The Chicago Syndicate: RFK
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Showing posts with label RFK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RFK. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Will Alexi Giannoulias's Potential U.S. Senate Run Be Influenced by His Family's Bank Loans to Reputed Mobsters?

Broadway Bank is trying to recoup $12.9 million from two Chicago crime figures, rekindling a controversy as the bank's former chief loan officer, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, gears up to run for the U.S. Senate.

In recently filed foreclosure suits, the Giannoulias family-owned North Side bank alleges loan defaults by four companies whose owners include two convicted Chicago bookmakers — one also convicted of promoting a nationwide prostitution ring. The loans are on a hodgepodge of properties, including a South Beach hotel and a South Side shopping center that has lost its grocery anchor. The defendants include 1201 South Western LLC, a Berwyn-based company whose activities include making short-term real estate loans at interest rates of 1% a week, property records show.

Questions about Mr. Giannoulias' role in the loans surfaced in 2006, when he overcame concerns about his youth and inexperience to be elected treasurer. He defended the loans as sound business decisions, a claim undermined by the foreclosures.

Now, at age 33, he could face similar questions, particularly if there are more disclosures about the relationship between the convicted felons and Broadway.

"In a closely contested race, something like this can marginalize enough votes to put you out of the race," says political consultant Thom Serafin, president of Chicago-based communications firm Serafin & Associates Inc., who also notes criticism of Mr. Giannoulias' oversight of a state-run college savings fund. "All of that lends itself to a credibility gap, and that's where an opponent gets you."

Mr. Giannoulias' chances of winning the 2010 Democratic Senate primary got a boost last week when Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she would run for re-election rather than campaign for senator or governor. A spokesman for Mr. Giannoulias declines to comment.

Mr. Giannoulias hasn't announced his Senate candidacy formally, but he has raised $1.1 million, giving him an early edge in a primary fight to succeed Roland Burris. Other potential Democratic candidates include Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago real estate executive and son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, and Cheryle Jackson, president and CEO of the non-profit Chicago Urban League. On the Republican side, possible candidates include U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk and businessman Andy McKenna Jr., chairman of the state GOP.

The foreclosure cases are among a nationwide surge in troubled assets that hurt many banks including Broadway, an aggressive lender when commercial real estate was booming. "The borrowers were worthy at the time these loans were issued," Broadway Bank says in a statement. "However, when they failed to make their loan payments, the bank took legal action . . ., just as it would do in any situation involving a customer who did not repay a loan."

Broadway alleges $2.9 million in loans are in default on the Lorraine Hotel in Miami Beach. The property is owned by a venture that includes Michael Giorango, 56, who was convicted in 1991 of federal bookmaking charges in Chicago. He also was convicted in 2004 in Miami of promoting a nationwide prostitution operation.

Broadway also alleges that a nearly $6-million loan is in default on a shuttered restaurant along the Intracoastal Waterway in Hollywood, Fla. The potential development site is owned by a venture that includes Mr. Giorango and Demitri Stavropoulos, 41, who was convicted in 2004 in Chicago of running a betting operation that grossed more than $3 million in about three years.

The venture fought the foreclosure case, accusing the bank of improperly obstructing a sale of the property. Including fees and unpaid interest, the total amount due is almost $10.4 million, according to the complaint filed March 30 in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

An attorney for Mr. Stavropoulos declines to comment.

Mr. Giorango, reached at a Los Angeles apartment building that he owns in a venture with Mr. Stavropoulous, also declines to comment. Broadway has a $3.4-million loan on the 30-unit property that comes due next year.

The venture that owns the apartment building, 1201 South Western, is a defendant in four foreclosure cases filed by Broadway last month in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to collect nearly $2.5 million. In addition to its real estate holdings, the venture has been an active lender, making 43 short-term loans totaling $6.9 million, an average of $160,500 per loan, property records show. Broadway financed the company on Dec. 21, 2004, a month after 1201 South Western made the first in a series of loans that continued through July 2006, the records indicate.

Interest rates could be obtained on just eight of the loans, totaling $800,000, which are the subject of collection cases. On those loans, the company charged interest of about 1% a week, according to the promissory notes.

Thanks to Thomas A. Corfman

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Dark Side of Camelot

There are many Jack Kennedys in America's collective consciousness, even 46 years after his Friday lunchtime slaying under clearing Dallas skies. It was the most public killing in American history until the destruction of the World Trade Center on a sunny Tuesday morning.

A million bits of paper, freed through gaping holes in the burning Twin Towers, fluttered high over Manhattan. So did the president's brother and political keeper, Robert Kennedy, face a blizzard of paperwork as he secured safes at the White House, the Justice Department, the national security regimes and other offices around Washington. His goal: to hide his dead brother's sins and political missteps from a shocked and mourning American people.

Bobby wanted to protect his brother's legacy while denying the Kennedy family's political enemies their proof of JFK's complicity in the murder of Diem of South Vietnam; Lumumba of the Congo; Arbenz of the Dominican Republic and other excesses of presidential power; the failure of the Bay of Pigs; the secret deal with Khrushchev to remove nuclear missiles from Turkey to end the Cuban Missile Crisis and other details best kept from the public so soon after JFK's death.

Nor was there any love lost between Bobby and Lyndon Baines Johnson, the newly sworn-in president already in the air with the slain president on board. Bobby worked the phones the afternoon of the shooting, ordering longtime Kennedy family aides and political operatives to not discuss what they knew and to secure any letters, memos or notes of communications in which JFK took part.

In addition to changing the combination on the Oval Office safe to keep LBJ from discovering its contents until he could find a secure place for them, Bobby ordered the removal of the secret taping system that JFK had installed not only in the Oval Office but throughout the living quarters that the president, until two nights before, had shared not only with Jacqueline but with a woman whom Bobby himself had arranged for his brother to bed.

So opens "The Dark Side of Camelot," a 1997 classic by Seymour Hersh, the journalist who broke the My Lai story. Worth a revisit at this time, it's a thoroughly researched and hyper-revealing look not only at JFK's life and presidency but at the horrifying politics of the time. Politics so well hidden from a trusting public by a press corps that, by and large, honored an unwritten rule that certain things a powerful man does are best not reported.

Jack Kennedy was incapable of true partnership with people beyond Bobby and his father, Joe, whom he worshiped. He inherited his father's beliefs that other men were of lesser importance and were to be used for personal gain. Women, meanwhile, were a beautiful distraction that held little value beyond sexual pleasure.

Hersh personally interviewed many men and women who had known JFK since his days as a congressman from Massachusetts; his behavior hadn't changed since his carefree college days at Harvard.

For all that was at stake, JFK at times felt he was invincible, that nothing could touch him. Recklessness is a Kennedy trait and JFK brought it to the fore after he won the presidency.

Hersh quotes a longtime lover of Jack's who slept with him the night before his inauguration. She said the idea of betraying Jacqueline and his children was not on his mind, even though, had it been reported by an otherwise fawning press, his political career would have been over before his first 100 days in the White House.

She said, "I think somehow between his money, his position, his charm, his whatever, he was caught up in feeling that he was buffered. That people would take care of it. There is that feeling that you are not accountable, that the laws of the world do not apply to you. Laws had never been applied to his father and to him."

Yet JFK, described by former lovers as smooth, a charming man who laughed easily when among peers at the thousands of nights of parties and social events in his political years, kept the Kennedy aloofness at the same time.

Hersh interviewed Charles Spalding, who grew up with JFK: "Kennedy hated physical touching. People taking liberties with him," said Spalding. "Which I assume goes back to his mother [Rose] and the fact that she was so cold, so distant."

As president, JFK ignored the niceties of politics when he had to. He ordered the assassinations of world leaders and, like his father, had a working relationship with organized crime bosses in Chicago and New Orleans. JFK also regularly received graft while in the White House, Hersh writes. Over a period of years, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from California businessmen were delivered to the White House by operatives. Chicago mobster Sam Giancana's girlfriend on several occasions ran money from JFK's White House to the mob boss personally. She'd board a train at Union Station carrying a suitcase filled with cash and deliver it to Giancana himself, who would meet her at the Chicago train station. Not once, but several times, according to Hersh. The delivery of the money was set up by Bobby.

Was it money for Giancana's help in trying to kill Castro? A payoff for delivering votes in the 1960 election, which Kennedy won by a very slim margin? "That election was stolen," Hersh writes.

There is no understanding Jack Kennedy without investigating his grandfather, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, an old Boston pol, bought a seat in Congress in 1912 but lost it after an investigation by the House.

Joe Kennedy played a big role in that scandalous election, hiring thugs to beat voters opposed to Fitz; Joe then used money and less-violent but just as effective means to get his son Jack elected president. The lessons were not lost on Jack.

Hersh's book is priceless in its bare-knuckled accuracy, from the origins of the Kennedy empire, the purchase of the 1960 presidential election, JFK's deadly international gamesmanship, J. Edgar Hoover's hatred of the Kennedys and father Joe's embracing of Adolf Hitler's politics.

The myth of the young idealist, the brave and courageous knight cut down early in life, still survives in the hearts of most Americans. In spite of the facts, JFK's role is that of the fair-haired American prince worthy of canonization.

Thanks to Hersh, history is properly recorded here for those willing to read it. "The Dark Side of Camelot" reveals a rogue's gallery of pimps, mobsters, right-wing military officers, ruthless political operatives, a fanatical FBI director and, of course, CIA spooks -- all the shadowy illegitimates of American politics who helped give JFK the presidency and who eventually decided to take it all away from him after the rain stopped falling in Dallas.

In a tragic twist of irony, Hersh connects JFK's inability to dodge the final head-blast from "Oswald's rifle" to JFK's amorous adventures. Because he'd strained his back while having a tryst in the pool belonging to his brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford, JFK had to wear a canvas and metal back brace from his neck to his waste. When hit by the neck shot, JFK tried to duck before the second (or third) shot -- but the brace limited his motion.

This book is as explosive as the bullet that sent JFK's skull flying.

Thanks to John L. Guerra

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Prosecutorial Misconduct in the Hoffa Conviction?

The government's hard-won conviction of Jimmy Hoffa on jury-tampering charges is under assault 45 years later.

A retired law professor has persuaded a federal judge to consider unsealing secret grand jury records to set the historical record straight. William L. Tabac wants to prove his theory that the Justice Department - then led by Hoffa's nemesis, Robert Kennedy - used illegal wiretaps and improper testimony to indict the Teamsters leader.

"I think there is prosecutorial misconduct in the case, which included the prosecutors who prosecuted it and the top investigator for the Kennedy Department of Justice," Tabac said.

James Neal, the special prosecutor who convicted Hoffa in 1964 in Chattanooga, calls the claim "baloney." But the petition from Tabac, who taught at Cleveland State University and has been gripped by the Hoffa case since his days as a law clerk, will be heard Monday in a Nashville courtroom.

To prepare for the hearing, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Todd J. Campbell ordered the Justice Department, FBI and other agencies to turn over any sealed records from the Hoffa grand jury related to testimony by investigator Walter Sheridan, wiretapping or electronic eavesdropping.

It's yet another post-mortem look into the affairs of the controversial trade union leader, whose career, disappearance and presumed death continue to spawn conspiracy theories decades later.

