The Chicago Syndicate: Sopranos
Showing posts with label Sopranos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sopranos. Show all posts

Monday, June 03, 2019

Will the @SenSanders and @AOC Loan Shark Prevention Act Actually Create a Booming Market for Mafia Loan Sharks?

Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez debuted the Loan Shark Prevention Act, whose chief provision amounts to a national interest rate ceiling of 15%. In a video accompanying the announcement, Sanders invoked Hollywood’s version of loan sharks to illustrate his point: “You’ve got all these guys in their three-piece suits who are now the new loan shark hoodlums that we used to see in the movies. You know, in the movies, they say, ‘I’ll break your kneecaps if you don’t pay back.’ Well, I don’t know that they break kneecaps …”

Sanders’s invocation of yesterday’s leg-breakers is obviously intended to conjure the colorful figures of American imagination, from Don Corleone to Tony Soprano. But the terror that real loan sharks inflicted on immigrant and working-class families is not merely the stuff of Hollywood; it was a brutal reality for much of American history. And the ubiquity of loan sharks in American history is directly attributable to forerunners of the interest-rate ceilings proposed by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez.

“Usury ceilings,” as interest-rate price controls were traditionally labeled, began as a paternalistic effort to protect low-income and supposedly vulnerable consumers from exploitation by greedy bankers. Yet, as well-intentioned regulations so often do, usury ceilings backfired spectacularly, primarily harming those they were intended to help. And far from shutting down loan sharks, history shows that usury ceilings have been the primary catalyst for the loan sharks that have preyed on low-income and vulnerable Americans throughout history.

The advent of industrialization saw thousands of prewar immigrants and farmers flood into American cities in search of work. The challenges of city living created unprecedented demand for small-dollar, short-term loans. Yet making small loans to wage earners was an expensive business. First, it was risky — the same factors that necessitated borrowing in the first place (low wages, periodic unemployment, and unexpected expenses such as medical bills and home repairs) translated into high loss rates. Second, the costs of small loans is high relative to the amount borrowed —operating expenses such as rent, employee wages, and utilities are very similar regardless of whether the customer borrows $50, $500, or $5,000. In order to cover losses and those operating expenses, therefore, the effective interest rate on a small loan will have to be higher.

As a result, prohibitively low usury ceilings made it impossible for working families to borrow the money they needed from legitimate lenders. Illegal loan sharks filled the void, creating a reign of terror in American cities.

In New York, future Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey first came to fame through his 1935 bust of the city’s loan shark racket. With 1,040% interest rates and brutal means of enforcement — including, according to the front page of the New York Times, “Beatings and Death Threats” — the operation had netted the syndicate a cool $5 million. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan referred to it as an era of “virtual serfdom” for urban families trying to make ends meet.

In response to the ubiquitous problem of loan sharks, consumer advocate groups led a nationwide crusade to loosen interest rate restrictions to permit legitimate lenders to compete with the loan sharks. The reform effort culminated in the drafting of the Uniform Small Loan Law, which proposed dramatic increases in state usury ceilings. Although the proposal to raise usury ceilings was controversial at first, by mid-century the loan shark problem had largely dissipated in states that adopted the law, replaced by personal finance companies and small-loan companies operating legally.

Yet the lull in regulation, and crime, would prove short-lived. Acting under the theory that excessive access to consumer credit by working families was a primary cause of the Great Depression, many states rolled back their liberalization of interest rate ceilings. The results were predictable — and devastating to America’s working families. According to a Senate investigation, by 1968 loan sharking was the second largest revenue source of organized crime. That same year, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon pledged to appoint an attorney general that would “be an active belligerent against loan sharks and the numbers racketeers that rob the urban poor in our cities.” A 1969 book by a former police officer estimated the size of the illegal loan shark industry to be $10 billion per year — the equivalent of $69 billion in today’s dollars and about twice the size of the estimated $32 billion payday loan market (storefront and online combined) today in the United States.

Unfortunate borrowers were often lucky to get off with “only” a broken leg. In one 1978 criminal trial, prosecutors played a tape recording in which Louis “Blind Louie” Cavallaro of the Chicago syndicate threatened to “cut out the eyes and tongue of a man who owed him $18,000” and expressed his desire to wear the victim’s teeth “around [his] neck.” Threats involving the forcible amputation and public display of body parts usually kept private seem to have been especially popular. Usually threats, in connection with the loan shark’s menacing physique and reputation for violence, were enough to ensure timely payment, but not always. One mob enforcer confessed that when one borrower didn’t pay up, he “clipped off” a portion of the borrower’s ear and then explained that if “you pay me you can keep the rest of your ear.” If not, he would take the remainder. “Then the next day I’ll take your other ear. Then we’ll start on your fingers.” Still other delinquent customers were enlisted by the shark into criminal activity to pay off their debts.

Liberal politicians and consumer advocates were finally forced to admit that usury ceilings ended up hurting those they intended to help. In 1964, the New York state legislature opened an inquiry into the state’s billion-dollar loan-sharking racket. Sen.-elect Robert F. Kennedy, in a statement filed with the committee, recommended “altering the state laws on usury so an insolvent person who needs money for legitimate purposes might borrow it at rates that were not exorbitant.”

Kennedy’s sentiment echoed the economic and sociological consensus of the time. A year before becoming the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, Paul Samuelson had appeared before the Massachusetts legislature to testify that “[f]or 50 years” research demonstrated that “setting too low ceilings on small loan interest rates will result in drying up legitimate funds to the poor who need it most and will send them into the hands of the illegal loan sharks.” He continued, “History is replete with cases where loan sharks have lobbied in legislatures for unrealistic minimum rates, knowing such meaningless ceilings would permit them to charge much higher rates.” A decade later, a Cornell study prepared for the United States Department of Justice concluded, “[T]here can be little doubt that [usury laws], at least in part, have created a black market for credit dominated by organized crime.”

The high inflation rates of the 1970s tolled the intellectual death knell for restrictive interest rate ceilings and the Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in the Marquette National Bank case effectively deregulated credit card interest rates by holding that the applicable interest rate on a credit card would be the issuing bank’s state ceiling, not the consumer’s state. The results transformed the American economy: Between 1970 and 2000, the percentage of American households with general purpose credit cards rose from 15% to 70%. And loan sharking became the thing of movies, cable television programs — and now, ill-conceived legislative proposals.

