guys, they do have a love for their mothers," said Joe Pistone, the FBI undercover agent who spent six Mother's Days inside the Bonanno family as jewel thief Donnie Brasco. "They thought nothing of killing. But the respect for their mothers? It was amazing."

So amazing, Pistone recalled, that Bonanno member Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero once told him that the Mafia - like a suburban Jersey mall shuttered by blue laws - closed for business when Mother's Day arrived each May.

No vendettas or broken bones. Just gift baskets and boxes of candy.

"Absolutely," said mob informant Henry Hill, who described his old friend Burke's annual rite. "It's Mother's Day, you know?"

The bond between gangsters and their mothers is more sacred than the oath of omerta and more complex than anything imagined by Oedipus. Pistone watched stone murderers suddenly grow misty when discussing their moms - or her meals.

"They're not embarrassed to say how much they love their mother," said Pistone, author of the new mob memoir Unfinished Business. "I can remember guys talking about cooking: 'My mom made the best braciole.' Or 'My mother taught me how to make this sauce.' "

No surprise there: The way to a made man's heart was often through his stomach, as many mob moms knew long before their sons moved from finger paints to fingerprints.

Mob heavyweight Al Capone - a man who never needed a restaurant reservation during his Roaring 20s reign atop the Chicago underworld - preferred his mother's spaghetti with meat sauce, heavy on the cheese. (Capone's sentimentality didn't extend to other holidays. On Feb. 14, 1929, he orchestrated the submachine-gun slayings of seven rival bootleggers in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.)

Capone wasn't alone in his mismatched emotions: warm, maternal love and cold, homicidal rage. Genovese family boss Vincent "The Chin" Gigante shared a Greenwich Village apartment with his ninetysomething mother, Yolanda, even as he ruthlessly directed the nation's most powerful organized crime operation during the 80s and 90s.

New England capo Vincent "The Animal" Ferrara did a 16-year prison stretch for racketeering, getting out of prison just two years ago. His first trip as a free man: a visit to see his 90-year-old mom. But gangland mother-son ties transcend more than just geography and generations; they cross ethnic lines, too.

Abe Reles, a Jewish hit man of the 30s, was known to contemporaries as "Kid Twist" for his preferred method of execution - he would wrap his thick fingers around a victim's neck for one final snap.

Despite 42 arrests (and 11 admitted murders), the "Kid" remained his mother's loving son. And he showed up at her apartment each Friday night for a traditional Sabbath meal of gefilte fish, chicken soup and boiled chicken.

One Friday, Reles showed up with a guest. The three shared a meal before the Kid's mother left for a movie. By the time the film was finished, her son - assisted by a mob associate - had bludgeoned and strangled their guest before disposing of the body.

Mrs. Reles returned to share a cup of tea and a piece of honey cake with her boy, according to Robert A. Rockaway's mob tome But He Was Good To His Mother - a history of loving Jewish sons turned heartless killers.

Those mobbed-up kids often had their affection reciprocated from mothers blinded by love to mounting evidence of their offspring's larcenous lifestyles.

Philadelphia gangster Angelo "Buddha" Lutz was arrested in 2001 on racketeering charges - and released on $150,000 bail when his mom put up her house as collateral. (She was later free to visit him in prison, where he was sentenced to serve nine years.)

Mob matriarch Victoria Gotti went even further for her son, John A. "Junior" Gotti, offering her $715,000 home up for his bail. When Junior went on trial three times in the last two years for racketeering, Victoria appeared in court each time - even as defense lawyers admitted that he once headed the Gambino crime family.

"If you're the president or a gangster, that has nothing to do with a mother's love," Pistone said. "I think that's one of the main reasons for their bond."

When authorities last year dropped the charges against Junior, the mob scion - his father was the late "Dapper Don" John Gotti - repaid his mom's devotion. Gotti spent Thanksgiving Day at Victoria's hospital bedside after she suffered a stroke.

