Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Frank Sinatra, actor-singer:
Special agents from the CIA and FBI had kept tabs him on the since 1947 when he took a four-day trip to Havana. He had painted the town red with a gaggle of powerful Cosa Nostra members. Sinatra's other rumored criminal associates included Joseph and Rocco Fischetti, who were cousins of Al Capone and reigning Chicago boss Sam Giancana. When Giancana had been arrested in 1958, the police found Sinatra's private telephone number in Giancana's wallet.
In the summer of 1959, Sinatra allegedly hosted a nine-day, round-the-clock party at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City where Chicago wise guys rubbed elbows with top East Coast mobsters, including Vito Genovese and Tommy Lucchese. Charges like these plagued Frank Sinatra throughout his life, and he repeatedly and vehemently denied having any association with the mafia.
Marilyn Monroe, actress:
The extensive influence the Chicago mafia had over Hollywood is best illustrated in 1948 when Chicago Mafia boss Tony Accardo had told John Rosselli to force powerful Columbia Pictures' president Harry Cohn into signing then-unknown actor Marilyn Monroe to a lucrative multi-year contract. The usually highly combative Cohn quickly complied without opposition, mainly because Cohn had obtained control of Columbia through mob funds and influence provided by both Accardo and Rosselli.
Bugsy Siegel, mobster:
Siegel had a number of mistresses, including actor Ketti Gallian and Wendy Barrie With the aid of DiFrasso and actor friend George Raft, Siegel gained entry into Hollywood's inner circle. He is alleged to have used his contacts to extort movie studios. He lived in extravagant fashion, as befitting his reputation. The highly fictionalized motion picture Bugsy was based on his life with Warren Beatty in the title role.
Lana Turner, actor:
After acting in 'Johnny Eager', a mafia flick, Lana began her own involvement with a real life mobster, Johnny Stompenado, a crew member for the Hollywood mob organisation headed then by Mickey Cohen. Stompenado had confronted several of Turner's screen co-stars, including a celebrated tiff with Sean Connery.
Mickey Cohen, mobster:
He begun his mafia career as a thug for Vegas boss Ben Siegel before moving to Hollywood. Cohen inherited Siegel's racing interests and operated a small haberdashery in Los Angeles that served as a front for a book making enterprise. Always high profile, he dressed lavishly and flaunted his money and friendships with Hollywood heavy-weights.
Steve Bing, producer:
Best know for being the father of Elizabeth Hurley's son Damian, Bing's friends are said to include Dominic 'Donny Shacks' Montemarano, a felon and one time capo in the mafia.
Thanks to After Hrs.
Monday, January 29, 2018
Having served a stint in prison for attempted robbery in the late 1930s, Galante transitioned from strong-arm work for Vito Genovese to establishing his power base in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — Bonanno family territory. He shared a couple common enemies with Joe Bonanno, the most prolific being Carlo Gambino, and eventually rose to rank of underboss in the Bonanno family. While known as a cold-blooded killer — the NYPD suspected him of numerous mob-related murders — authorities could never find anyone to testify against the feared mobster.
“[Galante’s] foray into the drug world really got kicked into high gear in the ’50s,” says Christian Cipollini, author of Murder Inc.: Mysteries of the Mob’s Most Deadly Hit Squad. Galante traveled to Canada and Sicily to oversee narcotics trafficking, “and it wasn’t long before he gained recognition by law enforcement as a major player in drug trafficking.” The feds busted Galante, sending him to prison in 1962 for 20 years. Finally paroled in the early 1970s, Galante set out to regain his control of the dope business. The problem? His fellow mobsters didn’t like it.
That fateful afternoon, Galante, 69, was having lunch with a friend and bodyguard Leonard Coppola, 40, and Turano’s father, Giuseppe, 48 — also a Bonanno associate. Smoking a cigar and enjoying the conversation, Galante certainly didn’t expect what happened next. John remembers three masked men walking into the restaurant. One pointed a gun at him, telling him not to move. But before the shooters reached the courtyard, the son shouted a warning to his father. The gunman turned and fired, wounding the young Turano before joining his cohorts in the courtyard, where they unleashed a barrage of bullets.
“They blew Lilo away while he was eating lunch, in broad daylight,” says Mafia historian Ed Scarpo, author of Cosa Nostra News: The Cicale Files, Volume 1: Inside the Last Great Mafia Empire. John hid throughout the onslaught, and after the gunmen and bodyguards fled, he found the bodies. Galante had been blown off his chair and flung into the tomato patch behind him — a cigar in his mouth and a Zippo lighter in his hand. Coppola also was killed, and Turano was mortally wounded, dying later in the hospital.
Galante had reckoned he was untouchable as a former underboss to Joe Bonanno, and as a man who’d held to the code of omertà doing his jail time, he felt he deserved to get back what he lost. Assuming a leadership role without permission was one thing, but Galante had also started killing off his rivals in the Gambino family to take over the drug trade — and that was a step too far.
“His apparent desire to basically reap all the rewards of the New York Mafia’s lucrative drug trade — by cutting out most of the other mafiosi from the profits — became Galante’s ultimate downfall,” says Cipollini. Someone at Galante’s level in the mob hierarchy doesn’t usually get assassinated without a lot of other important peers giving the OK. But Bonanno family crime boss “Joseph Massino wanted him out of the way,” Scarpo explains.
Galante paid the ultimate price for “hubris and greed,” says Scott Burnstein, author of Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit. “He came out of prison and went against typical mob protocol by declaring himself boss without the universal approval of [the Bonanno] crime family.” To further complicate things, Galante isolated himself from his troops by creating his own handpicked inner circle of young native Sicilians to do his drug trafficking and strong-arm work. The irony? It was those very Sicilians — his bodyguards — who sold him out. Those armed bodyguards at his side weren’t killed that day because they had, in fact, betrayed Galante.
Galante’s rackets and drug dealings were taken over by Massino and the others who had plotted to take him down. Anthony “Bruno” Indelicato, a Bonanno soldier, was convicted of the murder in 1986 at the famous Mafia Commission trial and sentenced to 40 years.
Since then, the picture of Galante’s last meal has become an iconic image, representing what can happen when an ambitious mobster makes a power grab. While certainly not the first mobster to dabble with drugs, says Burnstein, “he was one of the first to do it so brazenly and unapologetically.” Rather than let him consolidate as a drug kingpin, the Bonnanos decided Galante had overstepped and that he had to pay the ultimate price.
Thanks to Seth Ferranti.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program.
If she takes the deal to turn informant she will be joining a long list of people who testified against organised criminals only to lose their identity and liberty under witness protection. Programs to protect people who testify against organised criminals only came into existence in the 1960s and ’70s, even though the need for such a program goes back centuries.
Intimidation of witnesses is at least as old as courts, but it was only in the 19th and early 20th centuries that laws were passed against tampering with witnesses or that witnesses were detained so that they couldn’t be intimidated or killed.
