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CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Death Comes Out

It always starts with a phone call. This one comes on election night from a detective in Chelsea’s 10th Precinct. Some gay man got knifed to death in the early morning hours in his West 21st Street apartment. His roommate was knifed too, but managed to escape. The room­mate’s in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent’s. It seems they had picked up two guys at a gay bar and gone home and smoked. One of the pickups pulled a gun and said, “Lay on the floor, face down, you motherfuckers.” A bloody battle ensued. Could I come to headquarters and dis­cuss the case? They’d fill me in on details.

At 7 p.m. I’m at the precinct. Under an Etan Patz Missing poster, one of those bulky Irish detectives, the kind Edmund O’Brien played in ’50s movies, asks if I’d visit the local bars with them. They want to distribute “feeler” notices, which begin “There was a homicide and fel. assault of two (2) gay members of our community.” What the cops know so far is the pickup look place at a new semileather bar on Eighth Avenue, the Rawhide, half a block from the victim’s apartment and just around the corner from the precinct. At 11 p.m. the night before, George Alvarez, 32, went to the Rawhide, drank, played pin­ball, and struck up a conversation with two young men who claimed to be visitors from out of town. They needed a place to stay the night. There was no reason for George to doubt their story; they appeared clean-cut and well-mannered. Besides, George thought the shorter of the two was real hot. He suggested they adjourn to the Pike where he was suppsed to meet his roommate.

At the Spike on West Street, George’s roommate, Jay Utterback, 35, played pin­ball with the taller man while George and the short one drank and talked. About 2:30, the quartet headed for George and Jay’s four-room fourth-floor apartment. Grass came out. Sex was discussed. The out-of-towners insisted that they all bed together or they wouldn’t bed at all. George and Jay decided they didn’t want it that way; they suddenly wanted to call the whole thing off. The guests, however, refused to leave. They continued smoking grass in the living room.

At 3:30, the taller man went to the john. When he came out, he waved a pistol and ordered his hosts to fall to the floor. Neither realized the gun was a toy. What followed happened so quickly there was no time to know whether robbery was the motive. In a spontaneous flash of bravery, George jumped up. He pounced at the shorter of the two, who slashed at him with a knife. George struggled to the door. He ran down the stairs — his assailant behind him, cutting him several times — and finally out into the street. Dressed only in slacks, shoeless and shirtless, he ran to the Rawhide, where he collapsed. “Get to my apartment,” he muttered. “My roommate is still there.”

When the cops arrived at 231 West 21st Street, they found Jay Utterback in the hallway outside the apartment. He had been stabbed six times: in his face, head, body. Jay wasn’t as lucky as George. He was dead.

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Early election night. Shifts are about to switch at the Rawhide. The day bartender is counting his change. The three detec­tives working the case seem as indigenous to the bar as Rollerena would be at the Policeman’s Ball. They stride in, politely place their conspicuous frames in an in­ conspicuous corner, and decline drinks. One of them pulls out photos of Alvarez and Utterback.

“This one seems familiar,” offers the bartender, pointing at the shot of Alvarez, “except his mustache and beard is gone.”

“Was he here last night?”

“I told the detectives who were here last night everything.”

At the Spike, one of the co-owners is somewhat friendlier. Although there may have been 80 to 85 people at his bar last night, he thinks he’d have noticed anyone unusual. Unusual at the Spike is under 30 and attractive — and not sporting leather.

“We showed The Great Catherine last night,” the co-owner said, “but the movie was over by 12:30. Look, I wasn’t really working. I was a customer. Bruce, Tony, and Ed were on. But this one’s face, I recognize.”

The co-owner says sure, he’ll tack up the notice of the killing, and he’ll keep his ears open.

“Can you tell me your full name and age so I can fill in this form?” asks a cop.

“About 40.”

“You don’t know your age?”

“42.”

To play it safe, the cops pull the same routine at the Eagle’s Nest and the Glory Hole. In each spot, the managers are veritable pussycats, offering every ounce of cooperation they can muster. The Glory Hole guy does a spot check of his member­ship list. It is too early in the evening to view that unique pleasure concept in oper­ation — there are many things you can do with a hole in the wall — but the officers are fascinated by the layout. They manage to convey, however, that they’re not here to do moral numbers. They just want the facts, ma’am. In turn, there is a “thank Jesus, it’s not me” sigh of relief from the dockstrip personnel, along with an in­satiable curiosity about details, especially sexual details. To them, the names are different, but it’s a variation on an old theme, and they’ll do anything they can to help.

Riding in the back of a police car, you become aware that murder can be ev­eryday work, like selling shoes or styling hair. For the cops, this day is unique only because it’s election day. The radio is turned up. Carter has won two states. Reagan’s winning everything else.

We drop off one of the detectives at the precinct and drive toward the Alvarez­-Utterback block. Across the street from their house, we enter a building where each bell is rung and each tenant grilled. “No, we didn’t hear anything,” is the refrain repeated in each apartment except one, where the melody goes, “It’s so noisy all the time, I don’t know whether I did or didn’t.” What’s unusual about Chelsea is that the neighborhood doesn’t change from block to block, it changes from build­ing to building. We head toward London Terrace to check out a separate case. Somebody’s penthouse apartment he’s been burglar­ized for the 12th time in 11 months. “We thought you’d get o kick out of this one,” says the driver. “This guy has had a Doberman Pinscher, barbed wire, you name it, and they still break in.”

When we get there, the color television, one of the few pieces of furniture left, is blazing and the middle-aged robbery victim is packing his clothes, declaring, “I’ve had it. I’m selling what’s left. I’m getting out.” He and the detectives are on a first­-name basis, and they discuss just how the perpetrator entered — as they have many times before. “If I had the money, I’d put up a fuckin’ execution fence, so that they’d touch it and die,” says the pen­thouse dweller. “Ssh,” says his friend from in front of the TV. “I think Carter’s con­ceding.”

Everything stops. We move close to the television and watch Carter give his speech. “History in the making,” says a cop. “I can’t believe it’s happening,” says the penthouse dweller.

“What? Reagan?” asks the cop.

“No. My fuckin’ robbery.”

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News of murder spreads faster than hanky codes in New York gay circles. It doesn’t matter that the papers didn’t re­port the Chelsea murders. All week, the phone rings.

“This killing is just part of a pattern,” says Jay Watkins of the Chelsea Gay As­sociation. The group installed a Violence Hot Line five months ago. In the past two months, they’ve averaged 10 calls a week. Most incidents involve ripoffs, beatings, or rape done with knives, pistols, pipes, baseball bats, or beer bottles. People work­ing with the organization often return to the scene of the crime with the victim and will act as a conduit between victim and police.

With the gentrification of Chelsea came trouble. Gay witchhunts abound, especial­ly in the area around the Ninth Avenue housing projects. There have been un­provoked attacks on gay males by bands of white teenagers, with robbery almost an afterthought.

Since 1977, Chelsea Gay Association has been meeting with the 10th Precinct to discuss community relations, but the meetings became less frequent and stopped altogether several months ago. As a result of the Utterback killing, they’ll start up again on a biweekly basis in December.

Another call at 3 a.m., from a stranger who seems drunk and wants to know ev­erything I know about the murder because he knew Jay. He finishes by saying he voted for Carter; he feels there’ll be an increase in violence toward gays with Reagan in office.

Yet another call, from an employee of Time-Life who lives in the building next to George and Jay’s. At 3:45 a.m. on election day he was awakened by shouts for help from the street. By the time he got to the window, he could see someone running and gripping himself around the waist. The runner looked as if he had been either cut or shot.

The neighbor went downstairs. In the entranceway of the building next door he saw blood all over the walls and floors. The super told him he had seen a man in a white T-shirt running toward Seventh Av­enue. (The doorman at the corner building of Seventh and 21st also saw the man. Later, a T-shirt with blood stains was found on the street. It’s been sent to the police lab for tests.)

Nick Yanni, host of Tomorrow’s Tele­vision Tonight on cable, calls, too. Jay Utterback was his announcer and floor manager. On the night of his murder, Jay had appeared on the show for a brief moment along with special guests Dina Merrill, Doug Ireland, Bob Weiner, and Quentin Crisp. Jay went directly from the show to the Spike.

“Jay was a smart and steady person,” reports Yanni, “certainly not flaky. He brought guests in and out, signaled cues, announced station breaks.

“His friend George had been to the TV studio twice. I never could warm up to him. None of the people from our show who knew George liked him. They seemed incongruous as a couple. They weren’t from the same background or culture. George struck me as a hot-headed individ­ual.”

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St. Vincent’s Hospital. So easy to get in. All you do is tell the receptionist you want a pass. The cops should be protecting George. The only protection on the fourth· noor is a bevy of night nurses, armed with thermometers.

George isn’t in his room. He’s slouched in a chair in the corridor, wearing a blue nightgown. One arm is in a board-sling, and his complexion is sallow. He volun­teers to show me his wounds. I graciously decline. There are six stab wounds in all, the most serious in his stomach, the deepest in his arm. His stomach wound is infected, and he’s afraid he may have to stay in the hospital another week.

Can George remember the names of the men he met election eve?

“Every time you meet people, they give you names,” he replies. “I wasn’t worried about them. I thought they were lovers. They weren’t dressed crazy either, like in leather or cowboy hats. The little one wore a white shirt with a black design and ordinary slacks. He wore a chain around his neck with an astrological sign. I don’t know what sign. What I remember most were his eyes. They were light brown, almost yellow, like cats’. I’ll never forget his eyes.”

George and Jay had been lovers for six years. They met in Puerto Rico, and George came to New York to live with Jay. The first two years were great but the sexual magic lessened in the third. They came to an arrangement. Every so often, each would have his night out. Sometimes they’d bring home a third party, and once before they’d brought home a third and a fourth. No big deal; if it happened, it happened.

George is a social worker. He earns very little. Apart from his sister, he has no family in New York. He’s petrified about going back to the apartment while the killers are on the loose. But he can’t afford another place. And he doesn’t know any­one who’ll take him in.

During the visit, George shows no par­ticular emotion when Jay’s name comes up. If there are tears to be shed they’re shed privately. If there is guilt to be faced, it won’t be with a visitor. The signs of regret are invisible.

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Propriety is the prevailing emotion at the memorial service for Jay Utterback at the Ethical Culture Center on Central Park West. Most of the guests are Show­time TV employees, bright, white, straight young men and women who knew the straight face of Jay — a face so well main­tained that they didn’t bother to look for another.

Some of them speak at the podium. They reminisce about his enthusiasm, his laughter. They tell how “shocked and angered” they are by his death, how they are “still too numb to feel the loss.” They ask, “Why did this happen? How did it happen? There is no rational ex­planation.” They bow their heads and pray.

A pianist plays “Tomorrow” and the bright young men and women touch each other’s arms, smile wistfully, and say, “Jay would have wanted it this way.” They leave the center and head toward the RT. One of them, Debbie Copeland, joins me for coffee at the YMHA cafeteria.

“I’ve been so depressed,” she whispers. “Jay was my friend. I attended his funeral in Bellvernon, Pennsylvania. It’s real Deer Hunter country.”

“Jay went to public school there, then Ohio State University. He was a lieuten­ant in Okinawa. He operated a disco, I think, in Puerto Rico. That’s where he met George.

“I wouldn’t say that Jay and George were lovers. I don’t know what I’d call them. Roommates? That’s the term Jay used. Jay chose discretion. He was a real ladies’ man.”

Ladies’ man?

“Well, he was dapper and dressed im­peccably. Socially, he had inner grace.”

Was Debbie in love with him?

“Everyone loved Jay as a friend. Noth­ing more. Nothing physical. I think inside we all knew about his relationship with George. George would go to company parties. Jay would introduce him by name: ‘This is my friend,’ he’d say, or ‘This is my roommate.’ We’d never whis­per anything behind his back. It’s im­polite. Everyone at Showtime loved him too much to embarrass him.”

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Back at the precinct, November 10. Detective Michael Churchill, who’s been working exclusively on the case, reports some progress.

On October 26, a Rutherford, New Jersey man met two strangers at Boot Hill,, gay bar at Amsterdam and 75th. They said they were from out of town and needed, place to stay for the night. He drove them back to New Jersey, where they smoked and drank until one of them excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came out, he brandished a gun and snarled, “This is a robbery. We’re not joking. Lay down on that bed.” The second man had a hunting knife.

They proceeded to tie up their victim with telephone cord and neckties. Then they cleaned him out completely.

They took inconsequential items like salt and pepper shakers, thermal underwear, socks, the light from a fish tank, and a pair of Adidas sneakers, as well as an overcoat, suits, cameras, a Clairol hair. dryer, a Panasonic tape recorder, and a Sears color TV. Everything was piled into the victim’s 1980 black Toyota, New Jer­sey license plate 844-LXE, in which they made their getaway.

Later the victim described his attackers to the police.

The little one called himself Tony. He was white, between 18 and 23, five foot five, 115 to 120 pounds. His hair was black, complexion light, eyes almost yellow, lips sensuously thick, nose too small for the rest of his face. He had the face of a little girl.

The bigger one was called Michael. He was about five foot ten, 150 pounds, 20 to 25 years of age, sported a little mustache, looked Italian. Both had New York ac­cents.

They fit the description of Jay Ut­terback’s murderers.

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Early Thursday morning, November 20. The phone rings. It’s Chuck Ortleb, publisher of Christopher Street. A mad­man opened fire at the patrons of the Ramrod, he says. One man dead. Another dying. Several more in the hospital.

God, they could be people I know. We all hang out there.

It could have been me.

That night, Chuck and I meet at Sher­idan Square. We’ve met there many times before to march with love on Gay Pride Day and with anger each time our civil rights bill is defeated. Tonight we meet in sadness.

The Chelsea Gay Association is there. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. But most of us—  about 1000 in all — are individuals who have heard the news, heard it too many times before, but never so blatant and violent as this time. The gunman, Ronald Crumpley, has told po­lice the reason for his shooting spree: “I just don’t like faggots.”

We hold lighted candles and march west on Christopher. The mood is somber. A man beats slowly on a drum. “Gay life isn’t cheap,” yells a marcher. The cry is picked up. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Until it’s a roar.

We pass Ty’s. “Out of the bars and into the streets.” We stop at Trilogy. Patrons leave their drinks and join the procession.

Near West Street, we see a long trail of blood on the pavement — a vivid reminder of the massacre. A sign at Badlands says the bar is closed to honor the dead. We reach the Ramrod. The street is cordoned off. Dozens of bunches of daisies — blue, white, and yellow — are clustered in front of a window splattered with bullet holes the size of oranges. Mourners place their candles on the doorstep.

A man makes a speech. “There are now two dead,” he says, “and we can’t go on with life as usual when our brothers have been murdered … We have elected to office the new moral majority who preach bigotry. Things won’t get better: it’s going to get worse.”

The speaker asks for two minutes’ silent prayer.

And then the shout erupts again. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Louder. Fists in the air. “Gay life isn’t cheap.”

At the Chelsea precinct the search for Jay Utterback’s killers goes on. ❖

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SETTING IT STRAIGHT

The evening after the Ramrod killings, Edward Thulman, a 21-year-old self-described hustler, showed up at the Post declaring he had been Ronald Crumpley’s lover. Thulman claimed the massacre took place because he wouldn’t go out with Crumley anymore — “He had gotten too crazy.” Their liaison, he said, had taken place at a fleabag hotel on Eighth  at 48th Street during a six-month period. The Post quoted Lieutenant John Yuknes, chief detective on the case: “We have no reason to believe Thulman’s not telling the truth. His story appears to stand up.” Reached by phone before press time, Yuknes insisted that the Post used only half his statement. “I told them we had no reason to believe that Thulman’s telling the truth either. Nothing has popped up yet to connect these two guys.”

Yuknes asked Thulman why he went to the Post before going to the police.

“Because they’d pay me.” Thulman said the Post paid him $100.

When told of the accusation, Steve Dunleavy, managing editor at the Post said that aside from $20 which the Post paid for taxis, no money was given Edward Thulman.

Jiog Wentz, doorman at the Ramrod, and Vernon Kroenig, organist at St. Joseph’s Church, were killed in the spray of bullets which hit the Ramrod. Richard Huff, Rene Matute, and Tom Ron are in fair condition at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Olaf Gravesen is in satisfactory condition at St. Vincent’s.

A fund is being started to aid the sur­vivors of the shootings. Contributions may c§ be sent to The November 19th Fund, care of Washington Square Methodist Church, 135 West 48th Street, New York, NY 0 10012. Approximately 1000 people at­tended a memorial service at the church.

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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.

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
CRIME ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives JOCKBEAT ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Mark “Gator” Rogowski: Free Fallin’

How Skateboard King Mark “Gator” Anthony Was Born Again As a Rapist and Murderer

While he awaited trial, Mark “Gator” Anthony’s cell in the San Diego County jail lay at the foot of a hill in Vista, California. At the very top of that hill, four-and-a-half miles up from the jail, was the rundown skateboard park where Gator had his last ride, MacGill’s Skatepark. There, a handful of teenagers skated the ramps, rolling in and out, doing flips, handstands, board slides, ollies … and every once in a while, some daring kid would attempt a “lean 360.” It’s a notoriously difficult move, in which the skater tries to get enough momentum and height to fly vertically out of the bowl with his body almost perpendicular to the ground, spin around once completely, and then land where he’d taken off, inside the bowl, but this time rolling backward toward the bottom.

That move was called the “Gait-air,” named for its originator, the man who sat in the jail at the bottom of the hill. For years Gator was skateboarding’s biggest star. When he first started skating, 15 years ago, his moves were so creative, so aggressive, so — there’s no other word for it — radical, that he was able to turn pro at the tender age of 14. By the time he was 17, he was making $100,000 a year.

To skateboarders everywhere, he was a hero. He boasted of being a roving ambassador, telling skating magazines how he was going to turn the whole non-skating world on to the sport. He and his beautiful live-in girlfriend, Brandi McClain, were the skateboarding couple: they starred in skating videos together, they worked as models together, they even appeared together in a Tom Petty video. Gator gave tips to beginners in Sports Illustrated for Kids. There was a Gator clothing line, Gator skate boards, Gator videos. “I had it all,” he says today, sitting in his prison cell. “I had different cars, a big house on an estate, even girls — I had the prettiest, most popular, hah, most voluptuous, most unscrupulous girls. I say that I ‘had a girl.’ I once considered girls a possession. That’s crazy.”

Crazy or sick. Because despite all he had, on March 20, 1991, Gator beat twenty-one-year-old Jessica Bergsten over the head with a steering-wheel lock called the Club and raped her for nearly three hours. Then he strangled her in a surfboard bag and buried her naked in the desert 100 miles away.

There were no witnesses, no one heard her screams, and the murder weapon was never found. Yet something drove Gator to confess his crime.

This is the story of the rise and fall of Mark “Gator” Anthony.

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STOKED

Skateboarding, like other California phenomena such as surfing and savings-and-loan scams, had a tremendous surge in popularity in the 1980s. Skateboard parks were erected across the planet. Skateboard manufacturers became multimillion-dollar companies branching out into clothing, sneakers, even movies. Crude videos were slapped together featuring the latest moves by top skaters, and they sold by the thousands. The National Skateboarding Association was sponsoring contests all over North America, Europe, and Japan, and first-prize money reached $5,000 to $7,000 per event.

All this was fueled by a handful of San Diego County teenagers who had become the sport’s superstars, and Gator was one of them. Born Mark Anthony Rogowski in Brooklyn, he moved with his mother and older brother to San Diego at age three, following his parents’ divorce. They ended up in Escondido, a sun baked, middle-class suburb in northern San Diego County. Classic Reagan country, with surfers, malls, churches, and loads of disaffected middle-class youth, it was there that Gator, at age 7, discovered skating.

“I grew up without a father from day one,” Gator told Thrasher magazine interviewer M.Fo in 1987, “and my brother kinda filled that gap. He was a bitchin’ influence on me. He made me a good baseball player and an athlete in general. What was cool was that he was stoked that I was skating, too. Skating was somewhat deviant.”

By 1977, Gator, 10, was skating regularly, but because he didn’t have as much money as his friends he didn’t quite fit in. “I was a social outcast back then,” he told Thrasher. “My fellow skater friends were all hyped on the surf thing — who had what board, the newest O.P.’s, and who had a Hang Ten shirt. Then there I was, running around in Toughskins, y’know … They were all wrapped up in the fashion and those types of superficial interests, they ended up fading out and I fucking lasted.”

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Gator got his chops down at a local skatepark’s half-pipes, moguls, and pool in the shape of a bra dubbed “the 42D Bowl.” And he found a new set of skating friends. “These guys were so into it, having such a good time, sweatin’ and laughin’ and crackin’ jokes and just snakin’ each other. It was a full soul session, everybody was just shralpin’ it up. When they went into the bowl, their expressions changed to a ‘going into battle’ expression, going for it, no holds barred. When they popped out of the bowl, they’d get a smile on their faces and yelp and chime. It was hot.”

An obvious talent, young Gator was picked up by the skatepark team and began winning local contests. Bigger sponsors followed, and in 1982 he won the Canadian Amateur Skateboarding Championships in Vancouver, his first major title. With his green eyes and dark, lean good looks, charming personality, and aggressively physical skating style, he rose to the top rank of the sport.

Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi rounded out the triumvirate of 1980’s skating superstars. “That was a great time for us,” says Hawk, who has been called the Wayne Gretzky of skating. “We were making a ton of money, we flew all over the world, there were skating groupies at every stop. It was pretty cool to see a bunch of guys from San Diego County at the center of this huge thing. No doubt, we were stoked.”

The primary vehicle for the wealth of pro skaters was skateboard sales, and Gator was one of the hottest tickets in that market too. A Gator skate “deck” — the board (decorated with his nickname rendered in an op art vortex or pastel quasi-African design), sans wheels and suspension system — would sell for up to $50, of which Gator would receive $2. At their peak, monthly sales of the Gator board reached seven thousand, earning him an easy $14,000. But the cash didn’t end there; he also had his contest winnings and lent his name to a slew of products made by Vision Sport, a skateboard merchandising company. There were Gator shirts, berets, hip packs, videos, stickers, posters — it seemed kids couldn’t get enough of him.

“Gator, Gator, Gator … every issue of Thrasher had Gator doing something,” says Perry Gladstone, who owns FL (formerly Fishlips), a skateboarding company near San Diego. “He was always a part of everything. There were Gator stories, Gator spreads, full-page Gator ads — he was a hero to us. We’d read about their parties, the girls … you’ve gotta understand, top skaters were like rock stars, traveling all over the world, living the life … and Gator was the wildest of them all.”

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Wild for sure, as Gator himself indicated in the ’87 Thrasher interview, when he talked about the rush he got from riding walls at 90 degrees, and “on the left side of the picture there’s a bum with a bottle or a junkie with a needle hangin’ out of his arm,” and on the right side there’s a skater “sweatin’ it out and cussin’ at the wall and — Bam! — fucking forging reality, pushing his body up the wall.” One of the benefits of this, said Gator, was that “it’s a real productive way of venting some way harsh aggressions. Instead of breaking a bottle and slashing some body’s face, you’re throwing yourself at a wall with sweat dripping in your eyes.”

Gator boasted to friends that while touring the South he would walk into liquor stores and 7-Elevens stark naked, rob them, then get drunk in the cornfields while police helicopters searched for him overhead.

On another of those wild tour dates, in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1987, Gator, then 21, met two beautiful 17-year old blondes from rich families, Jessica Bergsten and Brandi McClain. Brandi and Gator partied that entire weekend, which wasn’t unusual considering the groupies who awaited him in every town. But Brandi was different. Soon he was flying her to San Diego to visit him, and a few months later, she left Tucson for good and moved in with Gator.

He had bought a ranch in the mountains near Tony Hawk’s new ranch, which he’d equipped with a whole series of wooden skating ramps. But Brandi became bored with the ranch and few months later Gator sold it. They moved to a condominium in the upscale beachside community of Carlsbad, one block away from the ocean.

Gator and Brandi were inseparable. They caroused all night in Carlsbad bars, made the scene at all the San Diego parties. They were the hottest couple on the beach. “We would get high every night,” says Brandi. “We wouldn’t do coke every night, but we’d do bong hits, we’d go to the Sand Bar at the end of his street, and get fucked up. Then we’d hang out in his Jacuzzi, get drunk off our asses, and go in and have wild sex all night.”

Gator spared no expense on Brandi. So that she could join him at competitions, “he flew her to Brazil and Europe,” says Gator’s brother Matt Rogowski. “He bought her two cars. She was a gold digger, but when they were together, they were absolutely in love and you could see it.” The couple did modeling jobs together. Brandi appeared in Gator’s videos, and when he appeared in Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” video, she was in it too.

If he was a celebrity in southern California, in Carlsbad, the unofficial skateboarding capital of the world, he was a megastar. Surfboard shops would just give him all the equipment h wanted, skaters would ask for his autograph or Gator stickers t put on their boards. Despite his ardor for Brandi, when he was alone he’d walk up to beautiful women on the beach, say, “Hi I’m Gator,” and instantly have their undivided attention. With his looks, youth, and arrogance born of money and fame, in the holy land of skateboarding, Gator was his own god.

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BLIND DUDE

But while Gator was getting fat and happy cashing in on his skateboarding fame, by the late eighties a new, hipper type of skateboarding was challenging the dominance of his genre. It was called street skating, where skaters opted for urban obstacles like curbs, garbage cans, and stairways over the traditional skate board parks. Street skaters wore their pants around the knees, eschewed protective pads and helmets and counted on frequent run-ins with the police. Characterized by the sound of boards smacking against the pavement, it was louder, more dangerous, decidedly anti-establishment and, therefore, more appealing to the kids. Vertical ramp skating techniques, of which Gator was the master, were rapidly becoming obsolete. Vision, the company that sponsored Gator and dozens of other top skaters, was about to file Chapter 11.

“He was really worried about becoming a dinosaur,” says Perry Gladstone, to whom Gator confided. “This was an entirely new type of skating. It was rad, more amped, and all the kids wanted to be a part of it. But except for Tony Hawk, none of the old pros could really skate both vert and street, and Gator was stressed out about it.” Gator himself once told M.Fo just how stressed out he would get if he had to quit skating. “I’d probably have some suicidal tendencies. I’d feel low, cheap. I’d feel like nothing. I couldn’t exist … no way, I’d kill myself. Lose my spirit, I’d float away and my carcass would get buried.”

Gator was still trying to milk vert skating for all he could. He talked to his family about marrying Brandi and settling down. Then, in October 1989, after a competition in West Germany, the party animal in Gator reared up and bit him. In typical Gator fashion, he spent the night getting sloshed, wandering from party to party. The accident that ensued is a skateboarding legend — a drunken Gator, partying with a bunch of other skaters, leapt out of a second-story window, convinced that he could fly.

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Although Gator himself doesn’t remember what happened, some of his friends say that he was actually trying to sneak back into his hotel after hours by crawling up a terrace. Whatever the cause, the result nearly killed him. He landed on a wrought-iron fence, impaling his neck, face, and thumb. He survived and was patched up in Germany, but upon returning home he spent months in San Diego with plastic surgeons trying to save his modeling career.