The special grand jury convened in 1963 after the federal government had failed for the fourth time to convict Hoffa of corruption charges while he led the Teamsters. The grand jury indicted Hoffa on charges of jury tampering in a Nashville case that accused Hoffa of taking payoffs from trucking companies but ended in mistrial.

A jury in Chattanooga found Hoffa and three co-defendants guilty. Hoffa, later convicted in Chicago of fraud and conspiracy, continued as Teamsters president even as he served four years in prison until stepping aside and getting his sentence commuted by President Richard Nixon in 1971.

Multiple reports describe open animosity between Hoffa and Kennedy, who investigated Hoffa while in the Senate and as attorney general.

Tabac contends the indictment may have been based only or in part on the testimony of Walter Sheridan, a Kennedy special assistant who headed the investigation. Sheridan's testimony "was, in effect, Kennedy's," said Tabac.

"Even during the Cuban missile crisis he (Kennedy) was in touch with Nashville all the time," Tabac said. "I believe he testified to the grand jury through his top aide and I believe it was wrong, especially if that is the basis on which he (Hoffa) was indicted."

Tabac (TAY'-bak) also thinks Edward Grady Partin, a Teamsters official and Hoffa confidant who testified for the prosecution, may have worn a concealed microphone to record conversations with Hoffa and those were heard by the grand jurors.

Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Partin died in 1990 and Sheridan, who wrote the 1972 book The Hoffa Wars: The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa, died in 1995. Tabac says only the grand jury records can reveal what happened.

Federal prosecutors oppose Tabac's petition, saying it doesn't meet Supreme Court standards for lifting grand jury secrecy.

Hoffa was last seen in July 1975 in suburban Detroit, where he was supposed to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain.

Hoffa was declared legally dead but his body has never been found, spawning innumerable theories about his demise. Among them: He was entombed in concrete at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, ground up and thrown in a Florida swamp or obliterated in a mob-owned fat-rendering plant. The search has continued into this decade, under a backyard pool north of Detroit in 2003, under the floor of a Detroit home in 2004 and at a horse farm in 2006.

Neal, a fledgling lawyer when Kennedy chose him to prosecute Hoffa, said the government did nothing illegal. "Apparently, he (Tabac) thinks if he got the grand jury material he would see that we obtained evidence by wiretaps. It's baloney," Neal said.

Even if Tabac can prove his theory, it's unclear if that would lead to overturning the conviction. "The problem is just that everyone is dead, so it is pretty hard to do," Tabac said. "If there is perjured testimony, I think the relatives may have standing to bring some kind of ... name-clearing procedure."

Thanks to Bill Poovey

Monday, February 02, 2009

Memo to Mobsters: Don't "Adopt" Anyone - He May Turn Out to be a Rat

Memo to mobsters: Don't "adopt" anyone - he may turn out to be a rat.

John A. (Junior) Gotti learned that the hard way with "adopted" son Lewis Kasman, who taped Gotti family meetings for the feds.

Reputed killer Charles Carneglia is about to get a taste of the same medicine with "adopted" kid brother Kevin McMahon.

Both mob turncoats are to testify in Carneglia's ongoing murder trial in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Kasman, a former Long Island garment exec who wormed his way into Gotti's inner circle and called himself the adopted son of the late Gambino crime boss, wasn't close to Carneglia.

McMahon was as close as you can get without being a relative. "When Kevin walks into that courtroom I would expect Charles will want to jump over the table and strangle him," a law enforcement official said.

McMahon was not only a member of Carneglia's crime crew, he was like a member of the Carneglia family.

In 1980, McMahon was a 12-year-old Irish kid from Howard Beach "at the beginning of his long and extraordinarily close relationship" with Charles Carneglia and his brother John, court papers show. McMahon is 20 years younger than Charles, 62, and John, 64.

On a fateful day in March, McMahon lent his minibike to mob scion Frank Gotti who was accidentally hit and killed by neighbor John Favara as he drove home from work. Favara was slain on Gotti's orders and, prosecutors say, Charles Carneglia dissolved his body in a barrel of acid.

Before the incident, McMahon had been "informally adopted" by John and Charles Carneglia. Charles Carneglia promised to protect the lad from retaliation for his role in Frankie's death.

McMahon was treated as a member of the Carneglia family, living with them for long stretches, attending family dinners and going on Carneglia family vacations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Burlingame said.

Former capo Michael DiLeonardo has testified that McMahon was a "goofy kid" who taunted FBI agents, running up to them and grabbing his crotch.

McMahon had jobs with Local 638 steamfitters union and Local 52 motion pictures mechanics union, but those paid only $40,000 a year, chump change for a wanna-be Gambino associate with an ailing wife and two kids.

Prosecutors say he and Carneglia took part in extortions, art fraud and robberies, including the stickup of an armored car at Kennedy Airport in 1990 in which guard Jose Rivera Delgado was shot to death. McMahon dropped a baseball cap at the scene. DNA tests linked him to a strand of hair in the hat.

Shortly after he was arrested in 2005 on an indictment charging him with racketeering for the Gambinos in Tampa, McMahon sent a "thank you" letter to Brooklyn Magistrate Robert Levy for releasing him on bail.

"As I was leaving the courtroom you said to me, 'Don't let me down.' I assure you I have not," he wrote. "As soon as I'm acquitted I'll write you again."

McMahon turned on his adoptive mob family after he was convicted and faced 20 years behind bars. He is cooperating in hopes of winning a lesser prison term.

Thanks to John Marzulli

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination

A new book has been released, Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination, was written by Lamar Waldron. In the book it proposes that Mafia Mobster Boss, Carlos Marcello from New Orleans had JFK killed.

This is not a new theory, but the book cites a testimony from Marcello where he said “Yeah, I had the son of a bitch killed. I’m glad I did. I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it myself.” It seems that Marcello does not care who knows that he orchestrated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The former mobster boss also claims that he knew Jack Ruby, and he had him kill Lee Harvey Oswald. The new book which has 848 pages also looks at the links between Marcello and the murders of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On the Anniversary of JFK's Assassination, Questions Remain for Some Regarding the Mob's Role, If Any

Will we ever know for sure?

Saturday, marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Gunshots rang out at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, echoing around the world. Those shots still echo today for those who refuse to believe that one man – Lee Harvey Oswald – acted alone.

I tend to be among that group.

In the years since that day, a number of theories have been put forth that offer possible scenarios and perpetrators – from Fidel Castro, to Russians, to Mafia, to CIA operatives, to the military-industrial complex President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about – even the possibility that Lyndon B. Johnson stood to gain from Kennedy’s death.

Some question the mob's involvement in the assissination of President John F. KennedyFrom the earliest days following the Warren Commission Report, conspiracy theorists have picked it apart, finding flaws and omissions. According to some, the men who sat on that board of inquiry went in with the belief that Oswald was the lone assassin and set about to prove it, excluding any evidence to the contrary as irrelevant.

Anyone who investigates the Mafia or knows its inner workings understands the mind set of those involved in its illicit activities. For those who enter into agreements with that organization, betrayal means death. Reneging on a deal or failing to meet one’s obligations means suffering the wrath of an organization betrayed. Did Kennedy betray the Mafia?

It has been reported that Chicago mob boss Salvatore Giancana was instrumental in delivering Chicago to the Democrats in the 1960 election, which gave Kennedy the Illinois electoral votes and the presidency. But that wasn’t their only association, according to reports. If those reports can be believed, which records have been researched and confirmed by more than one source, Kennedy and Giancana shared a girlfriend, a young starlet in Hollywood. And, it has been well documented that the Mafia had a working relationship with the U.S. government, first during World War II at the New York docks to make sure ships were loaded without delay and later with the CIA.

Perhaps the thorniest problem for the Mafia was Robert Kennedy who, as United States Attorney General, went after organized crime with a vengeance.

So it begs the question – if the Mafia helped elect John Kennedy, did Robert Kennedy’s pursuit of the Mafia violate the mob’s rules of “fair play” necessitating the death of the president? And in so doing, did the Mafia have access to government assistance – not necessarily to assassinate Kennedy, but identification and access from operations gone by?

Perhaps the most well-known pursuit of truth was that of Jim Garrison, the new Orleans district attorney who worked to tie in so many of the unanswered questions surrounding Kennedy’s death. But he, too, failed to convince the America public when a jury returned a not-guilty verdict against those whom he believed to have had knowledge, motive and intent.

So many questions, so few answers. Those who might have known are long gone – even witnesses who saw things they perhaps should not have seen have died mysteriously and suddenly.

As time slips away, fewer and fewer people will care about the death of a president. Those who were there that day. Those who watched the events unfold will pass away, leaving only the pages of history to record the events of Nov. 22, 1963. Will anyone pick up the gauntlet and carry it forward, seeking the truth beyond a shadow of doubt?

Thanks to Mark Engebretson

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rumors of the Kennedy Family's Ties to the Mafia

Rumors of ties between the Kennedys and the Mafia go back to John F. Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy, who reportedly earned much of the family fortune as bootlegger and had connections to mobsters like Meyer Lansky. When JFK faced Hubert Humphrey in the Democratic primary in 1960, many claimed that the Kennedy clan called on their mob connections to ensure a favorable vote, and similar accusations were made during the presidential election against Richard Nixon, which Kennedy won by a slim margin.

Several theories tie JFK’s assassination to the Mafia. Jack Ruby, the man who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK’s accused assassin), was a known mob associate. One theory attributes motive to the Mafia through the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. The Mafia reportedly hated that Cuba was in the hands of Fidel Castro, who had thrown them out of their lucrative Cuban casino businesses when he came to power. The invasion was an utter failure attributed by some to Kennedy’s refusal to approve air support.

Another theory points to JFK’s brother, Robert, whom JFK appointed to the position of attorney general after he was elected president. Once appointed, Robert Kennedy immediately began a Mafia crackdown. Robert also died from an assassin’s bullet.

Another rumor plays on suggestions that JFK kept several mistresses and girlfriends, some of whom were known to associate with mobsters. Some evidence, including federal wiretaps, shows that mobster Sam Giancana may have set JFK up with various women, all the while recording proof of the President’s extra-marital affairs. Conspiracy theorists have speculated that it was hit men sent by Giancana who murdered Marilyn Monroe, one of JFK’s supposed girlfriends. Giancana himself was murdered shortly before he was due to testify on the Mafia/Kennedy connections.

Thanks to Nicks Free Info

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Junior Gotti Awakens Mob Ghosts in Tampa

The ghosts of Tampa's old-time wiseguys awakened this summer when Mafia scion John "Junior" Gotti came to town in handcuffs, accused of pulling the strings in a bunch of classic mobster crimes.

The federal indictment against him reads like a plot summary for "The Sopranos." The 44-year-old Gotti — son of the late "Dapper Don" of the notorious Gambino crime family — allegedly had his fingers in everything: whacking rivals, trafficking cocaine, bribery, kidnapping and money-laundering. Earlier convictions show Gambino crews have worked for years to get a foothold in the Tampa area's criminal underworld.

If the charges against Gotti are true, then he was a Johnny-come-lately to organized crime around here.

The fabric of the Tampa region's history is richly woven with stories of ruthless gangsters who first grabbed control of illegal gambling and liquor distribution during Prohibition, executed rivals with point-blank shotgun blasts, bribed public officials, controlled the narcotics trade and eventually broadened their influence across the Sunshine State and pre-Castro Cuba.

