The Chicago Syndicate

Monday, June 10, 2019

Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness

From burglary to armed robbery and murder, infamous bad guy Frank Cullotta not only did it all, in Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness, he admits to it--and in graphic detail.

This no-holds-barred biography chronicles the life of a career criminal who started out as a thug on the streets of Chicago and became a trusted lieutenant in Tony Spilotro's gang of organized lawbreakers in Las Vegas. Cullotta's was a world of high-profile heists, street muscle, and information--lots of it--about many of the FBI's most wanted. In the end, that information was his ticket out of crime, as he turned government witness and became one of a handful of mob insiders to enter the Witness Protection Program.

"Frank Cullotta is the real thing," says Nicholas Pileggi in the book's Foreword, and in these pages, Cullotta sets the record straight on organized crime, witness protection, and life and death in mobbed-up Las Vegas.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Frank Lucas, Hollywood´s "American Gangster," and La Cosa Nostra Connection

Special to The Chicago Syndicate by Ron Chepesiuk

Hollywood has been hard at work molding the image of former 1970s Harlem drug trafficker Frank ¨Superfly¨ Lucas into the prototype of the modern American gangster. Frank Lucas, Hollywood´s 'American Gangster,' and La Cosa Nostra Connection The image of the Lucas character, played by Denzel Washington, has some shades of Edgar G. Robinson´s Little Caesar and Al Pacino´s Scarface, but while ruthless, the character is also African American, entrepreneurial, independent and even visionary. As part of the creation, Universal, the movie´s maker, would have us believe that Lucas was so entrepreneurial and independent that he became the first black gangster to break free of La Cosa Nostra´s iron grip on the American heroin trade and develop his own independent heroin trafficking network.

In the 2000 New York magazine article upon which the ¨American Gangster¨ movie is based, author Mark Jacobson wrote that if he (Lucas) really wanted to become "white-boy rich, Donald Trump rich," Lucas thought, he'd have to ´cut out the guineas (Italian American mafia). He'd learned as much working for Bumpy (Johnson) , picking up "packages" from Fat Tony Salerno's Pleasant Avenue guys, men with names like Joey Farts and Kid Blast.¨

Jacobson quotes Lucas as saying, ¨I needed my own supply. That's when I decided to go to Southeast Asia. Because the war was on, and people were talking about GIs getting strung out over there. I knew if the shit is good enough to string out GIs, then I can make myself a killing."

In the movie, the Italian American mafia is represented by the character Dominic Cattano. Played by Amand Assante, Cattano works out a deal in which Superfly becomes the white Mob´s major supplier of potent Number 4 heroin from Southeast Asia. At the end of the ¨historic¨ meeting, Lucas dramatically tells his wife: ¨ They (the Mob) work for me now.¨

So how accurate is Hollywood´s depiction of the Lucas--La Cosa relationship? Not very. It´s one of many inaccuracies that make the movie largely a work of fiction. Frank Lucas did not have any independent source of Asian heroin, and he was never in any position to dictate business terms to the Mob. In fact, for most of his career, Lucas got his smack the old fashion way: from La Cosa Nostra.

First some historical background. From the 1950s through the 1960s, the old reliable French Connection dominated the heroin drug trade. It was an efficient network in which Corsican gangsters transported the morphine base from the poppy fields grown in Turkey to Marseille, France. The morphine base was then refined into heroin and smuggled into the U.S., the connection´s biggest market, via Sicily, Italy, and Montreal, Canada.

It was efficient network that, according to the U.S. government reports, accounted for as much as 80 percent of the heroin smuggled into the U.S. By the early 1970s, however, international law enforcement was having great success against the French Connection and taking down its key mobsters. Meanwhile, the U.S persuaded the Turkish government to tighten surveillance of the country´s poppy fields, purchase the poppy crop from its farmers and institute procedures to encourage crop substitution. By 1972, the French Connection was in shambles.

