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FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES SPRING PRINT EDITION 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Driving While Black

It is a 148-mile stretch of asphalt that some black motorists refer to as “White Man’s Pass.” In their journeys along this dreaded roadway, which connects New York City with New Jersey and other points on the I-95 corridor, these motorists complain they are often catapulted headlong into an explosive collision with race, crime, and the law.

Since 1988—and possibly long before that—state police have been “engaged in a program of racial targeting” on the New Jersey Turnpike, according to court documents in a pending case against 19 black men and women who, in a joint motion, claimed they were illegally targeted, stopped, searched, and arrested by troopers on the turnpike in Gloucester County between January 1988 and April 1991. Allegedly, the troopers target blacks, especially those driving luxury cars such as BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, and Lexuses. The state police assert that it is a trumped-up conflict and deny they practice such a policy: if anything, they insist, their actions amount to nothing more than aggressive enforcement of traffic regulations. But for blacks, who experts say are nearly five times more likely than whites to be stopped on the turnpike, it is a case of constantly being picked on for DWB—Driving While Black.

O. J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran and other civil rights leaders maintain that this racially selective policing resulted in two white troopers firing 11 shots at four unarmed minority basketball players in a late-model Dodge Caravan they had stopped on the turnpike on April 23 near Exit 7A in Mercer County. Seriously injured in the April 23 incident, which attracted national attention, were Rayshawn Brown, 20, and Leroy G. Grant, 23, both of Manhattan, and Danny Reyes, 21, of Queens. The driver, Keshon L. Moore, 22, of Queens, was not hit. No charges have yet been filed in the incident, which is being investigated by a state grand jury.

A startling development in the case last Friday seemed to cast doubt on the assertions of discrimination made by Cochran, who is representing three of the men. Wayne D. Greenfeder, the white attorney for Rayshawn Brown, who was shot twice, told the Associated Press he is not sure racial profiling led to the traffic stop.

Seeking to reinforce the contention that overt racism is responsible for wide disparities between minorities and whites in police stops, the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey last week reached a tentative accord with New Jersey state police superintendent Colonel Carl A. Williams to have video cameras mounted in all state police cruisers to monitor stops. Asking troopers to police themselves, however, may strike a raw nerve with the New York City-based 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement and the New Jersey-based Black Cops Against Police Brutality, whose members have been threatened with arrest by the Turnpike Authority if they violate “restrictions on filming, photographing and videotaping on the Turnpike.”

“State Police will fully enforce these regulations,” Turnpike executive director Edward Gross warned in a May 22 letter to Black Cops Against Police Brutality.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, a defiant Eric Adams, who heads Blacks in Law Enforcement, and his partner Michael Greys left behind their NYPD-issued Glock 9mm pistols, armed themselves with video cameras, and took to patrolling the New Jersey highways in Greys’s Mercedes-Benz, looking for troopers who stalk innocent black motorists. Fifty other off-duty NYPD officers linked up with black cops and corrections officers from Trenton and Philadelphia and positioned themselves along suspected DWB checkpoints. “We notified these troopers that if we found anything suspicious we would film it, so I guess they were on their best behavior,” said Adams, adding that the black cops will conduct unannounced random patrols in the future.

TWO YEARS AGO, New Jersey Superior Court judge Robert E. Francis found that racial profiling “was tolerated and in certain ways encouraged at the highest levels in the State Police hierarchy, according to lawyers for the 19 blacks who consolidated their cases in 1990 to fight the charges. Declaring that the state police practiced “selective enforcement” during that period, Francis ruled that if the troopers had any evidence against the defendants it had been obtained illegally and must be suppressed. Many of the defendants, supposedly stopped for speeding, were in cars in which it was alleged that drugs, guns, and other contraband were found. Prosecutors are fighting to reinstate charges, and the case is now before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

“Indeed, this wrong decision has already encouraged many other defendants to pursue similar motions regarding stops on other highways in this state,” the New Jersey attorney general’s office complained in court papers. “[The] defendants utterly failed to prove their pernicious and baseless allegations of racially motivated selective prosecution.”

In legal papers opposing the state’s appeal, William H. Buckman and Justin Loughry, who represent four of the motorists, claim that “to this day the State Police attempts to justify its actions and record … on the Jim Crow notion that at least on the Turnpike blacks are inferior, that they drive worse, and that they therefore attract disproportionate police attention.”

The lawyers argued that state police wanted Judge Francis to “believe that blacks drive worse because they are stopped more. This ‘logic’ is … morally repugnant. Yet it is the essence of the State’s case. Without a shred of evidence, it seeks to blame en masse the victims of a State Police scheme to target blacks … on the Turnpike.

“Refusing to acknowledge [the judge’s] proven and morally reasonable conclusions, the State Police would rather return to a time when such repugnant assumptions were accepted as justification for discriminatory police action … The State’s retreat to stereotype proves … that this is an organization whose culture and values have allowed abuses of power to thrive. It is troubling that the State Police possess the arrogance to ask a court to adopt this throwback to a racist legacy.”

It was just such profiling that allegedly led troopers to pull over the minivan carrying the young basketball players. The troopers said that they flagged down the driver for speeding and opened fire when the van rolled backward and struck one of the troopers and a cruiser. It turned out that the men were on their way to basketball tryouts at North Carolina State University. The troopers recovered a Bible in the backseat.

In the wake of the shooting, scores of blacks, including retired NYPD cop James Powell, have come forward with stories about being demeaned and brutalized during traffic stops on the turnpike. Powell, 56, is suing New Jersey for $5 million for injuries to his back, spinal cord, knee, and wrists and “negligent infliction of emotional distress, shock, humiliation, embarrassment, pain, and suffering.” (The state attorney general’s office declined comment.)

Last December 5, according to Powell, he was on his way to North Carolina when he noticed two cruisers with red lights flashing behind him. (A state police official once testified in another case that a common technique is to follow a vehicle for a significant distance. When the driver keeps checking the mirror, it causes the car to weave.)

Powell pulled over his 1992 Cadillac Seville, but while waiting for the troopers to approach, he heard a booming voice from the cruiser’s loudspeaker order him to put his hands in the air or he would be shot. Powell said he threw up his hands and was told to get out of the car and “make no sudden moves” or he would be gunned down. “I had no doubt that if I had made some type of out-of-the-ordinary move I’d be shot,” said Powell, who was one of New York’s Finest for 14 years.

The troopers allegedly ordered Powell to place his hands over his head, get on his knees, and, for the third time, threatened to shoot him. “He said after dropping to his knees, his arms were twisted by a trooper, he was handcuffed behind his back, and placed in one of the police vehicles,” explained Powell’s attorney, Pace University law professor Randolph Scott-McLaughlin. He added that the troopers searched Powell’s car without his consent and continued to mistreat him even after they discovered his ID, which indicated that he was a retired police officer.

According to Scott-McLaughlin, the troopers had not stopped Powell for any traffic-related infraction but to interrogate him about an earlier dispute in which he was alleged to have threatened some gas station attendants. Powell, who denied threatening the attendants, was arrested, taken to the Moorestown state police barracks, and placed in a holding cell. Scott-McLaughlin argued that the troopers violated Powell’s civil rights by stopping his car “without a reasonable basis to conclude that he had committed a crime or was about to do so.”

PERHAPS THE NEW JERSEY troopers didn’t think they needed to have a reason for stopping James Powell. Former state troopers Kenneth Wilson and Kenneth Ruff testified during a 1996 hearing to suppress the charges brought by the 19 blacks that they were trained to target blacks on the turnpike.

Wilson testified that his instructor, Detective Uke Mannikus, told him that he had determined that Wilson would not, as attorneys Buckman and Loughry put it, “have a problem stopping blacks … He explained that Wilson would find that blacks were the ones primarily trafficking in drugs. He helped Wilson acclimate himself to looking for cars with southern license tags and young black male passengers, preferably two or three in a vehicle. He taught him to look for reasons to stop a car and for probable cause to ‘get into a car.’ Wilson testified that a trooper can find a motor vehicle violation for just about any car on the road.”

Mannikus denied ever telling Wilson to single out young black men, and prosecutors insisted that they “presented extensive testimony about the repeated training and instruction” given to troopers, who also had been warned that “racial profiling was strictly forbidden.”

Wilson was one of three troopers indicted in 1989 by a state grand jury in Trenton for allegedly assaulting and stealing money from a group of men stopped by one of the officers on the turnpike. Wilson plea-bargained with prosecutors and turned against his colleagues, who were later acquitted. He testified that he was questioned by two white internal affairs officers who ignored his allegations of racial profiling by fellow troopers.

“When he tried to tell them about racial profiling, he was told to stick to the case at hand, that he was telling them more than they wanted to know,” asserted Buckman and Loughry in recounting Wilson’s testimony.

Ruff testified he was told to always “look beyond the motor vehicle stop [when it involved] a Black man. However, Ruff did not have a strong interest in criminal enforcement and declined to engage in profiling,” according to the lawyers.

“While on patrol, he often observed troopers [parked] perpendicular to the road … with the high beams or spot-lights on and trained on the turnpike,” Buckman and Loughry wrote. “He often saw a car pulled onto the side of the road by another trooper, with the occupants out of the car, and could tell from the radio transmissions that the stop had not been called in. Sometimes he would stop to render backup in these situations, only to be waved off … In some of those situations he would observe a trooper known to engage in profiling pull up to assist and not be waved off.”

In the fall of 1989, after WOR-TV investigative reporter Joe Collum’s Without Just Cause uncovered massive evidence of state police racial profiling on the turnpike, Clinton Pagano, a top state police official, compiled an internal report claiming that “black people of American, Jamaican, and Nigerian background, and Hispanic people … are the people bringing drugs into and transporting them through New Jersey.” A major portion of Pagano’s report, which wound up in the hands of troopers throughout the state, was devoted to so-called intelligence on Jamaican posses. (Pagano, who served at the discretion of the governor, was replaced in 1991.)

According to Buckman and Loughry, troopers in training were shown a video of Jamaicans that one state police official “admitted was an unsubstantiated and fictionalized presentation intended to impart … that Jamaican posse members are violent. Without attribution or disclaimer, the ‘training’ film featured scenes from a sensationalized, fictional motion picture entitled ‘The Harder They Come.’”

“One such scene portrayed a Black man slashing another Black man with a knife,” the lawyers wrote. “Other portions of the training video showed … news footage of political rioting in Kingston [that had] nothing to do with drug trafficking. The video also showed a likeness of a Black man with dreadlocks in his hair wearing Jamaican-like garb followed by shots of the same black man with short, well-groomed hair and business attire. The voice-over warned that Jamaican posse members can disguise themselves to be indistinguishable from a professional black man.”

Racial profiling for black “drug couriers” may have resulted in the arrest of another police veteran on the Florida Turnpike. The key evidence in the case against Miami-Dade County police major Aaron Campbell was a videotape of Campbell’s April 9, 1997, encounter with overzealous white sheriff’s deputies. Campbell’s apprehension for resisting arrest and battery of a police officer was shown on national TV. He would later tell a jury he felt he had been unfairly targeted and stopped by the deputies because he was a black man. The 27-year police veteran maintained that the incident occurred only because the deputies were using a drug-courier profile when they pulled him over for changing lanes without signaling. He said that once they stopped him, the deputies used excessive force, and that he resisted them only in self-defense. A six-member jury convicted Campbell of resisting arrest, but cleared him of a felony charge of using violence.

THE PRACTICE OF RACIAL PROFILING on the New Jersey Turnpike allegedly has been finessed by some inventive troopers. If a vehicle is headed north, the profiler assumes the occupants are Colombian drug dealers ferrying their contraband to New York. If it’s southbound, it contains crack headed for the Carolinas.

Yet even the best racial profilers frequently miss their mark. From 1984 to 1988, Dr. Elmo Randolph, a black dentist from East Orange, New Jersey, who drove a gold-colored BMW, testified on behalf of the 19 blacks that he was stopped by the state police approximately 100 times on the turnpike.

“He was never issued a ticket or a written warning on any of those occasions,” according to the attorneys, who recount the doctor’s travails in their case histories. “While traveling the Turnpike he would see the troopers sitting perpendicular [to the road] in a cutout where Route 80 feeds into the Turnpike … to observe traffic. After dark, troopers would train their headlights and/or spotlights onto the highway so that they could look into cars.

“Dr. Randolph frequently observed troopers stop black motorists at night using that method. Most of the times that he was stopped, the trooper would obtain his … credentials and go back to the [cruiser]. He would return shortly with the credentials to the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Dr. Randolph would lower his window to be handed the credentials, and the trooper would … look around inside his car. He would be allowed to go on his way, after brief questioning, in most of these instances.”

On several of the stops, however, the officers asked Randolph to open the trunk of his car. “The troopers never asked to search his trunk, but rather they asked him to open it or if they could look in … On one occasion, when he refused to allow the trooper to [look in the trunk], the officer returned to the [cruiser] and sat there with his credentials for 15 or 20 minutes before returning them … and allowing him to go on his way. Dr. Randolph learned that it was easier to simply allow troopers to look in his trunk than to assert his constitutional rights. He could not afford to be late for his patients.”  ❖

 

From the Village Voice 2021 Spring print edition

 

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Wild in the Clubs: Sex Makes a Comeback

THREE YEARS AGO, the fabulous 5000 woke up to invites beckoning them to Palladium paja­ma parties (bring your own teddy bear), Area science fiction salutes, and Limelight “Down­town Divas” musical re­vues of cabaret singers and chanteuses singing songs like “Since I Fell for You” and “It’s Only Make Believe.” Today, they’re warmly in­vited to stripathons, fetish balls, “All-­Male Emporiums of Flesh and Fantasy” (with “realistic streetcorner action!”), and Lady Hennessy Brown squirting milk from her capacious ta-tas.

A slight change of mood? Tell me about it. Was it only two years ago that fools in little black dresses started lining up at Nell’s for the privilege of being snubbed by other fools in slightly more expensive little black dresses? Now the air is so charged with sexual shock that Karen Finley’s “Ooh, and I never touch her snatch ’cause she’s my granny”  — so em­barrassing to some in ’85 — is just a narra­tive slice-of-life, about as scandalous as a Shari Lewis and Lambchop routine.

All through the clubs, the air is tingling with a raunchiness that’s exciting as a subliminal force, but can turn creepy at the drop of a trou. The yearning masses who can’t have the sex they want because of AIDS come together at night and com­bust in a mood of horny suggestiveness, releasing all that frustrated energy in the ways that spring to mind through a vod­ka haze.

The club crowd — a young, creative mix of gays and straights with varying degrees of racial and cultural crossover — is start­ing to rebel against repression with little explosions of drunken, guilt-free pleasure. Compared to the wildness of past eras — ­like the revolutionary risk-taking of ’70s hedonism — the current stuff may seem tepid, since it’s usually trapped within late ’80s limitations of health and hygiene. But bubbling out from a funda­mentally traumatized club scene that as­sumed AIDS would end sex forever, it’s a rude reawakening.

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AIDS initially made all sex seem lethal, or at best joyless, and among many gays a kind of trench-warfare mentality set in­ — keep your head down till it’s over. Now that it’s been accepted that AIDS isn’t going to be over any time soon, some sort of sex is inevitably making a comeback. This comeback is fueled by the fact that a lot of straights are — not advisedly — convinced AIDS is staying within certain high-risk groups, so they can have any sex any way. With both safe and unsafe sex on the rise, ’89 promises to be the biggest year for libido in ages.

In this spirit, Rudolf’s new version of Danceteria, probably called Mars, opens this month to cater to unruly energy, and Frank Roccio’s Lift Up Your Skirt and Fly will soon surface as a nouveau plea­sure dome. “The AIDS epidemic really damaged people’s perception of not only sexuality, but sensuality,” Roccio, co­-owner of the World, told the Times re­cently, “and this will be a place where we can express that again, where you can come with your girlfriend or date or with whomever you feel safe.” The skirts are already lifted — it’s takeoff time.

Roccio talks as if AIDS were a thing of the past. But what he says reflects peo­ple’s sense — accurate or not — that the threat seems measurable now and not total. This point of view can be air-head­ed and grossly selfish (what, me worry?), but being “sex-positive” — pro-sex, as long as it’s safe — is something few AIDS activists would oppose (though they might argue with Roccio’s failure to put condom dispensers in the World’s bathrooms). As both straights and gays change their sexual attitudes, they’re fur­ther blurring the lines of gender and pref­erence: all kinds cheer for male and fe­male strippers with typical pansexuality. September’s ACT UP benefit at the World had porn star Robin Byrd present­ing semi-nudes of both sexes even though the audience was predominantly gay. Horniness is a great leveler.

It’s also a big draw. Susanne Bartsch’s Wednesday night club at Bentley’s is a tacky, ’70s disco version of a Berlin caba­ret, with acts like Lady Hennessy Brown; a troupe of obese sadomasochists; or Chi Chi, who blows smoke rings out of her vagina, titillating a crowd that’s always wearing either far too much or far too little. Larry Tee’s Celebrity Club, which took place every Wednesday at the Tun­nel and will probably resume at Mars, had a wet T-shirt contest that invariably resulted in some kind of lynch mob-style sexual assault, often provoked and en­joyed. Dean Johnson’s Rock’n’Roll Fag Bar at the World on Tuesdays not only has those BVD’d go-go boys strutting, posing, and playfully interacting onstage, there’s a new “Testosteroom” for J/O ac­tion if the boys get customers so hot and bothered they need a quick release.

Sometimes these scenes are hot and uninhibited and oh-so-playfully naïve. But there can be darker elements as well — undercurrents of rage and despair. And, whether charming or alarming, what we have here is inchoate rebellion. The return of wildness to the clubs is a reaction against repression.

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In America ’88, practically everyone to the left of Donald Trump feels a little helpless, with Bush’s election seeming to ratify the repression and malign neglect of the last eight years. Whether we drown in acid rain or shrivel under the newly cancerous rays shining through that gap­ing hole in the ozone layer, the boys at the top are too busy playing with $500 million fighter planes to pay much atten­tion to either problem. No one in charge is doing much about AIDS either, though a lot of homophobes are seizing on it as a chance to gay-bash. (Witness the rants of such disparate horse’s asses as radio “personality” Howard Stern, alleged po­litical columnist Patrick Buchanan, and supposed comedian Sam Kinison.)

Faced with the bleakness of the future, Americans seem willing to settle for tem­porary promises and inevitable long-­range dismay. Selling their tomorrows down the river translates into a subterra­nean anxiety that festers more and more scarily as each nightmare comes true. With everything going to hell, an “I’m gonna get mine while I can” mentality has come out in people — and the Repub­lican regime caters to this by promising to institutionalize selfishness, both do­mestically and internationally. In the process, they’ve institutionalized some­thing else — hypocrisy. We’ve had eight years of “Just say no” from people who don’t seem to have said no to anything in their lives (the possibility of putting Dan “Buy it for me, Daddy” Quayle in charge of the so-called war on drugs epitomized this).

It’s in the face of such hypocrisy that frustration has evolved into overt anger. A couple of enthusiastic partiers recently paid tribute to El Morocco — which is courting a younger crowd now, but is still a symbol of old society — by swinging from the chandelier and hurling a heavy, standing ashtray down the stairs. They were tossed out the door just as rudely as they’d flung the ashtray, but they’ll make it back — one of them had a burn-victim mask on and was unrecognizable. Of course, a mild trashing of El Morocco has its metaphorical possibilities — a gesture against elitism, a refusal to be wooed by tradition. But occasionally, things get a lot uglier. Unshaped by any coherent pur­pose (or, sometimes, even the most basic info), rebellion can turn into the thing it’s rebelling against.

THE SCENE NOW is one of club kids who don’t even have a “fuck the rules” men­tality — they don’t know any rules to fuck. Bursting with ignorant energy, willing to try anything in the name of a good time, they traipse around in their BVDs (the girls) or bras (the boys), squirting each other with Silly String, pathologically in search of fun. They manage to combine a youthful, energetic wholesomeness with a jaded sense of decadence, as typified by their major domo, 22-year-old Michael Alig. Alig’s birthday party last April at Tunnel featured a Mickey Mouse “moon­walk” — a giant trampoline-like air mat­tress — on which scores of kids gleefully bounced as if in Disneyland. But one of his other prize events was a Child Por­nography Ring party. He’s a walking par­adox of glad-handing hostility — giving you a big hello as part of his networking agenda, then pulling you down a stairway into a pool that just happens to be there.

Like him, the club kids are defiant, but mostly against whatever stands in the way of a fun evening or some free publici­ty. They’re also largely unconcerned with sexual definition. If many of them are gay, that’s partly for lack of the gay-disco scene young people came out into 10 years ago; today they enter the mixed world of clubs, where eccentricity is king, regardless of gender or sexual leanings. Their mentors are pleasure-seeking, mid­dle-aged entrepreneurs juggling 17-year­-old glamour-babe girlfriends and, when the kids complain about having to pay $5 to get into an AIDS benefit, ultimately deciding it’s wise to “pamper” (i.e., comp) them, because they’re just so “fabulous,” moral flaws and all.

The kids come from everywhere, from Soviet Georgia to Atlanta, Georgia, many living with their parents — or “backers,” as they like to call them — others living in apartments they pay for themselves by throwing parties for other club kids (owners pay fees of $500 to $1200 a night for this). Asked what they want to be when they grow up, they all answer, “Famous,” and they consider clubs cabaret show­cases by which to get there.

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For all the charged-up atmosphere, the kids are more likely to be narcissistic voyeurs and exhibitionists than ’60s-style orgiasts. Wearing Plexiglas hats that an­nounce their names in shiny letters, they’ve been described as being too “fab­ulous” to have sex — even if it weren’t for AIDS, there’s the equally debilitating threat that it might mess their makeup. But voyeurism isn’t messy, and so sex has become a public spectacle, self-consciously devoured by masses who are afraid to join in and not just because of stage fright. A scarce commodity, it’s gone from something people go to clubs to find to something people go to clubs to see. There’s so little sex to go around now, that whenever anyone has the nerve to have it, it makes sense to share it with hundreds.

The club scene is one of girls who­ — when they’re not wearing retro undies, garter belts, and other archaic sexwear that’s a bondage-freak’s delight — lie top­less on tables for photographer Stephan Lupino, who three years ago had to promise his firstborn to get people to strip, but now merely holds up his camera and waits for the C-cups to fly. It’s one of a 40-year-old store clerk succumbing to the club-kid spell, suddenly flouncing around VIP rooms in a Frederick’s of Hollywood G-string with an elephant trunk sprouting from the crotch. It’s one of a boy who recently ran through the World wearing next-to-nothing and screaming, “Look at me.” When a pro­moter approached him with an offer to get paddled onstage for $50, the kid jumped at the chance — a big break!

Meanwhile, the new sobriety continues to be just a hype, at least in clubland. The drug of choice is Ecstasy (MDMA), a euphoric, mild hallucinogen related to the MDA of the ’60s. “Every single person is doing Ecstasy,” says Alig, only a bit hy­perbolically. “The little kids are scraping every penny to find $20 to get it. It’s really aggravating when a club like Blood­bath has to close because all those kids are so cheap, but I see them inside buying eight hits of Ecstasy off whoever.”

The kids don’t do much coke — it’s ex­pensive, and besides, says Alig, “It brings Ecstasy down, so you want to stay away from that evil scourge.” They don’t do crack, either, Alig explains with his typi­cal elegance of thought and expression, “because it’s dirty and gross and only gross Puerto Ricans do it. It’s not fabu­lous. Ecstasy — even the name sounds fabulous. People don’t go around saying, ‘Eew, you’re an Ecstasy addict.’ ” But they do Essence, a new form of Ecstasy that costs two dollars more and is there­fore two dollars more desirable. Someone not on drugs walking into Save the Ro­bots can’t help feeling a bit like the only person not in on the punchline of a gigan­tic, communal joke.

The clubs wisely not only tolerate this sex-and-substance-charged frenzy, they throw events that cater to it. Two clubs have had Ecstasy parties recently, at one of which the kids lined up and demanded the promised goods, screaming “Ex, ex, ex!” like deranged halftime cheerleaders.

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But mostly it’s the libido being catered to with innovative eagerness. Practically every night at the World seems designed to capitalize on unfulfilled sex drives. A dirty dancing contest had a cigarette girl cavorting onstage with three boys be­tween her legs and one shamelessly work­ing the rest of her body. She won. More was being suggested here than actually happened, but occasionally real, caution-­to-the-winds sex breaks out in the middle of the scene anyway, because people real­ly are starved for it.

The club’s Lust party — a Sunday night gay fete which was only supposed to fea­ture two paid strippers posing onstage — ­turned into a wet dream come true as one stripper spontaneously started sucking the other one’s cock during a photo ses­sion in the club office. Within millisec­onds, there was a drooling audience, not to mention a Playguy magazine photogra­pher already in place with full lighting equipment. This was not going to be just a two-character production, though. A feisty, male Anita Baker lookalike promptly got naked and joined in the festivities whether they wanted him to or not, acting like a suckerfish with any­thing he could get his mouth on. A hunched-over guy near the heat of the action, meanwhile, was anxiously scruti­nizing this scene and panting with voy­euristic delight. “Get in there,” someone said jokingly, and, amazingly, he stripped down without so much as a second’s thought and did just that. From then on, you merely had to say “next” to attract a new customer and “timber” to watch an old one tumble. Overwhelmed and over­worked, the Anita Baker guy fell over and passed out, but someone threw a lame blanket over him — he may have been dead for all they knew, but hell, the show must go on.

True, it almost didn’t; it was a panicky moment when all the spontaneous com­bustion was spent and the sofa/stage emptied out, devoid of a second act. But Barnum — or at least Al Goldstein­ — would have been proud as the promoter and company coaxed a couple of pretty boy lovers standing around to start in by promising them free drinks and club star­dom. Another opening, another show.

And such performers they were! Lover one blew lover two, who hid his face with his hand, before all coyness went out the window and he started doing other things with his hand. When he came — outside his partner’s mouth — it got another hand (the crowd applauded). Anita Baker, somehow, was up and (after having apparently peed all over the lamé) getting a blow job in another corner of the room, but few noticed. All eyes were on another climax — a gay activist who was jerking off as the entire room counted down his blast-off, cheering the big moment as if it were the popping of a champagne cork on the stroke of New Year’s. “That was al­ways my fantasy,” he said, on leaving. “I have no regrets.”

Stuff like this, of course, used to hap­pen nightly in discos and in backrooms — ­darkened, pre-health-crisis clubs, where gays forged a new sexuality with commu­nal abandon. At the Mine Shaft in the ’70s, dozens gathered around the infa­mous sling to watch people get fist­fucked. In the balcony of the Saint, they push, push, pushed on the beat into ev­erything the disco song instructed them to. But except for a few hidden bastions of anonymous sex, that scene now exists only in transmogrified form in the safe sex clubs, the gay community’s conscious effort to resolve the need for sex with the need to survive. The rules at such places are the same as in the ’70s, except one­ — keep it safe.

The orgy may have broken the rules­ — whether oral sex is high- or low-risk is the subject of, well, hot debate. No one came in anyone’s mouth, and the big no-­no, unprotected anal sex, didn’t even come close to happening. But someone could probably deliver a sermon on the perils of pre-cum and gingivitis. When the rules break, it’s for any number of reasons: people are uneducated; they don’t buy the rules; they feel invulnera­ble; they feel doomed; they feel the risk is worth it; or the world is going to end anyway (the place, not the club). Ratio­nality and the pleasure principle have little to do with one another. Pushed down, tucked away, sex is popping back in brightly lit public places where it’s not supposed to be happening, out of the sheer force of inevitability; it’s Freud’s return of the repressed.

The Lust party, thrown by promoter Chip Duckett, was the second of a series of Seven Deadly Sin events (Brecht and Weill, anyone?). The series also included Gluttony, at which madcap partiers nib­bled and toyed with hundreds of obscene­ly sweet Sno-Balls, and Greed, at which a thousand dollars in singles was thrown from the balcony to a frantic crowd of money-worshippers. “You want food, sex, and money?” these parties seem to say. “Well, we’ll give them to you — but you’ve got to crawl for them.” Downtowners will eagerly do this as a spoof on Gekko-era greed — plus they need the money.

The Susanne Bartsch approach is less participatory and more esoteric — her au­dience doesn’t squirt milk, her star at­traction does — but it’s still very much a group experience, a shared exercise in pushing the limits. Instead of the straightforward musical talent of a few years ago, Bartsch is proud to present Lady Hennessy Brown with her legs wrapped behind her ears, stroking her thighs and privates with fiery torches (don’t try this at home, kids), and shoot­ing milk out of her tits at the clubbies, as if they were so many hungry kittens. (“A lot of men are offended when I squirt them in the face,” says Hennessy, “but most people love it.”)

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A trained dancer, Brown changed ca­reer course several years ago because “the nightclub crowd wasn’t receptive to the modern dancing technique. I had to make the switch to exotic.” The Bentley’s crowd is very receptive to exotic. Bartsch sets the mood with her blinding array of temporary tattoos, her Bo-Peep-gone­-berserk plethora of extensions, her mad­deningly loud whistle, and her scantily clad young boyfriend Ty Bassett, who’s the ultimate attention-getting accessory. (“When I first met him in Coney Island, I thought, ‘He’s a girl,'” she says, admit­ting she later changed her mind.)

The 37-year-old Swiss miss made the consoling leap into nightlife when she fell out with the backers of her Soho bou­tique — a marble marvel in which she showcased the work of Leigh Bowery, Bodymap, and her other favorite up-and­-coming British designers. Bartsch went from throwing Tuesdays at Savage — a retro disco, mirrored balls and all — to throwing Wednesdays at Bentley’s — a ret­ro disco with mirrored balls and a Bentley — always making a point of excess and exuberance, the opposite of the pseudo­-Victorian constipation that was threaten­ing to stifle New York nightlife. Being cool at Nell’s and M.K. had an all too literal meaning — no sex, please, we’re skittish (even on M.K.’s canopied bed). In Bartsch’s clubs, people are encouraged to scream, dance, rub each other, and make utter idiots of themselves in the pursuit of laughs. (Nell, never one to miss a trend, has lately taken to wearing Bartsch-style bodices and Voguing on tables.)

Regular folk who just happen to have an affinity for form-fitting attire, Bartsch and Bassett, like the club kids, combine wholesome warmth with sleazebag razzle­dazzle. Their employees and customers suit them well. Sequined and boa’d drag queens, oiled bodybuilders, and other col­orful, poised-on-the-brink, painted side­show escapees are the core crowd (and made for a dazzling, but totally redun­dant, Bartsch Halloween party at another sprawling disco, Emerald City). A fun-­loving bunch of young, often foreign de­signers, DJs, fashion victims, and lip-sync artists, they attract a large crowd of colorless but open-minded yups and bridge-and-tunnelers who revel in their manic style. Many of the Bentley’s core crowd are filled with anxiety about their place in the body politic, but even more don’t seem aware that there’s anything to be anxious about. The unaware ones just want to party to the max, seeing that it’s the frantic, fashionable thing to do. The others party harder with the sense that in America ’88, they’re being pushed off the map, and every moment brings them closer to the edge. But as with Bartsch, their trashiness is a surface display; in­stead of doing It, the crowd watches It, cheers It, and wears It, making themselves as sexually extreme-looking as pos­sible, either to-die-for or drop-dead ab­surd.

“I think I’m wholesome,” says Bartsch. “I just love letting go, it’s an important form of relaxation. I loved at the Copa [where Bartsch throws last-Thursday-of-­every-month parties] when Anthony Haden-Guest was go-go dancing forever on the go-go box, and Richard Johnson was dancing all night — he told me he hadn’t danced for 20 years. They let their hair down, and I’m so happy that I’m the place where they can do that.” She’s brought stripping to her clubs, she says, because, “I go to the Gaiety sometimes, and it’s so sleazy — you have to watch some old wanker jerk off, and it’s such a shame. It’s good to take sex out of the sleazy surroundings and put it in a trendy place where it’s also about watching bod­ies, but not for you to have a wank. Of course watching has become more impor­tant because doing has to be much more thought-out now. But that’s not the rea­son I brought stripping. I did it because some of these strippers are just so genius. I admire their courage to take off their clothes and say, ‘Look at my gorgeous cock, or ass.’ It’s an art form.”

Hennessy herself is, for all her shock value, supremely wholesome, the very im­age of nourishment. She told me she couldn’t show her mother my column de­scribing her act because the word dick was in another paragraph. The woman­ — a six-foot-one black Amazon goddess — is an endless fount. “I’ve lactated for 19 years,” she claims. “My well never dries up. It diminishes sometimes — like I’m not going to have a full supply to squirt tonight because I’ve been doing doubles [playing two clubs a night]. But I’ve just continued to flow all these years.” The mini-interview comes to an end when Hennessy asks, “Is there pay in this?” “No,” I say, “but it’s a big story.” “It would be even bigger if there was pay in it,” she seethes.

While Bartsch is play-acting as a dress-­up-and-explode club kid, the other sex-­cabaret ringmaster, Alig, is the real deal. Bartsch, for all her surface wildness, is a diplomatic businesswoman who frets whenever she thinks she may have acci­dentally hurt someone’s feelings. But Alig and the kids would be mad if they didn’t offend someone. They bring to the sur­face everything Bartsch is too good-na­tured to acknowledge — anxiety, fear, and hostility. Self-conscious, alienated voy­eurs, their constant freaking-out state cancels out any possible innocence. Let’s face it: with an unsafe-sex guillotine hanging over your head at all times, truly instinctive or childlike behavior isn’t a possibility, no matter how young you are. Sexual repression has fast-forwarded the club kids into adulthood, and they’ve re­sponded by turning it into a three-ring circus of escapist sexual entertainment.

Alig, who got his club start stripping for dollars and went on to throw Dirty Mouth contests, where the filthiest talk­ers won cash prizes, looks fondly back on that Child Pornography Ring party at the old Danceteria (he plans to recreate it at the new one, where he’ll be assistant di­rector). “You’ve seen them around, now you can buy them real cheap,” read the invite, which featured Alig tied up with five kids. “Yes, folks, where else but New York City can you place a price-tag on human beings? These fine, healthy, YOUNG souls will be auctioned off to the highest bidder to do with as you please.” At the party, people were able to buy dates with 16-year-olds with play money, the kids getting $50 from Alig to go through with the dates. “There was noth­ing illegal about it,” he says. “I was pay­ing the kids to go out with somebody else — that’s not prostitution. Of course I got paid by the club for throwing the event.” Alig is a master exploiter, but no more so than Ronald Reagan, whose ad­ministration relentlessly whittled away at various forms of aid to dependent chil­dren (there haven’t been so many home­less kids since the Depression), while cranking up public hysteria over their sexual exploitation. Alig, in his own jaded way, is trying to make fun of hypocrisy rule while desperately trying just to make fun.

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He was also one of the people behind Celebrity Club, which almost always went out of control, to the delight of many. The feeling in the air was always of a bored restlessness that the crowd would take to any extreme for some kicks. One night, Eve Teitelbaum, a poet, asked if she could just step across the stage for a second. They were the sorriest words she’d ever said, as the heat of the mo­ment sparked a pointless cat fight with the emcee, which turned even nastier as Teitelbaum was thrown to her knees and people flung shoes and other sharp things at her while Alig doused her with water. “She deserved it” was the popular consensus as Teitelbaum ran, sobbing, out of the club. “I can’t believe something like this would happen in the civilized world,” she said later, still burned.

The ugliest Celebrity Club came one night during the proverbial wet T-shirt contest — the peak of the evening, during which practically everyone seems willing to show his or her privates at the drop of a fly, and all the energy combust into a big boom. This time, a girl went from being pleasantly exhibitionistic to almost mass-violated. On the sweltering stage, in the glare of disco lights and hundreds of eyes, she started dancing and shimmying to the repetitive throb of house music, encouraged by the salivating crowd. “She was some dumb Jersey girl,” says Alig, “in tapered jeans with feathered, gross, brown hair. She got up onstage and people got carried away — she got carried away, literally. A lot of guys were grabbing at her until it wasn’t fun for her anymore. She started to say, ‘No, no, no’ over and over again. Of course that’s when everybody got interested and joined in. A few guys tried to fuck her in front of everybody. That’s when her boyfriend grabbed her and took her up the stairs naked.” This scene — like something out of The Accused — happened without any supervisor to put up even a feeble “No.” What about Alig? “I watched in horror,” he says. “I ran to get the security guards.” He’s joking. “Actually, I probably helped — not rape her, but push people away so they could get to her.”

On another night, Alig presented a T-­shirt winner with a bottle of cham­pagne — actually someone’s piss (he says it came from the drag duo Fashion Patrol; they say it was his) mixed with soda water for fizz. On yet another dazzling evening, one of the Fashion Patrol laid out a cat food buffet spread that everyone there assumed was paté, because, “There are a lot of illiterate people who will take for granted that they know what they’re eating.” This is the same pair that sang “Teenage Enema Nurse” and enacted the birthing process for their pre-Labor Day party. They’re also known for regularly mock-penetrating themselves with blunt objects, and recently caused quite a scene when they stole a bassinet with a type­writer in it from a street vendor, who ran after them with a chain screaming, “I’m going to get you fuckers.” In an upcoming movie called Strung City, one of them­ — Brandywine — gets chased by an old man wielding a huge wax dildo. “You have to create your own excitement,” explains Brenda A-Go-Go, the other one. “Club-­goers are coming there for a show anyway. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere and not see some sort of decadence — it helps the night go by.”

AMAZINGLY, and not a moment too soon, the clubbies are developing some sense of outrage, if not exactly what you could call a social conscience. What it is, in a historical sense, is nihilism. An edi­torial in the new issue of Project X, a club handout, reflects a kind of hyperreal paranoia that’s both mocking and grimly sincere. Politically, if not grammatically, correct, it laments that “Everything will move backwards very fast from now on, and you, wether you think it’s cool or not, you are going to be envolved.” The edito­rial notes that in the future, “Secret po­licemen, Undercover Agents, CIA min­ions and Neo-Guardian Angels may forcefully O-D undesirable people to in­crease drug-hysteria in the american press.”

Another editorial, by Alig, urges the kids to fight for their right to party and be different. To him, the fight is another act of spitting in the face of authority, done because it’ll help keep the party going. Alig was in the mass of people trying to break down the Christodora Building entrance during the Tompkins Square Park fracas last summer. But though he admits “it was a fun scene,” that’s not the only reason he got in­volved. “I’m all for the freaks,” he ex­plains. “I didn’t like the idea that the rich people were moving in and making the freaks leave. Those are the people who go to my clubs.”

Alig smirks that he wants to throw events at the new Danceteria where he’ll show partiers films of the police harass­ing gays and other minorities, “and then set them free in the streets to do vio­lence.” Though he once threw a party to which only HIV-negative people were in­vited (just his little joke, ha-ha), Alig has recently made noises in the direction of gay activism. It seems he was verbally abused by homophobic cops at a Tunnel raid, an event that startled him into an apotheosis he related to two daily papers.

