The Chicago Syndicate: Santo Trafficante

Showing posts with label Santo Trafficante. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santo Trafficante. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mob

Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mob, is the true story of how a small-town lawman in upstate New York busted a Cosa Nostra conference in 1957, exposing the Mafia to America

In a small village in upstate New York, mob bosses from all over the country—Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joe Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Cuba boss Santo Trafficante, and future Gambino boss Paul Castellano—were nabbed by Sergeant Edgar D. Croswell as they gathered to sort out a bloody war of succession.

For years, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had adamantly denied the existence of the Mafia, but young Robert Kennedy immediately recognized the shattering importance of the Appalachian summit. As attorney general when his brother JFK became president, Bobby embarked on a campaign to break the spine of the mob, engaging in a furious turf battle with the powerful Hoover.

Detailing mob killings, the early days of the heroin trade, and the crusade to loosen the hold of organized crime, fans of Gus Russo and Luc Sante will find themselves captured by this momentous story. Reavill scintillatingly recounts the beginning of the end for the Mafia in America and how it began with a good man in the right place at the right time.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

La Mia Famiglia: Never Let Them Steal Your Name

From modest beginnings in a Pennsylvania coal mine to the height of success in Tampa, Florida, there was one constant threat in the Scarpo family’s lives—the mafia. La Mia Famiglia: Never Let Them Steal Your Name.

In small-town Pennsylvania, Tony Scarpo’s grandfather Antonio, an immigrant from Bari, Italy, ran afoul of a gangster who terrorized the family for months. Antonio’s message to his children was: “Never let them steal your name.”

It was a lesson Tony’s father, Art Scarpo, took with him into the bar business in Tampa, a lesson he never forgot when the Trafficante crime family came calling. Alongside the Chicago Syndicate and New York’s Five Families, the Trafficantes were one of the pillars of the American Mafia. But little Tony had no idea why his father came home beaten and bloodied. He was just a kid growing up on the outskirts of Tampa, with little-boy dreams and calls to adventure. His ‘normal’ featured sideshow freaks, crime, violence, bizarre deaths—and murder.

As he grew older, however, his father peeled back the veneer to reveal just how dangerous it was for a bar owner in Tampa and how devastating it was to say ‘no’ to the Trafficante crime family. But could the Scarpo family escape the reign of terror brought down by the mob while saving both their name and their lives?

Read this enthralling, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle against organized crime and of one boy’s coming of age that was anything but ‘normal.’


Monday, October 08, 2018

Frank Sinatra and the Mob

"Sinatra and the Mob"

Frank Sinatra always denied his ties to the Mafia, and neither government investigators nor the press could make the rumors stick- until now. In an excerpt from their book, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan uncover the full extent of the immortal crooner's connections with Lucky Luciano and other infamous Mob figures.

Sinatra: The Life, by Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan


Debut March 18, 1939.

In a studio on West 46th Street in New York City, a band was playing Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." It was a simple place, a room with couches and lamps, hung with drapes to muffle the echo from the walls. This was a big day for the musicians, who were recording for the first time.

A skinny young man listened as they played. The previous night, at the Sicilian Club near his home in New Jersey, he had asked if he could tag along. Now, as the band finished playing, he stepped forward and spoke to the bandleader. "May I sing?" he asked.

The bandleader glanced at the studio clock to see if they had time left, then told the young man to go ahead. He chose "Our Love," a stock arrangement based on a melody from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Standing at the rudimentary microphone, he launched into a saccharine lyric:

Our love, I feel it everywhere Our love is like an evening prayer ... I see your face in stars above, As I dream on, in all the magic of Our love.

Unseasoned, a little reedy, the voice was transmitted through an amplifier to a recording device known as a lathe. The lathe drove the sound to a needle, and the needle carved a groove on a twelve-inch aluminum-based lacquer disc. The result was a record, to be played on a turntable at seventy-eight revolutions per minute.

The bandleader kept the record in a drawer for nearly sixty years. He would take it out from time to time, with delight and increasing nostalgia, to play for friends. The music on it sounds tinny, a relic of the infancy of recording technology. Yet the disc is kept in a locked safe. The attorney for the bandleader's widow, an octogenarian on Social Security, says the singer's heirs have demanded all rights and the lion's share of any potential income derived from it, thus obstructing its release.

The disc is a valuable piece of musical history. Its tattered adhesive label, typed with an old manual machine, shows the recording was made at Harry Smith Studios, "electrically recorded" for bandleader Frank Mane. Marked "#1 Orig.," it is the very first known studio recording of the thousand and more that were to make that skinny young man the most celebrated popular singer in history. For, under "Vocal chor. by," it bears the immaculately handwritten legend: Frank Sinatra

A year after making that first record, at twenty-five, Sinatra told a new acquaintance how he saw his future. "I'm going to be the best singer in the world," he said, "the best singer that ever was."

A Family from Sicily

Io sono Siciliano ..." I am Sicilian.

At the age of seventy-one, in the broiling heat of summer in 1987, Frank Sinatra was singing, not so well by that time, in the land of his fathers. "I want to say," he told a rapt audience at Palermo's Favorita Stadium, "that I love you dearly for coming tonight. I haven't been in Italy for a long time-I'm so thrilled. I'm very happy."

The crowd roared approval, especially when he said he was Sicilian, that his father was born in Sicily. Sinatra's voice cracked a little as he spoke, and he looked more reflective than happy. At another concert, in the northern Italian city of Genoa, he had a joke for his audience. "Two very important and wonderful people came from Genoa," he quipped. "One ... Uno: Christopher Columbus. Due: mia Mamma ..."

This second crowd cheered, too, though a little less enthusiastically when he mentioned that his father was Sicilian. "I don't think," he said wryly, "that they're too thrilled about Sicilia." It was a nod to northern Italians' feelings about the island off the southernmost tip of the country. They look down on its people as backward and slothful, and because, as all the world knows, it is synonymous with organized crime. It is the island of fire and paradox, the dismembered foot of the leg of Italy. Sicily: at ten thousand square miles the largest island in the Mediterranean, a cornucopia of history that remains more remote and mysterious than anywhere in Europe.

The island's story has been a saga of violence. Its ground heaved to earthquakes, and its volcanoes spat fire and lava, long before Christ. Its population carries the genes of Greeks and Romans, of Germanic Vandals and Arabs, of Normans and Spaniards, all of them invaders who wrote Sicily's history in blood.

"Sicily is ungovernable," Luigi Barzini wrote. "The inhabitants long ago learned to distrust and neutralize all written laws." Crime was endemic, so alarmingly so that a hundred years ago the island's crime rate was said to be the worst in Europe. By then, the outside world had already heard the spectral name that has become inseparable from that of the island-Mafia.