The Gator who emerged from the San Diego hospital shocked his friends and admirers. He looked the same, but he sounded completely different. “Jesus Christ spoke to me through that accident,” said Gator. “I was a blind dude, but now I can see.” Gator had been born again.

Augie Constantino takes the credit for Gator’s metamorphosis. A skateboarder and former professional surfer who lived just two blocks from Gator and Brandi, Constantino had suffered an accident similar to Gator’s four years earlier. “I was in Hawaii out drinking with some other pro surfers,” says Constantino. “After leaving the party, me and a friend of mine were playing chicken when he hit me head on, doing 45 miles per hour. I guess I lost.” The quadriceps in his right leg were severed, ending his pro surfing career. But Constantino decided that it was a message from God, and that he should devote his life to Christ.

Thus was born the man known as “the skateboard minister.” In his stonewashed jeans, cowboy boots, and bolero jacket, he stands out from his fellow Calvary Chapel parishioners. He’s built like a fireplug, wears a goatee, and has one eye slightly askew — a result of his accident. “I met Mark just before he left for Germany,” says Constantino from the office he keeps in the back of the church. He’s vague about his official role at the church, where, he says, he is “a lay minister” who runs a youth hotline, but he adds that officially he is a church custodian.

“I introduced Mark to a personal God, a God the father,” says Constantino. “Mark never had a father to speak of. I showed Christ to him and as the Bible says, He’s our own true father. So of course that appealed to Mark.” It was around this time that Gator started calling himself Mark Anthony instead of Mark Anthony Rogowski, because, as he later said, “I didn’t want to be associated with my father at all.”

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When Gator’s wounds healed, he joined Constantino. He started covering his boards with religious symbols and preaching to skaters, surfers, and anyone else who would listen about his “secret friend,” Jesus. Witt Rowlett, owner of Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines, the premier surf shop in Carlsbad, says that everyone was amazed. “I believe in the Lord, don’t get me wrong,” says Rowlett. “But Mark was just fanatic. Everything he said was ‘Jesus this, the Bible that.’ He was way into it.”

Others, however, dismissed it as typical behavior from Gator. “Yeah, he was fanatic, but that’s just it, he was fanatic about everything,” says Gladstone. “That was just Gator.”

But Brandi would have none of it. Gator dragged her along to Calvary Chapel a few times, but she wasn’t ready for the party to end. “We literally had sex five times a day, we were so in love,” says Brandi. “Then he met Augie and started saying, ‘We can’t have sex anymore unless we get married.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve been going out for four years, having mad sex for four years, and we can’t have sex anymore? I can’t deal with this. Later.’ ”

Brandi moved in with her mother and stepfather, who had recently moved to San Diego.

“Mark was devastated,” says Constantino. “I think that it upset him even more than his accident in Germany. Look, here’s an exact explanation of what happened to her.” He reaches for his “sword” — a well-thumbed, red Bible on his bookshelf.

“First Peter, Chapter 4, Verse 3. ‘Then, you lived in license and debauchery, drunkenness, revelry, and tippling, and the forbidden worship of idols. Now, when you no longer plunge with them into all this reckless dissipation, they cannot understand it.’ ” He shuts the Bible with a thump. “There. You see? Brandi just didn’t get it. Mark had found a new life in Christ.”

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THE DESERT

Despite his newfound devotion to Jesus, Gator’s response to Brandi’s leaving was decidedly un-Christian, particularly after she started seeing one of the guys she surfed with. Gator started calling her mother’s house, leaving messages on the answering machine. “Mark was crazy,” says Brandi. “He was calling me up leaving all these freaky messages. He’d growl. ‘You bitch! You cunt! You’re gonna fry in hell from your toes!’ Weird shit like that.”

One night, Brandi came home to find that someone had broken into her house through her window, taking everything that Gator had ever given her. Brandi and the police suspected Gator.

“He took it all back, including the car,” says Terry Jensen, an investigator from the San Diego County district attorney’s office, to whom Brandi later recounted the story. “It’s kind of like a typical young teenage stunt. That’s what you do when you’re 15, 16 years old and you lose your first girlfriend. You want all your money back, every necklace, every ring. You know, ‘Give me my high school jacket and my class ring because we’re not going steady anymore.’ Well, that’s what he did.”

Brandi still hoped they might reconcile. On one such attempt, she invited Gator to take her out to dinner. But they started arguing as soon as they pulled out of her parents’ driveway. “He was still so mad about the guy I was seeing,” says Brandi. “He’s the one that told me to go out and find one of my surfer friends to party with. So I did! I found this hot little blond surfer guy, 6-1.

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“And Mark was furious. He was driving out in the middle of this nowhere road out where my parents live when he turned to me with this really scary, serious look in his eye. His voice got all deep and, you know, he sounded like the devil. He says, ‘You know what? I should take you out to the desert right now. I should drive you out right in the middle of the night and beat the shit out of you and leave you there. And I would get away with it, because everybody would know that you deserved it.’

“I started crying and begging him to take me home right now. I’m like, ‘My mother knows where I am.’ And he took me back.”

Brandi was scared enough to flee to New York, not telling anyone but her family where she was going. She didn’t even tell her best friend Jessica in Tucson about the incident, so when Jessica showed up in San Diego a few weeks later, she called Gator asking him to show her the sights.

“Everything that I hated about Brandi, I hated about Jessica,” Gator would later tell the police. “She was of the same mold that Brandi was made of.” He told the police that he blamed Jessica for his breakup. Jessica, of course, had no idea about any of this.

Like Brandi, Jessica was tall, blond, and beautiful, and her friends remember her as tough, savvy, and adventurous. “She was an incredibly intelligent, free-spirited girl,” recalls Brandi. “She wanted to have fun and nothing else mattered. We would go to Mexico together, and she would, say, get so drunk that she would leave me there. If I couldn’t get into bars — because we were under age and had fake IDs — she would leave me outside for three hours waiting while she drank.

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“But we were best friends. We were very much alive. It was, like, quick, we’re going to have the very best lives, and we’re going to have them now.”

On Wednesday, March 20, Jessica and Gator had lunch at an Italian restaurant in La Jolla, then returned to his condo with some movies and a few bottles of wine. As she was getting ready to leave, Gator went to his car, ostensibly to see if his driver’s license was there.

Waiting in his living room, Jessica looked at the picture on his mantel, where Gator proudly displayed his favorite picture — a shot of him skydiving, facing the camera, screaming at the top of his lungs while plummeting to earth. As she stared at the picture, Gator snuck up behind her, hitting her two or three times in the head and face with the metal steering-wheel lock. She fell to the floor, blood gushing from her head, so much so that it soaked right through the carpet. He handcuffed her and carried her upstairs to his bedroom. There, he shackled her onto the bed, cut her clothes off with scissors, and raped her for two or three hours.

Jessica, still conscious, begged him to stop, occasionally screaming. In an attempt to shut her up, he pulled a surfboard bag from his closet and stuffed her inside it. She screamed that she couldn’t breathe. He clasped his hands around her neck and strangled her.

Gator flipped over his mattress to hide the blood that was there, then put Jessica’s body, her cut-up clothing, the bag, the handcuffs, and the Club in the trunk of his car. He drove for two hours into the desert, pulled off the highway at a desolate place called Shell Canyon, and buried her naked body in a shallow grave. As he drove back to Carlsbad, he tossed her bloodstained clothes, his sheets, and the club out the window. On his way back to the condo, he rented a carpet steamer, and cleaned out every spot of blood he could from the rug. When police came to question him about her disappearance a couple of weeks later, there was no evidence to be found.

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THE POSTER AT 7-ELEVEN

Jessica’s father, Stephen Bergsten, a Tucson lawyer, had enough to worry about without his daughter disappearing. One of his clients was under investigation by an Arizona drug task force, while rumors were rife that he himself was being investigated for money laundering. But when his daughter stopped calling soon after leaving for southern California, the panicked father, unsatisfied by efforts of the San Diego police, flew to San Diego to find her himself.

He plastered the entire county with posters that read MISSING PERSON with a picture of a grinning Jessica, her vital statistics (5-8, 115 pounds, blond hair, blue eyes, fair complexion), and the telephone numbers for the San Diego police department. He talked to her friends, he even met with Gator to ask about her whereabouts. Gator shook his hand and told him, No, he didn’t know where Jessica was. Bergsten’s efforts were to no avail. There were no other witnesses to her disappearance. Two months went by without any leads.

But one of the posters stayed plastered up next to a phone booth at a 7-Eleven two blocks from Gator’s condo. Next to the beach, with a pizza shop next door, the convenience store is a favorite hangout for young Carlsbad surfers and skateboarders. It was also a favorite place for Constantino and Gator to preach their message of Christianity to young kids hanging out. For Constantino, he was terrific bait for young skaters willing to listen to just about anything to meet Gator.

“One night at the 7-Eleven,” remembers Constantino, “Gator and I were witnessing and I saw this young girl with what they call a miniskirt — I call them towels. I said to her, ‘Go and put some clothes on and when you come back, I’d like to talk to you about Christ.’ And she said, ‘I’ve got nothing to worry about, I’ve got no problems.’ I pointed to the poster. ‘What about that girl?’ I said. ‘She had nothing to worry about. But where is she now? She could have been involved in drugs, pornography. Maybe she’s dead.’ The girl just ignored us and jumped into a car. But I got a strange reaction out of Mark. He was just kind of blank, silent.”

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Seeing the picture of Jessica, and seeing it in the presence of Constantino, was too much for Gator. One night, after a Bible study at Constantino’s house, Gator returned to the house with tears streaming down his face. “I was getting ready for bed when I answered the door,” recalls Constantino. “He was crying and said he was Judas Iscariot. We both sat and cried. We prayed for about an hour, asking God what we should do. About a week later he came to me and said, ‘Remember that girl in the poster? She was the one I killed!'”

Constantino remembers what he told Gator as he drove him to the police department in the early morning of May 5. “I said to him, ‘Mark, you don’t need a lawyer. You don’t need innocent until-proven-guilty. What do you need a lawyer for, if you answer to a higher power? If a person is accountable to God, then he’s accountable to society — the Bible says that.”

Constantino scoffs at the idea that perhaps his legal advice wasn’t the best. Nor does he think it was unethical for him, as a minister, to turn in someone confessing to him. “Mark didn’t come to me as a minister, he came to me as a friend. Anyway, I’m not an ordained minister. He knew exactly what was going to happen.”

The police were astonished that someone was turning himself in for a murder that they didn’t even know had happened. Jessica’s body had been found in the desert by some campers on April 10, but the body was so badly decomposed that it could not be identified. The next morning Gator led detectives to where he’d buried the body. Uncuffed, standing under the hot desert sun, Gator watched as they dug around for more evidence, photographed the site, and talked to the local police.

When the police announced Gator’s confession, the press jumped all over it. It was the lead story in the local papers, local television ran nightly updates as the case unfolded, and on national TV, Hard Copy did a “dramatic reenactment” of the rape, murder, and subsequent confession. The initial reaction of the skateboarding world’s street wing was best expressed by Koby Newell, a 15-year-old who skated with Anthony at Carlsbad. “He was getting old,” Newell told the San Diego Union, “but he was keeping up with the moves.”

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Skating’s more established wing reacted with a bit more shock. Perry Gladstone had just signed Gator to endorse a new line of skateboards for Fishlips, which ironically featured a takeoff on the 7-Eleven logo. “I came home the night he confessed to find 87 messages on my answering machine. They were all reporters wanting me to talk about Gator. My wife and I were with him two or three days every week for months setting this deal up. He was such a great guy, I just couldn’t believe it.”

The violent, anti-authority image of skateboarding — symbolized in Thrasher magazine’s old motto “Skate or Die” — combined with the sex and bondage aspects of the murder, fed the press’s sensationalist treatment of the story. One of the many videos Gator did with Brandi was called Psycho Skate, which fed the frenzy even more. Skateboarders felt that the coverage was turning into an indictment of their sport, not just Gator. “It’s likely the skateboarding world will be placed under a microscope in the media,” warned Thrasher. “Let’s just hope that we can all remain strong.”

He became a cause célèbre in San Diego County. Kids decorated their jeans jackets with the phrase Free Mark Anthony. But there were also bumper stickers that read Skateboarding Is Not a Crime — Murder Is. Mark Anthony Should Die. Skateboarders who talked to the press about it were ostracized. “It was a terrible event for skateboarding,” says Gladstone. “Skating’s no more inherently violent than heavy metal is inherently satanic. But people in the media tried to make it seem as if skating is a threat to the youth of America. I think you’ll find that most skaters won’t even talk about Gator.”

The police continued to compile evidence in case Gator decided to plead not guilty to a murder charge. They found the bloodstains under Gator’s carpet, and a carpet-cleaner receipt (Gator’s accountant had instructed him to save all his receipts). Gator was charged with “special circumstances,” committing a murder during rape, which under California law can warrant the death penalty or life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Unable to get a lawyer, he was appointed a public defender, self-described “glory seeker” John Jimenez, a short, stocky former PTA president who drives a Harley-Davidson. After taking the case, Jimenez immediately challenged the validity of the confession, saying that Gator’s minister had no right to turn him in. Jimenez appealed the rape charge, insisting that the decomposed body could show no signs of forcible rape. Although he never denied that Gator had killed Jessica, he suggested that it was her own fault. He told a reporter that Jessica was a “slut,” claiming to have a long list of people with whom she’d had sadomasochistic sex, including the entire University of Arizona basketball team and a handful of pros — their names, however, were off the record. “Hey,” says Jimenez, “it’s like Sam Kinison said, some girls just turn Mr. Hand into Mr. Fist.”

At the time these remarks were made, the San Diego Metropolitan Homicide Task Force was investigating the murders of forty-four women whose bodies had been dumped in isolated places around the county since 1985.

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THAT FILTH

Eventually, when the higher court refused to toss out the rape charge, on Jimenez’s advice Gator pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and rape, thus avoiding the death penalty or life without chance of parole. At the January 1992 hearing in which he entered his plea, Gator submitted a remarkable four-page written statement that hinted at the struggle going on in his mind before his crime, during its commission, and afterward. In the statement he admitted that although his original confession “was directed by the Lord,” in the subsequent eight months he had been “tempted to dodge responsibility, deceiving myself as well as others.” But now, at last, “I’ve been led to a full, true repentance, having nothing to hide. Thank God.”

Finally able to express “my regret and my sorrow over our loss of Jessica,” Gator tried to explain why he’d done what he did. “Two months prior to the incident,” he wrote, “I found myself in the midst of some surprisingly strange and almost uncontrollable feelings. All at once the plague of vile visions and wicked imaginations and the daily battle to suppress them was overwhelming. It’s no exaggeration to say I became completely enslaved to these devious mental images and inescapable thoughts …

“Essentially, I became a victim first, because I turned my back on God in several ways, thinking I could get through it on my own power.”

Slave, victim, but still expressing regret and “without deferring the blame for my actions,” Gator targeted three things that influenced his state of mind:

“Firstly, sex outside of marriage, i.e. promiscuity, premarital sex and cohabitation, the disease of jealousy, and the unhealthy obsession that so often attaches to these.

“Secondly, pornography and its addictive character. Ranging from risqué public advertising, all the way to hardcore S&M, this dehumanizing of women and men and its dulling of the senses occurs at all levels. Porn is a consuming beast …

“Thirdly, closing the ears and heart to God’s counsel, including partial or non-repentance and disobeying and ignoring the Bible … So people, we must realize, without reduction, the gripping strength and deceptive subtlety of sin! What will it take for us to examine ourselves and listen? The tragedy of an innocent young woman’s death? The fall of your favorite celebrity? O.K., perhaps the imprisonment of your best friend or relative?…

“I know the Lord forgave me 2000 years ago on the cross at Calvary. And although I attempt to forgive myself daily,” wrote Gator, the struggle over his ultimate culpability still raging in his head, “I haven’t quite been able and may never be able to do so.”

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Gator’s sentencing took place on March 6. It was quite a spectacle for a suburban courtroom. Five uniformed bailiffs used a hand-held metal detector to screen each observer. They had received information that Stephen Bergsten, who would attend the hearing with his wife, Kay, was going to try to harm Gator. Eight months earlier Bergsten had been indicted, along with 44 others, as part of a nationwide drug ring. With his property in two states seized by the government and his daughter brutally murdered, there was speculation that he had nothing left to lose by killing Gator.

With the bailiffs standing between Bergsten and Gator, the skater offered a solemn apology to Jessica’s family, asking them to forgive him. “God has changed me, and it was no typical jailhouse conversion,” pleaded Gator. “I sincerely hope that they can accept my apology for my carelessness.”

“Carelessness?” Bergsten shouted. “He is a child-murderer and child-rapist. He is evil incarnate.” Gator, along with many others in the courtroom, cried as Bergsten continued in an angry 20-minute monologue. “Cowards die a thousand times and he will die a thousand deaths,” Bergsten shouted, his voice breaking. “He raped her and raped her and raped her and then thought, ‘Let’s kill her.’ We couldn’t say goodbye to Jessica because that filth left her with nothing but a piece of skin, left her for the coyotes and the goddamned birds to eat her.” He glared directly at Gator and said in a firm voice. “I told you — and you remember, Rogowski — what would happen if anyone hurt my daughter. He says he’s undergone a religious conversion. Judge, you must have heard that same story 100 times. If he underwent a religious conversion, it was to evil, degradation, filth, and satanism.”

Shortly thereafter, Superior Court judge Thomas J. Whelan sentenced Gator to consecutive terms of six years for forcible rape and twenty-five years to life for first-degree murder. Gator will not be eligible for parole until 2010 at the earliest.

Jimenez says that Gator “took some shit” when he was first put in the San Diego County jail. But one night soon after he was incarcerated, inmates crowded around a television to hear Gator’s story on Hard Copy. “After that,” says Jimenez, “I guess they thought he was a heavy dude, because the rest of the population has kept their distance ever since.”

Gator is trying to surround himself with other born-again Christians in jail. He is appealing his sentence, and has been placed in a medical facility (for manic depression).

Augie Constantino is continuing his studies to be a minister, while cleaning up the Calvary Chapel. He still preaches to surfers and skaters in the San Diego area working with a group called Skaters for Christ.

Stephen Bergsten’s money-laundering charges were dismissed two months ago in Tucson.

Brandi lives in a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side, working as a flower arranger.

Jessica’s remains were buried in a family plot in Georgia.

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MY SUBMISSION TO HER WILES

Those who visit Gator in prison are struck at first by how truly repentant he seems, sitting in his cell in a loose-fitting navy-blue jumpsuit with SD JAIL stamped on the back, his once wild long hair now shorn and carefully combed, as he talks about his fall from grace.

“I had been exposed to pornography since I was a little boy, three years old,” he says. “In what form? In the form of sex, actual sex with people. I’m not going to say who, but with people in my childhood. First let me say that it wasn’t only incest. I don’t want to mention family members, of course, because I want to protect them. But let me put more emphasis on the fact that it was babysitters and older neighborhood kids.”

Has it occurred to him that if he was the victim of sexual crime as a child, he might have a propensity to carry out such crimes as an adult? “If you believe that it was a revenge killing and that it was prompted by Brandi, I would say yes,” he replies, and suddenly you’re listening to a dramatically different Gator than the one at whose sentencing a Catholic priest testified, “Never before have I encountered a person so clearly open about his responsibility.” You’re listening to a man skating away from the idea that the murder was really his fault.

“I did lay upon her with a steering lock at one point, but that was part of the S&M,” he says. “The fact is that it wasn’t rape. It was more like an involuntary manslaughter. If it weren’t for my submission to her wiles and the temptation of having such sex with her … ”

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Gator takes a deep breath, sighs, then continues. “I don’t want to defame Jessica at all. I’m very, very sorry about what happened to her. I just want to make it known that I was led into a sexual situation that I didn’t want to have anything to do with.

“I wouldn’t have submitted if I didn’t have some weakness, some background desire. You can go down the street to Coronet bookstore in Oceanside and buy a vast array of S&M bondage magazines, pictorials, descriptive pictorials, paperbacks that are step by step about how to lynch somebody sexually. It’s pretty sick. I got a lot of ideas.

“That night, I didn’t realize what kind of a purring feline she was. It’s really hard for me to say these things about Jessica, we lost her and I don’t feel good about that. I just want to make it known that I was led into a sexual situation that I didn’t want to have anything to do with. I was scared I’d be discovered with this wayward woman.

“There were a lot of kids in my neighborhood, my protégés in skateboarding who would have Bible studies with me. I was being an example to these impressionable kids. For them to see me with this woman and all that had been going on — the wine bottles, the cigarettes upstairs — it would have been devastating. In my attempt to quiet her, in her intoxicated and belligerent state, I had put my hand over her mouth to quiet her for a second so I could hear the voices and the footsteps coming up my walkway. She must have suffocated or had a seizure or a stroke or something. The next thing I knew, I look down and she’s not breathing and not moving.”

Mark “Gator” Anthony, who has finally broken up and out of the half-pipe of his guilt, will be forty-three years old before he is eligible for parole. He says he doesn’t think he’ll ever ride a skateboard again, but hopes that someday he’ll be free so he can learn to fly a kite. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Untold Story of the Tompkins Square Murder

Blood Simple

Daniel Rakowitz moved in with Sylvia and Shawn on July 7, bringing his scrawny brown rooster and three cats with him. “The rooster’s name was Rooster,” remembers Sylvia, a pale 27-year-­old nursing assistant with long brown hair and a striking red-and-­blue tattoo on her right arm. “All night it would cackle and crow. I told Daniel one night, ‘Daniel, I can’t listen to this rooster anymore.’ So he took a sock, and he put it over the roost­er’s bead. And the rooster would lie on its back with its legs up. And after 10 hours I said, ‘Daniel, the rooster — it looks like he’s dead.’ And he says, ‘No, he’s in a trance.’ He’d take the sock off — the rooster was fine. But you put the sock on, and the rooster just lay on its back with its legs up in the air.”

Sylvia and her boyfriend Shawn, both from Morris Plains, New Jersey, had been living together in a cramped two­-bedroom apartment at 700 East 9th Street for a couple months. “When I first met Daniel a year and half ago, he sold me pot in Washington Square Park,” says Sylvia. ”I didn’t really get to know him until be moved into the apartment.” Rakowitz, a 28-year-old part-time cook and marijuana dealer who was sleeping in Tompkins Square Park at the time, agreed to cover half of the apartment’s $500-a-month rent. “I saw a change in Daniel: he felt like he was a normal per­son,” explains Sylvia. “He had a home, he could take a shower, he had a big TV.” In fact, Rakowitz developed a fixation for television. He’d watch until dawn, saying “C’mon Sylvia, watch TV — just one more show, there’s something good coming on!”

Despite a gaping hole in the wall oppo­site the stove, the kitchen was another plus: Rakowitz would often wake up in the morning and head for Key Food on Fourth and B. Hanging out by the front door, he asked people for donations. Strangers shopping at the store would buy him just what he asked for: chicken, potatoes, butter, bread, vegetables. He would return to the apartment with 30 or 40 pounds of food, cook it all up, bring it to Tompkins Square, and feed the home­less there. “He prepared a lot of chicken mainly,” says Jerry the Peddler, a local squatter and community leader. “He’d feed people a couple or three times a week.”

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Sometimes he showed up with break­fast. “He’d make stacks of pancakes for everyone,” says Shawn, a dark, muscular, 25-year-old electrician. “And he even used to get the syrup from the people in the street — he never paid for any of this. We cooked up everything. It was fun. And it was good. He had consideration for other people. He knew what it was like because he had been homeless.”

But life with Rakowitz was not a con­stant picnic: his incessant babbling would have driven almost any roommate mad. “When he used to go off on his trips,” recalls Sylvia, “I’d say ‘Daniel, you have your beliefs, and I have mine. I don’t impose them on you, so please don’t im­pose yours on me.’ And he’d respect that. And he’d stop saying, ‘I am the Lord of the Lords,’ and ‘By 1996, I’m gonna be president,’ and ‘By 1992, my followers are gonna take over,’ and ‘If they think Hit­ler was something, they haven’t seen any­thing yet.’ ”

“He was a classic nut,” says the Ped­dler. “He had all the symptoms: he had sudden fits of rage, he had delusions of grandeur, he didn’t like touching people, he had fantasy followers. Once, we were walking down Avenue B and we found a couple of pages of pornography on the street. He takes a handkerchief out of his pocket, and he lays it across the paper and then picks it up by the edges. And he looks at the women’s pictures for a min­ute and he finally folds it up very neat­ly — never touches it — and puts it in his back pocket.” The Peddler also saw Rakowitz try to pick up the real thing: “He was constantly going up to women — ­constantly. He’d stop right in the middle of a conversation and run over to talk to a single woman alone in the street or in the park. I saw him do that all the time. He never seemed to pick up that many.”

Soon after Rakowitz moved in, Sylvia and Shawn experienced problems in their three-year relationship; around July 20, they broke up and Shawn moved out. Sylvia, fed up with the city, decided to move shortly afterwards, leaving the apartment to Rakowitz. But he couldn’t support the place himself; when the lease changed hands, the rent would rise to $605. And Rakowitz — a skinny, bearded, long-haired drifter — was not exactly what the average landlord considers an ideal tenant. So the search began for a new roommate. “Daniel needed someone to share the rent,” says Shawn, “but he also felt threatened that we were going to kick him out — that I was going to kick him out — so he wanted the lease put in his new friend’s name. Daniel, I guess, didn’t want his name on anything.”

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About two weeks later, according to the police, Rakowitz met Monika Beerle, a 26-year-old modern dancer, in Tompkins Square Park. Beerle, a slender, dirty blond-haired girl from St. Gallen, Swit­zerland, had earned a teaching and chore­ography certificate from the Sigurd Leeder School and had recently studied at the Martha Graham School. Though she had a reputation for dating adventur­ously, one friend says, “She was a pretty smart girl. She seemed pretty profession­al, had a good head on her shoulders. The girl wasn’t stupid and she wasn’t crazy.”

In late April, Monika had moved from 93 Orchard Street to 171 Avenue B but was already looking for another place to live when she met Rakowitz. He took her home and made his pitch. When she ac­cepted, the two of them toasted their future with a couple of joints from Rakowitz’s stash.

Sylvia first met Monika before the lease had changed hands. That night, Rakowitz had been slow to answer her knock, and when the door swung open, he was zipping up his fly. “He never had women up there,” says Sylvia. “I’d never even seen him with a woman. So I’m saying to myself, ‘All right, Daniel, I know that you’re just trying to goof on me and make me think that you just went with this woman. So I went in there and he introduced me to her, and he says, ‘Yeah, she’s gonna move in and she’s gonna take over the lease.’ ”

Monika and her belongings arrived in the first week of August. “Daniel had cleaned up this place so immaculate be­fore she moved in, just for her,” Sylvia says. “I asked her the next day-because I thought Daniel was playing a joke-I said, ‘Daniel told me that he went with you.’ And she goes, ‘He did,’ point-blank in answer to me.”