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“People are so blasé and lazy,” he whines. “They don’t want to go out and pillage and burn police cars anymore.” Nostalgia for a more political time — or just for bigger and better thrills? Can the club kids tell the difference? Only know­ing the new craziness, they imagine that it was even wilder in the past. “That went on at Studio 54, didn’t it?” says Alig, meaning constant stripping and groping. No, dear, it didn’t. The ’70s sensuality was much more affluent and ap­proved, more of an anything-goes-be­cause-it-can than because-it-can’t. People didn’t wear underwear at all then; it just got in the way of the fun. Parts of the decor dropped hydraulically around them; they didn’t have to throw them down stairs. The only milk squirted was into a glass of Kahlua. The champagne was actually champagne.

In the last years of the Weimar Repub­lic, as the Nazis rose to power and a sense of panic and doom spread through the ranks of the socially marginal, a frenzied, anxious hedonism took over as well. To­day, society has its disposables, too, the multiracial, multisexual nonrich, who have no choice but to alternately fight for their lives and to go wild, to party out of control in a pressure cooker of fear and hostility. This mood is being nicely helped along by hate-mongers like Kini­son, who’s not all that different from Joel Grey dancing with the girl in the gorilla suit (yes, I studied at the Liza Minnelli school of German history).

The late-Weimar comparison may be stretching it — among other things, our economic mess is quite different from theirs — but closet alarmists like me are finding it hard to resist some parallels: a deceptive prosperity based on foreign funds; the rise of repression and censor­ship; the proliferation of teen suicides; the ostentatious flaunting of wealth by a handful of people as large numbers spiral toward poverty; the persecution of cer­tain minorities, who take the blame for all sorts of social woes. According to Pe­ter Gay’s Weimar Culture: The Outsider As Insider, the republic was also charac­terized by

excitement, in part from exuberant cre­ativity and experimentation, but much of it was anxiety, fear, a rising sense of doom … It was a precarious glory, a dance on the edge of a volcano. Weimar culture was the creation of outsiders, pro­pelled by history into the inside for a short, dizzying, fragile moment. 

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Oh God, It’s Christmas: Yule Laugh, Yule Cry

A White Christmas
BY FRANK OWEN

It was a Christmas that only Sid and Nancy could have loved. Two newlyweds — one a British music critic, the other an aspiring model from Detroit — were shacked up in a former welfare hotel indulging a bohemian fantasy of Yuletide spent without any of the traditional trappings (families, gifts, religion), but with plenty of drugs.

The year was 1988. The place was Hotel 17, the Stuyvesant Square boardinghouse for trendy transients. Around the turn of the cen­tury, when the place was originally built as a res­idence for a few wealthy families, Christmas must have been celebrated on a grand scale here. Our Christmas, however, was a far more inti­mate occasion, observed in one dingy, cell-like room lined with designer clothes and books of obscure French theory.

The word room hardly does justice to the eight-by-10 stained brown box we were paying $30 a night for. In keeping with the tan color scheme, the taps coughed up diarrhea-colored water. The whitest thing in the room, including the sheets on the bed, was the neat pile of crys­talline powder glinting on the beat-up dresser. That, and the waxy squares of paper that lay crumpled on the threadbare carpet.

We’d been up for three days taking cocaine and crystal meth, grinding our teeth and talking shit about the true meaning of the season. In our deluded euphoric state, we decided that festive excess was what it was all about. Christmas is an opportunity for the casual drug-user, a time when the discipline of work and the normal restrictions on hedonistic behavior are relaxed. So it was easy to convince ourselves that staying up all night dancing and drugging was more in tune with the pagan roots of Christmas than the homogenized and domesticated rituals taking place in the world around us.

Personally, I loathe family Christmases, so I was, initially at least, more than happy to spend the holiday season snorting my brains out. But as as the drug supply began to run low, an edgy gloom set in, a mood amplified by the melancholic sounds of an old man muttering to himself in the hallway, a leftover from the day before the influx of drag queens and club brats, when Hotel 17 was a place where the elderly, the ill, and the drug-addicted came to die.

1995 collection of Village Voice memoirs by various authors

Like latter-day postmodern Scrooges, my wife and I thought we were immune to the re­lentless commercial propaganda of the season. Who did we think we were kidding? The reli­gious significance of Christmas may be often ob­scured by the gaudy displays of advertisers and shopkeepers, but as a holiday it retains a tremendous power to evoke communal and family feel­ing. It’s a spirit that can rarely be ignored with­out emotional cost, as we began to find out.

It was Christmas day. For the first time in my life, I was feeling homesick. There was no telephone in the room, so neither my wife nor I could call our parents. There was no television set, so we couldn’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life to get us in the requisite mood. We finally decided to venture out into the stinging cold to try and forage for a turkey dinner. All we could find open was a Korean deli with a salad bar, so our Christmas repast that year consisted not of roast beast with all the trimmings, but of a wilted col­lection of freezing vegetables. We weren’t that hungry anyway.

By now it was evening, time to get dressed, take more drugs, and make the nocturnal rounds. The supply of cocaine seemed unlimited that season. Speeding us across town to a friend’s loft, even the taxi driver offered us a hit. Once at our friend’s apartment, we played with his kids under the Christmas tree, then retired to a side room to do yet more lines. Then it was off to the clubs; every time we walked through a new door, someone would whisk us off to the bathroom.

“Next year, we’re gonna have a giving Christmas, not a taking Christmas,” my wife in­formed me before we finally fell asleep that night, our nostrils encrusted with powdery sed­iment. There was no need to elaborate. After all, there are only so many white Christmases a marriage can take.

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Open Season
BY ANN POWERS

Whatever sentimental phrase signals authentic Christmasness to you­ — sleigh bells jinglin’, angels heard on high, Jack Frost roasting on an open fire — in the down-and-dirty business of consumerism the only one that matters is the one reading OPEN LATE. And for procrastinators, even brighter is the rare sign that flashes OPEN 365 DAYS A YEAR. The record store where I worked a dozen years ago considered that sign a talisman and a creed. And so, while most people stuffed their faces and watched Rudolph or the 49ers, we per­formed the act of charity that meant the most to the late-running and the lonely. We cranked up the cash register and sold.

Working on Christmas may seem like a nightmare of Dickensian proportions, but the employees of Sell-More Discs actually competed for yule shifts. Record retail de­mands more love than ambi­tion — at just over minimum wage, few of us had savings accounts or truly habitable apartments. But we got to spend all day and night neck­ deep in the records we loved more than money, more than status, more than anything. On my crew, there was Terry, a hip­pie-maned-jazzboe who drove a hack for extra cash and ate macrobiotic; Korean Rastaman Lester; Southern gentleman-goth, Charles; Max, an avant-garde axman who actually had record bins set up in his house; punk speed-freak lovebirds Timmy and Corrine; folkie­-turned-performance artist Jade, a Wyoming transplant living in her van; and my best buddy, Penelope, a Roxy Music fanatic versatile enough to attend the symphony with one coworker and a Run-D.M.C. show with another. Me, I was a new-wave kid studying poetry and the blues, swiping all the records the simpatico security guard would allow, learning fast.

We were freaks; by choice or destiny, no one really knew. But what else are freaks going to do on Christmas but hang out at the shrine to all that makes them freaky? Many of us either had no parent figures or weren’t currently phon­ing home, so we volunteered for double shifts to earn triple overtime, and broke out the brandy and eggnog under the counter. But it was Bill, our night manager, who engineered the Sell-More Discs freak feast.

Bill and his brother Theo were Guamanian muscle-guys loyal to the company but in love with the employees. For the yule, Bill and Theo or­ganized a potluck, but this wasn’t just your usu­al banana bread-and-pretzels affair: Max made a vat of German potato salad, Lester cooked up some Caribbean bean stew, Terry provided soy cheesecake, and Pen baked a raisin-apple pie just like her mom always did. Even the speed kids managed to buy an Entenmenn’s pie. Best of all, Bill and Theo, generous and subversive to the end, set up a barbecue right by the back vent and smoked a  whole salmon, island-style.

We chowed between cash register shifts and blasted A Reggae Christmas as stragglers and lonely hearts wandered the store’s aisles. Some­body put up a poster of Wham! and started a darts game. A friend or two from outside dropped by for a glass of cheer and a shopping spree, receiving an extra-special holiday discount our bosses would never know about. And as always the local TV news crews showed up with their cameras and their question so off-the­-mark. “Isn’t it awful to work on Christmas?” the perky reporter said, scrunching his nose as we frantically hid our bottle of champagne behind the Yanni tapes. We made some joke or nasty comment — “well, you’re doing it, aren’t you?” — ­and got rid of them so we could get back to our party. It would have been too hard to explain what we knew: Ours was a family by choice, each member a misfit struggling to build some kinship that felt not just comfortable, but real. Sell-More Discs had given us a chance to do that. The truth was, we weren’t working this Christ­mas. We were spending the day at home.

Some of the names in this article have been changed.

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Black Santa
BY KWELI I. WRIGHT

My brother and I knew from whence our dirt bikes, Christie dolls (black Barbies), Star Wars action figures, and Easy Bake Ovens came. From our parents, of course. After all, didn’t we give them carefully prepared Christmas lists, show them the pictures of the toys in the Toys “R” Us catalog? Couldn’t we see the rolls of wrapping paper hidden (not very well) in the closet?

Our parents liked ro keep it real. “Me and Daddy buy the toys, Santa just delivers them,” is how Mom explained the whole Saint Nick phenomenon. In 1979, while feeling the spirit a little more than usual, she decided to take our celebration to another level: she would hire a Santa to come to our building, ride up the ele­vator, and march straight to our apartment with a delivery of gifts. She found a Santa through a newspaper ad, and then she gave us details. He would come around 11 p.m. Christmas Eve and stay for dessert, so we might want to rest up. If I remember correctly, the whole deal with San­ta visiting is that you don’t see him, but that was beside the point to her: he was already paid. My brother Kareem and I had no questions or reser­vations about the fantasy-reality mix. We weren’t about to miss this.

So we left a glass of milk and a chunk of Entemann’s chocolate cake on the dining room table and waited at the top of the stairs for Santa to push through the unlocked door. As we crept down the steps we heard him frantically unpacking, knocking collectibles off the coffee table. Then we saw him.

This wasn’t any Santa — this Santa was as black and beautiful as my grandpa, only taller and younger. Back then I was eight, and I didn’t realize how important it was for me to see a black Santa. The thought never crossed my mind that this was probably the last one I’d see. It was my parents’ idea that Santa can be claimed by peo­ple of any color — black, white, Hispanic, Asian — because what he really represents is an extension of your family. She told me the other day that her goal was not to prove there was one real Santa, but to make sure we knew this gift-­giving guy belonged in our home.

When he heard two kids approaching, our guest freaked and ran to hide in the bedroom, emerging only after Kareem and I assured him that he was expected. We sat on the living-room floor with our legs crossed, grinning from ear to ear as our very own black Santa chuckled “Ho, ho, ho!” and laid exactly the presents we’d asked for under the tree.

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A Kwanzaa Carol
BY EVETTE PORTER

“I’m celebrating Kwanzaa this year,” my I nephew announced, a bit self-satisfied, when I asked him a few weeks ago what he wanted for Christmas. I assumed it was just another phase he was going through, like the time I want­ed to be called Balaniké, refusing to answer to anything else. My nephew, Daevon, is seven, and the oldest of my brother’s three children. And in years past, he’s enjoyed the kind of Christmas largesse that comes with being the first and, un­til recently, only child in the family. So for him to disavow Christmas would be a big deal.

“So, does that mean you don’t want any­thing for Christmas?” I asked, hoping I might be off the hook for gifts this year. “No! What are you, crazy?!” (Kids always speak in exclama­tions.) “Well, exactly what are you celebrating, Christmas or Kwanzaa?” I said, trying to force the issue. “Both, of course.”

Of course.

I grew up in the ’60s, before Kwanzaa’s sudden emergence as a major black holiday­ — now more popular than Juneteenth or Black History Month. Beginning the day after Christ­mas, Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of fam­ily and spirituality. It’s thriving for the same rea­son black parents look for books with black faces or buy Shani dolls — it’s something they can use to build a “positive self-image” for their kids. Given the scarcity of black Santas, Kwanzaa makes the holiday season a bit more culturally correct. To me, the “tradition” sometimes seem a bit forced — but to Daevon, it’s clearly an ex­citing, if confusing, part of a burgeoning cultural identity. “So how do you celebrate Kwanzaa?” “On each day [sigh], you do different things with your family. But you have to read from the Kwanzaa book.”

“The Kwanzaa book?”

“Yeah, the Kwanzaa book. Everyone has the same words.”

“You read something out of a book?”

“No! You read from the book and then you do something with your family. But you don’t have to do exactly what’s in the book.”

“Okay.”

“Well, hmmmm … Aunt Muffy, could you hold on just one second?”

There’s a long pause.

At this point, I’m not so sure Daevon really understands what Kwanzaa is all about. He hasn’t mentioned the traditional candle-lighting ceremony or the seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

“I’m back. I was looking for my Kwanzaa book.”

“Tell me what you do each day to celebrate Kwanzaa.”

“Every day you and your family do some­thing together [another sigh]. Like on one of the days, all the money you save up … no, uh. One of the days, right, you make like a little piggy bank?’

“Uh-huh.”

“And you save up money, and put it in that bank. And then, and then the next coming Kwanzaa, that’s when you buy something BIG, for saving up all that money.”

“Okay, so the money you save up, do you buy something the next day or do you buy something the next year?”

“You buy something whenever you have enough money to buy something big.”

“Do you still celebrate Christmas?”

“Yes, you can still celebrate Christmas. But on the seventh day of Kwanzaa, that’s when you’re supposed to open all your gifts. The next Monday [a week from Christmas].”

“Are you having a Christmas play at school.”

“Yeah, I’m in it. It’s all the second graders.”

“And what are you doing in it?”

“Oh, I’m singing a song. It’s not like a play, it’s a presentation. Every second-grade class is singing a song, one song. Like ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ ‘Must See Santa,’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’ We’re doing songs like that. And there is a Kwanzaa song.”

“What’s the Kwanzaa song?”

“l really don’t know all the words. Hold on, I have to think this through.” (Barely audi­ble mumbling as my nephew tries to remember the verse.)

“While you’re thinking, tell me what you want for Christmas, I mean Kwanzaa.”

“Oh, I know some of the words — ‘Children learn their history.’ ”

“Children learn their history?”

“Huh-huh. Yeah. I know half of the song.”

“Do you know when Kwanzaa began? Where it came from?”

“It came from Africa.”

“No, it didn’t. In 1966, a guy named Ron Karenga, a black man, decided to create a holiday that was more nationalistic, more Afrocentric. But it’s based on African traditions. There’s a harvest celebration in Africa that’s similar to it, but it’s not the same thing. It actually began here in the U.S. Did you know that?”

“No. I did not know that.”

Well, I’ve done my bit for black history.

“Do you want different gifts for Kwanzaa than you want for Christmas?”

“Yeah, totally different.”

“What do you want for Kwanzaa?”

“Like African American things.”

“What?”

“I don’t know … like scarves that have …”

“Kente cloth?”

“Yeah, and, like, stuff that has the colors of Kwanzaa and other colors. And in the middle of it, it has ’95. That’s the year I got it.”

“If ’95 is in the middle, what’s going to be on the outside?

“Around 1995, I want the border to be red, black, and green.”

“Okay.”

“I think that’s it for Kwanzaa.”

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The Worst Noel
BY ELIZABETH ZIMMER

“Bubbe-meises,” my New York Jewish mother snapped whenever the subject of Christmas came up. Lies and superstitions, all of it: the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth. A lot of nonsense. She’d get cross and impatient. We never had trees; we exchanged modest gifts at Hanukkah; when we got older there were no gifts at all, just her gen­erous check “for your birthday, really,” which followed in January.

Then a guy proposed to me; a sculptor, sweet and shy, a lapsed Lutheran from the out­skirts of Buffalo whose terrific homemaker mom announced, when she first met me, that her best friends were Jewish. It was 1969, and the no­tion of getting married seemed as bizarre as everything else in the zeitgeist, but at the same time made sense; we’d create a safe haven for each other amid the prevailing sexual and political chaos. I became a legal member of his Chris­tian family (albeit in a Jewish ceremony). Dodg­ing his draft board, we’d emigrated to Nova Scotia, miles from everyone we knew, to teach at an art college in an officially Christian country. I embraced Christmas as impetuously as I’d entered marriage. That year, I participated enthusiastically, readying the tree in the picture win­dow, crafting elaborate ornaments and baking spicy German cookies like his mother’s. Hand­ made presents winged toward us; we scrambled to reciprocate on our entry-level paychecks. He made oyster stew on Christmas Eve, as his clan had always done; we spent the holidays cook­ing and welcoming new acquaintances.

1995 collection of Village Voice memoirs by various authors

By the next Christmas we knew he was about to lose his job, but we kept shopping, cooking, entertaining. The Christmas after that, he was unemployed. The one after that, he was, I guess you’d say, self-employed, experimenting in our cellar with prototypes of furniture he hoped to manufacture and sell, filling the air with chem­ical smells and the sound of a ripsaw. I was earn­ing all our money, still cobbling together cele­brations, frightened and anxious and tired.

Something had to change. Never marry anybody you wouldn’t hire, I found myself mut­tering under my breath. The next Christmas we got a tree, but all I felt like hanging on it was food: popcorn, cookies, foil-wrapped chocolates on golden strings from the vast sweets empori­um down the road. That year he gave me a steam iron and a pair of ice skates. I don’t remember what I gave him. But on Boxing Day I began eat­ing the ornaments, one Santa after another, until the boughs were bare. Then I started packing. I walked the mile to work every morning, took a dance class every night. Three months later I quit my job and moved across the country, alone.

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Holiday on Ice Cream
BY MICHAEL MUSTO

I’m probably the only nondysfunctional Christmas guy in the entire metropolitan area. Home for the holidays to my parents’ kitsch-laden house in Bensonhurst, I return to the awe-inspiring decor that, in its own magi­cally garish way, spells love. Crocheted flowers, stickpin owls, and dolls of many nations blind­ingly adorn the joint, and most eye-catchingly of all, half the fridge door is done as a homage to Jesus Christ, while the other half is covered with pictures of my parents’ other idol, me (their on­ly child, after all). Everything’s equal here — not only am I aligned with the Christ figure, but beautiful clocks equal 99-Cent Store Pierrot heads — and the Christmassy doodads add even more festive layers that further steamroll every­thing to the same lovely level.

But the real celebration is in the food; to quote the well-spoken duck in Babe, Christmas means carnage. A gigantic lasagna or baked ziti could easily serve as the main course in any other home in the world, but in this place it’s a mere hint of a shred of an appetizer. It’s followed by voluminous amounts of meatballs, sausages, and other gravy meats, all covered with blizzards of parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. Then, if you’re still alive, come the entrées: wildly delicious chicken and ham dishes, plus an array of sides — namely sal­ads, candied yams, mushrooms, and a quiche made with artichoke hearts. Just when you’re sure your stomach is about to blow apart, out come the insanely large tubs of sherbet and ice cream, plus the donuts, pastries, cakes, and pies, with Reddi Wip, Cool Whip, and La Creme standing by for good measure. Say no to any of this and you’re driving a knife through my mother’s heart. These loving if artery-clogging offerings say she cares. To accept them means you care back.

The mood is generally warm, the company familiar. But some­how, amid the threat of all that happiness and satiation, semidysfunctions do tend to crop up. In this setting, my attempts at dark humor — so delightful elsewhere — can be misinterpreted as cruel; other family members’ politically incorrect comments drive my friends into the bathroom crying (there, they can enjoy mom’s doll-shaped toilet paper coverings); and, as everyone jockeys for attention, merriment sometimes leads, at the drop of a meatball, to hurt feelings, none of them directed by Jodie Foster. But in the wake of all this, mom has the best response of all: “Come on, have some more ice cream!”

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Manger? Mangia!
BY FRANK RUSCITTI

My family is extremely Italian. You want proof? We come from a small town called Cansano in the mountain ranges of Abruzzi that had one road in and one road out. We immigrated to the States in 1955 (making the front page of Il Progresso in a “just off the boat” photo) and settled on that most Brooklyn of all Brooklyn street corners, 33rd and Third. We got guys named Mario and Antonio in our family, but thank heaven no one wears gold chains. Like all good Italians (southern Italy, at least; anything north of Milan is Ger­many anyway), we celebrate every Christmas Eve with the biggest seafood dinner this side of Jesus and that loaves-of-bread episode. The funny thing is most Italians don’t know why we party this way; phone calls to organizations such as the Italian Cultural Institute and the Italian Heritage and Cultural Commission were met with the verbal equivalent of shrugged shoul­ders. Words like history and tradition are thrown around, but the only fact that seems to count is that a minimum of dishes must be served (ac­cording to one coworker nine, my sister eight, my mother 12). No one seems to know why we do what we do every year without fail.

But ours is not to question why, ours is just to eat, eat, eat. Not, however, until everyone is ready. My sisters bring out plate after heaping plate, only to yell, “GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF THAT!” with all the love they can muster if anyone moves too soon. It’s friggin’ torture. Picture Red Lobster, except the fish is real and cooked by humans. Homemade pasta with calamari. Baked clams. Salmon steaks. Breaded scallops. Octopus salad. Baccala. Stuffed squid. Shrimp scampi. Shrimp cocktails. And that’s just for starters.

More than once, I’ve fasted before the feast, making penance for my sins and drooling thanks while fantasizing about the greatest meal of the year. Talk about tripping! Some years were classics, like the one when 11 main courses were served (the record!), or the one when we were invaded by non-English speaking Danish students. Everyone is welcome at the table as long as they can endure my family’s penchant for demanding they sing Christmas carols for their supper; even faked lyrics bring a loud roar of approval. It’s an offer guests can’t refuse, because even the feeblest attempt brings a non-stop embarrassment of riches in the form of lobster, breaded shrimp, mussels, seared tuna, raw clams, and more. Christmas day is almost an afterthought, because year after year Christmas Eve kicks its butt hands down.

Recently, a faction of American-born offspring has started a separate “kids’ meal.” A pasta with meatballs dish is served to children who won’t eat fish. Of course, certain family members (including me) grumble that if they aren’ going to eat seafood they should starve. Why? It’s tradition!

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God Bless Us, Every One
BY MARIAH CORRIGAN

It was Christmas 1974 at the Immaculate Conception Children’s Home, and Suprima, Ineeda, and I had already planned all the things we were going to make in our Easy Bake Ovens. We were nine, and the nine-year-old girls always got ovens; it was a tradition. How else would we learn to cook? Certainly not from Sister Mary (their middle names were always Mary) Bougofawa, the home’s head cook, who didn’t make anything if it wasn’t white and boiled beyond recognition. The ovens were handed out at the home’s yearly holiday extravaganza. That day, we set our hair, dug out our good dresses and church shoes, and filed down to the gym in anticipation of an unrecognizable dinner and Christmas presents.

But this year things just didn’t look right. The tree wasn’t as large as I’d remembered it; the head table, reserved for the community sponsors of this shindig, was nearly empty. Where was Mr. Harold? He was town supervi­sor and always the Christmas party organizer. And what about his good friend Mr. Vinny? He took care of all the construction needs around the Children’s Home for free, and in return thee older boys went to work for him. The nuns tried to be tight-lipped about it; only after a good bit of badgering did Sister Mary Josephine (whom I’d recently witnessed executing karate moves on a wayward boy) offer that Mr. Harold was in jail. I don’t remember exactly what for, bribery or embezzlement, but it must have had something to do with Mr. Vinny, because he seemed to be making himself pretty scarce, too.

Everything seemed dimmer. Even the local football ream, whose B-string usually put in a two-minute appearance to have their pictures taken with us orphan children, barely stayed one minute, and in the time it took me to run down the hall to go to the bathroom, they’d all been and gone, leaving behind some sort of apolo­getic team manager. (We once met O.J., but we had to be bused to a location more convenient for him — an awards dinner where we were trot­ted out for a group photo with the man himself. Later, we were each awarded a tiny plastic auto­graphed football for our well-behaved perfor­mance as the grateful needy.)

But the worst was yet to come. The party ended, and we were commanded to say our thank yous, gather up our gifts, and, in an or­derly line, follow the nun in charge of our re­spective groups back to our playrooms. Ineeda and I were already suspicious. All our boxes seemed small — hell, all mine seemed to be the same size. Could they possibly contain an Easy Bake Oven? Maybe they packed it in parts­— how ingenious and surprising! We sat on the in­door/outdoor carpet, our presents arrayed in front of us, waiting impatiently for Sister Mary Luciose to give us the go-ahead. She counted: five, four, three, two, one … We went mad. When all the wrapping was cleared away, I had two crib toys, recommended for children ages 0-3, and seven identical boxes of Shrinky Dink Make-it-Yourself Christmas ornaments, which, to my horror, I needed an oven to make.

As I turned in dismay to Sister Mary Lu­ciose, I saw her wrinkly 60-year-old face flush. Her eyes began to bulge from behind her brown cat-eyed glasses. Uh-oh. I thought her head might explode — I thought she would lose that veil, so I would know once and for all if that shock of hair on her forehead was indeed the imitation hairpiece I had once wagered it was. Sister Mary launched into a lecture on material­ism and the beast it would turn me into, how I would never get to heaven with that attitude, missy. She feared for my soul. I didn’t care. Even as she marched me off for the special emergency confession she had arranged with Father Walter the next morning, all I could think about was … I want an Easy Bake Oven, goddammit.

I wasn’t really an orphan — I had a mother, though she had shed her worldly trappings to live as a hermit in the Genesee River Valley. And I had a father. When he arrived to collect me for my allotted holiday visit on Christmas Eve (appar­ently having passed the Breathalyzer test Sister Mary Rosanne reserved specially for him) I was still hellbent on some decent presents. I had no illusions about who Santa was. As he deposited me with my two retired, never-married school­teacher aunts, I dispatched my guilt-ridden fa­ther to the mall to retrieve an Easy Bake Oven.

As the evening wore on, I began to fear that perhaps he couldn’t find me anything. The aunts were dazed and unsure of what to do with me. My yammering about the Easy Bake Oven sent one aunt running to the kitchen for a bourbon straight up, while the other slipped in and out of the living room to refill her glass with an amber liquid she said was apple cider, but which my watchful eyes knew was beer. When I quieted down, the aunts whispered to each other that he’d probably gone oven shopping at Jo-J’s Bar & Grill. I occupied myself with reruns of Hawaii Five-O and slowly began to surrender my dreams of being a chef I was ready for bed when I heard his familiar staggering steps on the front porch. Aunt Jean flipped on the porch light, and there was Dad — squinting and disheveled in the sud­den illumination, but holding a box. I could tell instantly what the abused wrapping concealed, because I knew the shape by heart — here, at last, was my Easy Bake Oven.

Some of the names in this article have been changed.

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Bah Humdrum
BY COREY SABOURIN

This is going to be a shitty Christmas. John is going upstate. Ditto David. Ditto Bob.

Darrin’s found a lover. Lucky him. They’ll want privacy as they model their new His & His flannel robes.

Devra … Michigan. Jeff … Fresno. Blaine? Maybe — or no, isn’t he going to India?

My roommate is working coatcheck again, regrets, though it will be fun opening gifts at 5 a.m.

Out of everyone, I’ll be missing Liz the most. She’s the woman I’d go straight for if such a thing were possible. A soulmate since the 12th grade (she might peg the date further back, to Mr. Compton’s Exploratory Reading class at Petalunia Junior High, but hopefully that argu­ment’s settled), Liz came east with photos of her handsome fiancé in ’92, and left just before Christmas. In ’93 the pair returned, married, but at Rumbul’s on Christopher Street the first of many heart-to-hearts began. In ’94, she was divorced, depressed, but nowhere near the lump of coal she thinks she was. For ’95 she’s staying put in California. Can I blame her?

If it’s me and my cat sharing a can of tuna on Christmas Day, it’s my fault. Mom and Dad needle me to hop a plane. But the sour taste of predictable yule traditions still lingers and besides, I hate to fly. I have to improvise. One year, it was lasagna and a Georgy Girl video. Another, it was the Monster Bar employee dinner: Miss Shari, the drag queen, presided, and Lady Aaron, the 70-plus bookkeeper, gave us tiaras and white taffeta.

This year? Glenn might be down from Provincetown, and Michael will surely throw a pre-Christmas shindig, although nude Polaroids are usually involved, and I vowed never to end up in that scandal shoebox. Then there’s Nesha, Liz’s and my friend, who, bless her heart, has ex­tended an invitation to dinner “if you don’t have anything else to do.”

Will I? The 11th hour is the moment great things happen in this town. Like Christmas Eve ’92, when Hunter, Scott, and I drifted into the chapel of the Theological Seminary in Chelsea, where the burnt-out Church of the Holy Cross congregation was holding services. “I’m an athe­ist,” Hunter protested in the cold, reluctant to go inside. “Do you know what this means?” So? I was a lapsed Lutheran, and Scott was Jewish. Inside we shared a pew with another group of spectator-worshipers dressed more like they prayed at the altar of Barneys.

But then the Episcopalian pastor delivered a message of antidiscrimination, which he ex­tended to sexuality and health. And the female chorus members sang She in place of He during the Nicene Creed. That stole any grinch left in­side me; even my atheist friend smiled. Sud­denly I was terrifically glad to be there, and nowhere else.

Here’s hoping.

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Window Pain
BY LYNN YAEGER

I’m Jewish. This wasn’t my idea ro begin with, so imagine how I felt at the age of three when I discovered that there was an upcoming holiday full of twinkly lights, candy canes, and piles of presents, the centerpiece of which was a tiny doll lying in a toy cradle sur­rounded by its mommy and daddy (well, he cer­tainly seemed like the daddy … ) and a lot of cute little animals. Oh yes, my mother conced­ed. She knew all about this holiday, she rold me brightly. But it’s not for us! We don’t have it!

Quite frankly, I have never gotten over this revelation. I have spent the last three decades trying to effect a working compromise: Do I send out cards but draw the line at lights? Go for the lights but eschew the tree? Once I actually did drag a tree up six flights of stairs (did I know you need a tree stand? Did I know there would still be pine needles sticking out of the carpet on the fourth of July?). I even tried to avoid the festivities altogether by fleeing to Eu­rope, but like death in Samarra, Christmas was waiting for me when I got off the plane.

I burst into tears a lot at Christmas time. Mr. Magoo induces spasms of sobbing. I can’t watch Meet Me in St. Louis without practically having to call an ambulance. So why do I undertake my methodical investigation of each and every store’s holiday windows each and every year? Same rea­son some people hang out at the Vault, I guess.

My first srop is usually Bloomingdale’s, a store I always think of as Jewish anyway. (Saks and Bloomingdalc’s are Jewish. Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf’s are not.) This year’s display con­sists of 12 trees decorated by Robert Isabell, the hot society florist recently employed for the gar­ish wedding of one of the so-called fabulous Miller sisters. The trees are hung variously with grocery produce (strawberries and zucchinis­ — or maybe they’re cucumbers?), glitzy jewelry (the contents of a morning sweep at the 26th Street flea market?), candy, roses, crystals, Vic­torian toys, and sheaves of wheat. They’re beautiful, but not particularly snivel-inducing. Far more enticing is the small mannequin in a side window: she’s bright red, holds a green garland wound with black and white Chanel ribbons, and she’s sprouting a little tree where her head should be.

Two blocks over, the witty, vaguely cyni­cal windows at Barneys make no reference to the imminent festivities at all. They’re like the senior project of a prestigious graduate school design seminar: Dada-esque tableaux, in beige and pewter (Barneys’s version of red and green), illustrating proverbs like “many hands make light work” (disembodied digits holding lightbulbs). I can see they’re clever, but instead of inducing yuletide longing they make me feel like I’m standing outside a nightclub while the doorperson is telling me I’m not on the list.

My next stop is positively homey by com­parison: Tiffany & Co., where the tiny jewel­box windows reflect the tasteful treasures with­in. The conceit here is ornithologic: faintly Disney-esque penguins with party hats (hey, this is 57th Street) celebrate New Year’s Eve; the P. Johns family (get it?), a nuclear unit dressed in 1940s outfits, nestle in a tree house; Santa rides in a sled pulled by green parakeets, etc. The on­ly jewelry in evidence is around the neck of a woodpecker — he’s wearing a stunning cabo­chon ruby and diamond cross. (A woodpecker gets to wear a cross and I don’t?)

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I’m still dry-eyed, though I have a weak moment when the Salvation Army girl lets loose with a heartbreaking rendition of “Hark the Her­ald Angels Sing.” I have to grit my teeth and think about the plot of Guys and Dolls (I hum the Fugue for Tinhorns to distract myself) as I march down Fifth Avenue to Saks. On the way I pass Henri Bendel, where the vitrines show leering, huge­-eared automata-elves done up like doormen brandishing merchandise from their out-stretched palms. (Do Bendel’s shoppers really need this unsubtle reminder that it’s tipping time again?)

At Saks, I’m confronted with my first real­ly traditional windows of the season — a series of mechanical tableaux depicting the story of Margie and Nick and the little snowman they befriend. I won’t bore you with the details, but Nick and Margie make friends with Santa, who takes everyone to the Rainbow Room for “mu­sic, dancing, cakes and cookies. It was swell.” Suddenly I’m all choked up: I’m dying to go to the Rainbow Room on Christmas Eve too, and I ain’t ordering cookies either. After a few min­utes wallowing in my sad fate, it dawns on me: isn’t it a little fishy that Marge and Nick and even the snowman are spending Christmas Eve at the Rainbow Room instead of midnight mass?

Thus cheered, I proceed to that bastion of Christian gentility, Lord & Taylor. This is year the windows feature an old-fashioned version of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. There are mechanical pyrotechnics here as well — Santa’s big tummy heaves as if he’s about to have a heart attack, reindeer jog in place, and there are winsome little mice scuttling over the rafters — very charming unless you have lived on the Lower East Side where little mice still scut­tle across the rafters. (Once a mouse got trapped in my toaster oven. You don’t want to know.) The scenes are sentimental and touching and perfectly serviceable, if not terribly original.

In the corner window, there’s a poignant display of one of those Dickens Christmas vil­lages full of miniature 19th-century houses, skating ponds, dwarf trees, and surgical-cotton snow. For some reason, this little town gets to me far more than the main display. I’m starting to feel really sorry for myself (it’s easy! try it!) when I see a bunch of bedraggled second graders on a field trip being whipped along by a sullen teacher’s aide. They’ve been forced to wear big cardboard signs with their names and addresses, and although a few are facing their fate with false hilarity, many others are sunk in the pro­found existential misery I remember so well.

Nothing lifts the spirit quicker than the agony of others, and suddenly I’m so light­hearted that I fairly skip to Macy’s, a store over­loaded with Christmas mirth. I try to affect a stance as hard-bitten as the six-year-old Natalie Wood’s in Miracle on 34th Street, but it’s not really necessary: these circus-themed dioramas (a plate twirler, a clumsy acrobat) leave me al­most entirely unmoved. The coup de grace is a couple of clowns cavorting around a Volkswa­gen piled high with presents like TV sets and CD players. (A Volkswagen is supposed to make me feel nostalgic about Christmas? In my fam­ily, you re not even allowed to buy a comb that’s stamped Germany.)

The last window I look at holds two huge elephants flanking a slinky brunette mannequin in an evening gown. It’s an uncanny homage to Dovima, and I have a funny feeling that the fel­las in the display department snuck it right over the heads of Macy’s executives. But maybe they didn’t! Maybe the bureaucrats at Macy’s simply worship Avedon! Strangely buoyant, I descend the steps to the BMT, ready to go home, string up my dalmatian-and-fire-hydrant lights, and face the difficult days ahead. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Priest and The Mob

CHRISTMAS EVE MASS has just ended at St. Athanasius Church in the South Bronx. Three little girls in angel costumes and a trio of pa­rishioners dressed as the three wise men stream outside into a cool mist blowing on Tiffany Street. Inside, the 80-year-old church is glow­ing in the warm light of hundreds of red and white candles. To the left of the altar, churchgoers gather around Father Louis Gigante and ex­change holiday greetings.

For many families in the Hunts Point community, the 56-year-old Gigante is a saint. He has been credited with single­handedly halting an urban death march by rescuing sections of the South Bronx from arsonists and abandonment. In the last 10 years, the South East Bronx Com­munity Organization, a not-for-profit housing group founded by the Catholic priest and politician, has developed al­most 2000 new or renovated housing units for low-income families in the area and hundreds more are in the works. Gi­gante and SEBCO — of which he is presi­dent and chairman — have helped resur­rect a neighborhood where garbage­-strewn lots once stood.

As Gigante later guides his gray Cadil­lac down Southern Boulevard and out of the South Bronx, his parishioners return to the housing projects that surround St. Athanasius. While the priest, known to all as “Father G.,” once was a fixture at the church, these days church members usually see Gigante only on the Sundays he says mass. He spends less and less time at St. Athanasius and, in fact, no longer lives in its rectory. It is unclear where Gigante actually resides, but neigh­bors say he does not live in either of the Manhattan apartments he owns, and his upstate home is almost a four-hour drive from the Bronx. Where once the streets of the South Bronx were Gigante’s backyard, they now seem to interest him purely in terms of their profit potential. The housing built for his hard-pressed Latino parish may be Gigante’s public legacy, but it is not the selfless contribution of a saint.

A four-month Voice investigation of Gigante and SEBCO has revealed that the priest and his publicly financed developments have been a $50 million opportunity for the Mafia. The homes that Gigante’s parishioners live in — senior citizen projects, one- and two-family houses, large and small apartment buildings — have been built, to a large extent, by companies owned by or affiliated with top-ranking members of the Genovese or­ganized crime family. For years, Gigante has been close to the leadership of the crime syndicate, a relationship that has a distinctly personal side to it: the Geno­vese gang includes Father Gigante’s brothers Mario and Ralph, and is now run by the priest’s eccentric older broth­er, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante.

In the course of the investigation, the Voice examined thousands of documents concerning SEBCO from city, state, and federal agencies and conducted inter­views with numerous law enforcement officials, public officials, and friends of the priest. Other documents obtained by the Voice revealed that in addition to con­tracts for SEBCO developments, mob-­connected contractors have received more than $80 million in other city, state, and federal contracts over the past six years.

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At the same time that Father Gigante’s operations have been profiting these mob-tied construction companies, the priest has enriched himself. Gigante’s business transactions appear to be laced with instances of fraud, conflict of inter­est, misrepresentation, and misuse of public funds. SEBCO has been used to make him a wealthy man.

These revelations about Gigante and SEBCO come at a time when Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau and the state’s Organized Crime Task Force, headed by Ronald Goldstock, are in the midst of a broad investigation into labor racketeering in the construction industry. The probe, which has already resulted in the indictment of Gambino boss John Gotti, is also targeting three of Father Gigante’s close associates, including his chief assistant.

Father Gigante’s considerable sway over construction in the Bronx, an indus­try long controlled by the Genovese synd­icate, first came to the attention of prosecutors by way of wiretapped phone conversations. Building contractors have been overheard discussing Bronx construction projects — which have nothing to do with SEBCO — that still “have to be cleared by Father.”

Gigante declined to be interviewed for his story, stating, “There’s no reason to talk to you. I don’t deem it important to talk to you about SEBCO.” While he has ever denied his personal relationships with Mafia figures — he has attended their birthday parties and conducted their funeral masses — Gigante has said on numerous occasions that he is not “involved” with organized crime. The priest has claimed that his brothers are not Mafia members, that his family has been persecuted by law enforcement offic­ials because of an “Italian stereotype,” and that, in fact, the Mafia does not actually exist. While his three brothers are listed on FBI intelligence reports as Genovese members, Father Gigante is not considered to be a member or an “asso­ciate” of the Genovese organization or, for that matter, of any of the city’s four other crime families.