The origin of that word is as much a mystery as the criminal brotherhood itself, but in Sicily "mafia" has one meaning and "Mafia"-with an upper case "M"-another. For the islanders, in Barzini's view, the word "mafia" was originally used to refer to "a state of mind, a philosophy of life, a concept of society, a moral code." At its heart is marriage and the family, with strict parameters. Marriage is for life, divorce unacceptable and impossible.

A man with possessions or special skills was deemed to have authority, and known as a padrone. In "mafia" with a small "m," those who lived by the code and wielded power in the community were uomini rispettati, men of respect. They were supposed to behave chivalrously, to be good family men, and their word was their bond. They set an example, and they expected to be obeyed.

The corruption of the code and the descent to criminality was rapid. Well before the dawn of the twentieth century, the Mafia with a capital "M," though never exactly an organization, was levying tribute from farmers, controlling the minimal water supply, the builders and the businessmen, fixing prices and contracts.

Cooperation was enforced brutally. Those who spoke out in protest were killed, whatever their station in life. The Mafia made a mockery of the state, rigging elections, corrupting the politicians it favored, and terrorizing opponents. From 1860 to 1924, not a single politician from Sicily was elected to the Italian parliament without Mafia approval. The island and its people, as one early visitor wrote, were "not a dish for the timid."

Frank Sinatra's paternal grandfather grew up in Sicily in the years that followed the end of foreign rule, a time of social and political mayhem. His childhood and early adult years coincided with the collapse of civil authority, brutally suppressed uprisings, and the rise of the Mafia to fill the power vacuum.

Beyond that, very little has been known about the Sinatra family's background in Sicily. The grandfather's obituary, which appeared in the New York Times because of his famous grandson, merely had him born "in Italy" in 1884 (though his American death certificate indicates he was born much earlier, in 1866). Twice, in 1964 and in 1987, Frank Sinatra told audiences that his family had come from Catania, about as far east as one can go in Sicily. Yet he told one of his musicians, principal violist Ann Barak, that they came from Agrigento on the southwestern side of the island. His daughter Nancy, who consulted her father extensively while working on her two books about his life, wrote that her great-grandfather had been "born and brought up" in Agrigento. His name, according to her, was John.

In fact he came from neither Catania nor Agrigento, was born earlier than either of the dates previously reported, and his true name was Francesco-in the American rendering, Frank.

Sicilian baptismal and marriage records, United States immigration and census data, and interviews with surviving grandchildren establish that Francesco Sinatra was born in 1857 in the town of Lercara Friddi, in the hills of northwest Sicily. It had about ten thousand inhabitants and it was a place of some importance, referred to by some as piccolo Palermo, little Palermo.

The reason was sulfur, an essential commodity in the paper and pharmaceutical industries, in which Sicily was rich and Lercara especially so. Foreign companies reaped the profits, however, and most locals languished in poverty. The town was located, in the words of a prominent Italian editor, in "the core territory of the Mafia." The town lies fifteen miles from Corleone, a name made famous by The Godfather and in real life a community credited with breeding more future American mafiosi than any other place in Sicily. It is just twelve miles from the Mafia stronghold of Prizzi-as in Prizzi's Honor, the Richard Condon novel about the mob and the film based on it that starred Jack Nicholson.

It was Lercara Friddi, however, that produced the most notorious mafioso of the twentieth century. Francesco Sinatra's hometown spawned Lucky Luciano. Luciano was "without doubt the most important Italian-American gangster," according to one authority, and "head of the Italian underworld throughout the land," according to a longtime head of the Chicago Crime Commission. One of his own lawyers described him as having been, quite simply, "the founder of the modern Mafia."

Luciano, whose real name was Salvatore Lucania, was born in Lercara Friddi in 1897. Old marriage and baptismal registers show that his parents and Francesco Sinatra and his bride, Rosa Saglimbeni, were married at the church of Santa Maria della Neve within two years of each other. Luciano was baptized there, in the same font as Francesco's first two children.

In all the years of speculation about Frank Sinatra's Mafia links, this coincidence of origin has remained unknown. Other new information makes it very likely that the Sinatras and the Lucanias knew each other. The two families lived on the same short street, the Via Margherita di Savoia, at roughly the same time. Luciano's address book, seized by law enforcement authorities on his death in 1962 and available today in the files of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, contains only two entries for individuals who lived in Lercara Friddi: one a member of his own family and the other a man named Saglimbeni, a relative of the woman Francesco Sinatra married. Even if the Sinatras and the Lucanias did not know each other, Luciano's later notoriety makes it certain that the Sinatra family eventually learned that they and the gangster shared the same town of origin. Kinship and origins are important in Italian-American culture, and were even more so in the first decades of the diaspora.

As a boy, Frank Sinatra could have learned from any of several older relatives that his people and Luciano came from the same Sicilian town. He certainly should have learned it from Francesco, who lived with Sinatra's family after his wife's death and often minded his grandson when the boy's parents were out.

Francesco, moreover, survived to the age of ninety-one, until long after Luciano had become an infamous household name and Frank Sinatra an internationally famous singer. Sinatra himself indicated, and a close contemporary confirmed, that he and his grandfather were "very close." Late in life, he said he had gone out of his way to "check back" on his Sicilian ties. And yet, as we have seen, he muddied the historical waters by suggesting that his forebears came from Sicilian towns far from Lercara Friddi.

That the Sinatra family came from the same town as a top mafioso was not in itself a cause for embarrassment. The reason for the obfuscation, though, may be found in the family involvement with bootlegging in Frank Sinatra's childhood and, above all, in his own longtime relationship with Luciano himself, the extent of which can now be documented for the first time.

* * *

There was only one school in Lercara Friddi, and few people there could read or write. Francesco Sinatra was no exception, but he did have a trade-he was a shoemaker. He married Rosa, a local woman his own age, when both were in their early twenties, and by the time they turned thirty, in 1887, the couple had two sons. As the century neared its close, thousands of Sicilians were going hungry, especially in the countryside. There were food riots, and crime was rampant.

In western Sicily, the Mafia's power had become absolute. Palermo, the island's capital, spawned the first capo di tutti capi, Don Vito, who would one day forge the first links between the Sicilian Mafia and the United States. His successor, Don Carlo, operated from a village just fourteen miles from Lercara Friddi. Some of the most notorious American mob bosses - Tony Accardo, Carlo Gambino, Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante - were, like Luciano, of western Sicilian parentage.

