The Chicago Syndicate: Vinny Ferrara
Showing posts with label Vinny Ferrara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vinny Ferrara. Show all posts

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day from the Mob

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

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

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

He never missed a year, or a mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Las Vegas Godfathers to Get Mob Museum

Friends of ours: Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, Jimmy Chagra, Nick Civella, Vinny Ferrara, Meyer Lansky, Natale Richichi, Nicky Scarfo
Friends of mine: Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal

Las Vegas' mayor gained fame and fortune defending mob titans. Now he wants a museum celebrating their role in building Sin City.

flamboyant, gin-sipping, sports-gambling, showgirl-squiring Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman gives a thumbs up to a Mob MuseumMayor Oscar Goodman, the flamboyant, gin-sipping, sports-gambling, showgirl-squiring executive of Sin City, is caught in a contradiction. For years he had told the world, "There is no mob." That was when he was a defense lawyer who represented mobsters and even had a cameo playing himself in Martin Scorsese's "Casino." Goodman said there were no mobsters--just alleged mobsters. Now, as mayor, he wants to take a National Historic Landmark, the old federal courthouse where he tried his first case, and turn it into a mob museum--and there's no alleged about it.

Many of Goodman's constituents and some former FBI agents are appalled by the idea, but Goodman insists he's just recognizing Vegas' founding fathers. Or godfathers. "The mob founded us, and I never apologized for them because I represented them, and they made me a rich man," he said.

Goodman, 67, who recalled representing an alleged mobster at Chicago's criminal courts complex known as "26th and Cal," is winning all verdicts in the political arena these days. He was re-elected in 2003 to a second term as mayor of Las Vegas with more than 85 percent of the vote.

If Goodman wants it, he gets it. And he wants a mob museum. "As long as I'm mayor," Goodman asserted, "we're going to keep on smiling at ourselves at how the mob founded us."

One of the most prominent founders was Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a maverick underworld mastermind who was the boss of West Coast gambling for the crime syndicate and who opened the Flamingo hotel in 1946 on a forlorn patch of highway that eventually became known famously as the Strip.

Some wonder whether the museum will end up as a monument to Goodman's legal career and his extensive list of old clients: Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro of Chicago, Jimmy Chagra, Nick Civella, Vinny Ferrara, Frank Rosenthal, Meyer Lansky, Natale Richichi and Nicky Scarfo.

That compilation was made by author and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith, who wrote a book about Goodman, including how he despised mob snitches, in "Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman's Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas."

"Oscar's client list would fill any mob museum," said Smith, 46. "You know, he has represented members of various organized crime families literally from coast to coast. He's most known locally and in Chicago, of course, for his representation of Tony Spilotro."

Spilotro allegedly crushed the skull of one victim in a vise and later turned up dead in an Indiana cornfield in 1986. "Most locals here know him as a killer, but [Goodman] says he was a gentleman. . . . Of course Oscar never went on any long rides with Tony Spilotro, or he wouldn't have come back," Smith said.

The notion of a mob museum annoys the FBI agents who were Goodman's legal adversaries. "In my estimation, his purpose would be to glorify them," said Joe Yablonsky, 77, who retired as agent in charge of the FBI's Las Vegas office in 1984. "The only reason that he gets away with this is that he's in Vegas. If he was in some normal American city, he'd never make it."

Yablonsky, who spent the last four years of his FBI career in Las Vegas and now lives in Lady Lake, Fla., said many Vegas residents don't remember the violent days of mob-influenced casinos because most of them weren't living there then. The population of Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County is 1.8million, four times what it was in 1980. "If it were told truthfully, it would be OK, how we ridded the place of them and what they were really like," Yablonsky said. "They milked the place for all these dollars they took in the skim and . . . Spilotro was a hit guy, and we figured him for 22 whacks and that was supposed to be his role as enforcer. How is [Goodman] going to make him look good?"

The museum, which doesn't have a formal name yet, would be housed downtown across the street from City Hall in the old federal courthouse and post office, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, said Deputy City Manager Betsy Fretwell.

The city awarded a $7.5 million contract this month for an architect to design temporary and permanent galleries. The museum and cultural center is expected to cost $30 million.

City officials have yet to decide how the museum, which would open in 2008, will depict the Mafia, but Fretwell said it will be entertaining enough to hold its own against the stiff competition for which Vegas attractions are renowned.

Logo125x125buttonCity officials now refer to the building as the POST Modern, a word play on how they want a modern use for the old post office, which opened in 1933. The building's sole courtroom is perhaps best known as one of the sites used in 1950 for the U.S. Senate's televised Kefauver hearings, in which suspected crime figures were interrogated.

Because the museum is to address the history of organized crime in Las Vegas, exhibits could very well bear upon the mayor's career as a defense lawyer. "The mayor has a rich history as an attorney and may have things to contribute in terms of collections or oral history," Fretwell said.

An advisory board including local media members, a former chief of the Las Vegas FBI office and tourism officials has been formed, and a panel of historians also is being assembled, Fretwell said.

While a recent city-commissioned survey showed that out-of-town visitors preferred a mob museum in the old courthouse, locals more often preferred a museum devoted to "vintage Vegas," its architecture and entertainment evolution.

One resident, Wayne Haag, 45, a garbage collection driver, thought the mayor's idea cast a negative light on Las Vegas. "A Mafia museum--in a way, he's related to it. It's an old post office. Why [a Mafia museum]? To me, it's m-o-n-e-y," Haag said.

Thanks to Michael Martinez

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