In the US in the late 19th and early 20th century the Black Hand gangs, formed among Italian migrants, often scared away people from reporting crimes or testifying against gang members. In Chicago between 1910 and 1920, police were able to secure prosecutions in 21 per cent of homicides, but in cases relating to Black Hand killings they could only secure convictions in 4 per cent of cases.
The Black Hand: Terror by Letter in Chicago.
In the 1920s and ’30s people such as Chicago mob boss Al Capone were able to literally get away with murder by threatening or killing witnesses. But when authorities found bookkeeping ledgers meticulously detailing Capone’s ill-gotten profits, Leslie (some sources say Louis) Shumway, one of the men responsible for keeping the ledgers, was hidden away and brought to court under police guard. He became a material witness in a case for tax evasion. Capone was convicted in 1931 and sent to prison, after which police broke his control of his crime organisation, freeing Shumway of any fear of retribution. Shumway lived the rest of his life in seclusion but by the ’40s Capone was losing his mind due to late stage syphilis. Capone died in 1947 in Florida and Shumway died in 1964, also in Florida.
In 1963, mobster Joe Valachi testified at a US senate hearing about the dealings and structure of the mob. Valachi, who was already in prison, had organised his own protection. (In 1962 he beat to death an inmate he thought had been sent to collect a $100,000 bounty put out by mob boss Vito Genovese.) Valachi died in prison of a heart attack in 1971. Valachi Papers by Peter Maas.
The US Justice Department’s Gerald Shur, frustrated by not being able to get people to testify in big organised crime cases pushed for a more formal system of looking after witnesses.
In 1970 the Organised Crime Control Act provided for the relocation and protection of witnesses, a role that was taken on by the US Marshals Service under the orders of the US Attorney-General.
Since then thousands of people have entered the Federal Witness Protection Program, or Witness Security Program (WITSEC for short).
Some of the more notorious people given protection include New York City mobster Henry Hill, who was arrested in 1980 on a narcotics charge but turned informant and his testimony helped secure 50 convictions. His story was told in the book Wise Guy: Life in a Mafia Family, by Nicholas Pileggi and later turned into the award-winning Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas (4K Ultra HD) [Blu-ray].
Hill was thrown out of witness protection after he repeatedly revealed his true identity to neighbours. He died in 2012 from heart problems.
Sicilian-born mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta also made headlines in 1992 when he became the first major crime boss to turn informant. He testified into links between organised crime and politicians in Italy. He died while in WITSEC in the US in 2000.
A national witness protection program was also established Australia in 1990 under the Australian Federal Police. It gained notoriety when Reginald “Mick” O’Brien, a small-time criminal with links to crime boss Robert Trimbole, became a protected witness.
O’Brien had been arrested in relation to the importation of cannabis resin, but had made a deal with the National Crime Authority to give evidence against Trimbole. When the NCA became dissatisfied with the quality of his evidence he was dropped from witness protection. O’Brien was shot dead in Granville in January 1992. No one has ever been convicted of his murder.
Thanks to Troy Lennon.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires By Selwyn Raab
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
Friday, August 28, 2015
"Around the eyes, maybe," the world's newest novelist was saying the other day. Genovese has just had his first novel, "The Grandfather Clause," published by Author House.
It's the story of a legitimate New Jersey businessman who gets himself entwined in the underground world of his Mafia crime boss grandfather.
Which is no stretch for the 50-something Jersey Shore resident, the grandson of Vito Genovese one of the most powerful mobsters in American history -- who controlled chunks of the gambling, loan-sharking and drug businesses of Staten Island.
Phil is far more a product of suburban America than of his grandfather's La Cosa Nostra, however. He was raised at the Shore by his mother and CPA father, usually seeing Don Vito only on Sundays when his grandfather would summon the family for dinner at his simple Atlantic Highlands home.
After graduating from Villanova University in the mid-1970s, the younger Genovese's first real job was at that stalwart of U.S. capitalism Johnson & Johnson. From there, he made a number of stops as an expert in moving cargo around the world.
Now he's with another Fortune 500 outfit, a corporation so huge it has offices in countries some of us have never heard of. He doesn't even like mentioning the company name while publicizing his book for fear of offending the higher ups.
"Separation of church and state," he explains. But there are flashbacks in his life that are undeniable.
He has a scene early in the very readable new book where the mob boss's young grandson stands on a chair to hand his grandfather ingredients for the tomato sauce that is being painstakingly prepared on the kitchen stove.
"That's a lot like it really was," he says of his childhood days before Vito Genovese was shipped off to federal prison, where he died in the late 1960s.
And he recalls vividly his grandfather's aging friends coming by on those Sundays for whispered conversations around cups of espresso. And of Vito's wake at the old Anderson's Funeral Home on Broad Street in Red Bank.
"The black FBI cars were parked across the street with the long camera lenses sticking out the windows," he said.
There were tales from his own father of living in Park Avenue luxury in the 1930s. "He used to see Eleanor Roosevelt on the elevator in his apartment house," said Genovese. And, maybe through some form of childhood osmosis, Phil learned something from his grandfather's business.
One lesson was that, just as in the legitimate world, in the mob, competency isn't always rewarded and messing up not always punished.
That was very much so in the case of Vincent "The Chin" Gigante.
Long before Gigante began famously roaming Greenwich Village's Carmine Street in bathrobe and slippers, he was a hit man for Don Vito. Needless to say, business was booming.
One day in May 1957, Genovese gave his underling a very important job. He was to travel uptown to the landmark Majestic Apartments on Central Park West. There, he was told he'd find one Frank Costello (real name Francesco Castiglia).
"I want him to disappear," Genovese said of his rival.
The young Gigante waited on the corner of 72nd Street until he saw Costello approaching the building's lobby door. Chin made his move, firing from close to point-blank range. He was high and wide. The bullet glanced off Costello's head, grazing him. Instead of imbedding deep into the skull of the fingered mobster, it would smack harmlessly into the marble lobby wall.
The bullet mark is still plain to see above the building entrance 50 years later.
"Botched job," Phil Genovese pointed out the other day. And one that began Don Vito's decline in organized crime.
"Chin screwed up, and what happened? He wound up eventually becoming the boss."
THE FAMILY ENDURES
The Genovese crime family didn't dry up and disappear when Don Vito died.
One of the bosses to follow Genovese was Funzi Tieri, a guy with deep Island connections who was known to be among the biggest bookmakers and loan-sharks in the country.
Once Tieri became the acting boss, you could find him almost daily at a restaurant on Third Avenue in Brooklyn.
One evening, he was met there by two Staten Island lawyers.
The older attorney, I'll call him Morty, had long handled Genovese bookmaking cases in the borough.