They were menacing, old-school mobsters who went by nicknames like "The Hammer," "Scarface," "Cowboy," "The Fat Man," "The Colonel," "Big Joe" and "Silent Sam."

Infamous in the city's lore is the "Era of Blood," when 25 gangsters were gunned down on the streets as Italian, Cuban and Anglo underworld factions battled for power from the 1920s to the '50s. And a Godfather-like legend surrounds Tampa-born crime boss Santo Trafficante Jr., who took over the Sicilian Mafia in Florida from his father in 1954 and built a criminal empire that was the envy of mob families across the country.

"Trafficante was the boss of Florida," says Joseph D. Pistone, a former FBI agent whose six years undercover with the mob were chronicled in the 1997 Johnny Depp movie "Donnie Brasco." "Miami was an open city, like Las Vegas. But if you operated in Tampa or other parts of the state, you had to go through Trafficante."

During his last two years with Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano's Bonanno family crew, Pistone came to Florida often to help broker an alliance with Trafficante, whose blessing was needed for the Brooklyn crew to operate an illegal gambling joint northwest of Tampa. The eventual FBI takedown of the Kings Court club in 1981 is depicted in "Donnie Brasco."

In another movie, "Goodfellas" (1990), New York gangsters played by Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro come to Tampa in 1970 and put the screws to a guy who won't pay his gambling debts. He finally agrees to pay up after they take him to the city zoo and threaten to feed him to the lions.

That all really happened — except for the lion part. Lucchese family soldiers Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke just gave the welcher an old-fashioned beating, ending up at a dingy north Tampa bar that still stands across the street from the Busch Gardens amusement park. But it's true that the beaten bettor had a sister who worked in the Tampa FBI office, which led to arrests and prison terms for the two wiseguys.

That's trivia that few but Scott Deitche remember. He literally wrote the book on Tampa's organized crime history — called "Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld" — and followed it up last year with a Trafficante biography.

Miami might be more associated with mob activity, but Deitche says organized crime in Florida is firmly rooted in Tampa, where Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants established communities in the city's cigar-making center of Ybor City in the early 20th century. One of the early rackets was bolita, a popular, low-stakes lottery game.

"You had drugs, prostitution, rum-running, bootlegging during Prohibition, some alien smuggling, but bolita was the main moneymaker," says Deitche over lunch recently at Ybor City's historic Columbia restaurant — a favorite dining spot of Trafficante and a host of mobsters over the years.

"Through bolita you got into corruption of the local government, corruption of the sheriff's department," he says. "So from there you really saw the emergence of the Italian Mafia, and the Italian Mafia eventually eclipsed all the other ones."

Howard Abadinsky, an organized-crime expert who teaches a class on the subject at St. John's University, says the growth of organized crime in Florida mirrored what was happening in society at-large. There was opportunity and money to be made in Florida, attracting not only aboveboard entrepreneurs but mobsters from the five New York Mafia families as well. Many bought houses and lived here for part of the year.

"The mob moved to Florida just like legitimate people," Abadinsky says. "There was plenty of money for everyone."

But it was the soft-spoken, even-tempered Trafficante — known as the "Silent Don" — who put the mob on the map in Florida. He also became the most influential Mafia figure in Cuba, running hotels and casinos, buying up property and laundering money through the island before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and kicked him out.

Trafficante, in public hearings, acknowledged cooperating with secret U.S. government efforts to kill Castro. And his name is often mentioned in a conspiracy theory surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination, but he vehemently denied having anything to do with it. He never spent a night in an American jail.

Trafficante's death after heart surgery in 1987 ended the Mafia's heyday in Florida, but the experts say it hasn't been snuffed out. A 2006 federal trial in Tampa exposed the activities of a Gambino crew led by capo Ronald Trucchio, who because of a deformed limb was known by the nickname "Ronnie One-Arm."

His crew was accused of a slew of wiseguy crimes, including trying to control the lucrative valet parking business in Tampa. He and three other Gambino associates were convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to commit extortion, with Trucchio getting life in prison.

Now comes Junior Gotti, who was arrested at his Long Island home in August and hauled to Tampa. His attorney scoffs at the charges, saying the feds have mounted an "epic quest" to take Gotti down after failing to convict him in three federal trials in New York. Gotti says he retired years ago from the criminal life and has pleaded not guilty to the Tampa charges. He remains jailed without bond pending a trial, which could happen sometime next year.

Abadinsky says the mob is still around, in Florida, New York and elsewhere, but it's a shadow of its former self. Gangsters today don't wield the power, control the unions or have the political connections of their predecessors.

While the "The Sopranos," the wildly popular HBO TV series about a New Jersey mob family, was a great recruiting tool for the Mafia, there are fewer young men willing to take up the life these days, Abadinsky says.

"The new guys," he says, "are whole lot less interesting."

Thanks to Mitch Stacy

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pop Culture Portrayals of the Mob in Tampa

•"GoodFellas" (1990) Tampa is featured in one of the best gangster movies. The mobsters played by Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro are sent from New York to get money from a man in Tampa. The short segment begins with the pair beating the man in a car, then taking him to the "Tampa City Zoo" and holding him over the lion cages. "They must really feed each other to the lions down there, because the guy gave the money right up," says Liotta.

•"The Punisher" (2004) John Travolta plays a ruthless crime lord who orders the death of FBI Agent Frank Castle's family - and then pays the price when Castle becomes the hero, The Punisher. Part of that price is getting dragged through a parking lot off Ashley Drive in downtown.

•"White Shadow." This 2006 novel by former Tampa Tribune reporter Ace Aktins provides a fictional account of Tampa during the life of Charlie Wall, the local crime king who ran things in Tampa in the 1930s and 1940s, only to eventually be moved out by Santo Trafficante Sr.

•"Donnie Brasco" (1997). The title character, played by Johnny Depp, is actually the FBI agent Joe Pistone, who infiltrates the mob. A segment of the movie depicts a trip by Brasco and Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino) to Tampa, with shots of them at the beach and the dog track. The prosecutor on the case, Kevin R. March, was from Tampa.

•"JFK" (1991). Oliver Stone's labyrinthine film about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 mentions the mob as one of the possible suspects, and mentions Tampa mob leader Santo Trafficante Jr.

•"Ocean's Eleven" (2001). They're not exactly the mob, but Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) come to Derby Lanes in St. Petersburg to recruit Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) for their team of thieves pulling off a heist in Las Vegas

Junior Gotti is not the Only Tampa Connection to Mafia Activity

Tampa again finds itself in the center of the latest chapter of mob intrigue.

Reported organized crime boss John Gotti Jr. was arrested in New York on Tuesday, and will be arraigned in Tampa on murder conspiracy charges stemming from an investigation that began in the Bay area.

As mob towns go <a href=Tampa is no New York, Chicago or even Philadelphia. But over the years Tampa has found itself with at least a tenuous connection to the latest news from the organized crime world.


In the 1940s, Sicilian immigrant Santo Trafficante Sr., a known member of the Mafia, took over organized crime in Tampa. The Tampa mob ran gambling, loansharking operations, drug trafficking, stolen property rings, strip clubs, fraud and political corruption, according to Scott Deitche, author of the book, "Cigar City Mafia."

When Trafficante Jr. took over, the man authorities called Florida's "boss of bosses" testified in front of a 1978 U.S. House panel that he was involved in a plot to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He denied knowledge of any mob plot to kill President Kennedy.

In 2006, four alleged members of the Gambino crime family went to trial in U.S. District Court in Tampa on charges of racketeering and extortion. Authorities said the group, led by Ronald "Ronnie One Arm" Trucchio, committed robbery, extortion and murder from New York to Miami. They reportedly ran valet parking businesses at restaurants, hospitals and strip clubs. In 2007, Trucchio was sentenced to spend life behind bars.

The city's sometimes unseemly criminal landscape has wooed Hollywood filmmakers as well.

The 1990 crime classic "Goodfellas" featured a scene at Lowry Park Zoo in which Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, and James Burke, played by Robert De Niro, terrorized a local bar owner who refused to pay a gambling debt by dangling him over the lion cage. The "Goodfellas" depiction is pretty close to the real thing, according to Deitche.

Apparently, the owner of Char-Pal Lounge at 3711 E. Busch Blvd. asked Hill and Burke to come to Tampa to persuade Gaspar Ciaccio to pay his $13,000 debt, Deitche said. They dined at the Columbia Restaurant before tracking down Ciaccio.

Hill and Burke apparently beat up Ciaccio in the back room of the Char-Pal and then threatened him at the lion cage at Busch Gardens, said Nicholas Pileggi, who adapted his book "Wiseguy" into the screenplay for "Goodfellas."

"It all really happened," said Pileggi, who came to Tampa to take pictures of the area and interview people for his book.

The reason organized crime appeared to flourish in Tampa seems as varied as the experts who have studied it.

Pileggi said Tampa's organized crime spun off from Prohibition days in the 1920s and '30s.

Many of Florida's elected leaders and law enforcement officers either didn't enforce the laws or were in cahoots with bootleggers, Pileggi said. "There was an infrastructure of corruption," he said.

Deitche focuses on the large influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Mob bosses in New York and Chicago generally didn't speak Spanish, so the Trafficantes leveraged their links with Cuba and Latin America to dominate organized crime in Florida for more than three decades, he said.

Authorities credit the Trafficante family with creating a mob language known as "Tampan," a hybrid of Italian and Spanish created to confuse police.

Howard Abadinsky, an organized crime expert and professor of criminal justice and legal studies at St. John's University, said the reason the mob moved into Tampa and South Florida had more to do with the shifting economy. The mob bosses followed the money, he said.

They saw thousands of retirees from the East Coast and rustbelt states flee to sunny Florida for the winter, bringing their money and spare time.

Tampa's growing population would have been irresistible for organized crime families with ties to garbage hauling unions, shipping interests, gambling, bars, strip clubs and other ventures. "They are always on the prowl for opportunity," he said.

Deitche, Abadinsky and others agree on thing: High-profile, organized criminal activity has been on the decline for decades. Criminal investigations are credited with part of the decline. But mostly, the old-time mob bosses have died off.

Trafficante Jr. died March 17, 1987, after heart surgery in Houston.

"Since then, it's sort of subsided," said Bill Iler, who worked for the Tampa Police Department from 1966 to 1986, much of it investigating organized crime. "All the old guys hooked up with the Mafia are about dead now."

Thanks to Baird Helgeson

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Carlos Marcello, New Orleans Mafia Don, Played Roll in JFK Assassination According to Lawsuit by Forensic Intelligence Analyst

A New Jersey paralegal with a longstanding interest in government corruption filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department and the F.B.I. on Monday, seeking the release of the full case file on a murderous Brooklyn Mafia informant — papers she believes may shed light on the possible involvement of a dead New Orleans crime boss in the killing of President John F. Kennedy.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Washington by the paralegal, Angela Clemente, asks the Federal Bureau of Investigation to make public any documents it may still hold related to the mobster, Gregory Scarpa Sr., who for nearly 30 years led a stunning double life as a hit man for the Colombo crime family and, in the words of the F.B.I, a “top echelon” informant for the bureau.