While the specter of organized crime has hung over Louis Gigante for 30 years, it has never impeded his rise to power in New York. By force of will — and with a little help from his clerical collar — Gi­gante has been able to brush aside ques­tions about his “connections.” He has been a player in city affairs since the late ’60s and probably now has more clout than at any other time in his career. A favorite with city and federal housing of­ficials, the priest currently has about $70 million worth of construction projects in the pipeline for SEBCO. Cardinal John O’Connor refers to him as the Catholic Church’s “master builder,” and city poli­ticians — including Ed Koch and other prominent figures — have sought his ad­vice and support.

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THE PRIEST AND THE HOOD

GROWING UP on the lower West Side, Louis and Vincent Gigante, from early on, took different career tracks.

The Gigante boys’ parents immigrated in 1921. Salvatore worked as a watch­maker and Yolanda sewed garments in a factory, often taking home work at night. The couple, like many other Italian im­migrants in lower Manhattan, had to raise their children in the midst of orga­nized crime. But Salvatore Gigante made it a point to steer clear of the amico nostra. The same, however, could not be said for Vincent and two other sons.

Of the five Gigante boys, Louis, the youngest, was the star. A good student, he first made his mark playing basketball, beginning at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx and then at George­town University, which he attended on an athletic scholarship. Though known for his tenacious defense, Louis had a good outside shot and once scored 24 points against George Washington University. After graduation, Gigante entered St. Jo­seph’s Seminary in Yonkers. He was or­dained a priest in 1959 at the age of 27.

While Louis Gigante was excelling on the court, Vincent Gigante was often in one: His arrest record dates back to his teens. Vincent’s sport of choice was box­ing. His manager was Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli, a well-known local hoodlum. Though not a bad puncher, Vincent didn’t have his little brother’s defensive prowess — he had a glass jaw, which, the legend goes, earned him the nickname “The Chin.” (Years later, after Eboli was rubbed out on a Brooklyn street in 1972, Chin Gigante immediately took over Eboli’s vast bookmaking operations. Fa­ther Gigante performed the mobster’s fu­neral mass.)

Vincent was best known in the mid-­’50s as the bodyguard and chauffeur for then-rising mafioso Vito Genovese. Chin Gigante first made headlines in 1957, when he was arrested for the shooting of underworld boss Frank Costello. Gigante, then 29, was eventually acquitted of at­tempted murder charges after Costello refused to identify his assailant. (Costello did, however, heed the warning and step aside, allowing Genovese to replace him on the Mafia’s ruling “commission.” Lat­er that year, Genovese consolidated pow­er and became “boss of all bosses” by ordering the barbershop rubout of Albert Anastasia, chief executioner for Murder, Inc.)

In 1960, both Chin Gigante and Geno­vese were sent to prison following their convictions on narcotics conspiracy charges. At this time, police records listed two other Gigante brothers, Mario and Ralph, as Genovese crime family mem­bers who were suspected of involvement in illegal gambling and loan-sharking activities.

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After being ordained, Louis Gigante was assigned to a parish in Puerto Rico, where he lived for two years — and learned to speak Spanish — before moving into St. James Church on the Lower East Side. It was at St. James that Gigante earned the reputation of a “ghetto priest.” A World Telegram headline once exclaimed that his “Good Works Atone for Brother Who Went Wrong.” Father Gigante’s image as a hard-knocks priest — like the film heroes played by Pat O’Brien — began to appear in the papers: the Journal American reported in 1961 that Louis single-handedly prevented a rumble between 200 “wild-eyed youths who seemed eager for combat” outside the Catherine Street projects.

In 1962, Louis Gigante was assigned to St. Athanasius Church in Hunts Point, a crumbling South Bronx neighborhood. It was the deterioration that brought Gi­gante into Bronx politics, primarily through the fight for funding of various antipoverty programs. His main oppo­nent was Ramon Velez, whom he once labeled a “poverty pimp” and “communi­ty eater.”

The priest lost his first bid for elective office in 1970, when Herman Badillo beat him, Velez, and Peter Vallone, for the seat in the 21st Congressional District. Gi­gante’s election-day poll watchers includ­ed the sister and the son of Mafia boss Joe Colombo, whom the priest knew through his involvement with the Italian American Civil Rights League. Minutes after Colombo was shot during a 1971 league rally at Columbus Circle, Gigante calmed the crowd and began leading it in prayer.

In 1973, Father Gigante ran for City Council and scored a 107-vote victory over William Del Toro. But except for his surprising support of the gay rights bill, Gigante’s four years on the council were undistinguished. While the priest never enjoyed the legislative end of politics, he loved the clubhouse aspect of it: patron­age, brokering deals, and making judges. At a Harvard University lecture he once revealed his goal: “I’m in politics to be­come a political boss, and I want to be a boss to get the power.”

Father Gigante closed out his council term in 1977. Not long after, he served a week in the Queens House of Detention for refusing to answer grand jury ques­tions about conversations he had with Genovese soldier James “Jimmy Nap” Napoli back in 1974 while the mobster was imprisoned at Rikers. Prosecutors believed that Gigante was either trying to use his political pull to get the gambling kingpin special privileges or that he may have been carrying messages for Napoli. Gigante cited his “priest’s privilege” not to repeat the private conversations.

Upon his release from jail, Father Gi­gante told supporters that his family was not involved in organized crime and that the Mafia did not exist.

Soon after, Gigante began his new ca­reer as a developer of low-income hous­ing. The priest’s new power base — with its attendant discretionary power over millions of dollars in construction con­tracts — would bring him even closer to the Genovese hierarchy and his brother Vincent, whom he was even then describ­ing as “mentally incompetent.”

1989 Village Voice article by William Bastone on Father Gigante and his brother the mobster Vincent

THE “CHIN”

LIKE HIS BROTHER THE PRIEST, Chin Gigante may now be at the height of his power.

Chin Gigante, 60, goes to work each day at the Triangle Social Club at 208 Sullivan Street. It is from this storefront, and another at 229 Sullivan, that, law enforcement officials say, Gigante directs the operations of the Genovese family.

Gigante became head of the crime syn­dicate, according to police and FBI rec­ords, after Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the previous boss, was convicted in 1986 on federal racketeering charges. Until that time, Gigante was listed as the fam­ily’s “underboss,” though a former Geno­vese soldier has recently testified that Gigante actually became boss in 1981, after Salerno suffered a stroke.

Gigante gives the impression that he is crazy. Two weeks ago, with the tempera­ture at 35 degrees, Gigante, accompanied by two bodyguards, was seen walking on Sullivan Street in a royal blue hooded bathrobe and striped pajama pants. Once, when Gigante was sought for questioning by the FBI, an agent found him hiding in the shower of his mother’s apartment. He was naked and standing under the run­ning water. He was not wet, however: the umbrella he held over his head kept him dry. Intercepted conversations, some in­volving former Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito, also revealed that Genovese as­sociates had a strange code name for Gi­gante. Whenever they wanted to talk about the Genovese boss without using his name, they referred to him as “Aunt Julia.”

While law enforcement sources believe Gigante does have some mental prob­lems — he enters an upstate sanatorium for “annual tune-ups” — they believe he acts nuts to raise doubts about his con­trol of the family. Secret wiretaps have captured a lucid Gigante discussing fam­ily business with his associates. Despite his act, sources say, Gigante is in full control of the Genovese family and, as such, personally gets a cut of all activities of the brugad (see sidebar, “Is ‘Chin’ Sane?” below).

Chin Gigante lives in an $800,000 East Side townhouse with Olympia Esposito, his longtime companion, and three of his children. The Genovese boss, who some law enforcement officials believe is more powerful than John Gotti, does not share the Gambino boss’s flair: Gigante will not be seen wearing white linen raincoats or drinking at P. J. Clarke’s. He does not eat in restaurants, and his principal clothing accessory — besides his bathrobe — is the ratty fisherman’s cap he wears shading a face battered by boxing. He will never be mistaken for the “Dapper Don.”

In fact, there is no love lost between the country’s two most powerful mob­sters: Louis “Bobby” Manna (a/k/a “The Thin Man”), Gigante’s consigliere, is un­der indictment in New Jersey for conspir­ing to murder Gotti and his brother Gene, a Gambino captain. Law enforce­ment sources say that a planned hit on the Gotti brothers could never happen without Gigante’s approval, but prosecu­tors have been unable to develop evidence to link the Genovese boss to the murder conspiracy.

More importantly, what distinguishes Gigante from Gotti and the chiefs of the other three city crime families is that, since becoming a power in the Genovese organization, Gigante has been able to escape any Mafia-connected criminal prosecution.

Gigante usually avoids telephone con­versations — they might be bugged — and carries out business from behind a layer of crime family members. He has success­fully insulated himself from direct in­volvement in the family’s criminal enter­prises, principally by limiting his conversations to only a few associates close to him. These talks never occur inside the Triangle, where a sign warns, “Don’t talk in here. The FBI is listening to you.” Chin Gigante’s important con­versations are saved for walks around the same Greenwich Village streets where he and his brother Louis were raised.

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SEBCO AND THE WISEGUYS

LABOR RACKETEERING has been de­scribed by one law enforcement official as “graduate school” for Mafia members. While most low-level Genovese family members are involved in mob staples like hijacking, loan-sharking, gambling, and prostitution, the control of labor unions and construction companies has usually been the province of the Genovese hierar­chy. This is mainly because of the com­plexity of some deals, as well as the enormous profit potential of these enterprises.

The high-profit stakes were never bet­ter revealed than in testimony and evi­dence introduced during a federal racke­teering trial last year, which showed that Genovese leaders masterminded a scheme to rig bids on every city concrete contract worth more than $2 million. Through kickbacks and hidden interests in concrete companies, family leaders made millions in a scheme that involved the fixing of more than $130 million worth of these contracts. Investigators believe that the crime family has also operated similar “clubs” in various other ends of the construction industry.

Thanks to its control of unions dealing with plasterers, laborers, truckers, car­penters, and other workers, the Genovese gang has often been able to dictate which construction companies will get certain jobs. “Our real power, our real strength, came from the unions,” former Genovese soldier Vincent “Fish” Cafaro testified last year. “With the unions behind us, we could make or break the construction industry … ”

SENATOR SAM NUNN: What about subcontractors?

VINCENT CAFARO: Well, now there’s some contractors is usually around wise­guys, so you get the plumber, he is look­ing fo the job …

NUNN: So the wiseguy helps control the subcontractor?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: In other words they help the con­tractor get the job?

CAFARO: Then there is a subcontractor — ­if you got, let us say a plumber with you, or an electrician, or a carpenter, or the drywalls, you go to the contractor, you tell him, listen, give him this job, whatev­er. And that is how you get him.

NUNN: Do the wiseguys get money back from the subcontractor by helping them get the job?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

NUNN: So basically they are controlling everything from one end to the other.

CAFARO: Top to bottom.

NUNN: Top to bottom?

CAFARO: Sure.

Cafaro’s testimony before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on investigations, chaired by Senator Sam Nunn, April 29, 1988.

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SEBCO’S SILENT PARTNER

TOP TO BOTTOM, SEBCO developments show the hand of the Genovese crime family. Under Father Gigante’s leader­ship, SEBCO has permitted organized crime onto jobs, from the demolition of rotting tenements to the construction of walls to the installation and maintenance of elevators. At the center of the mob’s decade-long involvement with Father Gi­gante is Vincent DiNapoli, the Genovese family’s construction specialist, who has, for years, directed a network of construc­tion companies and businessmen tied to the mob. DiNapoli, who is now impris­oned, and Steven Crea, his protege and heir apparent, have been pivotal in the syndicate’s relationship with Father Gi­gante and SEBCO since 1979, when it first became deeply involved in low-in­come housing construction.

Vincent DiNapoli, 51, is an accom­plished fixer and a three-time felon. He was sentenced last year to 24 years in jail for his role in the concrete conspiracy. Though a prior conviction should have barred DiNapoli from receiving munici­pal contracts, two drywall companies that state investigators say are controlled by the mobster have secured more than $16 million worth of SEBCO contracts, as well as more than $60-million in munici­pal contracts since 1980.

The two firms — Inner City Drywall and Cambridge Drywall — were both founded by DiNapoli in 1978. Though he had no prior experience in drywall — the construction of interior walls in build­ings — DiNapoli’s companies secured more than $25 million in federally fi­nanced contracts during their first three years in business. Most of these contracts were on projects financed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban De­velopment.

SEBCO has provided Cambridge with more than $6 million in drywall and car­pentry work since 1980, records reviewed by the Voice reveal. The firm has also received contracts worth more than $15 million from other governmental agen­cies — including the New York City Hous­ing Authority and the federally financed Newport City development in New Jer­sey. Investigators believe that DiNapoli’s stature in the Genovese family allowed him to get most of these lucrative con­tracts — including the SEBCO jobs­ — without any competitive bidding. Inner City and Cambridge came onto jobs as subcontractors. Normally devel­opers hire a “general contractor” to man­age the construction site and to hire sub­contractors — the building trade’s specialists — who handle various facets of the construction project, from pouring concrete foundations to planting trees. At the city, state, and federal levels, general contractors doing government work are routinely subjected to nominal back­ground checks, but subcontractors rarely are scrutinized. In fact, many of the gov­ernmental agencies contacted by the Voice have no idea which subcontrac­tors — the companies actually building publicly financed projects — are working, or have worked, for them.

Following DiNapoli’s 1981 indictment, HUD officials placed him and his firms on what the agency calls its “debarment” list (see sidebar, “Federal Fraud”). But Cambridge and Inner City were removed from the list of ineligible contractors only a few months later when DiNapoli pre­sented documents showing that he had apparently sold his shares in the firms. Since their reinstatement, Inner City and Cambridge have each received dozens of federal housing and other municipal con­tracts, including every major SEBCO drywall contract during the last eight years. Drywall work is usually the largest subcontract awarded in rehabilitation projects. A report released by the state Orga­nized Crime Task Force in 1988 conclud­ed that DiNapoli “has long controlled” the two firms. The Voice has also devel­oped information that DiNapoli never di­vested himself of the drywall business.

In the midst of his 18-month racke­teering trial, DiNapoli held meetings in bis Pelham Manor home regarding construction business, according to law en­forcement sources. In fact, one of these meetings was taking place when the Voice visited DiNapoli’s home in November 1987. Automobiles in the driveway were registered to a Manhattan plasterers lo­cal; Bronx union boss and Genovese asso­ciate Louis Moscatiello; and attorney Vincent Velella, the father of State Sena­tor Guy Velella.

Until last summer, Cambridge Drywall operated out of a storefront at 2242 First Avenue, a building owned by Vincent “Fish” Cafaro; FBI surveillance has shown that various members of the Gen­ovese family regularly used Cambridge’s office as a meeting place. The firm has also operated from 2368 Westchester Ave­nue in the Bronx, a building owned by DiNapoli and three associates. In addi­tion, city records reveal that Cambridge has owned a pair of private homes on Kenilworth Place in the Bronx that have been the residences of Cafaro and Car­mine Della Cava, another powerful Geno­vese soldier.

HUD records indicate that DiNapoli’s interest in Cambridge was reportedly bought out by Larry Wecker for $900,000 in May 1981. An affidavit signed by Wecker in June 1981 states DiNapoli “maintains no control and exercises no influence” over the firm. The sale was not an arms-length transaction, however. FBI sources say that Wecker, 48, is considered an “associate” of the Genovese family and that he regularly visited DiNapoli at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecti­cut. The subcontractor and his wife live in an East Side co-op and own a $400,000 home on the edge of a golf course in Plantation, Florida. Wecker did not re­spond to a dozen messages left with his answering service.

SEBCO also gave over $1 million in subcontracts to another company linked to DiNapoli, Three Star Drywall. The company’s owner, Arthur Felcon, who has two criminal convictions, was a defense witness during DiNapoli’s 1982 trial. When pressed by prosecutors about Di­Napoli’s role in the drywall industry, Fel­con clammed up: “I don’t ask anybody who’s associated with anybody.” Felcon could not be reached for comment.

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TRANSFER OF POWER

DINAPOLI’S LEGAL PROBLEMS over the past five years have made a rising star of Steven Crea, 41, a longtime DiNapoli friend and business partner, who is listed in FBI records as a “made” member of the Genovese family. Crea now plays an important role for the syndicate in vari­ous aspects of the construction industry, which, according to law enforcement sources, has gotten Crea closely involved with Father Gigante and the SEBCO developments.

Crea is described by investigators as a “money man.” He grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx surrounded by wise­guys, and now lives in a sprawling home just across the street from DiNapoli. Crea is the godfather of DiNapoli’s daughter Deborah, and he arranged her engage­ment and wedding parties while her fa­ther was in prison.

Following DiNapoli’s jailing in 1983, FBI records reveal, Crea was designated by Chin Gigante to “assume Vincent DiNapoli’s former role” in the construc­tion “rehab” industry. Federal prison re­cords show that Crea visited DiNapoli more than 35 times in the first 16 months of DiNapoli’s incarceration in Danbury, and investigators believe that these meetings concerned the duo’s joint real estate and construction investments.

Crea’s federal tax returns from 1979 to 1983 reveal that he drew salaries each year from both DiNapoli drywall firms: Cambridge — a total of $170,000 from ’79 to ’83 — and Inner City — $86,468 in 1982 and $67,032 in 1983. According to federal prosecutors, Crea is believed to still own stock in both firms, though Cambridge recently went bankrupt, with creditors claiming more than $4.5 million in un­paid debts.

Vincent DiNapoli reported selling his 40 per cent interest in Inner City Drywall in April 1981, according to an affidavit signed by Antonio Rodrigues, the compa­ny’s president. But as with Cambridge Drywall and Larry Wecker, investigators say, DiNapoli’s influence over Inner City and Rodrigues has never really abated. Rodrigues did not return Voice calls to his New Rochelle office.

The ongoing relationship between DiNapoli and Inner City is apparent in some of their real estate transactions and other business dealings. Though Inner City is headquartered in New Rochelle, the firm often conducts business out of a DiNapoli-owned storefront at 1237 Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx. The site is also home to the DiNapoli printing and waste-hauling businesses. In April 1985, Inner City gave a real estate company owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Crea a $450,000 mortgage on a Bronx property that was purchased three years earlier for only $15,000. And last July, Inner City transferred ownership of a 1976 white Cadillac Eldorado to Crea’s 17-year-old son.

Father Gigante too can be counted among Steven Crea’s business associates and personal friends. In 1985, after Crea was convicted of conspiracy in connec­tion with a plot to kill a Bronx man who Crea believed had assaulted his wife, Fa­ther Gigante wrote a personal appeal for leniency to the sentencing judge, calling Crea a “special friend” who once helped him fight the “onslaughts of crime and housing deterioration” in the South Bronx. (Crea’s conviction was overturned in 1987.) A 1982 FBI affidavit stated that Gigante’s crime-fighting friend was sus­pected of “loansharking, gambling, and narcotics activities.”

Inner City has grown over the past 10 years into one of the metropolitan area’s chief drywall contractors, according to an industry source. The company and its subsidiaries have received more than $10 million in SEBCO contracts since 1980, and the firm has secured at least $40 million in other municipal contracts. This total includes a $19 million joint venture with developer Samuel Pompa for the New York City Housing Author­ity, as well as more than $10 million in current work with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. While some of the contracts were award­ed on a low-bid basis, many others are were subcontracts that involved no competitive bidding.

But Steven Crea’s new clout in the Genovese gang and SEBCO-tied con­struction has a downside: he has recently come under intense scrutiny by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

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CLOSE TO HOME

PART OF THE Morgenthau-Goldstock probe, according to investigative sources, is focusing on Crea; Mario Tolisano, Fa­ther Gigante’s right-hand man at SEBCO; and union leader Louis Mosca­tiello, in connection with various labor racketeering offenses. As part of the probe, prosecutors have subpoenaed SEBCO’s financial records for the past three years. A special 11-month grand jury has been empaneled, and indict­ments are expected within the next few months.

Sources have told the Voice that the investigation, which has involved the ex­tensive use of wiretaps, has centered, in part, on Tolisano’s role as the link between a “club” of contractors and Mosca­tiello, in the “covering” of construction jobs. This process, once a Vincent DiNa­poli specialty, results in contractors being allowed to illegally hire cheaper, non­union laborers for projects that are sup­posed to “go union.”

Tolisano is a protege of Father Gigante, and over the last 10 years the 39-year-old has been instrumental in planning and developing every SEBCO housing project. Tolisano last year ran his friend Philip Foglia’s unsuccessful campaign for Bronx district attorney, an effort partially fi­nanced by SEBCO contractors and supported by Father Gigante (see sidebar, “Pols and the Mob”). Foglia’s father, a former police detective, has been head of SEBCO’s security division since 1981.

The Voice spoke briefly with Tolisano last month and gave him an outline of areas to be discussed in an interview. Tolisano said that he would confer with Father Gigante and call back, but never did so. Ten subsequent calls placed to Tolisano’s office also went unreturned.

In addition, investigators are examin­ing Moscatiello’s role as a “broker” be­tween this club of contractors and officials from other unions. As president of Local 530 of the plasterers union, Mosca­tiello, 51, was paid $64,000 in 1987. He is very close to Vincent DiNapoli and Fa­ther Gigante, both of whom supported his unsuccessful 1982 bid for City Coun­cil. Father Gigante has referred to Mosca­tiello as “the most honest man I know.” According to labor investigators, Local 530 was formed with DiNapoli’s assis­tance and has served as a “sweetheart” local for contractors, paying workers less and offering fewer benefits.

[In addition to Gigante and Tolisano, the Voice attempted to question four oth­er SEBCO officials. Father William Smith, SEBCO’s secretary and a 10-year board member, declined to be inter­viewed, claiming, “I stopped giving inter­views in 1971.” Board member Vincent Molinari also refused to talk to the Voice. The other board members, who share a Manhattan apartment, did not respond to messages left at their residence.]

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FOR “THE BOYS”

THE 1982 LABOR RACKETEERING CASE involving Father Gigante’s friend Vincent DiNapoli exposed some of the inner workings of the subcontracting under­world. In this instance, DiNapoli and Theodore Maritas, then president of the District Council of Carpenters, conspired to rig a bid for Petina Associates — a long­time major contractor for SEBCO and the New York City Housing Authority, with more than $35 million in municipal contracts. In addition, one of the firms that prosecutors charged had conspired with DiNapoli and Maritas to submit in­flated bids was controlled by builder Sid­ney Silverstein, who is currently handling more than $22 million in SEBCO jobs and $30 million in other city housing projects.

After his first trial ended in a hung jury in 1982, Vincent DiNapoli pleaded guilty to labor racketeering charges in Brooklyn federal court. One of the specific counts of the indictment for which DiNapoli ad­mitted guilt involved an amazing shake­down of a small building contractor. The outline of the conspiracy was secretly re­corded and videotaped by the FBI in Maritas’s Manhattan office.

On the tape, Maritas and DiNapoli ex­plained to the contractor that he had stumbled into their plan to fix a $5.5 million contract for Petina to perform renovations on a group of Chelsea brown­stones. Maritas told the small business­man that he and DiNapoli had “set up” the owner of the brownstones with inflat­ed bids so that “a certain guy got the job.” Maritas then explained to the con­tractor that “everybody had been in on it, and you come along, innocently, okay, and come in a million less than the low bidder … You’re in the middle of a big ball game, my friend.” Maritas then add­ed, “If you were just some guy we didn’t know … you would have problems. … We’d go for your eyeballs.”

DiNapoli chimed in that various “con­nected” individuals were involved in the scheme and that the job had been “regis­tered.” DiNapoli eventually gave the con­tractor the choice of either taking $100,000 to get off the job or going back to the owner of the brownstones and re­questing an additional $100,000 for “the boys.” But before the contractor returned with an answer, the undercover investiga­tion was terminated, and charges were brought against Maritas, DiNapoli, and five others.

With the exception of Maritas, every defendant in the DiNapoli racketeering case pleaded guilty. Maritas’s first trial ended in a hung jury. But in March 1982, before he could be retried on the federal charges, the labor leader disappeared. Maritas’s wallet was later found floating near the Throgs Neck Bridge. Investiga­tors believe he was the victim of a Geno­vese-sanctioned hit.

Petina Associates, the contractor who would have gotten the rigged bid, is con­trolled by Peter DeGennaro, a neighbor of Crea and DiNapoli in Pelham Manor. Since 1982, the firm has received $19.6 million in contracts from the New York City Housing Authority for the construc­tion and rehabbing of public housing. The company has done more than $6 million worth of work for SEBCO over the past eight years. An additional $8 million has been earned by DeGennaro’s company from city agencies such as the Police Department and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Father Gigante had lined up Petina to do a $7 million small-homes project in 1984, but when SEBCO encountered problems securing bank financing, DeGennaro was forced to back out of the deal.

Petina and Vincent DiNapoli have a real sweetheart association. DiNapoli was once so involved with Petina’s opera­tions, records show, that he would per­sonally pick up bid specifications for the company from general contractors. And up until last year, the DiNapoli family’s carting company shared a Bronx office with Petina Associates at 1821 Mahan Avenue. DeGennaro did not return Voice phone calls.

Deed records reveal that in April 1980 Petina Associates purchased a house at 1446 Roosevelt Place in Pelham Manor for $150,000. Eleven months later, Petina sold the home to DiNapoli’s wife, daugh­ter, and mother-in-law for the bargain price of $126,000, which represents a $24,000 loss — an unusual Westchester County real estate deal. At the time of the sale to the DiNapolis, real estate re­cords show, Petina gave the family a $99,065 mortgage, which carried a 6 per cent annual interest rate. The mortgage was another incredible gift, since prevail­ing rates at the time were 13.91 per cent, according to Federal Home Loan Bank Board records. The house, now occupied by DiNapoli’s daughter, is currently worth $700,000.

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PROBLEM SOLVER

ONE OF THE SEBCO PALS implicated in the DiNapoli-Maritas case is currently Father Gigante’s developer of choice: Sid­ney Silverstein is now serving as general contractor on three current SEBCO proj­ects. These development contracts are worth a total of $22 million, according to city records. Two of the contracts are for the construction of small homes ($10 mil­lion and $4 million), and the other proj­ect is an $8 million, 90-unit senior citizen development, cosponsored by St. Barna­bus Hospital. In addition, Silverstein’s firm may also be in line to build SEBCO’s largest project to date, a $19.1 million small homes project. The project, dubbed St. Mary’s Park, will consist of 113 two­-family homes on 144th and 145th streets, bounded by Willis and Brook avenues, south of SEBCO’s normal hub.

Since 1981, Silverstein has operated under the name Sparrow Construction, of which he is chairman. In addition to his work with HPD and HUD, Silverstein has also gotten contracts from the state Urban Development Corporation and the New York City Housing Authority — in spite of past investigations of his busi­ness dealings, including possible forgery in connection with a federally funded Brooklyn housing project.

Testimony in the DiNapoli-Maritas case revealed that Silverstein submitted an inflated bid of $6.4 million in an attempt to help secure the contract — fixed for Petina Associates. In an outgrowth of the Maritas-DiNapoli case, Silverstein’s company and a host of other construction firms were targeted in 1983 by a joint FBI-IRS-Department of Labor probe in­vestigating allegations of drywall bid-rig­ging. While two companies were eventu­ally convicted of federal crimes, Silverstein and his firm were not charged.

In addition to his ties to DiNapoli, Silverstein also has a close association with Steven Crea, a relationship that investigators working on the Morgenthau-­Goldstock probe are examining.

In a 1985 letter to Crea’s sentencing judge, a Bronx priest wrote about the mobster’s efforts to rehabilitate the Belmont section of the Bronx. “He has been instrumental personally and through the Sparrow Construction in rehabilitating more than 100 units of housing,” wrote Reverend Mario Zicarelli. When the Voice phoned the priest about the Crea letter, he said could not remember any details and hung up.

Asked during a Voice interview to de­scribe his relationship with Crea, Silver­stein initially responded, “Who is he?” But after the Voice told the developer that it had documents that linked Crea to Sparrow Construction, Silverstein admit­ted that he employs Crea as a “labor consultant” who “helps mainly with problems in the various communities and with the church groups. He takes care of whatever problems come up.” Asked what types of problems arose with “church groups,” Silverstein said: “At the moment I can’t really tell you.” When the Voice told Silverstein it had information that Crea was paid more than “six fig­ures,” he responded, “Yes, that’s correct.” At that point, Silverstein said he did not want to answer any more questions and would consult with his attorney. He did not return subsequent calls.

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RISING PROFITS

SEBCO’S “TOP TO BOTTOM” subcon­tracting network once also included Cur­tis Lifts, Ltd., an elevator company that paid Crea $67,500 in 1983 according to his tax return for that year. The firm’s Bronx address — 3743 White Plains Road — also happened to be the offices of Sid Silverstein’s Sparrow Construction, but it is unclear who owned the company. (When asked about Curtis Lifts, Silver­stein said he had “no comment.”) The company was apparently sold sometime in 1985 or 1986.

Curtis Lifts, nonetheless, was a large SEBCO subcontractor, with more than $5 million in contracts. The company, which was incorporated in 1980 by Crea’s attorney Paul Victor, stopped getting SEBCO contracts soon after it was sold to the Flynn-Hill elevator company.

While it may not be clear who was installing SEBCO’s elevators, it is clear what firm services many of them: Al-An Elevator Maintenance, which is owned by Vincent DiNapoli’s brother Anthony, and Allie Salerno, who prosecutors contend is the nephew of Anthony “Fat Tony” Sa­lerno. (Attorneys for the DiNapoli broth­ers have denied this charge, contending at Allie Salerno has never even met “Fat Tony.”) The firm’s contracts with SEBCO have totaled more than $250,000. Taped conversations introduced as evi­dence in DiNapoli’s last federal trial show that Vincent DiNapoli often tried to round up business for his brother’s com­pany. Furthermore, Al-An operates out of a property owned by Vincent DiNapoli and Steven Crea.

BIG HAULS

IF SEBCO WANTS GARBAGE CARTED from a project site, it often turns to yet another DiNapoli family concern Crest­wood Carting, which specializes in haul­ing construction debris. The firm has re­ceived about $1 million in SEBCO contracts — usually for taking away the remains of demolished tenements. Crest­wood is currently doing work for SEBCO at a building project on Fox Street spon­sored by the Archdiocese of New York.

City records show that the sole owner of Crestwood is DiNapoli family relative Joseph Brancaccio. The firm has recently employed both Louis and Vincent DiNa­poli as well as their sister, who is the company’s bookkeeper. Federal prosecu­tors contend that Crestwood Carting was a direct beneficiary of the DiNapoli brothers’ concrete industry scheme, since the firm received carting contracts for many of the construction sites involved in the bid-rigging operation.

The carting industry has long been dominated by the Mafia. Genovese mem­bers like Louis DiNapoli — Vincent’s younger brother — and Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello have held financial interests in a number of carting firms.

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WIRED

RALPH ARRED, THE CHAIRMAN of the Yonkers Democratic Party, can often be seen holding court at a back table in Pagliaccio’s restaurant on Bronx River Road in Yonkers. Arred, a Cuban immi­grant who shortened his name from Arre­dondo, grew up with Steve Crea and re­mains very close to him. And he too has a spot at the SEBCO trough.

Arred owns an electrical contracting company that has received $10 million in SEBCO contracts in addition to $20 mil­lion from governmental agencies. The Yonkers political boss has received nu­merous SEBCO contracts over the past three years despite the fact that his firm declared bankruptcy in early 1986 and is currently “on the verge of collapsing,” according to an attorney representing its creditors.

Arred is “of great interest” says one source on the Morgenthau-Goldstock team, but the pol is not currently a target of the investigation. A state law enforcement source, however, told the Voice that investigators from the United States At­torney’s Office in Manhattan have opened a separate probe of Arred. The Yonkers boss told the Voice that he was not surprised that he was being probed. “I’m a political leader, I expect it. But I don’t give a fuck. It’s not the first time that they’ve investigated me.”

According to state board of elections reports examined by the Voice, a main source of funds for Arred’s Yonkers Dem­ocratic Party has been organized crime. The party has received substantial cam­paign contributions from corporations owned or controlled by Crea and/or Vin­cent DiNapoli.

Arred operates his contracting firm out of a building at 4443 Third Avenue in the Bronx. He shares this warehouse space with other prime SEBCO subcontrac­tors, Nicholas and Anthony Russo. (The brothers Russo are also close friends of Crea.) The Russo companies, which in­clude a large metal contracting company and a painting business, have done a total of $8 million in business with SEBCO and have received additional municipal contracts totaling at least $12 million.

Until he sold it last October, Nicholas Russo was listed in State Liquor Author­ity records as the owner of Pagliaccio’s. According to a 1982 FBI affidavit, Crea had a “financial interest” in the Italian restaurant. The two-story building that houses the restaurant and Crea’s office is owned by a relative of Crea’s employed by him.

Like Arred, Nicholas Russo, 45, wrote to the judge on behalf of Crea in 1985. Stating that he had known him for 25 years, Russo referred to Crea as someone who “does not shy away” from helping his community, particularly senior citi­zens. Arred’s bankruptcy filings show that his firm owes $280,000 to Nicholas Russo, and the electrical contractor said he is negotiating with Russo for an addi­tional $500,000 loan.

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MEADE AND MARIO

WHEN CONTRACTS HAVE BEEN doled out, Father Gigante has not forgotten his friends in politics. Records show that SEBCO has given business to the law firm of Mario Biaggi and the insurance brokerage of Meade Esposito, another pair of felons. The priest is an old friend of Biaggi and Esposito (long tied to a number of Genovese family hoods), and once called the former Brooklyn Demo­cratic boss, “one of the finest leaders in the country.” Federal housing records show that Esposito and Biaggi each pulled down more than $200,000 in fees from SEBCO developments.

Another Gigante crony earning money from SEBCO is Ely Colon, a former member of the not-for-profit’s board of directors. In his spare time, Colon serves as the principal broker for SEBCO’s pur­chase of couches, tables, chairs, and other furnishings. Colon told the Voice that he works full-time for HPD and operates his furniture company from his Bronx apart­ment. Individual SEBCO orders placed through Colon have totaled about $200,000 over the past two years. Colon said that SEBCO uses him to purchase furniture because “I have all the catalogs to order from.” Asked to provide a list of his clients, Colon struggled to come up with the name of one other customer.

NO VOW OF POVERTY

If You Can’t Trust Father Gigante, Who Can You Trust?
— A sign that hung for years on the side of the Bruckner Boulevard business headquarters of Genovese soldier William “Billy the Butcher” Masselli

THE VOICE’S INVESTIGATION showed that not only has “Father G.” been busy steering construction jobs to his mob pals, but he made money himself. As he is quick to point out, he never took a vow of poverty. While many of his parishioners live be­low the poverty line, records show that Gigante definitely does not. He owns two Manhattan co-ops and a home in upstate New York. The priest has also enter­tained friends in a swank San Juan con­dominium that he told them he owned. Gigante owns six automobiles and at least six pieces of Bronx real estate.

The priest once told a friend, “People may think I do this for free, but that’s their problem.” Gigante described himself last year as a “non-order” priest and, as such, says he does not have to adhere to the strict financial limitations of orders such as the Jesuits. SEBCO records re­veal that the company paid the priest $85,576 in 1987, and, in ’88 paid him $44,088 for part-time work. But the Voice has found that Father Gigante was un­doubtedly able to supplement his income thanks to a number of side ventures that are blatant conflicts of interest.

After a federally financed housing proj­ect is constructed, the only remaining source of continuing income comes from the management of the property. Gigante quickly realized this once he got in the business, and formed a management arm for SEBCO in 1979. Gigante, records show, now personally owns the real estate company, SEBCO Management, that provides those services to most of the SEBCO developments. According to financial records, the management compa­ny has a gross income of more than $450,000 annually. The board of directors of SEBCO — the parent company­ — which Gigante chairs, is responsible for picking which realty firms will manage its properties. It should come as no surprise that the priest’s company has gotten ev­ery SEBCO contract.

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In fact, the management of SEBCO properties is so important to Gigante that he broke with his long-time principal developer, Jerome Chatzky, after the builder refused to turn over management of certain projects to the priest, sources said.

A second company, Tiffany Mainte­nance, provides services — from painting hallways to repairing roofs — for about 1000 SEBCO apartments. Tiffany does more than $200,000 a year in business with the SEBCO organization. The firm was incorporated in April 1985 and was listed as a personal asset of Gigante’s on a June 1986 city disclosure report. On subsequent report, filed in May 1987, it appears that the entry for Tiffany Maintenance had been whited out. A Gigante disclosure filed in June 1988 also fails to list Tiffany Maintenance as an asset. Who owns the firm today is unclear, but Tiffany continues to be headquartered in a SEBCO project on Southern Boulevard, and when nobody is in its office, the company’s phones are forwarded to SEBCO Management.

In various filings with city and federal housing agencies, SEBCO and Gigante have not been forthcoming about the priest’s insider trading. In the thousands of documents filed by SEBCO with the federal housing department, the group never discloses that SEBCO Manage­ment is owned by Father Gigante, and that, at the very least, Tiffany Maintene­nce has also been — and may still be­ — an asset of the priest’s. In applications filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1987 and 1988, SEBCO refers to itself as the “par­ent company” of SEBCO Management. SEBCO also refers to Tiffany Mainte­nance as its “affiliate.” Since Gigante did not change the management company’s name, it appears the firm is still owned by the not-for-profit simply because it still carries the “SEBCO” moniker.

Records indicate that SEBCO Manage­ment was sold to Gigante sometime in 1986 for roughly $75,000, with no money down. Since then, it appears, the priest has paid SEBCO $35,000 toward the full purchase price. SEBCO’s records do not explain how the $75,000 sales price was established, if there were other potential buyers, what the company’s market value was, and if the sale had SEBCO board approval. Documents filed with the state Division of Housing and Community Re­newal reveal that after SEBCO sold its management operation to Gigante, the group received a $60,000 state housing preservation contract that was earm­arked, in part, to “market SEBCO Management” by preparing a brochure about the company, compiling a list of “potential clients,” and then sending the brochures out in a “bulk mailing.” This appears to be a misuse of state funds to enhance a private business.

Along with the various SEBCO pro­jects, Gigante’s management company has branched out, securing contracts with three separate federally funded Bronx ousing projects. It is not known whether these contracts were secured as a result of SEBCO’s state-funded “marketing” effort.

An even more intriguing transaction involved a second company that was once owned by SEBCO, but which also found its way into Gigante’s private portfolio.

This firm, the SEBCO Housing Devel­opment Company, Inc., was formed in November 1982 and had its name changed to SEBCO Realty in February 1985. (Like the management firm, most city and federal housing officials continue to believe the company is owned by Gi­gante’s not-for-profit organization.) In a June 1986 city disclosure form, Gigante listed SEBCO Realty as an asset wholly owned by him. Nowhere in any SEBCO tax returns or financial documents is the sale of this asset fully explained with re­gard to market value, purchase price, or approval by SEBCO’s board of directors. This lack of disclosure is critical since the SEBCO Housing Development Company stood to profit from a lucrative 1985 housing development deal.