Comparing today’s financial markets to Hollywood villains diminishes the real terror that loan sharks inflicted on generations of immigrant and working-class families and ignores the pivotal role of usury ceilings in creating the conditions for loan sharks to operate. The story of the relationship between usury ceilings and loan sharking is one that’s had numerous remakes and sequels. It always ended the same way — with desperate borrowers turning to illegal lenders to get money in a pinch. Congress can pass all the laws it wants, but it can’t repeal the law of supply and demand — or the law of unintended consequences.

Thanks to Todd J. Zywicki.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Mayor Candidate Files $2 Million Libel Suit After Referred to as Head of Tony Soprano Crime Family

North Miami Beach mayoral candidate Anthony DeFillipo is suing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union for a mailer that suggests the Italian-American commissioner is a Soprano-like mob boss who plays fast and loose with the law. The two-sided attack ad, riddled with spelling mistakes, describes other candidates in the City Commission race as “Tony ‘Soprano’ Defilippo’s crime family,” assigning vaguely offensive nicknames to each in turn.

“This is a hate crime. This is an ethnic slur. This is no different than if any other ethnicity was attacked,” said DeFillipo’s lawyer, Michael Pizzi. Pizzi filed the defamation suit in Miami-Dade court early Tuesday, seeking more than $2 million dollars in damages to his client’s reputation.

The union claims it had nothing to do with the mailer that went out to city residents last week. It says Hector Roos, a local political consultant, illegally used the union’s name on the ad and has moved forward with legal actions against the consultant. “We denounce these defamatory and offensive attacks against these candidates,” Jacqui Carmona, a union representative, told the Miami Herald last week.

DeFillipo’s father also held office in North Miami Beach in the past and both have been active in the local Italian-American community. DeFillipo believes the attack was aimed at both generations. Contrary to the numerous innuendos presented on the flyer, according to Pizzi, neither DeFillipo nor his father is a member of the Mafia nor has DeFillipo ever sold his vote or been involved in corruption.

“We are going to leave no stone unturned for the people responsible for this. They’ve attacked a culture. They’ve attacked an ethnicity. And they’ve attacked a family,” Pizzi said. Libel is a high bar when it comes to public officials, and Pizzi will have to prove the creators of the ad both printed something totally false and did it with malicious intent to do harm. Hyperbole is generally considered opinion, not libel.

Carmona said the union did not create or pay for the ad, which nonetheless listed the union’s PAC in its upper left corner as the financial backer. It is illegal to misrepresent the interests behind a campaign ad. Last week, prior to DeFillipo’s lawsuit, the union sent cease and desist letters to Roos, his company Thor Media, and G Print, the printer. The union also filed a police report, and a request for a legal injunction against what it said was the unauthorized and illegal use of its name on the flier. There is no mention of the union’s denial in DeFillipo’s lawsuit.

Pizzi said his client will continue to hold the union accountable until the courts determine it should be otherwise. “My view is their name is on it. I know they’ve endorsed his opponent in the election,” Pizzi said. “They’ve never apologized to him. They’ve never offered any well wishes to his family as a result of this horrible attack on his family.” (The union has denounced the contents of the ad in interviews with the Miami Herald and other media organizations.)

G Print’s owner, Gilbert Gutierrez, denied responsibility for the ad saying he only prints what is given to him. Roos called the union’s allegations “nuts.” Gutierrez told the Miami Herald Roos was the client behind the order, though he later denied it, telling the Herald that he had read Roos’ name on the news.

Thanks to Sarah Blaskey.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Prequel to #TheSopranos - The Many Saints of Newark - Hires Thor Director Alan Taylor

Alan Taylor of Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys will be taking the helm of a feature film set prior to hit early 2000s TV crime drama series The Sopranos. Broadcast between 1999 and 2007, HBO’s The Sopranos won 21 Emmy Awards and five Golden Globes over the course of its impactful nine-year run.

James Gandolfini, who played conflicted crime family patriarch Tony Soprano, passed away in 2013, but The Sopranos creator David Chase and co-writer Lawrence Konner have found a way to continue the series’ legacy, through a prequel film directed by Thor: The Dark World’s Alan Taylor.

According to The Wrap, The Many Saints of Newark will be set in the 1960s in New Jersey, north-eastern US, during a time of extreme tension between Newark city’s Italian and African-American communities. Other than that, New Line Cinema is keeping tight-lipped about plot details, leaving fans to wonder which characters from the series will be found within the movie treatment.

Taylor’s own background was in TV, working his way through a slew of episodic dramas — Homicide: Life on the Street, The West Wing, Sex and the City, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and more.

In fact, he has previous experience with The Sopranos, having directed nine of its episodes, including one of its final episodes, the Emmy-winning season six Kennedy and Heidi.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Prequel Movie to #TheSopranos is coming from David Chase called "The Many Saints of Newark"

David Chase is finally ready to return to the New Jersey turf of his iconic creation The SopranosSopranos Prequel Movie - The Many Saints of Newark. New Line has purchased the screenplay The Many Saints of Newark, the working title for a feature prequel of The Sopranos that is set in the era of the Newark riots in the 60s. That was a time when the African-Americans and the Italians of Newark were at each other’s throats, and amongst the gangsters of each group, those conflicts became especially lethal.

The script was written by Chase and Lawrence Konner, the prolific screen and television writer whose credits include The Sopranos.

Chase finally returning to expand The Sopranos lore will be welcome news to the legions who still feel that his HBO series is the greatest of all time. The groundbreaking show ran for six seasons from 1999 – 2007. It put HBO on the map, established the market for DVD sales of popular series, and won 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, and Peabody Awards for its first two seasons. It launched the stars of a slew of actors and revived others, most notably the late James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Steven Van Zandt, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steve Schirripa and on and on.

Some of the beloved characters from the series will appear in the film. I couldn’t get any more information about the plot, but the time period indicates there will be room for Tony Soprano’s father, Giovanni “Johnny Boy,” the former captain of the Soprano crew (played in flashbacks by Joseph Siravo), and a younger version of his wife Livia (played indelibly in the show’s first season by Nancy Marchand), and Tony’s uncle Junior, played by Chianese.

Chase will serve as producer as well as co-writer, and he will be involved in selecting a director.

This is a real coup for Warner Bros Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich.

“David is a masterful storyteller and we, along with our colleagues at HBO, are thrilled that he has decided to revisit, and enlarge, the Soprano universe in a feature film,” Emmerich said.