In her suit, Ms. Clemente asked the bureau to release all papers connected to Mr. Scarpa (who died of AIDS in 1994 after receiving a blood transfusion), especially those related to Carlos Marcello, a New Orleans don suspected by some of having played a role in the Kennedy assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

Ms. Clemente filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Mr. Scarpa’s file in April, and the F.B.I. acknowledged her request in a letter on June 9, saying that bureau officials would search their records for relevant papers. Ms. Clemente’s lawyer, James Lesar, said that the F.B.I. had not yet told her if it would release the file or not, but that under federal law, a lawsuit can be filed compelling the release of records 20 working days after such a letter is received.

John Miller, a spokesman for the F.B.I., did not return phone calls on Monday seeking comment on Ms. Clemente’s suit. Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said officials would review the suit and respond if needed in court.

In pursuing the Scarpa file and its potential to flesh out Mr. Marcello’s possible role in the Kennedy killing, Ms. Clemente is following a trail blazed in part by G. Robert Blakey, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame who also served as the chief counsel and staff director to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which from 1977 to 1979 investigated the killings of President Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

While the Warren Commission said there was no link between Mr. Marcello and the president’s death, Mr. Blakey’s report to the House was considerably more circumspect, saying the F.B.I.’s “handling of the allegations and information about Marcello was characterized by a less than vigorous effort to investigate its reliability.”

Ms. Clemente is in possession of several heavily redacted papers from the Scarpa file, which suggest, however vaguely, she said, that Mr. Scarpa, who spied on numerous gangsters for the F.B.I., may also have spied on Mr. Marcello.

Professor Blakey, reached by phone at his office at Notre Dame on Monday, said he had seen the papers, adding that no matter what the unredacted versions might eventually reveal, he was convinced that he should have seen them 30 years ago, while conducting his Congressional investigation. “The issue here is not what’s in them,” Professor Blakey said, “so much as that they seem to have held them back from me. I thought I had the bureau file on Marcello — now it turns out I didn’t, did I? So I’m not a small, I’m a major, supporter of what Angela is trying to do.”

Ms. Clemente, 43, often refers to herself as a “forensic intelligence analyst.” She has been researching Mr. Scarpa for nearly a decade as part of a broader project on the improper use of government informants. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office has said her work on Mr. Scarpa was instrumental in helping the office file quadruple murder charges against Mr. Scarpa’s former F.B.I. handler, Roy Lindley DeVecchio.

The charges against Mr. DeVecchio were dropped midtrial in October when Tom Robbins, a reporter for The Village Voice, suddenly showed prosecutors taped interviews he made years ago with the main prosecution witness, Mr. Scarpa’s mistress, suggesting that she had changed her account and damaged her credibility.

Faced with the sudden demise of years of investigative work, Ms. Clemente went back, she said, to the redacted papers she already had. She said she was intrigued, after additional study, to discover references to Mr. Scarpa’s apparent involvement in F.B.I. projects in New Orleans in the late 1950s and early 1960s — well before his publicly acknowledged role in helping the Kennedy administration learn the whereabouts of three slain civil rights workers by traveling to Mississippi to threaten a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

She said the F.B.I. had fought her “tooth and nail” in her efforts to obtain the full Scarpa file for Mr. DeVecchio’s trial. The F.B.I. did not return phone calls seeking comment on that allegation as well. “And that,” she said, “is what really piqued my curiosity.”

Thanks to Alan Feuer

Monday, March 31, 2008

Henry Hill Tours His Goodfellas' Turf

GoodFellas was the definitive mafia film - and it is the story of one man, Henry Hill, one of the only survivors of a ruthless gang of robbers and killers.

Hill walked the streets of New York as a king - an associate of the Lucchese crime family. He stole big, he spent big and took vast quantities of drugs.

Then he got caught and spent 30 years in the witness protection programme, telling the police all they needed to know to put his mafia bosses behind bars.

"I couldn't walk around this neighbourhood ten years ago," he says standing, smoking outside Junior's diner in Long Island City. "There'd be bullets flying all over the place."

His morning started with fried calamari washed down with a glass of wine and a shot of whiskey. But it was not the Dutch courage that meant he dared to visit his old haunting grounds on this murky spring day.

"I'm old enough to die, just as long as they do it quickly," he says, pointing to his forehead.

Hill is a very different looking man from the one shown on the big screen. He is short, grey-haired, with lines on his face. A cigarette barely leaves his hand. The same goes for a bottle of beer.

After Junior's, it was on to his mistress's house. She was called Janice Rossi in the film, Linda in real life, and Hill confirms the famous scene where his wife, Karen, is madly pressing apartment buzzers and screaming that Janice is a "whore". But he says in reality he was in the apartment too and had to climb down the drainpipe to get out and reach home before Karen returned.

Hill says: "If you can't love two people at once, there's something wrong with you."

I point out that his wife probably did not see it that way. "Obviously she didn't," says Hill.

After a short interlude where he tries to persuade a traffic warden not to give us a ticket - "Sistergirl, please," he says - we are off to Robert's Lounge.

The club was owned by Jimmy Burke (Robert de Niro's character in the film) and was the scene of Spider's (played by Michael Imperioli) death. "Spider was killed in the basement," Hill says. He describes the dark room filling up with smoke and the deafening echo of bullets in the tiny space. He says Spider was buried in the basement along with several others killed there or nearby over the years. With a grim look he says: "This is a graveyard."

GoodFellas contained several scenes of visceral, shocking violence and it was not an exaggeration.

Joe Coffey became a policeman because the mafia shot his dad. It happened when he was eight and they did it right in front of him.

"GoodFellas is probably the best mafia movie as far as showing them for what they really are," he says today. "The Godfather, Casino, they show them as sort of folk heroes. GoodFellas pins them down to exactly what they are - street thugs."

Hill says he never killed anyone although he did ''bust some heads", and he admits he does not know whether his victims lived or died.

He smiles as he talks of how much he stole, though. "We stole anything we could sell," he says, as we pass a Bulova watch factory.

He claims they used to stake out the trucks as they brought shipments in and then hold up and pay off the drivers. The watches could then be sold on the black market.

His most famous crime was the Lufthansa robbery of 1978 when a reported $5m (£2.5m) was taken from a vault at New York's John F Kennedy International Airport.

Hill says the police told him more than $100m (£50m) had gone through his hands, although he himself has no idea how much he stole and spent.

He knows where it went though: "Slow horses, drugs and rock and roll."

Now he makes his money selling his story. He is promoting a new Sky Movies mafia season, and has written several books (including a cookbook - real spaghetti and marinara sauce, not egg noodles and ketchup).

He adds that he made half a million dollars advising on GoodFellas.

I ask him how he thought the victims of his crimes would feel knowing about that.

He takes a drag of his cigarette and replies: "Do you know something? I don't give a heck what those people think, I'm doing the right thing now."

Thanks to Heather Alexander

Friday, February 08, 2008

62 Mobsters Part of 80 Count Indictment Against the Gambinso, Genoveses, Bonanno's and Others

Charges Include Racketeering Conspiracy, Extortion, Gambling, and Theft Following
Joint Investigation by Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement

An eighty-count indictment charging sixty-two defendants associated with the Gambino, Genovese, and Bonanno organized crime families of La Cosa Nostra, the construction industry, or its supporting unions – including each member of the Gambino family administration currently at liberty – was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn. The indictment charges racketeering conspiracy, extortion, theft of union benefits, mail fraud, false statements, loansharking, embezzlement of union funds, money laundering, and illegal gambling. The charged crimes span more than three decades and reflect the Gambino family’s corrosive influence on the construction industry in New York City and beyond, and its willingness to resort to violence, even murder, to resolve disputes in dozens of crimes of violence dating from the 1970s to the present, including eight acts of murder, murder conspiracy, and attempted murder.

Twenty-five defendants, all members and associates of the Gambino family, are charged with racketeering conspiracy, which includes predicate acts involving murder, attempted murder, murder conspiracy, felony murder, robbery, extortion, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, securities fraud, mail fraud, loansharking, theft of union benefits, illegal gambling, and bribery. Notably, the evidence relating to many of the charged crimes consists of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations secured by a cooperating witness who penetrated the Gambino family over a three-year period.

The defendants arrested in New York today were arraigned before United States Magistrate Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto at the U.S. Courthouse, 271 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, NY. The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis.

The charges were announced by Benton J. Campbell, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State Attorney General, Richard A. Brown, Queens County District Attorney, Gordon S. Heddell, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Labor, John S. Pistole, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mark J. Mershon, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York, Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police Department, Rose Gill Hearn, Commissioner, New York City Department of Investigation, Michael Mansfield, Commissioner, New York City Business Integrity Commission, Patricia J. Haynes, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service, New York Field Office, Daniel M. Donovan, Richmond County District Attorney, and Thomas De Maria, Executive Director, Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

As noted, the indictment charges each currently active member of the Gambino family “administration,” or executive leadership – acting boss John D’Amico, acting underboss Domenico Cefalu, and consigliere Joseph Corozzo – as well as three Gambino family captains, three acting captains, sixteen soldiers, and numerous associates. Each member of the administration is charged with racketeering conspiracy and multiple crimes of violence, namely extortions and extortion conspiracies relating to the construction industry, which carry sentences of up to twenty years’ imprisonment on each count.

According to the indictment and the detention memorandum filed, the Gambino family profited from extortion related rackets at construction sites in the New York City metropolitan area, including the NASCAR NASCAR Superstoreconstruction site located in Staten Island and the Liberty View Harbor construction site located in Jersey City, among others. The NASCAR extortion involved the construction of a racetrack in Staten Island that required large quantities of dirt fill, thus requiring trucking contracts which were controlled by the Gambino family. These crimes were part of a longstanding effort by the Gambino family to control and coordinate the extortion of dozens of private construction companies. The charged criminal activity resulted not only in the extortion of business owners, but also the theft of union benefits from, among others, Local 282 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The indictment also documents the Gambino family’s routine use of brazen violence. In particular, four members of the Gambino family are charged with eight crimes involving murder, murder conspiracy, and/or attempted murder. Each of these crimes – charged as racketeering acts – are detailed below:

The Murder of Albert Gelb. Gambino family soldier Charles Carneglia is charged with the 1976 murder of Albert Gelb as a racketeering act. On March 11, 1976, Gelb’s body was discovered in the front seat of a car in Queens, New York, with multiple gunshot wounds to his face and body. Gelb was a Brooklyn Criminal Court Officer who, several years earlier, had approached Carneglia in a Queens diner after Gelb determined that Carneglia was carrying a firearm. Carneglia resisted, and after a struggle with Gelb, he was arrested. Gelb was killed on March 11, 1976, four days before he was expected to testify at Carneglia’s trial.

The Murder of Michael Cotillo. Carneglia is charged with the murder of Gambino family associate Michael Cotillo as a racketeering act. Cotillo died from a stabbing inflicted by Carneglia on November 6, 1977, in Queens, New York, following a fight between the two men.

The Murder of Salvatore Puma. Carneglia is charged with the murder of Gambino family associate Salvatore Puma as a racketeering act. Puma died as a result of a stabbing allegedly inflicted by Carneglia on July 29, 1983. At the time of the stabbing, the two men were arguing over a money dispute.