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City records show that, initially, SEBCO (the parent company) was sched­uled to receive a $593,750 fee for its role as cosponsor of a publicly financed pro­ject on Kelly Street. However, days be­fore “closing” the deal, SEBCO informed city housing officials that it was being replaced as sponsor by the SEBCO Hous­ing Development Corporation, which SEBCO described as a wholly owned sub­sidiary. While city officials were surprised at this last-minute switch, they nonethe­less approved the project. The substitu­tion, in effect, meant that the SEBCO subsidiary — and not the parent compa­ny — was now in line to receive the $593,750 sponsor’s fee.

According to a schedule of payments, the subsidiary was to get its share over five years, beginning with $91,250 in 1984 and followed with payments of $147,500 in 1985, $85,000 in 1986, and $90,000 in 1987, 1988, and 1989.

Using this formula, the firm — in its new incarnation as SEBCO Realty — had at least $270,000 in cash receivables when Gigante took it over. It is not known how much — if any — of the previously dis­bursed $323,750 in fees was on hand when Gigante got the company.

The only other assets that can be traced to the SEBCO Housing Develop­ment Company/SESCO Realty are four South Bronx buildings — with a combined total of 177 apartments — that were pur­chased from the city in January 1984 for $50,000 in unpaid bills. It seems that Gigante has been involved in more self­-dealing: this time, he apparently has used city and state funds to spruce up the four buildings he owns.

Part of the $60,000 state housing preservation grant was earmarked for renova­tions to the four rent-stabilized  buildings, though Gigante them himself. In addition, development fees earned by SEBCO itself in connection with the group’s sponsorship of two federal pro­jects have recently been used to pay for new windows and doors, light fixtures, an intercom system, roof repairs, and paint jobs in the four buildings. City records list the work being done on properties ”currently owned and managed by SEBCO.” Department of Housing Preser­vation and Development records show the four rent-stabilized buildings have a total of 657 housing code violations.

Of course, SEBCO — the parent compa­ny — neither owns nor manages any of the four buildings. The “SEBCO” firm that manages the properties as well as the “SEBCO” company that holds title to the buildings are both privately owned by the priest. On a June 1988 city disclosure Gigante listed the four buildings as per­sonal assets, a fact that has escaped city housing officials.

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FATHER G’S HIDEAWAY

WHILE GIGANTE’S BUSINESS DEALINGS may be tainted, his recent action on be­half of a convicted Genovese associate is a true illustration of the priest’s character.

Morris Levy, the president of Roulette Records, has been a long-time source of ready cash for the Genovese family, par­ticularly Chin Gigante and his live-in companion, Olympia Esposito. According to a 1985 FBI affidavit, Levy money was also “funnelled” to Father Gigante in the form of a gift of a piece of upstate prop­erty and a low-interest mortgage.

The property, located on the edge of Levy’s sprawling horse farm in the town of Ghent, was given to Father Gigante in August 1979 with an accompanying $32,000 mortgage at 5 per cent interest. At the time, prevailing rates were be­tween 10 and 11 per cent. In addition to the house loan, records show that Levy also gave the priest a $15,000 “business loan” in 1981.

When the Voice first tried to question Gigante about the 1979 transaction in April 1988 (when the FBI affidavit was made public), he did not return phone calls. He finally told his tale just before Levy was sentenced last year on federal extortion charges.

On September 20, 1988, Gigante wrote to Stanley Brotman, the federal judge sentencing Levy, and termed the FBI’s account of the house deal “a bold lie” Gigante claimed that Levy actually do­nated the land to Gigante so that the pair could build a home for one of the priest’s former secretaries.

In his letter, Gigante explained that he uses a “large part” of his earnings “to take care of my dear friend and loyal assistant” Erma Cava. The priest’s for­mer secretary, 55, who is partially para­lyzed and confined to a wheelchair, has had a SEBCO senior citizens project named after her, Gigante went on to state that since 1980, Cava “has been living full-time at the farm” and that there she is cared for by “another of my secretar­ies,” who Gigante claimed he also sup­ports. The spacious ranch-style home, which sits on about an acre of land, fea­tures a sun room, two-car garage, and a backyard that slopes down to a large pond.

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“Morris and I visit frequently and I often bring children from the parish to visit and spend time in the country. Erma is still paralyzed on her right side, but we see continued improvement. She is even beginning to speak although she is aphasic,” Gigante wrote. He concluded: “I  am not involved with organized crime and it is an insult to mischaracterize Morris’ kindnesses to me and others as the funneling of money to organized crime. I believe Morris’ greatest contribution was the idea to build a home for Erma … an unfortunate pe·rson who might have been forgotten without us.” While appearing heartfelt, Gigante’s letter borders on total fiction.

Not only is the deed, mortgage, and phone at the property in the name of Louis Gigante, when the Voice visited the home last year, two cars registered to the priest were in the driveway, but nobody was home. In addition, Department of Motor Vehicle records show that the priest currently registers his Cadillac from the Ghent address as well as three cars owned by his real estate manage­ment firm. When a neighbor was asked if he knew where the “Gigante house” was, he immediately pointed it out.

In addition, SEBCO records for 1986, 1987, and 1988 list Erma Cava’s home address as 520 Second Avenue in Man­hattan. Cava’s address turns up on the SEBCO records because the woman, who Father Gigante described in his letter as brain-impaired and barely able to talk, sits on SEBCO’s five-person board of directors.

Cava lives with Migdalia Morales, a SEBCO board member and former Gi­gante secretary, in apartment 8-8 in the Phipps Houses development on Second Avenue in Manhattan. A fellow Phipps resident immediately recognized Cava’s name, said “she’s in a wheelchair,” and added that the woman has lived in the building for “at least eight years and maybe more.”

Though the priest claims to support her, Cava had enough pocket change to donate $1000 last March to the campaign of Phil Foglia, a Gigante-backed candi­date for Bronx district attorney, accord­ing to Board of Elections campaign dis­closure statements. These election records also list Cava’s address as 520 Second Avenue. Morales donated $1000 to Foglia on the same day; her address is also listed on election records as 520 Sec­ond Avenue, Apartment 8-B.

AT THE 9:30 A.M. MASS on Sunday, De­cember 4, Father Gigante is at the altar at St. Athanasius talking about sin. The priest explains that if one is to be saved, one must acknowledge and take responsibility for his sins. He then decries the crime and violence in our society and how “we have allowed it to invade all our neighborhoods. We have accepted the violence. We have accepted the crime and the drugs. This violence against our peo­ple happens every day on the streets out­side this very church.”

Since the days he studied at St. Jo­seph’s Seminary, Louis Gigante has also accepted crime and violence-and the men involved in these criminal attacks on the community. The priest’s relationship with the mob is not innuendo: it clearly has been one of long-time cooperation with hoodlums.

Father Louis Gigante is not just a troubling anomaly. More than any prosecutor or parolee in this city, the priest sits at the crossroad of good and evil, happy to live off both sides of the street. ❖

IS CHIN SANE?

FATHER LOUIS GIGANTE recently began legal proceedings to have a conservator appointed to handle the affairs of his brother, Vin­cent “The Chin” Gigante, the Voice has learned. Legal papers state that the Genovese boss is “unable to manage his personal affairs by reason of mental illness.” The FBI, on the other hand, has long contended that Chin Gigante runs the crime family.

On February 16, the priest-repre­sented by attorney Barry Slotnick’s law firm-requested that state su­preme court judge Jacqueline Silber­man name a conservator for his broth­er. Silberman told the Voice that she has appointed attorney Peter Wtlson to represent Chin Gigante lllld said the lawyer is to submit a report to her on March 14 regarding Gigante’s mental state. Silberman said the report­ which will address whether a conser­vator is warranted-will include inter­views with Gigante’s doctor, Eugene D’Adamo.

In most cases, conservators are appointed for individuals-often elderly or mentally infirm-who cannot take care of their business and personal matters. While family members say that Chin Gigante is mentally ·ill, this action will be the first public review of those contentions. Law enforcement officials have previously voiced their concern that Gigante-given his bi­zarre behavior-might be able to easi­ly mount an insanity defense if he were to face any future criminal charges.

Father Gigante’s legal maneuver comes at a time when Gambino boss John Gatti reportedly has put out a contract on Chin Gigante. The Daily News reported Monday that the FBI recently advised the priest and his brother Mario, a Genovese soldier, of the alleged Gambino plot. While secu­rity around Chin Gigante is tight on Sullivan Street, the Genovese boss ap­pears to be guarded only by his chauf­feur Vito Palmieri when he is picked up at his East Side home. — W.B. & EDWARD BORGES

POLS AND THE MOB

LOCAL POLITICIANS have been on the receiving end of campaign contributions from members of the Genovese crime family, campaign records show. Politicians and committees receiving mob money include:

  •  State Senator Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican, has gotten tholl88nds of dollars in Genovese-tainted contribu­tions since 1986. Velella’s campaign committee -has received donations from two companies owned by the family of Genovese soldier Vincent DiNapoli ($600); a Genovese-connect­ed bricltlayers local ($200 ); and mob­linked labor leader Louis Moscatiello ($ 100). Larger donations were sent in 1987 to the Velella-chaired Bronx Re­publican committee by firms linked to DiNapoli and fellow Genovese mem­ber Steven Crea: Cambridge Drywall ($750); Inner City Drywall ($750); V.L.J. Construction Corp. ($750); Al­An Elevator Maintenance ($750); and DiNapoli’s wife ($1500).
    Velella told the ¾>ice he was not sure who solicited contnbutions from the DiNapolia, but that one posaibility was Moscatiello-head of plasterers Local 530-who has helped with fundraising.
  • The Genovese hand can al80 be seen in donations to the Yonkers Demo­cratic party, Again, the money comes principally through firms tied to DiNapoli and Crea. The Voice has sin­gled out 19 Genovese-linked contribu­tions, totaling $5150, that chairman Ralph Arred’s committee has received since July 1984. Firms donating in­clude Crea’s road paving and real es­tate development companies and two drywall companies tied to DiNapoli and Crea.
    Arred said he did not know how mob firms ended up donating to the · party. “I have a mailing list with 2200 names. Whoever gives me names, I put them on the list.”
  • Before his election to Congress last fall, Eliot Engel, a former Bronx as­semblyman, got donations from Mos­catiello, Crestwood Carting-the DiNapoli family garbage company­and Molat Homes, a firm that gave its address as the New Rochelle home of Vmcent DiNapoli’s brother Joseph, a convicted heroin trafficker.
  • Last year’s campaign by Philip fog­lia for Bronx district attorney ‘got $1000 from the District Council of Carpenters, which state investigators say is involved in “racketeering.” Vm­cent Tolentino, Local 530’s secretary and a Moscatiello business partner, donated $150; and a real estate part­ner of Crea and Vincent DiNapoli’s gave $500. Foglia al80 received more than a dozen donations-for a total of about $6000-from companies receiv­ing SEBCO contracts. — W.B.

DECEIVING THE FEDS
Vincent DiNapoli’s Two Dirty Deeds

FOLLOWING HIS INDICTMENT on labor racketeering charges in April 1981, Vincent DiNapoli was declared persona non grata by the federal housing department

Officials at the Department of Hous­ing and Urban Development placed the Genovese soldier on their list of ineligi­ble contractors pending the resolution of charges brought against DiNapoli. A letter from the agency dated April 16, 1981, informed DiNapoli that he was “suspended from participation in HUD programs.” Following DiNapoli’s guilty plea in latr 1982, HUD issued a “final determination” barring DiNapoli-for an indefinite period of time-from any partic,pution with the housing agency. DiNapoli still is on HUD’s debarment. list.

This ruling, however, did not deter DiNapoli or Father Gigante.

The Voice has discovered that, in vi­olation of federal regulations, DiNapoli secretly invested $305,000 in two HUD projects, including a $6 million SEBCO renovation. Both DiNapoli investments were in projects financed under “Sec­tion 8,'” a federal program popular with investors because of its lucrative tax shelter benefits.

Unbeknownst to HUD or city hous­ing officials, DiNapoli-with Gigante·s help-secretly invested $110,000 in a real estate limited partnership that. was approved by HUD to renovate two rot­ting buildings on Faile Street in the South Bronx. As part of the HUD package, the federal agency guaranteed a $4.5 million mortgage granted to the limited partnership, Faile Street Associates.

When the housing project. called Al­dus I, was being reviewed by HUD and the city’s Department of Housing Pres­ervation and Development, Father Gi­gante’s organization submitted docu­ments to both agencies listing SEBCO and the Renata Construction Company as 50-50 partners in the deal. Renata is owned by builder Samuel Pompa.

Following HUD and HPD background investigations, which include a check of federal debarment lists, as well as an examination of the project’s cor­porate papers, both housing agencies signed off on the deal. Shortly there­after, the realty partnership received final authorization from HUD to begin renovation on 96 apartments.

It was at this time-with the project safely approved-that Gigante secretly brought Genovese family operatives into the deal, including Vincent and Joseph DiNapoli-two convicted fel­ons-and their brother Louis. Joseph DiNapoli was convicted in 1974 of con­spiracy to distribute heroin and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Other new partners investing $110,000 apiece included Genovese family member Steven Crea, and four executives of Inner City Drywall, a company tied to Crea and Vincent DiNapoli. The amendment effectively transferred control of the partner­ship-and ownership of the housing de­velopment itself-from SEBCO and Pompa to the DiNapoli crew.

Gigante surely knew that if either city or federal housing officials were apprised of the DiNapolis’ role in the Faile Street project, the renovation would never have been approved. And SEBCO would have lost more than $100,000 in sponsorship fees. In fact, while all 10 partnership agreements were signed and notarized in December 1982, Gigante and Pompa didn’t get around to actually filing the corporate amendment with the Bronx county clerk’s office until May 1984-eight months aft.er renovations were com­pleted on the Faile Street properties.

The 1982 agreements with DiNapoli and the other new “limited” partners called for a $5000 payment up front, with the $105,000 balance to be paid over three years (1983, ’84, and ’85). In return, the new investors would each receive 9.9 per cent of the partnership’s profits. This percentage apparently was carefully calculated to avoid an HPD rule that requires sponsors to disclose the names of any individual holding 10 per cent or more of its stock. But dis• closure still should have been made since city rules also require family members holding stock in aggregate of 10 per cent to file disclosure forms. The DiNapoli brothers purchased 29.7 per cent of Faile Street Associates, which holds the deed to the two five-story buildings.

Marylea Byrd, an assistant counsel in HUD’s Washington office, told the Voice that DiNapoli’s debarment pre­cluded, from the day of his suspension in April 1981, his being “involved in any way with a HUD deal. This in­cludes being a subcontractor as well as being the recipient of a HUD-insured mortgage.” Byrd said that debarred in­dividuals “are certainly not supposed to be limited partners in any HUD-in­ sured ventures.”

THE DRY RUN for DiNapoli’s Faile Street gambit apparently was the mob­ster”s July 1981 investment of $195,000 in a limited partnership developing a 50-unit HUD project on Saint Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn. DiNapoli had al­ready been suspended for three months when he purchased a 14.83 per cent interest in the project. As with Faile Street, the Brooklyn limited partner­ship-Rochester Associates-also re­ceived a multimillion mortgage guaran­teed by HUD. And as with Faile Street, city and federal housing officials were never informed of the corporate switch.

Joining DiNapoli in this limited partnership, according to corporate pa­pers, were his daughter Deborah, then only 19 years old ($65,000 for a 4.945 per cent interest), Crea ($130,000/9.89 per cent), Inner City Drywall president Antonio Rodrigues ($130,000/9.89 per cent), and Genovese associate Robert DeFilippis ($130,000/9.89 per cent). DeFilippis is currently facing federal extortion and conspiracy charges in New Jersey.

On a financial disclosure statement filed last year with the U.S. Parole Of­fice, Louis DiNapoli also reported hav­ing a $109,500 stake in Rochester Asso­ciates, but his partnership interest is not reflected on any of the group’s cor­porate papers. — W.B.

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Travels With a Geechee Girl

Where is Frogmore?

For years I’d been hearing Vertamae talk about her trips back home to the Sea Island region of South Carolina — particularly Frogmore, on St. Helena Island. Vertamae Grosvenor is a writer and one of the actresses in Julie Dash’s film Daughters of the Dust. But she is also a collector of tall tales, so any story she tells always has these wacky little twists like how there really is no Frogmore but people could always send a letter there and have it delivered. People on St. Helena Island still live in areas known by their old plantation names: Fripp, Wallace, Frogmore. That is to say, there is no downtown Frogmore, not even a village of Frogmore. A couple of years ago well-­heeled newcomers to the island decided they liked the name and had the govern­ment set up a Frogmore post office. Nev­er mind that the post office was not in Frogmore. (As we went to press it was announced that the post office was re­named St. Helena,)

Things are never what they seem in the Low Country and folks there will often just say “uh hmmm” when you ask a question because they know the answer may be too complicated for you. You being what some Gullah call a “fa come here.” And because things can get very compli­cated, without a sense of humor you will never find Frogmore, or anything else.

It’s like the Frogmore stew I read about in The New York Times — a wonderful­-sounding jambalaya of shrimp, corn, and sausage. Well, everybody makes a differ­ent stew, but if you ask them is it Frog­more stew you’ll get a “uh hmm” because that’s simpler than explaining. That’s why I went. I wanted to see what I might see, or not see — know what I mean?

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My first destination on the way to the Sea Islands was Charleston, where Vertamae invited me to a book party. What could be more Charlestonian than a party for two cookbook authors at a shop that car­ries only books about food? John Taylor, proprietor of Hoppin’ John’s, at 30 Pinckney Street across from the old open-air market, was throwing a party to celebrate the reissue of Vertamae’s Vi­bration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl and Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking. The food alone was worth the ride: Smithfield Ham and biscuits with homemade mustard, pickled okra, south­ern-style Irish soda bread, and Mexican watermelon. Verta informed me that the occasion was probably historic, no doubt Charleston’s first integrated book party. In any case, it was a fitting introduction to South Carolina, everyone at the party being at least an amateur culinary an­thropologist. They knew a lot about what I call “roots food,” dog bread, hoppin’ john, shad roe with hominy, bride’s bis­cuits, and cabbage pudding.

Several hours later the cooks sent me to a nouveau French eatery overlooking the market and the Confederacy muse­um. The food, arranged on ’50s floral upholstery tablecloths, looked like it was designed by a magazine stylist, but it was quite good. The owner, a portly white man with a David Mamet crew cut, asked me where I was headed on my Carolina visit. “The Low Country,” I answered, adding that I like to go to church when I come South, just to hear the music. He pointed to a burly young black man in the kitchen and advised me to go to his cook’s wife’s family’s church on St. John, and warned me that if I didn’t know what I was doing I wouldn’t see the real Gullah people.

“You have to know where to go. I sug­gest you go to Edisto.” It seemed he’d been raised by a woman from nearby Edisto Island. “Edisto is where I go and I can tell you they are not like the Gullah some will take you to meet.” What did he mean? “All I can tell you is they’re real, they’re just very very real.”

A preacher I know from the hill coun­try in South Carolina had already told me that everybody has “their” Gullah people, especially white folks, but I still couldn’t believe my ears, I told Verta about it and she laughed. “You know,” she said, “when I hear white folks say that I al­ways wonder how they got to be experts and I didn’t because you know I was raised by black folks too!”

Gullah folk have by now become part of the tourist promise in South Carolina, right along with house-and-garden tours and the ramparts of Fort Sumter. Gul­lahs, real or otherwise, are a society and culture that have always been remote and mysterious and, ever since the Civil War, threatened with extinction. I suppose it makes people feel better about slavery to be able to point to “real” Gullahs still surviving, but it’s a sign of how bad things really are.

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South Carolinians are kind of nutty, especially when it comes to antiquity. And they know people find them weird, so they have developed a self-deprecating humor as a kind of polite apology for their obsessions. Like the black woman in her seventies who told me how much Charleston had changed but laughed and said that that wasn’t really true because the most venerable women’s bridge club still judges members by who their grand­mother was.

Then there was my friend John Taylor, who implored me with a devilish grin to stay in Charleston one more night. “Oh, you have to see this,” he said, “you have to.” It was a concert of the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, Taylor told me the society is a group of elderly whites who miss the strains of the old plantation songs, and so took to singing them them­selves. My God, I thought, they must be 115 years old. I didn’t go.

Preservation at that level is a lot hard­er to come by in the Low Country. When you ask folks, for instance, what indigo looked like, and how it was produced, no one can tell you. I couldn’t find a soul who’d ever seen any, yet thousands of people in South Carolina, mostly slaves, once cultivated this member of the pea family that was used to make indigo blue dye. Much of the history of these Ameri­cans has blown off into the Atlantic wa­ters like this curious little Indian plant that wore out so many lives.

Yet the low-lying countryside south of Charleston seems to look very much like a young black woman described it in the 1860s. Charlotte L. Forten, a young abolitionist and teacher, came to South Carolina during the Civil War to teach blacks who had been freed by the Union capture of Port Royal and the Sea Islands. Forten lived on St. Helena and taught at the Penn School, which is still there near Frog­more. She visited the Frogmore and Fripp plantations just after the owners had fled the island. Forten was the first black teacher to come to the area, and her diary of the period became the first journal by an African-American woman ever published. She was enraptured by the lush vegetation of the Sea Islands, the casino berries, magnolia, jasmine, narcis­sus and daffodils, and the “solemn almost funereal” look of live oaks draped in moss.

To get to the islands today the road takes you through Beaufort, on Port Roy­al Island. From there you can cross bridges to Ladies Island, St. Helena, Par­ris Island, or even further south to Hilton Head Island, which is where Verta and I were going. Verta’s navigation style is pure Yamassee. “Yup, this looks like where we turn, lemme see, yeah, turn here. You know, the police in this area are known for terrorizing folks. Oh. You see this up here, the place I was born is back up in there.”

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Stopping at a roadside stand I thought I would get some homegrown peanuts. I was handed a soaking wet bag of soaking wet peanuts. Verta laughed. “Chile, ain’t you never had boiled peanuts?” I have now, and I’m here to tell you they taste like crunchy black-eyed peas.

We passed the village where Recon­struction congressman Robert Smalls was born a slave. Forten met him when he was running a little general store in the area and notes that he was giving it up to join the Union army. Once in Beaufort on Port Royal, we detoured through the one street “downtown.” Beaufort seems basi­cally unchanged from how it must have looked 30 or 40 or maybe 100 years ago as you drive along the waterfront and look at the old mansions, some quite decrepit. Signs placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy pay tribute to those lonely confederates defeated by the Union troops who captured the island. Forten ran into Harriet Tubman there. “The General,” as they called her even then, was running an eating house in down­town Beaufort.

After driving around some hairpin turns on roads that had ravines where there should have been shoulders, we crossed the Broad River in late after­noon. Frankly I hoped Hilton Head would come up before darkness did, be­cause the cypress swamps were very close by the road. A sharp burning smell blew through the windows and soon we came upon bonfires burning in a scrubby patch of trees. It was an odor I knew but it woke me up like a sudden change of sea­son. Some 20 black men were throwing heaps of wood on the fires, which had grown as tall as they were. They were clearing ground to build a baseball field for the kids. Sparks flew 20 feet into the air.

I was sort of wondering where we were and noted down the name of the Barn­well Clinic across the road so I could locate the spot again. We had already changed road numbers four times, and I felt a deep need for landmarks. On the blacktop road again, the edges of lush golf courses started to crop up, along with a few resort signs alerting us we were near Hilton Head, golf course to the world.

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Another bridge let us onto Hilton Head Island and a post office was our landmark. The turnoff for Spanish Wells was a donut shop, then we were back to “this looks like it.” Spanish Wells is “the 15 per cent,” I heard — the 15 per cent of Hilton Head that is not developed, or where the black folks live. Over shrimp and rice that tasted like cook-up from Trinidad, Verta and Emma Campbell, a teacher in Beaufort, told me a few reasons why so many folks have over the years come down to Beaufort from Washington, Philadelphia, and Harlem, looking for real folk.

Verta: In the ’30s you know, even now if you look in the back of the Amsterdam News, if you check those spiritualists it’ll say “just back from Beaufort, S.C.” I mean, that meant something … Out of state cars be coming here all the time.

Emma: Seriously, they come by here all the time.

Verta: Asking about him, yeah.

Emma: Asking for directions to get to Dr. Buzzard’s house.

“There’s Dr. Eagle, Dr. Crow, Dr. Buz­zard.” Verta was talking. “Then there was Dr. Stringleg. He was up there around Yamassee. This is a true story. My grandmother went to Dr. Stringleg when my father was on the chain gang. They called him Dr. Stringleg because he had a funny leg and he put a string on it.” She demonstrated how he walked by pull­ing his leg on the string. She saw I didn’t believe her even if I was laughing. “It’s true.” All Verta’s stories are true­ — mostly.

“OK. Dr. Eagle, Dr. Crow. You get your name from the animal from which you get your power. Dr. Buzzard got his name ’cause they say his magic was so-0-0-0 good, so powerful, he could make a pot boil without fire. He used to have the buzzards rowing his boat and a crow for the pilot. That’s how bad he was. And you could be on Hilton Head Island, see him get on a boat and go to St. Helena and when you got to St. Helena, Dr. Buz­zard was there to pull the boat in.”

Back in the ’20s and ’30s, Dr. Buzzard was hounded by Sheriff McTeer. “He in­herited the job from his father,” said Verta. “Being sheriff runs in the family,” said Emma. Poor Mr. McTeer, it seems, grew up on a plantation and became in­trigued with the old black people who were root workers, particularly Dr. Buz­zard, whom he knew to be the greatest root worker. “He tried to get him,” said Verta. “He became obsessed with getting Dr. Buzzard. He wanted to put him in jail. He tried to use a law against pre­scribing people medicine orally.

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“So one time Sheriff McTeer had this guy who was a petty burglar in the sta­tion house and something fell out of his pocket. Now each root doctor got their little special gris-gris, you could tell. OK, the thing fell out and he recognized it as belonging to Dr. Buzzard. He said, ‘Buzzy give you that?’ and the guy said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I tell you what I’m a do. I’m a let you off but I’m a go get Buzzy and you got to tell me that Buzzy was the one to give it to you.’ The guy said all right. So they went and brought Dr. Buzzard back down there to the sheriff’s office and he said, ‘Now, I got this guy here and I’m gonna arrest you Buzzy, ’cause you gave him medicine orally.’ And he says to the guy, ‘Where did you get it?’ and the guy went to speak and start foaming at the mouth and passed out.

“Dr. Buzzard and them would go and chew roots in the court. That’s the thing. They’d be in the courtroom. People would pay money to have a root doctor sit and chew the root. And you would know this person is supposed to get 15 years and the judge would say ‘case dis­missed,’ not even knowing what he was doing, ‘six months,’ whatever. Sheriff McTeer tried to keep Dr. Buzzard from comin’ to court but he couldn’t prove nothin’, I mean, what could you prove?”

Dr. Buzzard became the wealthiest man on St. Helena and went down in Sea Island history, partly be­cause of his good friend Sam Doyle. Doyle, who lived all of his life on St. Helena and went to the Penn School, painted the island history. He died several years ago having become one of the best-known folk artists in the country. His work is still sold in New York, as well as in Frogmore, and he has been documented by a number of art historians. Sam Doyle painted Dr. Buzzard and other root doctors, friends like “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Miss Full Back” (she was full in the back), as well as historic events and supernatural occurrences.

“The paintings Sam Doyle did were a history of the island,” said Verta. “When you walked in his yard, that was his gal­lery, all the paintings were out. Like the ‘Hurricane of 1893.’ One of the first pic­tures you saw was a picture of a baby in a tree, under the Spanish moss. All that moss and a little baby. And the story was, after the hurricane people heard this baby crying and the baby was in the tree. And the descendents of that baby are on St. Helena’s. People said it was a miracle.”

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Emma told me about when some folks tried to sell “Miss Try Me” at an auction. “We went to it. Nobody would buy it. They were even embarrassed. See, he named his paintings for characters and people on the island. ‘Try Me’ was a lady with big hips like this and she used to walk around the island saying ‘try me.’ ”

“Plus,” said Verta, “he would paint a painting over. That used to upset the art dealers. ‘Cause he’d say, ‘Oh, I sold a lot of “Miss Try Me,”‘ and he’d do another one because his idea was to keep all the paintings so he could tell the history. There’d be a picture of Sherman, the undertaker — Sam said he was the first man to own a car on St. Helena.”

And he painted the local haints too, like Whooping Boy, said to be the spirit of a beheaded slave buried to protect treasure. “Not Whoopin, Woopin’, Woop­in’ boy!” Verta whoops. I still couldn’t say it. “No. Hoopin’. He’s on St. Helena. Sam Doyle heard him make the last whoop, he don’t come out no more, Mr. Doyle said, ‘since the automobile area.’ ”

Verta maintains that all this is part of an Africanness that may have preceded slavery in the region. That is, she likes to tell folk that the Gullah, who originally spoke a language they called Ngulla, were from Angola and that in prehistory — you know, when the continents were all at­tached — what is now South Carolina was joined to what is now Angola. Fascinat­ing, I thought. “But were there people around then?” Verta just shrugged her shoulders.

I checked this out and there’s just this one little problem. It seems that when the continents were attached what is now South Carolina was next to what is now Mauritania, which would mean the Gullahs originally spoke Berber or Tuareg or some such thing. Those Africans too make a beautiful blue dye. ■

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FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Anatomy of a Rumor

Canceling the ’72 Elections

The story has dropped out of sight and out of print for more than two months — the one about Nixon and the Rand Corporation planning the cancellation of the 1972 Presiden­tial election. The brief life and death of the tastiest rumor of the year leaves three questions still unanswered:

— Was there any truth to it?

— Was it a Paul Krassner hoax?

— Was it a hoax created by a mysterious third force playing its own game?

The story, in the form it first reached the press last April, had Nixon going to some top Rand strategists and asking them to game-plan, as he would say, his responses to expected radical vi­olence during the autumn 1972 campaign. One game Rand planned for Nixon was — and this was the chiller — postponement of the election until it could be con­ducted “safely.” The original newspaper story explained that Nixon was alarmed by the Bank of America burning, the 11th Street “bomb factory” explosion, the Weatherman blast at police department headquarters, and the sudden wave of bomb scares, and concerned about possible bombing of polling places and other left wing attempts to disrupt the Presidential cam­paign. But the rumor that preceded the story and mushroomed all over the country afterward had Nixon plotting to use election-eve violence as an excuse for massive repression of students and blacks, mass ar­rests, and suspension of Constitu­tional guarantees to keep the dis­senters behind bars. It was a rumor not so much about cancellation of elections as it was about cancellation of the left it­self.

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The corollary which most often accompanied the rumor was that the several spectacular acts of “left wing terrorism” in 1972 — the kind of acts that would force a reluctant President to postpone the election while he restored order — would be the work of FBI/CIA provocateurs: the rumor was really saying that a Reichstag fire was in the works.

It was a perfect rumor because, of course, it was a rumor about 1970 as much as it was about 1972. It was perfectly timed. Winter: the conspiracy trial, Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton, preventive detention, repression unlike anything seen before. Late winter and early Spring: the wave of bombings, the rise of Agnew as a vice-chan­cellor figure and the rumor’s first appearance in print. Then came spring — Cambodia, Kent State, Jackson State, the anti-dis­sent hard-hat riots, the sense of an uneven civil war, the feeling that They can do anything and get away with it — and, as if generated by spontaneous com­bustion within that particular compost heap of events, the rumor caught fire.

I believe that the Rand rumor is metaphorically and cosmically true, even if proven mundanely false. It’s a truth about the way the Nixon/Mitchell/Philips/Dent White House mind works. But I am the kind of person who still likes to know things, even if they’re unimportant in the long run — I want to see the entire in­tricate web of the Rand story, whether it is a real covert White House network or a complexly artificed hoax. I have sympathy for the devil who shouted out “who killed the Kennedys?” and wasn’t satisfied to hear platitudes like “after all it was you and me.” And since I was in­volved in spreading the story myself, I’d like to know if I was used and by whom, even if I was used by Our Side.

The story first appeared in print on April 5 in a four-paragraph story written by William Howard, a Washington reporter for the Newhouse chain. But it had been circulating by word-of-mouth at least as far back as September 1969. Paul Krassner says he learned about the 1972 scenarios months before Howard’s story was published. Krassner’s story of how he hap­pened to learn of the top secret study is a weird tale which begins with him acid-tripping with Herman Kahn and climaxes at some kind of elite multi-think tank saturnalia up at Kahn’s Hudson Institute retreat. There, the over-enthused wife of a high level Rand strategist confides to Paul, “… you think that’s something, you won’t believe what my husband’s working on now” —  or something like that — and pro­ceeds to describe the ’72 election study Nixon has just asked for.

The fact that it is Krassner telling this story is both (a) good reason to believe it, and (b) one reason to suspect it. Krassner and Kahn have similar systems — conscious minds, a similar inclination to think about the unthinkable in its many forms. And it’s not unlikely that some bored Rand wife would reveal (or perhaps fabricate?) some exciting secrets for him.

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But Krassner has a history of put-ons attached to his name, a history so well recognized that people now create put-on ver­sions of Krassner put-ons: a few months ago an “interview” with Bob Dylan was published in Good Times. The interview turned out never to have taken place … it  was a parody of the disastrous but real interview in Rolling Stone. Good Times subsequently announced that the Dylan inter­view was created by Paul Krassner. But then it was discov­ered that the real creator of the interview was not Krassner but someone who used Krassner’s name in order to get Good Times to run it, convinced they were printing a genuine Paul Krassner put-on. Most Krassner fantasies, including his most notorious, the grisly “Parts Left out of the Manchester Book,” are stabs at larger truths. The Rand rumor seems like a natural for this category — a rumor is an organic satire-in-motion.

But it’s too easy to dismiss the rumor as a satiric put-on just because Krassner was the first to talk about it. The important thing to remember about the story of the boy who cried “wolf” is that there really was a wolf there that last time.

The one key piece of informa­tion missing in tracing the source and authenticity of the Rand story is this: who or what was the source of Howard’s story, the source responsible for getting the rumor in print?

I have spoken with Howard twice — once a week after his April 5 story, and again two weeks after Scanlan’s published its notorious “Agnew memo.” Each time Howard declined to tell me anything specific about the person who gave him the Rand story. The second time I spoke to him, Howard said he believed he had been given either mistaken or false information back in April. He implied that he trusted his source, but that his source’s source, or perhaps his source’s source’s source, may have been playing a hoax. In our second talk, I asked Howard if he knew Paul Krassner. He said he did not. I believe him.

However, two interesting items have come up in connection with Howard’s story. First, in a Wash­ington Post story about the Rand story, Howard told the Post re­porter that he had gotten his story from another Newhouse reporter who had “picked up the story in New York City.” He didn’t name the other reporter. I have since learned the name of a Newhouse reporter who has said he has known Krassner in the past.

In retrospect one other detail in my original April conversation with Howard seems interesting. After Howard refused to reveal his primary source to me, he did mention “also hearing something about the wife of a Rand Cor­poration executive, some Martha Mitchell type, talking about this same thing.” Somehow then, Krassner’s story had reached Howard shortly before or shortly after his primary “source” tipped off the Newhouse reporter in New York. This implies that the New York source either had more solid evidence or told a more solid-sounding story.

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In my August conversation with Howard, I asked him about the Rand wife story, whom he’d heard it from. He didn’t remem­ber anything about the wife’s tale, didn’t remember mentioning it to me back in April, or know who might have told it to him. He asked me what the story was. As I began telling him some details about Krassner’s “source” he just groaned, “Oh, God, some woman on acid. That’s great. That’s a great source.”

Howard was not exactly pleased to hear from me that second time I called him. As soon as I reached him, identified myself, and asked if he remembered me, he groaned: “Remember you. You’re the one who’s made my life so miserable these past months.” He suggested strongly that my story in The Voice about his story had given too much weight to what he described as a “speculative item.” The unwanted prominence he had received when, with my help, the story had snowballed from his buried speculative item to a major scare story had put him in a harried, awkward posi­tion; he had often speculated, he laughed, about meeting me, he laughed, and punching me in the mouth. (Bill, I can’t promise you this is the last one, although I think it is; but I can promise that if it isn’t, there can only be one more after it.

I was led to the story in a rather interesting way. For five days after Howard’s story ap­peared in the back pages of Newhouse papers, no other media had picked up on it. (The story ran in New York City only in the Newhouse-owned Staten Island Advance.) On the fifth day a man — he did not give his name — called The Voice and said he had heard the Rand rumor third-hand — from his girl friend, he said, who had heard it from a Staten Island cab driver who had read it in the Staten Island Ad­vance — and wanted to know if we knew anything about it. Until that call, no one at The Voice had heard anything about the story. Nor was it likely we would have heard anything for a long time, were it not for that call.

A few days after the call, The Voice ran a short article I wrote about the rumor, which, did nothing but summarize the Newhouse story and report the results of three phone conversa­tions — a cryptic one with William Howard, and two absolute deni­als from Rand and a White House press officer. The piece revealed nothing more than the difficulty of learning about a top secret coup from official spokes­man if they don’t feel like talking about it. At the time I wrote the article, I think that deep down inside I believed the story.

A few days after The Voice piece was published I received a brief note from Paul Krassner. In it he told me he had known about the Rand report for a while and was glad it was out in the open so he could escape the burden of paranoia he had to bear while he was the only person telling the secret. I called him up and asked him what he knew and he told me the Herman Kahn-Rand wife saga. I asked him if he had any source other than the talkative Rand woman: I remember his answer being somewhat vague; he didn’t men­tion anything else specific.

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We spoke a little about How­ard’s story, where it came from. Krassner told me he didn’t know Howard and didn’t know how he got his information. He specu­lated that someone within Rand who knew about the project and opposed it in principle may have leaked it to Howard. Or, he speculated, the administration may have decided to leak word of the study as a kind of trial balloon to test public reaction to the possibility and law-and-order rationale for postponing elections. He speculated that maybe even he had become an unwitting conduit for a White House initiated leak. Krassner told me he was preparing a report on the whole thing for his much-postponed 10th anniversary issue of the Realist, and he asked me to keep track of the reaction — official and media — I received to my article.

Meanwhile, the story began to mushroom in that hothouse spring and new “sources” like satellite mushrooms began to spring up all over the place. The Nation picked up the story. The April 24 Wall Street Journal‘s “Washington Wire” published an item about it that appeared only in the Western editions. L.A. Free Press publisher and editor Art Kunkin read it and started an investigation of his own. Kunkin wrote a front page story­ — headlined across the page: “Will Nixon Cancel the Elections?”­ — which appeared in the Free Press one week after Cam­bodia/Kent State. Kunkin’s story made this statement: “Indepen­dent L.A. Free Press interviews with persons close to the Rand Corporation of Santa Monica, California indicate that the White House has indeed ordered such a study and has issued instructions that anyone connected with the project is not to discuss it.” Kunkin concludes his story by asking, “Do you think he is beyond cancelling the elections for the sake of instituting a dicta­torship and blaming it on radi­cals just as Hitler set the Reich­stag fire and blamed the Commu­nists, wrongly as we now know?”  ­

Kunkin has never been in when I’ve called the Free Press office and never returns any of my calls, so I haven’t been able to find out anything about those “persons close to the Rand Cor­poration of Santa Monica” or what they’ve said recently.