Chase’s last feature was the 2010 critically acclaimed Paramount film Not Fade Away. Chase Films’s Nicole Lambert will be executive producer.

Chase’s deal was made by his UTA agents Peter Benedek and Andrew Cannava, and attorney Michael Gendler of Gendler and Kelly. Konner is also repped by UTA.

Thanks to Mike Fleming Jr.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Thursday, December 07, 2017

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia - A Quality Work by @NateHendley

From the James gang to Nicky Barnes to John Gotti, the American gangster has become an iconic outsized American archetype, with the real criminals sometimes rivaling their fictional counterparts—like the Corleones and the Sopranos—for their ability to captivate the public and attain genuine folk antihero status.

A detailed compendium of American gangsters and gangs from the end of the Civil War to the present day.

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia, ranges from Western outlaws revered as Robin Hoods to the Depression’s flamboyant bootleggers and bank robbers to the late 20th century’s drug kingpins and “Dapper Dons.” It is the first comprehensive resource on the gangster’s historical evolution and unshakable grip on the American imagination.

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia, tells the stories of a number of famous gangsters and gangs—Jesse James and Billy the Kid, the Black Hand, Al Capone, Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels, the Mafia, Crips and Bloods, and more. Avoiding sensationalism, the straightforward entries include biographical portraits and historical background for each subject, as well as accounts of infamous robberies, killings, and other events, all well documented with both archival newspapers and extensive research into the files of the FBI. Readers will understand the families, the places, and the times that produced these monumental criminals, as well as the public mindset that often found them sympathetic and heroic.

Features

  • Comprises 50 alphabetically organized entries on American gangsters and gangs from the post-Civil War era to the present
  • Offers a wealth of primary sources, including newspaper articles dating back to the 1880s and FBI files obtained by the author
  • Includes photographs of prominent American gangsters and the aftermaths of their crimes
  • Presents a glossary of gangster slang, past and present
  • Provides a comprehensive index

Highlights

  • Spans the whole history of the gangster in the United States, from the post-Civil War era to the present
  • Features the insights and writing skills of an accomplished author of crime books
  • Makes the connection between gangsters from different eras
  • Dispels a number of misconceptions about gangsters and the destruction they cause

Nate Hendley is a freelance writer living in Toronto, Canada. His published works include Greenwood's Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography, Crystal Meth: North America's #1 Drug Problem, Al Capone: Chicago's King of Crime, Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York, and Edwin Alonzo Boyd: Life and Crimes of Canada's Master Bank Robber.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Sopranos Family Cookbook: As Compiled by Artie Bucco #NationalPastaDay

Nuovo Vesuvio. The "family" restaurant, redefined. Home to the finest in Napolitan' cuisine and Essex County's best kept secret. Now Artie Bucco, la cucina's master chef and your personal host, invites you to a special feast...with a little help from his friends, The Sopranos Family Cookbook: As Compiled by Artie Bucco. From arancini to zabaglione, from baccala to Quail Sinatra-style, Artie Bucco and his guests, the Sopranos and their associates, offer food lovers one hundred Avellinese-style recipes and valuable preparation tips. But that's not all!

Artie also brings you a cornucopia of precious Sopranos artifacts that includes photos from the old country; the first Bucco's Vesuvio's menu from 1926; AJ's school essay on "Why I Like Food"; Bobby Bacala's style tips for big eaters, and much, much more.

So share the big table with:


  • Tony Soprano, waste management executive "Most people soak a bagful of discount briquettes with lighter fluid and cook a pork chop until it's shoe leather and think they're Wolfgang Puck." Enjoy his tender Grilled Sausages sizzling with fennel or cheese. Warning: Piercing the skin is a fire hazard. 
  • Corrado "Junior" Soprano, Tony's uncle "Mama always cooked. No one died of too much cholesterol or some such crap." Savor his Pasta Fazool, a toothsome marriage of cannellini beans and ditalini pasta, or Giambott', a grand-operatic vegetable medley. 
  • Carmela Soprano, Tony's wife "If someone were sick, my inclination would be to send over a pastina and ricotta. It's healing food." Try her Baked Ziti, sinfully enriched with three cheeses, and her earthy 'Shcarole with Garlic. 
  • Peter Paul "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri, associate of Tony Soprano "I have heard that Eskimos have fifty words for snow. We have five hundred words for food." Sink your teeth into his Eggs in Purgatory-eight eggs, bubbling tomato sauce, and an experience that's pure heaven. 


As Artie says, "Enjoy, with a thousand meals and a thousand laughs. Buon' appetito!"

The Sopranos Family Cookbook: As Compiled by Artie Bucco.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Frank Vincent's A Guy's Guide to Being a Man's Man

A Guy's Guide to Being a Man's Man.

These days, it’s harder than ever to know how to act like a real man. We’re not talking about the touchy-feely, ultra-sensitive, emotion-sharing, not-afraid-to-cry version of manhood that Oprah and Dr. Phil have been spouting for years. We’re talking about the though, smart, confident, charming, classy, all-around good fella that upholds the true ideal of what is known as “a man’s man.”

Now, renowned actor and true-life man’s man Frank Vincent, famed for his unforgettable tough-guy roles in such classic films as Raging Bull, Goodfellas and HBO’s The Sopranos, is going to show how any man can be all that he can be in love, work, play, and life. Everything you need to know is covered here, including, getting the best women by being the best man, dressing like a champ and taking on the world, winning big money and big respect in Las Vegas, selecting, smoking, and savoring a great cigar, and much more.

If you want to learn how to be a man’s man, you gotta learn from a man’s man. And with the great Frank Vincent vouching for you, you’ll be on your way to getting everything you ever wanted outta life.

A Guy's Guide to Being a Man's Man.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

DUAL LIVES: from the Streets to the Studio - "Teacher of the Year" becomes Mob Artist

In DUAL LIVES: from the Streets to the Studio, renowned American artist and 3-time national award-winning “Teacher of the Year” Michael Bell has written an inspiring and brutally candid memoir that chronicles his meteoric rise to becoming one of the most highly decorated public school teachers in America, all the while, living out a storied and often controversial professional painting career as “Mob Artist” to America’s most infamous.