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Something about the arrangement bothered Sylvia. “I told Daniel ‘This girl wants just the apartment.'” she recalls. “He kept saying, ‘No, but she cares about me, and she wants to live with me, and she wants to be my roommate.’ And I said, ‘Daniel, she wants the apartment. And she’s gonna take the apartment right from underneath you. She’s gonna have the lease in her name, and once it’s in her name she’s gonna throw you out. And I ain’t gonna be here anymore, and there’s nothing I can say when the lease is changed over. So if she throws you out, you’re out — and you’re homeless again.'”

But Rakowitz wouldn’t listen. “He’d say ‘I love her, I love her.’ I’d never seen him go out with a girl, much less say that,” Sylvia recalls. “But it was ‘Oh Monika, do you want this?’ Or ‘Monika, you want me to make you something to eat.’ I mean, he was just ‘Monika’ everything.”

“She treated him like shit,” adds Shawn.

Lynn, a vivacious 18-year-old girl who often sold Rakowitz sheets of blotter acid, tells an entirely different story: “I remember when the girl first moved into his apartment. It was early one morning, and Daniel was saying, ‘Oh yeah, there’s this girl.’ He said she’d moved in, and she was really stupid, and she had paid off his back rent so he wouldn’t get thrown out of his apartment. He was just using her; that was the whole thing.”

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Monika broke off the romance almost immediately, and she began bringing oth­er men to the apartment. One evening, she invited a Rastafarian to stay the night and Rakowitz inadvertently sur­prised them. Later, he confided in Sylvia: “He said to me, ‘Sylvia, she has a black man in there.’ And he looked hurt, and he looked mad, because that’s one of the people he hated — gays and blacks — to him, that was the worst insult you could give him. I said, ‘Daniel, what do you want me to do about it?'”

Monika’s friends, alarmed by Rakowitz’s ravings, urged her to throw him out. In mid-August, about a week after moving in, she took their advice, telling Rakowitz that she wanted him out in two weeks. Rakowitz pleaded, “Please, Sylvia, don’t let her throw me out. I have nowhere to go.”

“I said, ‘Daniel, I told you this was gonna happen, ‘ ” remembers Sylvia. “And it kinda freaked him out, you know? He was pleading every way he could to make some type of arrangement.” But Moni­ka’s mind was made up.

“She was stupid to fuck with him,” says Lynn. “He told her he was gonna kill her. She said that he had told her that.”

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“Daniel would go through this all day long,” remembers Sylvia. “He’d say ‘I’m gonna kill her.’ And five minutes later, he’d say, ‘No, I love her, I’m not gonna kill her.” This continued for three days. Neither Shawn nor Sylvia took him seri­ously — partly because of all the wild things he’d said in the past, partly be­cause neither of them had ever seen Dan­iel become violent. He talked a crazy streak, but he behaved himself. “Around August 12, I told Monika that ‘Daniel said he’s gonna kill you,’ ” says Sylvia. “And she just, kind of, laughed. And she went up to Daniel in front of me and said to Daniel, ‘I’ll kill you first.'”

On the evening of Thursday, August 17, Rakowitz walked Sylvia to the PATH train. As they shared a joint, he told Sylvia that he couldn’t take Monika any­more, he’d had enough. He said be planned to kill her the next day, and he asked Sylvia to come back and help him get rid of the body. “I said ‘Daniel, what are you, crazy? I ain’t gonna help you with anything.’ ” recalls Sylvia. “And he was really nervous. He was terrified. He was so terrified of being homeless.”

“I didn’t go there Friday,” she contin­ues. “I didn’t think about: ‘It’s Friday — is Daniel killing Monika?’ On Saturday night, I could see from the street that the apartment was dark, and I knew some­thing was wrong. But I went up there anyway. I was coming up the stairs and I heard Daniel’s TV, and it was really loud. And I opened the door, and his TV was in the kitchen, and it was very dim. I went back to my room to make sure my stuff was okay, ’cause I told him I was leaving it there for awhile till I got it all out. And Monika’s door was closed, and I went and knocked on Monika’s door, and nobody answered. So I went to the kitchen. And on the stove there was a pot. And in the pot was Monika’s head. She was all burnt-up, and her eyes were closed.”

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“I was born on Christmas Eve 12/24/60, which equals 96,” Daniel Rakowitz said to me in an interview this June. “And I have 18 letters to my name. I was born in the 21st Hour, which is 9:02 p.m., which they say signifies the coming of the Lord Jesus, according to what the Bible says.”

Rakowitz’s father, Tony, was a deputy in the small South Texas town of Rock­port. Tony’s boss, Sheriff Robert Hewes, told Newsday that Rakowitz’s father “was a straight-laced fellow, a real disci­plinarian.” According to Fred, who knew Rakowitz in New York for about two years, Rakowitz’s mother “died of a heart attack right in front of him. It happened when he was a kid, and when that hap­pens, people feel very very helpless.”

Rakowitz became aware of his divinity in 1966, when he was five years old. “Three Lords looking like Jesus floated out of the wall one at a time, one wearing a purple, one wearing a yellow, and one wearing a blue robe.” Rakowitz told Syl­via and Shawn that his parents had re­peatedly put him in psychiatric wards (when phoned, Tony Rakowitz refused to answer any questions about his son). “From the age of nine to 11 they forced me to take Ritalin [a drug prescribed for hyperactive children],” Rakowitz said in his June interview. “The other students decided to hit on me and spit on me. And if I defended myself, I got paddled. And I was the slowest runner in the school, too.”

“He told me they gave him shock treat­ments when he was 14,” says Sylvia. “I think he was the way he was from what had happened to him in the past — what people had done, the drugs they had giv­en him, his family committing him to psychiatric hospitals. He was committed. And he was very bitter about that.”

The tension between Rakowitz and his father peaked when the deputy found marijuana in his teenage son’s room. Rakowitz’s father took him to the Rock­port station and booked him for possession.

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At 19, Rakowitz enlisted in the army. He became an expert rifleman and spent 14 weeks in army law-enforcement school. After his discharge, he applied for a job as deputy alongside his father. He was turned down. (Rakowitz later spoke of taking over Texas: “I want to do every­thing as a Texas sheriff and I’m going to have many counties where a lot of people that smoke marijuana can come.”)

“On April 3, 1983, I made a prayer that I would have a dream to learn future events,” Rakowitz said. “Six days later, I did indeed have the dream and it told me I would come into total possession of a 14-year-old girl who two weeks later be­came my wife. And before we got mar­ried, I said, ‘According to the dream, you’re gonna leave me and I will go to New York and find a blond-haired woman and get married. Some day I come back and, according to the dream, you come back to me but you have another man’s child.'”

Police confirm that Rakowitz was mar­ried in Texas. “He told me his wife was Mexican,” says Martha, who befriended Rakowitz in New York. “She was really young. He was very upset when they split up and, I think he hoped at first — when I met him in 1985 — that they would get back together.”

No one is sure when Rakowitz first came to New York but police say he had not been back to his home state since 1981. “He was living at the Palace Hotel on the Bowery when I met him,” remem­bers Martha, who sold him quarter-­pounds of pot for resale. “He was always paranoid about visitors. And the police had questioned him before, you know. He told me how he had to sit down and tell them about his constituents, you know, how he had a constituency, how he had, you know, followers in his church, and how he had land in Colorado. He told me he had land in Colorado where he was gonna build his church and grow marijua­na there. I can’t remember the name of the man that he bought his land from but he would make payments on his land. I kept telling him, ‘Danny, it’s a sham, the man just took your money.’ ”

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Almost everyone on the Lower East Side knew Rakowitz:

“He’s a whacko,” says Clayton Patterson, a hat-store owner and the famed videotaper of last year’s riot in Tompkin’s Square. “All he ever talked about was killing; it amazed me that he talked about killing as much as he did. Daniel wasn’t a great marijuana salesman. Daniel was, you know, a slow learner. He was kind of a jovial-looking guy, but he was isolated, lonely; Danny-boy was always standing around by himself.”

“The man had charisma,” claims Jerry the Peddler. “It took people a couple of minutes to realize he was a kook, but he always managed to get them to stop and listen to him. Most people didn’t think of the guy as really being a nut. I used to talk to people about him. And they’d go, ‘Oh, no, he’s harmless.’ I used to tell them ‘Someday he’d gonna kill somebody.’ I swear I did.”

Jerry had reason to make his prediction: “Daniel liked to kill animals,” he remembers. “He killed his pets constant­ly. I saw him go through a lot of cats — a lot of cats. He had, like, three dogs that he’s killed. Everybody knew the white English terrier he had. He didn’t kill it, although he did kind of starve it quite a bit. He finally sold it.”

Dana Beal, Yipster-in-residence at 9 Bleecker Street, disagrees with the Ped­dler on at least one count: “He would have had a cult, and would have had a cult following, if he’d had charisma. You have to realize, it wasn’t that this guy didn’t go out and proselytize every day to win converts. It was that nobody would convert. It was a cult of one, you under­stand what I’m saying?”

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“I was gonna squat with him once,” says Lynn. “We opened a building on Suffolk Street one night, a whole group of us. He had some really cool ideas for what he wanted to do with the building: he wanted to make the first two floors housing for handicapped people. And it just didn’t go off. We thought he was pretty crazy for wanting to do that. He used to say that he wanted to, like, mur­der the cops and give their money to the poor. And he was gonna start this cult and have five children with each of 25 women, so that he could create his ‘mas­ter race.’

“Daniel used to burn incredible amounts of pot,” she continues. “That’s why I hung out with Daniel. That’s why everyone hung out with Daniel. And when you get stoned, and you listen to him ranting and raving, and it gets really hysterical. I mean, he was just amazing to listen to when you were stoned. So there was one day, and he had the grass on a table, and his rooster jumped up and scattered the pot. So he starts, like, beat­ing the shit out of this rooster. Someone jumps on Daniel and pulls him off, and everyone’s grabbing the rooster. Every­body was always, like, ‘Liberate the rooster!’ ‘Liberate the rooster!’ because Daniel used to carry it around in this bag, and it never saw the light of day.

“Some people said he had some kind of charisma,” Lynn concludes. “I never thought so, but a lot of girls thought he had some kind of weird charisma. I never thought there was anything interesting about him at all.”

Fred has a different perspective: “He hated women. He used to speak about how he was going to control women.”

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On November 9, 1988, WCBS-TV re­porter Mike Taibbi went looking for the Devil on the Lower East Side, found his man, and failed to recognize him. “I think we spent, probably, a total of four hours with Daniel,” says Taibbi, who was intent on proving that the noise band Missing Foundation had inspired the Tompkins Square Park riot. “We inter­viewed him for probably 30 minutes. Well, if you’ve heard his rap, you probably know all about this. We shot the whole thing, when he was going through his rap. We reviewed the logs, and one of the things he said was that — I don’t have the logs in front of me — but he did say that he was going to dismember his girl­friends. If they got pregnant and had an abortion, he was going to dismember them.”

“He asked Daniel all kinds of ques­tions,” says the Peddler, who sat next to Rakowitz on a Tompkins Square Park bench during the interview. “Basically, Taibbi just kept playing on Daniel’s weird rap about 966. He was mainly interested in making the Missing Foundation link; Missing Foundation was the whole point of the interview.” Amazingly, Rakowitz bought Taibbi’s premise that Missing Foundation was a Satanic cult rather than a band with a devoted following of anarchists. For some time afterwards, Rakowitz paced the park, telling people, “You think Missing Foundation are big Satanists? I’m going to be the biggest Satanist of all, wait and see.”

“We used just a bit of it,” says Taibbi, “as it related to a story we were doing.” Asked if he is now upset at having thrown away the rest of the footage, Taibbi answers sharply: “Not necessarily.”

While interviewing Rakowitz, Taibbi questioned him about the Temple of the True Inner Light, a storefront on East Ninth Street that houses five young men and women who worship psychedelics. At that point, Rakowitz was barely aware of the place. Within weeks, however, he was knocking at tbe temple’s door.

“I believe we were the only people that briefly — and I’m talking about real brief — got Dan in touch with his conscience,” says temple member Mary, a woman with spectacular red hair. “Dan was not hopeless. He had a lot of prob­lems — a lot of spiritual, mental prob­lems — and anyone that talked to Dan for five minutes could see this. Dan had started telling me that he felt guilty about all the animals he’d killed. He started telling me, ‘Oh, I had this many chickens, this many dogs, this many cats, this many rabbits,’ — he named a whole bunch of animals.”

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The temple members were so spooked by Rakowitz, they actually took him out­side to search him for weapons — the first such incident in over five years. “He was telling us he couldn’t leave this bag that he had,” says Mary. “And I started thinking that he had weapons in it, but then be pulled out Hitler’s book. He definitely had severe, severe problems.”

Rakowitz’s obsession with Adolf Hitler alienated everyone, especially those who hung around the Square, not a place where right-wing, fascist ideology is fash­ionable: “About a year ago,” says Aron Kay, the infamous pieman of the late ’70s and a fixture on the Lower East Side. “I found out that Daniel was into admiring Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And I asked him why doesn’t he give it up or burn it, but he kept defending it. He said that he loved and literally worshipped the book. My parents are Holocaust survivors. I couldn’t take it anymore. That pushed my buttons. I literally floored him on Avenue A.”

Rakowitz was infatuated with his German edition of Mein Kampf because he believed the book to contain “evidence of the supernatural,” facing page 696. The evidence had nothing to do with the text itself; rather, it was in a simple diagram rendered by a blue felt-tip pen on a small piece of paper slipped between the book’s pages: a blotch of ink in the center, a ‘9’ to the left of it, a ‘6’ to the right. Rakowitz believed this diagram signified that he was the Second Coming of Christ.

As Daniel explained in June, when he looked at the diagram he saw a cow’s head with two horns rising toward him through the ink. Rotating the diagram 90 degrees, “it turns into my entire image­ — my face, my hair, my beard, my shirt, my coat, my pants.” The Daniel in the pic­ture has dog’s paws instead of feet. (He later told Sylvia he could evade arrest for Monika’s murder because he was able to turn into a dog at will.) Off to one side, he saw “a blond-haired woman looking at me coming toward her.”

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Shawn reaches out to hold Sylvia’s hand as she continues recounting her nightmarish walk through the darkened apartment. After the shock of seeing Monika’s blackened head in a pot on the stove, Sylvia walked toward the bath­ room. “I walked to the very tip of the bathroom — I didn’t go in. And I saw in the bathtub what was, like, a ribcage, with everything off — just the bones, just the ribs. And it was full of blood. And there was, like, guts. So I left, and I couldn’t even lock the door I was shaking so bad. But I locked the door ’cause I thought, ‘Jesus, if anybody sees this … ‘

“I went to a phone booth on Avenue A and I called up Daniel’s beeper number. And I said, ‘Daniel, you did it?’ And he said, ‘You saw it, Sylvia?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry you had to see it, but I had to do it.’ And he said, ‘Come up to the apartment and smoke a joint with me.’ And I said, ‘Daniel, meet me in Tompkins Square. I’m not going to the apartment.’ So he met me in the park. And he was apologizing. ‘Sylvia, I’m sorry, I had to do it, I had to do it.’ And he started telling me what happened.”

Rakowitz told her he was not alone when it happened — he said he was with a friend from a Satanic church in Brook­lyn. That evening, according to Rakowitz, Monika told him, “You have to leave by tomorrow, and if you don’t get out, my friend with a pit bull is gonna come and get you out.” Then she went into her bedroom. His friend said, “What, you haven’t killed her yet?” Monika came out and started yelling at his friend. His friend said, “Why are you yelling at me? You don’t know me.” “But I know Dan­iel,” she replied, “and you’re his friend.”

“So I guess maybe that had set Daniel off, I don’t know,” says Sylvia. “But he told me that he had an extension cord and he went up, she was walking away, heading toward the two bedrooms, and he put the extension cord around her neck. She said, ‘What are you doing, Daniel?’ And then he strangled her with his hands,” Sylvia says. “He told me, ‘When I strangled her, she scratched me.’ And he pulled his sleeve up, and he had long scratch marks down his arm.

“He had choked her to death. And when she was dead, he said he stomped on her head 10 times and stabbed her over 30. He told me that he used her chest as a carving board.”

“He cut off her head,” Shawn inter­jects. “He took her arms and legs off her, and he used her chest to cut the bones, and everything, off. And he cut all this up and did this all in the bathtub.”

“He told me he had eaten the brains and that his friend had eaten a part of her too,” says Sylvia. “I told all this to the detectives and the D.A., too.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”716114″ /]

Rakowitz said he had spent over $80 in a hardware store on tools with which to kill Monika, cut her up, and clean the apartment. “Less than two weeks before he killed this girl he was in a store and he was trying on these work gloves,” remem­bers Lynn, “and I asked him why he had the work gloves. He was like, ‘I’m gonna make some fertilizer and I need these.‘ He really freaked me out, I was really scared of him at that point.”

“He had a 13-inch carving knife,” reports Shawn. “And he used a metal pole — a solid-steel pole — to break her bones.” Sylvia continues: “And be boiled her. And he was still cutting her up — he hadn’t finished yet. He was cutting her up into little pieces, he told me — over a thousand — and he flushed it down the toilet. And he was afraid. But he looked to me like, in a way, that he was free, and that this was gone, this fear.

“And I told him to stop, because I couldn’t hear it; I didn’t want to hear it. It just totally blew me away. I didn’t believe it till he got locked up, until I saw him on the news. Then it hit me.”

A few days later, Sylvia saw Rakowitz in Tompkins Square Park, and Daniel said to her, “Sylvia, it’s starting to smell up there.” She said “Daniel, they’re gonna find out, and they’re gonna lock you up, and they’re gonna put you in a psychiatric hospital, and I don’t want to see that happen to you. I think you’ve had enough.”

“Oh, I’m gonna clean it,” he replied. “I’m gonna clean it all up so that you can come up there.” Sylvia said, “Well, when it’s clean … let me know.”

A day or two later, Rakowitz told her it was okay to drop by. Monika’s skull was still in the apartment. “He boiled it and peeled the skin off it,” says Shawn.

“He bad it to where it was all just bones and a skull,” continues Sylvia. “And he’d get angry at Monika, he told me. And he’d say, ‘I spit on Monika’s skull.’ He told her, ‘Well, hey, bitch, at least you’ll always have a home.’ And he told me that ‘she looks more beautiful now than she ever did.’ ”

“This was her skull,” notes Shawn.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722241″ /]

Rakowitz had thoroughly cleaned the apartment and had taken a bucket con­taining the skull and bones to a storage facility at 43rd Street and 11th Avenue, later moving the bucket to the baggage check facility at Port Authority.

“I still understood Daniel,” insists Syl­via. “And I really wasn’t … I was a little frightened of him, but I wasn’t that frightened. I was more concerned of what was gonna happen to him. I told Daniel that I would never tell on him, and I never went forward and said anything, and a lot of people are gonna think that’s a very shitty thing for me to do. Maybe if they understand anything that I have said — and really take it to heart — and maybe if they realize what kind of person Daniel was and what he wasn’t, because of what was done to him, they might understand why I didn’t want to say any­thing. Because I didn’t want him hurt anymore.

“People say, well, he could go out and do it again, but I stayed up there a few times. I slept in that apartment with Daniel. He was in the other room. After he’d killed her. And the detectives know this. Everything I’m telling you is what they know, and I told them exactly what I’m telling you. And the reason why is that Daniel has been in a prison most of his life — in his own mind. And you’re not trying to help him by locking, him behind bars. If you want to help this man, you get him some real psychiatric and psy­chological help.”

On Tuesday, August 22, Shawn stopped by the apartment to buy some reefer from Rakowitz. He told Shawn that he and Monika had fought Friday night and that he had broken her nose. During his visit Shawn saw meat in the frying pan and in the freezer. “He ate this woman,” Shawn believes. “He didn’t eat the whole thing, but he ate human meat.”

“He told me be had,” remembers Syl­via. “I believe it.”

“He also said that he was gonna feed Monika to the homeless people in the park,” says Shawn.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721440″ /]

Shawn returned to the apartment on Saturday, August 26 — after Sylvia had finally told him of Monika’s murder. “Daniel had cleaned up everything al­ready,” says Shawn, “but there was a smell in the apartment. I told him that I could smell death, and he’s going, ‘Real­ly? Can you smell it? Can you tell?’ And I go, ‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t lying.”

Meanwhile, Rakowitz was bragging about the murder to anyone who would listen. “Daniel told everyone before he did it; he told everyone when he did it; he told everyone after he did it,” says Lynn. “He told all my friends. Everyone who he saw, he told them. He chopped her up in little pieces, and then he asked my fiance if he would help him get rid of the arms. He felt bad about killing her, apparently. He was scared, and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to turn himself in, but he was scared — that’s what he told my fiancé.”

The rumors around Tompkins Square grew increasingly bizarre. “It’s the kind of joke that people would make: ‘Oh yeah, he fed her to the homeless,’ ” says Hank, who lives on East 5th Street. “A few days after it happened, before it hit the pa­pers, while the rumors started spreading around the Village, the homeless in the park were going, ‘Yeah, Dan did give us soup yesterday.’ They were goofing on it but they were pretty much grossed out. They were goofing in a way that acknowl­edged they had definitely gotten soup from this guy in the period directly after the incident happened.”

Rakowitz lived in the apartment alone for a week or two following the murder. But Sylvia urged him to move, warning him that sooner or later the cops would be coming by. Daniel finally took her advice. “He left the apartment to move in with another girl, uptown,” says Shawn. “And after I heard that, I thought that he killed her for nothing — that Monika just died for no reason at all. I mean, she died for a reason in the beginning — and there’s no right reason for anyone to die. But then he moved out, and everything was gone out of the apartment, and all we saw was Monika’s stuff laying all over.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”593404″ /]

So Shawn spilled the story to the build­ing superintendant who told the detec­tives. They came up to the apartment to question Shawn and to search for evi­dence. On the door of the apartment, they saw grafitti written in black magic marker: “IS IT SOUP YET?” and “WELCOME TO CHARLIE GEIN’S SPAUN RANCH EAST.” (Charlie Gein is a conflation of Charles Manson and Ed Gein, the serial killer on whom Psycho‘s Norman Bates was based; the Spahn Ranch — misspelled on the door — was the home of the Manson family.) On a steam pipe in the bathroom was scribbled “Broken [hearted] about you.” (The “hearted” was actually a heart with a jagged line running through it). Yet they found no evidence of a murder.

Initially, neither the super nor the de­tectives believed a word of Shawn’s story. But they paged Rakowitz on his beeper and he came to the 9th Precinct to an­swer their questions. He didn’t admit that he had killed Monika Beerle, but be didn’t deny it either. In fact, he said something along the lines of, “If I’d have killed her, I would have cut her up into lots of pieces and flushed her down the toilet.”

“After he made that statement,” Sylvia says, “that Sunday [September 17] they ripped the toilet apart. But they didn’t find anything. They told me the only good thing I had in the apartment was the plumbing.” Shawn told the police that Rakowitz kept a storage bin near the Port Authority bus station.

On Monday, the detectives came back to the apartment and found Sylvia there. They told her they had written state­ments implicating Rakowitz from both Shawn and Laurie Arnold, a woman who lived across the hall. But this was untrue. “I was tricked into it,” says Sylvia sadly. “I was told that they were gonna lock him up anyway and that they already knew what had happened. And I believed it. So I told them. And five hours later, they picked up Daniel. He confessed. He had no choice.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717703” /]

“He asked for help when they arrested him. He said it to a detective, and the detective told me that he said, ‘I need some help.’ So it must have really dawned on Daniel that he did wrong, because when I talked to him after that, he was, like, he was free. His soul was free.” After his arrest, Rakowitz led the de­tectives to the Port Authority baggage storage room where he produced a claim check for an Army duffel bag. Inside the bag was a white plastic bucket, and inside the bucket were a skull and bones.

One expects the police to be extremely interested to find Daniel’s friend from the Satanic church in Brooklyn. While interrogating Shawn and Sylvia, the cops mentioned several Satanic churches by name, but none of them were familiar to the couple. As far as Shawn and Sylvia know, they never met any of Daniel’s Satanic friends, but they believe the church exists: “This is a for-real church,” says Shawn, and Sylvia agrees.

Just as likely, the police believe, is that Daniel’s Satanic friend was imaginary, egging bim on from the inside. When told there was a report that another man was present at the murder, an officer familiar with the case replied, “I don’t believe that for a second.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”674582″ /]

Although the police say the skull in the bucket has been positively identified as belonging to Monika Beerle, Sylvia’s testimony will certainly be crucial to the prosecution’s case. She has been wres­tling with this for well over a month now. She’s pale and somewhat faded, well aware that her behavior during the course of these events seems bizarre by any­body’s standards. “People are gonna think I’m crazy,” she says softly. “You know what? To me it doesn’t matter, be­cause I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. But I’m a person who has a lot of feeling, and I feel for Daniel. I feel for Monika’s parents, but I feel for Daniel cause I knew him. And I knew what he was going through, and I feel very, very bad.

“See, people are gonna read this and they’re gonna say the same thing that you just said: ‘Wow.’ You know what I hope they’re saying ‘wow’ about? ‘Wow, this guy had a rough childhood and never really had a chance.’ Daniel did what Daniel did because of what society had done to Daniel. And that is my opinion, and people may think I’m crazy. But I lived with this person, and this person did not kill me. If he was the crazy luna­tic murderer of Tompkins Square, he would have killed me. Daniel moved into the apartment because he was homeless and he killed Monika because he felt threatened.

“If anything comes out of this story, I hope it opens people’s eyes, for one thing, to homelessness — for another thing, to realize and understand the kind of person he was and what really happened and the fear that people have of being homeless, especially when they do have some type of mental illness. I still don’t blame Dan­iel for that, and as far as I’m concerned Daniel will always be my friend.” ■

Some names in this story — although not those of the principal characters, Syluia and Shawn — have been changed. 

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Where Have All the Dealers Gone?

Hi there. This is “R.” again. Remember me? Four months ago I wrote a story for these pages about my attempt to give up grass. It was called “A Month without a Joint (Except One.)” I’m back again with another dope tale, this time about frenzy and famine in the marijuana trade — the Panic of September One. 

You may recall that my month-long experiment in giving up grass came to an end on a note of cautious pessimism. I was forced to concede that I was not ready to face life without a bit of dope now and then, and mainly now. But I had pledged to hold myself down to no more than one joint per day. I was determined to skip entire days as often as possible. 

So far I have skipped the entire day of August 24, because on the night of August 23 a certain party was a piggy and smoked me down to my last shreds and crumbs. I was left with three slender joints and one big decision. September One and the big bad new drug law loomed a week away. For several weeks I had been hearing stories of frantic activity in the dope-dealing world: panic sales, informer tales, hasty getaways. The new law did not increase penalties for mere possession of grass, but the penalties for dealing were stiffer. There were wild rumors of a blitzkrieg narc crackddown right before September One, to catch slowpoke dealers before they could clean up, clear out, and lay low as many were beginning to do. 

So my big decision was this: Should I try to score one more high quality ounce before the September One deadline when the dealers disappear and the famine follows? Or should I smoke up my three slender joints and call it quits again, this time for good, allowing the coming famine to reduce the chances of backsliding?