On this night, he'd brought a young friend along in hopes Tieri would toss some business to the new guy (who was clearly interested in climbing aboard what he saw as the Mafia gravy train).
Morty and the gangster drank wine and ate pasta and steaks and talked about old times for hours, while the younger attorney sat respectfully silent.
Late into the night, the older lawyer weaved as he was led to the car.
On the ride home to Todt Hill he told his young associate that he thought a good impression had been made.
"Kid," the conversation was remembered years later, "I think if you follow me, you're going to be OK."
The younger lawyer didn't answer.
He rolled to a stop in front of his mentor's house and hustled his rumpled associate out of the car as quickly as he could. Then he turned the car around and sped back over the Verrazano to the restaurant.
Tieri was still there when he arrived, and waved the now lone lawyer back to the table.
"What happened kid?" he wanted to know. "Where's your friend?"
"With all due respect, Mr. Tieri" the younger lawyer said, "I don't think Mort is up to doing the job for you anymore. Why don't you hire me, instead?"
And so, Tieri, who always admired a man who could focus on his own best interests, did just that.
Thanks to Cormac Gordon
Monday, December 07, 2009
John A. (Junior) Gotti arrived at the gangster-packed St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, at 1:15 p.m. and spent about a half-hour alone with his departed dad.
The elder Gotti, who headed the Gambino crime family before his son, was sentenced to life behind bars after skating on three previous trials. He died in a Missouri prison in 2002. Junior, a 45-year-old father of six, spent the past 16 months behind bars until last Tuesday, when his own fourth racketeering trial ended in a hung jury.
Gotti made a point last week of saying he looked forward to visiting the graves of his father and brother. Junior's little brother, Frank, who was accidentally run over at age 12 by a neighbor who soon vanished without a trace, is also interred at the cemetery's five-story mausoleum.
Wearing a striped black track suit and white sneakers, Junior first went to noon Mass at the Church of St. Dominic in Oyster Bay, L.I., with two of his daughters.
He told reporters he planned to spend the rest of the day enjoying family time. "I'm going to cook. I always cook on Sundays," he said.
Junior made similar pilgrimages to his dad's grave after previous mistrials.
During his most recent murder and racketeering trial, Gotti said he felt his father communicated with him through specific songs that played on the radio at 10:27 p.m.
"1-0/27 is my father's birthday," he explained last week. "To me it's like a message."
Others buried at St. John's include such storied mobsters as Carlo Gambino, Carmine Galante, Vito Genovese, Joe Profaci, Joe Colombo and Lucky Luciano.
Thanks to Helen Kennedy
Friday, September 12, 2008
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
Sunday, September 07, 2008
He is New York Italian, powerfully built, and was wearing a black shirt when interviewed for HARDtalk by Sarah Montague.
He worked for John Gotti of the infamous Gambino crime family, which pulled off some of the most lucrative heists in American history. But he is younger than you would think, given that he ran his own "crew" and did nine years in jail before deciding to change his life and become a writer.
Ferrante's moment of truth came when a prison guard at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center described him and his kind as "animals".
Two months in solitary forced him to ponder the question: was he an animal? If so, why was he one? "I thought about the people I'd victimised... and I realised I did deserve to be in a zoo," he recalls.
For the first time in his life he started reading books, looking deeper into himself and searching for some answers. He set himself the challenge to read the entire prison library.
"Prison was the greatest thing that happened to me, because it gave me time to look inside myself, the solitude that I needed to take a closer look at everything around me; to analyse myself."
He educated himself and converted to Judaism.
Given his experience behind bars, Ferrante believes the prison services should be about giving inmates the opportunity to change their lives. But before his own transformation, Ferrante's "greatest aspiration" was always to be a member of the Mafia.
He started off as a kid, sawing the tops of meters to get the coins, and hijacked his first truck as a teenager, using a gun.
"I was 17 years old. I liked girls. I liked to drive fast cars. I liked hamburgers and French fries.
"And I'd just realised that I liked to hijack trucks".
A common misconception about the Mafia is that you have to have a genetic link to a "family" in order to be a member. Not so, says Ferrante. The most famous Mob bosses were not born into "the Life".
Lucky Luciano, Thomas Lucchese, Carlos Marcello and Vito Genovese all started out as petty thieves, graduating to bigger crimes as the years passed. So did John Gotti and so did Ferrante.
Whether he is accurately described as a "boss" is debatable.
His memoir, Tough Guy, more modestly describes him as a "Mafia insider". But he was on the list being passed around the five Mafia families and was on the verge of being "made" when he was arrested for racketeering.
"I had a dozen good men under me... I was already equal to a made man, since I answered directly to the heads of my family."
In a legitimate business he would be considered middle management.
At the height of his criminal career Ferrante had the trappings of wealth. "I'd drop $10,000 at the tables in Atlantic City, pick up a $500 tab at a steakhouse, and hand out hundreds to anyone with a story."
He made his money robbing trucks, selling on bent goods bought with fake credit cards made from stolen numbers, dealing with anything from high quality white goods to government bonds.
In an early mistake he robbed a truck load of cheap underwear. "I was stuck with 500 boxes of brassieres I couldn't sell as slingshots".
But mostly his jobs were highly lucrative.
His book enables you to check what you think you know about the New York Italian underworld with reality.
You have to be Italian to be "made"? True.
Under no circumstances do you take your beef with another gangster to his home, involving his family. Also true.
He consorted with characters like Bert the Zip, Tony the Twitch and Barry the Brokester, who always maintained he could not pay you because he was broke.
Bobby Butterballs he leaves us to work out for ourselves.
He maintains that there is honour amongst thieves:
"Jimmy and I had no contract, no lawyers, no bill of sale; a handshake sealed the deal. Try that in the straight world".
And he would have you believe that he was a nice cuddly gangster. He maintains he never murdered anyone. But that was perhaps more by luck than judgement.
Ferrante glosses over quite how much he injured people, and he admits in his book that he beat someone up and left him not knowing whether he was alive or dead.
Collecting money, he says, was easy for him. "I collected $20,000 from a guy who owned a dress company in a garment centre. I threatened to hang him out the window. He paid, even though his office was on the first floor."
When HARDtalk presenter Sarah Montague asked him how he asserted himself in prison he used elliptical phrases like: I would have to "declare myself" or "express myself".
Writing his life story cannot have been an easy decision. The Mafia are not keen on insiders discussing their modus operandi.
He has changed the names to protect the innocent and conceal the guilty, and says as a matter of honour he has never ratted on his former associates.
Thanks to Bridget Osborne
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Before the turn of the last century, the government had no dedicated facilities for men convicted of federal crimes – typically, moonshiners, mail-tamperers and those engaged in "white slavery," better known today as pimpin'.
When criticism escalated about the common practice of renting out federal prisoners as involuntary laborers, Congress passed the Three Prisons Act of 1890, which authorized federal prisons in Leavenworth, Kansas; on McNeil Island in Washington's Puget Sound; and on the southeastern outskirts of Atlanta.