Go behind the scenes with his intriguing clientele on how these friendships also fueled his career—from John Gotti to Al Capone’s great-nephew, Dominic Capone to numerous actors from “the Sopranos”, “Goodfellas”, “A Bronx Tale”, and more. Then, take a roller coaster crusade through the ever-changing, volatile landscapes of the art world and a US public education system that has begun placing more of an emphasis on "data mining" than on "building relationships."

This is the ultimate story of overcoming extreme adversity and being a true champion for today’s youth from someone still in the trenches, still at the top of his game. And, in the education arena, Bell has done the unprecedented. His students have earned tens of millions in scholarships; 7 back-to-back NAEA Rising Star Awards in art—an award presented to just one student artist in the entire nation annually; and 8 Scholastic Art National Medalists 3 years straight.

Bell also discusses the impact of his family life on his art—on the tragic stillbirth of his sister; on his lifelong relationship with his Grandmother, Violet, a self-taught artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey; on his inspiring son, Carmen, (“Lil' C”), and his battles with Autism while on his quest to become a Golden Gloves boxing champion. Then there's Bell's notorious cousin Vinnie, who was part of the longest double-murder trial in the history of the State of New Jersey. Learn how Bell, himself, went from being a troubled youth once facing twenty-years-to-life to saving one of his own students from a similar fate nearly two decades later.

DUAL LIVES: from the Streets to the Studio, is passionately written, and just as courageously vulnerable as the compelling narratives found within Bell’s paintings. So, ride shotgun alongside Michael Bell throughout his meteoric rise across two very different worlds—from the streets to the studio.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Entertaining with The Sopranos

Fans of a certain multi-award-winning HBO dramatic series and lovers of fine eating everywhere made The Sopranos Family Cookbook: As Compiled by Artie Bucco a runaway #1 bestseller, thanks to its intimate vignettes and delectable Old Country recipes. But that just got the party started.

Now comes the ultimate guide to making every event the perfect occasion, served up by the Garden State's most gracious hostess, Carmela Soprano.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Mafia in Gomorrah, Reminiscent of The Wire and The Sopranos

A pair of Mafia lieutenants, filling a jerry can at a Naples gas station, pass the time discussing the foibles of modern youth. “She put a picture of me and her mom on ‘book,’” the older one says. “Facebook,” his younger colleague tells him. “All the kids have it.” Gangsters — they’re just like us!

That’s the opening scene of “Gomorrah,” the highly popular Italian television series that makes its American debut on SundanceTV on Wednesday. Based on a 2007 nonfiction investigative work by Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System, that has also been adapted into a well-known film, the series arrives with a deserved reputation for unrelenting violence — the gas in that can is quickly put to use in a vivid and unpleasant way. But brutality isn’t the whole story. “Gomorrah” operates on two planes. It’s a grim, detailed, quotidian drama about the inner workings of organized crime (which has drawn comparisons to “The Wire”) and at the same time it’s a traditional Mafia saga, a clan melodrama centering on succession and the ups and downs of the family business (which has drawn comparisons to “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather”). Either of these by itself might not be very interesting, but the combination is handled so adroitly that the show sucks you in. It doesn’t have the emotional or stylistic highs of those predecessors, but it carries you along like one of the sleek Italian motorcycles preferred by its wealthier characters.

The 12-episode first season (a second has already been shown in Europe) centers on two members of a drug gang in the Naples suburbs who are like a foster-family version of Sonny and Michael Corleone. Gennaro (Salvatore Esposito) is a Sonny-like hothead, unfit to be in charge but eventually thrust into the role because he’s the only son of the boss. Ciro (Marco D’Amore, whose quiet charisma holds your attention) is a coldly efficient killer and canny strategist — he’s the Michael, but because he’s not in the family, he has to work with Gennaro, or appear to.

The relationship of these two up-and-comers, playing out amid a large cast of other familiar Mafia-drama types (the ruthless but declining boss, the calculating mother, the good soldier, the aggrieved wife), proceeds through an arc of increasingly operatic violence, as rival clans fight for turf and one massacre begets another. The story line is dark, and so is the screen. Under the guidance of the showrunner, Stefano Sollima, the show makes a fetish of low light and shadow. Its most characteristic scenes are not chases and shootouts but small groups of nervous or celebratory men meeting in the dark. They gather on street corners, in crowded discos and in abandoned buildings that serve as drug markets, their faces obscured or invisible. Even during the day, they’re in curtained rooms or prison cells.

The cinematography and lighting fit with the show’s overall sense of desolation, a depiction of the Neapolitan environment as rubble-filled, overgrown and derelict. (Scenes set in Milan offer a pointed comparison to the less prosperous south.) Much of the action is set in faceless, towering apartment blocks that recall the settings of Italian neorealist films, though touches of lyricism creep in, like a beach scene in which a pair of horse carts passing in the background feel like early Fellini.

Mr. Sollima and his colleagues are certainly aware of the many influences to be sorted through in making a modern gangster tale. At one point a young hood, describing the botched job that got him imprisoned, says that cops and helicopters arrived “just like an American movie.” In “Gomorrah,” they’ve achieved a satisfying international blend.

Thanks to Mike Hale.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dying to Belong: Gangster Movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong

Featuring an exclusive 20 page interview with The Sopranos' creator David Chase, Dying to Belong: Gangster Movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong, sheds light on the often misunderstood gangster film by looking by looking at movies from Hollywood and Hong Kong over several decades.

From Little Caesar and The Godfather to The Sopranos, Martha Nochimson deftly illustrates the dark themes of dislocation and disorientation that define true gangster films.

Friday, June 26, 2015

National Geographic Channel Infiltrates Centuries of Deadly Secrets INSIDE THE MAFIA

Four-Hour Series Pierces Inner Workings and Violent History of the Criminal Corporation With Global Reach

Through a pop culture lens, the notorious and mysterious Mafia is typically seen as entertainment: The Godfather; The Sopranos; Goodfellas; Donnie Brasco. Now the National Geographic Channel (NGC) exposes the dramatic history and infiltrates the legendary secrecy of one of the world's most powerful criminal organizations in the four-hour world premiere event, INSIDE THE MAFIA.

Narrated by Ray Liotta -- star of the film Goodfellas -- INSIDE THE MAFIA will premiere Monday, June 13 and Tuesday, June 14, 2005 from 9 to 11 pm. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (encore Sunday, June 19 from 7 to 11 p.m. ET). Four programs -- Mafia? What Mafia?, Going Global, The Great Betrayal and The Godfathers -- chronologically trace the growth of the U.S. and Sicilian Mafias, as well as the determined American and Italian efforts to stop it.