By 1889 Francesco and Rosa had moved to a working-class suburb of Palermo. Two more sons were born there, but died in infancy, possibly victims of the cholera epidemic that ravaged the neighborhood in the early 1890s. One and a half million Sicilians were to leave the island in the next twenty-five years, many going to Argentina and Brazil and, increasingly, to the United States.

Francesco Sinatra joined the exodus in the summer of 1900. At the age of forty-three, he said goodbye to Rosa and their surviving children-there were by now three sons and two daughters-and boarded a ship for Naples. There he transferred to the British steamer Spartan Prince, carrying a steerage ticket to New York. At Ellis Island, on July 6, he told immigration officials he planned to stay with a relative living on Old Broadway in Manhattan. He had $30 in his pocket.

Francesco found work, and soon had enough confidence to start sending for his family. His eldest son, Isidor, joined him in America, and Salvatore, just fifteen and declaring himself a shoemaker like his father, arrived in 1902. Rosa arrived at Christmas the following year, accompanied by Antonino, age nine, and their two daughters, Angelina and Dorotea, who were younger. Antonino-Anthony Martin or Marty, as he would become in America-was to father the greatest popular singer of the century.

The Statue of Liberty smiled, Frank Sinatra would say in an emotional moment forty years later, when his father "took his first step on Liberty's soil." For many Italian newcomers, however, the smile proved illusory.

(Continues...)

Copyright 2005 Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan
All right reserved.
ISBN: 0-375-41400-2


Saturday, April 02, 2016

"Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires"

Face it--there seemingly will always be a market for certain books. Just choose to chronicle some facet of the Kennedys, the Nazis or, as Selwyn Raab has opted, the Mafia, and a certain sales threshold is guaranteed. Quality seldom seems an issue. Just serve it up and the buyers will come.

Happily, "Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires" is worth every cent, and for those who haven't gotten into Mafia reading on either the fictional -- as in Mario Puzo-- level or other documentary accounts, this may well be the only book you need to read.

So well written and encompassing is Raab's effort that even at 763 pages, many readers will pine for more. And of course there could be more at some point. As the title suggests, a Mafia resurgence is more than quite possible after the John Gotti era unraveling of the more traditional operations in the 1980s and '90s. The next time, it just might not be so Italian based.

Raab serves up a history of the underworld that is long on coherency and understanding and short on the kind of mind-numbing detail other Mafia historians wander into. He gets right into the notoriously efficient work of Charles (Lucky) Luciano, whose rules of engagement ended a lot of shoot-'em-ups and kept the Mafia pointed at one goal -- ever increasing the amount of money pouring into the organization and individual coffers by corrupting American government and business, not necessarily in that order.

It was Luciano who advocated the organization adopt secretive, low-profile standards for thievery, extortion and other crimes as opposed to the over-the-top "I'm just giving the people what they want" personna that Chicago boss Al Capone advocated. And Raab pulls the thread by luring the reader to all that came after. With a reporter's love of fact and disdain for much of the fictional crap about these dark knights, we follow the organization's operations through its real birth during Prohibition, its World War II profiteering, its '50s heyday as a union corrupter and Las Vegas force and its '80s and '90s stumbling largely attributed to a name now very familiar -- Rudy Giuliani. It was Giuliani's use of RICO (the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act) that did great damage to the Mafia's traditional legal defenses in the 1980s.

While he devotes a few pages to the oft-told stories like the Louis (Lepke) Buchalter case from the '30s and '40s, Raab scores big points for telling modern Mafia tales that are less often told but are just as magnetic as the '30s-era classics. And Raab is a constant critic of the law enforcement and justice system weaknesses for not prosecuting crimes that seemed all too obvious. And back in the beginning of this review, did we mention the Kennedys?

That would propel the reader to the book's Chapter 15, titled "The Ring of Truth." The title comes from the mouth of G. Robert Blakey, an expert on both the John F. Kennedy assassination and the underworld, about utterances from Frank Ragano, a lawyer who had the opportunity to defend Mafia operators Santos Trafficante, Carlos Marcello and Detroit's own labor racketeer, the still missing Jimmy Hoffa.

Trafficante, Ragano said, confirmed that the Mafia had a hand in the drama of Nov. 22, 1963. The simple theory: Robert Kennedy's vigorous prosecution of racketeering had to be stopped and the best way to do that was by icing the man who appointed him to his job. Yes, there was plenty of bad feeling toward JFK himself, but Raab concludes, "Whether or not they had a part in it, the Mafia had triumphed as a big winner after the assassination."

One other reason to admire Raab's work: He does quite a bit of damage to the fictional image of the Mafia that is the result of Puzo's fiction and movies like "Good Fellas," "Casino" and the most current manifestation, "The Sopranos." Raab quotes organized crime boss Howard Abadinsky as saying, "They are displayed having a twisted sense of honor, 'taking no crap from anyone,' with easy access to women and money. Such displays romanticize organized crime and, as an unintended consequence, serve to perpetuate the phenomenon and create alluring myths about the Mafia."

That's something Raab could never be convicted of.

Reviewed by JOHN SMYNTEK

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires By Selwyn Raab

As the Mafia grew into a malignantly powerful force during the middle of the last century, it owed much of its success to its low-priority ranking as a law enforcement target. During most of his reign as FBI director from 1924 to 1972, J. Edgar Hoover denied that the Mafia even existed. In the late 1950s, Hoover was ''still publicly in denial" that there was such a thing as the Mafia, writes Selwyn Raab in ''Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires," his engaging history of the New York mob.

Even Hoover, who hesitated to tackle mob cases because they were difficult to win and might corrupt his agents, grudgingly came around. ''Five Families," a gritty cops-and-robbers narrative and a meticulous case history of an extraordinary law enforcement mobilization, shows how the federal government finally brought the Mafia down.

Raab, a former reporter for The New York Times whose beat was organized crime, exudes the authority of a writer who has lived and breathed his subject. Indeed, Raab seems too attached to every last nugget that he has unearthed. ''Five Families" bogs down in places under the groaning weight of excessive, repetitious detail.

Even as he tosses congratulatory bouquets to the cops for having reduced the mob to a ''fading anachronism," as one of them puts it, Raab inserts a cautionary note. The redeployment since 9/11 of US law enforcement personnel from an anti-Mafia to an antiterrorism posture is providing Cosa Nostra -- as the Italian-American organized-crime syndicates refer to themselves, meaning ''Our Thing" -- a ''renewed hope for survival," Raab says.

If they are to prosper again, all five of New York's mob families (the Gambinos, Luccheses, Colombos, Genoveses, and Bonannos) must first rebuild their leadership. The top bosses of the five families, along with many underlings, have been convicted in racketeering prosecutions and sentenced to long terms in federal prison. Those prosecutions constitute ''arguably the most successful anticrime expedition in American history," according to Raab.