Although 14 more federal penitentiaries – considered the high-security flagships of the Bureau of Prisons – would be built over the next century, Atlanta would remain the largest. And when Alcatraz shut its doors in 1963, it regained its reputation as the meanest.
Italian immigrant and small-time scam artist Charles Ponzi served a few years in Atlanta for fraud during the teens. When he got out, he dreamed up an elaborate investment scheme that hoodwinked a nation and, at the time it came crashing down in 1920, was earning him $250,000 a day. Ponzi served another few years in prison, was deported back to Italy and finally died penniless in Brazil.
In 1919, the Atlanta Pen would get its first celebrity inmate in Eugene V. Debs, a renowned labor leader, pacifist and three-time Socialist Party candidate for president. The 63-year-old Debs had been convicted under the liberally worded Espionage Act for giving a speech opposing World War I and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 1920, he again ran for president from his cell, receiving nearly a million votes, about 3.4 percent of the ballots cast. The following year, Debs was pardoned by President Warren G. Harding.
Another political prisoner was Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born journalist who had come to the United States in 1916 to preach the then-controversial notion of social equality for blacks. Launching a back-to-Africa movement, he was viewed as a rabble-rousing seditionist by the feds, who eventually convicted him of mail fraud.
Garvey came to Atlanta in 1925 and immediately wrote his most famous speech, "First Message to the Negroes of the World From Atlanta Prison," which urged his followers to "Look for me in the whirlwind." His sentence was commuted two years later by President Calvin Coolidge and he was subsequently deported.
Also in 1925, Atlanta became home to Roy Gardner, a legendary train robber who had managed to escape from McNeil Island. He tried to tunnel under the thick prison wall and, later, led an unsuccessful breakout by holding two Atlanta guards at gunpoint, a move that earned him 20 months in solitary, followed by a transfer to Alcatraz. Paroled in his 50s, Gardner committed suicide after a movie based on his life failed at the box office.
Al Capone's business card reputedly identified him as a used-furniture dealer. But, although he was never convicted of racketeering or rapped for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the Chicago mob boss known as "Public Enemy No. 1" was eventually nailed by G-man Eliot Ness on 22 counts of tax evasion.
Landing in Atlanta in 1932, Capone soon became top dog, bribing guards to run errands and manipulating the warden for special privileges. Two years later, federal authorities fed up with the mobster's cushy arrangement shipped off him to Alcatraz. Released in 1939, Capone spent his remaining years suffering from advanced syphilis.
Capone was only one of many gangsters to spend time in the Big A. Irish-American hoodlum James "Whitey" Bulger served three years here in the mid-'50s for armed robbery and hijacking before returning to Boston to take charge of a crime ring that controlled much of the narcotics trade throughout New England. A fugitive since 1994, Bulger is widely thought to have been the inspiration for the mob boss portrayed by Jack Nicholson in The Departed.
Old-school Mafia Don Vito Genovese ended up in Atlanta for heroin dealing not long after he had finished bumping off rivals to secure his place as boss of the country's pre-eminent crime family. Reportedly, he continued to run the family business from behind bars until his death in 1969.
After the fabled French Connection narcotics ring had been broken up in the late '60s, Vincent Papa, a major New York drug runner, organized one of the most brazen series of thefts in that city's history. Over the course of three years, more than 250 pounds of seized heroin was stolen from the NYPD property room and replaced with baking flour. The switch was only discovered when police noticed the powder was being eaten by small beetles.
Although Papa was convicted for the scheme and sent to Atlanta in 1972, authorities never solved the question of how he managed to get the drugs out of the heavily guarded room. Five years later, Papa took his secret to the grave when he was stabbed to death by inmates reputedly hired by Lucchese family mobsters who'd heard the rumor – spread by then-prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani – that he was talking to the feds.
In 1957, Atlanta became home to Rudolph Abel, a Soviet superspy whose real name was Vilyam Fischer. After supervising Moscow's entire U.S. espionage network for decades, Abel was finally caught when the FBI found one of the hollow nickels he used to hide microfilm. He was returned to the Motherland in a secret 1962 swap with downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.
Gifted con man Frank Abagnale had already successfully impersonated an airline pilot, a pediatrician and an attorney when, at the ripe age of 23, he was sent to Atlanta in 1971. He didn't stay long. Abagnale reportedly walked out the front gate by pretending to be an undercover prison inspector. Later recaptured, he served less than five years in prison and now runs a thriving consulting firm specializing in fraud prevention.
During his 1970s heyday, Atlanta's own "Scarface of Porn," Mike Thevis, owned more than 500 adult bookstores, controlled distribution of 40 percent of the country's pornography and was raking in $100 million a year. Thevis was convicted of burning down a competitor's business in 1978, and he escaped from jail to shotgun the former associate (and a bystander) who'd ratted him out. Thevis was recaptured and briefly held in the Atlanta Pen before being sent off to a federal prison in Minnesota to serve a life sentence.
Another notable Atlantan to pass through the Big A was Fred Tokars, a former prosecutor and magistrate judge who had his wife killed in 1992 rather than pay a divorce settlement. Hit man Curtis Rower kidnapped Sara Tokars and her two young sons, then shot her in the back of the head with a sawed-off shotgun as the children watched. Sent away for life, Tokars now suffers from MS in a federal prison infirmary in Florida.
Charles Harrelson, father of Woody Harrelson of "Cheers" fame, was sent to Atlanta for the notorious 1988 murder of a federal judge in Texas. A freelance contract killer, the elder Harrelson is often cited by conspiracy buffs who place him on the Grassy Knoll during JFK's assassination. After a failed escape attempt, he was sent to the Supermax facility in Colorado, where he died in his sleep in March.
The Atlanta Pen's last real celebrity prisoner was ill-starred baseball star Denny McLain.
A two-time winner of the Cy Young Award as a Detroit Tiger and the last major-league pitcher to win 30 games, he finished his career with the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately, McLain also was a born flimflam man who makes Pete Rose look like the Dalai Lama.
Even as a player, he was suspended for running a bookmaking operation and once cost his team a pennant race when he had his toes broken by a Mob loan shark. Not long after leaving baseball, McLain declared bankruptcy for the second time, fell in with gamblers, and was convicted of racketeering, extortion and cocaine possession.
On arriving in Atlanta in 1985, the former all-star tipped the scales at 275 pounds and was in such bad shape that when he pitched in a jail-yard baseball game, he had to be relieved after the sixth inning and his team lost 25-5.
McLain was eventually released two-and-a-half years into a 23-year prison sentence when it was proved that several of the jurors who'd convicted him had slept through the trial. But, unable to stay out of trouble, he spent another six years behind bars for looting the pension fund of a company he'd bought, finally getting sprung in 2003.