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A Class Operation 

The first dealer I try operates out of a factory building on the fringe of the garment center. The guy who operates this place is one of the last aristocrats left in the dope trade. This guy —  “Dennis,” we’ll call him — runs a class establishment. A Bengali manservant to greet you at the door, a gleaming carpeted interior, distinctive painting and sculpture by sonic well-known customers, a courteous and intelligent staff. These are no dumb hippy dealers with tedious cosmic raps to lay on you all the time, these are no Queens head-shop owners selling floor sweepings as “Acapulco Green.” Dennis is one of the last dealers in the city to carry nothing but the finest marijuana. No speed, no coke, and consequently none of the creeps and poseurs who come with those drugs. A place with standards. And killer weed. 

So I’m standing on the sidewalk outside this factory building. At this time of night all the surrounding buildings are deserted. The street is deserted. The entire garment district is deserted. There’s just me out on the sidewalk pressing the buzzer, waiting for the Bengali to descend in the freight elevator and admit me. 

Then it’s not just me. One of those shiny new blue and white police cruisers has nosed its way around the corner and is heading slowly my way. 

I do not handle these type situations well.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724030″ /]

“They don’t sell sweaters up there this time of night, fella,” I could imagine the cop saying. “What’re you looking for up there?” 

“Well you see, officer, I’m planning this trip to Bangladesh soon. Relief work, you know, and I just happen to have a Bengali friend who lives in a sweater factory who … ” 

Inside the building the freight elevator is clanking down to the ground floor, and the Bengali is sliding open the grate. Outside the cruiser slows to a halt behind me. After giving some consideration to this situation and to the stabbing pains in my chest, I decided the clever move would be to reach up and ring the buzzer. This would show the cops, I reasoned, that I wasn’t just trying to break in. And if I kept on ringing it, I might warn the people upstairs of the raid I was certain was about to take place. I kept on ringing it. A long minute passes. Finally I hear the cruiser start forward and roll on past me. I stopped the ringing. The Bengali unbolted the door and passed me in, passing me, in addition, a reproachful look. 

“The buzzer works to your satisfaction, I hope?” he asked. 

Why did that police car pass by? It’s obvious: the better to bust me later when I come out of the building carrying a brand new ounce or two in my pockets. They’re waiting out there for me. They’ll bust me for possession, then try to make me turn informer. They’ll grab me as soon as I stop back out onto the street. That is what I am thinking as the lift reaches the top floor. 

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A Mysterious Stranger 

As soon as I step out of the lift into the bright interior of the place, I know something is definitely wrong. The place looks deserted. Usually on a Friday night like this a dozen or more people are gathered around the long wooden sampling table, rolling, smoking, and laughing. The Bengali served spiced teas and brandy to sweeten the palate between generous samplings from the fat bags of grass spilling out upon the tabletop. The clientele was a nice mixture of worlds, the talk was witty and silly — the place was a salon as much as a dope den. 

Tonight there is one lone customer at the long table. I had never seen him before. 

A pale, sandy-haired, bony fellow who looks like an off-duty accountant, he seems to be engrossed in a dog-eared back issue of National Geographic. He is staring sullenly down at a two-page picture spread. An equally sullen herd of water buffalo stares back up at him from their jungle mud-wallow. Neither side breaks off the staring match to take notice of me as I seat myself across from them and reach for the Marfil Freres rolling papers. 

There are just two other people in the big loft and neither one of them seems inclined to pay much attention to me for the moment. I take some dope from a bag in front of me. The label on the bag says “Columbian Buds-June 1972-$60/oz.” I roll myself a one-dollar joint and survey the uneasily peaceful scene. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”716846″ /]

Over in the corner behind the sampling table Andy, the Number Two Man in the operation, is yawning himself awake in front of a big Space Commander color set. On the TV screen Ralph Houk is walking to the mound to confer with Sparky Lyle. The bases are loaded with Tigers. 

The other person in the loft is Dennis. Dennis is sitting in his customary place at the head of the sampling table in his high-backed chair. He is not watching the ball game. He is gazing moodily at his triple I-beam pharmaceutical scale and his Cannon “Palmatronic” portable calculator. Finally he speaks. 

“What was all that buzzing for?” he asks me. “Look, you woke Andy up.” 

“Fucking Sparky Lyle,” Andy observed from the TV corner. “Fucking Ralph Houk,” he added. 

I told Dennis about the police car. “You don’t think the cops are watching this place, do you?” I asked him. 

“Of course they’re watching the place,” he told me carefully, managing a hint of a shrewd wink. “You want me to tell you how much it costs me every month to make sure they just watch it for me?” 

“Oh, sure, I see. Fine,” I said. “Let me look at the menu for today, huh?” 

[related_posts post_id_1=”725345″ /]

I was not as reassured as I was trying to sound. “He’s lying,” I thought to myself. “I’ve heard that ‘be cool, I got the cops paid off’ line from dealers before. They use it to calm down the kind of hysterical paranoids who can single-handedly panic an entire roomful of paying customers. Me, for instance, I’m figuring Dennis knows the place is being watched, maybe he knows they’re about to bust him, or they’re gathering evidence for a post September One bust and he’s trying to clear out, but he doesn’t want to scare off a potential quick cash sale, so he’s lying to me. Or on the other hand, maybe he’s not lying; he doesn’t know the cops are closing in, he really thinks it’s still safe, when any minute now they’ll be ringing the buzzer with warrants, but he won’t pay attention to my warning because he thinks I’m just paranoid. 

That’s what I’m figuring. I’m also smoking my one-dollar joint, so my figuring is getting more complex all the time. 

“Lions eat water buffalo for breakfast,” the bony Geographic reader announced, to no one in particular. Contemptuously be flipped to a snowy Antarctic photo spread. 

“What do you think of the menu today?” Dennis asked me with a bland look. 

I stared down at the price list he had handed me. Usually Dennis offers a selection of four or five grades of dope, each available in ounce units, with quantity discounts for quarter-pound and pound purchases. The whole price list usually fits on a five-by-seven card. Today it is a foot long. There are twenty or thirty varieties of dope listed in a long column. Many listings have a line drawn through them, meaning sold out. “OUNCES ONLY,” someone has written across the top of the list. 

“What is the meaning of this?” I asked Dennis. 

“The meaning of this is that I am selling my library.”

“Library?” 

[related_posts post_id_1=”717029″ /]

The Great Libraries of Alexandria 

“Ten years. Every important dope that’s come through New York City for ten years I’ve saved a quarter pound or so, labeled with year, month, and origin. Sometimes I go back, pick one out, smoke some, and I remember how I was feeling back then. It all comes back.” 

“So why sell it?” 

“Didn’t you know I’m going out of business? I thought everybody knew I was going out of business. Everybody but you and him,” he said, indicating the bony accountant now frowning at the South Pole. 

“You know about the great libraries of Alexandria, right?” Dennis asked me. 

“What about them?”

“In the fourth century A.D. they burned to the ground and a thousand years of Hellenic civilization went up in smoke.” 

“Yeah? And?” 

“The great library of New York dope has been going up in smoke this month. I want it all smoked up by September One, when I clear out for good. Here.” he said, tossing me a Baggie full of grass. “Try some 1967. What’re you on now?” 

“Some seventy-two.” 

“Do yourself a favor. Do this sixty-seven.” 

“That’s when I first started smoking — 1967,” I said. I did some sixty-seven. 

“I’ll tell you about sixty-seven,” Andy said, wandering over from the Sparky Lyle disaster on the screen. “Houk said sixty-seven was gonna be a rebuilding year. Go with the young ballplayers. The jerk. He rebuilds them into the cellar. Look at him now. He’s leaving Lyle in there.” 

The buzzer bleated twice, then twice again. I froze, back in 1973 again. September One 1973 and the cops outside.

[related_posts post_id_1=”723255″ /]

“He says his name is Barry,” the Bengali reported to Dennis. 

“Let him in.” 

“You trust that Barry?” I asked Dennis. “I’ve beard stories about him.” 

“They’re probably true. But he’s never shorted me and he can move quantity fast. He’s a weird dude, but he’s not a cop, if that’s what you mean.” 

He is weird. The first thing he did when he had seated himself next to Dennis at the table was to take out his wallet and flash a New York City Police Department detective’s badge. At least it looked like a New York City Police Department detective’s badge. 

“You’re all under arrest,” he said. 

“You are a great one for the laugh, Barry. You must be a hit at parties,” said Dennis. “What brings you here?” 

“Take a look at this,” says Barry, removing a lid of dark brown dope from his pocket and placing it on the scale. 

Dennis takes a handful, kneads some between his fingers, sniffs it, and tastes it. “Not bad for Mexican these days. Buds all the way through?” 

“Buds all the way through. You want to see a pound? I can get almost unlimited pounds for you at one thirty-five. Up until the First. I’ll be right back with a pound, I got — ” 

“I told you I’m phasing out.” 

“You’re serious about that? This is not just for the First?”

“This is for good. Here, smoke some 1967, Barry.” 

“Where you gonna be on the First, Barry?” Andy asked. 

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Bisby, Arizona

“Bisby, Arizona.” 

“Turquoise?” said Dennis. 

“That’s part of it,” said Barry. 

“What are you talking about turquoise?” said Andy. 

“Some people I know, some ex-dealers, got a thing going bringing turquoise in over the border. They get a good price, and they all find it convenient to operate out of Bisby. They’ve got this abandoned copper mine outside of Bisby and they’re finding a very unique kind of turquoise in the pits. ‘Silver spray’ or ‘spider web’ or something like that, the Acapulco Gold of turquoise. But I’m not going to be dealing turquoise.” 

“So what are you in Bisby for on the First?” says Andy. 

“Real estate,” Barry says. “I bought some lots on a place called Brewery Gulch. Zoned commercial. I lucked out getting it. There are three or four dudes have just about bought up the entire town. It’s a tiny place inside a canyon, but land is going to get more important, what with this turquoise thing and the price of copper. My lots are tiny things, pint-sized down there, but anyone who wants to build anything in downtown Bisby, they got to deal with me sooner or later.” 

“You ever coming back?” Andy asked. 

“I may check things out after the New Year to see if there are any good businessmen left in the trade. It’s hard to find a dealer you can trust around town.” 

“You finished spreading your good vibes?” Dennis asked Barry. 

“Okay. I’m going. Listen, Dennis, don’t disappear without letting me take that lovely scale off your hands for a very fair price.” 

“Good-bye, Barry,” said Dennis. 

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The Bengali has returned from letting Barry out. He rolls a large, powerful-looking vacuum cleaner over to the far wall. He switches it on and begins carefully sweeping and re-sweeping the carpet foot by foot. 

“When we go, we go clean,” says Dennis. 

Meanwhile I am figuring again. About going clean. 

There is some great stuff here. Undeniably, I want the 1967 Gold. I want the 1969 DaNang Green. I want some 1970 Jamaican tops. I want the 1971 Original Chiba. I certainly want to taste the 1965 Original Micholocan. 

But l don’t like the haste with which this decade-old empire is being dismantled. I never liked the idea of stepping out into the street to face that prowl car when I’m loaded with dope, and now I like it less. 

Nevertheless, there are certain things that are just not done in a respectable dealing establishment. Walking in, rolling yourself one ­dollar joints, shooting the breeze, sharing confidences, and then walking out without buying a thing is one thing that is just not done. I decided I had to do it. 

“Look, Dennis, there’s something I’ve got to tell you,” I began. “That prowl car freaked me. I don’t think I could handle it if I walked out and had to look two cops in the eye.” 

Well, he was nice about it. He took me to the window and had me look both ways up and down the street and there was no prowl car. He explained patiently that the cops don’t waste their time hunting for cheap possession busts. He offered to send the Bengali down to the street to check things out first. He suggested I relax a little and offered me some of the last of his sixty-five. By this time it was clear he didn’t want my money so much as my confidence. Maybe I was his last customer. A decade of honest dealing comes to an end and he’s reduced to pleading with an obstinate paranoid who won’t take his word. 

“I’ll come back in the next couple days,” I said, desperate to get out of the mess I had created. “Save me some of that sixty-seven if you can.” 

“I won’t be here when you come back. The sixty-seven won’t be here.” 

“Dennis, what are we all going to do without you?” I said, stepping into the elevator. 

“I don’t know,” he said. 

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Someone’s in the Kitchen with Vishnu 

I found out. We’re going to end up in places like this. This being a sixth floor walkup in what used to be known as the West Village. This being sitting on the floor of the living room/dining room tub-in-kitchen area surrounded by stinking mounds of German shepherd shit. 

The huge animal is locked in the bedroom now, barking viciously and lunging against the inside of the flimsy door. I am trying to inhale this grass I’m sampling without retching from the dogshit smell. 

I am visiting the apartment of a small-time dealer who calls herself Blue Jay. It is one day before September One. A heat wave grips the city and a fever afflicts the dope world. I have failed to score at three other dealers’ since I scuttled away from Dennis’s place. I have had bad experiences at each place. I have smoked my last three joints long ago and I am getting desperate, which is why I am visiting Blue Jay. 

Now Blue Jay is a nice lady, but in addition to dealing grass, she has been known on occasion to stock certain pills. She has also been known on occasion to take these pills. Sometimes she will take these pills for days at a time and she will either be much too busy or much too relaxed to take Vishnu — that’s what Blue Jay calls the monstrous shepherd — ­down six flights of stairs to the street for a walk. Vishnu doesn’t seem to miss going outside as long as he can shit and piss on the floor. He does. Sometimes Blue Jay remembers to put down papers for Vishnu to shit on, but then again, sometimes she forgets. When the smell gets very bad, Blue Jay takes two further steps. She starts burning sweet strawberry incense, and she stops feeding Vishnu for a while. This puts the dog in a bad temper and makes him want to eat visitors. 

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Mao Is a Gemini

How did I end up here? Well, the night after I scuttled away from Dennis, I made three phone calls to respectable middle-level dealers. One was out of town, one was out of the country, and one was out of business. 

“Everything’s moving to Jersey,” the out-of-business guy told me. “The people I know are maybe keeping an apartment in New York for living, but they’ve shipped all their dope across the river, and they deal from there. That is, the ones who haven’t quit altogether. There’s a whole colony of dealers who’ve been putting away cash for a time like this, and they got themselves these incredible farmhouses — villas really — in County, Pennsylvania. They got it set up so they do nothing but consulting work — making contacts, arranging credit on very big deals — for these apprentice dealers in Jersey.” 

“Well, where might a person go if this person were interested in buying an ounce or so before September One?” I asked him. “Are there any dealers left in New York City?” 

“Well, have you tried Holy Bruce lately?” 

“I’ve been trying to avoid having to deal with him.” 

“Well, I haven’t seen him for a few months, but he travels light so he might still be in business.” 

There is some difference of opinion among his fellow dealers about Holy Bruce. There are those who say “Bruce is a true heavy. He’s light-years ahead of us all — that’s why we can’t understand him all the time. And you have to admit his dope is just about the best there is.” 

Then there are those who say “Bruce? At best he’s a simpleminded cheese brain. At worst? At worst he’s a cop. The only reason we let him come around is that he’s got the best fucking dope in town, but then he probably gets the run of the property clerk’s office to supply himself.” 

The disagreement about Bruce is not about his dope: “Look,” he says, “look how holy and/or groovy I’ve become from smoking the dope I sell. You could be like me.” 

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But Bruce’s rap tends to lose him more customers than it gains. Listening to it is like being buried alive in an avalanche of jargon. All the cliches, catchphrases, and Kozmic Koncepts of the past decade, from Marshall McLuhan to martial arts, jumbled and garbled together into convoluted abstractions which roll out of his mouth with a momentum of their own and little regard for what anyone else is saying.

“How ya doin’, Bruce?” someone will ask. 

“Oh, I’m into a media feedback loop with my kundalini, trying to reprogram my biocomputer to get the old Tai Chi mobilized behind the immobility of the masses’ conversion to energy. Like Mao says, and don’t forget Mao is a Gentini … ” 

Now some people can listen for hours with rapt attention to this sort of stuff, especially when fortified by a few puffs of Bruce’s notorious “custom blends.” Some people, on the other hand, after listening only five minutes, want to dash his brains out. I come somewhere between these two extremes. It takes about ten minutes before I want to dash his brains out. 

So it was with some gritting of teeth that I went about trying to contact Holy Bruce. It was not easy. I left a message for him with a clerk at a sleazy health-food store he sometimes visits and waited to see if he’d get back to me. 

Nobody knows where Bruce actually lives. Nobody knows where he gets his dope, at least he doesn’t deal with the usual wholesalers. Nobody knows where he stashes his supply either: He carries around only a few ounces at a time, all of them packed inside a hollowed-out Bible which his customers have taken to calling “the Good Book.” Nobody is quite sure what Bruce is in the dealing business for — it doesn’t seem to be money — unless its for the captive audiences he gets for his raps. 

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And Bruce does not deal ordinary ounces either. He deals only clean and manicured ounces of what he calls his “hand-mixed custom blends.” He is very touchy about his blends. He claims he has sampled “thousands” of varieties of cannabis, analyzed the “personalities” and powers of each of the strains, and has combined certain potent strains into blends for special purposes. He has a “religious blend,” a “creative blend,” a “visual blend,” an “intellectual blend,” “upper” blends and “downer” blends, even a “Tai Chi blend.” 

As with everything else. Bruce is capable of talking interminably about his blends. I can recall a party at which Bruce was busy laying a long rap about his “contemplation blend” upon two bored black dope dealers. 

“Hey, man,” said one of them. “Hey, man, how about blending me up some pussy grass. You got some pussy grass?” 

Bruce, of course, took him seriously. “I do have a kundalini blend which focuses upon the genital chakra and — ” 

“Hey, man,” said the other, “you let him have the pussy grass. I want some money grass. I want a whole key of money grass.” 

At this point Bruce put his “contemplation blend” back inside the Good Book and walked away. I think bis feelings were hurt. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”719763″ /]

Mr. Parable & Mr. Truth 

Bruce called me the next evening and told me to meet him at a third party’s apartment. “I’ve got something very heavy I want to lay on you,” he said. I was wondering what new blend he was going to introduce. 

When I walked in, Bruce was seated in a big chair with his trusty Bible perched on the arm of the chair. 

Bruce was in the middle of telling a typically vague and abstract Kozmic parable to three rapt or stupefied listeners. “It’s a parable,” Bruce explained for my benefit as I seated myself at his feet, “a parable about two dudes. One of them is named Truth and the other one’s name is Parable, dig it. This is the heavy trip I wanted to lay on you. You see, Truth and Parable are making this long journey, dig it, and …”

I dug it. My eyes glazed over. Would I endure this kind of suffering for the sake of an ounce of dope? I asked myself. I gazed at the Bible longingly. Just this once, I told myself, just hang in there, he can’t go on forever. 

He went on forever. It was never clear where Mr. Truth and Mr. Parable were supposed to be going on this “long journey” of theirs, but they seemed to be spending hours on the way debating the relative merits of truth and parable and the relationship between the two. I could swear I even remember hearing Mr. Truth use the word “biocomputer” in the middle of his digression upon the nature of man, but then again, it may have been Mr. Parable speaking at the time. 

Well, to make a long story short — and I wish I could have done so at the time — Mr. Truth finally wins the big debate when be makes the devastating observation to Mr. Parable that as Truth he could go naked, while Mr. Parable had to wear clothes. Or it may have been that Mr. Parable wins the argument when he says that he looks better in his clothes than Mr. Truth docs naked. 

Anyway, as soon as it seemed that this epic talc had ended, and before another one had a chance to get started, I shifted the subject to dope. 

“Why don’t you open up the Good Book and show us what you’ve got in store for us.” 

“I’m glad you asked,” said Bruce. 

He opened up the Good Book. I felt ill. It was a real Bible. With real pages inside. 

“Why don’t we turn to the parables in the book of Matthew,” Bruce suggested. “I want to show you how I got on the trip I’m on now, from the trip I used to be on then. I’m off what I was on, if you can dig it, and I’m on what I was off. You’re not dealing with a dealer anymore, you’re dealing with a born-again Christian now, and I’m only dealing in the gospel. Doesn’t cost you a cent, and gets you higher than you’ve ever been before.” 

“Higher than on your ‘religious blend’?” I asked, feeling a little mean. 

“Higher than on any blend of all the personalities of every grass I ever smoked, that’s how high straight Jesus gets you. Let me tell you how it happened because I think it can happen to you too, you’re searching for the same Perfect Deal I found, I can tell. It’s a long story, but you’ll see how it relates to this parable I’m going to explain in Matthew where … ” 

I didn’t stay to find out. 

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The Great Mescaline Bet 

Time was running out and things were going downhill. Three days left to September One and all the dealers I knew — all but one — seemed to be leaving town or going out of business. 

“I’ll tell you what’s happening,” said “Doug,” a movement veteran, sometime doper and acquaintance of mine. “A whole generation of original dope dealers, the freaks, the geniuses, the crazies, the ones who got into the business first because they loved dope a lot, those guys are clearing out of the city. It’s not that the new law is super-heavy on grass, it’s just that after all these years, who needs the extra hassle? September One is just a convenient excuse to retire …” 

“So what’s left?” 

“New Jersey. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jersey City or Newark turned into a kind of Marrakech for the New York dope trade. But you’ll never get the same class of dealers again.” 

We are having this discussion in a third party’s apartment while we await the arrival of a fourth party. The fourth party is a head-shop owner from Long Island who deals on the side. He is in the process of moving both his enterprises up to Vermont before September One, and he has been doing a little inventory clearance before the big move. 

Things go surprisingly well at first. It is nice stuff, the head-shop owner’s grass, standard Columbian but solid. Overpriced, but worth it, considering the circumstances. I was feeling good, glad to get all this silly chasing around for a single lousy ounce over and done with, when a hitch developed. 

The head-shop owner takes out a lid for Doug and me to inspect, when he makes the mistake of digging out a vial of pink tablets, turning on the Kosmic grin, and inquiring in a mellow voice, “I don’t suppose either of you two gentlemen might be interested in some very far-out mescaline?” 

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This was a mistake because Doug is very partial to mescaline. He took a lot once. He took a lot many, many times, in fact. He fell in love with the drug. Then, about three years ago, something happened. The psychedelic market became glutted with fraudulent mescaline — usually cheap acid, hog tranquilizer (PCP), and belladonna in various combi­nations. Real mescaline became harder and harder to get. Wrecked and disappointed time and again by pills he had been assured were mescaline, Doug began sending samples to a lab in California which specialized in doing chemical analysis of street drugs. For the past twelve months not one single pill of the dozens of samples he’s tested has turned out to contain real mescaline. (This is the guy who discovered that the “sacred mushrooms” you all loved so much this summer, the ones your friendly dealer told you were organically cultivated by Blackfoot Indian medicine men in the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula, were not so sacred after all. The lab reported that they’d had dozens of samples sent in for testing from all over the country and that they all turned out to be canned supermarket mushrooms dipped in a solution of acid and PCP.) In any case, when the subject of mescaline comes up, Doug only has one thing to say these days and he says it with the pain and authority of a lost love. 

“There is no mescaline,” is what he says. 

“There is no mescaline,” he told the Long Island head-shop dealer who was profferring to us a handful of the pink tablets. 

“Just try a tab of this, man. Pink Dawn, they call it out on the Coast. It’s mescaline, I can guarantee you. This dude from Laguna Beach brought it in special, he just dealt all but these to the road manager for —”

[related_posts post_id_1=”61038″ /]

“There is no mescaline,” Doug intoned firmly. 

“How much you selling that for?” I asked. 

“Two for five dollars. You know the drummer for —- ? Well, he says he took a hit of this before — ” 

“I’ll tell you what,” Doug told the dealer. “I’ll give you the five if you agree to make a little bet with me.” 

“What’s the bet, man? Look, if you don’t want the stuff …” 

“Just make the bet. I send these tabs off to a lab for chemical analysis and I bet you three hundred dollars that the report comes back saying there ain’t a trace of mescaline in them. You’re so sure it’s mescaline you should be ready to stand behind it.” 

Sigh. Conspiratorial smile from the head-shop man. “Okay, man, so it’s not mescaline. It’s acid and something else. If it gets you high, man, what’s the difference? Some people dig on the idea of a mescaline high and maybe can’t relate to acid, so I tell them it’s mescaline and they get a mescaline high. It’s what’s in your head, man, not what’s in the pill. Don’t be so caught up with words and labels.” 

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Doug said to me. “This is the kind of scum that’s gonna be left dealing after September One. There is no mescaline. Anywhere, anymore.” 

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The Land of Oil & Honey 

I wasn’t in such a big hurry to leave. I wouldn’t have minded letting the big mescaline argument go on a little longer if I could have dropped a few tens on the floor and picked up one of those lids of Columbian. But it seemed like such a point of pride with Doug — he was defending his mescalinity, I suppose — that I left without making the deal. That left me with two days to go before the deadline. 

The next evening I decided that — cop car or no cop car — I was going back to Dennis’s place and get myself some of that sixty-seven if there were any left, or maybe some Columbian buds, or maybe both. I took a cab up to the garment center, almost ran to the factory building, and pressed the buzzer twice. Then I pressed it twice again. No response. No sign of life inside. 

Time had run out on all my options but one. I knew I would have to visit Blue Jay. 

So here I am with 24 hours left. The German shepherd is snarling, the strawberry incense is burning, the pile of shit is stinking, and I’m trying to get high on this sample joint. It’s 96 degrees outside, and no ventilation inside. Blue Jay is in her stained nightgown — the only garment I’ve ever seen her wear — drawing pictures of Brian Jones, the only kind of pictures I’ve ever seen her draw. For two years, or however long it’s been since his death, Blue Jay has done nothing but draw pictures of Brian Jones — just the head, to be precise. She has pictures of Brian Jones’s head emerging from the gnarled bark of an old tree, Brian Jones as a Cadillac hood ornament, Brian Jones on the body of a snake, etc., etc. 

Once I asked her: “Why Brian Jones?” 

“If you were a Pisces you’d know,” she said. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”716155″ /]

Blue Jay looks up from her current effort, Brian Jones next to Lincoln on Mt. Rushmore. 

“Look, do you want the ounce? I’ll give it to you for thirty-five dollars,” she says. “But if you want it, you better take it now because I can’t guarantee I’ll be here tomorrow. I’m getting out of this city.” 

“You too?” 

“You kidding? Who needs the fuckin’ hassle? September One I’m leaving for Oregon. My lease runs out then anyway. I’ll let the fucking landlord clean up this shit. He’s welcome to it. You hear about that new law they got in Oregon?” 

“A little.” 

“Possession of one ounce of cannabis — any kind at all — is just a parking ticket. Can you dig that? I got this connection for oil out on the Coast. We’re gonna bring some very heavy hash oil into Oregon, dig it, this oil is the most concentrated form of cannabis known to man. It’s like honey. An ounce of hash oil is one thousand dollars against a parking ticket. We’re gonna be golden. Who needs this mandatory life shit? Look, is there something wrong with that grass? You want that ounce or what?” 

I couldn’t tell about the grass. Every time I inhaled, I took in a gulp of steamy sweaty shit-soaked air with the smoke. I wasn’t getting very high. I could have been smoking Hamburger Helper for all I knew. 

Thanks, but no thanks, I told Blue Jay. No grass for me. Three blocks away from her place I stopped gagging. You got to have some standards. 