By the end of May almost all the underground press and a few straight dailies had picked up the story. In the underground papers the story was either based on The Voice and Free Press stories, or on an LNS dispatch taken largely from Boston’s Old Mole. Because of LNS, stories about Nixon plan­ning to cancel the ’72 election ap­peared in almost every un­derground and activist college paper in the country.

Most of these stories tended to treat the report as if it was based on solid evidence (“reporter William Howard revealed … a Village Voice writer then discov­ered … ” etc.) and gave the im­pression that the whole Rand study was by now an open secret in Washington, one more indica­tion the power structure no longer bothered to conceal its in­tentions. But most of the stories were written shortly after Cam­bodia, Kent, and Jackson State, when the truth of the rumor of the system’s intentions seemed to be acted out in front of every­one’s eyes.

The rumor, spread by word of mouth, campus and underground papers, mention at hundreds of rallies and demonstrations, became common knowledge, or at least popular folklore on cam­puses just as they blew up in anger that May.

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Krassner is said to have told his story at several speaking en­gagements. I remember someone asking Abbie Hoffman about it as he spoke to a crowd of students at Yale on Mayday weekend. “Oh, that’s been known for months,” Abbie said. (Hoffman has not talked to Krassner since the conspiracy trial, so it’s likely he heard it from Krassner at least as early as last fall.) But the crowd was fascinated and told the story people wanted to hear it again: “Run that down again.” “Tell it again,” they called out.

Anyway by the end of May when Nixon felt he had to take a concerned attitude toward our troubled campuses, he ordered every male under 30 on his staff who could read, write, and do sums to go to the campuses and find out just what was troubling them. In addition to finding the obvious answers, it is reported that everywhere they went, Nixon’s young men were bombarded by questions about the Rand Corporation and the 1972 elections. A delegation of Har­vard Law students brought the subject up at a Washington meet­ing with administration people. Suddenly stories about the Rand rumor began to appear in the straight press — only this time they were obviously planted by the administration. The stories were the first public acknowledgement by the administration that the rumor existed. Several times the White House press office had issued denials to indivi­dual reporters, but in the campus­ emissary stories, it seemed clear that some administration officials had brought the subject up with reporters to make sure it was handled properly.

So instead of writing about the rumor, investigating it, taking it seriously even if to disprove it, the straight press wrote stories such as “Nixon men find a rumor hard to scotch,” “Campus rumor plagues Nixon aides,” or “Plot story pops up on campuses.” All of these stories assume from the start that the rumor is a foolish preoccupation of paranoid col­lege students, or accept the flat denials by the White House and Rand at face value, and go on to describe White House aides’ unavailing efforts to clear up the unfortunate but persistent rumor which has been undermining students’ trust of the administra­tion and preventing discussion of serious issues. The straight press reported with a straight face that administration denials did not seem to stop the rumor’s spread, but instead spread it further. The White House was reportedly as puzzled about why it spread as it was over how it was spread.

Then, in early June the ad­ministration went one step fur­ther. The administration’s house liberal was delegated, or opportunely chosen, to lead the offen­sive. Daniel Patrick Moynihan — ­President Nixon’s “counselor” — ­made a speech to a Fordham University commencement, at­tacking increasingly non-ra­tional, even irrational, fear and “growing distrust of all social in­stitutions” among students. The chief, in fact it appears the only, example of this irrationality cited by Moynihan, was a rumor which he said had spread to “just about every campus in the na­tion,” the rumor “that the administration, using radical stu­dent protest as a pretext, is plan­ning to cancel the 1972 election.” Moynihan — who is perhaps closer to Nixon’s counsels than Walter Hickel — denounced the report in no uncertain terms: “Now this is not so — or at least I think it is not so,” he said, reportedly getting a good laugh with that rather superfluous bit of self-deprecation. He went on to say, with a straight face this time, that “ev­eryone in a position to know” de­nied the rumor, that in fact the president of the Rand Corpora­tion himself had taken the trouble to deny it.

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A month later I had a strange phone conversation with Moynihan about the rumor. After the Scanlan‘s “Agnew memo” was released, I called Moynihan to ask for his comment and found him in a no-nonsense mood. It was an incredible, revealing per­formance. He denounced the rumor as “part of the psycho­pathology of the times.” He told anecdotes from Onvell which proved, he said, that leftists believe in conspiracy theories. He denounced conspiracy.

I asked him if a conspiracy theory was a priori false because it came from a “leftist,” or a priori false because there was no such thing as a real conspiracy.

He countered that objection by launching into a description of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (since they were so maliciously false, the ’72 rumor must therefore be false). I ques­tioned this rather flimsy logic, and in response he continued the pattern, dredging up other rumors which had been discre­dited in the past to heap discredit upon the present one.

“You know,” he concluded, “the same kind of people who keep attacking the Warren Report,” he said with an air of elevated contempt.

“You actually believe the Warren Report?”

“Oh, come on. I don’t want to get into that. I have a very busy schedule. The President is leaving for the West Coast soon and we’re all very busy.”

We were both thoroughly dis­gusted with each other and hung up. Five minutes later he called back to tell me he didn’t mean to get overheated but that he was very busy around the White House preparing for the President’s summer vacation at San Clemente, and he might have seemed short-tempered. I sympathized and we started going over the same ground again. He assured me — condescendingly— that “anybody who’s a professional political scientist, as I am, notes that there’s always an element in the population which needs conspiratorial theories of behavior. You know, the John Birch Society believed Eisenhower was a Communist agent. That’s a paranoid invention … Protocols of the Elders of Zion … ” etc.

I asked him if something like this Rand study could be going on in the administration without anyone telling him. He assured me quite confidently: “I know as much about it as any man could know.” Then he started in on “the psychopathology of our times” and the “irrationality of students and leftists for believing the rumor” again.

“I guess I believe in more conspiracies than you,” I finally confessed.

“Maybe you know more than I do,” he said.

“Well, how much do you know?”

“Maybe less than you.”

Maybe. Finally I asked, “Don’t you think that one reason students tend to believe something as obviously untrue as you say this rumor is, and won’t accept your denial, is that your administration has lied so often about Vietnam and Cambodia?”

“Oh come on, this is nonsense. It’s just not true.”

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We hung up again shortly, this time for good. Moynihan probably still dismisses as a dumb conspiracy story the rumor that the Chicago police plotted to assassinate Fred Hampton, or the wild charge about the Mississippi police manufacturing an incident at Jackson State. In the pristine rationalist’s world nothing, absolutely nothing, can be explained by conspiracy. His near-hysterical antagonism to conspiracy theories reminded me of nothing less than a 40-year old Victorian virgin’s rejection of sex: if she gives in just once to its vileness, she’ll start being vile all the time.

Meanwhile, there were at least two other “sources” at work rescuing the rumor from the prema­ture burial Moynihan had attempted.

First, there was that famous Scanlan’s “Agnew memorandum.” Sidney Zion, at Scanlan’s, says that early this summer an old “source” who had proved “extremely reliable” during  Zion’s years at the Times passed on to him a one-page document which identified itself as “page 2 of 4 pages” of a memorandum on stationery headed “The Vice President.”

Zion states that when he first saw the document he thought it was a hoax. But he checked back with his source and made his own investigation, which assured him the document was authentic. Zion says he still does not know who his source’s source is. Scanlan’s has published put-on “documents” before, with a straight face, but Zion continues to insist that this one is authentic.

I talked to Zion in mid-August after the furor had died down, and he said he remains “absolutely sure it’s true … we even have a little more fact now.” He would not identify his ex-Times source further, but denied that he would have hoaxed him. “He wouldn’t do it to me. Someone could have somehow done it to him … but I don’t think so … we hired a private investigator who checked out part of it … if it’s a hoax it’s a right wing hoax.”

Krassner’s name came up. I forget if I brought it up or Zion did, but Zion told me that when they first received the document and thought it might be a hoax, they called up Krassner to ask him if he had done it. “He read the thing,” Zion recalls, “and told us ‘I’m the only one who could have made that up and I didn’t.’ ”

That’s not what Krassner told me he said. I called him up shortly after Agnew himself denounced the Scanlan’s docu­ment as a “complete fraud,” just to find out what he thought was going on. Krassner told me that Zion had shown him a copy of the document and he told them he thought it was a hoax, and not a very well-crafted one at that. But he was no longer quite as sure it was fake, he said, after Zion in­sisted to him again his source was good, and he looked the doc­ument over again.

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The Agnew memorandum seemed so phony to me when I first read it that it made me think seriously, for the first time, that the whole Rand rumor was a hoax from beginning to end. (An interesting reaction, because that’s exactly what a putative right wing or even administra­tion author of the memo might want me to think.) The memo­randum, dated “11 March 1970,” seems phony from its first words, which are a continuation from the missing first page:

” … and the Rand team agree that a judicious leak of a general nature concerning segment alpha of their study for the C/E, that relative to holding no national elections in ’72, to the media (selected, of course) at the right time to test the water so to speak is a vital step in the eventuation or their scheme. However, under no, repeat no, circumstances is any information regarding seg­ment beta of their study, the Bill of Rights repeal, to be made public.”

It reads like either a fairly clumsy left wing attempt at imi­tating Kevin Phillips/Harry Dent’s right wing technocratese (“eventuation of their scheme”, “test the water so to speak”, “segment alpha”), or a mildly clever right wing effort to parody a left wing fantasy of a Nixon­-White House conspiracy. But look how frantically that one paragraph tries to reveal as much as possible to you, while still pretending it is written for someone high up and in the know. Whoever it was written for probably didn’t have to be reminded about top, top secret “segment beta:” “segment beta, you know, the Bill of Rights repeal” or about segment alpha: “that relative to holding no na­tional elections in ’72.”

The rest of the memo, dated March 11, seems to go out of its way to prove itself prophetic. It links segments alpha and beta with another scheme to bring about “in late April or early May (1970) a series of ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations by labor groups publicizing their support of this administration’s Indo-China poli­cy,” and their “discontinuances of any silent indulgences of the excess of peace groups … ” Note the use of “Indo-China” before Cambodia, the precision of the target date, and the hint that the Cambodian adventure had already been given a definite date back in early March.

The memo goes on to name one Vic Borella, Rockefeller’s labor consultant, as a coordinator of the hard hat spontaneity, and to cite an assurance that the opera­tion could be funded with CIA money from their “Rufus Taylor’s mandated ‘internal se­curity’ fund.”

When I spoke to Zion, he went to great lengths to point out to me how prophetic the memoran­dum had been, particularly all the details about the hard hat demonstrations. “If someone had told you that back then, that these  guys were going to beat up kids in the streets, and that the next day Nixon would have his arms around them, thanking them at the White House, you wouldn’t believe it, right? It would have been too impossible. But … it happened.”

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If the memo was written on March 11, it would be a very prophetic document, hard evidence of a conspiracy. If the documents were created some time in June, however, and then dated 11 March, it would not be quite as prophetic.

But the validity of the Scanlan’s document has nothing to do with the validity of the whole Nixon/Rand rumor­ — unless you think that because the Scanlan’s memo sounds false the whole story must be false. It seems likely to me that some free lance operator seized upon the pervasiveness of the Rand rumor and decided to do up a “confidential memorandum,” ei­ther to help along the cause, or as a clever political satire, or perhaps as a device to discredit the Rand rumor by planting an easily discreditable hoax upon it. In any case I am reasonably sure the Scanlan’s document was not Krassner’s work. It seems below his usual standards.

It took Attorney General John Mitchell to give the document at least an extrinsic authenticity: on July 29 he announced to the press an investigation of the whole rumor, an investigation which seemed to be prompted by Agnew and linked to his outrage at the Scanlan’s memo. Mitchell told reporters that the purpose of the investigation was to stop the spread of the story — which he called “an example of Hitler’s big lie technique” — to stop it by publicly identifying the person or persons who originated it. “We think we know where it started, There’s an investigation going on and we want to trace it more distinctly.”

He seemed to imply that the Justice Department has now as­sumed the right to investigate people who spread stories the Administration denies. One unique virtue of the Rand rumor is that it apparently has the power to bring out the latent fas­cism in any administrator who deals with it, even in those who have not been very latent in the past.

I called the Justice Depart­ment shortly after the story to find out how their investigation was proceeding. I was put in touch with a Bill King (they couldn’t put me in touch with Mitchell personally, I was told) who tried to play the whole thing down.

“It’s nothing official, really. We’re just informally, you know, trying to find out how the rumor started.”

“Under what statute could you prosecute someone for this, or what statute gives you the right to even investigate?”

“Well, I don’t know if there are any statutes until you found out who it was, and then, well, there are probably no statutes … ”

“Unless the Vice President wants to sue, right?”

“Well, I guess so. It’s really not an official thing over here. It’s just that we noticed that the thing was unknown one day and common knowledge the next.”

“Who’s doing the inves­tigating?”

“Well, it’s really not an investigation, just everybody was chatting about it. I guess the Vice President’s office would know more.”

The Vice President’s office said they weren’t doing anything, call the Justice Department. Which means that something probably was going on.

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It was about this time (late July) that still another “source” began circulating. I learned about it in August when I heard Felipe Luciano of the Young Lords Party give a talk in which he mentioned the Rand story with some new details I had never heard before. Afterward he showed me a photocopy of a memorandum on National Urban Coalition stationery which some­one unidentified had sent to the Young Lords headquarters. This memorandum was dated 9 June and marked “Confidential.” An introduction cited “a variety of extremely disturbing rumors from highly reliable sources so recurrent they deserve immediate attention.” The memorandum then listed three new sources in addition to the Newhouse story:

1) “a former State Department employee — now president of a consultant firm” — who reports that the White House “commis­sioned MIT to test voter reaction to cancellation of the election;”

2) a “well known lobbyist on Capitol Hill who knows a right wing general” who has been saying that within 18 months the administration will declare martial law, suspend constitutional guarantees, and round up and de­tain thousands of dissenters;

3) “a Vice President of the New York Bar Association” who told a class he taught that the ‘White House had asked the Bar Association to study the constitutionality of martial law.

I couldn’t find anyone at the Urban Coalition’s Washington of­fice who knew anything about the memorandum. If the document is genuine and the Urban Coalition believes its sources, why have they been so silent about it? If the document is a fake, someone sent it to the Young Lords at­tempting to deceive. Unlike the Scanlan’s memo — which can be accepted as a good piece of satire — the Urban Coalition memo is meant to be taken seriously. If the source were left wing, it reflects a rather arro­gant attempt at manipulation for reasons hard to figure out. A right wing hoax upon the left seems more likely, if the docu­ment is, in fact, not genuine.

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What’s going on?

— The rumor is true and word leaked out against the Adminis­tration’s will.

— The rumor was a White House trial balloon testing public reaction before giving the real balloon a go-ahead order.

— The rumor was a “judicious leak” about a project already going ahead, to gauge reaction and to prepare the country for later, fuller disclosure.

— The rumor was a White House inspired hoax designed to put the left in the position of the little boy who cried wolf when they finally go ahead and do it.

— The rumor was a right wing put-on, to make fun of student Movement paranoia.

— Paul Krassner did hear the story from a Rand executive’s wife, planted it in the Newhouse papers and watched it grow, while other “sources” helped nurture it.

— Paul Krassner made the whole thing up as a warning, a device to reveal more clearly the real character of the Nixon Administration and of its think-tank counselors.

— Herman Kahn planted the rumor on Krassner not as a weapon for either side (Kahn would not be automatically for or against the plan, but would find its dazzling maze of implications very interesting) but as another probe into “the unthinkable,” a test to discover more about what America is like, or perhaps whether he ought to take on the ’72 contract himself.

One evening while trying to fig­ure out, from the little I knew what was going on. I decided to visit Krassner and ask him to tell me what was going on. Simple, right? When we met he told me that he had been just about to call me up when I had called.

I told him I had been won­dering about the Rand thing for a long time and wanted to know whether he …

You know, with something like that, if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it right, he said. It’s the kind of thing that’s really true whether or not the …

I know that, I told him, I know it’s cosmically true. I still like to know how things work.

Really, your wanting to know has nothing to do with the truth, it has more to do with me wanting to know where Angela Davis is — it’s curiosity, but it’s not important. I mean, I don’t even know if someone is using me for their own game the way it happened with that Dylan inter­view.

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I still want to know, not for a story but just for myself.

Anyway, how will you know, if I tell you something; what’s to prevent you or someone else from thinking I’m just playing another game with you with what I say?

Well, I could look into your eyes while you were saying it.

He laughed, said something about acid heads, giving me the feeling that he agreed. Then he started telling me about how he had just come back from speaking at Oswego State College in upstate New York, where he had talked with students victimized by police super-under­cover man Tommy the Traveler. It has long been a rule in the movement that undercover cops would smoke grass with the peo­ple they were trying to fool, but never take acid, because the act could not go on with everyone as they say, grokking it. The Os­wego students had taken acid with Tommy, had “seen him put it on his tongue and swallow it,” and had not figured him out. The same thing reportedly happened with the FBI informer who infil­trated Weatherman, passed sev­eral marathon acid tests, and turned in Linda Evans.

I’m sure Krassner did not mean this as a warning; I think he tells the truth. But I became less confident about finding anything out — I shudder at the idea of staring into Herman Kahn’s face and asking him the truth about himself. We talked about some other matters which made me feel I could trust him not to lie to me (or that, if he were lying, he was perhaps more amoral than Kahn, which I don’t believe).

We came to a street crossing where we noticed a nearly fist-­sized insect wandering aimlessly around the center of the intersec­tion. It was so large some drivers could see it yards ahead and swerved to avoid it. Others didn’t see it and drove on through, always coming very close but never quite running it over. The beetle never gave any indication he was aware that four-ton vehicles were whizzing by inches away, and never reacted to near misses or changed his course from the random circlings which somehow kept him safe. It went on for about 10 minutes before Paul guided it into the safety of a drain sewer.

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What can I do? It happened, and it’s taken me until now to figure out what it meant. If someone were to tell the beetle (Japanese beetle, Paul said) that there was a rumor around that a four-ton blue-green mechanical vehicle 1000 times its own size, was on its way to crush it to death, the beetle would probably call his informant a paranoia freak. And the informant might be wrong. The blue-green one might miss like the others had. But unless this was a very together beetle, he was going to be crushed to death by a car and the particular color of the one that got him wouldn’t mailer. We walked on, the subject kept changing, and Krassner seemed content to leave 1972 behind for good. Finally,

“Paul…  ”

Yeah.”

“You know … I mean? you know.”

“Okay, as soon as I get back I’ll tell you.”

“Well, if I could just ask you now and… ”

“I’ll tell you when I get back.” I decided to let it go at that. Not knowing can be as interest­ing as knowing, because when you know you can no longer be surprised, and surprise is a unique pleasure — unless, perhaps, you are that Japanese beetle.

One more thing happened that night. We were watching televi­sion on Krassner’s TV set when I discovered, or thought I did, a subtle new form of subliminal ad­vertising. I know I just lost a lot of people on that one — oh shit, they’re saying, another head who’s been staring too long at the electrons on Channel 6. But it was there. Paul saw it too. Oh shit, the rest of you are saying, another poor naif taken in by a Krassner put-on.

We were watching the begin­ning of a movie on Channel 4 when it happened. (“Crazy Desire,” starring Catherine Spaak and someone who looked just like Clark Gable.) The movie opened upon a scene in ancient Rome, which turned out to be from a play which the modern Italian characters were watching. Suddenly I was pointing at the TV screen and yelling. Because on the screen three shadowy words had emerged and remained: “Tora! Tora! Tora!” The words were not superimposed but appeared as if they were shadows cast on the film, or translucent after-images stencilled on the screen. All the images of the movie could be seen moving through the words.

The three words were ar­ranged in the receding pattern and letter-style of the 20th Centu­ry Fox movie’s billboard ads. And sure enough, after the words floated through the movie for 15 minutes, a commercial came on for “Tora! Tora! Tora!” It opened with a fleet of Japanese planes buzzing ominously on their way to surprise sleeping Americans, who had ignored all the rumors, signals, and warnings which had slipped out about the planned Japanese attack.

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“All the lies, the deceptions, the intrigue,” the announcer promises. The shadowy words seem to have disappeared from the screen. Then the commercial ends with the announcer intoning “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and Wham! Wham! Wham! the words rush up onto the screen exactly where the shadows were, filling up the shadows with big black letters — ­very fulfilling and effective. When the commercial ends the letters disappear, and the shad­ows are gone as other commer­cials appear. Then they start the movie again and the shadow-­words return until the next com­mercial.

I was amazed. Was it possible we had stumbled on the first late-­night experiment with total commercial TV? Was it possible that the message was designed to be even more subliminal, perhaps even unnoticeable to the conscious mind on an average set, but that the peculiar reception fuck-ups of this set had revealed it more clearly than it was supposed to be revealed? Krassner said he wasn’t particularly surprised: “The more you know about these people, the less any­thing they try surprises you.”

However, he called Channel 4 to ask them about it. He reached an operator who was watching Channel 2 at the time and who didn’t quite understand what he was talking about but who said yes, she had heard of “Tora! Tora! Tora !” He asked her if anyone else had called up to complain about it and she told him no, he was the only one who had called.

Back on the TV set we noticed that “Tora! Tora! Tora!” had disappeared and that in its place was a new shadow-and-light pat­tern, this time a small circle with a star inside it and a word flickering below it that I gave myself a headache trying to deci­pher, but couldn’t. We noticed that in general the pattern disap­peared during other commercials and appeared again when the movie went on. It seemed to dis­count the possibility that we were merely seeing an image that had been burned into Krassner’s tv screen earlier.

I called Channel 4 and asked to speak to the station manager. The operator said he could not come to the phone, but after I explained my question to her, she put me on “Hold,” and returned to tell me she had spoken with the man in charge of broadcast operations, a Mr. Walter Ehr­gott, who said he had been moni­toring the program all evening and had noticed nothing at all un­usual, and saw nothing like the image I described. She said I could talk to him about it the next afternoon. I asked, then, al­most as an afterthought, how many other people had called the station.

“No one,” she said.

“No one called earlier?”

“You’re the first.”

“Has there been another oper­ator taking calls?”

“Not for the last two hours. Just me.”

“And I’m the only person who’s called about this?”

“That’s right”

“No one else.”

“Yes.”

I hung up, finding this almost stranger than the advertising on the screen. Is there an NBC poli­cy which deals with complaints by telling people who call with complaints that they’re alone? If so, it’s an effective way of turning anger at the networks back upon one’s own mistuned set or, worse, upon a possibly mistuned head.

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Taking a cab back that night I couldn’t get over how outrageous  it was if the network or 20th Century Fox actually was experimenting with total-advertising TV. Of course I told the cab driver about it, and of course he turned out to be an ex-advertising man with J. Walter Thompson, who told me he quit advertising because “it was so immoral, you wouldn’t believe how immoral it is.”

“I think I saw something pretty fucking immoral tonight.”

“Oh, that’s nothing, you won’t believe some of the things they’ve got in store.”

“Like what?”

“Just wait, you won’t believe it until you see it.”

The next afternoon I spoke with the daytime chief of broad­cast operations at NBC. He told me in effect that I probably didn’t see what I had seen, but if I had seen it, it was merely an easily explainable technical mistake at the studio, not a sneak attempt at undercover advertising or a trial balloon to test viewers’ reaction.

He said the shadow images could have been caused either by “studio leakage” or by “burn through.” The latter occurs when a camera focuses too long on one image and retains an imprint which shows up when it focuses on other things. It sounded like the most logical explana­tion for “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” but it failed to explain why the words, burned through only during the feature film and not during other commercials, why the image disappeared so suddenly, and why a second image (which, unlike “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” was never shown overtly) replaced it. And, of course, there is also the possibility that burn-throughs could be created intentionally by someone in the studio who was properly motivated by, say, 20th Century Fox.

The NBC man told me that  what I saw — or the mistake I didn’t really see — was not exactly subliminal advertising. Subliminal advertising had been outlawed for TV by the FCC, he explained, after the original testing of it at drive-in movies in the ’50s had created such a backlash. (Since it was outlawed it certainly could not exist.) There was nothing subliminal on today’s TV except, he said, a cer­tain meaningless visual signal at the beginning and end of most commercials, put there to trigger unmanned videotape machines at the ad agency which produced the commercial. The signals turn the machines on and off so that the agency won’t have to hire a man to watch TV all the time or tape everything merely to catch its own commercials.

I found this interesting, but the NBC man assured me that he personally, and everyone he knew at the studio, was against any kind of advertising during regular programs. “We just don’t want to get into that,” he said.

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I think what I saw probably was a studio mistake (keep an eye on your screen anyway). But the point of this, the point of the whole ’72 rumor, is that there’s no way of knowing. You just can’t find out. If like the beetle you dismiss all rumors as para­noid fantasies, your only reward will be the ability to be surprised when one of them materializes and runs you over. Remember, two years before 1972 the At­torney General is wandering drunkenly around cocktail parties declaring with satisfac­tion, “This country is going so far to the right you aren’t going to recognize it.”

I would suggest that the 1972 rumor, true or false, now belongs to an earlier, more optimistic season. The thought that Nixon has something to fear from hold­ing elections is hard to take seriously any longer. A more demoralizing rumor than the Rand report certainly devised by someone far more paranoid than Krassner or more amoral than Kahn, is that the ’72 elections will be held and that the candidates will be Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Kid Kingpin: The Rise and Fall of a Drug Dealer

ST. JOHN’S IS A SQUALID residential building at 651 Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx, near a stretch known to law-enforcement officers as the Westchester Strip. Outside the building, four lookouts walk. Others perch on nearby fire escapes while two runners steer the streets. The thick metal door to a first-floor apartment, 1C, is framed with cement, sending a familiar message to the people who occupy the building: You-don’t-pause-here-unless-you-want-some.

Behind the hole in the door stands a pitcher, who hands out glassines. Red, yellow, and green bulbs flash him instructions from a homemade panel nailed to the floor. Upstairs, in another apartment, the dealer works. He places the tiny bags of heroin in the dumbwaiter and sends them downstairs. The pitcher has no way out of the first-floor apartment but up. Sheet metal, pipes, bars barricade all windows.

Listen closely as Boy George briefs the novice pitcher — he’s certain to explain, but he won’t speak loud and he’ll say it once:

If I look out the window and I could see a cop, I give it the yellow switch. You see it, and you slow down. If there is no movement in the upstairs apartment — no signals coming — you know something’s up and you bum rush. Bum rush. If I hit the red switch, pack everything up, get in the dumbwaiter, and go. Green’s green dude. The material come down and the money go up. That’s all you need to know, ready? Breakfast or lunch or dinner? Send a runner for a hero and one of those big, big Cokes.

At your service, right down to the food.

There can be no skimming of the product because there is no conversation because there are no phones. It is very organized. The lookouts signal to the dealer — a raised baseball hat, a touch to the face — and the dealer hits the appropriate switch, translating his instructions into color. The pitcher responds to light drop after drop, only knowing how much heroin to deliver; the steerer just knows how much he takes in, the exact amount to be offered up.

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At the end of the ’80s, while America concerned itself with the consequences of crack, and crack dealers continued in that hyper trade, Boy George was running five heroin locations in the South Bronx, including 139th and Brook, one of the oldest and more profitable heroin venues in the borough.

Whoever acts gets the prize — experience taught Boy George that. And the more severe the action, the better the prize. According to federal prosecutors Henry DePippo and Patrick Fitzgerald, by the time he turned 18 Boy George was a dealer of the major league. In late 1988, when he was 20 years old, Boy George was the primary source of heroin in the South Bronx, employing more than 50 workers and grossing about a quarter of a million dollars a week. The brand name of this teenager’s heroin was Obsession. The logo on its little bags was a red king’s crown.

Although he was an accomplished businessman — manipulating forms of threat and people’s fears — Boy George remained a child. Personality was his certain gift — ­impudent, streetwise, disarming, as cautious as he was searching, Boy George was charming. And mean. He always was a tough boy, but he earned his way to living large — expensive toys and outrageous risks and an entourage of eager, less well-­equipped kids. Government documents describe the estate he bought in Puerto Rico, with $140,000 in cash, and the stable of cars he kept in America —BMWs, Porsches, and Mercedes Benzes. He customized his favorites with $12,000 Ostrich-skin interi­ors, 630-watt stereos, 10-track CD players, televisions with VCRs, cellular phones. Several were worthy of James Bond, whom George revered: rear license plates that slid into side compartments and exposed blind­ing beams of light, secret compartments for guns. One Mercedes 190E released gobs of oil from its tail, another, large nail-like tacks.

Boy George’s business, which he called Tuxedo Enterprises, positioned him at a height from which he could only fall hard. “I have to be in a place where I can manip­ulate the market,” he explains from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he spent much of last year in segregation (for threatening to kill former employees’ families and for the discovery of a hit list — ­in his handwriting — that included the two prosecutors and the federal judge involved in his case). “That’s my goal,” he says, “that’s what I am — a manipulator. And when it says manipulator in the dictionary, it says, ‘see American.'” And so, on this October day in 1990, halfway through the three-month trial that will end in his being sentenced to life in prison with no option for parole, Boy George continues with his dreams at the age of 23.

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When he is not preparing for his trial, Boy George studies shorthand in order to keep his note taking of the court proceed­ings up to speed. When he’s not doing that, he reads the Bible: “I can take arguments out of there,” he says. Otherwise, he relaxes with Yachting magazine. He redesigns his favorites — the 200-footers, the luxury yachts. He adds Jacuzzis to their decks, he customizes. “I get a scrap paper,” he says, grinning, “and I draw.”

Now, in the dank visiting room, a mouse scurrying on the floor beside him, he shad­owboxes. He speaks proudly about training with Hector Roca of Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym before his May 1989 arrest. Boy George still says he will someday beat Ty­son. Now, in his baggy orange suit, he sits solid in the chair, scrubbed face, new leath­er hightops, steady eyes. “You can’t read about it in books, and you can’t look at it in the movies,” he says, explaining his ambi­tion. “I was born with something inside of me that says, ‘George, that’s a pretty girl. Go and get her. George, that’s a pretty suit — go and get that suit. George, this is something out here, it’s for you.'” He enunciates the words spoken to him by his inner voice. “We don’t know exactly how long you’ll have it, or how wide a span it’ll get, but you could get it and all you gotta do is just put your mind to it. Don’t think of nothing else. And ask about it, think about it, think with it, act like if you were it and change the shoes around like it was you. And then you’ll see.”

He starts to box in slow motion, his words like incantation now: “Ahhhh, he wants to come at me this way, but what if I go that way?” He ducks, shadow jabbing. “‘C’mon and do it this way,’ he says, well, let’s go that way.” Boy George dodges. “And when you get a feel that you’re almost that thing, you reach out and grab it and it’s yours. You have to have a lot of sleep­less nights, but Lord behold, it’ll paint a picture.”

Back up to the summer of 1985, when George Rivera has just become Boy George. He is 17 years old, sleeping on Bronx park benches. He brushes his teeth and rinses his light-brown face in the drib­ble of fire hydrants. He has always been meticulous about his appearance, and with­in this control lies one of two emerging maxims: The first is that power grows in proportion to what you make other people see. The second is that people’s most firmly rooted perceptions are based in fear. What is visible of his life just now would inspire fear in many people: derelict blocks of ghetto, a summer morning, urban heat, a Puer­to Rican boy standing on a porch that reeks of piss and funk, two black dealers right beside him — watchful, quiet, still.

Washington and 166th is easily one of the South Bronx’s most dangerous loca­tions. Rusted stoves jut out of broken win­dows; scrap yards interrupt lot after lot of garbage rot. George arches his thin chest off the wall. Already it is an ancient gesture, but it has a residue of boyish pride (he’s just been promoted from lookout). He lopes toward a slowing car and moves his head side to side as if underwater — left-right-left-­back-left, then down smooth to the shoul­der. George takes the money. He heads into the dingy hallway and a minute later comes back out, then he’s done. He steps back up on the porch and another dealer’s already out to the next car; the third dealer moves across the street where junkies lurch toward him on foot.

In this square neighborhood the only oth­er businesses, besides narcotics, are run by tired men in crumbling caves: stray mat­tress shops (where soiled mattresses are hocked, then reupholstered) and auto-parts shops (the same, but with cars). The sounds are a mix of infants, gunshots, the reverber­ating shouts of “Radar!” (the day’s code word for undercovers), and singing. The last comes sounding out from the storefront churches, the voices of grandmothers and still-young-enough children.

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Move up one year to the spring of 1986; nothing on 166th and Washington has changed. Except the teenager standing on the porch. Now Boy George pulls up in his new white Mercedes Benz. He wears clean Levi’s, a pressed Izod, a sweater, beside him sits a pretty girl. He is a manager now. The Torres brothers allow him to collect their money — count it, pack it, do payroll, drop it — and to supply their dealers with Blue Thunder, the brand of which Boy George is partially in charge. He hires em­ployees, some triple his age. “If I can trust you, I can kill you,” he will say.

And he’ll also say that he hires individ­uals, not hoodlums, not freaks, not bums. These uncles and ex-cab drivers and teen­age sons of ex-cab drivers open the spots by 9:00 a.m. and run them through to the next morning. If the dealers or runners or lookouts or steerers need weapons, need assistance, if they need to talk to someone at any time, they beep Boy George. He shows up instantly. If he beeps them, cod­ing in his “666,” they call him back immediately. Workers are not to leave their spots to go to City Island to eat or to the movies or to White Castle, or to fuck no fucking girls, or go standing, blase, blase, blase with their crew. If the spots aren’t fed and they don’t got no reason why, if there is any problem, he will confront them once. And if a customer or dealer has a complaint as to the quality of Blue Thunder, Boy George delivers: If-this-isn’t-good-you-give-it-back=­to-me-and-I-get-it-back-and-I-give-you­-something-fresh. Done. “I don’t like to not have the answers. I don’t like the I-don’t­-knows. Excuses are for assholes. Everybody has one. Just set me up right, don’t trick me.”

Luis Guzman (his name has been changed), a South Bronx legend, gave George his street name around this time. “It was a joke. It stuck,” Boy George says. “It’s nice, it’s different. It’s not like calling somebody Chino, or calling them Red or Lefty, or Fingers. When you say Boy George you’re talking about the singer or you’re talking about me.” That it was Luis Guzman who provided him with a new identity must have meant a lot to George. Years earlier, when Luis was pitch­ing heroin in an empty lot George was afraid to walk by him on his way to elementary school. To have been christened by Guzman, Boy George thought in his childish willfulness, was an omen and a good one.

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The Obsession organization — Boy George ran other brands named Candy Land, De­lirious, and Sledgehammer — leased a pool of 10 luxury cars from OJ’s car service in Queens. The drivers, all men, could be paid up to $100 an hour to remain on call. It was at OJ’s that Boy George met Ward John­son, an older Jamaican hustler better known as Six-O. Six-O became Boy George’s first lieutenant, and when the Ob­session operation fell, Six-O would become the prosecution’s primary cooperating wit­ness. Six-O’s testimony fleshed out the in­ternal workings of Tuxedo Enterprises and freed his own son from the consequences of his involvement. Six-O himself pleaded guilty to a grab bag of charges — conspiracy to distribute heroin; using and carrying fire­arms in relation to narcotics; possession of 10.46 kilograms of heroin; evading taxes on $491,550 in income in 1988 — but he is yet to be sentenced and recently testified in another Obsession trial.

Tuxedo Enterprises originated with Boy George cutting and bagging heroin at the kitchen table of his Bronx apanment with Six-O, a kid named Weasel, and their girl­friends. Weasel was from the neighbor­hood. Weasel rarely lifted his head or his eyes but he was malleable and seemed eager to please. The product sold well and George rented another apartment as a mill. He revived the Obsession brand name by mak­ing it his own; its original managers, conveniently, were dead.

Boy George would buy units of heroin (usually about 700 grams) from his Chinese suppliers — whom he privately referred to as “Fried Rice” — and pass them along to Six-O, who would store them and distribute them to the cutting mills. At the various mills — South Bronx walkup and project apartments and some hotel rooms in Manhattan and New Jersey — the “food” was cut (diluted) and packaged in prestamped dime bags for retail sale.

As much as its distributors and custom­ers savor its purity and smell, heroin is not a product anyone keeps around. When ev­erything runs exactly as it should, it takes less than 72 hours for the drug to make its way from the distributor to a customer’s nostrils or veins. Since time can be lost setting up mills and orchestrating distribu­tion strategy, all workers must remain on call — hence the beeper.

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Boy George’s mill workers were girl­friends of his male associates and their friends (who often became girlfriends them­selves), and it was their job to cut the heroin with mannite, weigh it, and bag it in the prestamped glassines, each with its red­crown logo. They would then tape the glass­ines and package them in bundles in counts of 10. Five bundles, wrapped in newspaper, made a brick. One former mill worker, now serving 11 years with no parole for conspir­acy, said they sometimes snorted coke to stay awake through the long shifts. Older women, often the mothers or grandmothers of workers, could stamp the bags with the Obsession logo from their own project apartments, while they baby-sat the children.

According to coun records, lieutenants, like Weasel and another Obsession worker named Ralph Hernandez, delivered the bricks — packed in shopping bags, knap­sacks, or suitcases — to the managers of the locations, which were known as stores: 122nd Street and Second Avenue; the block-long building on 139th Street and Brook; 153rd-156th Streets and Courtlandt, which was a playground in a public housing project; 651 Southern Boulevard (St. John’s), also near a school; and 166th Street and Washington, the 10 square feet of cor­ner where Boy George got his start.

When all the glassines were gone, the location manager would beep Weasel or Ralphie and they would take a driver from OJ’s to pick up the money and bring it to Six-O, who recorded the transactions and did the payroll. Six-O kept very good records. Location managers generally made 10 to 20 per cent of the profit (depending upon the location), and were responsible for pay­ing the lookouts, steerers, pitchers, and runners out of their share. Weasel and Ralphie, who also became a cooperating witness, earned $2500 a week; Six-O made $12,000. Women filled the lower ranks of the opera­tion; for 12-, 15-, sometimes 20-hour shifts, they usually received $100. Boy George made roughly $45,000 a week.

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In April 1988, on the first anniversary of his empire’s founding, Boy George set up a deal with a man named Tony, a jobber. Tony introduced Boy George to Sinbad, to whom Boy George handed over $600,000 in cash. Sinbad stepped into a duplex and left through a rear exit with the money. Boy George had not cased the meeting point himself, but the problem was his. For sever­al hours, Tony was beaten by George and others, then taken to the Henry Hudson Parkway, near 86th Street, where Boy George shot him four times at close range. According to court papers, George then re­tained Juan Diaz, a/k/a Cong, to track Sin­bad down, while he paid off his Asian source with $600,000 of his own. George’s quick response to the slipup reinforced his relationship with the Asian connection and strengthened his reputation on the streets.

By the end of May, Sinbad was dead and Cong earned a full-time place as a son of bouncer. Court papers state that for $1000 a week he kept discipline within the Obses­sion operation. Hear Boy George brief him:

Don’t fall for the tricks about, Oh, I’II see you tomorrow blase blase blase, when you are dealing with someone who owes me money. You say, Listen homie, I want to eat today. So I’m not going to wait to tomorrow to eat. I want to ear right now. I want to eat today, I’m hungry. Pay up dude. That’s it.