In his various memoirs, McLain singled out the Big A as the filthiest and most dangerous of the many prisons he'd known, once writing: "After Atlanta, the men's room at a Texaco would look like a hospital operating room."
Thanks to Scott Henry
Monday, October 22, 2007
Johnny Roselli was the mob's ambassador-without-portfolio, corrupting the film industry's unions in Hollywood and becoming the go-to guy in Las Vegas and Miami. After testifying before a Senate committee and emerging as a player in the mob's long-rumored involvement in JFK's assassination, his body washed up off Miami.
Meyer Lansky was the mob's gambling czar and set up casinos in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Hot Springs, Ark., New Orleans, Las Vegas, Florida and Cuba. Refused citizenship in Israel, he retired to Miami. Immortalized by actor Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth in "The Godfather II."
Vito Genovese sought to dethrone Lucky Luciano as capo di tutti capi; conspired to assassinate mob rival Frank Costello, leading to the ill-fated mob conference in Apalachin, N.Y., that put the Mafia under the eye of investigators. Died in federal prison after mob cohorts reportedly set him up on a heroin rap.
Paul Castellano, Gambino's heir, ran meat and poultry businesses and lived sumptuously in a Todt Hill, S.I., mansion known as "The White House." Dapper Don John Gotti supposedly orchestrated his Dec. 16, 1985, assassination outside a Manhattan steakhouse.
Frank Costello was a Tammany Hall fixer and diplomat whose gravel-voiced persona supposedly was the inspiration for Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in "The Godfather." Lived on Park Avenue and in Sands Point, L.I.; retired after Vito Genovese's failed assassination bid in May 1957.
Carmine Galante, a feared hit man and dope dealer, assumed the reins of the Bonanno crime family in the '70s; was gunned down at an Italian restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where his bullet-riddled body lay crumpled on the ground, a cigar still hanging from his mouth.
Mickey Cohen, head of Los Angeles gambling rackets, maintained a host of powerful friends, including Frank Sinatra - who once appealed to him to get mobster Johnny Stompanato to stop dating Ava Gardner. Depicted by Harvey Keitel in the 1991 film "Bugsy" and by Paul Guilfoyle in 1997's "L.A. Confidential."
Carlo Gambino infiltrated the garment industry while heading the country's largest and most powerful mob family, yet managed to avoid the limelight - and the scrutiny of cops - by living quietly at 2230 Ocean Parkway in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Died of a heart attack in 1976.
James Ralph "Bottles" Capone was the lesser-known and benignly named brother of the Windy City's uber-gangster, Al "Scarface" Capone. Lived with a sister at Martha Lake, near Mercer, Wis., and was said to have had numerous arrests - but no felony convictions. He reputedly owned a vending machine business in western Chicago.
Charles "Lucky" Luciano, considered a visionary in mob history, helped engineer the five-family crime structure in New York City. Given 30 years for running brothels, he served only a decade behind bars, with the proviso that he be deported to Italy.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Friends of mine: Peter "Petey Cap" Caporino
"Petey Cap" could have cashed in his chips and gone home, but he just couldn't give up his illegal gambling racket in Hudson County . And now it's going to land the 70-year-old back in prison for up to seven years.
"He just doesn't know how to do anything else," attorney Sam DeLuca said of his client, Peter Caporino, who pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Peter Vazquez yesterday.
Caporino ran illegal gambling for more 40 years and was an FBI informant for two decades. He operated out of his social club, the Character Club, on Monroe Street in Hoboken . A portion of his take was passed up the chain of Genovese crime family bosses.
In 2002, Caporino pleaded guilty to money laundering involving illegal gambling proceeds and was sentenced to five years in prison, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said. That sentence was suspended when he agreed to wear a wire for the FBI and help prosecute 15 reputed Genovese crime family associates. During that federal prosecution last year he testified that he continued to run his illegal gambling business even though the feds told him to stop.
After those prosecutions Caporino could have walked away and never looked back. Instead, things quickly fell apart.
Last month, he was arrested at his Hasbrouck Heights home and charged with leading an organized crime network, promoting gambling and possession of gambling records, officials said.
On Aug. 16 last year, he was arrested in Hoboken by Jersey City police and charged with promoting gambling and possession of gambling records, officials said.
The plea deal struck yesterday includes reinstatement of the five-year suspended sentence. Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to leading an organized crime network and prosecutors are asking that he be sentenced to seven years for that crime. He also pleaded guilty to promoting gambling, and prosecutors are seeking a five-year term for that. The prison terms are to run concurrently.
The sweep that netted Caporino in June also resulted in the arrest of his wife, Ann Caporino, 68, on the charge of possession of gambling records; and Andy Rush, 70, of Liberty Avenue in North Bergen , on the charge of conspiracy to promote gambling, officials said. The charge against Ann Caporino was dropped as part of her husband's plea deal. The charge against Rush stands.
Caporino was in prison from June 21, 1996 to April 21, 1997, corrections officials said. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 7.
Thanks to Michaelangelo Conte
Friday, June 01, 2007
New Yorkers have been given a rude awakening to the continued presence of the Mafia in their midst with the arrest of Danny "the Lion" Leo, the reputed boss of the city's most powerful crime family.
Many had assumed the tide of prosperity pouring through New York had washed away the Mafia clans who once terrorised their city. Instead, it appears the mafia is very much alive.
Prosecutors say that Leo, 65, arrested on charges of loan sharking and extortion, is head of the powerful Genovese family, one of the so-called "five families" that ruled the Mafia in New York for half a century. "Two hundred or so members of this violent, ruthless criminal organisation can only commit acts of violence with the approval of the acting boss," said Eric Snyder, the assistant US attorney. "That's the type of power he holds."
Leo's indictment reads like pages from Mario Puzo's bestseller The Godfather. There are "soldiers", the hit men, "capos" or captains, and defendants with colourful nicknames. Prosecutors claim that Leo's right-hand man is "Fat Charlie" Salzano, a 26½ stone enforcer caught on wiretaps threatening to shoot his victims.
Leo has been charged with conspiring to demand $250,000 protection from a Harlem taxi company owner, with Salzano promising in the wiretap evidence that he will "turn you out" if the money is not paid.
Leo, who lives in a mansion in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York, insists he is innocent, pleading not guilty to all charges.
His supporters point to his almost unblemished criminal record: he has a single conviction, 25 years ago, for contempt of court when he refused to testify in a murder trial. But prosecutors say he is proof of the continuing existence, and prosperity, of arguably the biggest and most successful criminal organisation in history - the infamous five families.
They were first revealed to the world in evidence in a 1959 investigation. The five families had been set up before the Second World War as an arrangement whereby the city's crime gangs attempted to rationalise their organisations. Killings of justice officials were banned, a "commission" set up to regulate disputes, and the omerta, the Sicilian vow of silence, was cemented in place with a promise of execution against any member breaking it.