The decades-long jelling of the law enforcement response to the Mafia threat commands Raab's close attention. An impetus came from Democratic Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, whose subcommittee investigated labor racketeering in the late 1960s. One key behind-the-scenes figure -- an American hero, in Raab's account -- was G. Robert Blakey, who helped craft the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations legislation as an aide to McClellan and, as a crusading law professor, tirelessly promoted the statute's use after Congress enacted it in 1970.

The law enabled prosecutors to throw the book at top mobsters, who otherwise would have been able to insulate themselves more easily from criminal accountability. Electronic surveillance, which a related law authorized, added another invaluable weapon to the federal prosecutors' arsenal.

Another of Raab's heroes, G. Bruce Mouw, supervised the FBI's Gambino Squad. Mouw's relentless, six-year investigation of John Gotti stands as a model of aggressive anti-Mafia pursuit. Gotti, whom the tabloids dubbed ''the Teflon Don," beat federal charges three times. Mouw produced ironclad evidence of Gotti's guilt by identifying an old lady's apartment as the Gambino godfather's clandestine inner sanctum and bugging it. Prosecutors nailed the Teflon Don in a fourth trial.

As for the villains portrayed by Raab, they and their operatic brutality seem endless. Raab's profiles of such ogres as Joseph ''Crazy Joe" Gallo or Salvatore ''Sammy the Bull" Gravano quickly dispel any Hollywood depiction of mobsters as lovable rogues or, as in the case of Tony Soprano of HBO's prize-winning series, as an angst-ridden man groping for life's meaning.

Mobsters typically start out as losers, dropouts from school at an early age. They are natural bullies who turn to crime out of desperation and indolence. As adults, to quote Raab's description of Gotti's wise guys, they join together as a ''hardened band of pea-brained hijackers, loan-shark collectors, gamblers, and robotic hit men."

No surprise, then, that such lowlifes would resort to violence as their modus operandi. But their cavalier acts of viciousness are nonetheless shocking. Thus, when Vito Genovese falls in love with a married cousin, he apparently has her husband strangled to death so he can marry her.

Or when Lucchese thugs believe that one of their own, Bruno Facciolo, is talking to authorities, they shoot and stab him to death. They then murder two of his mob buddies, Al Visconti and Larry Taylor, to prevent them from retaliating. Visconti is deliberately shot several times in the groin because the Luccheses believe he is a homosexual and has shamed the family.

Although ''Five Families" detours outside New York to chronicle aspects of the Cosa Nostra story, New England's Patriarcas, who deferred to New York's Gigante family, rate only passing mention. Summarizing how officials view Cosa Nostra's once-thriving 20-odd families around the country, Raab reports that those in New York and Chicago retain a ''semblance of [their] organizational frameworks," while the others, including Patriarca's, are ''in disarray or practically defunct."

Raab has much to say about what he regards as the possible involvement of a Florida mafioso, Santo Trafficante Jr., in President Kennedy's assassination. Raab theorizes that Trafficante -- who lost his organized-crime base in Havana when Fidel Castro took over and who loathed Kennedy for not unhorsing the Cuban revolutionary -- may have conspired to kill Kennedy.

Exhibit A is the confession of a gravely ill Trafficante, four days before his death in 1987, that he had had a hand in Kennedy's murder. Raab's source for the purported confession was Trafficante's longtime lawyer, Frank Ragano. Raab collaborated with Ragano on a book, ''Mob Lawyer."

Of course, any mob role in Kennedy's assassination remains a speculative matter, as Raab concedes. But in ''Five Families," he notes that ''Ragano's assertions are among the starkest signs implicating Mafia bosses in the death of President Kennedy." To buttress his theory, Raab might have mentioned that the Mafia was at or near the apex of its power in 1963, the year of Kennedy's murder.

Reviewed by Joseph Rosenbloom

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

President Kennedy Book Links Mob to Assassination

A book claims that three mob bosses were behind President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Authors Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann also say that law enforcement agencies protected the three Mafiosi because they had infiltrated a plan to invade Cuba, the St. Petersburg Times reported. The book says the government could not fully investigate without exposing the invasion plot.

Tampa mob boss Santo Trafficante Jr., according to the book "Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK," planned to have Kennedy killed in Tampa. But the attempt misfired and Trafficante instead arranged with New Orleans boss Carlos Marcello for the assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

While conspiracy theorists have been pitching the mob connection for years, linking it to Cuba is new. Waldron and Hartmann say that the mobsters not only hated Kennedy because of his brother's investigations but wanted to get Castro out of Cuba to return to their profitable businesses there.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

These Who Killed JFK? Conspiracy Theories Will Not Die

He defected to the Soviet Union, returned to the United States with a Russian-born wife, and tried to get Soviet and Cuban visas before assassinating President John F. Kennedy. Fifty-plus years later, only a quarter of Americans are convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Instead, nearly 60 percent say there was a conspiracy to kill the president, according to a poll by The Associated Press-GfK.

Other theories cropped up almost immediately and have endured: the Soviets murdered Kennedy or the CIA, Cuban exiles, Fidel Castro, the country's military-industrial complex, even President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Warren Commission Report found in its 879-page report on the assassination that Oswald acted alone -- but it is still being criticized from all sides. The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1979 that it was likely Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy.

What did happen in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963? Who killed Kennedy? Here are a few of those theories.

ONE BULLET OR TWO?

The Warren Commission Report concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three bullets, all from the Texas School Book Depository. But disagreements persisted over whether Texas Governor John Connally was wounded by one of the bullets that had already hit Kennedy in the neck. Skeptics pounced on the single-bullet theory and got a boost from Connally himself who testified before the commission that he had been hit separately. Tapes released by the National Archives in 1994 show that President Lyndon B. Johnson thought so too. And if the men were hit at about the same time by different bullets, there had to have been a second gunman.

This year a father-and-son team Luke and Michael Haag took another look at the controversy using the most up-to-date technology and concluded on a PBS "Nova" documentary that the one bullet could have hit both men.

A SNIPER ON THE GRASSY KNOLL?

Witnesses reported hearing shots from the now famous grassy knoll ahead of the president's limousine in Dealey Plaza. In his book, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato reports that some Dallas policemen who ran up the knoll encountered people with Secret Service credentials. Who were they? The policemen let them go, and only later discovered that there were no Secret Service agents still in Dealey Plaza, said Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and author of "The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy." Conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, poured over the amateur film made by Abraham Zapruder, frame by frame, and insisted that it showed the president being shot from the front.