At George’s behest Cong killed a man named Todd Crawford in the parking lot of the King Lobster Restaurant that June. In November, Boy George arranged to have Cong meet Yvette Padilla in Ferry Point Park. Yvette had been accused of stealing a gold and diamond-scripted Obsession belt buckle from Ice, the supervisor of George’s Sledgehammer brand, whose real name is Walter David Cook. According to prosecu­tors, Cong shot Yvette; then, say Obsession employees, he dumped her body off the Triborough Bridge. Cong received a few vials of crack, a $5000 cash bonus, and an invitation to the Christmas party.

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On Christmas Eve, 1988, the Riveranda stood waiting for Boy George at World Yacht’s 23rd Street dock. When he arrived at 7 p.m., everyone was clapping, and then they all boarded the ship. According to the captain’s report, “At 10:00 p.m. we left dock for a 2-hour cruise that was quite memorable.” Cruising out into the New York harbor, 150 teenagers in black tie.

“My brother threw some good partis,” says George’s younger brother, Indio, “but this one was kicking. In other words, it was live.” Big Daddy Kane accepted $12,000 in cash for his 15-minute rap. Safire pocketed $3000 without even performing (she re­fused to sing for the originally agreed-upon $7500 because she didn’t have a private dressing room). The menu included steak tartare, skewered lamb, bocconcini, prime rib, $12,000 worth of champagne. There were raffle prizes, “winners to be an­nounced by the host”: first prize a loaded Mitsubishi; second, $20,000 in cash. Home entertainment centers, a Macy’s gift certifi­cate, a trip to Disneyland, a “nite on the town.” According to the captain’s report, nobody bothered to claim the $100 and $200 prizes. Everyone who had done any­thing was there. Six-O received a gold Ro­lex and $50,000 in cash; Ice was given a brand-new Model 750 BMW. George also gave diamond-inscribed gold Obsession belt buckles, appraised at $7500 each, to four of his other top men. There were fights and there was flirting. One guest challenged a drunken dealer — perched midway on the tip of the ship’s bow — to swim ashore (he didn’t). Another guest was stripped down to his underwear and left on the deck after a group beating — he’d allegedly attempted to steal a young woman’s diamond pendant.

The seating arrangement was carefully planned, by location. There were lots of pictures taken — guys leaning forward, toasting, bloodshot eyes, abundant tables; groups of girls in off-the-shoulder taffeta swirls. It was a prom, open bar, no chaper­ones. Boy George paid for the tuxedo rent­als, for everything. His bill from World Yacht alone ran to more than $30, 000 and he paid for it all in cash; the guests didn’t pay a thing.

All paid dearly for the pictures later, though, when federal prosecutors pinned enlarged reproductions of them on the courtroom bulletin boards for the Judge and jury to see. Giddy hard-earned glory boast­ing on the water. Image after image of fear­lessness, of tired eyes, of youth. And like a little boy, Boy George had a Christmas wish: A half hour before the ship docked, he asked if he could visit the captain, and up he went. It was a rare moment of parity, where life reflected and respected Boy George’s vision of his rightful self.

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Boy George’s first childhood memory is of taking a bath in the kitchen sink and getting burned with hot water. His next is of look­ing out his apartment window and seeing a cat get hit by a car in front of his Tremont Avenue tenement. He remembers crying for the dead cat. He didn’t have friends. “We were always moving around,” he says. “I loved pets. I tried to keep dogs, but they were always getting hit too.”

Indio learned a lot from George. How to carry yourself, how to be careful: “He would always say to me, ‘Choose what you want in life. You got to be serious when you do things. You have to stop being a little faggot boy.’ He showed me how to read. ‘Look, you don’t know the words? Break it down.'” Indio’s earnest face carries the family legacy of bruised affection. “My mother is a heartbroken person. My own heart gets broken quick. But when it comes to heartbreaking matter, George knows how to deal with it professionally. He was the bravest in the family. He was the one who had the balls.”

George’s father left when George was six months old and the boy would visit him whenever he could; sometimes there were yearlong gaps. “I think he’s very bright,” says George Rivera Sr., 46, a suspicious, handsome man who now owns a car service in Queens. “He used to turn things. In my mind I said, ‘This kid, he has something coming.'”

George’s relationship with his mother, Monserrate, 39, had always been tense. In court papers, George claims she beat him and Indio, regularly and badly, a charge Indio confirms; George remembers her us­ing an extension cord. The brothers also say that she was overly possessive of them, es­pecially when it came to girls. George ran away when he was 10; his life was his busi­ness. His mother eventually received a PINS (Parent with a Child in Need of Su­pervision) order from the court when George was 12. Soon after, he was sent to the Pleasantville Diagnostic Center, where he spent three months, then to St. Cabri­ni’s, a group home in New Rochelle, where he was the youngest boy.

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The eight Cabrini kids all lived together in a one-family, brick-front corner home with four bedrooms, a lawn, fruit trees, skunks and racoons. The house was in the transitional part of town, where the work­ing class spilled into the upper-middle and then onto the rich. The Cabrini kids attend­ed the local junior high and high schools. They felt the normal pressure to assimilate, but, since all of them were poor, most of them withdrew from the New Rochelle kids instead.

George was the only Puerto Rican on the New Rochelle High football team. To play, he had to quit his nighttime job stocking shelves at a nearby Shopwell. He got invit­ed to the rich kids’ parties, the girls’ houses on “the hill.” According to Al Bowman, his counselor at the home, George dragged his Cabrini friends along.

After one party, George and two friends made away with the host family’s silver­ware and he convinced his crew to take their talent to the surrounding sprawling homes. The police caught up with George at the local pawnshop. According to Bow­man, George took the rap for his crew and was sentenced to 13 months at Valhalla, a juvenile detention center upstate.

What the Cabrini Director of Group Homes, William Jones, remembers best — ­after 28 years of throwaway city children, it is striking that he remembers George at all — is George’s loyalty. “A lot of the Span­ish kids hang out with the black kids in the homes, but when they get around the white kids, they act like they don’t know them at all. George never forgot that his friends were his friends.”

George says that Cabrini made him into a man. “At home,” he says, “you can’t spread out the way you could around dilfer­ent people. When you’re home with your Moms and stulf it’s you and your Mom and your brother, that’s it. I had a chance to spread out, wide, wide-angle, like a wide­-angle lens. I got hip to everything that I would need to get hip to and I started analyzing and analyzing.”

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Another mentor of George’s was a man named Holland Randolph, who is now a supervisor at the Episcopal Mission in Manhattan. Randolph had just gotten the job at Cabrini’s, and on his first Sunday night of duty George showed him the ropes. While Boy George was still a resident he offered to lend the drug counselor $2000, but Randolph says he never got the loan. “He was going to loan me money at some point in some regard, but I lost contact,” says the counselor. Randolph distinctly re­members one of George’s return visits: It was Randolph’s birthday and George took him out to eat in New Rochelle. They drove to the restaurant in a brand-new Mercedes. “He really pulled out the car­pet,” says Randolph, “so to speak. He was a flashy guy. He had class — unfortunately, the wrong kind of class. He knew how to present himself to talk to people of a higher stature and knew when people were playing a con game on him.”

George kept in touch with Al Bowman, too. “He never called asking for money, and those were rough times,” says Bow­man. “But he was floundering. It was in the things he asked for. It would be this way: Can you get me a gun? Things like that. He was into petty stuff. Then finally he hooked into something, and from there … Well. You watch someone you care for get caught up in a whirlwind and all you can do is say, Take care, man. Insulate yourself.”

Boy George did his best: He employed childhood friends, friends of friends, fam­ily, recruited Cabrini alums. His workers’ own safety grew in proportion to the per­ception of his retaliatory powers, and he earned a vicious reputation and gave Ob­session fine PR: Lieutenants and managers received gold belt buckles with their names scripted in diamonds; top dealers received red-and-white leather baseball Jackets wnh “CCCP” written on the back. The orna­ments protected his workers and ranked them, publicly, in the order of their impor­tance to the organization and in their prox­imity to him. A wise incentive program­ — and an investigator’s dream.

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At the beginning of 1989, Boy George purchased more real estate in Puerto Rico and, with the help of a financial consultant, looked into the possibility of opening a fast-food mall with a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut and a Church’s Fried Chicken. He also began to transform the Puerto Rico estate into a permanent home. Wiretaps placed by the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force (NYDETF ) offer detailed dis­cussions about the renovations, which were overseen by Blanca Marti, his girlfriend, who stayed at the estate with their sons, Giovanni Lord and Chris Rivera. Work­men installed electronic security gates and paved a basketball court. George had “Ob­session” inscribed in tile on the bottom of his swimming pool, alongside the initials “B.G.” The inscription may have been done in a moment of indulgence, or it may have been a young boy’s success signal, reaching up to the Puerto Rico gods. San­ford Katz, a veteran public defender who represented one of George’s street manag­ers, thinks differently: “If you want to advertise I AM A DRUG DEALER” he says, “then bring a Porsche into the South Bronx. You’ll have every investigator and snitch paying attention.” (Boy George did and they were.) “But to have the logo of his brand of heroin, which can be found all over the Bronx, on the bottom of his swim­ming pool? That was very Abbie Hoffmanesque. He was saying ‘Fuck you’ to the world.”

The expensive objects George flaunted surely said at least that to the poor streets that produced him. As did the dead com­petitors and colleagues planted as warnings each step along way.

From the crying Puerto Rican kid in the tenement window, Boy George, only 21, had drastically upped his threshold for pain. According to government evidence, in 1986, while he was still working for the Torres brothers, George shot one competi­tive associate and injected another with heroin. Like most top-level dealers, the man did not use drugs. In 1987, after shar­ing an extravagant shrimp scampi dinner, he shot his dining companion and dumped his body off a bridge. The victim had disre­spected Boy George to a friend, whose sis­ter — unbeknownst to the victim — Boy George was dating. From then on, whenev­er a colleague or competitor needed that kind of taking care of, it was referred to as “eating shrimp” or “being taken out for shrimp.” Eventually, the phrase became an in-house Obsession joke. That same sum­mer, 166th and Washington became a wanted spot. George organized an ambush to clean out the competition and, at the end of the shooting, an uninvolved bystander was dead. A September 4, 1990, letter filed by the prosecution briefly notes another murder, this one of an unnamed man, an incidental three-sentence episode in a long list of violent acts that never made it to the jury. The encounter best reveals the blind spot where George’s boyhood and ego crossed.

That day, Boy George had a routine meeting with a higher-up and pulled his new Mercedes Benz off the FDR to wait. A drunk driver bumped into his car and didn’t stop, so Boy George followed him and forced him off the road. He then stabbed the man a number of times, leaving him for dead in the front seat of his car. It didn’t make any difference to George if the driver was dead or not — he’d done what he did.

This blindness — most obviously to the worth of a human life — marked the inter­section of boyhood and ego that would re­sult in the loss of Boy George’s freedom for the rest of his life. That he lacked a finely tuned sense of the larger balance — that peo­ple existed beyond their utility and ability to service him, that people, in effect, have a right to their own time — is a failing com­mon among men, but one to which children might be temporarily entitled.

The grace period of a liberal arts educa­tion might have modulated his need, just as an outstanding mentor may have tempered his arrogance, but it’s not likely. His view of the world, like a child’s, remained two­-dimensional. The most significant dichoto­my — Before the money and After — was the most encompassing and intense. Before the money, life was the only thing. After, it could be carelessly flaunted or thrown away. Before, he trusted nobody, because he thought anyone could hurt him. After, he thought he was so powerful that nobody could. And while Boy George worked his way through the chaos of his increasingly complex future, with guns and the other dangerous tools of his trade, the past snuck up from behind, an accumulation of two years of behaving like an extremely arrogant and savvy and talented unsophisticat­ed kingpin kid.

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Back in August 1987, Boy George had met Luis Guzman outside the Baychester Diner. Luis had a connect. Proud of finally being considered the older dealer’s real peer, Boy George went to the meeting himself. He was especially impressed with Luis by then because he fully appreciated the accom­plishments of the life. Street years are like dog years and Luis dodged raps better than anyone.

At Luis’s encouragement, Boy George sold two ounces of rock heroin to an unfa­miliar man. He also bragged that his busi­ness grossed $250,000 a week, discussed his estate renovations, bemoaned the difficulty of shipping cars to Puerto Rico, flashed his diamond Rolex, and accepted $12,000 in cash.

Days alter his meeting with Luis, Mount Vernon detectives knocked on the door of the apartment George kept for Blanca and her mother at 156th street. The police were looking for George on an outstanding bench warrant for gun possession. George allegedly fled out a fourth-floor window, and Blanca’s brother wouldn’t talk. On their way out, the policemen noted a 1987 Mercedes on the impoverished street and started asking questions.

Spooked, Boy George arranged for Six-O to move the hot car. Just to be careful, he also told him to fold the cutting mill on East 213th Street and to set up shop at the midtown Marriott Marquis Hotel. As an afterthought, George told his mother to stop by 213th Street for a final double check.

The Mount Vernon detectives had tracked the Mercedes, New York plates PZY-148, to Six-O’s family home on Prospect Street in Yonkers (Six-O kept several other apartments with other girlfriends at a weekly cost of $1000 each). Six-O spoke to the detectives: He said that he had received a call from George on August 30 to pick up the car on 520 East 156th Street and that he worked for George.

The cops moved on to 213th Street and, believing George was inside the apartment and possibly armed, made a forcible entry. Six-O had made a sloppy departure: Inside, in plain view, the cops found quinine, razor blades, white powder covering a table, glassine envelopes, and scales. A search un­covered shotgun shells, .38 caliber shells, 9mm shells, rifle shells, a rifle with a scope, three shotguns, a tranquilizer gun, a bullet-proof vest, three bags containing large amounts of cash and drugs, and other boxes of ammunition. According to the detec­tives’ report, George’s mother, Monserrate, then arrived “in a hysterical manner, in­quiring as to what happened to her son.” She said she’d last seen him on August 21. Then, distraught, terrified, or perhaps even vengeful, Monserrate began to talk: Blanca Marti made her son into a dealer. Blanca took out a student loan and set George up with the money. Her own Mother’s Day gift from her son — $5000 in cash — he took back to buy more drugs and it was Blanca’s fault. George had $125,000 stashed at Blan­ca’s house, too, and he always carried a gun since he got heavy into drugs. The Mount Vernon detectives alerted the 47th Precinct, and the Drug Task Force sent their people in.

Meanwhile, the midtown Marriott be­came a dorm. Six-O arrived with boxes of glassines, scales, and a silencer, as the shifts of mill workers were beeped in. “It sounds fucked up,” says one convicted mill worker, “but if George wasn’t around, it was a lot of fun sometimes. It was like you’d all be sitling there, like a family.” Hunched over card tables, their surgical masks on, in for the underpaid shift. The jokes begin, hands move together, separate, and seal.

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Around this time, Boy George launched a new brand name, Delirious. It was the same cut as Obsession, but its blue logo — a crazed-looking man with a bulbous nose — ­spooked junkies. Within two months of the test market, Boy George shut down the line. He instructed the mill foremen to return production to Obsession full-time, believing that — for a change — it was best to play it safe.

The same week, Boy George met Luis and the undercover again. This time for lunch at Willie’s Bar and Steak House, near the intersection of Westchester Avenue and Beach Street. George unloaded 600 leftover bags of Delirious and took $5000 home. He’d promised to supply a grinder — the undercover told George he’d had a hard time grinding down the rock — but Six-O warned George that the guy might be a cop, so George didn’t return the connect’s calls to his beeper.

The arrests and seizures continued for months — still unconnected. On September 20, 1988, 100 glassines of Obsession were confiscated from the second-floor apart­ment at the St. John’s location, along with $4400 in cash. Two months, the NYDETF arrested a St. John’s dealer, who was carry­ing 400 glassines of Obsession. A steerer, Anthony Briggs, also led an undercover to a 10-glassine sale on January 5, 1989. Five days later, the same undercover bought 40 glassines from Briggs’s brother at the same spot. While surveillance of the location in­creased, Boy George was discovering box­ing. He became so enamored of the sport that he hired Hector Roca of Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym to train him. Not counting traveling time, the workouts lasted a good four hours a day.

The Briggs brothers benefited from George’s lack of attention and were pro­moted to manage St. John’s. They were arrested on February 8, just as they were passing $10,000 in cash between them in a brown paper bag. The NYDETF agents made their move into St. John’s that same day: The first-floor apartment yielded a loaded .22 caliber, a .357 revolver, a .38 caliber, and a .357 magnum inside a safe. During a search of the Briggs’s East 165th Street apartment — St. John’s stash house — ­the agents discovered $50,000 in cash and 5600 glassines.

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The mill had by then been moved to 740 East 243rd Street. The Task Force knew it: the investigators could also identify whom they believed to be the key players of the operation. On April 6, 1989, Boy George ran a yellow light and was stopped by two policemen. They wrote him up and confis­cated his box — a common practice, accord­ing to South Bronx kids — then let him go. Six-O later testified that Boy George often lost his beeper, that he’d get angry and drop it sometimes, too. But this time the care­lessness eventually mattered: In a Bronx precinct office, Boy George’s beeper, flash­ing phone number after phone number of his incoming business calls.

On the two-year anniversary of Obses­sion’s founding, at the same time a federal judge was granting investigators permission to place a 30-day wiretap on Boy George’s Morris Avenue home phone, he moved to remedy the slipups, pull in the reins, and increase control. “I gotta write my shit down somewhere secret and shit, I gotta code it up,” he said to a friend, on April 5, 1989, the day before he was stopped for running the light, and less than a month before his arrest. Other phone conversa­tions, which were eventually admitted into evidence, use pig latin as his teenage orga­nization’s attempt at communication in code. In the following, during a period when shipments of heroin were delayed, George discussed the possibility of opening crack locations with Ice:

W. DAVID COOK: I got plenty aper-pay though.
GEORGE RIVERA: Oh, I got plenty, but still I just don’t wanna fuck around and one day starve and shit, that’s not the thing about the aper-pay it’s just that, you know what I worry about the most man, the, the orey­stays.
COOK: Yeah.
RIVERA: That’s all I worry about cause them niggers there man if I catch them niggers making aper-pay somewhere else, ah man, we’re going to have a crucifixion out here.
COOK: Well!
RIVERA: That’s all I worry about is them dickheads.
COOK: I know what you mean, what if they elly-say aggies-bay in the otty-spay?
RIVERA: Yep, you know what I’m a do, too, I’m a open up ackie-jays man.
COOK: Ackie-jays for what?
RIVERA: Just for fucking emergency pur­poses, brother, you crazy? Right now, it would’ve been cleaning up, you dig what I’m saying … Oh, you know Calvin is gonna get hit with something.

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This would become the most incriminating telephone conversation — the jury reading “crucifixion” as evidence of Boy George’s ruthlessness. But Boy George believes that it was Luis, his childhood hero and, accord­ing to George and his defense lawyers, a confidential government informant, who did him irreparable damage. Six-O, whom one former girlfriend and mill worker claims Boy George treated as a father, did at least as much.

On April 30, police officially established surveillance of the 243rd Street mill. Late that morning, Weasel and Ralphie left the building, each carrying a white plastic bag, jumped in an OJ car, and rode off. Soon after, the driver was arrested — 13 bricks of heroin(10,400 Obsession glassines) in tow. That afternoon, Weasel and Ralphie were arrested as they left the mill with another white plastic bag — 800 Obsession glassines to add to the climbing total. Early in the morning of May 1, at 2:35 a.m., investigators entered the building. Eleven mill work­ers were apprehended, with, among other things, blocks of mannite, eight boxes of empty glassines stamped with the Obsession, Sledgehammer, and Delirious brand names, five grinding machines, and strain­ers. There were boxes of sealing tape and three triple-beam scales. A ledger held attendance and payment records, complete with notes on workers who arrived ‘late.” And the police found the standard protections: face masks, two .38s, a 20-gauge pump shotgun, an automatic shotgun, and a 9mm MP9 automatic rifle, better known as a Streetsweeper, all loaded and ready to go.

Federal agents had been listening to Boy George’s phone calls throughout the night. Earlier that evening, in a conversation with Ice, Boy George talked about “breaking out,” of “doing the Jimmy-James [Brown].”

At 11:06 p.m., as key people were being hauled in, Six-O called George and told him he couldn’t find some of their workers: “I came through Washington and … them niggers is gone. Dennis [a manager], I called his house. See a lot of these people I can’t get a hold to, man.” At 8:36 the next morning, hours after the mill had been cleaned out, Six-O woke George with an­other call. “I gotta see you right away,” Six-­O said. “Bad, bad news.”

He made arrangements to meet George under some nearby streetlights and advised him, “When you come out bring some money with you to break out.”

“Yeah,” Boy George says on the wiretap, and sighs. A half hour later he was under arrest. As he left his apartment building to meet Six-O, he found close to 40 federal agents waiting.

According to Boy George, the feds drove him through Central Park on their way to central booking. As he looked out the win­dow of the white Lincoln Mark IV, one of the agents pointed to a seedling. “See that plant?” the cop asked. “It’s gonna be a tree when you get out.”

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Thirty-three Obsession workers had been arrested in the sweep. Of those, 24 pleaded guilty. In September 1990, Boy George went on trial on 14 counts — among them, conspiring to run a continuing criminal en­terprise, also known as the kingpin charge, drug possession and distribution, as well as ownership of a page-long list of guns. He was found guilty of only two: auempted tax evasion and conspiracy to distribute her­oin.

He told his mother and girlfriends not to come to the sentencing if they were going to cry: he did not want anyone associated with him to give the prosecution that satisfac­tion. He deliberated over what to wear and expected a crowd. When the date arrived, in the spring of 199,m the judge told George that he was one of the most violent people ever to set foot in her courtroom and that she had not — in the long days of the pro­ceedings — seen any sign of regret or re­morse. Boy George shook his head ruefully and smiled. Other than his family and a Newsday reporter, nobody showed for him.

In the wake of the most recent South Bronx heroin busts — the same locations, another 30 workers, hawking the same brand of drug — stray Obsession trials con­tinue. Boy George works on his appeal: one Obsession worker, who allegedly continued the drug operation under George’s direc­tion from jail (using the brand name Raw), recently pleaded guilty to lesser charges: Ice was recently convicted on 14 of 15 counts: and Cong, the alleged hitman, is up in Jan­uary. On the streets and in the same loca­tions, the trade continues without pause.

A month ago, things remained the same 35 at 139th Street and Brook Avenue in the South Bronx. Eight fist-size holes, waist-level, punch through the corner building’s cement front wall. Imagine a moat sur­rounding the block-long building — that’s where the steerers roam. They pivot and backhand fistfuls of cash into the holes. Arms stick out and pass glassines of heroin in return. At the rear of the building is a playground, an asset to the business, providing fine visibility and a labor pool.

To have realized dreams as fierce as Boy George’s required a hunger that was large. The coursing traffic before the 139th Street location today proves that his strategy of attaining his was accurate: a cocoa Nissan, its white girl in waiting, her boyfriend hav­ing jumped out for the cop: one thin man pert in the driver’s seat of a dented Monte Carlo: countless sorry-eyed old-timers and some college kids, car after idling car in rows three-deep. And so Boy George was a kingpin — among junkies, hustlers, chil­dren — feeding other people’s fears. ❖

Categories
EXTREMISM ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

IRA: The Belfast Connection

MONEY AND MUNITIONS FROM NEW YORK ARE HELPING THE IRA LAY SIEGE TO LONDON. THE NEW TRIANGLE TRADE.

BELFAST — In the head­quarters of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the deputy chief constable is concluding a briefing on the situation in Northern Ireland. The briefing is, of course, granted on condi­tion of anonymity. Neat in appearance, a trifle wan, diffident, the constable sits in a chair in a corner of the room clearly wishing he were someplace else. Not at all like John LeCarre’s Smiley, the exquisite spy­master modeled after Sir Maurice Oldfield, the British intelligence boss who once oversaw the local securi­ty situation. Nodding off at the constable’s side is his press aide.

The constable speaks positively about how well things are going, the excellent cooperation with the FBI in the United States, and the remarkable efforts of the British Embassy in Washington in setting the record straight about the ongoing war with the Irish Republican Army. Asked about the IRA’s “ingenu­ity” in concocting an arsenal of homemade weapon­ry, his mouth tightens. “Deviousness, I should say,” he corrects. He gestures with a pointer to a map of Northern Ireland on the desk before him. Little col­ored pins mark hot spots. Above the desk on a file cabinet a television screen flashes the comforting mes­sage: “All Quiet.”

That’s before lunch. By midafternoon, an unarmed female British soldier on patrol in the New Lodge section of Belfast has been shot in the face by an IRA sniper. A squad of British soldiers rushes the house where they think the sniper is hidden; a time-delayed bomb goes off, blowing it up. As night and a light rain fall, choppers hover overhead. Across the city, patrols of British soldiers, guns at the ready, inch down the streets. In a pub frequented by pro-IRA nationalists, everyone sits watching the door, uncon­sciously tensing every time it opens for fear a loyal­ist gunman is coming in. Late that night, in the mid­dle of Belfast, reporters hail a passerby to ask directions. The man halts, his eyes turning wide with fright. Fearing that these three men in a car are about to shoot him, he jackknifes away, running like a startled deer down the street.

The war in Northern Ireland is one of the longest-running and most intensive guerril­la insurgencies in the history of modern warfare. On one side, the forces of the Brit­ish union: 20,000 regular British soldiers, including a special homegrown regiment of Royal Irish Rangers, another 12,000 po­lice — Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Spe­cial Air Services, the elite British Special Forces unit. Then there are MIS, the British equivalent of the FBI, and MI6, the Brit’s CIA. There are Ulster Special Branch de­tectives, local detectives, and a myriad of competing intelligence units running agents and informers, and organizing surveillance. And amidst the loyalist, heavily Protestant community — the Brits’ allies — are paramil­itary units, Salvadoran-style death squads.

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Heavily fortified police stations and army barracks are spread across the coun­tryside — Fire Post Charlies amidst a sea of insurgents. There is a camera on every main road, hooked to a centralized intelli­gence-gathering computer. Tall, reinforced watch posts dot the countryside. Every de­cent-sized town has at least one heavily fortified checkpoint, and some as many as three. The license plate of every car is en­tered on a central computer, the location of every house, the number of inhabitants in the house, the color of the wallpaper. And in the sky hovering all day and all night, the ubiquitous choppers.

Against the massed forces of Her Majesty are the members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The IRA. The Terror­ists. The scum. The “wee fucking provies.” Five hundred of them at the very most in operations, and 350 more functioning as an active unit inside the Maze at Long Kesh, Europe’s most modern maximum security prison. Behind the fighters, a network of supporters, farmers, townspeople, and teen­agers, who stand ready when called upon to make their homes over into safe houses, to surrender their autos, to hide the fighters, and most of all to watch the Brits. These are the dickers, the lookouts in every town, out of every window, in the gas station, at the post office, in the cafe. Beyond them, another network of supporters 3000 miles away in the United States: money men meeting in the clubs of Wall Street, gunrun­ners, sympathizers offering IRA fighters safe jobs, new identities, new lives.

Since the early 1970s the Brits have tried everything to break the IRA. They have rolled through the streets of West Belfast with armored personnel carriers, sent squads of troops against the populace, shot civilians on sight, ambushed the IRA with shoot-to-kill SAS units, penetrated and ma­nipulated the Protestant paramilitary death squads. They have interned the populace, using statements obtained through torture to convict suspected IRA members in jury-less trials.

In return, the IRA has become the world’s most sophisticated guerrilla force. It has at times displayed a tendency to inflict damage on itself and its supporters by engaging in reckless and brutal adven­tures that have resulted in civilian casual­ties both in Northern Ireland and in Brit­ain. It has also displayed an ability, albeit erratically, to learn from its mistakes. To­day, the IRA controls large sections of this tiny portion of the world, which runs just 100 miles from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic. It has de facto control of the nationalist ghettos of the North’s two cities and large towns. From its secret and mobile com­mand posts in the South. the IRA is strong enough to keep up a constantly varied level of attacks against British targets across the North, as well as carrying its campaign of bombing to the very heart of London.

The siege of London has thrown the Brit­ish government onto the defensive and, in the view of many observers, driven the Tory government into a new initiative to settle the conflict. The hierarchy of the Tory party began quietly to push Prime Minister John Major into taking a more active role on Ireland, and despite the fact that he needs the 10 votes from Protestant Ulster to hang onto his majority for unifi­cation with Europe, Major set about open­ing secret channels with the IRA. For three years now the IRA through its political arm, Sinn Fein, has been engaged in on­-again off-again talks with the British, seek­ing some political solution to the war. Be­fore Christmas, the Republic of Ireland joined in attempting to broker a deal. But unlike Hong Kong, where the British clear­ly have announced their plans to retire, in the Union’s first colony, settled in the 12th century, they are staying.

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There may be no logistical or economic interest left, but emotions run deep, and to the Tory establishment the loss of Ulster is the loss of Britain, a Dunkirk too humiliat­ing to reckon. The IRA leadership may be eager to end the war, but it faces a potential revolt in its own ranks, among the grass­roots in the prisons, the ghettos of West Belfast, and the rural hinterlands, deter­mined to give no quarter to the British. So talk of peace goes on amidst a general sense that, for the time being, so too will the war. On Tuesday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Ad­ams attended a conference on Northern Ire­land in New York, the first time in 20 years that a Sinn Fein leader has openly been in the United States. The visit, needless to say, is being interpreted as another move — ­this time by the U.S. — to nudge the peace process forward.

Adams’s 48-hour visa, agreed to by the Clinton administration after two weeks of negotiations, is a blow to the British, who had lobbied against it, mainly through the offices of House Speaker Tom Foley, a well-established Anglophile Irishman. Ar­rayed against him were Ted Kennedy, Dan­iel Patrick Moynihan, and, in the White House, Mark Gearan, director of the Office of Communications. Anthony Lake, the president’s national security adviser, spent much of last week on the phone, quelling the FBl’s nervousness over having a terror­ist openly visiting New York and splitting hairs over Adams’s views on violence. American diplomats in Belfast said Adams’s statements to them about wanting to halt the war met the American precondi­tion that he renounce violence before being allowed into this country. But there were plenty of signs before he left Belfast that Adams’s line toward the British had, if any­thing, hardened.

In early January, we set out to make our own assessment of the war in Northern Ireland, with visits and interviews at the three key points of the triangle: here in New York, center of the American network pro­viding money and still some of the key arms to the nationalists, as well as an over­all support system; Belfast and the rural North — the so-called cockpit of the war, where the fighting grinds on and where strategy is laid; and London, where the IRA recently has transformed the City, the his­toric financial district, into a veritable bun­ker. We talked to fighters in the field in the North and those hiding in New York; to the political leaders of Sinn Fein; and to the major counselors of the IRA. We even spoke with a senior official at General Headquarters, the IRA’s secret command post from the which the campaign against London is being carried out.

NEW YORK

IRISH REPUBLICANISM was born among Irish émigrés in Europe, formed by the in­fluence of French revolutionary Jacobin­ism. Its first uprising, in 1798, was aided by the navy of revolutionary France. But its modern day counterpart, the Irish Republi­can Army, has its origins in the teeming Irish ghettos on the Eastern seaboard of mid-19th-century America. It was there, amongst the economic and political refu­gees of Famine Ireland, that the so-called Fenian movement and the secret Irish Re­publican Brotherhood and Clan Na Gael organizations were formed with the aim of violently overthrowing British rule in Ireland.

Since that time, every important uprising in Ireland has been financed with money from the Irish community in the U.S. When the nationalist ghettos in Northern Ireland came under attack from loyalist mobs and the police in 1969 and 1970, it was to the Irish emigrant network in the U.S. that the Catholics looked for relief aid and munitions. The first weapons for the revived IRA campaign against the Brit­ish — 12 M1s — were smuggled from the United States into Northern Ireland in 1970.

Beginning in October of that year, Joe Cahill, the senior IRA official charged with overseeing the pipeline to America, made a series of trips to the U.S. to raise money and arrange for the purchase of weapons. Here he hooked up with old republican activists like Michael Flannery and George Harrison and set up arms-importation net­works that included, ironically, the QE2 luxury liner. One of the first clear indica­tions of the IRA’s reliance on this source was the emergence of the American AR-I5, or Armalite, as the IRA’s weapon of choice in the 1970s.

Today in the traditional Irish neighbor­hoods in New York — Norwood in the North Bronx, Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn — the old gunrunning and fundraising network based on bars and construction companies has been supplemented by the influx of new Irish immigrants, many of them fleeing un­employment and political repression in Northern Ireland.

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People travel back and forth to Ireland two or three times a year, send money home, make room for visiting relatives. The local bars are places where new immi­grants cash their pay checks, find jobs, lo­cate apartments. Just as in Belfast, locals watching out for the FBI’s antiterrorist squad agents cruise the neighborhood. In the bars along 204th Street in the Bain­bridge section of the northern Bronx, post­ers advertising IRA fundraising socials for organizations like Clan Na Gael, are com­mon. The serious fundraising goes on at invitation-only private gatherings, where the latest courier from Belfast makes a pitch and the attendees make out checks in the thousands.

The FBI has had some notable successes in arresting leading IRA members who’ve fled to the U.S. to avoid the heat in North­ern Ireland. Joe Doherty was arrested in New York in 1983 and Jimmy Smyth, Ke­vin Arrt, and Pol Brennan were picked up in California nearly 10 years after they took part in a mass escape from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. Smyth and Arrt were carrying U.S. passports in the names of twins who had died from a rare blood dis­order in the early 1970s.

The IRA has its own structure here, with an OC or Officer-in-Command who coordi­nates activities on behalf of the leadership in Belfast and Dublin. One OC, Liam Ryan, moved back to his native Tyrone in 1987 only to be assassinated by a loyalist gang in the family bar that he managed. Ryan, who was himself charged in an arms-­dealing case in 1985, ran a courier trail with contacts in Kennedy Airport and a smuggling operation that carried people and money into the U.S. through Buffalo from Canada.

What began as gunrunning has now evolved into a complicated network helping to provide the IRA with high-tech improve­ments in its homegrown arsenal. New York is also a sort of r&r spot for men and women coming off active duty, some of whom are too hot to remain in Northern Ireland or the republic, and who are sent to America to get lost, to find new identities that cannot be traced. Others come here for a break, often finding employment as ille­gals in the construction business. And there is the constant flow of funds to keep the struggle going, ranging from money sent home to individuals to funds raised by legal entities such as Irish Northern Aid to help prisoners and their families.

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The Irish American community “is very important because the British think it is very important,” Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader said during an interview in Bel­fast. “There is a huge part of the U.S. —­ people who claim, or want, or are of Irish extraction; there is no language difficulty. Most American Irish are in the states be­cause of the relationship between Ireland and Britain. All of this has the British a bit paranoid, and I think it is the duty of freedom lovers to make the British very paranoid.”

The British commonly attempt to turn immigrants from Northern Ireland into spies. In at least one instance, American FBI and British intelligence agents engaged in a covert operation in New York to turn an Irish construction worker from Northern Ireland.

Kevin Corrigan, 31, had come to the U.S. with his wife and baby in 1989 from the small farm village of Cappagh in County Tyrone. Cappagh has been a center of at­tack and counterattack over the last 15 years.

On arriving in New York the Corrigans took up residence in a one-bedroom apart­ment in the Bronx, and Kevin got work in the construction industry around New York. Like many Irish immigrants, he did not have a green card. One evening in Au­gust 1990, Corrigan says, FBI agents ap­peared outside his Bronx apartment flash­ing their badges. They told him that he was in breach of the immigration laws. One of the agents proceeded to rattle off details of Kevin’s life, incidental facts such as where his son had been born, where he had been christened, and where the party was held afterward. Then the FBI agent threatened him with deportation.

When Corrigan said he was ready to go back to Ireland, the agent said, “You don’t have to go back, in fact you can stay here as long as you want. If you help us out we can help you.” And he said, “I’ll show you a number of photographs of men who drink in bars around here. All you have to do is tell me who they’re with and the times they come and go. That’s all I want.” Corrigan refused. The agent persisted, renewing the offer, and threatening him with the same fate as Liam Ryan. After 20 minutes or so, the FBI men left, promising to get back in touch.

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Two days later, as Corrigan approached the subway station on 204th Street on his way to work, the agents turned up again. One of them sat opposite him as he rode the D train into Manhattan to his job at a construction site near Herald Square. At the end of his workday Corrigan was ap­proached by two FBI agents who hand­cuffed him and marched him off the con­struction site. They put him in a car and drove a few blocks to 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue, where they took the cuffs off him and got out. Moments later another man got into the back of the car with Corrigan. He recognized the man as “Alex,” the Roy­al Ulster Constabulary Special Branch offi­cer who had interrogated him back home in County Tyrone. “Alex” repeated the FBI deportation threat. Pulling a cigarette in his mouth, the RUC man said, “When this cigarette is finished I’m getting out of this car, and there is nothing more I can do for you … If you were cooperative we could be sitting in a bar — any bar you like — ­having a friendly conversation, chatting about old times and I’d be telling you what was going on in the North and what all the boys are doing. Nobody need know any­thing about it.”

Corrigan refused. The cigarette burned down, and the man ordered Corrigan to get out of the car. Corrigan got out and walked away. Later that night the phone rang. It was “Alex.” Corrigan unplugged the phone. Later, he went back to his native Tyrone, where he still lives today. Apart from his unwillingness to betray his own people, Corrigan’s refusal was motivated by a sec­ond fact: he knew that the IRA’s way of dealing with informers was to kill them.

IN THE 1980s, the IRA’s weaponry needs shifted from guns to surface-to-air missiles with which to shoot down British Army helicopters, in many rural areas the only reliable form of surveillance and troop transportation. IRA engineers put together a team to devise their own system. The project was led by Richard Johnson, a Mas­sachusetts-based scientist with top U.S. se­curity clearance, and Martin Quigley, an IRA engineer. Backing them up was Chris­tina Reid, a Bay Area engineering student, and Peter Maguire, a technician with Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline. For seven years, from 1982 to 1989, the FBI set up an elaborate surveillance operation against the IRA team. By 1989, when the feds moved in, the prototype of a radio-signal con­trolled missile system had been developed.

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Parallel to the efforts to develop its own system, the IRA also made various efforts to buy Stinger surface-to-air missiles in the U.S. In one case, a group in Florida led by IRA member Kevin McKinley made ar­rangements with a group of arms dealers to purchase Stingers. To raise the needed $50,000, according to a federal indictment, an IRA member made a “charity fund run” to New York, hitting bars — including the Kilarney Rose and the Spinning Wheel­ — the Bank of Ireland, Chemical Bank, and several residences. After the cash was hand­ed over, the arms dealers revealed them­selves as undercover FBI agents and four men, including McKinley, were arrested.

In a follow-up operation, a total of 14 men, including those convicted in Florida, were indicted last year in Tucson, Arizona, charged with the purchasing and shipment to the IRA of 2900 detonators, which they claimed would be used for mining. From Tucson, the detonators were put on a Grey­hound Bus and shipped to New York and then sent on to Northern Ireland, where, according to the feds, they were used in explosive devices from January 1991 to June 1992. According to the indictment, another IRA member slipped into the Unit­ed States from Canada with a munitions shopping list that included night vision glasses for a Ruger mini-14, 2000 nonelec­tric detonators, 200 electric ignitors, bullet molds for 9mms, and conversion kits for various rifles. Those arrested in New York included a Bronx bar-owner, a building su­perintendent, a carpenter, and a Toronto-based bank executive.