The Genovese family, named after its founder, Vito Genovese, was arguably the most powerful, smashing its way to the top by bringing mass heroin smuggling to the United States.
Leo is accused of taking the mantle of leader from the former Genovese boss Vincent "the Chin" Gigante. When Gigante died in prison two years ago many assumed that his "family" - actually a grouping of several families - would plough their money into legal enterprises and leave the gangster life to the newer, hungrier, gangs from Russia and Central America.
Leo's arrest comes a fortnight after the justice department announced a separate trial of two men accused of being from the same crime family, charged with conspiracy to murder. And New Yorkers are waiting to see if it will mark the start of a new campaign by the authorities against organised crime.
Mr Synder insists that the Mafia remains potent and that the trial will expose the hold that criminal gangs have in the US.
Thanks to Chris Stephen
Monday, November 20, 2006
So it is fitting that New York's latest mob boss has roots in the same western Sicilian town that has exported some of the city's toughest mobsters for generations. His name is Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna, 35, the reputed acting head of the Bonanno crime family.
Like the legendary Joseph Bonanno, model for "The Godfather," Montagna was born in Castellammare del Golfo. His family immigrated first to Canada (he has cousins who run a gelato business there) and then to New York.
It was last week that the Daily News exclusively reported that law enforcement authorities determined the Bonanno family, its ranks decimated by prosecutions, has turned to the youthful Montagna to take the leadership reins.
A hardscrabble fishing village clinging to a mountain rising steeply out of the sea 40 miles west of Palermo, Castellammare has been a stronghold of the Mafia for centuries, its men known for their pride, clannishness and violence when crossed.
Now a town of 20,000, its name - translated as the Castle at the Sea - comes from a ruined but still forbidding Saracen fortress near the small marina. The marble mausoleums clustered in the town cemetery bear many family names that became famous in New York: Bonanno, Profaci and Galante chief among them.
Questions about the Montagna family are greeted with some hostility. There is one Montagna listed in town, but no one answered the phone and asking around in his neighborhood wasn't fruitful. "I know him, but he's dead," said one of the old men lounging over coffee at a cafe. "Sorry."
During Mussolini's brutal crackdown on the Mafia in the 1920s, scores of Castellammarese fled to America, many settling in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The immigrants' ties to the land, each other and the Old World codes of honor gave rise to powerful, insular gangs that cornered the market on bootlegging, gambling and then-lucrative ice deliveries. Men from the town also went to Buffalo and Chicago, where they started their own mobs.
In the 1930s, New York was rocked by the Castellammarese War, which pitted immigrant mobsters from the town - led by Bonanno, Joseph Profaci and then-boss Salvatore Maranzano - against factions from Calabria and Naples, including Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. The bloody war ended when Maranzano set up an organizational structure for La Cosa Nostra and divided New York City into five families.
At 26, Bonanno was nearly a decade younger than Montagna when he came to head his own family. Then, as now, immigrants from Castellammare were prized soldiers.
Bonanno, in his autobiography, "A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno," wrote of their discipline and the importance of ancient family ties. He told a family legend about his Uncle Peppe ordering a younger man to strip off his shirt and take an undeserved lashing with a whip. "It's one thing to say you're never going to talk against your friends, but it's quite another not to talk when someone is beating you. I wanted to see how well you took a beating," Bonanno recalled his uncle saying.
His affection for his birthplace was evident: He spoke of playing in the fortress as a child, the taste of fresh mullet caught in the gulf nearby and the smell of lemons on the wind. When he died in 2002 at the age of 97 in Arizona, his funeral cards bore the image of Santa Maria del Soccorso, the patron saint of Castellammare del Golfo.
Another Castellammarese, Joseph Barbara, hosted the notorious Appalachian Mafia Conference of 1957, which was raided by the cops and began the mob's long slow decline.
In the past decade, Italian authorities have made a great effort to crack down on gangsters, and Castellammare is now thriving, with new six-story blocks of condos going up on the outskirts of town and fewer poor laborers leaving in search of a better life. But the port city is still a major center of Mafia activity in western Sicily.
The crew filming "Ocean's 12" in nearby Scopello in 2004 were caught up in it when 23 people - including a local police commander - were busted after a year-long probe of a sprawling Castellammarese extortion racket that included surveillance of the film set. Producer Jerry Weintraub later hotly denied widespread Italian news reports that the film crew was being shaken down with threats of arson on the set and that film's stars - George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones - might have been in danger.
The national daily newspaper Corriere della Sera said the local Mafia is known for targeting moviemakers and has a lock on the hiring of extras.
While the ancient codes still hold sway, the gangsters are keeping up with the times and enforcement has gone high-tech. When producers of a recent feature wouldn't cooperate, thugs broke into the production offices and erased the moviemakers' hard drive's to make their point.
There have been other signs of modernity. Two of the highest ranking Mafiosi arrested in a big 2004 Castellammare bust were women - the wives of the town's top Mafia chieftains. Italian authorities said it would have been unheard of even a few years ago for women to get involved in protection rackets, but bragged that their prosecutions have been so successful that most of the men are now behind bars.
In New York, parallel crackdowns on the mob have put half the Bonanno family soldiers behind bars. So once again, the family has looked to the tough men and closed mouths of Castellammare del Golfo's crooked streets.
Thanks to Helen Kennedy
Sunday, October 29, 2006
The best place to start mixing with The Mob is in St John's Cemetery out on Long Island. This is where the Mafia Dons of New York are buried.
Beneath their sepulchres and towering granite angles lie the bodies of such notorious mobsters as Carlo Gambino and Aniello "The Hat" Dellacore. A few tombstones away are the vaults of Joe Columbo, Vito Genovese and , Salvatore "Lucy" Luciano.
They each headed one of the Families -- the euphemistic name for the gangs who ruled New York -- with the ruthlessness of medieval monarchs. Today they remain identifiable entities only through their names carved in wood and stone. But there is not so much as a chisel mark to commemorate their links -- and fights -- with that other great Mob, the Irish Mafia. Born in the early 19th century out of street gangs protecting and exploiting immigrants from the Old Country, by the arrival of Prohibition the Irish Mafia had become a powerful player in bootlegging -- and all the crimes that went with it: burglarising shops, dominating pool halls, stealing from the docks.
No racket was too small for the Irish Mafia. And like their Italian counterparts, the Irish Bosses attracted colourful names: "One Lung" Curran, Owney "The Killer" Madden, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll.
Hard drinking, flashily dressed and always a girl on their arms, they extended the Irish Mob's influence to all the major US cities. Many of the great crimes were laid at their door. One was the Pottsville Heist, when half a million dollars was stolen in a Philadelphia bank robbery by the K&K gang in 1974. Its members were Irish born Americans, many of them blue-collar workers and the gang had become a powerful player in gambling, loan sharking and mass thievery across the State.