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Postscript 

It is three weeks after the September One deadline as I write this. As you all know by now, there’s a dope famine in the Big Kilo. Of course, like the energy shortage, some of it has been encouraged by dealers deliberately cutting down on supply, the better to jump prices later on. But what can you do with the type of dealer left operating these days? Nevertheless, good dope is definitely less accessible these days, and there is confusion in the dealing world as whole new marketing arrangements have to be worked out. Most of them in New Jersey. 

As for me, I gave up trying to score. For a while that nightmare hour I spent at Blue Jay’s place breathing dogshit stew and trying to get high had the effect of anti-marijuana aversion therapy. I gagged when I thought of the weed. 

But I’m getting over that now. In fact, I no longer turn it down when it’s offered to me at parties. I like it when it’s offered to me at parties. It’s better than paying for it. I plan to go to more parties. I wish people would start having pot parties again like they did back in sixty­ seven. Even in New Jersey. I’d go. ❖

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

New Jack City Eats Its Young

Motor City Breakdown

I.
BLOOD LIKE WATER

“Yo-yo, where the money at?”

Lenny Higgins, 17 at the time, didn’t usually go to the store with his foster brother James, also 17, but on the night of March 1, 1987, James asked and Lenny obliged. It was 10:30. At Williamson’s Party Store, on Perry Park Boulevard on Detroit’s West Side, they bought sodas and played some games. They left about 10:45. As Lenny tells the story, he and James were approaching their corner of Heckler Street when a hooded figure ran across the street and stopped them in their tracks. Clad in a black jacket and black hooded sweatshirt, Mark Hunter, 24, pulled a .357 Magnum from his pants waist and stuck it in James’s temple.

“Yo-yo, where the money at?”

Three seconds later another figure joined Hunter and put another .357 to Lenny’s head. Lenny had seen this boy around the neighborhood, knew him slightly, but they weren’t friendly: Dashaw Green, 15. Wearing a black, Run-D.M.C.-style “popcorn” leather jacket, hooded black sweatshirt, black jeans, and white laceless Adidas, he echoed his partner:

“Where the money at? Which one a y’all got the money?”

Lenny was confused, scared, angry — but not willing to be a toy hero, a dead toy hero — “Here!” he said, “You can have my money, just don’t shoot me!”

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Lenny gave up his $26, and James handed over $30 or $40. After they took the money, Mark and Dashaw looked at each other, an evil, hungry look, Lenny says. They lowered their guns and pushed Lenny and James backward. Mark raised his gun and fired. Flames spit out the muzzle like and orange and white blur, hitting James in the abdomen. The bullet exited through the spine. James doubled over. Lenny was frozen. Mark and Dashaw ran five or six steps in the opposite direction, but then Dashaw turned around. Mark turned around. Dashaw hesitated for a split second. Maybe he thought, I’m with my boy, and if I don’t shoot, he might think I’m frontin’. He might even shoot me. I can’t let this nigga go scot-free. I gotta shoot him, too. Dashaw and Mark ran up on Lenny, and they fired five shots — all of which hit Lenny because he stood as a shield on James’s left side — and fled into the night. Lenny and James slumped against a neighbor’s fence, not far from their house. Lenny called to one of his friends inside the house.

“Tanisha, come help me! Me and Jimmy just got shot! Come help!”

A puddle of blood formed underneath them, branching off in several directions, before a direct line dripped into the street. Lenny could smell smoke rising from his body where the bullets had dug into his left arm, left side, back, and legs. Thoughts circled in Lenny’s head as if it was a turntable fashioned by a madman—too slow at 45, too fast at 16. Lenny wondered why they didn’t take his gold chain, his sheepskin, or his Filas, or James’s Bally shoes. Just before he heard the chorus of ambulance and police sirens, he whispered to James, his best friend, “Jimmy man, not matter what happens, I love you. We gonna make it. Just take it easy, sit there and rest. We gonna make it.”

Three hours later at Henry Ford Hospital, after the first of many operations, Lenny learned that James had died.

1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit

II.
THE EPIDEMIC

ACCORDING TO official estimates, there are at least two guns for every person in the Detroit metropolitan area. Nearly 65 teenagers 17 or under have been killed this year. Almost 300 have been wounded. The number exceeds last year’s body count of 48, and the wounded are steadily lurching toward the 365 of 1986. Detroit is a city whose horror reaches cinematic proportions, like The Living Dead Wear Kangols and Filas. However you like your chiller theater, Detroit is the worst because it’s real. Unlike New York, where the DMZ begins south of 96th Street, or Baltimore, where guerilla dope wars are confined to eastern and western black districts, Detroit’s violence knows no boundaries. It’s among the high-rise office buildings downtown, the upper-middle-class homes and condos on the West Side, the poverty-worn projects on the East Side. Detroit is like that nightmare where your legs become paralyzed when the monsters are chasing you; you can’t escape.

Statistics, like germs ink-stained and clamped down under a microscope, are neat and tidy from a safe distance. But once you zoom in and focus, you see fascinating, intense, and sometimes ugly details of lives previously ignored. The kids in Detroit are more than data on police bar graphs and newspaper charts, distributed as lunchtime chitchat or after-dinner arguments during the Eyewitness News. The kids in Detroit are suffering from a disease so new, powerful, contagious, and fatal that there’s not even a name for it yet.

Business is booming for funeral homes and florists in Detroit. Funeral home director James Cole said, “It’s pathetic. Just about every day, we get young people who are being killed needlessly. It’s business we shouldn’t have.”

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Emergency-room physicians often wonder if they’ll be able to treat all of the gunshot victims on busy nights. Dr. Cynthia Shelby-Lane of Detroit Receiving estimates her city sees 40 percent of the city’s young, black, male gunshot wound victims. One incident that stuck out in Dr. Shelby-Lane’s mind concerned at 13-year-old boy who was rushed to emergency with a gunshot wound in the chest.

“He was a surgical code one,” the doctor said, “which is a resuscitation victim in a life-or-death situation. Everybody looked at each other and said, ‘Thirteen? How young are the going to get?’ When they reeled him in, he was sitting up, so he wasn’t unconscious. As we started immediate resuscitation — he was breathing on his own and had good blood pressure — we could feel the bullet in the front of his chest. He was in pain but he was a young kid, and after 30 minutes, he asked me, ‘Well, can I play basketball again?’ And we just looked at each other. Obviously, he didn’t have any understanding of what almost happened to him, and, perhaps, how to prevent it from happening to him again. And that’s the biggest problem for me.”

The problem is exacerbated by the juvenile judicial system. Heavy hitters such as Y. Gladys Barsamian, 55, presiding judge of the juvenile division in Wayne County, are beleaguered, belabored, and chastised by Michigan’s legislators, who crave a scapegoat. Judge Barsamian addressed the flaws in Michigan’s juvenile justice process in an interview last year with Free Press reporters David Ashenfelter and Michael G. Wagner: “We have created a generation of children without conscience, without values. So they have no concern about people’s lives. Life is very cheap to them.” Barsamian added, “You’ve got to be able to hold people responsible for their actions, and we’re not able to do that.”

Ron Schigur, deputy chief prosecutor of the juvenile division, also says the system is lacking. “The juvenile laws in Michigan are a joke to these kids,” Schigur said. “We’ve had examples of some kids who just laugh at the cops after committing a crime, and say, ‘Hey my mom will come and get me in the morning.’ They know if they are locked up, that the law says we can only keep them until their 19th birthday. The truth is, whether he spits on the ground or murders his mom, he’s going to do an average of a year.”

III.
BURNT OFFERING

THERE IS ANOTHER FACTOR more important than the impotent laws, though, a factor that anchors uncomfortably in many a Detroiter’s mind. It is the DNA for this mutant strain of teen hood: the 1967 riot. Its ravaging aftermath was presaged — unwittingly, of course — by two different idealists. One’s oratory shook the nation; the other’s rhyme rocked the house. But to simplify things, let’s set it up, as if trying to break the full court press. In the early ’60s, Martin Luther King threw the bounce pass for the fast break: “If you sow the seeds of violence in your struggle, unborn generations will reap the whirlwind of social disintegration.” In 1981, while dodging bullets at a rapper’s convention in the former Harlem World Disco, MC Busy Bee Starsky caught the zeitgeist and slam-dunked it: “I got sperm, that jingo-jangle-jingles …” For me, there’s a photograph that locks the horror of the 1967 riot into a never-ending moment. It depicts a 30-year-old black man, John LeRoy, shot by a national guardsman at a roadblock on Lycaste Street. Lying next to a bloody corpse, LeRoy is barefoot and chest down, bleeding profusely: he looks like he’s treading the concrete, gushing blood outlining the form like an obscene surfboard, trying to escape the thick waves of night that eventually drown him. LeRoy would die three days later. His left index finger is pointing to something, maybe the future, but the look on his face asked the question on everyone’s lips — why?

After the smoke had cleared, after the Da Nang-ing M1s had silenced, after the tanks had rolled away from West Grand boulevard, after the army infantry and paratroopers had left their alleyway bunkers, after 1700 stores had been looted, 412 buildings destroyed, 657 people injured, and 43 killed, the question remains unanswered, and continues to stupefy 20 years later. Not that racial maelstrom was new to Detroit. In Ford: The Men and the Machine, Robert Lacey provides several proof texts confirming that race relations in Detroit have a long history of trouble. There was Dr. Ossian Sweet, a successful gynecologist who, with his brother and nine more blacks, was arrested on the night of September 9, 1925, after firing into a crowd of several hundred whites who were pelting the Sweet home with rocks and debris. Sweet had just moved into the two-story, $18,000 brick dwelling, located in a white, middle-class enclave on the East Side. He met with resistance from the local neighborhood “improvement” association — a front for newly recruited Klan members.

The Klan recognized Sweet as a paradigm of the Southern black who migrated northward — by 1920, the 5000 blacks in Detroit at the turn of the century had grown to 40,000, arriving at a rate of 1000 a month, looking for a better life. They found it with Henry Ford, who hired more blacks (even promoting them to foreman) than any other auto magnate. The burgeoning black middle class of Detroit was one of the first in America. But the Klan wasn’t going to stand for this. Sweet and supporters fought back, wounding one of the crowd and killing a next-door neighbor. After two trials fought by Clarence Darrow, Dr. Sweet and his comrades were acquitted.

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This turmoil was just the beginning. In 1943, the country’s bloodiest race war until that time took place in Detroit. Thirty-four people lost their lives, 25 of them black, and over 1000 were wounded. But the July 1967 “Summer of Love” is the one to beat. It haunts Detroit to this day.

If you failed to inspect the political underbelly of the community during that period, a riot in 1967 Detroit would have seemed outlandish. Riots exploded in places like Newark and Watts, but not Detroit. Impossible. The auto industry was stronger than ever — there were no Yugos or Hyundais to compete with. Detroit was one-third black, and blacks were a substantial portion of the work force in the plants. The black middle class and working class lived side by side, and their combined financial strength wasn’t to be denied. The black bloc elected James Cavanagh as mayor, and his new, very liberal administration elevated several blacks to key government positions. Detroit also had two black congressmen. Whites began their flight to the suburbs.

Berry Gordy’s Motown was the bullhorn for this new black age, and its “Sound of Young America” was heard around the world. Motown was the example of how far my people had come, and how far we could go with hard work, three-part harmony, silk and sequins, and tricky terpsichore. Motown went to the heights because white America loves black people who know their place after assimilation. From 1960 to ‘67, it seemed that Detroit was living the best of times.

“Life in Detroit before the riot,” said Dr. Carl Taylor, “was an absolute paradise.”

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Dr. Taylor, 38, is a professor of criminology at Michigan State University. He is also the president and founder of Centrax Services, Inc., one of the top private security outfits in the world. For 38 years, Taylor has lived and breathed Detroit. He can remember riding downtown to a tailor with his “Uncle Milton” — Milton C. Jenkins, the renowned Detroit street hustler and manager of the Temptations when they were still the Primes — Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson to pick up sharkskin suits for a Motown Revue. He can remember the strong, self-contained high society among blacks in Detroit before the riots. Nellie Watts, a black patron of the arts, would have to turn people away from her crowded ballet and classical recitals. Taylor also remembers the caste-conscious “E-Lites” in attendance: sepia-toned, middle-class darlings in madras shirts, Levis, and Weejuns.

They were nothing like the mocha-colored “Hootie-Hoos,” with their Damon knit shirts, gabardine slacks, and alligator slip-ons. If the E-Lites didn’t leave their coveted West Side dwellings to mix in the Hooties’ East Side wild life, it was okay. Black people in Detroit maintained a perfect balance. That balance was seen on 12th Street, too; whatever the mostly Jewish merchants sold, the blacks bought in record numbers. Twelfth Street was the main vain.

“Twelfth Street was a mecca,” said Taylor. “It was a major business center in the black community. On 12th and Hazelwood, you had Bosky’s Restaurant (owned by the father of Ivan Boesky), which had the best food, especially the ‘bomb’ corned beef sandwiches. You also had drugstores, appliance and furniture stores, pawnshops, you had it all on 12th Street.”

But 12th Street was dismantled during the wee-hours of July 23rd, 1967. Rumbling started in a “blind pig” — a private, after-hours joint that sells unlicensed liquor—that called itself the United Civic League for Community Action. When police busted the place that night, there were nearly 90 people packed inside the tiny bar and grill. All had to be escorted to the police wagons downstairs, which couldn’t hold everybody. A crowd gathered at the entrance as the police led their captives out. The merriment turned ugly. Bricks and rocks were hurled, smashing the back window of one patrol car; Molotovs rocketed through the street. Stores were devoured, as if by locusts.

“I can remember as a teenager sitting on the porch,” Taylor recalled, “watching people pushing shopping carts of TVs and clothes. My neighborhood was a working class atoll on the West Side. And you could see the same sights in middle-class neighborhoods. It was unreal, almost ethereal—like everyone was a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune, and had solved the puzzle.”

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IV.
POPPY: THE GREAT WHITE FATHER

RESURGET CINERBUS. It shall rise from the ashes.

Detroit is a city full of personal billboards, slogans, and mottoes. This particular one was used to revive a dying city. It was partly fulfilled. A spanking new monorail ties some of the major hotels and office buildings downtown together like a concrete dipsy-do, all too symbolic — round and round, going nowhere. The mirrored Renaissance Center — Henry Ford II’s helping hand to Detroit after the devastation — juts out of the ground like a weird urban stalagmite. In the 20 years since the riot the city has lost a third of its people and a larger portion of its jobs. The white merchants on 12th Street and other parts of the city were frightened beyond belief, and decided they could never come back. Not only was this bad for the blacks who patronized these stores, it was bad for the blacks who worked in them — including those who were rioters themselves. With the loss of so many people and jobs and so much finance — and the upswing of crime — the city’s tax base rapidly dwindled. By 1985 it had shrunk to 12.6 percent of Detroit’s three-county metro area, down from 45.6 in 1980. With the move of Hudson’s and others out to the suburban malls, badly needed moneys were siphoned out of the city on a regular basis. Middle-class whites and blacks who did remain found themselves plagued by armed robberies and burglaries. People decided to arm themselves. Handgun sales rose sharply, and the street was flooded with illegal weapons. The city’s homicide rate shot skyward.

What happened? Why didn’t Detroit recover? There’s no solid answer to that question, at least not by conventional logic. Conventional logic doesn’t force the city’s political power to admit that the bounty of the ’80s wasn’t equally distributed. Conventional logic doesn’t scream out that the riot wasn’t why Detroit unraveled: it merely burned away the façade that had hidden Detroit’s invisible society, the forgotten underclass.

In the Detroit Free Press, Barbara Stanton pointed out that 12th Street, along with its bustling stores, hot nightlife, and periphery of black middle-class homes, had in its midst an undeniable ghetto. From West Grand Boulevard to Claremont, there was an enormous number of substandard dwellings, the largest number of unemployed, and the highest crime rate in the city. “The riot was the underclass’s way of getting back,” Taylor said. “It was pure rebellion. It was the underclass’s way of saying, ‘We’re tired of being ignored. Now you’re forced to pay attention.’ This was the guy who didn’t work in the plant, for whatever reason. This was the guy who couldn’t commerce like the working and middle-class blacks who came into 12th Street. This was the guy who was trying to figure out all of the hype going around at the time about how blacks were prospering. Blacks were working — some prospered, like the doctors and lawyers that served the black community when whites refused to — but they weren’t prospering. It was like that line Florence said to George Jefferson on a Jeffersons episode. She said, ‘How come we overcame,’ referring to the civil rights theme song, ‘and nobody told me?’ I guess that’s what the underclass felt. And they took matters into their own hands.”

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Those blacks who believed they overcame, or at least got over, were what made Detroit a Reconstruction dream. Fantasies of affluence in the industrial North came true in sprawling mansions along Boston, Chicago, and Edison boulevards. High auto-industry wages created by a black population — more than a million by the early ‘80s — that needed professional services. Black doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, and businessmen filled the vacuum left by white professionals, who had departed for the suburbs along with their clients. Between 1950 and 1959, over 350,000 whites migrated out of the city. Racism helped create a thriving and powerful and black elite in Detroit. But when the auto industry started its long slide, the black elite’s monopoly on black business began to look like an empty package. Black America’s city of dreams was beginning to feed on itself.

The 1967 riots scarred the urban psyche. As time brought the consequences into painful clarity, blacks realized the insurrection was a painful mistake. The city was becoming a wasteland before their eyes. Many wanted to forget what happened.

A few years after the riots heroin made an appearance in Detroit. Unlike Harlem and Newark, where the drug picked up steam around 1966, heroin was almost an oddity in Detroit until 1970. It was then that Henry Marzette — a black former Detroit cop allegedly jailed during the ’50s on corruption charges — became a top dog in the city’s drug trade. After prison, he was a feared “Gorilla” pimp — one who recruits prostitutes from other pimps by force. But it wasn’t until Marzette noticed the exorbitant profits the Mafia was making from heroin in New York that he decided to get in on the action. Between 1969 and 1970, he took over the trade from a mob family in Detroit and became the city’s biggest heroin financier. Marzette influence extended well beyond the street corner and shooting gallery; during his reign little or no press coverage was given him in the Free Press or The Detroit News.

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After Marzette’s death in the early ’70s, heroin continued to ravage Detroit. Crime surged as addicts fed their monsters. Detroit’s car theft rate became the nation’s highest. Home owners spent tens of thousands turning their houses into iron-barred fortresses. In 1975 gangs like the BKs (Black Killers) and the Errol Flynns appeared on the scene. The Errol Flynns — with their black Borsalinos and weird pumping hand-dance — became infamous during an Average White Band concert where they went on a raping and robbing spree. The situation was so volatile that year that Motown — the soul of black Detroit — moved to Los Angeles. Nelson George, author of the Motown history Where Did Our Love Go?, told me, “I hate to say it, but during that time, Detroit wasn’t conducive for a booming black business.”

With Motown gone and the auto industry in a slump, the scenario in Detroit was beginning to resemble a Greek tragedy. And the city was about to be hit with the deus ex machina — Young Boys Incorporated, or YBI. Not only were they unexpected walk-ons in the second act, they rewrote the script.

In a twisted way YBI took the place of Motown. They were young superstars to street teens, more revered than Michael Jackson and Prince. For older junkies hooked on nostalgia, YBI wrapped the 45s in coin envelopes that contained a feast of memories; “heh-ron” was a stone soul picnic. The origins of YBI are bizarre. Not only were the organizations forefathers — Mark Marshall and Raymond Peoples — well known to police, but their individual crimes prior to YBI were headline news during the mid-’70s. Peoples, a tall and powerful enforcer, was charged with two other men for the 1975 murder of Marian Pyszko. Pyszko, 54, a Polish immigrant and pan washer in a bakery, was dragged from his car one night and beaten with a piece of broken concrete during a rash of racial disturbances. After three trials during which several witnesses developed convenient amnesia, Peoples was acquitted.

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Marshall’s story is a more perverse tale. Marshall was a brilliant student in school. He was the product of a broken middle-class home; his mother, Mary, was a secretary, and his father, Wallace, owned a shoe shop. Marshall grew up in an attractive dwelling in a West Side neighborhood, Russell Woods. Wallace later married Constance Blount; her stepmother, Beatrice Blount, was the widow of the founder of the Great Lakes Life Insurance Co. On August 19, 1974, Marshall’s father, stepmother, her mother, and Beatrice Williams, Beatrice Blount’s nurse, were murdered. Marshall was charged with the knife-and-meat-clever slaying. The police report mentioned traces of semen on the bodies. After two mistrials, all charges were dropped in August 1978. Marshall said after the trial, “Justice has been done after four years. I’m going up north to fish and think.”

Marshall must have pondered long and hard, because it was around this time that he and Peoples began YBI — allegedly with more than $70,000 collected from Marshall’s father’s insurance. Starting from the northwest street corner of Prairie and Puritan, YBI’s tentacles eventually covered Detroit and several counties.

By 1981, YBI’s employees were 300 strong, all teens and preteens, who were immune to the harsh punishment for drug trafficking. Many law enforcement observers have noted that YBI was run like a military outfit, organized into soldiers (street dealers), lieutenants, and the “A-Team” (enforcement). But YBI was more like a $400 million corporation — that was YBI’s estimated gross in 1981 — not unlike its hometown predecessor General Motors. Salesmen were instructed never to use the product. Milton “Butch” Jones, third man in YBI, would drill his soldiers in “marketing” meetings to “get high on money.” As reinforcement, top salesmen were given expensive perks — gold and diamond jewelry, and goose down leather jackets with fur-trimmed hoods known as “Max Julians.”

“YBI was the first drug organization that I know of to use brand names on their heroin,” said U.S. Attorney Roy Hayes. “They had names like CBS, Rolls Royce, and Coochi Khan. It was a Madison Avenue approach — you can trust our product.”

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When the competition copycatted, YBI undercut them by selling low-grade heroin under a competitor’s name. YBI’s drugs (they were selling $3 plastic packets of crack, back in 1982) were the most coveted in the state. YBI was aware of this, and brazenly began to hand out flyers in the neighborhood that stated brand name, price, day, date, and time of sale. Drugs were distributed using Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, taxi cabs, scooters, and 10-speed bikes. Sales areas were patrolled by members of the A-Team in Laredo and Wrangler jeeps, packing Uzis for warding off rival gangs. Jeeps eventually replaced luxury cars for drug distribution — their four wheel drive insured delivery in snow storms, and made it easy to elude cops by escaping into off-road brush.

YBI made bloody examples of those who crossed them. On May 30, 1984, Rickey Gracey, 26, and three accomplices tried to rob the home of Butch Jones. The attempt was thwarted by Jones’s wife, Portia, who wounded Gracey with a shotgun as the other three escaped. While he hobbled on the front lawn, Portia put in a call to Charles Obey and Spencer Tracy Holloway, members of the A-Team, and driver Andre Williams. When they arrived, according to Williams’ testimony, Portia was outside waiting for them. Gracey apologized and asked them for some water. Obey shot him five times with a .38 automatic. After Gracey had revealed the identity of his partners, Holloway shot him with an Uzi. Fifteen times. Gracey bounced up and down on the grass. Later, his body was found dumped in an alley on the north side.

As successful as YBI was, it suffered some major setbacks that appeared to dismantle the enterprise. In 1982, Mark Marshall went deep underground at the height of YBI’s prominence. In 1983 Butch Jones was sentenced to 12 years in prison, as was Sylvester “Seal” Murray, 30, multimillionaire supplier of YBI and other drug syndicates. Murray was wealthy enough that police investigators found $80,000 cached in a safe — it had been there for two years. Murray had forgotten the combination. In August 1985, Raymond Peoples was found in a car with several slugs in his back.

By 1986, the Detroit Police Department, DEA, FBI, and the Internal Revenue Service was congratulating themselves, saying they finally destroyed YBI. What they forgot was that, although 42 people had been indicted, YBI still had 258 people on the loose. It’s true that prosecutors like Hayes, the late Leonard Gilman, and Gary Felder did a great job of attacking YBI — treating it as a multinational cartel rather than some counterfeit gangsters on a street corner — but Young Boys had grown too big to take down in one sweep. This was proven in August, when a grand jury federal indictment of 26 defendants took place in Detroit. The name of the case is Young Boys II. “Nine of the defendants were previously indicted in connection with the Young Boys case,” said attorney Hayes. “Some of the defendants are a Wayne County deputy sheriff, two attorneys hired by YBI, and Milton ‘Butch’ Jones.” Hayes alleged Jones had continued running YBI from his prison cell in a Texas federal penitentiary.

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V.
NEW JACK CITY: ROLLIN’ JEEPIN’ AND JOCKIN’

STOP THE MADNESS

This is a huge advertisement that looms over Woodward, across the street from Palmer Park. One high-schooler told me that the new jacks “look at it and say ‘Fuck the madness. You can’t stop it, so just roll with it.'” The sign has been reduced to a banal slogan, a doofy punch line among the new jacks and front artists. In Motown a new jack is a calculated novice who enjoys killing you, aside from making a name for himself. His imitator, a front artist, pulls out a snapshot of a “nine” (9mm automatic), expecting you to run for your life. It goes without saying that front artists don’t live long.

HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW?

This is a personal billboard in red letters on the black spare tire cover mounted on the rear of a triple-black — black exterior, interior, tinted windows — Mitsubishi Montero jeep. Wide Jefferson Avenue is full of jeeps — a new jack posse circling Detroit like crazy sputniks. In sync, the volumes of each Blaupunkt and Alpine stereo are increased at a red light. On green, Rakim and Eric B. sound the charge, the anthem of a new generation, the opus of a new ruling class, the preview of a new rap on the Friday night master mix.

“I ain’t no joke…”

I rode with a high-schooler downtown to the Afro-American Festival in Hart Plaza. He knew some of the crews, has rolled with some of them in the past. Now he wants out of the neighborhood because he is book smart and street aware. But the street is like a Doberman; it can turn on you.

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Finding a parking space near the Joe Louis Arena, we got out and walked. The July night was hot and humid. Renaissance Center stood tall and indifferent, the pallid moon overhead, and the rivers of people beneath; it cooled in the mirrored panes of its hi-tech narcissism.

The people moved like waves of warm water along the sidewalk cafes of Greektown, Woodward’s shopping district, and deposited into the concrete cavern of Hart Plaza. Packs of new jacks — all between 13 and 19 years old — covered the area in designer sangfroid and $2000 portable cellular phones, just in case another crew wanted to “step off” into Uzi conflict. They resembled Nam platoons on maneuvers in Elephant Valley. Their classy gear consisted of Gucci and Bill Blass jogging suits, Bally and Diadora gym shoes, shiny gold Rolex watches. Some were so bold they wore diamond encrusted Krugerrands necklaces, hung from telephone-cable-thick gold chains. That’s equivalent to Nat Turner fashioning a leather-studded belt out of the same cat-o’-nine-tails used to plow his back. But maybe I’m confusing bravado with ignorance.

The festival was too crowded, the jazz band too weak, and the fish and chips booth downstairs was out of its legendary whiting sandwiches. The high-schooler said there were too many crews walking around.

“Something might jump off,” he told me. I asked him if the crews had names. “Some do,” he told me, “but they’re pretty lightweight. If you’re high-powered, you don’t use a name. After YBI there are no more names. Names attract too much attention. Some use hand signals.” I asked him about one group that holds up both hands and flashes peace signs. The high-schooler said he didn’t know about them. I didn’t press the issue; a school security official said later that it’s the code used by the 20–20s.