The Murder of Louis DiBono. Carneglia is charged with the murder of Gambino family soldier Louis DiBono. Carneglia allegedly shot and killed DiBono on October 4, 1990, in the parking garage of the former World Trade Center in Manhattan, on the orders of then-Gambino family boss John J. Gotti. According to the indictment and the government’s detention memorandum, Gotti ordered DiBono’s execution because DiBono had repeatedly failed to meet with Gotti.

The Felony Murder of Jose Delgado Rivera. Carneglia is charged with the December 1990 armed robbery and felony murder of Jose Delgado Rivera as a racketeering act. Rivera, an armored truck guard, was shot and killed during a robbery while he and a co-worker were delivering money to the American Airlines building at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York.

The Murders of Robert Arena and Thomas Maranga. Gambino family captain Nicholas Corozzo is charged with the January 1996 double murder of Luchese family associate Robert Arena and Arena’s friend, Thomas Maranga. Corozzo ordered the murder of Arena in retaliation for Arena’s failure to return marijuana he had robbed from a narcotics dealer and for Arena’s suspected participation in the murder of a Corozzo crew member. Maranga was not a target of the murder but was killed because he was with Arena at the time of the attack.

Attempted Murder of John Doe. Gambino family soldiers Vincent Gotti, Richard G. Gotti, and Angelo Ruggiero, Jr. are charged with the May 2003 conspiracy to murder, and attempted murder, of John Doe as a racketeering act. John Doe was shot several times as he was leaving for work on May 4, 2003.

These arrests are the latest is a series of prosecutions in this district targeting the highest echelons of each of the five New York-based families of the LCN.

“The charges announced today are the result of a coordinated law enforcement initiative by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials,” stated United States Attorney Campbell. “I want to thank our partners for their extraordinary efforts and commitment to this historic investigation and prosecution. Today, we serve notice that anyone who aspires to a position in organized crime will meet the same fate. We will not rest until we rid our communities and businesses of the scourge of organized crime.” Mr. Campbell thanked Michael J. Garcia, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Barry Kluger, Superintendent Samuel J. Plumeri, Jr. of the Port Authority Police Department, and U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent-in-Charge Ned Schwartz for their assistance in the case.

“This case is noteworthy not only because of its breadth but also because it includes charges against the entire administration of the Gambino family of La Cosa Nostra,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “These charges are the result of the extraordinary work of the law-enforcement agencies that partnered together to take down a legacy of crime and violence that spanned decades.”

Queens County District Attorney Brown said, “Today’s arrests were the result of a coordinated law enforcement effort involving a multitude of agencies at all levels of government. The cooperative efforts of the agencies represented here today were critical to ensuring the successful outcome of this major takedown of individuals associated with organized crime. I commend all those who participated in this endeavor.”

Inspector General Heddell, United States Department of Labor, stated, “Today’s RICO indictment represents a significant milestone toward eradicating a far-reaching and insidious conspiracy involving some of the largest construction companies in New York City that are owned, controlled, and/or influenced by the Gambino organized crime family. Many of these construction companies allegedly paid a ‘mob tax’ in return for ‘protection’ and permission to operate. Through their alleged control of these companies, the Gambino organized crime family caused the theft of Teamsters union dues, and of health and pension funds, directly impacting the welfare and future of many workers. My office stands firmly committed to working with our law enforcement partners to combat this type of labor racketeering and organized crime.”

“Today’s arrests will be a major setback for the Gambino crime family, but it is a fallacy to suggest that La Cosa Nostra is no longer a threat to public safety,” stated FBI Deputy Director Pistole. “Organized crime in New York is not dead. As a consequence of acts charged in the indictment, however, seven people are dead. It’s also a fallacy that mob murder victims are just other mobsters. Three of the murder victims had no affiliation with organized crime,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Mershon.

“This investigation demonstrates the long-term commitment by NYPD detectives, FBI agents, and prosecutors in making sure the accused are brought to justice. The Gambino organization spilled a lot of blood in New York, and it is being held accountable – no matter how long it takes,” Police Commissioner Kelly said. “This history of violence has been abetted, often unwittingly, by people who see nothing wrong with placing a bet with a mobbed-up bookie,” Commissioner Kelly added. “I commend detectives from our Vice Enforcement Division, who in a related case with 26 arrests, today smashed one of the Gambino crime ring’s most profitable, illegal enterprises – namely, sports gambling.”
Cuban Crafters Cigars
DOI Commissioner Hearn said, “DOI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners and focus on this ongoing effort to drive out construction fraud in the City.”

New York City Business Integrity Commissioner Mansfield stated, “In addition to this indictment, and as a direct result of this long-term collaboration between the Commission and its law enforcement partners, effective immediately the Commission has terminated the authority of the carting companies controlled by these defendants to operate in New York City. The Commission remains committed to its mission of eliminating the influence of organized crime from the industries it regulates.”

Richmond County District Attorney Donovan stated, “This indictment is a prime example of the strong collaborative efforts of law enforcement agencies in this region, today striking a major blow against organized crime in our community.”

Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor Executive Director De Maria stated, “For 55 years the Commission has spearheaded and actively participated with various state, federal, and local law enforcement authorities in a multitude of successful investigations which have led to countless criminal prosecutions and administrative action against waterfront- related figures. The Gambino crime family has been a predator of the longshore and construction industries and unions as well as many other industries and their related unions for decades in New York City.”

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mitra Hormozi, Joey Lipton, Roger Burlingame, Daniel Brownell, Evan Norris, and Kathleen Nandan, and Special Assistant United States Attorneys Doug Leff and Amy Cohn.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

La Cosa No More?

In early 2004, mob veteran Vincent Basciano took over as head of the Bonanno crime family. The reign of the preening, pompadoured Mafioso known as Vinny Gorgeous lasted only slightly longer than a coloring dye job from his Bronx hair salon.

Within a year, the ex-beauty shop owner with the hair-trigger temper was behind bars betrayed by his predecessor, a stand-up guy now sitting down with the FBI.
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It was a huge blow to Basciano and the once-mighty Bonannos, and similar scenarios are playing out from coast to coast. The Mafia, memorably described as "bigger than U.S. Steel" by mob financier Meyer Lansky, is more of an illicit mom-and-pop operation in the new millennium.

The mob's frailties were evident in recent months in Chicago, where three senior-citizen mobsters were locked up for murders committed a generation ago; in Florida, where a 97-year-old Mafioso with a rap sheet dating to the days of Lucky Luciano was imprisoned for racketeering; and in New York, where 80-something boss Matty "The Horse" Ianniello pleaded to charges linked to the garbage industry and union corruption.

Things are so bad that mob scion John A. "Junior" Gotti chose to quit the mob while serving five years in prison rather than return to his spot atop the Gambino family.

At the mob's peak in the late 1950s, more than two dozen families operated nationwide. Disputes were settled by the Commission, a sort of gangland Supreme Court. Corporate change came in a spray of gunfire. This was the mob of "The Godfather" celebrated in pop culture.

Today, Mafia families in former strongholds like Cleveland, Los Angeles and Tampa are gone. La Cosa Nostra our thing, as its initiates called the mob is in serious decline everywhere but New York City. And even there, things aren't so great: Two of New York's five crime families are run in absentia by bosses behind bars.

Mob executions are also a blast from the past. The last boss whacked was the Gambinos' "Big Paul" Castellano in 1985. New York's last mob shooting war occurred in 1991. And in Chicago, home to the 1929 St. Valentine's Day massacre, the last hit linked to the "Outfit" went down in the mid-1990s.

The Mafia's ruling Commission has not met in years. Membership in key cities is dwindling, while the number of mob turncoats is soaring.

"You arrest 10 people," says one New York FBI agent, "and you have eight of them almost immediately knocking on your door: `OK, I wanna cut a deal.'"

The oath of omerta silence has become a joke. Ditto for the old world "Family" values honor, loyalty, integrity that served as cornerstones for an organization brought to America by Italian immigrants during the era of Prohibition. "It's been several generations since they left Sicily," says Dave Shafer, head of the FBI organized crime division in New York. "It's all about money."

Which doesn't mean the Mafia is dead. But organized crime experts say the Italian mob is seriously wounded: shot in the foot by its own loudmouth members, bloodied by scores of convictions, and crippled by a loss of veteran leaders and a dearth of capable replacements.

The Bonannos, along with New York's four other borgatas (or families), emerged from a bloody mob war that ended in 1931. The Mafia then became one of the nation's biggest growth industries, extending its reach into legitimate businesses like concrete and garbage carting and illegal pursuits like gambling and loan-sharking. The mob always operated in the black.

Things began to change in the mid-1980s, when the Mafia was caught in a crossfire of RICO, rats and recorded conversations. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act handed mob prosecutors an unprecedented tool, making even minor crimes eligible for stiff prison terms.

The 20-year sentences gave authorities new leverage, and mobsters who once served four-year terms without flinching were soon helping prosecutors.

"A good RICO is virtually impossible to defend," insists Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey, who drafted the law while serving as counsel to Sen. John McClellan in 1970. The results proved him right.

The first major RICO indictment came in 1985, with the heads of three New York families and five other top level Mafiosi eventually convicted. It took nearly two decades, but the heads of all five New York families were jailed simultaneously in 2003.

Authorities around the country were soon using Blakey's statute and informants against Italian organized crime in their cities.

In Philadelphia, where the mob was so widespread that Bruce Springsteen immortalized the 1981 killing of Philip "Chicken Man" Testa in his song "Atlantic City," one mob expert estimates the Mafia presence is down to about a dozen hardcore "made" men. Their number was once about 80.

The New England mob claims barely two dozen remaining made members about half the number involved 25 years ago. The Boston underboss awaits trial.

In Chicago, home of Al Capone, the head of the local FBI office believes fewer than 30 made men remain. That figure stood at more than 100 in 1990. The city's biggest mob trial in decades ended recently with the convictions of three old-timers for murders from the 1970s and '80s.

In Los Angeles, there's still a Mafia problem "La Eme," the Mexican Mafia. An aging leadership in the Italian mob, along with successful prosecutions, left most of the local "gangsters" hanging out on movie sets.

The Florida family dominated by Santos Trafficante, the powerful boss linked to assassination plots targeting President John F. Kennedy and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is gone. The beachfront Mafia of the 21st century is mostly transplanted New Yorkers, and money generated by the local rackets isn't kicked up the chain of command as in the past.

"You have guys running around doing their own thing," says Joe Cicini, supervisor of the FBI's South Florida mob investigations. "They don't have the work ethic or the discipline that the older generation had."

The decline of "Family values" is nothing new. Back in January 1990, a government bug caught no less an expert than Gambino boss John Gotti wondering if the next generation of mobsters was equal to their forebears. "Where are we gonna find them, these kind of guys?" Gotti asked. "I'm not being a pessimist. It's getting tougher, not easier!"

During the same conversation, Gotti questioned the resumes of a half-dozen candidates for made man: "I want guys that done more than killing."

Even harder, it would turn out, was finding guys who could keep their mouths shut.

"Mob informant" was once an oxymoron, but today the number of rats is enormous and growing with each indictment. And the mob's storied ability to exact retribution on informants is virtually nonexistent.

"There is no more secret society," says Matthew Heron, the FBI's Organized Crime Section Chief in Washington.