For some, like Robert Spinelli, love of Mom complicated their chosen profession. Spinelli served as the getaway driver after his brother and a second man tried to kill the sister of mob informant "Big Pete" Chiodo, but he was stricken with guilt over the shooting.

At his 1999 sentencing, Spinelli stood with tears streaming down his face when recounting the botched hit against Patricia Capozzalo, who had just dropped her two children off at school. "She reminded me of my mother," the weepy gangster confessed before getting a 10-year jail term.

For Hill, his beloved mother provided a passport - Italian - into the Mafia back in the 1950s.

Young Henry was a mob wannabe, hanging around the taxi stand that served as the business office for Luchese capo Paulie Vario. When the mobsters discovered the kid with the Irish surname was half-Sicilian, on mother Carmela's side, he was greeted like a paisano. "Everything changed when they found out about my mother," Hill told author Nick Pileggi for the book Wiseguy, which chronicled his evolution from wiseguy to mob turncoat.

Hill, speaking from his current home somewhere on the West Coast, recalled that Jimmy Burke attached particular importance to Mother's Day because he was abandoned by his own parents at age 2. Hill also recalled how his hot-tempered pal wasn't so dewy-eyed one day later.

"He'd kiss all the mothers on Sunday," said Hill. "And then the next day, he'd kill their husbands."

Monday, May 15, 2006

La Cosa Nostra Tough Guy-Turned-Witness follows the Rules

Friends of ours: Bruno Facciola, Luchesse Crime Family, Alphonse "Little Al" D'Arco, Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, John Gotti, Vittorio Amuso, Paulie Vario, Henry Hill, Vic Amuso, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, Genovese Crime Family, Vincent "Chin" Gigante, Colombo Crime Family, "Little Vic" Orena, Bonanno Crime Family, Anthony Spero, James Ida
Friends of mine: Stephen Caracappa, Louis Eppolito

The killers placed the dead canary in the freezer. Later, after their work was finished, they placed the bird inside the mouth of the equally deceased Bruno Facciola.

The August 1990 mob hit followed a tip from two corrupt NYPD detectives that the Luchese family capo had turned government informant. Facciola was stabbed, shot through both eyes and shot again in the head before the bird was stuffed in his mouth. It was murder with a message: See no evil. And definitely speak no evil.

The slaying was orchestrated by one of the crime family's true believers, a diminutive thug known to fellow Mafiosi as "Little Al." Few in organized crime embraced the mob ethos more fervently than Alphonse D'Arco, a hard case from the cradle.

"I was a man when I was born," Little Al once bragged. He committed every crime except pimping and pornography, which D'Arco deemed beneath his dignity. Murder was a different story; he committed eight while rising from Luchese associate to acting boss.

Few in organized crime despised informants more than Little Al. "Rats," he'd spit, his face contorted with disgust. He did a three-year heroin rap without opening his yap. So when the word came down that Facciola was singing to the feds, D'Arco arranged for his demise. And for the canary.

Four months later, with the family in turmoil, D'Arco stepped up to become the Luchese boss. His reign abruptly ended on Aug. 21, 1991, but not in the fashion he expected: on the wrong end of a jury verdict. Or maybe a bullet. Instead, D'Arco _ disgusted by the loss of mob honor, double-crossed by men he had respected _ became what he most abhorred: a rat. And not just any rat.

He brought down mob bosses, underbosses, consiglieres. Fifteen years later, the former made man is still making inmates out of accomplices as perhaps the most devastating mob informant ever _ even better than Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who famously flipped on mob superstar John Gotti.

Alphonse D'Arco, born July 28, 1932, grew up near the Brooklyn Navy Yards. The neighborhood was heavy with heavyweight mobsters, including some of his relatives. His childhood, D'Arco once recalled, was "like being in the forest and all the trees were the dons and the organized crime guys." D'Arco walked into the woods without hesitation. He was 14 when he started hanging with the local mobsters; one year later, he dropped out of school.