In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations challenged the Warren Commission's conclusions and decided that an audio recording -- from a motorcycle policeman whose microphone was stuck in the "on" position -- caught the sound of four gunshots being fired, one possibly from the grassy knoll. The finding was discounted three years later by the National Academy of Sciences which said that the noises were made after the assassination. Sabato had the recording re-examined and says the sounds are not gunshots at all, but an idling motorcycle and the rattling of a microphone.

THE MAFIA

The Mafia is a favorite culprit because the mob disliked Kennedy's brother, Robert. The aggressive attorney general had gone after James Hoffa, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters with his own connections to the Mafia. Plus the crime bosses were angry over Kennedy's failed attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro, who had closed their casinos in Havana. Some accounts have crime bosses bringing over hit men from Italy or France for the job; others accuse the CIA of hiring mobsters to kill the president.

Then there was Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who shot Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station two days after the assassination. Ruby was connected to the Chicago mob and allegedly smuggled guns first to Castro and then to anti-Castro groups. The Associated Press reported the morning of the shooting that police were looking into the possibility that Oswald had been killed to prevent him from talking.

Oswald had mob connections too. In New Orleans before the assassination, he stayed at the home of an uncle who was a bookmaker with ties to the Mafia.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that organized crime as a group did not assassinate the president, but left open the possibility that individual members might have been involved. It singled out Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante as two men with "the motive, means and opportunity," though it was unable to establish direct evidence of their complicity.

FIDEL CASTRO

The Cuban dictator had no lack of motive to want the American president dead: the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA's attempts to kill him -- with Mob help. Only two months before the assassination, Castro said: "United States leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe."

In Philip Shenon's book, "A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination," Shenon reports that a Warren Commission staff member, William Coleman, was sent to meet with Castro and was told that the Cuban regime had nothing to do with the assassination.

A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy AssassinationNot in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination


A former BBC journalist and author of "Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination," Anthony Summers, writes on his blog that he first heard the story from Coleman in 1994, though Coleman would not describe the assignment, saying it was confidential. Summers later recounted it and Coleman's denial in a 2006 article in the Times of London. Summers says Coleman brought back documents, which he said were in the National Archives.

THE SOVIETS

The country was deep in the Cold War and Oswald had myriad connections to the Soviet Union. After a stint in U.S. Marines, he had defected there in 1959, and had married Marina Prusakova, whose uncle worked for Soviet domestic intelligence. Later while in Mexico, Oswald tried to get visas for Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Plus Nikita Khrushchev's gamble to place missiles in Cuba had failed. But KGB officer Vacheslav Nikonov told "Frontline" in 1993 that Oswald seemed suspicious to the KGB because he was not interested in Marxism.

THE MILITARY-INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

Various versions have the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon or the Secret Service turning on Kennedy as a traitor and plotting his death. James W. Douglass in his 2008 book "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters," argues that Kennedy was killed because he had moved away from a Cold War view of the world and was seeking peace.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters


Oliver Stone's movie, "JFK," centers on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who conducted his own investigation of the assassination. Garrison told Playboy magazine in 1967 that Kennedy was killed not by Oswald but by a guerrilla team of anti-Castro adventurers and the paramilitary right. The CIA had plotted the assassination together with the military-industrial complex because both wanted to continue the Cold War and the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, he said.

The Warren Commission staff members who are still living say that to this day no facts have emerged undercutting their conclusions: Oswald was the assassin and neither he nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy. But the conspiracy theories are likely to linger.

Thanks to Noreen O'Donnell.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba ... And Then Lost It to the Revolution

Cuban writer Jose Lezama Lima's description of Havana - "an unnameable feast" - fits the city's last great era like the flawless suits from Pepe Sastre fit the best-dressed mobsters of the glittering casino years.

Here was a posh gambling scene not glimpsed outside James Bond flicks, with hot dance music, seductive showgirls, fast cars, naughty pleasures and, if you cared to look, serious culture, all set in a beautiful city some called "the Paris of the Caribbean." But, as we know, all was not well. Even as revelers rumbaed in the nightclubs an escalating syndrome of rebellion and repression bloodied the streets, triggered by an illegitimate government's corrupt relationship with ruthless gangsters from "el norte." A firebrand politico put on fatigues, set himself and his guerrilla fighters in the mountains at the opposite end of Havana, and that unnameable feast headed for a hangover that would last at least half a century.

T. J. English's engaging book "Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution" about the era covers the same ground as such novels as Mayra Montero's masterful "Dancing to Almendra" and Ace Atkins' intriguing "White Shadow," as well as films by Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Pollack and Andy Garcia. A scene that bad was just too good to pass up. But English's brand of narrative is history, and he aims to set the record straight, even pointing out artistic liberties taken in "Godfather II."

Meyer Lansky, for example, was not the venerable old man of the underworld portrayed in the movie but frisky enough to carry a serious and atypical romance with a Cuban woman (an important aspect of Montero's novel). Still, Coppola was on point: gangsters from the United States set up business in Havana in cahoots with Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista.

These mobsters were protected from U.S. law enforcement in Havana, but, even so, a cautious Lansky never appeared on the casinos' books as anything other than a minor administrator. And it was in Havana that U.S. organized crime got organized, English explains, becoming a de facto government in what was meant to be the first stage of a serious international empire. But in its nationalistic zeal, the Cuban revolution wrecked the mob's plans, as casinos, associated with government corruption, were first ransacked and finally closed down. The gangsters never recovered.

What English calls "the Havana mob" was composed, at different stages, of such gangsters as Santo Trafficante, the dapper Tampa kingpin whose experience with Spanish and Cuban culture in his native city gave him an insight his colleagues lacked. The mob also involved key figures in Batista's government, including the putative president himself.

A parade of characters moves through "Havana Nocturne": George Raft, who came down as a casino "greeter," acting out in real life the mobster roles he made famous on film; Frank Sinatra, already a mob favorite; Marlon Brando, a party animal loose in the greatest party city; John F. Kennedy, indulging his taste for orgiastic sex courtesy of his unsavory friends; Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and other top black entertainers. Also striking is the story of the lesser-known but fondly remembered showgirl who, in a strike of promotional genius, publicized her upcoming performance by parading through Havana in a transparent raincoat and little else.

English makes clever use of period pop-culture highlights, such as "La Enganadora" (The Deceiver), a hit song about a curvaceous woman who drove the street guys wild until people learned her form was nothing but cleverly placed padding. "I am not La Enganadora," the raincoat beauty told the authorities when they stopped her, claiming truth in advertising trumped indecent exposure.

"Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution" is thoroughly researched. English's list of sources is impressive, and each chapter is as heavily footnoted as a doctoral thesis. Fortunately, the book doesn't read like one. English, the author of "Paddy Whacked" and "The Westies" and a college professor of organized crime (!), keeps the motor running on his narrative, in one case acknowledging an early nickname for the mixed-blood Batista, "el mulato lindo" (the pretty mulatto), and then using it instead of his name at different points to flavor the story.

Describing Raft's role in the Havana mob, English uses the phrase "gangster chic." Although there is plenty of ugly violence in the book, those words characterize the era's continuing appeal. Bad things ended with the downfall of the mob. But tropical architecture, the glamour of the Caribbean's most sophisticated city and bespoke tailoring would never be the same.

Thanks to Enrique Fernandez

Friday, January 03, 2014

Trouble in Paradise Mob Movie is Now in Production

“Trouble In Paradise,” a period crime thriller set in the tropical hotbed of 1950's Havana, brings the story of Meyer Lansky, the brains behind the mob, to life. High stakes gambling and political intrigue are the backdrop for the rise and fall of the most notorious mafia empire in U.S. history.

Fast paced and taut, it follows in the tradition of The Godfather Trilogy, Casino, and Goodfellas.

“Trouble In Paradise” with five major stars attached is scheduled to go into production in Puerto Rico in 2014.

Synopsis: 
The saga plunges deeply into the high octane brew of criminals and political intrigue, ON SALE: Caribbean Escapes! Get $15** OFF Flights & Hotels with Promo Code CARIBBEAN. BOOK NOWbringing alive the lust for gambling and the quest for power. Meyer Lansky, Cuba’s gambling czar, pursues his dream, remaking Havana into the world’s premier tourist destination. Meyer plans “The Grand Havana” from a most unlikely spot…the Saratoga County jail. Serving a ninety day sentence for a minor gambling violation, he makes the best of a bad situation. At a high cost to Meyer, his jail cell is a customized suite with telephone and all the amenities. Taking over the reins in Havana, Meyer begins developing the world’s most lavish gambling mecca. But he faces a worthy adversary in Santo Trafficante, former gambling czar ousted for running crooked casinos that kept the high-rollers away. Meyer looks at Santo with disdain, a common criminal in a thousand dollar suit and himself as a renaissance man, without peer in the world of organized crime. Meanwhile, rogue FBI Agent Sean O'Brien, harbors a personal vendetta against Meyer, pursuing him with a vengeance from New York to Havana. He vows to nail Meyer Lansky at any cost. Meyer needs the financial support of men who understand the casino business... He summons an elite group of Mafia Dons from the hubs of organized crime: New York, Cleveland, Chicago and Las Vegas. But the Vegas mob bosses feel Meyer’s Havana dream will cut into their gambling revenues…So there’s trouble in paradise. When the threats and bullets start flying, Meyer calls on an ex-CIA operative known for his creativity. Trained in undercover assaults, his elusiveness makes him the ultimate weapon against Santo. Meyer survives two attempted hits and sends his family to Miami for safety. Then begins a deadly game of cat and mouse. As the tension mounts, Meyer falls for a beautiful Cuban National. His passion for her grows as his enemies draw closer. President Batista remains Meyer's only link to political protection, but his regime is on the verge of collapse. If Havana falls, Meyer’s dream crumbles with it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Top Five Conspiracy Theories on JFK Assassination

As the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination draws nearer, the debate over who actually pulled the trigger rages on. Did Lee Harvey Oswald, as the The Warren Commission Report: The Official Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, concluded, use an Italian bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to fire three shots from the Texas School Book Depository building, hitting President John F. Kennedy once in the neck and once in the back of the head? Or were there larger forces at work?

The belief that there was conspiracy to assassinate the president has only become more widespread with the passage of time.  As ABC News reports, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.” A 2003 ABC News poll showed that 70 percent of Americans believed the JFK assassination was “not the act of a lone killer,” with 7 percent believing that Oswald was not involved at all.

So what is the truth? What really happened on Nov. 22, 1963, at Dealey Plaza in Dallas? We’ll probably never know, but we can continue to speculate. Below is a list of the top five JFK assassination conspiracy theories that have been bandied about over the years.

1.) The CIA Killed JFK

The Central Intelligence Agency has always been shadowy, mysterious organization, which lends itself perfectly to a conspiracy theory involving the JFK assassination. According to the Mary Ferrell Foundation, Kennedy made an enemy out of the CIA after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. As a result of that failed operation, CIA Director Allen Dulles (who would later serve on the Warren Commission) was forced to resign and many allegedly began to see JFK as a threat to CIA interests.

As the New York Post reports, author Patrick Nolan surmises that the CIA wanted “power, self-preservation and to stop the Kennedys’ plan to make peace with Cuba and the Soviets.” Nolan theorizes that a group of rogue CIA agents, including Richard Helms (who became CIA director a few years later), James Angleton, David Phillips and E. Howard Hunt (of Watergate infamy), used three shooters placed at different locations in Dealey Plaza -- the Book Depository building, the Grassy Knoll and the Dal-Tex building -- to pull off the assassination. In his book, “CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys: How and Why US Agents Conspired to Assassinate JFK and RFK,” Nolan uses physical, medical and film evidence, as well as eyewitness accounts, to reach his conclusion.

2.) The Mafia Killed JFK

The relationship between organized crime and the Kennedy family stretched back decades prior to the assassination, as President Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, allegedly engaged in bootlegging during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. As the Los Angeles Times points out, it’s also believed that Joseph Kennedy used his Mafia connections to help his son win the crucial state of Illinois during the 1960 presidential election against Richard Nixon. However, the mutually beneficial relationship between the Mafia and the Kennedy family would soon come to an end.

According to ABC News, one version of this theory posits that Mafia was angered with JFK after the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, as they had hoped to re-exert their presence in Cuba, which had been erased after Fidel Castro rose to power. Additionally, JFK’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had become a crusader against the Mafia in his position as the nation’s top cop.

As the Post reports, Lamar Waldron, author of the book “The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination: The Definitive Account of the Most Controversial Crime of the Twentieth Century,” theorizes that the assassination was masterminded by New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello, with help from Santo Trafficante of Florida and Johnny Roselli of Chicago. According to the Waldron, Marcello used Italian hit men, smuggling them into the country from Canada, to commit the crime. Marcello reportedly bragged about pulling off the assassination to an inmate at a prison where he was serving time in 1985. “Yeah, I had the son of a bitch killed,” he allegedly said. “I’m glad I did. I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it myself.”