Up until law enforcement began having success against Lucas, he, like other New York city heroin dealers, was getting his heroin supply from La Cosa Nostra. My research shows that Lucas did not come to Bangkok, Thailand until about 1974. Joe Sullivan a retired DEA agent who worked drug cases in East Harlem in the 1970s, recalled: ¨The French Connection was in the process of being dismantled and the supply was tight and expensive,. All the big drug traffickers, including Lucas, was getting their heroin supply from the Italians. Lucas was getting it for about $200,000 a kilo.¨

It didn´t mean that Lucas wasn´t making a lot of money in getting his heroin from the Mob. As Sullivan revealed.¨They (La Cosa Nostra) trusted their foreign contacts and were satisfied with bringing their heroin into the country. But the Italians thought it beneath them to whack the heroin, mix it, put it in glassine envelopes and hawk in the street. They preferred to sell their heroin to the black dealers. A few black dealers, such as Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, became successful controlling the drug business on the street while insulating themselves from the actual distributor.¨

When this author asked Lucas if he had ever worked with the Italian mob, the mere suggestion was enough to set off the old drug trafficker. ¨I was not going to have no fucking fat guy leaning back in the chair, smoking a $20 cigar and bragging how he had another nigger in Harlem working for him,¨Superfly roared. ¨I don´t play that game. The Italians were charging $50,000 to 75,000 a kilo, and I was getting it for $4,000 a kilo (from Asia). My junk traveled from the Mekong Valley to the Ho Chi Minh trail to the U.S.¨

The historical record, however, suggests that for most of Superfly´s criminal career it was otherwise. In June 1974, Lucas went to trial with 12 others for conspiracy to traffic heroin. It was just seven months before the authorities raided his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, and busted him for good. And still at that late date, no mention is made in the court records and in the press of any Asian connection in his drug trafficking plan. That didn´t happen until 1977 when Lucas was in prison and got busted again for trying to keep his heroin network operating.

One defendant in that 1974 trial was prominent Italian American mobster Ralph Tutino, aka ¨The General.¨ Lucas, Tutino and the other defendants were accused of involvement in a heroin smuggling conspiracy. The prosecutor identified Tutino as the principle heroin supplier, and Lucas, along with Robert Stepeney, another heroin drug dealer, as the major distributors.

According to the indictment, La Cosa Nostra mobster Antonio DeLutro delivered a package of about 11 pounds of heroin to Anthony Verzino in November1973 and received, as payment, $250,000 in two installments. Then in December 1973, Mario Perna, and Ernest Maliza, two other La Cosa mobsters, delivered a package containing 22 pounds of heroin to Lucas at the Van Cortlandt Motel in the Bronx. As these transactions clearly show, Lucas was getting his dope from La Cosa Nostra.

Tutino, who lived in the Bronx but had his headquarters in East Harlem, was a big-time heroin trafficker during the French Connection´s heyday. When the authorities busted the French Connection in 1972, many La Cosa Nostra godfathers who had thrived in the old days were now having trouble finding sources of heroin supply. But not Tutino. The authorities suspected him of having a direct connection to Mexican and Asian suppliers.

Lew Rice, a former DEA agent, interrogated Lucas when he decided to become an informant after facing 70 years in jail. According to Rice, after being busted for heroin trafficking, Lucas readily acknowledged to Rice that La Cosa Nostra was his major source of supply. ¨Lucas told me he was getting his heroin from Tutino, The General,¨ Rice recalled.

Lucas´ relationship with La Cosa Nostra could only be described as a rocky marriage of convenience, for Superfly, according to DEA sources, was constantly in deep financial trouble with La Cosa Nostra. He even owed two well-connected mafioso from the Gambino crime family $300,000 and only managed to avoid ending up buried in cement because the two Gambino crime family mobsters were arrested and carted off to jail in 1974.

The mobsters faced the prospect of long prison sentences, so they began singing like the proverbial canary. They revealed that one of their biggest customers for heroin was a prominent and flamboyant black drug dealer named Frank Lucas, who liked to call himself "Superfly." The informants' information allowed the authorities to obtain a search warrant, which authorized the raid on Lucas's house on Sheffield Road in Teaneck, New Jersey, in late January, 1975. This was the beginning of the end of Frank Lucas´s big-time criminal career, thanks to La Cosa Nostra.

Leslie Ike¨ Atkinson, a former U.S. army master sergeant and prominent black American drug dealer of the 1960s to mid 1970s, not Lucas, was the one who pioneered the Asian heroin connection. It is Atkinson, DEA sources confirm, who supplied Superfly with his Asian heroin, making him, not Lucas, deserving of the title, ¨American Gangster.¨

Atkinson, whom the DEA dubbed ¨Sergeant Smack,¨ got a close up look at Lucas´ dealings with La Cosa Nostra. In a recent interview, he remembered the time he was imprisoned in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in the mid 1970s and two members of the Italian American mob paid him a visit. ¨´Frank Lucas said to come see you,´ one of the gangsters told me. ´He did what?´ I said. The mobsters said: ´Frank owes us $80,000 and he said you would take care of it.¨ Atkinson laughed. ¨Frank actually thought he could send two wise guys to me and I would pay off his debt."