Two tenets of the old-school Mafia appealed to D'Arco: Loyalty and honor. Both extended into his personal life; in 1951, during the Korean War, D'Arco volunteered for the Army, served two years and received an honorable discharge. When he returned to Brooklyn and the mob, he found a wife; they remain married to this day. The D'Arcos had five children.

In 1959, D'Arco first met future Luchese family boss Vittorio Amuso. He was soon making money for the Lucheses in a variety of ways: Hijacking. Drug dealing. Burglary. Counterfeiting. Arson. Armed robbery.

D'Arco became a made man on Aug. 23, 1982, in a ceremony held in a Bronx kitchen. "I should burn like this paper if I betray anyone in this room," D'Arco swore. D'Arco was particularly good with dates, and he always remembered this one. He remembered plenty of other things along the way. D'Arco was a guy who listened more than he spoke.

D'Arco had long ago resolved the differences between mob life and straight society. As John Q. Citizen, D'Arco would have lived by the rules. As Alphonse D'Arco, mobster, he would abide by the Mafia's code _ no questions asked. He obeyed orders and his elders, kicked money up to the bosses. And he never cooperated with law enforcement. Not even on the smallest of matters.

His capo was Paulie Vario, one of the family's most valued leaders. As the entire crew would soon discover, the erosion of mob values was under way. And it was happening in their midst.

Henry Hill was a Luchese associate and a cocaine dealer. Once arrested, Hill became the most notorious Mafia turncoat of the decade. His testimony helped put Vario away in 1984. Hill's life became fodder for the classic mob movie "GoodFellas." Vario, played by Paul Sorvino in the movie, died in a Texas prison four years later. His replacement was Alphonse D'Arco.

D'Arco's old friend Vic Amuso became the head of the family. His underboss was another pal, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, a hoodlum responsible for three dozen murders.

The mob life was good for D'Arco. He had about $1 million in loan-sharking money spread around, and ran his own crew. The family hierarchy relied on him to handle important business _ labor unions, racketeering, murder.

"He was a true believer in La Cosa Nostra," said former federal prosecutor George Stamboulidis. "He grew up in the life. It was something that he wanted, and succeeded at."

D'Arco dressed in shirts with big "wiseguy collars," and lived in an apartment on Spring Street in Little Italy. The market rent was $1,200 a month; D'Arco paid $200.

He brought his son, Joe, into the family business, and considered doing the same for another son, John. When the order came down for Joe to whack a guy in California, Al unflinchingly told his son to do it. At his father's behest, Joe committed a second mob murder in New York. The son played by his father's rules.

A few months after they exposed Bruno Facciola, the two crooked detectives provided Casso with a new bit of information: the underboss and Amuso were targeted for arrest. On Jan. 9, 1991, the pair met with Little Al at a Brooklyn bar, where Amuso pronounced him acting boss of the Lucheses. Then Casso and Amuso vanished. Top of the world, Al.

During eight eye-opening months as boss, D'Arco's blind allegiance to the mob was undermined. From seclusion, Amuso and Casso started a whispering campaign against D'Arco among the Luchese faithful. A fellow mobster informed D'Arco about the betrayal; so did FBI agents.

Yet D'Arco was unconvinced until the night of Sept. 18, 1991, when he attended a meeting in a midtown Manhattan hotel room. His longtime Luchese associates appeared unnerved. A family hit man was among the group, and the vibe was ugly. D'Arco had no doubt that he was marked for death.

D'Arco managed to bolt the meeting, and reconsidered his life _ or what might be left of it. He considered going to war against the Amuso/Casso faction, handling things in the style of his Brooklyn mentors. But D'Arco had no more loyalty to the Lucheses. And he no longer viewed them as men of honor.

"So I says, `That's it,"' D'Arco explained later from the witness stand. "I washed my hands of the whole thing."

D'Arco sent most of his family to Hawaii, far from the deadly streets of New York. Accompanied by his son, D'Arco hid in his mother's Long Island home. A deal was made. On Sept. 21, 1991, Alphonse D'Arco became the most unlikely cooperating witness ever recruited. And also one of the most expensive.