When some of the defendants in the Tuc­son case were released on multimillion-dol­lar bail, they appeared at a welcome-home rally at Gaelic Park in the northern Bronx. The party was a standing-room-only affair packed with young Irish immigrants, repre­sentatives of Irish organizations from across the tristate area, labor union offi­cials, and Irish sports organizations. Speak­er after speaker told the cheering crowd that, while the defendants were innocent victims of FBI collusion with the British security forces, only armed resistance could drive the British out of Ireland. The high­light of the night was a speech from Gerry McGeough, an IRA figure who was himself on trial for trying to buy a Stinger missile.

Another boisterous victory party was thrown after a group of admitted IRA gun­runners was acquitted by a Brooklyn jury in 1982. Much to the annoyance of federal prosecutors, says one man who attended, some of the jurors showed up and music was provided by the NYPD Emerald Soci­ety Pipe band.

NORTHERN IRELAND 

CARVED OUT OF the historic Irish prov­ince of Ulster after the IRA’s War of Inde­pendence brought the British to the negoti­ating table in 1921, and constructed to ensure a loyalist/Protestant majority, Northern Ireland became, in the words of one of its founders, a “Protestant State for a Protestant People.” The island was turned into two underdeveloped units, both dominated by backward, religious-based ideologies, the “carnivals of reaction” James Connolly, the Socialist republican leader executed by the British in the 1916, predicted partition would create.

The early years of Northern Ireland saw large-scale pogroms against Catholic ghet­tos and the arming of more than one-third of adult Protestant males. The Catholic na­tionalist minority — which constituted be­tween a third and two-fifths of the popula­tion — was subject to institutionalized discrimination in employment, housing, voting, and almost all aspects of public life. The Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s — consciously modeled on its Ameri­can counterpart — provided a challenge to the system, and eventually tore it asunder. By 1969, it became apparent that Northern Ireland was incapable of reforming itself and British troops were sent in. The conclu­sion drawn by many Catholics was simple: civil rights could not be attained within the confines of the state of Northern Ireland. Only by uniting Ireland could they guaran­tee their democratic rights. That, coinci­dentally, had always been the position of Irish republicanism and its armed manifes­tation, the IRA.

Now, driving through the rain-swept, overcast countryside, we pass a slogan on a gable-end wall that sums up the perspective of this part of the world: “In the Middle­-East they say ‘Yassir,’ in County Tyrone we say ‘No-Sir!’ ” We are on our way to the small village of Loughmacrory in the hills of mid-Tyrone, where a Gaelic football match is in progress. The local side, many of whom have served time for various IRA offenses, is playing a team of IRA prisoners on a weeklong holiday parole from the H­-Blocks. After the game — which is won by the locals who, though lacking the prison­ers’ fitness, have the edge in game prac­tice — the players are joined by 300 to 400 locals in the village’s community center to debate the political and military strategy of the republican movement. First, though, the winning team has to be presented with medals.

Later, in a nearby roadhouse, hundreds of Tyrone republicans gather for a social event, the highlight of which is the presen­tation of plaques to the families of Tyrone IRA volunteers killed in action in the latest phase of the conflict. The ceremony goes on for an hour as family after family leaves its table and makes its way to the podium amid loud ovations from the crowd. The presentations are testimony both to the strength of support in the community for the IRA and also to the price paid in casu­alties over the last 20 years.

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A center of rebellion as far back as the 16th century, Tyrone became subject to a two-pronged British policy of genocide and plantation that saw the lands of the native Irish confiscated and the inhabitants re­placed by thousands of settlers imported from Scotland and England. The Irish fled to the poor land on the hillsides. Their descendants live there still, strong supporters of the secret military conspiracy that is the IRA. From here, in the late 1960s, Bernadette Devlin traveled to Queen’s Uni­versity in Belfast and became a leader of the civil rights movement that was first attacked and clubbed by loyalist mobs and their supporters in the RUC, and then shot off the streets by British paratroopers. On Bloody Sunday, in January 1972, they killed 14 unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry. Afterward, nationalist youth in Ty­rone joined the IRA in droves.

As the war has changed over the years, with the IRA focusing its targets more closely on commercial enterprises, the number of civilian casualties from its bombing attacks has declined. But the war has taken an ominous turn with the emer­gence of loyalist death squads, drawn from the descendants of the 17th-century Scot­tish and English settlers. In the last three years, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups — the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) — have carried out more killings than anyone else. Their targets vary from known republican activists to ordinary Catholics who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(It was an IRA attempt to take out the leadership of the UDA that resulted in one of the army’s biggest public relations disas­ters of recent years, when a bomb directed against a UDA leadership meeting explod­ed prematurely, killing 10 people, including the IRA bomber, in a fish store on loyalist Shankill Road in Belfast last December.)

Drawn from the lower sections of the Protestant working class, the loyalist gangs have close connections to neo-fascist groups in Britain and adopt a racially su­premacist attitude toward the Catholics. In many cases the loyalist gangs have been able to operate with impunity because of the latent sympathy among sections of the RUC for their aims and their methods.

For many years there have also been alle­gations of collusion between the British se­curity forces and the loyalist gangs. “It is a matter of common knowledge within the nationalist community that information gathered by the British forces regularly and easily finds its way into the hands of loyal­ist death squads,” says Gerry Adams. In 1989, the British government was forced to dispatch a senior British police official, John Stevens, to investigate the growing evidence that intelligence files on republi­cans were being handed over to the loyalists.

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One of the men Stevens arrested was the UDA’s intelligence officer, Brian Nelson. Shortly afterward it was revealed that Nel­son was an agent of British military intelli­gence. It was his function in the UDA to collate all of the intelligence files on nation­alists provided by the British security forces and provide computer readouts on poten­tial victims to UDA hit squads. One of Nelson’s victims was lawyer Patrick Finu­cane, who had become a thorn in the side of the North’s legal and security establish­ment by his courageous civil rights advoca­cy and his defense of IRA suspects.

Nelson had also been party to an arms deal engineered by loyalists in 1988 that imported 200 AK-47s, 90 Browning pistols, 500 splinter grenades, numerous rocket launchers, and tens of thousands of bullets from South Africa. The deal was set up by the South African authorities in collabora­tion with a Middle East arms dealer.

The arrest of Nelson was both a huge embarrassment to the British authorities and clear evidence that loyalist death squads were being armed and directed with the assistance of British intelligence. At his trial in January 1992, during which a senior British military intelligence officer provid­ed a character reference for Nelson, murder charges were dropped in the “public interest” in return for a guilty plea. Nelson is due to be released in 1996.

The loyalists’ propensity for violence is directly correlated to any indication of ambivalence on the part of the British govern­ment to the status quo in Northern Ireland. Should the British suggest even a long-term process of disengagement, the loyalist gangs, along with important sections of the local security forces, could be expected to unleash an unprecedented onslaught against the nationalist community.

LONDON

STARTING IN THE early 1970s, the IRA ran a wild and ruthless campaign, marked by bombings of civilian targets — pubs fre­quented by British Army personnel at Guildford and Woolwich, well-to-do gentle­men’s clubs and fancy restaurants in Knightsbridge, and Harrods department store in the middle of London. It botched a warning at a Birmingham pub, where the bomb killed 21 civilians. It killed horses in a ceremonial parade, and shot and killed the editor of the Guinness Book of Records, who had offered a reward for the capture of IRA squads in England.

Then, during the middle ’70s, it came close to collapsing altogether into what turned out to be a shrewd British trap. Offering the IRA a ceasefire, which they then extended, the British hinted they wanted to end the violence and leave Northern Ireland. The IRA accepted the ceasefire: the guerrilla fighters came out into the open and here and there began to take up normal lives, revealing their cover and support system in the process. Behind the scenes, the British were beefing up their own intelligence operations, penetrating the IRA brigade system that now was nakedly exposed, tightening the rules for criminal arrest and prosecution. They then swooped down, and the IRA buckled.

It was at that point that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s vice-­president, took over and, on the basis of discussion groups IRA prisoners had undertaken in jail, reorganized the republican movement. The IRA replaced brigades with cells, ended the retaliatory shootings of Protestants, and shifted its focus to a long-term campaign against commercial targets aimed at costing the British money. It began blowing off big bombs in the downtown provincial towns of the North, blowing up the center of Belfast itself, all the while aiming to kill as many British soldiers as possible in hit-and-run ambushes.

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Even with this redirection of efforts, they never quite got rid of the brutal IRA reputation, which was revived by what came to be known as the European campaign, in which British military units stationed along the Rhine and off-duty soldiers in Holland and Belgium were attacked. This campaign soon became marked by a sense of ruthless abandon, with IRA units killing a baby, injuring a mother on her way home from the store, and mistakenly killing two people with short hair it thought surely were off-duty soldiers. As it turned out, they were Australian tourists.

In 1988, amidst the botched campaign on the continent, the IRA launched another campaign within Britain itself, attacking a variety of targets — a soldiers’ barracks, the homes of Tory politicians — mortaring a cabinet meeting during the Gulf War, switching quickly back and forth to keep the British security forces off guard. The campaign climaxed with two big bombs in the City of London, the British capital’s financial district, which demolished the Baltic Exchange, the shipping center. A year later, just as the Tory establishment was congratulating itself with a grand banquet for reopening the Baltic, the IRA struck again, this time with an enormous bomb in Bishopsgate, which blew up buildings housing foreign banks and offices, and damaged the big Liverpool Street train and subway station. All in all, in 1993 the IRA tried to blow up three times as many explosives — 18 tons — in the City of London as it did in the whole of Northern Ireland. The damage totaled upward of $ 1.5 billion. It was the heaviest bombing since the Blitz.

From the bustling entrance of the mod­ern Liverpool Station the City looks like any modern downtown, construction cranes pulling the finishing touches on high-rise towers that are crowding out the historic financial buildings. It takes a moment to get one’s bearings, but a security guard standing outside a bank helpfully points out what’s going on. “There,” he jabs with a finger at a high-rise office building. “And over there.” Another jab. “There, there, there.” All points where the IRA truck bomb took out the heart of the City.

The cranes and workmen sprawled across the narrow, rain-swept streets are still struggling to rebuild. The streets are all but empty, traffic having been diverted around the City area. Another helpful guard points out the slim silver canisters at the beginning and end of every street, outside the entrances of Lloyd’s, all around the bank buildings. These are security cameras, so common in Belfast, but remarkable here.

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Inside a commodity trading house, which is reached only through locked doors and with a pass from a security guard (hooked by beeper into all the other security guards in the City), a young English broker de­scribes the effect of the IRA bombings. “The windows,” he says, pointing to the glass expanse that encloses the trading room, “there’s a bulletproof film over them. And most of the securities firms have duplicated their trading rooms.” That is, taking advantage of the recession to rent other quarters, they have created replicas of their offices, complete with telephones and computers. These stand empty, ready to be inhabited should there be another bombing.

Last fall, the IRA began to steadily bomb or hoax the commuter railroads. In Decem­ber, the army set off a bomb on the Reading railroad, a main commuter line. The IRA can easily close every mainline station during the morning rush hour. Last year it claimed there was a bomb on the Kent line, completely shutting it down for hours. It’s been estimated that hoax cost nearly $100 million.

Steady, long-term surveillance has brought a certain success to British security forces, leading the police to one or another stash of explosives. But, from what one can tell, the IRA’s operational network in England remains in place, ready to strike. In all probability it involves sleepers, people who are sent over to England years before they are activated. From some recent arrests, it’s clear the IRA now has second­-generation Irish involved, people who emigrated from Ireland, married, became to all intents and purposes English with English accents, living in working-class suburbs with decent working-class jobs. They drink at the corner pub. They fit no profile. Who would have ever thought that these descendants of the oldest colony — the dependable handyman, the maid, the accomplished but eccentric writer, the day laborer, the workers who built the Chunnel, would at the end of the 20th century turn on their decent En­glish employers and entertain the prospect of becoming urban guerrillas?

THE GHQ 

THE ATTACKS ON the City of London, indeed the overall British campaign, have been directed by a handful of individuals who make up the IRA’s General Headquarters, a secret floating command center that moves about the island of Ireland. Sometimes it’s in the north in working-class Belfast, and at others across the border in the countryside of the south. Getting in touch with GHQ isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but over time, following a circuitous and often haphazard-seeming route through New York, Dublin, and Belfast, we asked for and eventually were granted an inter­view with one of the officials at GHQ.

We were to show up on a certain street corner in downtown Belfast after lunch on a cold, drizzly day in mid-January. Our contact man was driving a small sedan. He didn’t speak as he drove carefully through a warren of terraced houses just west of Belfast’s city center. After about 10 minutes of taking side streets to avoid British Army checkpoints, we pulled up outside a small group of neighborhood stores. The driver nodded to another car parked adjacent to a grocery store. Inside were two young men in jeans. We switched cars, and started off again, crisscrossing the working-class hous­ing estates that slope down from the Divis mountain and sprawl across nationalist West Belfast. The two young men in the car drove along, asking how easy it would be to get a ticket to the World Cup soccer match in New York. Nobody mentioned politics.

After another car switch, and more criss­crossing, we stopped outside a small, two-­story dwelling on a cul-de-sac in a non­descript public housing development. We entered and waited in the front sitting room while the last driver scanned the street from the window. Then, a man who looked to be in his thirties came up the sidewalk and into the house. The two men who had brought us there produced massive dead­bolts, locking the front door. Settling into a chair, the official from GHQ began to talk.

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“It’s important to see the English cam­paign in the context of overall IRA strate­gy,” he began, setting up right away the political context for the discussion. “Our strategy is underpinned by a number of strategic objectives, the aim of which is to sap the will of the British government’s violent denial of the Irish people’s right to self-determination. Given that objective, the IRA seeks with a variety of tactics to stretch and re-stretch the British in terms of their personnel and resources.” He paused.

“Like all guerrilla armies, the IRA seeks to improvise and manufacture at as low a cost as possible weaponry and armaments which can be deployed against Crown forces and other targets on the basis of the largest return for the least outlay. Another factor is the need to pace ourselves. The essence of guerrilla warfare is that the smaller insurgency force harries and harass­es a massively superior enemy. The object is to have the enemy in a constant state of high alert and continuously guarding a wide range of potential targets. For example, in the mid 1980s the IRA devastated over 45 rural British Army and RUC bases with large-scale bombings. One effect of this was that the British had to undertake a large campaign of reconstruction and refortifica­tion. The IRA then issued a warning that anyone involved in the reconstruction of these bases would themselves become tar­gets. The effect of that was two-fold: it caused a major inflation in the cost of re­building, and two, it meant that the British had to deploy two extra battalions of troops to assist in the rebuilding program.

“The nature of the rebuilding program rendered the use of car bombs redundant because we were dealing with three-foot-­thick walls, sometimes reaching 20 to 30 feet. Quite early in that program the IRA began to improvise with their mortar tech­nology. We had the production of the Mark 10 to Mark 14 mortars and now the Mark 15, which the British call a barrack buster. When that mortar goes in — and it has a maximum payload of 500 pounds of explo­sives although they now average 150 to 200 pounds — the fortifications which act as a deterrent to car bombs actually multiply the damage in the base.”

But, he continued, if the IRA were to focus on just one method, the British soon would catch on and counter it. It’s the whole “tapestry of operations” that mat­ters. One important element was strikes against commercial targets, which countered British claims that life was normal.

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“Throughout 1991, ’92, and continuing in 1993, we engaged in massive bomb at­tacks in the commercial heartland of London. The IRA in one period of 1992 de­ployed 26 tons of explosives in and around London. Unfortunately 18 tons of explo­sives were seized by British forces, and the operation itself went wrong, when British forces tailed one van. IRA engineers and backup volunteers were in position with the explosives and had a simple choice to make. They could have executed the British police who had stumbled into an operation that was beyond their capacity to deal with, but it was decided that because the opportunity to remove the explosives didn’t exist there was no military justification for attacking the British police, and the volun­teers withdrew from the area. It had been our intention at that point to simultaneous­ly explode six substantial explosive devices at targets throughout the capital.

“Another aspect of the campaign has been the persistent and long-term disrup­tion of the travel network in and around London. There is the economic loss of work hours, and the sheer frustration of the local populace when the IRA paralyzes the city, making it hellish. That has the effect, along with our other operations, of draining the Exchequer and straining the nerves of the British establishment.

“It is clear that the British establishment, when it comes to the question of Ireland, are slow learners but they will find that the IRA are very patient teachers.”

The official broke off, rising to talk to one of the guards who had come into the room. Then, turning to us, he said, “I’ve got to get out of here right away,” and departed.

WAR WITHOUT END

WITH THE PHONY ceasefire of the mid 1970s very much in mind, the IRA leader­ship warily approaches the recent British maneuvering over Ireland. They suspect that, far from planning to retire from Northern Ireland, John Major is more like­ly to try to split the IRA by luring Adams and the leadership into a ceasefire without the kind of concessions that would radically alter the situation. IRA leaders see rhetoric on Irish self-determination contradicted by the insistence that a majority in Northern Ireland have a veto over any change.

All of this takes place against a back­ground of secret talks between Sinn Fein, IRA leadership, and the British that began in 1990. In Belfast, Gerry Adams explained that the IRA had indeed been involved in direct talks with the British before the at­tacks on the City of London began. “We engaged in protracted dialogue and contact with the British government for almost a three-year period,” he said. “In the course of that, the British government offered a series of meetings with Sinn Fein and ar­gued that this could be facilitated and as­sisted if the IRA campaign was stopped. Having negotiated the logistics and the gen­eral political parameters of the meeting, Sinn Fein then asked the IRA leadership to suspend its campaign in line with the Brit­ish request.”

The IRA agreed to suspend the campaign for two weeks, after which the talks were supposed to take place at one of a number of suggested locations in mainland Europe. But having got the agreement of the IRA, Sinn Fein found that the British were sud­denly no longer interested.

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Adams continued: “The British govern­ment then walked away from the proposals. By that time, we think they got into trouble within their own Tory party and when they started to make an arrangement to deal with the unionists.” In June of last year, Major needed the votes of the Ulster union­ists in the House of Commons to save his political hide in a vote on European inte­gration. That need coincided with the Brit­ish decision not to pursue the peace talks with Sinn Fein/IRA.

But Adams had been pursuing his own talks with John Hume, the leader of moder­ate nationalist in Northern Ireland. Those talks created a momentum — particularly in Dublin, where the Irish government has, since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, had a consultative role in the running of North­ern Ireland. The talks, and the revelation that the British had already been talking to Sinn Fein, created the pressure that result­ed in the so-called Downing Street Joint Declaration signed by Major and Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds.

Full of ambiguous language, the Joint Declaration implies that Britain is playing a neutral role in Northern Ireland. It declares that when the IRA lays down its arms the British will open talks with Sinn Fein — a new precondition. While the British and Irish governments talk of their initiative as one that will eventually open up the door to a United Ireland, the reality is easier to discern by the fact that the Unionist Party, the core of Ulster unionism, welcomed it as a document that would “copper-fasten the Union.”

The Joint Declaration was seen by Re­publican leaders as a maneuver designed for quick rejection by them —a rejection that the British could use first to isolate them and then to bring in even harsher repressive measures. Adams’s response was to seek clarification of the Joint Declaration and to place the onus on London and Dublin to prove that it was a genuine peace initiative.

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Under pressure from its electorate and an attempt to draw the IRA into a ceasefire, the Dublin government lifted the 20-year-­old censorship of Sinn Fem on television and radio. Dublin also made it known to the White House that it had no objection to the ban on Adams entering the U.S. being lifted.

Meanwhile, a consistent majority of peo­ple in Britain tell opinion pollers that they want out of Northern Ireland. Apart from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are paid out in compensation for IRA damage, Britain pays out $5 billion every year just to keep things running. So why, many peo­ple ask, don’t they just cut and run? One television journalist we met in London who has worked extensively in Northern Ireland pointed to the crisis in the British state as one key reason. “We have strong national­ist movements in Scotland and Wales, the monarchy is in a state of crisis, the Justice system is discredited, nobody believes in the established Anglican church anymore, and they can’t come to terms with the Eu­ropean Community. Ireland is our first and oldest colony and key parts of the establish­ment are scared to death of the ramifica­tions of losing what’s left of it.”

There is also the problem of the 1 million Protestants. “We have managed to create a hybrid race of our own little Afrikaners over there,” the Journalist added. “They say they are British but nobody here wants anything to do with them. They’re already armed to the teeth and ready to go to war if we pull out.”

Any deal struck between London, Dublin, and Belfast would have to meet the approval of the IRA, and especially the prisoners at Long Kesh. An indication of their view of things came during our meet­ing in the Maze with Sean Lynch, the OC of 350 IRA men who arc organized as a pris­oner-of-war unit. The peace proposals, among other things, offer them the possibil­ity of a general amnesty, a chance to abruptly conclude their 20-to-30-year sen­tences and return to normal life. Their an­swer, Lynch said without hesitation, was no. No until the British said they would retire from the island of Ireland.

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“The war has gone on for 25 years,” Bernadette Devlin McAliskey said. “And nobody can say what the balance sheet of suffering is. Certainly the greatest weight of war has been carried within the republican community. Those of us who have been part of the struggle for 25 years have chil­dren. The children have grown up in a totally militarized society. The most alarming thing about the situation is that this is nor­mal life for our children. This is the kind of society, the kind of life, the kind of struc­ture, that has provided the normal basis of their growing up. Peace is abnormal to any­body in this country under the age of 25. There may be some people around who say that anything would be better at this point than seeing these people have to go through the next 25 years the same as ourselves. But that’s not our decision. That decision is for people who are 22 and 23.

“And the kids? What they’re saying to the leadership is, if you’re tired, that’s all right. Go home. We’re not tired.” ■

Special thanks to Ed Moloney, the Sunday Tribune‘s Belfast correspondent, who has diligently covered the war and its complex politics over the last two decades. Additional reporting in New York: Susan Walsh, Eamon Lynch. 

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Inside George Carlin’s Head

HOLLYWOOD — Energy spills out. George dressed all in blue, his thin blue frame moving, jerking, limping, dancing, slurching — George being an ant —slurching along a sidewalk — eyes crossing, hair splayed out all into the wind, hands moving, smoothing the hair back, smoothing the hair back, always smoothing the hair back — the grossest of crossed eyes like ­some satanic yogi master, eyes all crossed looking at the third eye — up toward the secret of the golden flower — gold records — millions of them selling all across the country — five records in the last four years and every one of them gone to gold.

George Carlin at the Roxy, now slinking like a cat — cat colliding with a big glass door — cat recoiling, straightening — cat trying to ­keep its cool — look like he really MEANT to do that — proud cat — saving face — “FUCKIN’ MEOW!” —  screams George — “FUCKIN’ MEOW!” Funny as hell — the audience is roaring. Funny? Why is that so funny? Goddammit, that’s what we all want to scream out every time we’re trying to keep it together and we fuck up, blow it and can’t show it, can’t let on — have to keep on keepin’ on — George up there saying it for us: “FUCKIN’ ME — that’s ME. Me hurtin’ — ow! ow! ow!” Thank you. George — the guy in the front row laughing — just knocked over his martini glass — the girl with the blonde hair in hysterics — collapsing on the stage.

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George Carlin is funny. He’s really very funny. George being a kid, George being a dog, George being the guy by the watercooler with freshly picked snot on his fingers and the boss just comes along — tryin’ to hide the snot­ — shake it off — get rid of it — whaddya do? “Can’t wipe it on the walls­ — and the furniture is full” — “I say — PUT IT BACK!” (Pause while the audience takes that in — ­howls — squeals) — ” Jacques Cous­teau tags ’em and puts ’em back!”

We’ve met before. That was George’s starting point. How are you doing? he asked the audience at the Roxy, throwing the respon­sibility for our reactions right on us. Are we going to be a good audience tonight? Will our section win? Will we be a credit to our row? — So we’re laughing al­ready — we’re on stage, too. There. Right there. We are IN this show.

Funny. I sat in a crowded room of people — mostly young — but not the campus crowd, more a Hol­lywood Scene — and they laughed their heads off. I sat through two shows. The first one I was down there in the ranks and everyone was laughing except the critic for the L. A. Times who thinks he’s supposed to be critical so he was miserable and downed four double brandies and his girlfriend was miserable too because she really wanted to be laughing and she’d start to and then she’d glance over at him and stop herself so as not to appear to be such an asshole as to laugh at something that wasn’t funny enough to suit her date.

George Carlin running down all the places we’ve met before. “Stoned in the supermarket — you smoke eight joints and bring $200 — frozen-food aisle — God it’s cold!­ — uh — honey — I’ll be over by the bar­becued chickens — get the Rocky Road ice cream — see you later­ — Dropping stuff back after you’ve got six carts linked together and you know you’ve gone too far — va­nilla extract in with the Brillo — the ham goes back with the frozen waffles — liverwurst slices — half of them are gone now — tucked in behind the please don’t squeeze the Charmin — don’t worry honey­ — they have these little men with purple fingers who come around at midnight and straighten it all out.”

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“We’ve met in the cookie section —  in any head neighborhood — looks like a WAR ZONE — half the packages are open! — and all the GOOD cookies are gone! — where are the Mallomars? — the Mallo­mars never even make it to the store, man — people are lining up outside at the truck!”

We’ve met on the radio dial (“down towards the hopelessness of 540 — why do they stop there?­ — what kind of great stuff are they keepin’ from us down at 310?”), in the classroom (“Farts — farts are great — kids love ’em — look at it this way — a fart is just a shit without the mess!”), tripping on sidewalks, on the Monopoly Board, comparing dogs: “Animals: — the new people from the church have dropped by for a spot of tea and there’s the dog in the corner and he’s LICKIN’ HIS BALLS! And what’s even more amazing: NO ONE LOOKS AT HIM! There’s this perfectly spectacular thing going on in one corner of the room and no one says a word! If I could do that myself, I’d never leave the house!”

We’ve met before, he says, and he draws everybody in. He really does, me too. I’m laughing my head off. But when I go to talk to him — that’s different.

I have a theory about why George Carlin is funny. It has to do with words. Kids and words. We’re sitting in Little David Records, in the back room, and George has his feet propped up on the big round table and he’s smoking and drink­ing Heinekens and club soda (se­parately — he’s alternating) and he’s not saying anything. He says there’s nothing to talk about any­way since I haven’t seen his show yet.

I say well yes but I’ve listened to his albums — I even designed one once — the “Class Clown” album. Doesn’t matter, he says — doesn’t count for anything — ya hafta see the show.

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So I launch into my Pet Theory Number One on what makes things funny. I came up with this about a year ago one time when I was stoned. It was important to me at the time because I am hardly ever stoned, so it took on great significance (hold on — I’ll get to it in a minute), but later, thinking about it, it occurred to me that George is about 39 now and he’s been stoned continually from the time he was 16 (except recently — that’s the main news about George Carlin, folks — George Carlin has cut out coke and he’s HARDLY EVER STONED!) — so he must be having these great significant revelations CONTINUALLY — and in fact, lis­ten to his records, he sure is.

“Nixon is the perfect symbol for the country — looks like he hasn’t taken a shit in a month — he’s just not a regular guy — every four years he gets the runs — ‘Look! He’s running again.’ ”

“Getting high on the plane — they always tell you — ‘please get ON the plane’ — ‘Fuck you,’ I tell them — I’m getting IN the plane — ­let the DAREDEVILS get ON the plane.”

Well, my weird idea about words: When I was stoned I sud­denly saw this magic plane I used to go to all the time when I was very little, before I learned to talk. A fantasy place — a great spot — full of alleyways with pink and purple trees, high white blossoms, shapes all changing. I went there every night, walked down the street, checked out the new buds on all the branches. Great place. And I had buried it for all these years.

Then I saw picture diction­aries — first the word written out, then the picture, then, tagged to every word, a FEELING that I had about the word, and a kind of COLOR that went with it! Eerie. Every word I ever learned was there, all tagged and colored. Then I was in New Rochelle Public Library, staring up at the stacks on the mezzanine. Staring up the way I used to when I was just a little kid. And I knew that those white stacks with the dark alleyways between them looked to me like the radiators in my house — the high white pipes and the dark dark spaces, scary spaces, in between them. The spaces, and the pipes repeating and receding when I looked down them from one end.

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Then I saw that every word I had ever learned repeated and receded like the radiators, like the stacks. That every word I ever learned was surrounded by auras, feelings, colors — echoes of the hundred thousand times I ever had made contact with that experience before it boiled down into one dinky, distillate, poor-excuse-for-the-re­al-experience WORD.

And then I felt, knew, experi­enced, that the worst trauma in the world for me as a kid hadn’t been being weaned from the breast, or being rejected by my father — or whatever they say on psychiatrists couches years later — the real trau­ma was having to learn WORDS, having to come up with the right WORDS for everything.

And more than that: SANITY was coming up with the right word. Anything that had no words for it was (bad, naughty, unresponsive, irresponsible, antisocial, immoral, and) INSANE. That’s why I buried my magic secret nighttime gar­den: there were no words for it. It was “crazy” and it had to go.

So here I am making an asshole of myself running on to George Carlin who God knows is a busy man — 10 shows at the Roxy this week, plus shows with Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson, a Perry Como special, prison benefit at San Quentin on the weekend, one film­making session coming up on Fri­day, and four days of shooting for a Mac Davis special coming up next week — then off on tour — and here I am.

I push on — the thing is, I tell George — the reason kids like word jokes so much — the reason they think it’s so hysterically funny when you point to a cup and say “tree” or point to a car and say “potato” — is that it’s a relief from the trauma of having to get the words all right — it kind of makes a little space for kids to get back to that great live conscious BEING place where they were when they were still preverbal.

Stop. End of Theory Number One. Look up. This man must think I’m nuts. Where’s he at, I wonder. I look at him across the table.

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George Carlin looks like Christ in my “Bible Stories for Children” ­book that I used to sneak peeks at when I was supposed to be going to Ethical Culture Sunday School and singing songs by Pete Seeger and being a rationalist. Carlin also reminds me of somebody in my second-grade class — a class-clown type — maybe it was Pete McSweeney — but anyway there were a lot of Irish and Italian Catholic kids on my block and I used to walk home with the girls and memorize their catechisms and wish I had a white organdy dress like they had to wear to Confirmation. Where I grew up, the Catholics weren’t simply win­ning — they had WON. In fact the only distinction of any meaning was between the Irish Catholics, who had mothers who were thin, and the Italian Catholics, who had mothers who were fat. My mother was thin, and only a little Jewish, and I did NOT FIT IN.

And we all knew it.

And now here I am and there’s George Carlin and I feel like­ — THERE’S A PROBLEM. Not only because he looks like Christ on my secret book, but because — I feel like he is Of-the-People, By-the-People, and For-the-People — and I know that even though he may secretly find me in the dark when we play Spin-the-Bottle at my birthday party, out on the playground. when we’re choosing sides for baseball, he’s going to pick me LAST.

So I look up. “Yeah,” says George about my word theory. “Yeah” — (he’s almost smiling) — “Yeah — that’s really good. That bit about words being the real trauma — that was really fun.” He does a bit about kids, he says­ — another about words — and there’s a piece about kids’ words — I’ll see that in his show, he says — It’ll answer all my questions.

But I have one more question — I ask him whether he’s consciously worked out any theories about why all this is funny.

No, he says — it’s just INSTINCT — something he’s al­ways known — something that just occurs — “Because the creative child in me is — very active — and really rules the roost — and the three qualities that go into creativity you know — or spontaneity — are three qualities that are present in CHILDHOOD — the most creative state — they are INNOCENCE, CURIOSITY, and ENERGY.”

Most people, when they have a little faint stirring of the “creative child state” — they bury it — they’re afraid of it.

“Right,” says George. “They fear the child.”

And then I said “Okay — you’re excused from class,” and then he grinned (for the first time) and said “Oh Wow, Golly! I get to go home early!” and then he gave me a nice little kiss (like Pete Mcsweeney used to do in Spin-the-Bottle) and said “Thanks for the Good Vibrations” and I was on my way.

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Funny — he wasn’t even funny. Not in person. That is — not with me. And he isn’t funny talking with me that night either, talking be­tween shows. He’s straight, serious, full of “answers-to-test-­questions type analysis.” But then in walk the executives from Little David records — Monty Kay, Jack Lewis, Burt, and Ben — and the whole scene changes. “Hey it’s da first team!” calls out George, coming on mannish-clannish macho. “The fuckin’ Regulars — da varsity squad is here!”

Right — I knew it — he’s picking them for baseball. Where’s he coming from? I go back and listen to his records:

“I grew up in a little Irish neighborhood, right next to Har­lem. On one side, Columbia and everything connected with Columbia — Juilliard, Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, Riverside Church, St. Luke’s Hospital, St. John the Di­vine — all that stuff on one side — one the ether side” (long pregnant pause — mean deep voice) “HARLEM. We used to call our­selves ‘White Harlem’ — sounded BAD you know; ‘Hey man, where you live?’ — ‘White Harlem’ — oh! — sounded so FAGGY — to us anyway — Faggy had nothing to do with sex — a fag was a sissy — a fag was a guy who wouldn’t stay out late of go stealin’ or hitchin’ on trucks or something — ‘Aw go home, you fag — go home, fag — it’s 10 o’clock — the big fag’s gotta go home!”

“Queer — we knew what a queer was — a queer was the word we learned right after we learned ‘homo’ — ‘Ah — he’s a queer! — he’s a HOMO — yeah, yeah!” — A FAG was a guy who wouldn’t go downtown with you beaten’ up queehs! —part of that Irish Street Macho.”

Irish Street Macho — so that’s it — George simply doesn’t relate to women the way he relates to men — and he isn’t funny with women because he doesn’t have to be.

“Bein’ funny on the street. It was good to be funny on the street, especially if you weren’t one of those big fighter dudes and you were tired of running — it was good to be funny — would save you from an ass-kicking if some guy from another neighborhood came around — who’s gonna kick a guy who’s making cross eyes and screwin’ up his mug and going GAURRGHHH!!!? — ‘Lay off him, Charlie — don’t touch that one — it’s bad luck to hit a guy like that.’ ”

Girls — that is, women: girls and nuns and mothers — girls are not gonna kick you in the ass down on the street so GIRLS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM! You do not have to be funny when you talk to girls! (And he can’t think of any other way to be with them either, except kind of nice and POLITE, so the conversation kind of FALTERS — ­which it certainly did with us.)

Actually I did all the talking, and then I said ‘Okay — you’re excused from class — you can go home early,’ and he said ‘Oh wow golly,’ and that was right because he was being like a good little boy come to take the test (“all interviews are like tests,” says George) and I was being like a teacher/nun.

First it’s just that put-down feeling — and then it’s the typical Jew­ish psych-the-whole-thing-out ap­proach. Well, the man’s had a tough time of it keepin’ up the Irish Macho business — doesn’t deal with women anyway — they’re not on his album either — everything else is there — cats, dogs, farts, football vs. baseball, news, weather, dirty words, masturbation — he does try on that one to take the woman’s view — but it just doesn’t have that authoritative ring — the albums have an almost VIRGINAL quali­ty even when he gets into what he calls the “more gushy areas of universality” he doesn’t tread on SEX — when I him how his sex life with his wife was, he just said “fine” — kept it private — not that he should do anything else — it’s just that there’s been very little that he HAS kept private — his stock-in-trade is to talk about all the things people never talk about — all the forbidden subjects — so why not this one? but no — I sense it — this one is off limits.

But these thoughts all come later. Right now it’s Wednesday night, and I’m out there in my row at the Roxy, laughing like crazy, and George has gotten into his kid thing just like he said he would­ and h0w he’s getting into his words thing.

“Words are great — in the beginning was the word — GOD got to choose the first one and he got the best one — they had words — ‘my word’ — word for word’ — word contradictions: ‘jumbo shrimp;­ well, which is it for God’s sake?­ — let them make up their minds!­ — smithereens — why is it always talked about in plurals? — ‘Hey Johnny — look! Just found that smithereen left over from last year’s explosion!” — dirty words — finding the middle ground — somewhere  between ‘bloomer’ and ‘cuntlapper’ — the FUCK — substituting the fuck for the word kill  —’ to fuck a mockingbird’ ” (George makes an obscene gesture — grinds his groin (“where does my groin end and my loin begin?”) and stretches out his hands — to fuck a mockingbird — hold gently by the wings.’ ”

Words. So George is running through all this and now he’s kind of wriggling and talking about this kind of shaking that happens to you when you take a piss — “what does that mean? — TAKE a piss? you don’t TAKE a piss — you leave one” and he’s saying “What is that? — that shaking? — There’s n0 WORD for it — I call it the PISS QUIVERS” and suddenly I hear him saying, “Kids really like word jokes because they’re so hassled  learning words.”

Hey! How ’bout that! So George was really listening to my Pet Theory Number One! — and I suddenly get a glimpse into where George gets all his stuff — he gets it everywhere — anywhere — all day long!

I check out Carlin in “I Ching” and it comes up with a hexagram called INFLUENCE WOOING — and I realized that the word influence (in—fluence) literally means “a flowing in” — and in Chinese the  hexagram mean “general,” “universal,” and also stimulating” — thus conjuring up a picture of an individual being open to currents from all sides, being stimulated by them, and stimulating them in his turn.

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And it seemed to me that George was very much like that: he is open to every twist, weirdness, irony, surprise, delight — when I talked to him between the shows again, a bit of that exchange had been incorporated by the second show! If so, if he does that with me, he must do that with everyone, continually. Everything get worked in, a constant process, like the building of a shell.

“I noticed you worked in that thing about kids learning words.”

“Oh yeah.” George looks pleased, grinning. “Yeah, I’ve already started to work that in.”

Backstage at halftime — George sitting very quiet at an old oak desk, sitting in an old oak chair­ — like school. Heineken’s again. Club soda with a red straw. A lemon.

Interviews: George Carlin re­minds me of Joni Mitchell — who says all he has to say is in his work — there isn’t anything else to say — the rest is mainly filling up the spaces — showing up for the blue book and then saying­  — what? — well — not NOTHING — but saying all that left-brained, logi­cal, after-the-fact type stuff­ — polite analysis to satisfy the questioners — theories and reasons.

He wears blue because it’s like Mime, because he’s striving for “stark contrasts, stark emotions, classicism.” His work is new all the time (although he’s always using “old” material) because he changes the “order, the intonation, the choice of words, the look you give after you say it — you must have the feeling you’re kind of thinking of it for the first time — so you remember the JOY of thinking of that joke — that way you can say it again like it’s half — half not SPONTANEOUS or NEW — but just — half SURPRISE — you know — you have to feel the AWE!”

Does he ever worry about run­ning out of funny things to talk about?

“No — not really — I’m getting into other forms — I’m getting into creating on the typewriter, too­ — and through film — but rapping — it always will sustain me — I wouldn’t want to chase the same goal all the time for the next 20 years — but I’ll alway be able to do some rap­ping.”

Right now, what turns George on is: he’s getting into film — “Everybody has a path — I’m get­ting to another level. It’s just not out there on the table yet to show everyone, but we’re filming here Friday night, for instance, to have the basis for a lilm — It’s something — ­you don’t really want to talk about a lot, cause it’s just an embryo­ — but it’s a very healthy one.”