By the 1980s they had moved into drugs. Thirty-six K&K members were arrested. One fled to Dublin. But the gang still thrived. In 2003, its then leader, Ray Matorno, plotted to remove the Italian Mafia's hold over the Philadelphia underworld. He brought in a dozen hitmen for the coming war. But before he could issue the time-honoured order "time to go to the mattresses", he was gunned down on his way to keep a doctor's appointment. His physician was quoted as saying: "The amount of led he took would have required a foundry to plug all the holes".
To visit St John's cemetery is to step back in your mind's eye to the days of the G-men, Tommy-guns and Omerta -- the code of silence of Cosa Nostra, the generic name for the Families. It was this the Irish mafia has continued to subscribe to.
Strolling through St John's I sensed that look of surprise which must have crossed the face of Carlo, head of the Gambino family, as he had left the Brooklyn apartment of one of his mistresses in July 1972 -- to be shot dead as he entered his chauffeured car.
The roll call of names is the history of the Italian Mob in New York. Some died in harness. Most succumbed to a bullet in the head. Their silent tombs don't distinguish. But for those who want a social history of a different kind, a visit to St John's is a starting point for a journey back in time -- one that spawned probably more classic gangster movies than any other genre.
The Irish Mafia sprang on to the screen with a series of film noir movies in the 1940s starring super stars of their day like James Cagney, Spencer Tracey and Pat O'Brien. They became known in Hollywood as "the screen Irish Mafia". You can still catch them on late night movie screenings of, "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938) in which Cagney returns to New York's Hells Kitchen to reclaim his right as the area's Irish Gang Boss; or "The Racket" (1928) where Thomas Meighan plays an Irish Chicago police officer taking on the local criminal syndicate. And don't forget the "St Valentine's Day Massacre" (1967) that captures the mood of the turbulent Thirties for the Irish Mafia as well as any gangster movie. Right up to "Brotherhood" (2006) the relationships, and influence, of the Irish gangs are caught on screen.
Among the gravestones at St John's cemetery you remember the voices of other stars who played the mobsters: George Raft as the head of a Family; Mickey Rooney, the swaggering hit-man for another; Marlon Brando in his greatest of all roles, "The Godfather".
Here in the graveyard, with the wind whistling in from the Atlantic and the distant sound of planes coming and going from Kennedy Airport, you can conjure up again those memorable words of Brando: "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse."
I'll make you a promise, spend a morning in St John's and you won't regret it. Here they are, the bad and the ugly, the fat and the profane, rich beyond dream. And most venerated -- at least within the closed world of the Mafia -- is the godfather of them all. The Gangster they called the "Dapper Don".
To the untold millions who have watched the movie trilogy, The Godfather, he was the inspiration for the memorable role Marlon Brando created. The "Don of Dons" was feared even from within the prison -- but a life-without-parole-prison-cell -- where he died in June 2002. He was ten years into his sentence, and the cancer finally did what no bullet had been able to do.
All it says below the brass cross on the polished wooden door to vault 341, Aisle C in the cemetery is "GOTTI". Below this word that once instilled terror throughout New York are the words: "John 1940-2002".
Born into an era when the Mob ruled New York, Gotti was given a funeral that has not been seen since those days.
Many of his peers ended their lives in New York's East River or out somewhere beyond the Statue of Liberty. Weighed down with their feet encased in concrete blocks, or iron bars welded around their waists. But instead of being laid to rest with the fishes, Gotti was carried in his hand-polished coffin through the streets of New York's Little Italy. His hearse was festooned with wreaths in the shape of horses' heads (Gotti was a great gambler); a giant cigar (one was always in his mouth); a winning hand of cards and a champagne glass (his favourite game and tipple).
The drive from the funeral home to the cemetery where he now lies in his air-conditioned vault takes about ten minutes.
For those who want to recreate the drive, a New York cabbie will oblige. Or you can do it in style, renting a gangland style white Cadillac from one of the firms which specialises in unusual tours. They're listed in the New York Yellow Pages.
Viewers of the smash-hit TV show, The Sopranos, will recognise some of the places en route to the cemetery.
There is Russo's Ice Cream Bar and Vincent's Original Clam Shop (both are close to 85th Street at 160th). Here you can sample some of the best ice cream in a Little Italy that prides itself on serving an unbeatable selection of iced confections. Or, if you fancy something more substantial, Vincent's clams are as juicy and perfectly cooked as you will find anywhere. Both places were where Gotti liked to sit with his hitmen, his accountants, and the lieutenants who ran his rackets.
Most mornings he would stroll down from his home at 160011 85th Street, his bodyguards fanned out around him, jackets bulging with guns. It must have been a scene no movie director could better.
Gotti's home is small for a man with such a huge appetite for everything criminal. It's a wood and brick fronted bungalow in Cape Cod style. The only unusual addition is the huge satellite dish on the roof, and the state-of-the-art security camera covering the front door and windows.
Gotti ran his operations from an office behind the city's Old St Patrick's, New York's first Roman Catholic cathedral. It was also the setting for the christening at which Michael takes up his duties at the end of The Godfather. The scene was recreated in a studio. But many a future Mobster was christened at the cathedral font.
Gotti's actual headquarters was at 247 Mulberry Street, just south of its junction with Prince Street. On almost any day you can see some of his men strolling along the pavement, their destination is often Umberto's Clam House. It's one of the best in Little Italy. The waiter will take your picture at one of the tables the Dapper Don like to sit at.
A slow walk away -- everyone in Little Italy seems to have that special not-quite-a-stroll way of moving -- is Mare Chiaro, at 176 Mulberry Street. The bar has been in the family for almost a century. It's also one of those places that will instantly be recognisable to anyone who has seen such movies as Kojak with Telly Savales, or Contract On Cherry Street with Frank Sinatra.
As you sip an ice cold beer you can listen to Old Blue Eyes belting it out on the jukebox in the corner. The time to go is mid-evening. The place then seems filled with characters who could have stepped out of any Mobster movie: hard-faced men and their over-painted women exchange rapid-fire dialogue few movies have ever captured.
Sparks Steak House at 210 East 46th Street has some of the best meat in town. But to eat like a Godfather you can expect to pay $100 a head -- and then comes the tip. You forget that extra 15% and you would be wise not to return.
As well as fine food Sparks is part of Mafia folklore. It was on the kerb outside that Paul Castellano, then the "Don of Dons", was assassinated on a pleasant day in 1985 by his own bodyguard -- John Gotti. Locals still walk carefully around the place where the body fell. To walk over the spot is deemed to be bad luck.
Over in Hells Kitchen, west of Time Square, is Druids on 10th Avenue. This was the headquarters of the Westies, the gang who became immortalised on film as the Goodfellas. The bar staff will tell you the bar was the place of countless murders -- and that at the end of every night their Mobster clients would always smash their glasses to destroy any evidence of fingerprints.