Atkinson recalled another occasion when he went to New Jersey to pick up some money Lucas owed him. When he arrived at his destination, Lucas had men posted outside his residence. Superfly was in deep trouble with the Mob again.

So, yes, La Cosa Nostra did come to Frank ¨Superfly¨ Lucas. But it was to collect money owed him, not to get its heroin supply.

Investigative journalist Ron Chepesiuk is a consultant to the History Channel´s ¨Gangland¨ series and the co-author and co-producer of the book and DVD titled SUPERFLY: THE TRUE-UNTOLD STORY OF FRANK LUCAS THE AMERICANGANGSTER

Prison for Coaches from @GamecockMBB, @OSUMBB, @APlayersProgram + Probation for @USC_Hoops Coach for NCAA Bribery Scheme #Corruption

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that LAMONT EVANS, a former assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of South Carolina (“South Carolina”) and Oklahoma State University (“OSU”), and EMANUEL RICHARDSON, a/k/a “Book,” a former assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of Arizona (“Arizona”), were each sentenced to three months in prison, and that ANTHONY BLAND, a/k/a “Tony,” a former assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of Southern California (“USC”), was sentenced to a term of probation, each for accepting cash bribes from athlete advisers in exchange for using their influence over the student-athletes they coached to retain the services of the advisers paying the bribes. The defendants were sentenced in Manhattan federal court by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Anthony Bland, Emanuel Richardson, and Lamont Evans, all former men’s basketball coaches at NCAA Division I universities, abused their positions as mentors and coaches for personal gain. They took bribes from unscrupulous agents and financial advisers to steer their players to those agents and advisers. For their crimes, Richardson and Evans will serve time in federal prison, while Bland will serve a sentence of probation. These convictions and sentencings send a strong message that bribery in the world of college basketball is a crime, and that those who participate in such crimes will be held accountable for their corrupt actions.”

According to the allegations contained in the Complaint, Indictment, Superseding Indictment, evidence presented during the trial, and statements made in Manhattan federal court:

Overview of the Scheme

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) have been investigating the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate basketball governed by the NCAA. The investigation revealed that numerous basketball coaches at NCAA Division I universities, including EVANS, RICHARDSON, and BLAND, received bribes and agreed to receive bribes in exchange for agreeing to pressure and exert influence over student-athletes under their control to retain the services of the bribe payers, including Christian Dawkins, Merl Code, and Munish Sood, once the athletes entered the National Basketball Association (“NBA”).

Beginning in 2016, and continuing into September 2017, when EVANS was arrested, EVANS received approximately $22,000 in cash bribes from current and aspiring financial advisers and/or managers, including Dawkins and Sood, in exchange for EVANS’s agreement to exert his influence over certain student-athletes EVANS coached at South Carolina and OSU to retain the services of the bribe payers once those players entered the NBA. In one meeting recorded during the investigation, EVANS explained how “every guy I recruit and get is my personal kid,” and that “the parents believe in me and what I do . . . that’s why I say, if I need X, so if I do take X for that, it’s going to generate [business] toward you guys,” referring to the bribe payers. EVANS also stated in a call recorded during the investigation how this arrangement was “generating more wealth” for the scheme participants, because they were “able to scratch my back, scratch yours, and help each other with different things and . . . at the same time get compensated and then . . . just go from there.” In return for the cash bribes EVANS received, EVANS, including at in-person meetings, attempted to pressure a player at OSU, and a relative of a different player attending South Carolina, into retaining the financial services of the bribe payers.

Beginning in or around February 2017, and continuing into September 2017, when RICHARDSON was arrested, RICHARDSON received approximately $20,000 in cash bribes from Dawkins and Sood in exchange for RICHARDSON’s agreement to exert his influence over certain student-athletes RICHARDSON coached at Arizona to retain the services of Dawkins and Sood once those players entered the NBA. For example, in discussing his commitment to steering Arizona players to retain the bribe payers upon entering the NBA, RICHARDSON told an undercover FBI agent and others, during a recorded meeting, “I used to let kids talk to three or four guys, but I was like, why would you do that? You know that’s like taking a kid to a BMW dealer, a Benz dealer, and a Porsche dealer.  They like them all . . . You have to pick for them.” In return for the cash bribes RICHARDSON received, RICHARDSON facilitated a meeting between the bribe payers, including Dawkins and Sood, and a relative of a player attending Arizona for the purpose of pressuring that player to retain the financial services of the bribe payers.