"It's not personal; it's just business" is a popular catchphrase attributed to the Mafia's code of honor. And big business it is -- its global assets were on par with some of the richest corporations in the world, bursting for a time with billions in annual profits derived from much of the world's drug trade.

With remarkable access to FBI and DEA agents as well as members of crime families, INSIDE THE MAFIA provides the complete behind-the-scenes story of this powerful enterprise known for its ruthlessness and brutality.

Featured are new and original interviews with influential mobsters like Henry Hill, portrayed by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, and Gambino family soldier Dominick Montiglio, and, on the law enforcement side, Joseph Pistone, the fearless real-life FBI agent who infiltrated the Mafia as "Donnie Brasco," and DEA undercover agent Frank Panessa, among many others.

Cutthroat deals, gangland assassinations and secret rituals within the infamous global mob are described by these insiders in intimate detail. "The bathroom door was slightly open and there were two bodies hanging with their throats cut," said Montiglio. "Everyone had butcher's kits and they sawed off everything ... chopped off the head, arms, etcetera. Then put them in a box and took 'em to the dumpster. Suffice to say, none of them were ever found."

In addition to inside access to important characters and events, the special uses contemporary and archival news footage, FBI and Italian police surveillance, telephone intercepts, transcriptions from major Mafia trials and dramatic reenactments of clandestine meetings and violent confrontations.

INSIDE THE MAFIA interweaves two parallel stories. The first is the emergence of a "new Mafia" after a historic deal between American and Italian mob families to control the international heroin trade. The second is the tale of the strong anti-Mafia campaign, spearheaded by a small group of law officers determined to permanently undermine the culture and infrastructure of the Cosa Nostra.

Over the course of the series, viewers will become familiar with a core group of warring protagonists. In the Mafia are men like Charles "Lucky" Luciano, a Sicilian immigrant who by 1931 murdered his way to the top of the American Mafia; famous mob leader Joe Bonnano; Salvatore "Toto" Riina, who emerged in the 1980s as perhaps the most ruthless and violent Mafia boss ever; Tomasso Buscetta, whose decision to break the Mafia's strict code of silence set in motion a series of events giving U.S. and Italian authorities the upper hand in identifying and tracking key mobsters; reputed Mafia godfather John Gotti; and soldiers like Hill and Montiglio, whose tales of living and working inside the Mafia are gruesome and often shocking.

Fighting the Mafia are Giovanni Falcone, Italy's legendary prosecutor who challenged the Mafia's power and paid the ultimate price; Pistone ("Donnie Brasco") who still has a mob contract out on his life ("Once folks found out about my cover, there was a contract on me," he says in the program. "It's not something I think about all the time ... if it happens, it happens ... and may the best man win."); Giovanni Falcone's sister, Maria, who was privy to much of her brother's strategy and key events in his life; and lesser-known law officers with colorful and suspenseful inside stories, like Panessa and Carmine Russo, who shadowed the Bonnano crime family.

The rise of the modern Mafia is a gripping and often tragic tale of corruption, crime, murder and betrayal by two distinct operations -- the Sicilian Mafia, running multinational efforts from Palermo, and the American Mafia, controlling one of the biggest marketplaces in the world. Their separate but symbiotic relationship is one that perpetually eluded and confounded U.S. and Italian authorities.

In 1957, a police raid on a Mafia summit in upstate New York revealed to the nation evidence of "organized crime." However, the Cold War took priority at the time, and mob activity continued to thrive. Major breakthroughs in the 1980s cracked open the Mafia's highly lucrative drug trade, and exposed the global reach and immense profits of its dealings.

In the U.S. today, the mob's activities have been scaled back, particularly now that narcotics are distributed via different mobs from the Far East and South America. John Gotti's prosecution created a domino effect, crippling all five of the crime families of New York. They are now a shadow of an organization that once claimed politicians as their friends; however, as recent arrests have indicated, the Mafia continues to operate in some capacity in the U.S. In the past few months, New York authorities indicted 32 people after a two-and-half year "Donnie Brasco style" undercover sting, and 14 Chicago Mafia members were indicted in April, a move authorities claim shed light on 18 previously unsolved murders dating back to 1970.

In Sicily, the situation is very different. The Mafia has largely abandoned its policy of violence in order to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities; however, according to the chief prosecutor of Palermo, they are even more dangerous now that many people believe that the problem is in some way over.

The days of the Mafia's massive, unchecked drug-dealing have gone, but INSIDE THE MAFIA shows that the organization -- particularly its blueprint for how national and ethnic groups can operate on a global scale -- continues to be a thriving and insidious role model for racketeering everywhere.

INSIDE THE MAFIA is produced for NGC by Wall to Wall Media. Jonathan Hewes is executive in charge of production; Alex West is executive producer; Charlie Smith is producer. For NGC, CarolAnne Dolan is supervising producer; Michael Cascio is executive producer; John Ford is executive in charge of production.

Donnie Brasco on The Sopranos

The best way to know if a show about the mob is authentic is to ask a mobster. But that's scary. So we did the next best thing. We invited former FBI agent-turned-mob-infiltrator-turned-mob informer Joseph Pistone (the real Donnie Brasco) to watch "The Sopranos" and give us his thoughts.

An expert on organized crime, Pistone served six years undercover in the notorious Bonanno crime family in New York City. His testimony helped lead to the arrest of more than 175 criminals.

Pistone is sharing his Mafia knowledge with his book Way Of The Wiseguy, a funny and frightening look at how one becomes a wiseguy. It's like a FAQ on the world of Cosa Nostra, showing a typical day in the life of a gangster: the dos and don'ts of the Mafia code; interactions with their families and other thugs, and their unique and creative use of language.
'
"People are fascinated because they think they would like to live like a wiseguy," Pistone explains. In the movies, the guys are tough, always have cash and lead exciting lives. But Pistone warns, "What they don't see is the treachery involved."

Here's what Pistone had to say about "The Sopranos":

Tony looks for buried money in the backyard.

"That would happen," Pistone said. "They bury it and then go look for it later." Pistone said he knew guys who would wrap money in leather bags and then stick them in the drainage system of a sink in an unused bathroom, for example. Seems Chase Bank just isn't an option.

The criminal's usual dapper attire.