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So I know a code; I still don’t have the key to New Jack City. I know its inhabitants come from two groups: deracinated middle-class black teens and their less well-off peers. The deracinated black teen knows that being heir to “a better life” resulted mainly in the castration of desire, their confusion of self (Buppie or B-Boy? As Nelson George has said), and their enlightenment that, in 1987, there is no “better life”. Never knowing what it is to want — and, therefore, never growing up, or growing up with nothing to grow into — is a cruel death. New Jack City offers a suicidal lifestyle on the teens’ own terms.

New Jack City for the economically deprived is a crystalline legacy formed by the cooked-down anarchy of their parents in the 1967 riot. Because of the seared riot consciousness, because of heroin’s flip-flop — killer and money-maker — and crack’s entrepreneurial spirit, outlaw is the law. Teen gangsterism has transformed the teen middle and underclass, the children of the E-Lites and Hootie Hoos, into the Get-Over class.

Rap music is also key in understanding the Get-Over class — I think. My trepidation comes from me blaming the ills of the world on L.L. Cool J and rap music. L.L. and rap music are just reflections of New Jack City. As a matter of fact, L.L., Rakim, Run-D.M.C. and other emcees are prisoners of the hard rock image they have triumphantly sold to their Get-Over peers. Once a new jack, actual or dramatized, emcee or murderer — or victim, like Scott La Rock — always a new jack. Even if L.L. tries to deny the street, as he does when showing his frustration in “The Breakthrough,” spitting out to a fanatical crack admirer, “I should take my gun and shoot you/ in your motherfuckin’ face!” — or Rakim tries shallow defection, saying in the December 1987 Spin, that he used to be “robbin’ and stealin’ and all that shit. Normal everyday shit,” when his rapper voice sounds like he’s still ready, like L.L., to “put that head out” — the new jacks won’t allow it, because rap music is their strong-arm negotiator in the world-at-large. It’s no wonder that the switchboard of Detroit’s ABC affiliate lit up like crazy after the July premiere of the Run-D.M.C. Adidas commercial. This telephone vote of gangster stylists proved that not only do clothes make the new jack, they reinforce his being.

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The Get-Over class in New Jack City understands that gangster style is both form and function. To have gangster style, you have to be “gettin’ paid” — making so much gusto (money) until it’s goofy. Then you can have an acquired taste by means of extortion, the ability to buy panache and aristocracy. But that’s what also unnerves me about the émigré’ of New Jack City, the way he flashes his green card. Whether it’s the kid who goes to Gucci to spend $3000 on a wardrobe displayed no further than the L.L. Cool J show, the crackhouse, or the “projects,” or the kid who comes home to a $200,000 cul de sac and a good night’s sleep after killing a rival crack dealer and two of his crew, and all the while mom and dad are in the den doing their taxes on the PC — it alarms me when the need to “show and prove” is that extreme. That’s how I know the teen bodies in the graves of Detroit and other major cities are not surrogates for racist whites or super-provoking parents. Citizenship in New Jack City comes with a very expensive price tag.

“Yo man,” the high-schooler said to me, “I know this one kid who makes $2000 a day. He’s a beastmaster — an enforcer. He’s a big kid, about six-three 230. He carries an Uzi, but he’s def with his hands, too. He just bought a Wagoneer jeep for $22,000, but he parks it two blocks away from his house so that his parents don’t find out. His family has some status and some money, you know, and they expect him to go to college. But he’s making too much gusto. All the skeezers (sexually active girls) are jockin’ him, too. He asked me one time, ‘Know how to catch a skeeze?’ I said no. He said, ‘You say, “Jeep-jeep-jeep-jeep-jeep …'”

We left the plaza. The throngs of crews grew thicker, like shadows coagulating into a nightmare. The street was drowned in cars and people; a police officer directed traffic. Just then, an old and dimpled Pontiac tapped the rear of a sleek Mercedes 300E. Three white guys — mid-thirties — got out of the Pontiac, and they were drunk. Four new jacks jumped out of the Benz, in multicolored sweatsuits and gold everywhere. Two beastmasters, About six foot six and six foot seven, grabbed all three white guys in choke holds. The cop didn’t move. One slim teen, about five foot eight, walked up to one of the white guys and reached for his stuff. The swelling crowd egged the new jacks on. I just knew the white guys were going to catch a bad decision. The cop didn’t move. I covered my eyes, but then I peaked through my fingers. A traffic jam formed and honking horns snapped the new jack out of his homicidal autism. He and his beastmasters jumped back into the Benz and zoomed off. The white guys coughed, choked, and slugged their way back to the Pontiac. The crowd moved on. The cop twirled his hands and blew his whistle. The high-schooler shrugged like a vet. “That ain’t nothin’,” he said. “I know another kid who was working for this crew on the east side, who said he ‘lost’ $75. Quiet as it’s kept, he tricked on crack, making 51s (a crack and reefer joint). When his lieutenant found out, he and his crew took the kid to the basement, took his shoes off, got some carpenter’s nails, a brick, and hammered his hands and feet into the floor. He was still alive when the cops found him a few hours later.”

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Why has murder become a religious observance on the streets of Detroit? How did crack become demonic sacrament? Why is gettin’ paid equal to deification to the new jacks? Dr. Jorge Fleming, chief psychologist at Southwest Detroit Hospital, says that “a lack of spiritual and moral values, values which the black family has historically instilled in their children, has in the last 30 years or so shifted to a heavy emphasis on materialism. When the plants were going full steam, and both mother and father worked in the plant and brought home a combined salary of $70,000, then the kids got anything they wanted. But when those parents were laid off during the auto slump, and when the money wasn’t coming in, there was no spiritual or loving foundation to fall back on, which caused a breach in the family. And the kids, who were used to getting everything, decided they were going to continue having the good things in life — even if their parents couldn’t provide it for them.”

And what does Mayor Coleman Young say? In office for more than 12 years and a wily politician, he has his pat answers. He said in the Free Press three years ago that the exodus of Hudson’s and other stores has caused the high unemployment.

No one can argue with that. But the consensus is that Mayor Young is more concerned with the gloss of downtown than the young bodies found on side streets and in dumpsters. Mayor Young has transformed himself from a man of the people — the unanimous choice after the riot — to a corporate power broker. If prestige has its privileges, though, it also has its problems.

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Between family ties and corporate loyalties, Coleman Young’s political base is draining away even quicker than the city’s tax income. One teacher told me that the mayor should be on the street in a flak jacket with a squadron of heavily armed police because that’s when the kids will know he’s serious. But he won’t do it, this teacher said.

So the new jacks continue to laugh at the advertisement over Woodward, and “wopp” like crazy. It’s the latest dance, a serpentine hump and jerk, a rhythmic self-dismemberment. They wopp-danced fast and fierce back in March, a few days after Lenny Higgins was shot. The occasion was the Motor City Mixer. Given by Dr. Carl Taylor and a few associates and held at the state fairgrounds, it was Taylor’s opportunity to see Aliens 2 up close.

“We thought that these kids were not given a fair shake in the media,” Taylor said, “and there were no outlets for them to have good clean fun. We also thought that a few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch.”

The new jacks came in force: mondo-moda sportswear, cellular phones, nines and .357s, pockets bulging with twenties, fifties, and hundreds. Six bucks at the door, and the cashier had a change problem all night.

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From the time the new jacks hit the parking lot to the time they got inside, no one was armed. The security force was 100 men strong.

But Taylor saw the dark side. “Yeah, we stopped the weapons, but we couldn’t stop the mind-set,” he said. After the crowd of 2400 got off of the floor — the deejay mixed in a machine gun sound effect — the party was jumping. “Throw That Dick,” a mixture of Chicago house and rap, began to play. The place went berserk. Fights broke out. A group of 15 boys circled around three girls and molested them. Another crew of 30 new jacks brutally kicked and beat one boy in a corner. While assorted members of Dr. Taylor’s team broke up the fights, the sexual assaults, and other melees, Taylor ran over and snatched the kid, bloody and bruised, to safety.

“I told him,” Taylor said, “I think you should leave. You are going to wind up getting killed if you don’t get out of here. And he told me, ‘Trick it man, trick it. I ain’t no ho. They just gonna have to kill me, ’cause I ain’t no ho and I ain’t runnin’.’ He was just so determined. I didn’t understand it. That’s when we had to pull the plug.”

Taylor said he didn’t understand the kid, but the next day — when all the kids were saying what a success the party was — his words rang loud and clear. It wasn’t so much what he said, Taylor told me, but what he wore. Remember what I said about clothes and the new jack? Well, here’s the motto paid in full. Aside from the new jack’s black color theme — sweats, trench coat, and Ellesse gym shoes — the kid had a black cap with a white stencil that said, Shoot me. I’m already dead.

1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit

1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit
1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit
1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit
1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit
1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit
1987 Village Voice article by Barry Michael Cooper about gun violence in Detroit
Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Larry Davis Show: Rambo Rocks the House

Davis and I were sitting in the visitor’s area of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. The MCC is a large fortress filled with orange paint, thick Plexiglas partitions, and steel doors that constantly buzz, click, and whine like robots in heat. Davis had entered the visitor’s area through one of those doors, shackled along the wrists, waist, and ankles, a postmodern Kunte Kinte in federal prison browns. He was trailed by five male guards, one of whom held a video camera to record his departure from the holding area. Even in the joint, Larry Davis is a star.

“Sometimes,” Davis said quite seriously, “it’s good to pay attention to movies, because you get what’s really happening.” Before the movie ended on November 19th, what was really happening in the apartment overwhelmed what was playing on the TV screen: Davis, who was wanted for the slayings of four suspected South Bronx crack dealers, faced down almost 30 cops in one of the wildest shootouts in New York history. It was all over by nine, in time for the 11 o’clock newscasts to begin to make Larry Davis an outlaw celebrity. It was the night he became the talk of the town: a muscular young black man bursts his way out of a small apartment seiged by a 27-member team of armed police officers, wounding all of them in the process. It was the night he became an urban legend, a black Billy the Kid, an adolescent gunslinger outshoots an army of cops and lives to tell about it. It was the night Larry Davis became a star.

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In the weeks after Davis shot the six cops, faked out the costly, nationwide manhunt for 17 days, and held a major portion of the NYPD to a standoff in the Twin Parks Houses near Fordham Road, huge black-and-white mug shot-like photos of a starry-eyed, baby-faced killer adorned the front pages of the tabloids under headlines like “They Won’t Take Me Alive” and the local news anchors excitedly invoked his name at the top of every show. He was all the talk between assistant D.A.’s and reporters during court recesses, between rap DJs and MCs during songs at the Latin Quarter, between old Jewish women and their doormen on the Upper East Side. Did Larry Davis shoot and kill dopeboys and take off crack spots? Did he really decide (as a cop testified) that it was too crowded in his van one afternoon, and casually order a flunky to kill a man sitting in an orange Toyota for the extra room? Did he really cook a Chihuahua and eat it?

I started getting phone calls from friends who couldn’t stop talking about the B-boy renegade from the South Bronx. “That kid used to rock the fresh jams in the summertime in the P.S. 145 schoolyard,” one buddy remembered. Another told me that, in addition to playing cops and robbers, Davis had stroked the keyboards on “Goldie’s Hot Tracks,” a hip hop show on Manhattan Cable. I was told that Davis also sang, danced, and virtually, “turned the show out.”

Some of Davis’s acquaintances later told me he used to watch a videotape of that show over and over in his bedroom — a space that was packed with drum machines and keyboards and doubled as an eight-track recording studio — with “that look” on his face, a sly grin and a faraway, star-struck expression. Family members say it’s the look he had playing drums for the choir of the Rapture Preparation Church on Crotona Avenue in the Bronx. It’s the look of an impressionable young kid who sees his name in lights on the marquee of a hit movie with a long line, or his face 70 feet high inside the darkened theater, with the crowd screaming out his name.

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But instead of the customary head-in-the-jacket running crouch of the arrested criminal, Davis kept his head high, his face visible to the TV cameras, as he was hustled through the courtyard. Just before the cops carried him off, he made his now-famous declaration: “It’s a good thing to sell drugs. The cops gave me the guns.”

To would be revolutionaries, Larry Davis was Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas come to life, a South Bronx native son, a mindless killer spawned by white racism, poverty, and hopelessness. To black nationalists, Davis became a figurehead, an explosive life-sized model that defined the movement’s heartbeat: the oppressed striking back at the oppressors. To old lefties, Davis was a throwback to the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers; William Kuntstler, who took over Davis’s case from a Legal Aid lawyer, said to me, “Any black guy that shoots six cops and puts the fear of God in police officers, I think is great.”

After the police killings of Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpurs, and the frustrated rage over the Howard Beach incident and the Tompkins Square Park riot, Davis’s stand against the police served as a metaphorical wheel of justice: whatever goes around, comes around. But much of white New York — and a significant segment of the black population — saw him as a real-life monster too true to be good; a heavily armed creature from the Bronx lagoon.

In all cases, Larry Davis lost his identity to become an ideal that is reviled or revered: Public Enemy and Soul Brother Number One, and nothing more. Mere publicity and hype to justify the ends of each group’s own means. But Davis would never object to being exploited: it soon became apparent that Larry Davis eats hype like some kind of weird food. Not long after he was captured, he began calling newspapers — most notably The City Sun and later New York Newsday — to give his version of his story. “Write this,” he would instruct reporters. If they added details that didn’t please him they would receive phone calls chewing them out. And if here stories didn’t appear, he would refuse to grant them further interviews.

Gradually, a truer portrait of Larry Davis emerged between the lines of the media frenzy. Here was a young kid, a semi-illiterate high school dropout who spent his time chillin’ on street corners but who felt a burning need to be known, to be recognized, to be listened to, to be larger than life. His plans to be a pop star fizzled and his street scrambling produced only a shadowy local celebrity. Then, all of a sudden, he was on the top of every New York City broadcast. What did that do to him? What would it do to anybody? Your heart would pound like a bass drum and your skin would be drenched in cold sweat, knowing you are in the biggest trouble in your life. The rush would play in your mind forever.

Larry Davis didn’t have to use his imagination. The newspapers he read every day replayed the images: the courtyard crowds, the mayor, the police commissioner, the cameras, the lights, the cheers and jeers, the “The cops gave me the guns.” it was splashed across the front pages and he fell in love with it, tumbled into it, became one with it. With the flick of a camera shutter, Larry Davis became the New Narcissus.

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In the street, the Davis legend is very real; Sunday’s triumphant verdict pumped his image larger than the Superman balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade. The inner city now gazes up at him with a mixture of victimized fear and vigilante pride. It reminds me of a hood from my teen years, who I’ll call “Igor Jackson.” Jackson was the scourge of 148th Street and Eighth Avenue, a wild man fueled by angel dust and barbiturates who killed because it amused him. He was a legend on the streets of Harlem in 1977 because he made more than a few victims — mainly the teenage operatives of heroin kingpin Leroy “Nicky” Barnes — get on their knees and beg for their life, only to see Jackson smirk and savor his response, a cold, dry, “No.”

Like Igor Jackson, Larry Davis personifies a running character in rap music: the cartoonish hood LL Cool J portrays in “I’m Bad” as he taunts cops, buries the faces of musclemen in the sand, and wears a gold nameplate that says, “I Wish You Would.” In a bizarre sense, Davis fulfilled the ultimate goal of any young inner-city black teen who practices rapping over long hours with a microphone and a tape deck: to develop a voice, to make that voice heard beyond the confines of the street corner — as Big Daddy Kane brags in “Set If Off,” “Your vocals go local/on the m-i-c/Mine go a great distance/like A T and T” — and most importantly, to make those listening respect that voice. Davis had accomplished all three and his delivery was loud and bloody.

To those whose only knowledge of rap comes from watching the movie Colors or minicam reports after concert riots, Davis is the final, dreaded proof; the incarnation of the rap ideal, the bloodthirsty, nigger teen with a $3000 gold cable around his stiff neck whose only goal is to put heads in graveyard beds and cold-snatch money like the feds. But to the makers of the music, Davis — who had his own record label for a while, Home Boys Only — is the freakish exception, a flesh-and-blood lyric taken too far.

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In my secret moments, in the midnight of my living room, as the Sony earphones fill my ears with Big Daddy Kane waiting for the fake gangsters, “front artists,” to taunt and step to him so he can destroy them like “Jason” from Friday the 13th. I live vicariously through the sonic violence. It’s a release, a shot of dope that makes my blood race. Kane’s tune “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” gives me foolish courage every time a young sucker-punk busts a series of clips from his Beretta from the crackhouse from across the street. The tune, and maybe even the street-corner bravado of Larry Davis, whisper twisted, suicidal words of encouragement to me: “If you had an Uzi, you could take care of that problem across the street.” But the line is drawn when I remove the headphones — the violence belongs on the vinyl.

But for Larry Davis, the music never stopped. The sound panned from a Bronx schoolyard full of junior high school kids dancing to the music on his two turntables to a small Bronx apartment full of cops collapsing to the beat of bullets tearing through their bodies.

A tour of the South Bronx would convince anybody that Davis’s tale of night-crawling, street-racketeering, and dealing drugs for dirty cops is possible — in fact, if Davis wasn’t doing all he claimed, somebody is definitely is for some cop up there. The Bronx is a very big small town, a mesh of hills, valleys, concrete atolls, and dead ends. The streets are narrow, the city blocks wide, and the tenements, row houses, projects, and co-ops prop each other up. Flashing patrol-car lights provide 24-hour illumination; police and ambulance sirens mingle with hip hop, salsa, reggae, soca, and r&b like the fragmented strains of some strange carny pipe organ. The Bronx is a sprawling, Third World, urban fun house.

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The raggedy cityscape of East 169th Street is a perfect movie set for the type of clandestine meetings with corrupt cops that Davis describes. Fat and grimy Chevy vans dot the quarter-mile stretch of five-story urban wasteland like rusty camels — who knows what’s going on inside? Grant Avenue has so many abandoned pre-war buildings it looks like an estate of haunted houses. You can feel the action you can’t see: the teen scramblers who bring the crackhouse whores here for tag-team sex. who lure the snitches and rival crack czars for no-name murders; the crackheads who burrow into dank basements to get high and talk to Scotty on the Enterprise.

Not surprisingly, Davis gets a vote of confidence from a young kid I saw hawking “jums” — the abbreviated term for jumbos, the larger pieces of crack — on a 147th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. “The cops were comin’ to kill that kid that night,” he told me, “and Larry wasn’t with that program. He was about to expose their whole joint, and they had to keep him from speakin’ on it. This crack money is crazy large out here, and you know Five-O is getting put on to all the action. Drugs flow so freely in this neighborhood, it’s like they legal. I know — I’m out here every day.”

Davis’s firefight may have set a violent precedent, declaring open season on cops. In recent months the word on the street is that cops — from Officer Ed Byrne in Jamaica, Queens, to Officer Michael Buczek in Washington Heights a few weeks ago — are not superhuman.

Teflon-coated bullets, now available in the inner city, are made to pierce bullet-proof vests. And not everybody agrees who wears the white hats: with the long standing belief that New York cops are racist and the recent corruption in Brooklyn’s 77th Precinct and allegations of police abuse in Queens’s 113th, many in the black and Latino communities are disgusted with New York’s Finest. They feel it’s more likely than not that the South Bronx cops are dirty, that Davis was working for them, and that they came to murder him because of what he knew.

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To say Larry Davis is intense is an understatement. The day I interviewed him in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the guy not only stared me down, he appeared to look right through me, and then discard my bodily contents. It reminded me of somebody chewing all the sugar out of a stick of Juicy Fruit and throwing it in the garbage. Davis gave the impression he regards reporters as nothing more than inquisitive ectoplasm that collect and distribute information.

By Larry Davis is no psycho killer. Davis is more insular than he is callous, more calculating that he is crazy. Prince, another self-invented idiot savant, treated me the same way when I interviewed him in 1980 at the Westbury Hotel after the release of Dirty Mind. There he sat (dressed in a gray trenchcoat, black stockings, and black bikini briefs), calmly reanimating his mythos for me: how his mother was white and his father was black, how he was the servant of both the LORD GOD Almighty and “the Other,” how all of his songs were autobiographical, even the incestuous “Sister.” When I pressed him for details, he slyly told me, “the clues are all you need to know.” As he continued his presentation, I began to laugh. The expression on his face changed from surprise to indignation to a self-realization that finally caused him to join in the laughter.

Like Prince, Davis spun me a yarn. He told me how he worked for the cops taking off crack spots, and then sold the drugs. He told me how he woke up one fine day in the Bronx and it was revealed to him that he was wrong, how “through the mercy of Allah, I realized I was brain dead, and I was going to tell the world I was wrong to work for those drug-selling policemen,” and how the cops came to hunt him down at his sister’s apartment to silence his Redemption Song. When I remarked to him that this was the same rap he gave The City Sun’s Peter Noel, and Newsday’s Len Levitt, Davis began to lose his patience. When I asked him to elaborate on the details — especially his whereabouts during his 17-day flight from the authorities — he told me pointedly, “Homeboy, you gonna have to wait for the movie.”

After giving me that look, he and I laughed. But the joke only served as another smoke screen: the interview was over and the real Larry Davis remained in the shadows. Looking at his expressionless face, I realized that was the way he wanted it. All I saw was a blankness that defied filling in. Is he Adam Abdul Hakeem — an Islamic name which means “lifeblood, servant of the wise” — the young, studious, and natty Muslim convert who sits quietly while others accuse him of mayhem and murder, and then sobs softly when vindicated?

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Or is he the frenzied madman who slashed at the Department of Corrections from the inside for 367 days — allegedly assaulting guards, spitting and throwing urine at them — eventually forcing a transfer to the higher security MCC, the federal facility in lower Manhattan?

According to those close to him, Davis is more like Prince than Charles Manson. Once acquaintance told me, “Larry is a musician. That guy knows sound. He’s written 200 great songs, he’s a singer — he sounds like that old guy, Billy Paul — keyboard player, arranger, producer, everything. He had a studio in his house. I couldn’t understand the sound he got from his room, from just an eight-track channel mixing board — it sounded like a 24 or 36-track recording studio.” The man speaks the truth. Davis’s bittersweet, Philly soul ballads “Silly Love” and “Loving You Is So Beautiful” could very well score on the music charts. His hard rocking hip hop tunes, like “I Ain’t No Popeye” and “Vultures of the Subculture,” melodic and rhythmically complex songs written almost three years ago, still seem far more advanced than most of the music on current radio. So is he a disillusioned auteur who turned to wild-style glamour when he failed to land a contract with a major label?

With Davis, like Prince, there are precious few times you are able to find the chink in the calculated persona, to see the true, naked person living behind the costumed exterior. It took me a few months of interviews with Davis before the moment came along. About three weeks before the acquittal in the first trial, he started bugging me for some portraits Voice photographer Joe Rodriguez took during the MCC interview. Since Rodriguez was busy with another project, I couldn’t get the photos. During the recesses, or even when court was in session, Davis would turn around and mouth to me, “Where are the pictures?” outlining a frame in the air with his fingers. All of the spectators looked at me, wondering, “Who is this guy and why is he so important to Larry Davis?” Embarrassed, all I could do was shrug my shoulders. Davis would wave his hand at me disgustedly.

Our Tom and Jerry routine went on for almost two weeks. Finally, during a lunch break, I coughed up the goods. As I handed the white envelope to his co-counsel, Lynne Stewart, Davis grinned. “Yo, man, come and see me,” he said in a stage whisper. “Let’s talk.” Davis smiled so wide, I thought his face was going to break. He took the pictures out and studied them. One by one. I had seen the pictures: four 8x10s, stark black and white close-ups of a young black man in an orange box with no escape hatch. Davis’s smile faded slowly and he stiffened, as if he was unable to move.

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Larry Davis was born May 28, 1966, the youngest of Al and Mary Davis’s 15 children. The couple drove up from Perry, Georgia in 1952 and settled into a weather-beaten white row house on Woodycrest Avenue in the southwest Bronx, a working-class neighborhood with clean, narrow streets and well-kept playgrounds. “Larry was a big and playful baby,” says Betty Patron, his oldest sister. “He was born big, a baby with big muscles.” Al Davis — who died a few months ago — supported his growing family working as a plumber, while Mary took care of the home and children.

Al Davis moved out around 1976; some say he left because of the pressures of raising such a large family (it would later grow to include more than 42 grandchildren). Davis, with a note of sadness in his voice, told me the two of them have stayed in contact. When I asked Davis if his father visits him in prison, he eyes fell, and he looked less like a slick new jack who shoots cops than a sad adolescent who is waiting for someone to come and take him home. “No. I don’t call him,” he replied. “My father would visit if I call him. I don’t call him, because it’s not not his position. Me being a man, I gotta face what has to come, or what won’t. I don’t feel that’s his position.”

Larry was 10 when his father left. Mary struggled on without Al, opening a thrift shop near the house and taking in foster kids, runaways, and homeless children. As her elder sons turned to crime (all four of Larry’s older brothers eventually served time for charges ranging from theft to assault), Mary Davis became increasingly devoted in the Rapture Preparation Church in the Bronx. Larry, who often went with her, had sung with the church choir since he was seven. By the time he was 10, he was also playing drums and piano for the group.

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But after graduating from fifth grade at P.S. 73, the bad times began to roll. He went to J.H.S. 145 where “he was not a good student,” according to principal Bernard Krasnow. “He didn’t come very often. When he did attend he was usually in trouble. He was quite an aggressive young man.” After a teacher found Davis with a weapon — officials can’t remember if it was a knife or a gun — the 12-year-old was transferred to J.H.S. 147. But “he was only here a couple of days,” recalls principal Calvin Hart. Later, Davis was transferred to P.S. 58, a special education high school in Manhattan. At 14 years of age, he disappeared from the school system altogether.

By 18, Davis had supplemented the weapons charge at J.H.S. 145 with arrests for resisting arrests, possession of a hypodermic needle, and harassment. His harshest fine was $60, which he paid; he never served more than 24 days in jail.

Despite its problems, the Davis family remained close and large-hearted. Charlie Addo, a 39-year-old Ghanian musician and part-time cab driver who boarded at the Davis house for a year (until just after the shootout), remembers Mary Davis as a kind woman who occasionally shared her private pain with him. “She used to tell me, ‘It would be a mess without me. They’d kill themselves without me.’ Sometimes she falls apart because she goes through so much. But she’s very strong.”

Addo’s fondest moments of the Davis house were the times he and Larry watched videos in the Davis bedroom. “Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop was one of Larry’s favorites,” says Addo, “because he liked to laugh. He also liked watching Rambo.

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Davis claims he discussed the deal a few days later with his buddy Rick Burgos. The two were close; Davis was the bossy older sibling, and Burgos was the loyal sidekick. Davis even bragged about Burgos’s fidelity to a confederate on a wiretap during his time on the run: “Yo, Rick will do 30 years before he talks.” Burgos had idolized Davis since hearing him kick bass tempo on Run-D.M.C. records in the playground of P.S. 145. Like Davis, Burgos — a short, scrappy kid with squinty, Humphrey Bogart eyes — came from a large family and started fighting the law at an early age. At 14, Burgos was arrested for spraying grafitti on the D train, and was sentenced to clean Crotona Park every other weekend for six weeks. In August 1986, he was accused of robbing and shooting a man at the White Castle on Webster Avenue.