Beginning in or around July 2017, and continuing into September 2017, when BLAND was arrested, Dawkins paid a cash bribe to BLAND in exchange for BLAND’s agreement to exert his influence over certain student-athletes BLAND coached at USC, and to retain Dawkins’s and Sood’s business management and/or financial advisory services once those players entered the NBA. In particular, as BLAND told Dawkins and Sood during a recorded meeting, in return for their bribe payment, “I definitely can get the players. . . .  And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.” As part of the scheme, BLAND facilitated a meeting between Dawkins and Sood and a relative of a player attending USC, and a meeting between Dawkins and Sood and a relative of a USC recruit, both for the purpose of pressuring those players to retain the financial services of Dawkins and Sood.

In addition to the prison sentences, Judge Ramos ordered LAMONT EVANS, 41, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, to pay forfeiture in the amount of $22,000, EMANUEL RICHARDSON, 46, of Tucson, Arizona, to pay forfeiture in the amount of $20,000, and ANTHONY BLAND, 39, of Gardena, California, to pay forfeiture in the amount of $4,100. Each of the three defendants was sentenced to two years of supervised release, and EVANS and BLAND were also each sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

Christian Dawkins and Merl Code were each found guilty by a unanimous jury on May 8, 2019, of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Dawkins was also convicted of an additional count of bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for August 15, 2019, before Judge Ramos.

Munish Sood, a financial adviser, previously pled guilty, pursuant to a cooperation agreement with the Government, in connection with this scheme and is awaiting sentence.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Check out True Crime Addict by @JamesRenner

When an eleven year old James Renner fell in love with Amy Mihaljevic, the missing girl seen on posters all over his neighborhood, it was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with true crime. That obsession leads James to a successful career as an investigative journalist. It also gave him PTSD. In 2011, James began researching the strange disappearance of Maura Murray, a UMass student who went missing after wrecking her car in rural New Hampshire in 2004. Over the course of his investigation, he uncovers numerous important and shocking new clues about what may have happened to Maura, but also finds himself in increasingly dangerous situations with little regard for his own well-being. As his quest to find Maura deepens, the case starts taking a toll on his personal life, which begins to spiral out of control. The result is an absorbing dual investigation of the complicated story of the All-American girl who went missing and James’s own equally complicated true crime addiction.

James Renner’s True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, is the story of his spellbinding investigation of the missing person’s case of Maura Murray, which has taken on a life of its own for armchair sleuths across the web. In the spirit of David Fincher’s Zodiac, it is a fascinating look at a case that has eluded authorities and one man’s obsessive quest for the answers.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Former High-Ranking Member of Sinaloa Drug Cartel Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

A former high-ranking member of the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in trafficking large amounts of illegal drugs to the Chicago area.

VICENTE ZAMBADA-NIEBLA conspired with other Sinaloa members to import and distribute large quantities of illegal drugs into the United States. From approximately 1996 to 2008, Zambada-Niebla oversaw shipments of narcotics from Central and South America into Mexico and eventually into the U.S. The cartel covertly transported the drugs via private aircraft, submarines, container ships, fishing vessels, buses, tractor-trailers, automobiles, and other methods. Zambada-Niebla also oversaw the corresponding transfer of drug proceeds back to Mexico.

Zambada-Niebla, 44, has been in law enforcement custody since March 2009. He pleaded guilty in 2013 to a drug conspiracy charge and agreed to cooperate with the U.S. government in its efforts to dismantle the Sinaloa Cartel and one of its rivals, the Beltran-Leyva organization, and hold their leaders accountable in U.S. courts.

U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo imposed the 15-year sentence in federal court in Chicago.

The sentence was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Brian McKnight, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  Valuable assistance was provided by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago, and the Chicago Police Department.

“Zambada-Niebla played a major role in flooding the streets of Chicago with dangerous narcotics,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “Not only has he been brought to justice for his actions, but his extensive cooperation led to charges against dozens of other high-level drug traffickers in courts throughout the United States.”

“The DEA law enforcement team and prosecutorial partnerships continue to thrive and this sentencing is just one result of those great partnerships,” said SAC McKnight. “Members of the Sinaloa Cartel’s leadership have been held accountable for their actions. DEA will continue to focus investigative efforts to arrest the remainder of the Sinaloa Cartel leaders who are operating in Mexico to face justice in the United States.”

Zambada-Niebla is one of more than 20 members of the Sinaloa and Beltran-Leyva cartels to be indicted in federal court in Chicago. The investigation has resulted in seizures of approximately $30.8 million, approximately eleven tons of cocaine, 265 kilograms of methamphetamines, and 78 kilograms of heroin.

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