No doubt it is. Reports vary, but George is estimated to be raking in anywhere between $300,000 and $1 million a year these days. But he can’t stay on the college circuit forever — he’s surfacing — that’s why he’s playing at the Roxy this week, even though the money isn’t anything like what he’d be making in a bigger hall. “I want to reach these people — the Hollywood In­dustry people — I’m a kind of secret success to them. They know I’m doing well, but they don’t really know what I do.”

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I point out that he seemed to do less playing with the audience than he used to do two or three years ago.

“Well there was a real need to establish that in myself then — that moment-to-moment, let’s look at the event — heehee — you and I are here — and I’ve done a lot of that­ — I’ve felt those feelings — and I’ve established that kind of feeling about myself — so those things fade — they come and go. As they’re needed — This is all such a basic — psychological trip — you know — like that word is really good in terms of the process because you’re really just telling — you’re doing analysis up there, of sorts. You can’t help that-the things that are most significant about you are bound to surface — without your  even knowing it — or WITH your knowing it — whatever …

“So you go through stages just as you do in your own thinking — in your little fears — your experiments — all the various things that make up people — you know — happen there too as you develop your career — you grow — and grow up, you know. I’m kind of reaching young manhood again now for the second time — for four or five years now I’ve been acting out my adolescence in public — in terms of almost everything that applies to that part of your life: dress, and irreverence, and language, and drug experimentation — and alienation — and now that’s kind of rounding out in me.”

I ask him — George — what is the payoff?

“The payoff,” he said — “was getting people to stop for 10 minutes on the street corner and just PAY ATTENTION. Power — power to get the fuckers to stop and HEAR ME, HEAR ME FOR CHRISSAKES HEAR ME!”

And so he did it — did it as a kid — does it — does it far longer and longer periods of time — more and more people — worked it to perfection — well, not quite perfection — ­and that explains what he was saying in the break between the shows.

“It’s really funny— wanting to do those extra 30 minutes” (he had to cut the show down at the Roxy, to fit in two performances in one night) — I feel like — gee — you ought to know about my neighborhood — I got some really nice stuff on that that’s a lot like this other thing — you’d really like it — I got this rap on death — lexicon on death and violence — ‘that kills me,’ ‘that slays me,’ ‘that wipes me out’-nice stuff-missed that­ — couldn’t fit it in.” That bothered him — can’t say it ALL.

And what if he DID?

Power — PROOF — the money’s nice, he says. The life-style’s nice — being popular is nice — that’s getting closer to it — yes, he likes that — but the best part — the ATTENTION. “They’re all listen­ing to me! Wow.”

But how does he DO that! What is he selling that we pay so much attention?

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George Carlin is funny. Congenitally, genetically funny. He’s got these harty-har-har chromosomes and genes. Then there’s environment, too — lots of Irish Catholic Macho street kids learned to be FUNNY not to get their asses kicked in when some big tough fighter dude from the next block’s gang came sauntering down the avenue — but Carlin’s FUNNIER THAN THAT. Carlin is TRANSLUCENTLY funny.

Nouns and verbs and participles and arms and legs all dangling, gerundives, possessives, mostly subjunctives — what if? — and subjectives — MY story — MY street — MY class — Corpus Christi — Sister Marie Richard — my best masturbation stories that I traded with my old pal Bill — statements — periods — ­long periods of waiting, chewing, digesting, puking, processing, wasting away, the shitty parts, the pissed-off places, the stopping and the belching, farting away the time of day, the night, caffeine in his blood, caffeine, coke, grass, speed, beer, caffeine in the skin, the bones, the arteries, humor in another vein — no bones about it­ — the starting IS the stopping.

Translucent: the whole process is revealed. Translucent. That’s what it is — He’s crawled inside his own body, his brain — he’s let us see it — see the insides — see the blood swishing, turning — the snot running, the shit, the farts, the balls, the cock, the eyes, the brain — and once in a while — maybe — more and more — once in a while — the heart.

He gets high and we get high. Trippy, tripping — but mostly it’s that he sees right through himself. (“Hey! They’re all listening to me! Wow!”) and we see right through him. George Carlin seen as a pane of glass — set against the black background of general world TOTAL CHAOS. He becomes a mirror — and we see ourselves.

We look pretty funny too, God-dammit.

Cracks us up. ❖

1976 Village Voice profile of George Carlin

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The Mob is Dead! Long Live the Mob!

WHERE WERE YOU when the Mafia died?

It has been more than a year since that historic Thursday when a Brooklyn jury adjourned for lunch and found John Gotti guilty before the soup arrived. “The mob as we have known it in New York City is on its way out,” eulogized James Fox, head of the FBI’s New York office. “This could be the death knell for organized crime … in the United States.”

Gotti’s conviction, the experts crowed, was the culmination of the government’s most recent war against organized crime, a crusade begun in the mid ’80s by racketbuster Rudolph Giuliani, our erstwhile Tom Dewey with a comb­over. The swift verdict confirmed what The New York Times had been tirelessly report­ing for years: the mob was on life support, finally reduced to the street gang J. Edgar Hoover always knew it was. We were wit­nessing the “twilight of the dons,” one TV special informed us.

In fact, the Mafia’s prospects appeared so bleak, it seemed inevitable that the Italians would be usurped by other ethnics: the Ghost Shadows would seize control of Teamsters Local 282; the price of concrete would now be fixed by the Jamaican pos­ses; and the Albanians would become the secret force at Kennedy Airport.

It seemed like just yesterday that the Ma­fia was perceived as the enemy within. With Gotti doing life, was it really possible that the next capo di tutti capi might be a Russian from Brighton Beach? How did things disintegrate so quickly?

John Gotti was the guiltiest of pleasures for investigators and journalists alike. The underworld has long been dominated by bland men in zipper jackets and polyester blends, which made Gotti’s cheesy suits and 40 mph haircut seem all the more refreshing.

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And just as Nicky Barnes once played and dressed up to his reputation as Har­lem’s reigning pusherman, Gotti introduced the Method to the Mafia, becoming the Dapper Don. What’s not to like about an Italian guy in a silk raincoat leaving a Mulberry Street social club, entering a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz, and heading to Regine’s for some Cristal? Such “style” hadn’t been seen since the heyday of Frank Costello.

Television was especially guilty of inflat­ing the Gotti myth. But who could blame them? Those Brioni suits and garish hand­painted ties were so much more visual than the standard Adidas warm-up. When Gotti waved an index finger at WNBC’s John Miller and warned the reporter to “behave yourself,” well, that was great television. The telegenic Gotti is a convicted mass murderer, but his Q rating probably ap­proaches those of Barney and Roseanne.

Even his homicide style got high marks: the brazen rush-hour murder of Paul Cas­tellano had such panache, it seemed almost an homage to the classic New York rub­outs: Albert Anastasia in the Park-Sheraton barber shop, Kid Twist out a window in the Half Moon Hotel, Carmine Galante’s last supper.

So it is not surprising that many report­ers — like Daily News gossip Linda Stasi­ — appear to be suffering from separation anxiety, judging by the regular accounts of the exiled Gambino boss’s prison reading habits and exercise regimen. Tabloid read­ers have also been provided with detailed accounts of a Jon Peters-produced Gotti movie (screenplay by Joe Eszterhas!) and a lame rap tribute (lyrics by Big Lou!), which deserves a spot under Calvin Butts’s next steamroller.

Banished to a cell in southern Illinois, Gotti has been forced to live on in absentia as the Boss of Bosses, the Godfather — titles bestowed on him by the FBI in the wake of the Castellano rubout. The titles had been previously tossed about, but nobody had grown into the role — or captured the pub­lic’s attention — like Gotti. Does anyone really remember Godfather Frank Tieri?

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But in the media’s rush to coronate Gotti, nobody bothered to ask just what the Godfather did, what great powers the Boss of Bosses exercised. Gotti surely didn’t con­trol the city’s four other crime families, and there wasn’t even a consensus in law en­forcement circles that the Gambino gang was New York’s premier crime syndicate; the Genovese family was just as large, prob­ably earned more money, and exerted influ­ence over crime groups in other cities, like Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Cleveland.

In the midst of the media frenzy follow­ing the Castellano murder, the FBI virtually signed on as Gotti’s press agent, puffing him up in anticipation of the day it would bring him down.

Of course, the notion that Gotti — or any single mob figure — was some sort of omnipotent New York mafioso is ludicrous. The word “Godfather” had a nice, Brando-­esque ring, but the title itself is a fraud. It was far simpler for law enforcement offi­cials — usually the FBI — to try to encapsu­late the entire Mafia into a single Boss of Bosses than it was to explain the complicat­ed relationships among New York’s five mob families.

More importantly, when Gotti was con­victed — and he would be convicted — it would be easier to claim victory over the entire Mafia with the Godfather wearing prison blues.

The FBI’s rabid promotion of Gotti-as­-Godfather reminded one prosecutor of a story about Mafia investigations: “We used to joke that when we started an investiga­tion, the target was considered a mob asso­ciate. Then, by the time we reached the grand jury, he had magically turned into a soldier. And when we held the press confer­ence announcing the indictment, we’d pro­moted him to captain.”

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In the end, it wasn’t the bureau’s bugs, Sammy Gravano’s tales from the crypt, or the twin curse of greed and hubris that doomed Gotti. He took the bait and was swallowed whole by the Myth of the Godfather.

The “death of the Mafia” talk, which has grown since Gotti’s conviction, first cropped up following Giuliani’s successful RICO prosecutions of the Commission and the mob’s concrete cartel. The Times has delivered Mafia obituaries since at least 1988 and has regularly chronicled organized crime’s “widespread instability” and “disarray.”

Earlier this year, the paper reported that the FBI was so pleased with its recent ef­forts against Mafia bosses that the bureau was now lowering its sights to middle man­agers. The paper even noted that some FBI officials were considering deëmphasizing Mafia investigations in favor of focusing on emerging “nontraditional” crime groups like Jamaican posses or Colombian drug gangs. “I think the FBI is ready to declare victory and move on,” one federal prosecu­tor told the Voice.

Beginning with Hoover, FBI officials have underestimated the Mafia’s influence and tenacity and, in the process, allowed organized crime to become a part of the fabric of New York City, where it remains as the openly criminal wing of the city’s Permanent Government.

A Voice review of more than 500 pages of confidential FBI memorandums, volumes of court testimony, plus interviews with two dozen investigators and prosecutors in­dicates that, despite a rash of convictions over the last five years, the New York mob has shown a resilience rarely acknowledged by FBI officials, other law enforcement agencies, or the media.

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The latest round of prosecutions will probably result in the convictions of a few dozen high-ranking mob figures, principally from the Gambino, Luchese, and Colombo families. This leaves, by city police department and FBI estimates, a total of more than 1000 initiated members spread among New York’s five families. In addition, thou­sands of uninitiated “associates” are affili­ated with these made members.

Historically, the conviction or death of a boss — whether it be Genovese, Luchese, Corallo, Persico, Salerno, Rastelli, or Gotti — means little to the family’s criminal entrepreneurs, who are well suited to sur­vive the fall of a boss. In fact, a recent FBI affidavit asserted that the Luchese crime family — undeterred by the defection of two former high-level mobsters and intense law-enforcement scrutiny — “continued to con­duct business as usual,” receiving payments from a wide range of criminal operations, including shakedowns in the Garment Cen­ter, area airports, union locals, and building contractors.

The very grassroots nature of the Mafia, with thousands of mob figures surviving the fall of a boss, means that organized crime still has its hand in the everyday lives of New Yorkers. Mobsters like Angelo Prisco and Liborio “Barney” Bellomo — ­hardly household names — are the Mafia’s backbone, men content to operate in the shadows while dopes like Gotti pay dearly for their turn in the spotlight.

Build a road, buy a dress, go to dinner, fill up the car, attend the San Gennaro festival, even clean up the debris in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing. It’s all brought to you by the mob.

Gotti’s imprisonment has been por­trayed as the government’s crushing blow to the mob. But while bosses may be at the top of those nifty FBI flowcharts, the Ma­fia’s real power comes from the ground up. A family’s lowest-ranking members, “sol­diers,” and the family’s associates are the true criminal masterminds: they still con­trol industries, infiltrate unions and legiti­mate businesses, and run gambling and loan-sharking operations.

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Since late 1991, the FBI’s pool of intelli­gence about New York’s crime families has expanded greatly, thanks in large part to the cooperation of a variety of former mob figures. These ex-mobsters have provided an unprecedented look at the Mafia’s mind­boggling array of economic crimes and, in the process, debunked the repeated claims that successful prosecutions have left the mob mortally wounded. Industries suppos­edly cleaned up by previous prosecutions were quickly reinfiltrated by the mob, the informants reported.

Despite the FBI’s public declarations of victory and death knells, informants in fact have provided so much information that the bureau’s organized-crime squads have been unable to investigate most of the ex­tortions and shakedowns they have been told about. Investigators conceded in Voice interviews that these economic crimes — at the Mafia’s very heart — are still rampant.

“We have to pick and choose what cases we’ll pursue,” one federal prosecutor said. “We have a mountain of raw intelligence, but the majority of the crimes we’ve been told about can’t be pursued because of stat­ute problems, corroboration, or manpower problems.” Another prosecutor noted that “most of the recent RICO cases are based on murders and murder conspiracies. You don’t see us doing shakedown and extortion cases because the so-called victims don’t cooperate. In fact, I don’t even think the agents bother chasing those down.”

Despite the recent wave of Mafia defec­tions, FBI organized-crime squads are still staffed at the same levels as they were a decade ago, according to bureau spokesman Joe Valiquette, who declined to detail how many agents work on each of the groups assigned to the five Mafia families.

While Sammy Gravano’s testimony against Gotti has received the most atten­tion, the government’s most prolific Mafia asset has proved to be former Luchese member Alphonse D’Arco, whose recall of criminal activities fills more than 350 pages of FBI debriefing memos.

D’Arco, along with Gravano, has provid­ed investigators with a new insight into the mob’s continued corruption of the concrete industry, supposedly cleaned up years ago when Giuliani successfully prosecuted the mob’s concrete cartel for rigging $140 million in construction bids.

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In August 1991, according to D’Arco, representatives of three mob families met secretly to carve up another piece of New York.

John A. Gotti Jr. was there representing the interests of both the Gambino family and his imprisoned father. The Colombo gang’s acting boss, Victor “Little Vic” Orena, took a break from his own family’s civil war to attend. And D’Arco, then the Luchese family’s acting boss, rounded out the power trio.

The August sit-down was then just the latest in a number of clandestine meetings about the Mafia’s control of the concrete industry. Despite the late-’80s attempt by Giuliani and the FBI to dismantle the city’s bid-rigging “concrete club,” the mob had quietly regrouped and again cornered the market. The August meeting’s agenda car­ried one item: what to do with the West 57th Street concrete plant.

The Manhattan plant was designed by the Koch administration in 1986 to be a Mafia-free zone, operating on city-owned land that would provide concrete for mu­nicipal projects. The city viewed West 57th Street as its best chance to break the mob’s concrete monopoly and considered the plant’s $2 million price tag a wise investment.

But by 1991, the plant’s inexperienced operator, Philip Elghanian, was flounder­ing, and his troubles were becoming of great interest to the Colombo and Luchese crime families, according to FBI reports.

Both the Colombo and Luchese families were secretly connected to major concrete producers eager to get control of the Man­hattan plant, with its central location and its built-in municipal work. The Colombo family’s concrete stake, according to Gra­vano and D’Arco, has been exercised through Ferrara Brothers, a Queens-based supplier (Ferrara Brothers’s distinctive or­ange-and-white trucks and mixers have pro­vided concrete for jobs at Battery Park City, Kennedy Airport, and the Archer Av­enue train station). The Lucheses were as­sociated with businessman John Quadrozzi and his assorted companies.

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D’Arco told the FBI that in early 1991 Quadrozzi came to him and complained that he believed Ferrara had secretly gained control of the West 57th Street plant. D’Arco stated that Ferrara “… because of his organized-crime associations, could not purchase the 57th Street yard. Ferrara made arrangements to purchase the compa­ny through another individual.” City rec­ords indicate that Elghanian relinquished operation of the plant in March 1991; the plant’s new manager denied in a Voice in­terview D’Arco’s assertion that the Mafia has infiltrated the West 57th concrete operation.

D’Arco said the August 1991 sit-down ended with Orena stating that “the Colom­bo, Gambino, and Luchese LCN [La Cosa Nostra] families would all have a split in the money from the 57th Street yard.” D’Arco then added that before he began cooperating with the government in Sep­tember 1991 — one month after the concrete sit-down — the Luchese family had al­ready received two payoffs in connection with the West 57th Street operation.

D’Arco’s account raises serious questions as to whether, despite the best intentions of the Koch and Dinkins administrations, the Mafia has infiltrated the one concrete oper­ation designed to be clean. Besides produc­ing concrete for city construction projects and street repairs, the West 57th Street plant has branched out and supplied both state and federal projects, including the new federal courthouse near Foley Square.

Though the operation was supposed to produce concrete at below-market prices, the West 57th Street plant has been charg­ing the city 12 per cent more than the local average for a cubic yard. Daniel Kryston, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Construction, which monitors plant opera­tions, acknowledged the increased price in a Times interview. “We tried a new tech­nique to bring down costs and we think it’s working,” he said, emphasizing that one of the city’s goals was to reduce mob influence in the concrete industry.

D’Arco first told the FBI of the mob’s West 57th Street connection in late 1991, but the feds have never bothered to inform city officials about D’Arco’s claim that three Mafia families apparently have honed in on the operation. The FBI has long been criticized for refusing to share its informa­tion with local law enforcement agencies, let alone with bureaucrats at City Hall.

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Both Gravano and D’Arco have identi­fied Thomas Petrizzo, a Colombo family captain, as Ferrara Brothers’s main mob contact, according to testimony and FBI records. D’Arco recalled one 1990 meeting he attended with Luchese underboss Antho­ny “Gaspipe” Casso, Petrizzo, Orena, and Joseph Ferrara Sr., president of his family firm. The meeting concerned a joint Quadrozzi-Ferrara Brothers cement importa­tion business and how payoffs would be made to the two families as well as to an associate of the Gambino organization. Gravano has also told of attending a meet­ing with Petrizzo, Orena, and John Gotti in which the men discussed boosting the price of concrete by $5 a yard.

Ferrara Brothers is the current employer of Anthony Ameruso, the former Koch transportation commissioner who was con­victed of perjury in 1987, and Ferrara has also used influential attorney Sid Davi­doffs firm as its municipal lobbyist. Joseph Ferrara Jr., the company’s attorney, denied in a Voice interview that the firm had any­thing to do with the mob. “I don’t know where they get that from,” Ferrara Jr. said of D’Arco and Gravano.

Quadrozzi, too, has denied any involve­ment with the Luchese crime family. He was indicted last year on contempt and conspiracy charges after D’Arco testified that the businessman paid the Luchese fam­ily $20,000 a month for “labor peace.”

The importance of the Luchese-Colombo control of the concrete market was under­scored by D’Arco, who provided the FBI with a behind-the-scenes account of plans to kill Lou Valente, a Bronx-based concrete producer who precipitated a price war. Va­lente decided to drop his prices in a bid to expand his business. Valente’s gambit led both families to consider murdering him because of their concern that Valente would steal business away from the Ferrara/Qua­drozzi operations. After D’Arco checked with Gravano to make sure Valente wasn’t associated with the Gambino gang, “serious talks began about killing Valente,” D’Arco reported last year.

Valente was not eventually harmed by the Colombo-Luchese avengers, sources said, because he decided to abandon his price war. Valente did not return Voice calls.

Addressing the Mafia’s attraction to le­gitimate industries, Robert Mass, former chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s labor-racketeering unit, noted that “unlike narcotics trafficking, law enforcement ef­forts in the field have tended to be weak and sporadic; and the criminal penalties for the fraud and bribery crimes arising from industrial racketeering are not severe.” Mass added that industrial racketeering gives mob members and associates “the ability to make illegal money for the family, while retaining status and credibility in the legitimate community.”

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The mob survives in New York’s very infrastructure, and not only in concrete. Due largely to spotty law enforcement at­tention, a steel company controlled by Co­lombo captain Petrizzo has prospered, becoming the textbook example of a firm that has capitalized on its Mafia connections.

Headquartered in Keasbey, New Jersey, Petrizzo’s company, A. J. Ross Logistics, specializes in the production of rebars, steel rods that reinforce concrete used in build­ings, bridges, roads, and other structures.

Despite — or possibly because of — the mobster’s upfront role with the company, A. J. Ross has done work on almost every major public and private construction job in New York over the past decade, includ­ing the IBM building. Equitable Towers, the North River sewage treatment plant, the Javits Convention Center, the refur­bishments of the FDR Drive, and the ongo­ing West Side Highway project. Petrizzo’s client list contains every major city con­struction firm: Lehrer/McGovern, H.R.H Construction, Olympia & York, Tishman Construction, Turner Construction, and dozens more.

Petrizzo founded A. J. Ross in December 1975 and took the company public in 1985, according to Securities and Exchange Com­mission records. Petrizzo is the firm’s larg­est single stockholder and, until he stepped down as president and Chief Operating Of­ficer last year, his salary was $329,409. SEC records also reveal that Petrizzo, who re­fused to take Voice calls, has received an unsecured $800,000 loan from the company.

D’Arco, Gravano, and former Luchese captain Peter Chiodo have all told the FBI about Petrizzo’s booming business and how the mob steers business to him in return for kickbacks. D’Arco said that, in connection with A. J. Ross’s work on the West Side Highway, Petrizzo kicked back $800,000 to the Luchese family; the payment was made by the Colombo captain because he was doing the highway project in conjunction with a contractor associated with the Luchese family.

Chiodo recalled his dealings with one businessman who not only tried to avoid paying off the Luchese family, but who also refused to use Petrizzo’s steel company on his construction jobs. The Luchese hierar­chy was so annoyed by the contractor’s behavior, Chiodo was ordered to kill the recalcitrant businessman. The attempt was foiled when Chiodo’s gun jammed.

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As with most of its municipal construction work, Petrizzo’s firm was a subcontractor on the West Side Highway project, which allowed it to avoid the screening and background checks that are standard for a project’s general contractor. Loopholes like this — which are commonplace on govern­ment construction projects — allow Mafia figures to continue hiding in plain sight. The one exception to this rule is the School Construction Authority, which has established an aggressive screening process to weed out undesirable contractors. SCA officials, some of whom have worked with the state Organized Crime Task Force, gather information on firms from a variety of sources — court cases, press accounts, in­vestigators — in an effort to keep public dol­lars out of tainted hands.

Clearly, the Mafia’s infiltration of the construction industry has never waned; hundreds of businessmen owe their success to an affiliation with organized crime. When a major general contractor like Her­bert Construction hires Gambino member Anthony Scotto as an executive, it sends a clear message about the mob’s influence. Scotto, a former crime captain, was demot­ed to soldier following his conviction on labor-racketeering charges.

Two other prominent businessmen are indicative of both the mob’s entrenched role in the construction industry and the government’s inability to combat this alliance.

Thomas Nastasi has been implicated — ­but never charged — in bid-rigging and brib­ery schemes dating back a decade, but this has not prevented him from becoming the drywall industry’s most prominent figure. Nastasi’s Queens-based firms, Circle Indus­tries and Nastasi-White, have done work on everything from the American Embassy in Moscow to the platform at last year’s Dem­ocratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden. Nastasi, who has long been associated with Genovese crime family fig­ures, is also a friend of U.S. senator Al D’Amato and has helped organize fund­raisers for the politician.

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Like Nastasi, Bronx-based contractor Sidney Silverstein has also been tied to a Mafia bid-rigging conspiracy, but he con­tinues to do significant business with public housing agencies. Silverstein’s firm, Spar­row Construction, has built hundreds of units of low-cost housing in the Bronx and Brooklyn under contracts with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Devel­opment and the city’s department of Hous­ing Preservation and Development.

Silverstein once admitted to the Voice that he employed Luchese captain Steve Crea as a “labor consultant” and paid him more than $100,000 a year. When a report­er mentioned Silverstein’s mob ties to HPD’s inspector general — the city agency’s in-house cop — he did little more than shrug his shoulders.

Along with direct links to construction firms themselves, the mob’s control of vari­ous labor unions continues to be a source for tens of millions in payoffs. Though fed­eral prosecutors and union trustees have targeted some locals over the past few years, D’Arco has said that these efforts have been minimally successful in breaking the mob’s union stranglehold.

The government’s filing of civil RICO lawsuits against mob-tainted unions has proved successful, but such litigation is ex­pensive, time consuming, and demands a governmental commitment that has sometimes lagged. For example, after almost three years of arduous pretrial maneuverings, the government’s civil racketeering lawsuit against the corrupt, Mafia-riddled District Council of Carpenters is finally scheduled to open later this month in Foley Square.

Like many construction unions, various carpenters locals have been transformed into Mafia outposts, where businessmen are forced to pay as they go. The FBI debrief­ings of Chiodo and D’Arco contain more than a dozen instances in which representa­tives of the Luchese family shook down construction contractors and developers for labor peace.

Nobody, not even the wealthy or politi­cally connected rides for free. D’Arco cited one instance in which one of the city’s best­-known developers allegedly paid Luchese soldier Dominick Truscello “a substantial amount of money” to “settle a labor dis­pute” that arose during the late 1980s con­struction of a residential high rise on the Upper East Side. “After making the pay­ment to Truscello,” D’Arco reported, “the labor dispute was settled.”

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Every major mob turncoat over the past 25 years — Yalachi, Fratianno, Cafaro, Leonelli, Lonardo, as well as the recent group of inductees into the Witness Securi­ty program — has told investigators that the Mafia’s corrupt influence of labor unions and legitimate businesses often falls to crime family associates. These operatives come from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds — many are not ltalian and are therefore ineligible for initiation — and are key cogs in the Mafia’s criminal machines.

“He’s a good Jew,” Anthony Casso once said proudly of Sidney Lieberman. “If he wasn’t a Jew, we’d straighten him out,” the Luchese underboss added, referring to the prospect of inducting Lieberman into the Mafia.

Like Nastasi and Silverstein, Lieberman is one of thousands of money-making asso­ciates dispersed among the five New York families. He is the family’s key contact in the Garment Center, which has been a Lu­chese family stronghold since the 1950s, when John “Johnny Dio” Dioguardi ruled Seventh Avenue.

FBI records indicate that Lieberman fronts for the Luchese family in a number of trucking companies and that he “shakes down businesses … awards concessions and sweetheart contracts along with con­ducting extortions in regard to which ma­terials … businesses in the garment center must buy and from which manufacturer they must buy them from.”

Like most successful mob associates, Lie­berman has avoided the limelight and has so far dodged criminal prosecution, becom­ing in the process one of the most powerful figures in the Garment Center, the emin­ence grise of Seventh Avenue.

During the Manhattan D.A.’s investiga­tion of Thomas and Joseph Gambino’s trucking operations, Lieberman was caught on wiretaps counseling Thomas Gambino about trucking industry matters. He was never charged. Investigators now concede they were unaware of Lieberman’s extensive Mafia contacts.

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Lieberman’s role with the Luchese family hasn’t been limited to the Garment Center. He was in the middle of a classic labor scheme at Kennedy Airport, where extor­tion and payoffs remain an everyday occurrence. The scheme, according to FBI docu­ments, involved Amerford International, a freight-forwarding company with 40 offices nationwide.

Amerford, which is owned by the German multinational Thyssin AG, has an office at JFK that once employed 30 clerical workers, all of whom were members of Teamsters Local 851. Amerford’s employee roster had a decid­edly mob flavor: the daughters of both D’Arco and Luchese captain Sal Avellino were once on the payroll and Patty Dello­russo, a suspected hitman and Luchese sol­dier, until recently served as the company’s $93,600-a-year director of national labor relations.

The freight company employed the unionized office workers until one day in 1990 when Amerford fired all the workers, replacing them with a few formerly union employees. Though such a brazen act would usually lead to pickets and union harassment, the sacking was orchestrated in part by Lieberman and a Local 851 official on behalf of the Luchese family.

In exchange for allowing Amerford to fire all of its clerical employees, the company agreed to pay a $10,700-a-week kickback­ — disguised as a management fee — to a shell corporation controlled by the Luchese gang. D’Arco told the FBI that Amerford’s man­agement was anxious to make the 1990 kickback deal “because of the savings it would receive by eliminating the union sal­aries and benefits.”

Whether or not Amerford was an extortion victim, its dealings with the mob were as an effective way to reduce company overhead. In fact, an FBI affidavit con­tends, a similar deal was discussed in which Amerford — in return for a $150,000 payment — would be allowed to sack its clerical staff in Chicago. The payoff would have been divided between Teamsters officials and the Luchese family, according to the affidavit.

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After a handful of fired employees were told by their Teamsters representatives that nothing could be done on their behalf, the employees filed complaints with the Na­tional Labor Relations Board against Amer­ford and their former union.

Amazingly, the NLRB rejected the ex­-employees’ claim that they were victims of unfair labor practices, finding that there was “insufficient evidence of an abrogation of the contract” by Amerford. Though NLRB officials were unaware of the mob’s connection to the Amerford scam, the board’s finding is still troubling in light of clear indications that the mass firing was highly unusual.

Amerford officials did not return Voice phone calls, though they issued a press release in July announcing that they are coop­erating with an ongoing federal investiga­tion into mob activity at New York’s airports. At the same time, the company canned Dellorusso as its chief labor negotiator.

The Amerford labor scheme was just one of many kickbacks and extortions that, ac­cording to Chiodo and D’Arco, regularly occur at New York-area airports. The two former mobsters have provided a laundry list of trucking companies based at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark that have paid the mob monthly for labor peace. As with Amerford, the names of the companies aren’t familiar to most — Tangas Air Freight, P. Chimento, Air Express Interna­tional, Burlington — but they all pay off as a matter of course.

At JFK, Teamsters Local 295, which represents warehouse employees and truck drivers, is in the hands of a trustee appoint­ed last year by federal judge Eugene Nicker­son. Though the trustee, former federal prosecutor Thomas Puccio, is charged with dismantling the Luchese family’s hijacking and extortion rings, Puccio has received little support from a host of trucking com­panies that have worked in concert with­ — and paid kickbacks to — the Mafia for years.

Like most extortion victims, the trucking companies are surely worried about repri­sals if they cooperate with law enforcement. The use or threat of physical violence is a Mafia pillar, the enforcement tool that keeps mouths closed.

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The Mafia’s economic terrorism is not limited to international companies and millionaire developers. In all five boroughs, the mob continues to put the hood in your neighborhood.

The Voice spoke with six individuals identified in the FBI reports as Mafia shakedown victims; all denied having paid off mob figures. In addition, all said that they had never been contacted by FBI agents or questioned about these reported extortions.

D’Arco provided the FBI with a detailed account of the shakedown of a small Italian restaurant in the Bronx, which began when a Luchese member helped the restaurant’s owner secure a lease from a mob-connected realtor. The price tag for the mob’s inter­vention was a $15,000-a-year tribute. When the Voice reached him, the panicky restau­rant owner denied any involvement with the mob.

D’Arco also noted that the owner of a small chain of Queens video stores paid between $200 and $400 a week for protec­tion to Luchese soldier Paul Vario. In an interview, the owner denied everything.

D’Arco said he had personally received protection payments from Dom’s Trucks, a Brooklyn auto dealer. Dominick Vitucci, the firm’s owner, denied handing D’Arco envelopes stuffed with cash. “I once gave him a truck chassis as a favor for a friend,” Vitucci said. “He must be confused.”

Vitucci said that friend was Bruno Facciola, a Luchese soldier murdered in 1990 because he was suspected of informing. Af­ter he was shot to death, Facciola’s murder­ers stuffed a canary in his mouth. Chiodo identified two Gambino family members who, he reported, shook down a small Staten Island jeweler. When the Voice contacted the businessman, he admitted that one of the mobsters was a customer, “but I can’t get into the rest.” He then hung up.

A number of the informants described instances in which a businessman borrowed loan-shark money and fell behind on pay­ments; his business was then infiltrated by the mob.

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According to former Colombo associates Joseph Ambrosino and Carmine Imbriale, an owner of a lower Manhattan clothing store started as a loan-shark customer and was eventually enlisted in a credit card fraud and the sale of stolen merchandise.

A partial list of other shakedowns record­ed in the FBI memos is incredibly broad: a Brooklyn carting company, a Long Island asbestos-removal firm, an Astoria fuel oil dealer, a Brooklyn motel operator, a chain of parking garages, a Queens sausage pro­ducer, a Brooklyn asphalt producer, a Queens vending machine business, a Bronx general contractor, and a Brooklyn supermarket.

Without a victim’s cooperation, extortions usually go unprosecuted. And that makes dismantling the Mafia improbable. “What can you tell someone, that there’s not gonna be a problem if they cooperate?” one agent asked. “People read the papers. People hear about guys like Kubecka and Barstow.”

Robert Kubecka and Donald Barstow were two Long Island businessmen who tried to help law enforcement agencies combat mob influence in the caning indus­try. In 1989, both were shot to death for their troubles.

FBI reports and court testimony indicate that the Luchese family had them killed in retaliation for their government coopera­tion. Sal Avellino, a Luchese captain who controls the Island’s carting industry, has been charged with allegedly ordering the hits because, according to D’Arco, he was upset that “these two guys were still walk­ing around.”

Just as there are few ways to combat widespread extortion, law enforcement agencies have also been unable to effective­ly strike at the heart of the Mafia’s money machine — gambling and loan-sharking op­erations — which generates hundreds of mil­lions of dollars annually. As long as it can book bets and loan money at usurious rates, it is impossible for any Mafia family to be close to extinction.

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In a city beset with homicide and drug epidemics, “victimless” crimes like taking 10 units on the Knicks or handling the Brooklyn number are not priorities. From time to time, state and federal prosecutors will announce the fruits of gambling inves­tigations, but it is rare for bookies or wire room operators to receive prison terms. Gambling cases, which don’t generate head­lines for the FBI or the police, are in vogue once a year: the week before the Super Bowl, with the raids usually carrying quaint code names like “King’s Flush” or “Full House.”

For the same reason that extortion vic­tims fall mute, loan-shark debtors — often saddled with 150 to 200 per cent yearly interest rates — rarely cooperate with law enforcement officials.

In a move to supplement their gambling take, the five families have succeeded in introducing their gambling operation into restaurants and bodegas through the place­ment of video poker machines, the elec­tronic equivalent of slot machines.

The video poker machines have become such a lucrative cash source that mob mem­bers have divided up specific “routes” that then become the exclusive property of a family — a system that parallels the mob’s garbage hauling and bread routes.

D’Arco told the FBI that several high-­level sit-downs — involving the Gambino, Bonanno, and Luchese families — have oc­curred to discuss disputes involving video gambling machines placed in locations in the city, Nassau County, and on Fire Island.

Occasional raids have netted a handful of video machines, but there is little chance anytime soon that David Dinkins will mim­ic Fiorello LaGuardia, who once took a sledgehammer to Frank Costello’s illegal slot machines.

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The exploitation of video poker ma­chines shows how the Mafia is able to iden­tify and develop illegal revenue sources. Perhaps the most lucrative example of this criminal ingenuity began when an obese Colombo associate introduced the Mafia to the gasoline tax swindle. Amazingly, more than 10 years later, the money is still pour­ing in.

At its core, the scheme is simple, with the mob pocketing 14 cents per gallon in taxes that are supposed to be forwarded to the IRS. The scam relies on a long daisy chain of paper companies, in which each one passes the tax responsibility onto the next. At the end of the chain is a paper compa­ny — and a massive unpaid tax bill.

After a decade of virtually unchecked plunder — with perhaps almost $1 billion swindled — federal officials have recently begun indicting Russian and Italian mob­sters, though there is little chance that any of the pilfered money will ever be located.

The initial federal prosecutions years ago nailed the scam’s corpulent mastermind, Larry Iorizzo. and his mob protector, ex-Colombo captain Michael Franzese, both of whom eventually became govern­ment informants.

The gas tax scam initially was the prov­ince of Russian gangsters, most of whom were based in Brighton Beach, but eventu­ally the “spaghetti-heads” moved in on the action, according to the wiretapped account of one scam participant. FBI documents reveal that the lure of major paydays brought the Colombo gang and three other families back to the trough.

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The local Mafia hub was the Inwood Ter­minal on Jamaica Bay. Here, the FBI launched an undercover operation with an agent posing as a gasoline dealer. An estab­lished wholesaler who had agreed to coop­erate in the operation became the agent’s partner, and together, the two precipitated a price war against another Inwood whole­sale operation, which was controlled by vet­eran gas tax swindler Joseph Reisch.

After six months of competition, accord­ing to an FBI affidavit, two men arrived at the office of the undercover operation car­rying flowers and a telegram. The pair banged on the door and shouted, “If you don’t get out of the fucking gas business, you’re fucking dead.” Two days later, an­other man showed up at the office with a large funeral wreath. The accompanying card read, “In Loving Memory, Rest in Peace. From all your good friends in N.Y. City.”

Just over two weeks after the wreath ar­rived, FBI surveillance agents spotted a sus­pected Colombo hitman in the vicinity of the wholesaler’s home. In a move to broker a peace agreement, the wholesaler contact­ed the daughter of a Colombo captain who, in turn, reached out to Colombo soldier Joseph “‘Chubby” Audino, bagman for fam­ily boss Vic Orena. Audino, according to the FBI affidavit, suggested the wholesaler attend a sit-down with Reisch. If the FBl’s estimates are correct, Orena stood to make as much as $4.5 million from the Reisch operation over the past four years.

When Reisch met with the wholesaler and the FBI undercover, he delivered a simple message: his competitors had to cut back their operations at the Inwood Termi­nal and turn their company into the final stop on Reisch’s daisy chain. For their ef­forts, the men were offered $90,000 a month. The pair held out for $120,000 a month and soon were receiving weekly pay­ments from a Reisch courier.

Reisch was indicted recently, but has not been arrested; officials believe he may have fled the country after walking away with $30 million of the IRS’s money.

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Where’s the money?

While the FBI claims to have dealt death blows to the New York mob, nobody has been able to follow the money.

John Gotti was the most investigated man in America for five years, and the only assets the government has tried to seize — as evidence of the fruits of racketeering — are run-down Little Italy tenements and other real estate detritus: chump change for an organization grossing hundreds of millions a year. Sure, raided wire rooms may turn up $10,000 and Gotti himself was arrested with $6000 in his pockets, but that’s only walk-around money.

A safe assumption is that some money is invested in legitimate businesses while oth­er monies remain “on the street,” in the form of loan-shark loans. Where the bal­ance goes, that’s anybody’s guess. No informant has ever told of Swiss bank accounts, and it always seems that safe deposit boxes are sans cash, brimming instead with cheap jewelry.

The money riddle may be the best indica­tion that the Mafia isn’t dying. Federal offi­cials mistakenly believe that, with John Gotti in prison, the mob has suddenly been placed on the run. Actually, the Mafia has adopted a defensive posture.

History shows that New York gangsters have a keen sense of when it’s time to hit the mattresses. The spotlight always has a way of fading. That’s when you get back to business. ❖