3.) Lyndon B. Johnson Killed JFK

If one wants a definitive answer as to who killed JFK, look no further than the man who benefited the most from his assassination. At least, that’s what author Roger Stone says in his new book, “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.” In an interview with Voices of Russia, Stone says that LBJ -- who was sworn in as president on a plane in Dallas just hours after the JFK assassination -- used longtime associate and hit man Malcolm Wallace to do the deed. As the Post points out, Stone alleges that Wallace’s fingerprints were found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building, where the Warren Commission says Oswald fired his fatal shots.

According to Stone, Johnson insisted on both the trip to Dallas and the route through Dealey Plaza, where none of the buildings in the area were sealed off. Stone thinks LBJ both reduced the number of police officers on motorcycles on either side of the president’s car and ordered off the Secret Service agents that would have been riding on the rear bumper of the car.  In the interview with Voices of Russia, Stone believes that LBJ can be tied to as many as eight murders in Texas prior to the JFK assassination, in order to cover up his corruption, voter fraud and more.

4.) The Russians Killed JFK

To examine the theory that the Soviet Union killed President John F. Kennedy, one must look at the geopolitical situation in 1963. This was the height of the Cold War and the peak of anti-Communist sentiment in the United States. According to ABC News, conspiracy theorists frequently cite the notion that Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev was incensed at having to back down to JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before, and had the president killed by the KGB in retaliation.

Another interesting connection is Oswald’s time spent in the Soviet Union. In October 1959, Oswald -- a former Marine -- defected to the Soviet Union, where he met his future wife, Marina. Marina’s uncle was a colonel in the MVD, which is the Russian Interior Ministry service.

According to Stratfor, there are numerous anomalies about Oswald’s time in Russia, including how the two were able to get permission to marry (a requirement for any Soviet citizen marrying a foreigner), as well as why Marina, an upper-middle class woman with an uncle in the government, would agree to marry an American defector with little prospects whom she had just met one month before.

In early 1962, Oswald, Marina and their daughter left the Soviet Union for the United States. As Stratfor points out, Marina Oswald was granted permission to leave the the country with an American defector within weeks of her request, an extremely rare, if not completely unheard of, turnaround. Why? Conspiracy theorists point to questions like these as evidence of Soviet involvement in the assassination of JFK.

5.) The Cubans Killed JFK

There are two separate sub-theories surrounding Cuba and the JFK assassination. The first, as ABC News points out, is that Castro had JFK assassinated in retaliation for the numerous attempts on his life during the Kennedy administration, courtesy of both the CIA and the Mafia. In 1968, Johnson told ABC News that “Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first.”

During an interview with Bill Moyers in 1977, Castro said the theory was “absolute insanity.”

The second, perhaps more plausible, theory involves a mixture of militant anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami, the Mafia and the CIA. As the Mary Ferrell Foundation points out, the anti-Castro Cubans were enraged by Kennedy’s failure to provide crucial air support during the Bay of Pigs invasion. This could have been seen as emblematic of Kennedy’s “soft” approach to communism, a charge that had already been leveled at him after he chose not to invade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Did anti-Castro Cubans, working in conjunction with the CIA and the Mafia, assassinate JFK?

Thanks to Andrew Berry.




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Did Richard Nixon Have a Gay Affair with Mob Connected Crony?

He carpet-bombed Cambodia, spewed out anti-Semitic slurs and crude misogynistic jokes in the White House and smeared his political opponents with ruthless 'dirty tricks' campaigns. And, of course, he lied to his country about his involvement in the Watergate scandal and went down in history as America's shiftiest, darkest President.

Given everything that Richard Nixon has been accused of, it's difficult to believe there could be any more skeletons left in his cupboard. But it seems there are.

A new biography by Don Fulsom, a veteran Washington reporter who covered the Nixon years, suggests the 37th U.S. President had a serious drink problem, beat his wife and — by the time he was inaugurated in 1969 — had links going back two decades to the Mafia, including with New Orleans godfather Carlos Marcello, then America's most powerful mobster.

Yet the most extraordinary claim is that the homophobic Nixon may have been gay himself. If true, it would provide a fascinating insight into the motivation and behaviour of a notoriously secretive politician.

Fulsom argues that Nixon may have had an affair with his best friend and confidant, a Mafia‑connected Florida wheeler-dealer named Charles 'Bebe' Rebozo who was even more crooked than Nixon.

The book, Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President, is out next month — by coincidence at the same time as the UK release of a new film directed by Clint Eastwood about another supposed closet gay among Washington's 20th-century hard men. But while FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, played in Eastwood's film by Leonardo DiCaprio, allegedly had an affair with his squeaky-clean deputy Clyde Tolson, Nixon's supposed secret paramour was a very different character.

Bebe Rebozo was a short, swarthy, good-looking Cuban-American businessman with a history of failed relationships with women and close alliances with Miami's Mafia chiefs.

The veteran TV newsman Dan Rather recalled how Rebozo 'transmitted the sense of great sensuality', paying tribute to his 'magnetic' personality and 'beautiful eyes'.

Fulsom uses recently revealed documents and eyewitness interviews — including with FBI agents — to shed new light on long-standing suspicions among White House insiders that Nixon may have been more than just good buddies with Rebozo.

He claims Nixon's relationship with Pat, his wife of 53 years, was little more than a sham. A heavy drinker whom his own staff dubbed 'Our Drunk', Nixon used to call his First Lady a 'f***ing bitch' and beat her before, during and after his presidency, says Fulsom.

The pair had separate bedrooms at the White House — and in Key Biscayne, the exclusive resort near Miami where Nixon holidayed, Mrs Nixon didn't even sleep in the same building. Rebozo, however, was in the house next door.

Fulsom claims one of Nixon's former military aides had a secret job 'to teach the President how to kiss his wife' so they would look like a convincing couple.

How much of this can we believe? Nixon died in 1994 and his reputation is pretty much irredeemable. As with Eastwood's Hoover film, there is no definitive proof, but plenty of 'supporting evidence'.

Fulsom quotes a former Time magazine reporter who, at a Washington dinner, bent down to pick up a fork and saw the two holding hands under the table. It was, the reporter judged, sufficiently intimate to suggest 'repressed homosexuality'.Another journalist related how, loosened up by drink, Nixon once put his arm around Rebozo 'the way you'd cuddle your senior prom date. Something was fishy there'.But who exactly was Bebe Rebozo, and how did a shady Florida businessman of unclear sexual leanings end up as the bosom friend of one of the most paranoid and buttoned-up political leaders of the 20th century?

Born two months before Nixon in 1912, Charles Gregory Rebozo was the son of a Cuban cigar-maker and, as the youngest of nine, was stuck with the nickname 'Bebe'.