"In the past, you'd start out with the lowest level and try to work your way up," Heron continues. Now "it's like playing leapfrog. You go right over everybody else to the promised land."

Basciano, 48, the one-time owner of the "Hello Gorgeous" beauty parlor, faces an upcoming trial for plotting to kill a federal prosecutor. The case was brought after his old boss, "Big Joey" Massino, wore a wire into a jailhouse meeting where the alleged hit was discussed.

By the time Massino went public with his plea deal in June 2005, another 50 Bonanno associates had been convicted in three years. The number of colleagues who testified against them, going right up to Massino, was in double digits. Basciano now faces the rest of his life in prison.

The Bonanno family is now led by the inexperienced "Sal The Ironworker" Montagna, just 35 years old, according to the FBI. Montagna shares one trait with his family's founder: He, too, is a Sicilian immigrant.

The mob of the 21st century still makes money the old-fashioned way: gambling, loan-sharking, shakedowns. Three Genovese family associates were busted this month for extorting or robbing businessmen in New York and New Jersey, making off with $1 million.

There are other, more modern scams: The Gambino family collected $230 million in fraudulent credit card fees linked to pornographic Web sites. Another crooked plan grossed more than $420 million when calls made to "free" phone services triggered unauthorized monthly fees on victims' phone bills.

After getting busted, mobsters are quick to offer advice to the FBI about allocating the agency's investigative resources.

"I can't tell you how many times we've gone to arrest people, and the first thing a wiseguy says is, `You should be going after the terrorists," said Seamus McElearney, head of the FBI's Colombo crime family squad in New York. "They say it all the time: `You should be doing that.'

"And leaving them alone."

Thanks to Larry McShane (Sara Lee)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How the CIA Enlisted the Chicago Mob to Put a Hit on Castro

The Fixer couldn't sleep. But in that shadow hour when his wife still slumbered and the 101 Strings murmured over his rec room speakers and his swimming pool lights threw green wavy diamonds into the muggy Virginia night, he knew that sleep was not what he needed. What he needed was to think. To weigh. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Could he do it? Should he? The questions had gnawed at him ever since the proposition had been made earlier that evening.

The setting had been his recreation room, the comfortable redoubt where he often took visitors to discuss potential assignments from his most reliable client: the Central Intelligence Agency. On this occasion, the visit was from James O'Connell—"Big Jim" to his friends—and Sheffield Edwards, two operatives in the highest reaches of The Company, as the CIA was known. They had an assignment for him, they said, one so top secret that even the president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had been kept in the dark. Chicago Magazine

The Fixer was no stranger to intrigue. As a former FBI agent turned private eye, he had built his career on operating in the shadows. His fledgling detective agency had a standing arrangement with the CIA: For $500 a month, he would perform various "cut-out" operations—missions ordered by the CIA, but with which the agency could deny official involvement. One such assignment, for example, required him to procure "feminine companionship" for Indonesia's President Sukarno during a state visit to New York, with the understanding that the woman would use her wiles to gather information from the leader. In another, he helped queer a deal that would have given Aristotle Onassis, already one of the richest men in the world, control over nearly all of the oil exports coming out of Saudi Arabia.

The Fixer served other clients, too, including one almost as secretive as the CIA. Howard Hughes—the "phantom billionaire"—may have been the most paranoid, reclusive public figure in the country at the time, but he trusted The Fixer with his most sacred secrets.

Still, for all his covert, high-level adventuring, even The Fixer found the operation the two CIA agents were now describing hard to believe. The subject was Cuba. The target was Fidel Castro. The mission was assassination. And The Fixer's role was to recruit the killer.

This was August 1960, about a year and a half after Fidel Castro had led the revolution that overthrew Cuba's longtime strongman, Fulgencio Batista. At first, much of the West celebrated the young revolutionary's success. But quickly, Castro's leanings toward Communism became evident. He began cozying up to the Soviet Union. Among the disturbing implications of this partnership was the potential for a missile base 90 miles from U.S. shores—a base from which Moscow could launch nuclear weapons at virtually any part of America.

That must not happen, Edwards and O'Connell said. Castro and his regime needed to be dealt with—"neutralized." Which was where The Fixer came in. After taking power, Castro had kicked out all the CIA agents. As a result, the best contacts left in Cuba belonged to the Mafia, which, with the blessing of Batista, had largely run the island's hugely profitable casinos. Castro had effectively robbed the Mafia of those profits by closing the casinos—first temporarily, then permanently.

If he agreed to help, The Fixer would use his contacts in the underworld to recruit someone who could get close enough to Castro to carry out the assassination. The hit would be timed to coincide with the Bay of Pigs invasion, loosely planned for some eight months from then. Killing the leaders, the reasoning went, would improve the odds for the military operation. The assignment obviously was considered "super eyes-only"—perhaps only half a dozen CIA agents knew of it. Would The Fixer do it?

He was speechless. The CIA. In bed with the mob. With him as the matchmaker? It was . . . crazy. How could an arm of the federal government team with Murder, Inc.?

The two men acknowledged his discomfort, shared it, even. In a perfect world, they would never have asked this of him or any citizen. But in this case, the interests of national security justified it. Think of Hitler, the lives that could have been saved had he been taken out before the launch of World War II, they said.

The analogy pricked The Fixer's conscience. Still, he said, "I have to think about it, think very deeply. I'll give you my answer tomorrow." That night, he recalls, "I told my wife I wouldn't be coming to bed. I went down to the recreation room and locked myself in. I realized that if anything went wrong, I was the fall guy. My family could be hurt. My friends could be hurt. I could be hurt. Furthermore, I considered myself a reasonably good Catholic, and I did not like the idea of getting involved with murdering anybody. I put on some music and began to do some soul searching."

He reached his decision at dawn. As morally questionable as the plan was, he agreed with the agents. Killing Castro would serve a greater good. That day, The Fixer called with his answer: He was in.

The old man who putters around the corner with a cup of coffee and a plate of fresh-baked blueberry muffins hardly seems the cloak-and-dagger operative at the nexus of what may have been the strangest covert undertaking in U.S. history. More like a kindly grandfather delighted by the chance to chat with a visitor. The trim form Robert A. Maheu once enjoyed as an FBI agent has yielded to the comfortable stoutness of old age. A palm-treed Hawaiian shirt and black slacks with the waist pulled high have replaced the standard issue white shirt and tie.

He is 90 now, with eyes that show a pleasant, kind twinkle, but you'd be mistaken to underrate Robert A. Maheu's toughness. He seizes your hand with a clamplike grip and rattles off an impressive list of ventures with which he's still involved. Among them is the intelligence firm he helped build with his son, a group with 160 investigators in Nevada and operatives in more than 80 countries.

As for his mental acuity, ask him about his involvement in the Cuba Project: His memories come as fast and fresh as his morning muffins.

That project—the CIA's targeting of Fidel Castro, and its willingness to rely on the Mafia to achieve that end—has resonated with intrigue, drama, and mystery ever since details of it began to surface in newspaper columns during the early 1970s. The five-year program of propaganda, sabotage, and murderous intent has been linked to everything from Richard Nixon's Watergate downfall (some of the Watergate burglars, including E. Howard Hunt, were major players in the Castro plots) to the hit on the Chicago godfather Sam "Mooney" Giancana. Many think the answer to who killed JFK lies buried beneath the layers of plots and subplots in the efforts to assassinate Castro—specifically, that the project may have resulted in a counterplot by Castro to kill Kennedy.

Today, the tale has taken on fresh relevancy, thrust back into the nation's consciousness by questions over intelligence activities—the Bush administration's domestic spying program, for example, and the CIA's "rendering" of terrorist suspects to countries where torture is believed to occur.

Still, until June of this year, the CIA had failed to acknowledge publicly that its plots to murder Castro even existed. Books had been written, congressional testimony given, and newspaper columnists had uncovered detailed evidence. But an official admission to citizens of the United States and the world, no.

That changed with the release of what The Company called its Family Jewels—693 pages of declassified top-secret memos confirming some of the CIA's most infamous and illegal past activities. The Jewels grew out of the anger of CIA director James Schlesinger, who had learned through the press that his agency had provided support to two ex-CIA agents arrested in the Watergate break-in (E. Howard Hunt and James McCord). In May 1973, Schlesinger ordered "all senior operating officials of this agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this agency."

That charter barred the CIA from spying inside the United States, but did not expressly forbid assassination plots against foreign leaders. Instead, the vaguely worded National Security Act of 1947 permitted the CIA to collect and analyze intelligence and perform "other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security."

"It is through the loophole of those [last] vague 11 words that hundreds of major covert actions were undertaken, including efforts to assassinate foreign leaders like Fidel Castro," says Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a private research group in Washington, D.C. (The group was instrumental in getting the Jewels declassified, having filed Freedom of Information Act requests some 15 years ago.)

The violations revealed in the Jewels are "unflattering," admitted the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, in a public statement after release of the documents. Not to mention embarrassing. The documents, in fact, confirm plots against Castro that are so absurd, so harebrained, they seem more like fantasies dreamed up by drunken frat boys than the product of the best and brightest minds in the intelligence community. Exploding cigars, poisoned wetsuits, chemicals to make Castro's beard fall out—even a phony Second Coming—all were brainstorms of The Company's masterminds. The plots do indeed "go beyond James Bond," says Don Bohning, author of The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba. "They are really screwy."

Which raises the question: How did such schemes come to dominate the plotting? "You have to realize the enormous pressure the intelligence community was under to do something about Castro," says Bohning. "The people above them were willing to consider about anything."

As it happens, almost all of the masterminds have died, as have the people tapped to carry out their plots. Old age has claimed some; causes suspicious and violent, others. Robert Maheu may be the last living major player, the sole survivor who can bear witness to this bizarre intelligence undertaking.

Which is how I find myself at a dining-room table in Las Vegas with a plate of homemade blueberry muffins in front of me, listening to the voice of Patsy Cline drift down from ceiling speakers, while the grandfatherly spymaster across the table from me—The Fixer, Bob Maheu—unravels the tale of how he presided over the star-crossed marriage of the Chicago mob to the feds.

Though much of the thinking surrounding the Cuba Project seems bafflingly, almost comically flawed, the decision to tap Maheu as the intermediary between the CIA and the Mafia made sense. Born in Waterville, Maine, a small mill town best known as home of the Hathaway shirt, Bob Maheu stumbled into intelligence work. In search of a little extra money while in college, he applied to be a translator for the FBI. Desperate to get men into the field, the FBI hired him as an agent.

After working under cover during World War II, he quit the bureau at the end of the war to open his own intelligence gathering firm. His first clients were old FBI friends who had gone to work for the CIA. Howard Hughes heard about his success and put him to work handling minor blackmail cases from starlets Hughes had bedded. Eventually, Maheu became Hughes's most trusted adviser. Among the perks of the $500,000-a-year job were mansions to call home, access to Hughes's fleet of limos and private jets, and an introduction to a glittering Hollywood life in which he gained a first-name acquaintance with stars such as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore.

One assignment required Maheu to serve a subpoena on the elusive owner of a prominent Las Vegas hotel. Maheu asked his friend the lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, who had represented mobsters, to pull some strings. The man who ended up obliging Maheu was a fast-talking, sharply dressed, silver-haired Mafioso named Johnny Roselli.