Both Davis and Burgos knew that crack was catching on in the Bronx and Manhattan faster than the Asian flu. Whether it’s smoked in a glass pipe or mixed in a joint with reefer — the “woo-woo” or “woolahs” — crack hits are not only highly addictive, exhilarating, demoralizing, and deadly, but also big biz. A seasoned hustler who could sniff out money and opportunity, Burgos told Davis to go with the program and make the “stupid” money.

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Guys from my generation would’ve killed for the illicit carte blanche that Davis and Burgos claimed they enjoyed after they went into the business with the cops. Imagine — that is, if what Davis and Burgos are saying is true — using crackheads to make crack in basehouses throughout the Bronx like mad scientists in abandoned ghetto labs. Imagine breaking the law, with the law enforcers’ blessing. Imagine making piles — “coming off” — and Being Untouchable. Friends say the young “stunts,” the gangster groupies, went crazy over them like rock stars, while the fellas whispered and pointed at them with fear, envy, and admiration. It was almost like a bad joke; they dealt drugs and they couldn’t get arrested.

But the sweet scene turned on October 30, 1986 when the four suspected drug dealers were shot to death at a brickfaced apartment building, 829According to Davis, he had been in Norfolk. Virginia, for about two weeks, intending to buy his mother a house. If this were true — and Davis did come up with an alibi in the form of a Norfolk woman he was friendly with — it would make it impossible to place him at 829 Southern Boulevard on October 30. But after questioning by the prosecution before the first trial, the woman was unsure as to exactly when Davis was in Norfolk. Davis’s lawyers, Kunstler and co-counsel Lynne Stewart, filed a motion stating that the prosecution had intimidated her and placed doubt in her mind, thereby ruling out the possibility of her testifying at the trial.

Davis had additional problems in his first trial, and one was Charlie Conway. Many courtroom observers were surprised that he testified, including Davis. In a wiretapped conversation, Davis is heard explaining the finer points of street silence to Conway’s son, “Little Charlie”; “Your pops don’t talk man, that’s what I like about him. He do not say shit.”

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Big Charlie proved Davis wrong. He denied his willingness to testify was connected to any agreement that would help him out with his parole board (he’s currently serving an armed robbery sentence); instead he told the court, “I am tired. I’ve been involved with crime a lot of years, you know the dates. You went back to like ’65. I am really tired.”

Conway’s underworld weariness had not taken effect when he met Davis in 1984 through his son, Little Charlie, who was a student at J.H.S 145 with Davis. Big Charlie Conway, a former U.S. and merchant marine, testified he taught Davis how to bore out the barrel of a .45, making it difficult to trace. (Davis told me that the police showed him: “I got all my training from the police. They taught me how to bore out a gun.”) Conway also spoke of a meeting with Davis and James “J.J.” Patron on October 31, 1986 — the day after the murders of the four suspected drug dealers. That morning there was a knock on Conway’s apartment door. Conway asked who it was, and a voice replied “Rambo, Rambo” — Davis’s nickname. Conway let Davis and his nephew inside. In this meeting Davis asked the elder Conway if he’d seen Burgos. Conway said he hadn’t. Davis then told him, according to Conway’s testimony, “You all should have come up with us last night because we came off.” Patron then displayed a bracelet to Conway, and Davis said, “We had to pap-pap-pap these four guys.”

“Yeah man, one guy jumped on Larry’s back,” Patron chimed in, according to Conway’s testimony. Patron allegedly added that he shot one of the guys and then took all four men into a room where “Larry took care of them.”

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There were inconsistencies in Conway’s testimony. He seemed confused on names, dates, and places of past crimes. On one occasion, defense attorney asked Conway if he recalled an NYPD badge found in his apartment, and if was given to him by Larry Davis; Conway answered yes to both questions. But under questioning by assistant D.A. Brian Wilson, Conway said it was a security guard badge that Davis had given him in August 1986.

Between the time of the Southern Boulevard murders and the November shootout with police, Davis shuttled from place to place. Aside from various friends, he either stayed with his mother, his girlfriend Melody Fludd — the mother of his daughter Larrima — or his sister Regina Lewis. His lodging at Joe and Regina’s was the source of many arguments for the couple. Joe Lewis, a stocky private sanitation worker, didn’t like the fact that Davis stashed guns, blocks of cocaine in plastic bags, and large sums of money in their tiny apartment at 1231 Fulton Avenue; Lewis feared for the safety of his three young children, Joe Jr., Krystal, and Ravon. After one disagreement in the early fall of 1986, Regina reluctantly asked her baby brother to leave. Lewis soon reconsidered and welcomed Davis back into his home a few weeks before the shootout. Davis returned with the guns, drugs, and money in tow.

In early November, according to Burgos and Davis, the cops gave them 40 kilos of coke to sell to a Columbian dealer. Davis told me he met the Columbian and exchanged the drugs for $1 million in a suitcase. Both say that they kept all the money instead of handing the cops their share. The police “became worried” about Davis, Kunstler asserted later; “One, that he might tell on them, and two, that he took their money.”

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On November 19, 1986, Davis, Melody Fludd, little Larrima, Joe, and Joe Jr. were in the apartment watching a cassette. Although Davis remembers it being Rambo, the Lewises say it was Romancing The Stone (another example of Davis’s self-mythologizing?). Meanwhile, the other children, Krystal and Ravon, were playing in a rear bedroom.

Regina Lewis was on the phone in the front of the apartment when she saw the front doorknob begin to twist. She thought it was probably her prankster sister, Helen Mendoza, who lived next door. Regina got up, went to the door, and opened it just a crack. “Who lives here?” came a voice from the other side of the door. Curious, Joe Lewis got up and went to the door. Through the crack, he could see a brace of police officers with shotguns and flak jackets. They questioned Lewis for a second or two until they spotted Davis on the sofa: Davis saw them about the same time and made his move to the back bedroom.

“Somebody ran,” shouted one of the officers. About 13 cops rushed in, filling the tiny apartment with armed men. According to Regina Lewis’s testimony, no one produced a badge or a search warrant, not even Captain John Ridge, who backed her off iinto the kitchen, and told her to get on the floor. She began to scream. Sergeant Edward Coulter, who was called to testify by Davis’s attorneys, continued Regina’s account, saying, “All I could do was hear her screaming. There was a lot of screaming going on.”

The police hustled Joe Lewis, Melody Fludd, and her daughter out of the apartment. Joe said he wanted to run back and get Krystal and Ravon. “But there was no way to get them,” he recalled. “That’s where they were shooting.”

In the back bedroom, Davis said he pushed Krystal and Ravon under the bed. Davis also said that Detective Thomas McCarren — who William Kunstler maintained at trial was the dirty cops’ assassin — was the first officer he saw. “He ran in the back and asked me, ‘Where’s the money, where’s the money?’,” Davis told me. “I said, ‘I got your money, just don’t hurt my family.’ He was trying to act like Scarface or something. Next thing I know, his gun goes off, and he skinned the top of my head. If I get a close haircut, you can see the scar. So I shot back.”

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Sergeant Edward Coulter testified that he was standing behind McCarren when Davis was desperately rummaging around the room for a gun. “The detective [McCarren] kept yelliing, ‘Police, come out with your hands up.'” Suddenly, McCarren yelled, “Get back, he’s got a gun” and waved his arms desperately, falling backwards into Coulter. Coulter claimed Ravon, Larry Davis’s three-year-old nephew, then walked out of the bathroom. “I can draw you a picture of this kid today,” Coulter said on the stand. “The kid walked out of the bathroom, made a right, and started into the bedroom and as the kid got to the bedroom entrance, I heard an explosion. The guy fired a shot at us. We started to retreat. I … I don’t know if that’s the shot that hit the detective or it was a second shot or a … The gunfire, it was unstopped gunfire, just sounded like the range.” Coulter described shooting wildly through the walls of the bedroom at Davis, whom Coulter says he never saw.

Just as dramatic was the second-trial testimony of Officer Mary Buckley, who was shot in the mouth. On a wiretap recorded during his 17 days on the run, Davis told a friend that after Buckley said, “Freeze, you fuckin’ black nigger, I’m gonna blow your fuckin’ ass away,” she caught a bullet “in her mouth.” (Buckley has denied the slur.) Buckley, who has received more than 135 hours of dental work since the shooting, gave a visceral portrayal of the action. “It was like a knife cutting into my lip,” she told the court. “I realized that I was shot, and I thought I was going to die on some strange floor. I could feel all my veins turning to ice.” Within minutes, however, Buckley said she felt “very peaceful. I started to think of my daughter. She was nine at that time, and I didn’t want to leave her.”

Regina Lewis testified that after the six wounded officers retreated from the apartment, she ran to the bedroom and retrieved Ravon and Krystal from underneath the bed. “I started screaming because I heard the door open,” Regina Lewis told the court. “I thought the police were coming back in. And Larry said, ‘It’s me.’ I said, ‘Please don’t start shooting again.'”

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Davis darted out of the front door of the apartment. Outside, he spotted a few more policemen, and sprayed the hallway with gunfire. The cops scurried. Davis then shot the lock off of his sister Helen’s door and went inside. Looking out a rear window, he spied several cops in the backyard. Davis claims they saw his figure in the window but didn’t realize it was him. Mimicking a woman’s voice, he asked the cops what was happening. They gruffly told the “woman” to get back inside. After the cops left, Davis jumped from the first floor apartment window into the backyard and disappeared into the wilds of the Bronx. (This daring impersonation remains unverified; is it another product of the movie that plays in Davis’s head?)

After slipping in and out of safehouses for more than two weeks, Davis was cornered at 365 East 183rd Street in the Twin Parks West projects in the Fordham section of the Bronx on December 5, 1986. After more than six hours of tense negotiations between Davis and the NYPD — conducted over the phone and shouted through the front door of the apartment where Davis had taken two families hostage — Davis surrendered without incident at 7:30 a.m. He later claimed he gave up because he was concerned for his mother’s safety as well as his own. As a ring of cops led Davis down the building’s wheelchair ramp, he was showered with applause and cheers. Mayor Koch and Commissioner Ward patted each other on the back. The minicam crews raced back to their stations with the grand finale to the greatest show in the Empire State.

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Hunting for a conviction in the first trial (where Davis was charged in the Southern Boulevard murders), assistant district attorneys William Flack and Brian Wilson looked like mako sharks in NBO suits. They had a solid case against Davis; not airtight, but strong. In his summation, Flack likened the case with all of its testimony and physical evidence to “building a house.” He asked the jury not to be distracted by Kunstler and Stewart’s “landscaping and shrubbery” — the political dramatics — but to concentrate on the “house” itself.

With more than 50 witnesses, the prosecution’s case seemed stronger every day. There was the testimony of “Big Charlie” Conway, Addo, and a spacey crackhouse steerer named Roy Gray who claimed that, a few hours after the killings of the four suspected drug dealers, Davis, Burgos, and Patron robbed Gray outside a Washington Heights crackhouse (Burgos is currently serving a two-to-six year stretch at Rikers for this stickup). After Gray called the police and they arrived — and handcuffed Gray in the backseat of their patrol car just in case — the police chased Davis’s crew (driving a stolen car) all the way from 165th and Edgecombe in Manhattan to 167th and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. As Davis and company bailed out and scaled the sloping staircase from Jerome to Anderson Avenue, Gray testified that Davis and his boys fired at the cops. Flack and Wilson had evidence; the shells on the staircase and the fingerprints on the getaway car matched the shell casings and fingerprints taken from the scene of the murders.

Kunstler and Stewart ignored the murder case; their aim was to persuade the jury that corrupt police officers were out to assassinate Larry Davis. Kunstler’s theory was that McCarren, the detective who led the charge into Regina Lewis’s apartment on November 19, was out to “assassinate” Davis because he knew too much about police corruption and drug dealing. The defense team did their best to play to the frustrations and loyalties of the seven blacks and three Latinos on the jury.

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One person who figured heavily into Davis’s defense was his brother-in-law Joe Lewis. Lewis, who testified for the prosecution and later recanted, gave what appeared to be very damaging testimony. He claimed that Davis came to his house a day or two after the October 30 murders and said that he “went to rob some guys, but some static happened.” Lewis said Davis told him that one of the men rushed him and he shot the man. Lewis said Davis explained that the remaining three were shot and killed because Davis “didn’t need no witnesses.” Then the four were stripped of their clothing — one corpse did have socks on — tied up, and tossed into a bathtub full of water.

When I asked Davis what he thought of his brother-in-law’s account, he went off on me. “What’s the use of getting mad at the boy?” Davis asked sharply. “We know what they [the prosecution] is doing to him. The boy’s a punk, he’s scared, they tellin’ him he’s going to jail — he has children. I got a daughter myself. They scarin’ him. But they can’t do that to my family. They ain’t going for it.” And then Davis did something very brash. “Cut the tape off,” he said. Stunned and curious, I complied. “You see that tape recorder, how small it is? if you got a big coat, I want you to go to my mother’s house and interview Joe — but you can’t let him see the recorder. Take a pen and pad, but hide the recorder, switched on, in your coat pocket. He’s been telling people how he was scared, how they made him lie on the witness stand, how he didn’t want to do that, and I want that on tape.” I looked at Davis for a full minute as I let the full shock of his request sink in. Then I told him I couldn’t do that for him.

I did interview Lewis, however. He told me that right after Davis’s capture he kept getting calls from the Bronx D.A.’s office; he avoided them until the morning he was picked up by two detectives who drove him to the courthouse where he was interrogated for more than two hours by an assistant D.A. and a detective. According to Lewis, when he denied any knowledge of the murders or the shootout, the assistant D.A. told him, “You do know something. Why are you being stupid?” The detective allegedly added, “You asshole, why mess up your life for this bastard? Everybody here is telling on everybody anyway. We already know everything.” (The prosecution would not comment on the Lewis interview.)

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Says Lewis, “He had me thinking that it was other people that had already told on him, and they had all they needed to pin Larry. Then come to find out they only had me as a witness. They used me as a little sucker. I didn’t think it would be my testimony that would hang my brother-in-law. Larry used to call me and say, ‘Yo, don’t let them do this to me, don’t let them hang me.’ I told him, ‘I just put shit together from the newspapers. They was threatenin’ me so much, I was scared, tears was comin’ out of my eyes at the time.’ Then he told me, ‘Joe, stand up to them. Tell what they did to you, so people could know.’ They tried to use me, and I didn’t dig that. So I told Larry not to worry about it.” On the witness stand, Lewis avoided looking at Davis, his mother-in-law, and his wife.

On Sunday, February 14, Mary Davis called Stanley Cohen, Davis’s Legal Aid lawyer and one of the architects of his defense. After inquiring about his health, she said, “Somebody wants to ask your legal advice.” Joe Lewis took the phone. Cohen called him back and taped his recantation on an answering machine. Judge Fried did not allow the recantation because Lewis took the Fifth when asked whether his previous testimony was untrue. Fried also told the court that “Mr. Cohen did suggest the answers [for Lewis] outright.” But the next day the papers wrote about Fried barring the recantation. It was discussed on WLIB, and there is speculation that the jurors — who were sequestered upstate — got wind of it.

On March 3, 1988, after nine days of deliberation — the longest in Bronx county history — Davis walked on the murder charges. Objectively, the prosecution should have won, but crack and police corruption have filled the minds New Yorkers like sweet smoke spreading through a glass pipe. When it came down to choosing between “dirty” cops, unsympathetic victims, and poor leadership in the county’s judicial system on the one side and, on the other, a kid who may or may not have been lured into police corruption and no-name murders, Larry Davis was the people’s choice.

Mary Davis rocked with her eyes closed, her family fell on her and cried, her Pentecostal sisters raised open palms, on the brink of an unknown language. An older black man in the back of the courtroom shouted, “Alright now! Next, win, Jesse, win.” Stanley Cohen trembled, and then he cried. Lynne Stewart beamed and hugged Kunstler who tried to remain cool, but said, “I’m delirious. This is great, just great.” And he put his arm around Larry Davis, who sobbed into the sleeve of his lawyer’s charcoal gray suit.

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The acquittal in the first trial not only vindicated Davis, but it also bolstered his credibility, confirming the street-level perception that he was telling the truth about working for the cops. It was also the sort of surprise ending that suggested that the second trial (for the attempted first-degree murder of nine police officers, aggravated assault, use of a firearm, and criminal possession of weapons) would deliver even more drama.

After three months of false starts — involving possible racism in jury selection, subsequent empaneling and dismissals, until not one white sat on the jury — Davis II began in late July with the hoopla worthy of a new Martin Scorsese film. For the first couple of weeks, the courtroom was standing room only. As in the last trial, there was a broad cross-section of spectators: radicals, Muslims, Pentecostals — prayer capped women from Mary Davis’s Rapture Preparation Church — detectives, cops, reporters, and the legion of Davis’s family and supporters. I even remember small wagers made between reporters that Davis II would eclipse the hype of the Brawley mystery, which, at that time, was at it’s peak.

For a while, it seemed that it would. First, there was the tearful testimony of some of the wounded officers. Emergency Service sergeant Edward Coulter, who was wounded in the hand and thigh, broke down as he recounted the story of how he and his fellow officers were felled by the flashes of heat and light from Davis’s gun. Kunstler went as far as to show the courtroom a videotape of a police training lecture that depicted a much calmer Coulter describing the same event to fellow Emergency Service officers in a January 1987 meeting. Indeed, Coulter seemed to have a firmer grip on his emotions when I witnessed his testimony back in February. If anything, his steady delivery held the court spellbound, with his claim of Davis shooting first, even with a tot in the line of fire.

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Four of the other five wounded cops followed Coulter to the witness stand (four cops have filed civil suits against the city for negligence). The injured officers include Captain John Ridge who was grazed in the head (and who, according to a Newsday article, had a trace of alcohol on his breath during the post-shootout hospital examination, though he denied on the witness stand that he had been drinking), Officer John O’Hara, who was shot in the eye, and Detective Donald O’Sullivan, grazed in the head and hand. Throughout their testimony, Kunstler maintained the same position he outlined for Newsday on the day of the opening arguments: “You don’t assemble an entire task force with cops from all over the place, including ESU [Emergency Service Unit], get denied a request for a warrant from the DA’s office, and then still make a raid on the house with bulletproof vests, sawed-off shotguns, and 34 men unless you are hellbent on killing him.”

Bolstering the testimony of these and other officers on the scene that night were the daily sea of blue uniforms in the first two rows of the courtroom, including the wheelchair-bound Steven McDonald. McDonald, the officer disabled by a teen gunman in Central Park, was a quiet but powerful cheerleader for the cops. At the beginning of the second trial, he told the Post, “I consider them [the wounded officers] victims, and I’ll continue to be here as long as I am physically up to it.” Kunstler countered that McDonald’s presence was “a trick to win sympathy from the jury. It’s a shameful exploitation. I feel sorry for him.”

Perhaps the trial became too taxing for McDonald, because he didn’t show up in the courtroom for a while. Or maybe he just lost interest. McDonald’s absence was just one indication of the public’s lethargy during the bulk of Davis II. Despite the police parade of witnesses and the visceral testimony describing the melee, empathy had began to wane not only for the cops, but also for Larry Davis. Most people didn’t seem to care anymore; many said it was because the image painted by the cops of Davis using his toddler nephew as a shield in the shootout. Others said that the cop-shoot had been tried already in the murder trial; once you’ve seen the surprise ending, the thrill is gone.

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The disaffection of the general public grew despite the defense’s theatrical presentation. Davis, Kunstler, and Stewart did their best to pump a case that was in danger of becoming a mundane installment of Superior Court up to the level of a Hitchcock thriller. The most unexpected twist came in the October 5 testimony of Davis’s mother. Mary Davis, 65, told the court that on October 31, 1986 — the day after her son and two accomplices allegedly killed four suspected crack dealers at 829 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx — she was visited by four police officers. She testified that one of the officers, Joseph Nealon, said, “You know what you did? You raised a dirty bastard.” He went on to tell her, “You tell him, we’re going to put a f—in’ bullet in his head. You tell Larry we are going to kill him.” She informed the police Civilian Complaint Review of this harassment just in case “anything did happen,” (Nealon received a minor reprimand from the department for pushing and verbally abusing Mary Davis.)

Two weeks later, Kunstler, former Tawana Brawley advisers C. Vernon Mason and Al Sharpton, and other supporters staged a six-hour sit-in Brooklyn Criminal Court (over a judge’s decision in another case) that ended in a mini-riot and a group sleepover in a holding cell. Next, Davis developed a back problem that delayed the trial for a week. Were these carefully orchestrated blows against the system or were they acts of desperation? Well, Davis’s problem may have been genuine; months before he made the complaint, he told me had injured his back in a car accident that happened when he was being transferred from the Bronx Courthouse to the MCC. But there was widespread speculation that Kunstler was stalling because he had run out of ammunition.

Last week, the defense rested, the jury was charged, and deliberations began. as the trial drew to a close, the public revved itself up once more as if, having slept through the dreary exposition of the movie, the audience was waking up just in time for the car chase. Reporters who weeks ago were filling their notebooks with doodles suddenly scrambled to get to the fourth floor courtroom an hour early, because waiting for the verdict was the uptown ticket that’s as hot as Waiting For Godot. And Larry Davis was the hottest topic on the street corner again.

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Like a sequel that tops the original movie, the verdict in Davis II realized its great expectations. On Sunday afternoon, Larry Davis was found not guilty on all of the most serious charges — nine counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault — and found guilty of six counts of weapons possession. The press room on the ground floor of the Bronx County Courthouse swelled with reporters who were stunned into silence; meanwhile, shouts of “Hallelujah!” and revolutionary war cries caromed down the halls on the fourth floor. Soul power was alive and well in the Bronx.

Larry Davis will continue to be a figurehead for factions in New York. To the ruling class, he is society’s nightmare, a horror-film monster who keeps coming back every time you think you’ve put him away for good. Worse, he is not a lone gunman: he is the advance man for an urban earthquake that is rocking society from the bottom, a terrifying state of flux that can no longer be ignored or reversed. But to the powerless, Davis is a resistance fighter, decorated with the blood of the occupational forces and crowned with victories on the enemy’s home turf, the halls of justice that have traditionally been nothing more than corridors of white power. By paralleling Davis with Bernhard Goetz immediately after the verdict, Kunstler has (quite brilliantly) forced Judge Fried into choosing between either imposing a minimal sentence that matches Goetz’s penalty or a heavier one that implies the court is racist. If Davis serves any substantial length of time on the weapons convictions or if he is jailed on upcoming murder charges (he still faces two unrelated counts of murder), his name will be invoked the way Hurricane Carter’s was for years: as the patron saint of black victims.

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The triumph of Davis II has fueled the hunger for the kind of black hero that has been missing since the days of urban riots, Black Panthers, and Malcolm X. While Jesse Jackson has assumed the highest profile of any black leader in America today, there are many who feel his careful mainstreaming leaves a vacuum on the radical side; the rally to Davis’s bloody banner is a return to Malcolm X’s credo, “By any means necessary.” How could a crack dealing strongman be compared to a great visionary? “Hey man,” one Harlem professional told me recently, “remember that Malcolm used to be Detroit Red [a pimp and a drug dealer] before he became El Hajj. Everybody makes mistakes. It all depends on what you learn from them.”

I have heard the analogy between between Larry Davis and Malcolm X made so many times recently, it’s almost beginning to sound like an article of faith. But what the hopeful believers ignore is that Malcolm X was weaned on the black struggle through his father, a Marcus Garvey acolyte: Malcolm X was schooled to be a powerful beacon. As much as I believe God can rewrite any soul, and as much as I want to believe in Davis’s Islamic epiphany in prison, I can’t. I don’t think a true prophet would tell me to wait for the movie. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

White Line Fever

I. PROLOGUE

Miami is one of those cities with its own peculiar odor and you smell it most distinctly during the hours before dawn. There is salt in the air, of course, a nod to the abiding presence of the southern sea. But on certain nights when a desultory breeze blows east from the Everglades, a more powerful essence soaks the dark air: the ancient memory of the swamp. It’s as if all the tar and concrete, all the gleaming hotels and banks and shopping centers, the tract houses, schools, churches, and restaurants are some dull afterthought. In those humid after-midnight hours, the modern city is overwhelmed by a primeval compost of decaying vegetation, rioting flowers, fetid water, the remains of beings that die with thrashing suddenness in the night.

And on almost all such nights, it does not take much imagination to detect something else drifting on the Miami wind: the sweet rotting stench of corruption.

No other American city has melded its natural odor so perfectly with the dailiness of its human activities. If you move around the city, you sense the pervasiveness of the corruption: the cop smoking a cigarette in a doorway, like a supporting player from Red Harvest; the chaotic sprawl of weather-stained commercial architecture, evoking deals and variances and the purchased approval of second-rate materials; young men driving Porsches and Mercedes and Caddies as if they owned the nightside streets. Corruption is most tangible, as blunt as an ax, in the bars, discos, marinas, that sleek urban scape so accurately reflected in Miami Vice. This world is not fiction; its treacherous glamour is an undeniable element of modern Miami. And the citizens of that world, adorned with Naugahyde-like tans and encrusted Rolexes, rubbing their eroding noses in unwilled salute, are walking symbols of the city’s deepest reality. The truth of a time and place is, of course, always illusive; but no historian can tell the story of Miami in the last decade without acknowledging one gigantic fact of municipal life: cocaine.

In the late 1970s, the Miami Herald estimated that drugs had become the largest single industry in southern Florida, accounting for a billion dollars a year. Today, in spite of numerous photo opportunities starring George Bush, increases in various antidrug budgets, and some hard dangerous work by the more than 800 state and federal antidrug agents, there is no reason to believe that anything much has changed. Drugs are to Miami what cars are to Detroit. As opium was for some Brits in the 19th century, cocaine has been the essential building block of great Miami fortunes. Narcobucks have erected shopping centers, financed housing developments, built vast mansions, stocked racing stables, paid for boats, cars, and more fleshy trinkets, created and maintained banks (some law enforcement people believe that there isn’t a clean bank in the state), and so worked their way into the fabric of life here that nobody will ever be likely to separate the clean money from the soiled.

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In almost every way, cocaine dominates the culture of Miami. It is part of the city’s power structure, the engine of its economy, the unacknowledged grease of its politics. In Miami, as Christine Evans of the Miami Herald has written, “drugs are cheaper, purer and more abundant than anywhere else in the country. Doctors use them. Lawyers use them. Data analysts use them. Rich kids get them from their parents’ secret drawers. Poor kids score cheap on the street.”