He came from poverty but worked his way up through property speculation and then banking. According to the FBI, he had close links with Mob bosses such as Santo Trafficante, the Tampa Godfather, and Alfred 'Big Al' Polizzi, a stooge of Meyer Lansky, the Cosa Nostra's financial brains.

By the 1960s, an FBI agent was describing Rebozo as a 'non- member associate of organised crime figures'. He bought land in Florida with a business partner who was believed to be a front for some of the most powerful Mafiosi.

When Rebozo started his own bank in Florida in 1964, Nixon — then a lawyer — wielded a golden shovel at the ground-breaking ceremony and became its first depositor.

According to Mafioso Vincent Teresa, the bank was used by the Mob to launder stolen cash. It hardly seems possible that Nixon, who pledged to make fighting organised crime a priority of his presidency, could not have known of his best friend's Mafia links.

Nixon had just won one of California's U.S. Senate seats when he first met Rebozo in 1950. Fearing Nixon was facing a nervous breakdown, fellow Senator George Smathers suggested a holiday in Florida and enlisted his old school friend Rebozo to show the socially awkward Nixon a good time.

Their first jaunt together — in Rebozo's 33ft fishing boat — did not go well. Rebozo later complained that Nixon just sat reading papers and, according to his host, barely said half a dozen words to him.

Smathers said Rebozo later told him: 'Don't ever send that son of a bitch Nixon down here again. He's a guy who doesn't know how to talk, doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't chase women... he can't even fish.'But Rebozo persevered — and according to a cynical Smathers, Nixon's rising stardom in Washington and the potential influence it offered 'had a lot to do with it'.

In months, the pair were inseparable, holidaying with Nixon's wife Pat — and without her. Rebozo became an 'uncle figure' to the Nixons' two daughters, Tricia and Julie. The dapper Cuban-American chose Nixon's clothes and even selected the films he watched at the White House.

On Nixon's solo visits to Key Biscayne, they swam and sunbathed, indulging in their shared passions for discussing Broadway musicals and barbecuing steaks.

Both men were also extremely secretive, and their relationship — described as the 'most important unsolved mystery in Nixon's life' — was kept so discreet that the New York Times did not mention it for nearly 20 years.

Observers noticed their intimacy became most apparent when they were drunk. An aide recalled them playing a game called King of the Pool at Key Biscayne: 'It was late at night, the two men had been drinking. Nixon mounted a rubber raft in the pool while Rebozo tried to turn it over. Then, laughing and shouting, they'd change places.'

They were seen together at the same British-themed hostelries in the Key: the English Pub, where they drank beer from tankards engraved with their names, and the Jamaica Inn, where they ate at a discreet booth.

Both spots were owned by another businessman with Mob links and the secret service asked Nixon to find another place to eat.

Why the President's minders didn't raise alarms about Rebozo's Mafia connections has puzzled experts, but they probably didn't dare. When a New York newspaper investigated Rebozo's Mob links in the 1970s, its staff suddenly found themselves under secret service surveillance.

A White House aide once dismissed Rebozo's role as 'the guy who mixed the Martinis', but he was far more important than that.

When Nixon became President, Rebozo got his own office and bedroom at the White House, and a security clearance that allowed him to go in and out without being logged by the secret service. Using a false name, says Fulsom, Rebozo even got into Nixon's hotel suite during a trip to Europe.

The President's closest colleagues complained at the way Rebozo monopolised Nixon's time. General Alexander Haig, his last chief of staff, is said to have imitated Rebozo's 'limp wrist' manner and joked that Rebozo and Nixon were lovers.

According to Fulsom, Henry Kissinger resented the way Rebozo would fly on Air Force One, the Presidential plane, wearing a blue U.S. Navy flight jacket bearing the President's seal and with his name stitched on it.

Away from Nixon's side, Rebozo surrounded himself with glamorous women and threw Miami parties that descended into orgies, but was it all a front?

Aged 18, Rebozo reportedly enjoyed an 'intense' affair with a young man, Donald Gunn. He later wed Gunn's teenage sister. The marriage lasted four years and, according to his wife, was never consummated.

Rebozo didn't marry again until middle age, when he entered what Newsweek magazine described as an 'antiseptic' alliance with his lawyer's secretary. 'Bebe's favourites are Richard Nixon, his cat — and then me,' the lady complained later. A fellow Miami resident told Nixon biographer Anthony Summers that Rebozo was definitely part of the city's gay community.

Summers and co-writer Robbyn Swan, however, question whether there is enough evidence to suggest Nixon was gay. 'They held hands on occasion, and both men had problems with consummating physical relationships with women, but we found no evidence that Nixon was actively homosexual,' Summers told me this week.

Physical or not, Nixon's attraction to Rebozo has struck many as politically reckless. Nixon expert Professor Fawn Brodie couldn't understand how he would be 'willing to risk the kind of gossip that frequently accompanies close friendship with a perennial bachelor'. After all, she added, Nixon was, in public, a virulent gay-hater.

When Walter Jenkins, a trusted aide to President Lyndon Johnson, was caught providing sexual favours to a retired sailor in a YMCA lavatory, Nixon denounced him as 'ill'. People who suffered this 'illness', he added, 'cannot be in places of high trust'.

Rebozo was certainly in a position of 'high trust', and not only because he was a key fundraiser. He was with Nixon when he announced his successful run for President and again in June 1972 when Nixon learned that five men hired by the White House to break into the Watergate building had been arrested.

'We were swimming at Key Biscayne in front of my house,' Rebozo recalled. 'They came out and told him. He said: "What in God's name were they doing there?" We laughed and forgot about it.'

Rebozo also ended up being investigated by the Watergate committee, which found that a £64,000 cash contribution from the industrialist Howard Hughes that was meant for the Republican Party was actually in Rebozo's safe deposit box.

It also emerged that both Nixon and Rebozo's personal wealth had soared during Nixon's first five years in the White House, Rebozo's rising nearly seven-fold from £432,000 to nearly £3million.

Rebozo escaped prosecution — allegedly because of a White House deal — and he stood by his disgraced friend. He was at Nixon's bedside during his final days.

When Rebozo died in 1998, he left more than £12million to the Nixon memorial library, whose executive director eulogised him as a 'consummate gentleman' on whose 'wise counsel, shrewd political insight and ready wit' Nixon relied.

Typically, Nixon had been rather less charitable — he always described Rebozo as just a 'golfing partner'.

Thanks to Tom Leonard

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

Friday, September 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Don Bauder

New York Crime Families

Flash Mafia Book Sales!

Al Capone's Vault

Crime Family Index


The Sopranos Library