Many months later, with the CIA's Castro assignment in hand, Maheu turned to Roselli again. Tall and hawk-nosed, Roselli had been born Filippo Sacco in Esperia, Italy, on July 4, 1905, and had immigrated with his mother to America in 1911. After settling for a time in a Boston suburb, Roselli fled to Chicago in 1922 in the wake of a murder. He changed his name to Roselli in honor of an Italian Renaissance sculptor, Domenico Rosselli, and promptly began to work his way up the ranks of the Chicago Outfit under Al Capone. By the time he met Maheu, he was the Chicago mob's representative in Los Angeles, where he was married for a time to a movie actress, June Lang. Eventually, he took over the ice concessions for the Mafia in Las Vegas.

Maheu and Roselli became fast friends. In fact, Roselli even spent a Thanksgiving at Maheu's house, where he was referred to by Maheu's children as "Uncle Johnny."

On an afternoon in late August 1960, Maheu watched Roselli swagger toward his booth at The Brown Derby in Beverly Hills. The gangster's shoes, as always, gleamed with polish. His cuticles suggested a fresh manicure. This wasn't the Uncle Johnny that visited on Thanksgiving, but "Handsome Johnny," the mob capo.

Maheu waited until coffee was served to drop the bombshell. The mobster, Maheu recalls, laughed. "Me? You want me to get involved with Uncle Sam?" Roselli said, according to Maheu's 1992 autobiography, Next to Hughes. "The feds are tailing me wherever I go. They go to my shirt maker to see if I'm buying things with cash. . . . They're always trying to get something on me. Bob, are you sure you're talking to the right guy?"

Yes, Maheu said. He was serious. The fee would be $150,000. Roselli could pick whomever he wanted to execute the hit. The only condition, Maheu said, was that "Uncle Sam isn't involved. If anyone connects you with the U.S. government I will deny it. If you say Bob Maheu brought you into this, that I was your contact man, I'll say you're off your rocker, you're lying, you're trying to save your hide. I'll swear by everything holy that I don't know what in the hell you're talking about."

Roselli gazed steadily at him. He tapped his fingers on the table. "I would have to be satisfied that this is a government project," he said. Maheu assured him, "It comes from high level sources." After a long pause, Roselli nodded. He would do it. But he, too, had a condition: The CIA could keep its money. Assassinating Castro, he claimed, would be his patriotic duty. Whether Roselli was simply trying to curry favor with the feds in case he needed it later, Maheu didn't care. The plot was in motion.

Unknown to either man, the CIA already had spent months brainstorming and discarding ways to get Castro, schemes ranging "from the cockamamie to sinister," says Kornbluh, with the National Security Archive. The initial plots were aimed at merely discrediting the Cuban leader. One scheme called for treating a box of cigars with a chemical, possibly LSD. "The thought was to somehow contrive to have Castro smoke one before making a speech and then to make a public spectacle of himself," according to a declassified 1967 CIA inspector general's report. Exploding cigars and cigars laced with poison were also considered. Another scheme called for agents to flood the radio studio where Castro broadcast his speeches with LSD gas so that he would ramble incoherently on the air.

One plot (the account of which some officials have claimed is apocryphal) was dubbed "Elimination by illumination." This scheme turned on spreading the word that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. Because Castro opposed Christianity, the reasoning went, his people would turn against him. To add a bit of Hollywood flair, a U.S. submarine stationed just over the horizon would hurl star shells into the night. The glow "would be the manifestation of the Second Coming and Castro would be overthrown," explained a 1975 Senate Intelligence Committee probe of assassination attempts against foreign leaders, soon after the assassination of Chile's President Salvador Allende.

On another front, agents thought they could diminish Castro's charisma—not to mention subvert his nickname, "The Beard"—by dusting his boots with thallium salts, a powerful depilatory. Without his whiskers, the agents argued, Castro would lose the manly authority that had helped him overthrow the Batista government.

Kornbluh points out that the far-fetched schemes underscore the intense, almost hysterical paranoia that marked the cold war in those days. "The bottom line is that the agency, feeling pressure from the White House for . . . a 'creative solution' to the Castro problem, wanted to 'neutralize' the Cuban leader any way it could. Poison pens and pills, exploding conch shells, sniper rifles—whatever would possibly work."

The difference between the "screwy" plots and those involving the Mafia, says author Don Bohning, "was that the others were just crazy schemes that were come up with under pressure. The Mafia plots were much more serious. They were meant to do something."

By September 1960, the project was proceeding apace. Roselli would report directly to Maheu. The first step was a meeting in New York. There, at the Plaza Hotel, Maheu introduced Roselli to O'Connell. The agent wanted to cover up the participation of the CIA, so he pretended to be a man named Jim Olds who represented a group of wealthy industrialists eager to get rid of Castro so they could get back in business.

"We may know some people," Roselli said. Several weeks later, they all met at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. For years, the luxurious facility had served as the unofficial headquarters for Mafioso leaders seeking a base close to their gambling interests in Cuba. Now, it would be the staging area for the assassination plots.

At a meeting in one of the suites, Roselli introduced Maheu to two men: Sam Gold and a man Roselli referred to as Joe, who could serve as a courier to Cuba. By this time, Roselli was on to O'Connell. "I'm not kidding," Roselli told the agent one day. "I know who you work for. But I'm not going to ask you to confirm it."

Roselli may have figured out that he was dealing with the CIA, but neither Maheu nor O'Connell realized the rank of mobsters with whom they were dealing. That changed when Maheu picked up a copy of the Sunday newspaper supplement Parade, which carried an article laying out the FBI's ten most wanted criminals. Leading the list was Sam Giancana, a.k.a. "Mooney," a.k.a. "Momo," a.k.a. "Sam the Cigar," a Chicago godfather who was one of the most feared dons in the country—and the man who called himself Sam Gold. "Joe" was also on the list. His real name, however, was Santos Trafficante—the outfit's Florida and Cuba chieftain. Chicago Magazine

Maheu alerted O'Connell. "My God, look what we're involved with," Maheu said. O'Connell told his superiors. Questioned later before the 1975 U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (later nicknamed the Church Committee after its chairman, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho), O'Connell was asked whether there had ever been any discussion about asking two men on the FBI's most wanted list to carry out a hit on a foreign leader.

"Not with me there wasn't," O'Connell answered.

"And obviously no one said stop—and you went ahead."


"Did it bother you at all?"

"No," O'Connell answered, "it didn't."

For his part, Maheu was impressed with Giancana. "He didn't come off as thuggish," Maheu recalls. "You could tell, he wanted attention and he got it. When he walked down the hallway, you could just sense his power. He didn't have to say a word. It was just how he carried himself. But I never heard him use foul language. He was always very well dressed and in very good shape."

The mobster could be sentimental. In his autobiography, Maheu recalls Giancana getting "tears in his eyes whenever he heard the song 'You're Nobody 'Till Somebody Loves You.' . . . He said, 'Someday I'll explain it to you.' But he never did." He could also be menacing. In the book, Maheu recalls a young man going up to Giancana at the pool and talking tough. "Without even looking at the punk, Giancana grabbed his necktie and yanked him close," Maheu writes. "Sam stared right into the kid's eyes and said, 'I eat little boys like you for breakfast. Get your ass out of here before I get hungry.'"

Born to Sicilian immigrants in a section of Chicago's Little Italy called "The Patch," Sam Giancana had forged a reputation as a crack getaway driver, a high earner, and a vicious killer. Lean and banty, he could be charming or monstrous. In his CIA-Mafia book, The Fish Is Red: The Story of the Secret War Against Castro, the author Warren Hinckle describes Giancana as "a trampy little man with hairless legs who wore baggy white socks and generally walked around looking as glum as an unpaid undertaker." Giancana's daughter, Antoinette, who lives in Elmwood Park, paints a more flattering portrait: "Sam worked at looking young," she writes in Mafia Princess Growing Up in Sam Giancana's Family. "And except for his balding head and graying hairline, he usually succeeded. . . . I can't think of anyone who looked less like the public's conception of a Mafia boss than my father in May of 1961."

Maheu forged a friendship with Giancana, meeting him every day, sounding the gangster out on his views toward Castro. Maheu quickly realized that Giancana needed little persuading to go after the Cuban leader. Not only had Castro robbed him of his casino income; Giancana had lost out on a shrimp boat operation he was trying to build, as well as on a plan to offer gambling on tourist boats traveling from Miami to Cuba. "He had all these wonderful things going for him," Antoinette Giancana told me. "As an heir to [Giancana's] estate, I can say that we lost everything to Fidel Castro. He took everything away from us." The mere mention of Castro's name in the Giancana house, the daughter recalls, "would make him flip his lid."

Accordingly, the conversations between O'Connell, Maheu, Roselli, and Giancana focused on how, not whether, to kill the Cuban leader. The CIA initially suggested a gangland-style hit, with Castro going down in a hail of bullets. Giancana balked. Too risky. It would be a suicide mission. After considering and discarding different tactics, the two sides settled on deploying what they called a Mickey Finn—a poison pill that would be slipped into Castro's food or drink.

To create the lethal capsule, the CIA turned to its "Office of Medical Services" and Dr. Edward Gunn, the CIA's equivalent of the fictional "Q," who provided James Bond with his shooting cigarettes and exploding alarm clocks. Gunn devised a pill containing botulinum, a powerful nerve toxin, but capsules didn't dissolve in water. A second batch did dissolve, but when tested on guinea pigs, they weren't lethal. It turned out that guinea pigs had a high resistance to botulinum. They tried the pills on monkeys. Success.

The pills were delivered to Giancana and Trafficante in March 1961 at the Fontainebleau. The timing was auspicious—and provided the perfect cover. The city brimmed with gangsters in town for the third heavyweight championship fight between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson. Thus, while crowds packed the hotel's Boom Boom Room to see the two fighters knock each other around, Trafficante knocked on the door of Giancana's suite without raising the least suspicion.

Waiting inside were Giancana, Roselli, Maheu, and Juan Orta, a disaffected Cuban official. Orta was angry at Castro for shuttering the gambling casinos and thereby ending his lucrative kickbacks. As payback, Orta had offered to help kill Castro, relying on the services of a chef at a restaurant frequented by Castro. The chef could put the botulinum pills in Castro's food, Orta claimed.

Testifying before the Church Committee 14 years later, Roselli recounted what happened next. Maheu "opened the briefcase and dumped a whole lot of money on [Orta's] lap," Roselli recalled. Maheu "also came up with the [poison] capsules and he explained how they were going to be used. As far as I remember, they couldn't be used in boiling soups and things like that, but they could be used in water or otherwise. . . ." (Maheu disputes the money-dumping story and says he simply passed the pills to Roselli, who gave them to Orta.) But then something went awry. The mobsters later claimed that Orta got cold feet, a view shared today by Maheu. "It's not like delivering a case of booze," he says. The more likely explanation is that Orta, who had lost his position in Castro's government, no longer had the means to pass the pills to his contact. Either way, Orta returned the poison. And Giancana and Trafficante had to find another killer.

Meanwhile, another crisis had surfaced. Giancana had fallen for Phyllis McGuire, the beautiful lead singer of the McGuire Sisters. The two had been seeing each other for several months before Giancana was approached about the Castro operation. As the plotting unfolded, Giancana, who was living at the Fontainebleau, began hearing rumors that McGuire was having an affair with the comedian Dan Rowan while the two were performing in Las Vegas.