That is pretty accurate, Pistone said. There is no such thing as a casual Friday in the mob. "You don't see guys wearing jeans," he said. "When they were grooming me, they said they wanted me to dress neat. Most of these guys have slacks or something. One of the things they didn't want to see was a pair of Levis. "They wanted to portray an image."

The jargon.
Pistone said most of the dialogue in the show is accurate -- he thinks there may be someone on "the inside" who is helping out the writers -- but he did find one particular thing jarring: the foul language used in front of the women. "I have been to many dinners at wiseguys' houses where their wives were there or their mothers, and I never heard those guys use vulgarity around the kitchen table," he said. "I was around these guys for six years and I never heard any vulgar language around women."

A meeting in Tony's office.
Pistone said he is disappointed by some mob movies where the boss' office is a palatial pad with fancy furniture and paintings. It looks like the office of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. "Tony's office is the way most of the offices looked like, in the back of a club," Pistone said about Soprano's office in the back of the Bada Bing club. "There was nothing fancy about it."

Tony and his wife go to a sushi restaurant.
Pistone laughs. "That would never happen," he said. "I never knew a mob guy who would go eat sushi." According to Pistone, the wiseguy diet consists pretty much of two types of cuisines -- (obviously) Italian and (surprisingly) Chinese. "That was the two main dinners," he said. "Why they love Chinese food, I don't know."

Tony kids around with lawmen he knows are investigating him.
"That's a good scene," Pistone said. He said that it wasn't unusual to see mobsters talking to the cops who were tailing them. He said the cops would sometimes hang out at the mob joints just to let the wiseguys know that they were onto them. And the wiseguys, in turn, would let them know they knew they were being watched. He said many times there was good natured ribbing. "It's done with mutual respect," he said. "You can bust the agents' balls, but you can't go too far. You can't make it too personal."

Tony gets an envelope of money at a funeral parlor.
That may be the best place to do business, Pistone said. "That is a great place to hand off money because you know the place isn't going to be bugged," he said. And any undercover cop would be spotted easily because he'd be recognized in a place where it was only family and friends, he said.

Tony and Paulie walk outside to talk.

"That's called a walk and talk," Pistone said. "You walk out of the back of a building so you can talk without being recorded or listened to." Pistone said the ambient noise of the outside -- traffic, birds, people -- make it hard for police to record conversations.

One of Tony's guys walks into a hot dog stand and kills a customer.
That's the way it's done, Piston said. Walk in, shoot the guy, drop the gun, walk out. Nothing is ever said to the man who is shot. "It's nothing personal about it," he said. "It's business."

*Paulie "Walnuts," Johnny "Sack," Bobby "Bacala" ...
"Everybody has a nickname. It might be something you get as a kid or later on. And once you get a nickname, you can't get rid of it," he said. Piston said he knew guys with colorful nicknames. Bobby "Badheart" who was called that because he had a pacemaker. Charlie "Chains" wore a lot of jewelry. "You can know a guy for 10 years and you'd never know his last name," Pistone said. "Nobody would ever introduce someone with their last name and nobody would ever ask."

Tony sees a therapist.
"Would never happen," he said. Pistone said any Mafioso who went to a therapist probably would end up dead. Too many secrets could be revealed. And, Pistone said, there's a little thing called ego that could keep a wiseguy off the couch. "They are called 'wiseguys' for a reason. They think they are wise and know everything," Pistone said. "They aren't going to go to someone else for answers."

Thanks to Lucio Guerrero


Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Ambition and Disloyalty of Cleveland Mobsters During the 1990's.

For mobsters who've helped the feds, coming home for the holidays can be a dangerous proposition.
It was the night before Thanksgiving, 1994, and Paul waded cautiously into the Cleveland night. He was to meet Mike Roman at the Flat Iron, a corner bar on the east bank of the Flats.

A 26-year-old assistant manager, Roman had arrived at the bar to pick up his check, then drink it away. Paul says Roman was "shitfaced" when he arrived around midnight, and Paul ordered him to drink coffee before driving home.

At closing time, they walked out the back door. Paul, who spoke with Scene on condition that his last name not be printed, remembers Roman glowering at a group of men standing around a white car on Center Street. "What the fuck are you looking at?" he asked.

One of the men walked up to Roman. Acting on instinct, Paul took a swing. It staggered the man, but he reached for a gun, squeezing off three shots into Roman's chest. Paul says he tried to grab the gun and it went off -- piercing the wrist of his right arm. Paul says he hobbled away, blood spurting from his arm. A friend drove him to a hospital. Roman was dead.

This was a Mafia hit, says Paul -- only the bullets were meant for him.

His old friends suspected that he was a rat. Paul says it isn't true. But suspicion is all it takes to get yourself killed in this line of work.

Ten years later, he sits at the Flat Iron and rolls up his sleeve to show the scar on his right wrist. He remembers the pain, the temptation to pass out and bleed to death on the sidewalk, then the five surgeries it took to repair the damage. What he got out of the deal was a good story.

The transcript from the murder trial, though, tells a different story: Minutes before he was shot, Roman had been honking and cursing at the four men gathered around a car, telling them to quit lingering near the bar.

According to witnesses, Sam Bulgin, a Lake County drug dealer, was in no mood to take orders. He got his .38. The next time Roman came outside, Bulgin was ready.

The transcript makes no mention of the Mafia. Police say it was nothing more than a booze-fueled clash that escalated into gunfire.

Paul's face drops when he hears this. He had wanted to observe the 10th anniversary of the hit that almost took his life. He insists that Bulgin was a hit man, that the shooting was only supposed to look spontaneous. More likely, Paul is marking the 10th anniversary of the most paranoid time in his life.

There's no doubting Paul's Mafia cred. It's all spelled out in a federal-court file. Few can speak with the same authority on the 1990s version of La Cosa Nostra's Cleveland chapter. In a group whose story has survived through oral tradition, Paul may be the guy who authors the final chapter.

Paul came to the mob by way of Milan -- as in the Milan, Michigan Federal Correctional Institution. There he reunited with two swaggering wise guys, Allie Calabrese and Joe Iacobacci, whom he knew from his Collinwood youth.

During the 1970s, a young Calabrese had run gambling and loan-sharking rackets for the Mafia. Rivals tried to take him out with a car bomb, but Calabrese's neighbor died in the explosion instead. Later, Cleveland underboss-turned-informant Angelo Lonardo testified that Calabrese was involved in the plot to bomb Irish mobster Danny Greene.