The federal government spent more than $2 million to relocate the D'Arco clan. Little Al and six other families were moved from New York to parts unknown. He left behind a mob fortune; his legal net worth was about $30,000.

News of the stunning defection spread quickly through the underworld. An attorney was dispatched to the Metropolitan Correction Center to inform jailed Gambino boss John Gotti that Little Al was switching sides.

The acting boss was one of the highest-ranking mobsters to ever flip, and federal authorities took advantage. He testified more than a dozen times against his former friends and the mob's top echelon.

D'Arco was a combative and effective witness. His memory for details and dates was unshakable. He took on New York's top defense attorneys, and refused to let any put words into his mouth.

Testifying at a 1996 competency hearing for Genovese family boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante, D'Arco flew into a rage. "Don't break my chops," D'Arco warned defense attorney Michael Shapiro. "I'll break yours, too."

D'Arco's testimony helped convict ex-cronies Amuso and Casso; Gigante and Colombo boss "Little Vic" Orena; Bonanno consigliere Anthony Spero; Genovese consigliere James Ida; and an assortment of other mobsters.

He testified before uncounted grand juries, spilling about corruption in the unions, the Garment District, the airports and the Hunts Point market. "D'Arco gave them great value for the money," said criminal defense lawyer Edward Hayes. "He testified against a lot of guys, and they got convicted. D'Arco is a lunatic, but he has a story."

Once, in a Brooklyn courtroom, D'Arco stood before a federal judge who noted they had grown up in the same nearby neighborhood. "Yeah," D'Arco replied. "And we both rose to the top of our professions."

Prosecutor Stamboulidis said D'Arco embraced his new calling as fervently as his old. "When he entered an agreement with the government, he answered all the questions with brutal honesty and thoroughness," Stamboulidis said. "A true believer does everything 100 percent. He believes 100 percent in his current position."

His reward came in November 2002, when D'Arco was sentenced at a courtroom in suburban Westchester County. Little Al appeared via closed-circuit television and received time served, which essentially meant no jail time. He was fined $50, and returned to obscurity.

While mob turncoats like Gravano and Hill went back to jail, D'Arco stayed on the right side of the law. And one of the biggest trials yet remained in his future _ one that brought him back to the day when Bruno Facciola had a canary for his last meal.

It was March 2005 when federal authorities announced the indictments of ex-NYPD detectives Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito, former police partners-turned-partners in crime. The two were charged with taking $4,000 a month from Gaspipe Casso to work as Luchese family hit men.

On occasion, they also slipped the underboss inside information. They let Casso know that Facciola was reportedly working as an informant. Casso ordered D'Arco to handle the hit.

Little Al was called again to testify. The federal RICO statute, a powerful tool that allows law enforcement to link crimes committed over decades, made D'Arco every bit as valuable in 2006 as he was 15 years before. It was a big case, and D'Arco could help bring down the "Mafia Cops."

The ex-boss, now 73, looked more grandfatherly than Godfatherly as he testified, his thick Brooklyn accent unchanged by years of life outside the city. He wore a 20-year-old suit to court, one of two now hanging in his closet.

He spent parts of two days on the stand, standing firm under withering cross-examination from Hayes and former Gotti lawyer Bruce Cutler. Caracappa and Eppolito were quickly convicted, and faced life in prison.

Alphonse D'Arco went home, where his loyalty was still appreciated. But there was a moment during his testimony where D'Arco recalled a less complicated time, when he was a young man whose belief in simple values was absolute.

The burly Cutler, his booming voice filling the courtroom, recited a litany of perks that came D'Arco's way from the Witness Protection Program: No jail time. A new identity. An attorney, free of charge. "That's another reward, yes?" Cutler asked.

"I don't see anything to be a reward," D'Arco responded without hesitation. "I'd trade it all to go back on Spring Street."

Thanks to Larry McShane

When You Get Serious About Tailgating


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