One evening so the story goes, a mobster took a head from a hatbox and rolled it down the bar. As it passed each drinker, he poured his beer over the head. True? Who knows? When you take a tour of the Mafia sites, it becomes hard to know what is real and what has been actually created on film.
Remember all those scenes in the old movies where a gangster is shot dead in a barber's chair? Well it did happen, more than once, in the barber's shop in the Park Sheraton Hotel at Seventh Avenue on 55th Street.
The most famous victim was Albert Anastasia who ruled Murder Incorporated until that day when a hitman shot him while he was being shaved.
The chair is still there. But the barber doesn't like to discuss it. Those days are gone, he will smile.
Maybe. But the flavour of that period still remains. And there is no better way to sample it than the New York City Mafia Tour Guide. Read it in your hotel room while watching the original Godfather. Then go out and see how many locations you can spot. It's fun -- and a rewarding way to get to know the city that never sleeps -- and where many a Mafia mobster rests, if not in peace, at least in that magnificently ornate cemetery at St John's, where the shadow of the Irish Mob hangs over their tombs.
Thanks to Gordon Thomas
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Vincent "Chin" Gigante, boss of the Genovese crime family, who was noted for walking the streets of the Village near his Sullivan St. social club dressed in pajamas and bathrobe and mumbling to himself, died in a federal prison hospital in Missouri on Dec. 19 at the age of 77. He was serving a 12-year sentence for racketeering, conspiring to kill the late John Gotti for Gotti's role in the unsanctioned killing of the Gambino crime boss Paul Castellano, and for obstructing justice by pretending - successfully for three decades - to be mad in order to avoid criminal prosecution. Gigante died of an apparent heart attack at 5:15 a.m. in the same Springfield, Mo., federal prison medical center where Gotti and other underworld bosses died.
He was a promising light-heavyweight boxer whose ring career in the 1940s was managed by Thomas Eboli, a reputed mobster. Impressed by Gigante's 21 boxing wins, the mob boss Vito Genovese took him under his wing. A doorman at The Majestic apartments on Central Park West identified Gigante as the shooter in the 1957 attempted assassination of the crime lord Frank Costello, whom Genovese was trying to supplant. Costello survived the shooting but refused to identify Gigante and the charges were dropped.
Gigante rose in the Genovese family and in 1985 became the boss, succeeding Philip Lombardo, according to a Daily News article. But Chin began his bizarre and deceptive behavior as early as 1969 when he was first hospitalized for psychiatric examination. He finally gave up the mad act in 2003 after federal investigators found prison witnesses who heard Gigante speaking very sanely on the telephone, according to a Daily News article
Gigante got his nickname because his mother called him Vincenzo (pronounced Vinchenzo). Born March 29, 1928, he was the third of five brothers. His mother moved into the Mitchell-Lama co-op at 505 LaGuardia Pl., and Gigante - who always had an apartment of his own in the South Village - frequently visited there until she died a few years ago.
City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who grew up in 505 LaGuardia Pl. and still lives there, said it was known that Gigante often came by the apartment of his mother, who spoke little English and was affectionately regarded in the building. "He spent quite a bit of time visiting his mother, both visiting and overnight," Gerson said. "He was a frequent, regular visitor, until he went out of town, so to speak."
Neighbors reportedly knew the building was sometimes under surveillance by federal agents and that Gigante brought associates there for meetings. The apartment is now home to a surviving brother, Reverend Louis Gigante, a retired priest, former Bronx councilmember and director of a Bronx nonprofit housing organization.
An older brother, Mario, 80, reputed to be an elder in the Genovese crime family, also survives. Vincent Gigante leaves five children that he had with his wife, Olympia, and three more children he had with another woman, Olympia Esposito.
Thanks to Albert Amateau
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Since the 1930s ascension of the Mafia, its leaders have departed "The Life" almost exclusively through their deaths. Albert Anastasia, Carmine Galante and "Big Paul" Castellano were brutally (and memorably) assassinated; Vito Genovese, John Gotti and "Fat Tony" Salerno died in prison.
A third, more palatable option emerged in recent years: The Witness Protection Program, for those who found relocation to Arizona preferable to interment in Queens. But an actual mob retirement, renouncing all illegal ties and income for a shot at the straight life, is a trick rarely turned. So it's no surprise that law enforcement officials remained skeptical about John A. "Junior" Gotti's claim that he did what his father, uncles and brother-in-law could not: quit the Gambino crime family.
Defense attorneys, arguing the younger Gotti had left organized crime in the late 1990s, managed to win a hung jury in the recent racketeering case against the mob scion. The mistrial indicated at least one juror was convinced that Gotti had gone legit.
Others are not as easily swayed. "You never leave the mob," said Bruce Mouw, former head of the FBI's Gambino squad. "Sometimes you're wishing you'd never gotten into it, when there's a contract on your life or you're going to jail. But you never leave."
Federal prosecutors agree; they were already considering a retrial for Gotti. Talk radio show host Curtis Sliwa, the target of a botched kidnapping attempt allegedly ordered by Gotti, expressed fear that Junior's possible release on bail could again make him a target.
The best known example of volunteer mob retirement was Joe Bonanno, who headed one of New York's original five families. After the bloody "Banana Wars," Bonanno ceded control of his family and bolted New York for Tuscon in 1968. He died peacefully in the Arizona desert three years ago, surrounded by his family, at age 97.
While Bonanno considered himself out of the crime business, authorities disagreed. He wound up serving 14 months in 1985-86 after refusing to testify at "The Commission" trial that earned 100-year jail terms for the heads of the Colombo, Genovese and Lucchese families.
The mob's induction ceremony, with the burning of a saint's picture and a blood oath of silence, makes it clear that leaving the family is a move taken at great risk for even low-level members. Death is the penalty for breaking any of the Mafia code, particularly omerta.
Gotti was 24 when he was became a Gambino family "made man" in a Christmas 1988 ceremony at his dad's Little Italy hideaway, the Ravenite Social Club. But he's distanced himself from the mob life lately.
Gotti, in various prison conversations recorded by authorities, expressed disgust to family and friends about following his father into the mob. In October 2003, Gotti said his association with the Gambinos had ended six years earlier. "Believe me, I like it better that way," he said. "I sleep better ... I just want to do my time, go home and go fishing."
He may go home on bail as early as Monday. But Gotti is likely to remain a target for catch of the day by law enforcers who reject his purported mob repudiation.
Veteran defense attorney Ed Hayes, a Court TV commentator, said Gotti's defense combined "good strategy and a good lawyer." But does that mean Gotti is no longer a top-echelon member of the Gambino family?
"Absolutely not," said Mouw. "The only way of leaving is by the slab. You're in the mob for life."
Thanks to Larry McShane
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