Iacobacci went by the nickname "Loose" -- as in "screw loose." He had been trafficking in large quantities of cocaine. Lonardo confirmed to the FBI that Loose was a made man. Paul says Calabrese was too.

It's easy to see what they saw in Paul. He looks like a wise guy -- thick-bodied, muscular to the point of necklessness, Mediterranean skin, and a cocky grin. "Fuck" shows up in nearly every breath. What most endeared Paul to them, however, was his expertise in an unfamiliar area of crime -- the white-collar variety. Paul was in Milan on securities fraud. In the early 1980s, he had duplicated stock certificates and taken out bank loans by offering the phony stock as collateral. He had also sold stock for a phony product: a self-chilling can. Paul and his collaborators held a press conference at the World Trade Center to announce that they had inked deals with PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch. Any sucker who bought the stock saw his investment vanish.

Paul impressed upon Loose and Calabrese that white-collar crime paid better than drugs -- and brought only a fraction of the penalties. "It's a dirty business," Paul says of drugs. "And the kind of time they give out is fucking astronomical. I can do a million dollars in fraud and get three to four years. But if you do a million dollars in coke, you're never going to see daylight." A stockbroker in New York, Paul knew how to create shell companies and move money offshore. "These guys saw my paperwork when I was at Milan," he says. "They fucking loved me!"

They plotted to make their fortune in a racket called the "California swing." Paul would open bank accounts in New Jersey, then deposit bad checks with California routing numbers. At that time, it took 10 days for an East Coast bank to learn that the check was bogus. "In the meantime," says Paul with a satisfied grin, "I'm wiring $4 to $5 million out of the country to an offshore account."

The money would move from islands like the Netherlands Antilles and CuraƧao to accounts in Geneva, then be routed through Chicago banks -- with the consent of the Chicago Mafia, which extracted its own toll.

The neatly laundered loot would be the building block for the new Cleveland Mafia, they all agreed. Loose, a favorite of former boss Jack "White" Licavoli, would be the head of the family. Calabrese would be his captain. "We had a pretty good crew set up," says Paul. "It could have been something."

Every start-up has its complications. While he was still in prison, Paul says, he ran into a man from a Newark, New Jersey crew that operated vending companies and trafficked in drugs. "He says, 'Hey, asshole, I know you,'" Paul recalls. Several years earlier, Paul had screwed the man's crew. "We sold him a vending company that didn't exist," he laughs. "Took his guys for about 150 G's."

Calabrese intervened on Paul's behalf, convincing the Jersey mobster that instead of putting Paul in the ground, he ought to put him on the payroll. As Paul's California swing turned profitable, the Jersey crew could get a fat cut.

Heading the Newark faction was Mike Taccetta, made famous as the model for fictional mobster Tony Soprano. Taccetta signed off on the deal. Paul had extra mouths to feed, but at least he was alive.

He left prison in 1991. From the smile on his face as he reminisces, it's apparent that these were his glory days. Besides the California swing, he was fleecing airlines with a luggage scam. At that time, you didn't need to show an ID to fly. So Paul could book himself on four flights, using a different name for each. He'd check carry-on bags. Upon arriving, he'd pick up the bag and rip off the tags, then report lost luggage containing about $2,000 in valuables. After a month of fruitless searching, the airline would send him a check for $1,250, the maximum rate.

It was so easy, everyone in Paul's crew did it. "We had guys sitting around, filling out forms all day," he laughs. Paul claims they made thousands a week, multiplying their profit every time they added a soldier. Once, he took a pack of 50 friends on a Florida golfing trip. All claimed to lose their luggage, thus vacationing at a profit.

Meanwhile, the California swing was bringing in so much money, Paul had to go to the Caribbean to cash the checks -- he was worried about alerting suspicion in the States. "I was basically a money machine for the fucking mob," he says. He wore $2,500 suits and $800 shoes, and drove a BMW convertible.

As head of the family, Loose was entitled to a cut of everything. He was supposed to send a portion to New Jersey to pay off Paul's debt. But Calabrese told Paul that Loose was keeping the money for himself and telling the New Jersey crew that Paul wasn't earning. Paul was furious, but he could do nothing. Loose called the shots.

The FBI was watching with keen interest. Agents decided Paul was ripe for the picking. In July 1992, he was arrested for a parole violation -- consorting with known felons. The feds knew about the California swing. If he wanted to be saved from prison, he'd have to wear a wire. As an extra inducement, Paul says, agents played a tape of Loose musing over the best method to kill Paul. This, says Paul, combined with the FBI investigation, was enough to make him bolt for Miami.

When the California-swing arrests came down, Paul was listed only as an unindicted co-conspirator. "They didn't have anything on me," he says. Court files say otherwise. The indictment notes that Paul agreed to wear a wire and that he hung around Cleveland long enough to tape roughly 200 meetings with his partners between the time of his arrest and the spring of 1993. [Paul says that he gave agents permission to bug his car, but never wore a wire.]

Paul was also a groomsman at Calabrese's wedding. He admired the older man's toughness, his style. This was "a gangster's gangster," Paul still says today. But his fawning respect also made Paul perfect for his role; Calabrese would never suspect him.

"Mr. Calabrese was clearly commanding a position of authority over him," FBI Agent David Drab testified at the trial. "He realized, in my opinion, that this cooperating witness [Paul] deified him in a sense, that he looked up to him and wanted to be part of the organization."

Paul taped Calabrese boasting about being "the only guy left" who was capable of forming a new Mafia. He recorded Calabrese's resentment of Iacobacci, who liked the money and prestige that came with mob work, but not the physical danger. "I'm the real, original tough motherfucker around here," Calabrese declared on one tape.

Once, at the Feast of the Assumption, Calabrese wanted to eat dinner at Nido Italia in Little Italy. He sat down at a table reserved by a man who had come with his family. When the man objected, Calabrese dragged him outside. He told Paul he "beat the fucker's head in." When the man's daughter kicked Calabrese in the groin, he slugged her too. Stories like these didn't help his case. Calabrese was sentenced to three and a half years. Iacobacci got two and a half. Meanwhile, Paul was in Miami, going to bed at night with a pistol strapped to his ankle.

The subsequent decade has only added more mystery -- and more death. In 1998, a jury convicted Sam Bulgin of killing Roman. Bulgin claims that he wasn't the shooter, that he was set up by a friend who ratted him out in exchange for a reduced sentence on his own drug-trafficking charges.