Unhinged by jealousy, Giancana threatened to leave Miami to confront the pair. "Well, we didn't want him to leave," recalls Maheu. "We were right in the thick of things." To ease Giancana's mind, Maheu arranged for Rowan to be followed. Maheu called upon a Miami private eye he knew, Ed DuBois, to carry out the surveillance. DuBois, in turn, farmed the job out to another private investigator, Arthur J. Balletti.

What followed was a series of blunders O'Connell would later liken to the Keystone Kops. Balletti tapped the phone in Rowan's hotel room. "That was the first mistake," Maheu says. "Guys don't make phone calls when they're making love." The more serious—and ridiculous—mistake came after Rowan left his room to play golf. Balletti, apparently wanting to see McGuire's act, left his bugging equipment out—in plain view and running—in his own room, where a maid discovered it.

Had evidence of an affair been uncovered, Maheu believes Giancana would have dropped everything and gone to Las Vegas to confront McGuire. "We could not have kept him in Miami," Maheu says. "You have to remember, these two people were really in love."

As it happened, the sheriff's office was called, then the FBI. A chagrined Maheu called O'Connell. "Well, the damned fools got themselves caught," he said. Suddenly, Maheu found himself hauled before federal agents. Charges were eventually dropped against him and the detectives he hired, but not before the FBI had discovered the Castro assassination plots and Sheffield Edwards had been summoned before attorney general Robert F. Kennedy to explain why the CIA—without his knowledge—was using two men on the ten most wanted list to kill Castro. Kennedy was furious, though not enough to nix the plan. He allowed the operation to continue with the stipulation that he must be kept informed.

The assassination plot resumed its footing with word that Trafficante had turned to another contact in Cuba to carry out the hit. Tony Varona had been prime minister of Cuba in the late 1940s and early 1950s under President Carlos Prío and now wanted to finance the overthrow of Castro. Already, according to FBI reports, Trafficante had given money to Varona for the effort, hoping to secure gambling and dope monopolies in the event Varona was successful. Now, Varona identified a contact who could poison Castro's food. Jim O'Connell took a new set of pills from a safe and delivered them—along with between $20,000 and $25,000 in cash for expenses—to Roselli, who passed the poison and the cash to Varona.

This was it. All that was needed, Maheu believed, was the "go" signal from the CIA, so that the assassination would coincide with the invasion. He waited. As did Varona. But, as Maheu would later testify, "the go signal never came."

Hinckle, author of The Fish Is Red, offers an explanation. According to his theory, at the very moment Varona was supposed to give the signal, he was being sequestered by another group of CIA agents unaware of Varona's crucial role in the hit. That group had planned to install Varona, along with several other Cuban exiles, as the provisional government to take over Cuba once the counterrevolution dispatched Castro. But fearing Varona might gab and spill the Bay of Pigs plan, the agents kept Varona locked up until the invasion was over. As a result, Varona could not get word to his contact at the restaurant.

On April 15, 1961, the drone of U.S. bombers disguised as Cuban revolutionary planes sounded over the three major airfields in Cuba, signaling the launch of the Bay of Pigs. Ill conceived, tragically executed, the invasion sent a ragtag invasion force of American-trained and -funded Cuban exiles into a Custer-style ambush. Dozens of exiles were killed and more than 1,000 taken prisoner.

For a time, that squashed the assasination project. But the CIA had not given up on killing Castro. By late 1961, the agency had turned the operation over to William K. Harvey. Squat, bald, profane, with a headlong stride that gave him the appearance of a charging bull, Harvey was considered something of a legend within The Company. And indeed, he seized control of the Castro assassination mission with the kind of slash-and-burn aggressiveness that had gilded his reputation.

Among the casualties of the new leadership were Giancana and Maheu. Harvey "told me he wanted me to have nothing to do with [them]," Roselli told the Church Committee. Roselli still had the contacts, so he stayed with it. Giancana and Maheu were dumped. Maheu says it was just as well. "To tell you the truth, I'd had it up to my bald head with the whole operation after the way the whole invasion thing was handled," Maheu told me. "I was so pissed that we allowed these kids to land there and not furnish them with the proper air cover. We put 'em in the ring; we led them there to die." Over the months of plotting, Maheu and Giancana had become friends. After the final failed attempt, however, The Fixer never saw Giancana again.

When the operation resumed under Harvey, the schemes were as absurd as ever. One idea, for instance, based on Castro's avid interest in scuba diving, involved booby-trapping a conch shell with explosives so that it would detonate when Castro picked it up off the ocean floor. (An operative "bought two books on Caribbean Mollusca," according to the inspector general's report. But "none of the shells that might conceivably be found in the Caribbean area was both spectacular enough to be sure of attracting attention and large enough to hold the needed volume of explosive.") The agency also considered arranging a gift for Castro, a scuba diving suit coated inside with a fungus that would produce Madura foot, a disabling and chronic skin disease. As it happened, someone had just given Castro a diving suit and the plan was abandoned.

One of the most curious occurrences, at least in terms of timing, came with the final unsuccessful plot. The CIA had been cultivating a dissident named Rolando Cubela since the early days of the assassination discussions. In November 1963, the same Dr. Gunn who had created the poison pills came up with a new device: a Paper Mate ballpoint pen rigged as a hypodermic syringe. Filled with Black Leaf 40, a lethal mixture of nicotine and insecticide, the pen's "needle was so fine that the victim would hardly feel it when it was inserted," according to the 1967 inspector general's report.

On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, a CIA operative met with Cubela in Paris to give him the pen. As the men were coming out of the meeting, they were given terrible news: President Kennedy had been assassinated. Conspiracy theorists have noted the timing, but nothing substantial has ever linked the CIA's plotting against Castro to the Kennedy assassination. "How could it be anything other than a coincidence?" says Kornbluh. "For it to be otherwise would mean that a whole crew of people somehow knew [Lee Harvey] Oswald would shoot Kennedy on that day."

The years following the Cuba Project were not kind to the major players. Giancana, hounded to tell Congress about the CIA-Mafia connection, fled to Mexico. Maheu's relationship with Hughes fell apart in a flurry of bitter accusations on both sides. Roselli landed in the Los Angeles County Jail for a gambling scam at the Friars Club in Los Angeles, where he had helped card cheats fleece Hollywood celebrity players. He was also nailed for having failed to register as an alien. (When Roselli's lawyer asked Maheu to confirm for the court Roselli's involvement with the CIA plot, Maheu told him, "I don't know what you're talking about." Roselli "wasn't very pleased with that, as you might imagine," Maheu says.)

Eventually, though, word of the CIA's ties to the Mafia was leaked to the press. In a front-page story on August 16, 1963, the Chicago Sun-Times' Sandy Smith reported that the CIA had been dealing with Giancana for years. (The paper did not make the connection between Giancana and the Castro assassination attempts.) In early 1971, Jack Anderson wrote a column for The Washington Post detailing the operation, naming Maheu, Roselli, Jim O'Connell, and William Harvey. Maheu thinks Roselli leaked the information to Anderson to help with his own legal troubles.

Four years later, Roselli testified before the Church Committee about his CIA work. Shortly after, his decomposing body was found in Miami in a 55-gallon steel fuel drum. He had been strangled and stabbed and his legs were sawed off. Many attribute the death to a hit put out by Trafficante, payback for Roselli's having broken the mob's omertà (code of silence).

Giancana never had the chance to testify. By 1975, the godfather had moved back to Chicago—actually, to Oak Park. Already, he'd spent a year in jail for having refused to talk to Congress. Now, he was facing another congressional subpoena. Just before he was to appear, a gunman shot the 67-year-old mobster seven times in his basement while he was frying Italian sausage and spinach, his favorite snack. The weapon, a .22 Duramatic automatic pistol, was found in brush along the Des Plaines River. The crime was never solved.

Maheu assumes the mob was behind the hit. "They didn't want to take the chance that rather than to go to jail again he might talk," Maheu says. Antoinette Giancana suspects the CIA killed her father. "The government didn't like my father and my father didn't like the government," she says.

Whoever killed the Chicago Mafia don, his daughter insists that her father had the last laugh. "Sam, in his heart of hearts, had absolutely no intention to kill Castro," she told me. "None at all. He used to chuckle, periodically, and say . . . he was never going to take Castro out. It was all a game to Sam. He was milking the government for all he could get and chuckling on the side."

"That's not true," Maheu fires back. "Why the hell would he spend all that time and have these meetings and so forth? All he had to say is 'I'm not interested.' He may have said that to her, but it just doesn't fly."

Maheu also got hauled before the Church Committee in 1975. "I was pissed," he says—furious at both the Bay of Pigs debacle and the congressional summons to reveal the plots. Maheu also feared Castro would have him killed. "He might have had a lot of friends that would want to avenge this plot," he says.

Maheu believes the congressional probe was a grandstanding effort by Senator Frank Church to gain publicity for a contemplated presidential run. Still, Maheu told the committee what he knew about the mob plot, repeating his comments afterwards to the more than 100 international press representatives who had gathered for a press conference. "I still feel we should have never disclosed the mission," he says today. "I'm very bitter. When your country pledges you into secrecy . . . and 16 years later they decide to throw you in front of a bus. I had held up my part of the bargain. That was hard to swallow."

The final irony for Maheu is that the plots revealed by him and other CIA agents helped create overwhelming pressure for President Gerald Ford to do something to ban future schemes like the one Maheu fought so hard to keep secret. The year after Maheu's testimony, Ford issued Executive Order 11905: "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."

Every U.S. president since then has reissued the ban on assassinations. Peter Kornbluh, of the National Security Archive, argues, however, that the zealous adherence to the law has faded in recent decades. The Reagan Administration "ignored it in its work with the [Nicaraguan] Contras and in efforts to assassinate [Libyan strongman Muammar] Qaddafi in Libya," he says. "Clinton decided to let the CIA go after bin Laden," and Kornbluh maintains that George W. Bush has tacitly endorsed the targeting of suspected terrorists.

The Fixer is stirred up. Having cleared away the muffin plates, he pours us both a last cup of coffee. It's morning in Las Vegas, nearly 50 years removed from his role in the twisted tale of the Cosa Nostra and The Company. His wife died many years ago. His four children are all grown. The jets and limos and mansions he once enjoyed as alter ego to Howard Hughes are all gone, having vanished from his life like desert mirages. He lives now in a comfortable ranch-style house, with sliding glass doors that look out onto the Las Vegas National Golf Course. Next door sits the home used in Martin Scorsese's mob flick Casino. Losing the fast-lane lifestyle doesn't bother him. "I'm right back where I should be," he says. "Living a modest life." He pauses. "It's been a helluva ride."

In his book, he wrote that if given the chance for a do-over he would never have become involved in the Cuba Project. But sometimes, late at night, The Fixer still turns the thing over in his mind. Right, wrong. Good, bad. "I guess the best way to say it," he concludes, "is if I were called upon tomorrow again, and I thought it would save one American life, I think I'd be tempted." The thought intrigues. Old spies, after all, don't die; they just fade back into shadow. But the thoughts don't keep him up at night. These days, in the twilight of his extraordinary life, The Fixer can sleep.

Thanks to Bryan Smith


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