A year earlier, Bulgin's brother, Peter, was found shot to death in his East Cleveland home. Police never knew whether it was self-inflicted, but Paul believes it was payback for Roman's slaying. "He got whacked," Paul shrugs. He says he knows who did it, but he isn't telling. He only insists he wasn't the one.

In 1999, while doing time at a federal prison in Georgia, Calabrese was clubbed with a metal pipe. He slipped into a coma and died. The attacker was caught, but no one seems to know his identity -- only that he happened to be from Cleveland. Paul thinks Loose arranged the hit.

Loose himself has kept a low profile. There are rumors that he became an informant. Some say he's gone straight. But nobody seems to peddle the theory that he'll make another run at establishing La Cosa Nostra in Cleveland.

Paul claims to be enjoying straight living. He left Cleveland, though he won't say where his permanent address is. He regrets getting into the fast life. Friends from college stayed on Wall Street, earning Fifth Avenue condos.

He has no regrets about cooperating with the feds in taking down the Cleveland Mafia. "There's a difference between being a rat and self-preservation," says Paul. "My ass was against the wall. What was I going to do? Get clipped?"

Thanks to Thomas Francis.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Sopranos' for the first time on Blu-ray

Often cited as one of the best TV productions of all time, drama series "The Sopranos" has yet to be released in its entirety in HD. This omission will soon be corrected with the release of a Blu-ray box set with the complete series on the mob boss Tony Soprano.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the six seasons of "The Sopranos" will be available in a single Blu-ray box set from November 4. Previously, only the first and sixth seasons had been released in HD.

The 86 episodes will come with over five hours of bonus content, all on 28 high-definition Blu-ray discs. Fans of the mafia drama can enjoy cut scenes, audio commentary tracks and roundtable discussions with the cast and crew.

The box set also includes "Defining a Television Landmark," a previously unreleased documentary with a run time of 45 minutes. Among those interviewed for the documentary are series creator David Chase, its star James Gandolfini, who died in June 2013, and Steve Buscemi, who contributed to the show's success on screen as well as from the director's chair. Steven Soderbergh and Jeff Daniels also contributed their commentary.

A touchstone of American TV culture, "The Sopranos" aired on HBO from 1999 to 2007. The series received around 60 awards in total, including 21 Emmy Awards and five Golden Globes, and is widely considered as one of if not the best series in the history of television.

Regardless of where they place "The Sopranos" in their ranking of the best shows of all time, critics agree that the show revolutionized the mafia drama genre with its portrayal of Tony Soprano, the New Jersey mob boss who is forced by his panic attacks to see a shrink on the sly. The character experiences a long and difficult battle to reconcile the interests of his family with those of his organized crime network.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

James Gandolfini, #TonySoprano, Dies from Heart Attack

James Gandolfini -- who famously played Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos" -- died earlier today in Italy ... TMZ has learned.

Gandolfini is believed to have suffered a heart attack. He was 51.

Gandolfini was in Italy to attend the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily -- and he was scheduled to participate in a festival event this weekend with Italian director Gabriele Muccino.

Gandolfini shot to fame playing a hitman in the 1993 hit "True Romance" ... and quickly became a Hollywood legend when he was cast as Tony Soprano in 1999.  He won 3 Emmy awards for the role during the show's 6 season run.

Gandolfini also appeared in a ton of huge movies including "Get Shorty," "The Mexican" and "Zero Dark Thirty."

Gandolfini is survived by his wife Deborah Lin, who gave birth to the couple's daughter in October 2012. He also has a teenage son from a previous marriage. R.I.P.

Thanks to TMZ.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

John "Big Man" Venizelos Scheduled to Plead Guilty to Narcotics Trafficking, #BonannoCrimeFamily #HellsAngels

A Bonanno crime family associate charged with joining a Canadian drug lord to become one of New York City's largest marijuana suppliers is scheduled to plea guilty to narcotics trafficking charges.

John "Big Man" Venizelos, 33, is believed to have secured a plea deal from Brooklyn federal prosecutors that will significantly reduce his time in prison - averting the life sentence he faced if convicted at trial, sources said. But because Venizelos honored the mob's omerta code of silence and refused to hand over information to the feds, sources said, he's expected to face approximately 10-14 years in prison when sentenced eventually by Brooklyn federal Judge Raymond Dearie.

Venizelos - who sports horn-rimmed glasses and wears Ralph Lauren Polo ensembles - held a "straight job" before his arrest managing "Jaguars 3", a Brooklyn nightspot run by Vincent "Vinny Green" Faraci, a Bonanno crime family soldier. The nightclub, located in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, attracts patrons that have included several cast members of "The Sopranos” — including Tony Sirico, who portrayed the fictional mob family's “Paulie Walnuts”.

It was his sideline as an alleged drug trafficker, however, that attracted attention to Venizelos. He was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents earlier this year and charged with being one of the biggest New York customers of French Canadian drug kingpin Jimmy “Cosmo” Cournoyer.

Cournoyer - who is awaiting trial in Brooklyn federal court - allegedly lies at the center of $1 billion narcotics ring and operated through alliances he created between the Hells Angels, the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, the Bonanno crime family, and the Montreal Mafia, The Post first reported.

Only weeks after Venizelos' arrest, federal prosecutors accused him of trying to intimidate witnesses who might testify against him.

Prosecutors say Venizelos sent encrypted BlackBerry messages to a colleague explaining that Cournoyer had bankrolled a special "murder fund" to underwrite hits against informants in the high-profile international narcotics case.

Prosecutors also say they seized letters written by an unnamed colleague of Venizelos that discussed the Bonanno associate’s ties to organized crime - including references to sit-downs with captains in various New York La Cosa Nostra families The DEA also utilized informants to secretly record tapes of Venizelos discussing drug deals, officials said, and then seized a number of unlicensed handguns when they searched Venizelos' residence.

John Meringolo, a New York Law School professor who represents Venizelos, initially insisted that the $100,000-plus seized by feds at Venizelos' residence wasn't drug money - it was simply cash for tipping exotic dancers at the "Jaguars 3" club.

Meringolo told the judge today that he had reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and the judge adjorned the hearing until Wednesday on procdural grounds.

Cournoyer's attorney, Gerald McMahon, says he plans to vigorously fight the case against the French Canadian at an upcoming trial this summer.

Thanks to Mitchell Maddux.


Crime Family Index