One recent study estimates that the citizens of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties spend $1.69 billion a year on illegal drugs. Employers spend $744 million a year on health care for their druggies or for repairing the messes made by people who go to work loaded. Cocaine — 75 per cent of which enters this country through Florida — is at the heart of a vast capitalist enterprise, a rude democratic industry that follows the most primitive laws of supply and demand while promising great rewards to those willing to take risks. The odds are almost all in favor of the outlaw. Since its inception in 1982, the federal South Florida Crime Task Force has racked up more than 9500 arrests, seized tons of drugs. The result? Drugs are more available than ever before and cheaper by half at $30,000 a kilo. Few street-level dealers are ever touched because the courts and jails are jammed; crack houses operate openly almost everywhere. And the big dealers — the importers and wholesalers — are virtually immune in their Brickell Avenue condos and Coral Gables mansions. The drug business is a very successful American enterprise. Everybody knows this: ordinary citizens, reporters, politicians, schoolchildren.

But the cops know it better than anyone else. And in this world of dirty money and deep cynicism, it is no surprise that some of them have eaten the forbidden fruit. These notes are about some of those cops.

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II. DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE

The Miami River meanders out of the interior, sluggish and dense and hidden from view, crawling to the sea for 5.5 miles under the city’s bridges like a huge, flat worm. It passes through a wilderness of boat yards, docks, skiffs, houseboats; it eases past areas full of twisted, anonymous steel, past rusting gas pumps and sun-blasted soda machines, past tiny stores selling shrimp and cigarettes and cold beer, past bars where tattooed whores arrive before noon to service the fishermen. Miami is never thought of as a river town, but its river serves admirably as municipal metaphor: dirty, furtive, lawless.

Sometime after midnight on the river last July 28, six men were unloading 300 to 400 kilograms of cocaine from a beat-up old 40-foot scow called the Mary C. This was in itself not unusual; the river is sparsely patrolled by police, whose jurisdiction is split between Miami and the larger Metro-Dade police forces, along with 30 other agencies charged with its regulation (Dade County alone has a bewildering 27 separate police departments totaling 4500 police), and the river is frequently used by smugglers of everything from drugs to Pakistanis. The six men worked quickly, moving their precious cargo from boat to waiting van. It seemed like another smooth night’s work in Miami.

Then, at the entrance to the boat yard, an unarmed night watchman named Bob Downs was suddenly brought to attention by an urgent banging on his door. He was told to open up. He did, and saw at least six men, two of whom were wearing police uniforms and caps. They said they were police and that this was a raid. Downs let them in.

The new arrivals hurried into the yard with guns drawn. Someone among them yelled, “Kill them!” Panicked, cornered, afraid, the men who were unloading the drugs dove into the filthy river. Downs then was ordered to unlock the padlock on the cyclone fence gates, which he did, and the loaded van was driven away. Three of the men who leaped into the river — Pedro Martinez (described later as one of Dade County’s biggest coke dealers, with a fleet of five steel-hulled boats operating from the Bahamas to Florida), Adolfo Lopez-Yanes, and Juan Garcia — never were seen again alive. Their drowned bodies were fished out of the river the next afternoon.

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The following December, arrests were finally made: Armando Estrada, Roman Rodriguez, Osvaldo Coello, Arturo de la Vega, Ro­dolfo Arias, and Armando Garcia. All were young. All were Latin. All were, or had been, Miami cops.

Estrada, Rodriguez, and Garcia were arrested at dawn, each charged with three counts of first-degree murder; under Florida’s felony murder law, anyone who kills another in the process of committing a felony can be charged with first-degree murder. The others were picked up later. In addition to the murder charges, all five were charged with cocaine trafficking, racketeering, and aggravated battery; individual charges included armed robbery, conspiracy and solicitation to commit a felony, and possession of marijuana. Two of the surviving civilians who were unloading the boat were also arrested and charged. But the cops got all the attention. When four of them were brought to court, the whole country saw them blowing kisses, giggling, rolling their eyes, sniggering at their pictures in the newspapers. They flexed their muscles as they moved, looking like bags of bowling balls held together with steroids.

Within days, details about these men began to emerge. All were weight lifters, all made the disco scene, both in Little Havana and in the anglo joints out at the beach. They liked to adorn themselves with gold chains, spend money on expensive clothes, women, flashy cars, all the props of Miami Vice. And in police jobs paying $10 to $14 an hour, they apparently supported this lifestyle in the only way possible: through crime. They started small, taking drugs from motorists stopped for traffic offenses, and keeping them. A few openly muscled small-time peddlers. And eventually, investigators believe, about 10 cops bonded themselves together into a group the prosecutors call “The Enterprise.”

The major target of The Enterprise was the drug dealer. As cops, they would learn on the street (or from straight cops) who was dealing, when big buys were taking place, and then they would go in with shields and guns and take the goods for themselves. Some simply invaded the homes of suspected dealers at gunpoint, a variation of the old crap game stickup. Obviously, if you’re not supposed to be doing something, it is very hard to call the cops when you’re robbed. It’s even harder if the cops are doing the robbing.

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When they weren’t robbing drug dealers, the rogue cops were working for them. The key man was a short dapper 42-year-old Ma­riel refugee named Luis Rodriguez, who had gone from two 1982 arrests for possession of burglary tools and firearms, and four arrests in two years for possession of narcotics (for which he did no time) to the obligatory Mercedes, beeper, and cabin cruiser of the successful drug dealer. Like many drug dealers, he moved around a lot, seldom staying at his Coral Gables apartment, spending nights in various hotels, traveling on occasion to New York.

But Rodriguez was not exactly a master criminal, some Cuban wedding of Professor Moriarty and Meyer Lansky. In fact, he was pretty damned dumb. An example: on March 1, 1984, while driving south on the Jersey Turnpike, Rodriguez and another man were stopped by a trooper for driving 70 miles an hour. The trooper searched the 1981 Chevy and found two bags of cocaine, $14,000 in cash in the trunk, $5000 in the glove compartment, and $44,000 under the dashboard. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to cocaine possession then changed his mind, decided to fight the case, and went back to Miami to wait for trial. He obviously preferred the warm embrace of the Miami legal system to the chill vastness of the North. After his last period of probation in Florida, for example, Rodriguez asked the judge to give him back his 9 mm. Browning. I mean, what is a drug dealer without his piece? And Miami being Miami, Circuit Judge Ted Mastos agreed.

Rodriguez ran a joint called the Molino Rojo Bar, on 3084 NW 7th Street, where drug deals were often made (according to court documents) and where Rodriguez himself was once nabbed with two bags of cocaine. The bar was usually packed (even a brutal double homicide one night in December 1984 didn’t keep the customers away) and among those who came around were the young cops.

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Luis Rodriguez had a 49-year-old assistant, a hustler off SW 8th Street known as Armando Un. In the bar, Un got to know the cops and apparently he was a good judge of character; in 1984 he suggested they work for Rodriguez. And they were willing. In an affidavit, Un said that the drug thefts began in September 1984, the period cited by prosecutors as the beginning of The Enterprise. Soon the young weight lifters were moving drugs around the city for Rodriguez, often in patrol cars, sometimes peddling on duty. They didn’t always work in combination. Officer Estrada, Un said, once gave him a kilo of cocaine in mid-1985 and took a $2000 down payment; that sounded like a private deal. Some other jobs were small; The Enterprise even helped collect gambling debts, the public servant functioning as private muscle. But according to Un, in mid-1985 be helped plan a successful 300-to-400 kilo ripoff at the Tamiami Marina, with six cops doing the heavy lifting. And then they started going after even bigger deals. In the anarchic world of Miami drugs, business was good, although Metro-Dade homicide detective Alex Alvarez later told reporters that business wasn’t always very smooth; there were, for example, too many men involved — at least 10 — and they began to squabble. Said Alvarez: “Everyone wanted to kill everyone else.”

Immediately after the Miami River arrests, there were expressions of surprise and rage. But the Miami establishment should have known. The police brass. The politicians. The prosecutors. They should have smelled the rotting odor, drifting in the Miami night. Way back in February 1985, a banker whose own activities were under investigation said that three masked men broke into his Coral Gables home, robbed him of $100,000 in cash and jewelry, and threatened him with death. The thieves were “built like body builders,” and that April, after his own investigation, he told the cops that one of the three was a Miami police officer who worked out in a gymnasium near Bird Road. Coello and Garcia owned a gym on Bird Road. The cops investigated but did nothing. They were busy elsewhere.

On July 9 last year, a group of men invaded the home of a Miami weapons manufacturer, shot him to death, stole jewelry and a safe; neighbors said men who looked like “off-duty cops” had been seen casing the home. On the day of the Miami River deaths three men in a blue Cadillac flashed a police badge, kidnapped a woman, took her to her home and robbed her husband of $50,000; a car matching the description of the Cadillac was stopped two weeks later. Officer Osvaldo Coello was driving. He had borrowed the car, he said. Nothing happened. On August 17, two days after he resigned from the police department (after an investigation into allegations that he was using cocaine), Coello was stopped doing 120 miles an hour in a $59,000 red Lotus. He was carrying $4500. As a cop, he earned $10.40 an hour. He was not locked up. The police brass saw no evil. On August 26, two cops were arrested while trying to sell police badges, radio scanners, and automatic weapons to a drug dealer. On October 7, Miami police admitted that $150,000 had been stolen from a safe in the office of the Special Investigations Unit (the real name for the Miami vice squad) right in police headquarters. On October 10, a Metro-Dade officer was arrested for being part of a home-invasion gang; he specialized in posing as a mailman. A week later, two cops were arrested for possession of cocaine. The following month, two former Miami cops were charged with stealing (while still on the force) 150 pounds of cocaine from a 1000-pound seizure also made on the Miami River. In February, a cop was arrested while driving a stolen $40,000 Porsche. The next month, a cop was arrested for using a police car in the ripoff of a drug dealer and then planning the man’s murder. The cops in the Miami area were rapidly acquiring a substantial collective yellow sheet of their own.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719880″ /]

The most obvious questions were asked first: Who are these people? What kind of cops are they? The answers were sketchy.

All became cops in the aftermath of the bloody 1980 riots, when the Miami force was expanded from 630 officers to 1050 over three years. To reflect the changed ethnic composition of the city (42.3 per cent of Dade County’s 1,771,000 inhabitants are now Latin) about 80 per cent of the new officers were black or Latin. Some veteran cops insist that to attract the new officers, standards were lowered. And one result was that some bad apples ended up with badges and legitimate guns. Former Police Chief Kenneth Harms says, “Instead of taking the cream off the top of the barrel, we took the whole damn barrel.”

There are some indications that the contents of that barrel were drawn from a Miami generation to whom money was holy, its acquisition sacramental. This is, of course, in the grand American tradition. These, after all, are the children of immigrants, the same kind of people who — in the old days in a dozen American cities — made up the soldiers of the police and the Mob. Many came from the same neighborhoods. Two members of The Enterprise went to Miami High together. Three were in the class of ’81 at the Police Academy; all were known as “aggressive” cops, muscular machos who volunteered for tough assignments, actually preferring the high-action midnight shift. They also moved around with a certain swagger, letting everyone know they were hard guys — as hard as anyone else on the street. They worked at this, wearing muscles as if they too were a kind of uniform. Bodymasters, the gym owned by Coello and Garcia, attracted a lot of police officers; investigators now believe that while pumping iron at Bodymasters, members of The Enterprise also planned some of the drug ripoffs. But it’s not clear when these young men went bad.

Some Miami cops told me they believed the baddies became cops in order to enrich themselves, knowing that access to police intelligence and the gossip of informers would help them locate potential victims. Since the victims were also criminals there were few ethical problems. There might never have been ethical problems.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721001″ /]

“Look, there have always been bad cops,” one cop told me. “They’re usually cops for years and all they see is the scum of the earth and a court system that doesn’t give a rat’s ass and after a while they might say, ‘Hey, why don’t I get a piece for myself?’ In Miami, a cop can make a few grand by looking to the left instead of the right. But these young guys weren’t cops long enough to have that happen. I think they were bad from the day they went to the academy.”

If Rodriguez (through Un) was the corrupter, the relationship with the young cops didn’t last very long. At 5:30 p.m. on July 30, 1985, the day after the murders on the Miami River, in a field about a mile from the Dolphin Expressway, someone dumped a pine box that was three feet high and three feet wide. Inside the box was the body of Luis Rodriguez. He had been shot quite a few times. When the cops found the crate and opened the lid, Luis’s body popped out, and for a brief time his death was happily known to cops and reporters as the “Jack in the Box” murder.

Investigating the murder of Rodriguez, the cops heard that Officer Estrada had been around the night before the drug dealer disappeared, saying he would have to kill him. In a taped conversation after the killing, Un said to Officer Estrada: “I could care less if they killed Luis 40 times over. He had to be killed. If they had not killed him … ” On the tape, Estrada finished the sentence for him: “We would have killed him.”

Officers Arias, Garcia, and Estrada have been charged with conspiracy to murder Rodriguez, but nobody has yet been charged with the actual murder. The larger story of the Miami River murders (or, as defense attorneys call them, “suicides by drowning”) seems to have eclipsed the death of Luis Rodriguez.

[related_posts post_id_1=”726207″ /]

III. RUNNING AT HIALEAH

At some point, crime and politics always seem to intersect. This can be seen most clearly in the town of Hialeah. A stranger could cross from Miami into Hialeah without knowing that he has crossed any boundary; it’s like traversing the frontier between Brooklyn and Queens. But to those who know the place, Hialeah has its own special character these days. It is the second largest city in Dade County, with 180,000 residents (more than Fort Lauderdale). The city’s centerpiece is the once-lovely, now rather shabby racetrack that bears its name. In the old days, famous hoodlums came each winter to the track, carting along their fancy women, each northern don protected by a flying wedge of pistoleros.

In those days, there were almost no Latins in the town; those Latins who did live in Hialeah were third-rate jockeys, exercise boys, vendors, and petty hustlers who made a living off the track. Hialeah in the ’50s was a redneck town, full of hard-drinking shit-kickers who loved to batter each other on a Saturday night while Webb Pierce or Lefty Frizzell sang counterpoint on the jukebox. Then, after Castro took power, at first gradually and soon in a great rush, Hialeah began to change; vowels replaced consonants; Joe Cuba and the La Playa Sextet shoved Hank Williams and Merle Haggard off the juke. Today, Latins make up 80 per cent of the population and in 1983 finally took control of the city council. They have come to dominate an ugly, sprawling town, predominantly working class, whose main artery is 49th Street with its fast food joints and used car lots and grungy shopping centers. They have also inherited a ripe tradition of corruption.

“Politicians steal,” a Miami cop said to me. “That’s their business. But in Hialeah, they think they’re supposed to steal everything.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”726468″ /]

For years, the press and the prosecutors were after a Hialeah mayor named Henry Milander, citing various cases of alleged malfeasance. Milander brushed them away as if they were visiting fruit flies, until at last in 1970 he was convicted of grand larceny. Even that didn’t change Hialeah very much. The following year he was again elected mayor. Other pols, a visitor is told, made fortunes on developing the town, ridding the land of farms and open spaces, planting fields with warehouses and factories, jerry-building housing so unrelentingly ugly that it might even have offended Joe Stalin.

Into this fast-buck heaven have arrived many of the new-breed hustlers, and among them was a man named Alberto San Pedro. Born in Havana in 1950, Alberto was four years old when his parents brought him to Miami. In recent years, he called himself a developer, and hosted extravagant parties each December 17 in honor of his favorite saint, the wonderful San Lazarus, who is not recognized by the Catholic Church anymore but remains big among Cubans. The last two of these $50,000 parties were held at the posh Doral Hotel in Miami Beach, and among the guests were Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez, Representative Claude Pepper, Miami Beach mayor Alex Daoud, WSVN-Channel 7 weekend anchor and reporter Rick Sanchez, Miami police major Jack Sullivan, ordinary cops, political fundraisers, lawyers, various right-wing bravos, and a load of judges. San Pedro brought along a nine-foot statue of the saint, dressed himself in a tuxedo, was flanked by bodyguards, and posed with the assembled celebrities.

San Pedro’s father was a delegate to the 1984 Republican National Convention, and Alberto San Pedro was cleared for an audience with Ronald Reagan in Tampa in 1985. The son told all inquisitors that in addition to his activities as a developer, he was also a bookkeeper and salesman for his father’s business, the San Lazaro Racing Stables at Calder Race Track. These occupations obviously rewarded him handsomely: according to Jeff Leen of the Miami Herald, Alberto San Pedro’s six-bedroom mansion in Hialeah has eight and a half bathrooms and bulletproof windows.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718606″ /]

The windows should have been the tipoff that there was more to Alberto San Pedro than his own resume might indicate. He was, in fact, leading a far more interesting life than the one he presented to the public and seems to have studied for it with the same respect for basic texts that a seminarian would reserve for Thomas a Kempis. Leen, whose wonderfully detailed profile of Alberto for the Herald is the basis of many of these notes, also learned that Alberto kept a hardcover copy of The Godfather in the bathroom closest to his bedroom and a biography of Al Capone behind the desk in his office. It was in that same office that police set up a hidden microphone and learned many things about Alberto’s other, perhaps more characteristic, life. As we learned from listening to the Watergate tapes, the bulk of a hoodlum’s day is consumed by bullshitting with other hoodlums, and the San Pedro tapes — recorded in thousands of pages of transcripts — are a fascinating journey into the true underbelly of life in a corrupt town.

For these tapes, the police say, show that Alberto San Pedro was a major corrupter, a fixer, the classic cacique who works behind the scenes to secure power and wealth and enforces his presumed right to both with fear and violence. Among the institutions he is accused of corrupting is the Hialeah police department. It was a task he had trained for all of his life.

We don’t know if Alberto San Pedro’s reading of Mario Puzo moved him to see his life as a novel, but if so, the early  chapters followed the traditional pattern. In junior high school he learned that force can be rewarded. According to a Florida Parole and Probation Commission case analysis quoted by Leen, “Subject began extortion in the 9th and 10th grades, making the other students do his homework or work projects.”

By age 20, San Pedro, like so many other characters in this squalid story, was into weight lifting. And he began to take karate lessons from a Hialeah cop named Leo Thalassites. On the tapes, San Pedro says that he spent much of his youth beating up people for 50 or a hundred bucks (“that’s how I made my money”). By the time he was 21, his yellow sheet was lengthening: three arrests for aggravated assault, one for resisting a police officer, two for assault and battery, another for buying and possessing stolen property. In 1970, police reports said, after being flattened by a hard block in a sandlot football game, an enraged San Pedro stabbed the blocker, then went to his car, took out a machine gun, and sprayed the field. In all of these cases, he was either acquitted or had the charges dismissed. He wasn’t properly nailed by the law until 1971, when he took part in a drug rip-off and discovered that the subjects of his attention were undercover cops. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and given three years probation.

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

Even this didn’t convince San Pedro to go into a quieter line of work. In 1972, he was in trouble again, charged with armed robbery and assault with the intent to commit murder. His victim this time was a hooker’s John. There are clearly marked roads to heaven. But the customer wouldn’t testify and San Pedro got off. Three years later, he almost got off the earth when a hit man shot him five times. San Pedro survived. The hit man disappeared. And San Pedro began to give his annual thanks to Saint Lazarus. He also began to think more about the style of his life and the reach of his ambitions. On a July 26, 1985, tape, he says:

“I’m not a doper. I dedicate myself to my business. I was fucking broke when I was a kid and I got the shit beat out of me by the cops and by … the whole group. That’s what made me think there’s only one way to get around in life here. That’s politics and money.”

San Pedro was correct; the grand old American combination of politics and money is certainly not unique to south Florida. But there was something else going on in Hialeah. By last year, the police chief was a man named Cecil (“Whitey”) Seay, whose earlier career didn’t seem to shape him for extraordinary moral leadership. In 1970 he was accused by a drug dealer of trying to cut himself into a $150,000 marijuana smuggling plot (no charges were filed); he was indicted in 1971 after a Dade County grand jury investigation demanded by 70 Hialeah officers who said that nine officers, including Seay, didn’t meet ethical standards (he was accused of thwarting a burglary investigation, but when the chief witness against him changed his story the charges were dropped); in 1973, a teenage girl appeared before the city’s personnel board and claimed that Seay had forced his attentions upon her (no investigation was made). At the hearings that led to his choice as chief, Seay said: “Those guys who have a clean record have never done anything.”

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One of Seay’s most important officers was San Pedro’s old karate instructor and still his good friend, Leo Thalassites. He was now a sergeant. Leo suddenly found himself in the newspapers on January 30 when he threatened to kill two detectives named Eddie Preston and Tom Nevins. He made this threat in the lobby of the Hialeah City Hall in front of three other officers. Preston and Nevins were in the intelligence section of Hialeah’s police department, and Thalassites accused them of sending anonymous letters to various police organizations and the media accusing Leo and some other Hialeah veterans of corruption. Although the two cops denied this, Chief Seay and Mayor Martinez backed Thalassites. One fine morning, the two detectives found the locks on their office changed, with their personal possessions and pending cases still inside. They were then shifted to other jobs, one washing police cars, the other pounding a beat. Hialeah’s intelligence section was disbanded.

But the story didn’t end there.

The Metro-Dade police were already looking hard at Alberto San Pedro. An undercover agent, posing as a corrupt cop, had ingratiated himself with San Pedro and had a series of meetings and telephone conversations with the man. All were recorded. More than anything else, San Pedro told detective Nelson Perry, he wanted to get rid of the rest of the records of his youth so that he could obtain a full pardon for his youthful crimes and become a U.S. citizen. He planned to do this, he said, with money.

“Everybody’s got a friend and everybody needs friends,” he said on an August 30, 1985, tape. “Everybody likes to be loved and everybody wants to be loved. Money, everybody loves money. Everybody likes to spend it … And unfortunately, politicians are the worst motherfuckers in the world … They only look at one thing, how much can I steal as long as I’m there.”

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Among the records that San Pedro wanted destroyed were accounts of his dealing with a middle-level Gambino family hoodlum named Joseph Paterno. Police recorded conversations in April 1985 indicating that Paterno tried to buy from San Pedro two silencer-­equipped guns for use in the killing of two of his own cousins in New Jersey. San Pedro didn’t refuse; his price — $4000 for each piece — was simply too high for Paterno’s budget, according to Arthur Nehrbass, commander of Dade’s Organized Crime Bureau. Almost immediately after this conversation, Paterno was arrested.

The cops took a closer look at San Pedro. In June, he offered $5000 to a police informant to get the Paterno transcripts and tapes. The cops then sent their undercover man to San Pedro (setting up the meeting through San Pedro’s bodyguard) and listened to his various offers, and accepted sums ranging from $2000 to $11,000. Over a period of time, the cops fed San Pedro a combination of real and fictitious police material, and listened to his bragging, his philosophy, and his schemes. Those schemes were not empty; San Pedro was the real thing. They knew, for example, from the Hialeah records chief, Lieutenant Thomas Bardon, that San Pedro’s file had disappeared three times from that city’s police department. A narcotics intelligence file on San Pedro also disappeared. And his records were missing from the Dade Circuit Court clerk’s office and the State Attorney’s office. San Pedro was clearly attempting to create a new personal history through elimination.

Nelson Perry, who was president of the Police Benevolent Association (which began representing Hialeah cops in September 1985), says he started smelling the rot in Hialeah when he was approached by a 350-pound political press agent and community newspaperman named Don Dugan (later indicted in a separate case for being the bagman in a bribery case in Opa Locka). Dugan told Perry that he could earn “a personal profit” if he stayed out of Hialeah police affairs. This shocked Perry, who told his superiors of this; they assigned him to pose as a corrupt cop. He soon met San Pedro for the first time at the Treetop Restaurant in the Miami Springs Holiday Inn. They continued to meet for weeks. At two of Perry’s meetings with San Pedro, a Hialeah cop was also present. It was Sergeant Thalassites.

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When police overheard San Pedro in February talking about killing two men who owed him a total of $4000, and conspiring to sell a kilo of cocaine, they decided to move. On February 13, San Pedro was arrested on bribery charges, and rearrested March 2 for murder, conspiracy, and cocaine trafficking. Hialeah erupted. Within weeks, Chief Seay resigned. Thalassites went on paid leave. Some of the tapes were released, littered with the names of various politicians who were claimed by San Pedro as friends or property. TV reporter Rick Sanchez was heard discussing an exchange of favors with San Pedro; good old Alberto had found a job in Panama for Sanchez’s uncle; Sanchez, who served as a non-voting adviser to the board of the First American Bank & Trust, got a share of San Pedro’s business for the bank. (What a reporter was doing serving on the board of a bank — and sucking after customers on behalf of that bank — nobody could answer; Sanchez also was granted a paid leave but his superiors at the TV station said they saw nothing wrong with his connection to the bank. The ethics of Miami strike again.) It was then remembered that Sanchez had emceed the 1984 San Lazarus party and had led the group in prayer. Someone else noticed that Hialeah had a 29.6 per cent increase in crime during 1985 and the joke was that this was “not including cops.”

Then in mid-March, the Herald tossed a few more bombs into the discussion.

Reporters Leen and Sydney P. Freedberg discovered that in 1979, Florida’s former attorney general, Robert Shevin, and the state’s esteemed Congressman Claude Pepper had written letters to the Florida parole board extolling San Pedro’s character. They now claimed that they didn’t really know San Pedro, couldn’t remember him; since their letters claimed that they did in fact know San Pedro either the letters or the statements were lies. The former attorney general certainly should have known something about San Pedro. His law partner, a Democratic fund-raiser and adviser to Governor Bob Graham named Ronald Book, represented San Pedro during his 1983 application for a full pardon. Pepper and Shevin spluttered, suffered from amnesia, hung up the phones.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

Even more bizarre was the story of San Pedro’s access to Governor Graham himself. Last December, when there were cops all over Hialeah investigating San Pedro, a woman named Marcia Ludwig emerged to support San Pedro’s application for a full pardon. Marcia Ludwig was once Marcia Valibus and in 1957 she was queen of the Orange Bowl; in Miami there is always an element of the surreal. Later Marcia Valibus was a runner-up in the Miss Universe contest and had a screen test at Paramount Studios. She was also a classmate of Adele Graham, the governor’s wife, and over the years they had remained friends. For more than a decade, the Herald said, Marcia Ludwig has been an intimate friend of one Robert (Bobby) Erra, son of the late Pasquale (Patsy) Erra, who once worked for Vito Genovese. Marcia and Erra are often seen together, friends told the Herald, at the La Goree Country Club. More important, there are pages of conversations between Erra and San Pedro on the various tapes. On December 11, Ludwig sent a hand-written note to her friend, the governor’s wife:

“Dear Adele, This is a note for Bob’s mirror. A good friend of mine — Alberto San Pedro— has a case coming before Bob and his Cabinet on Dec. 18 … I appreciate you calling my words to Bob’s attention.”

On December 19, Adele wrote back to Marcia: “I placed the note on Bob’s mirror — so he’s aware.” This was the day after Graham presided over the hearing. During that session, he said: “Unfortunately, there continues to be this lingering question as to what might be in his background. I’m concerned that Mister San Pedro is sort of being cast under a shadow that he seems to be unable to extricate himself from and which shadow hasn’t yet, or after four or five years, moved to the substance of some action. It has been a long time since the criminal offense for which he’s requesting pardon was committed and he has an impressive statement of his community record.” Graham “reluctantly” moved to continue the case, stating that the next time San Pedro’s pardon was discussed, he would come to a decision. There is no indication that he checked with any of the cops; he certainly didn’t give San Pedro a flat rejection. What the hell: when you’re a kid in Hialeah it’s only natural to fool around with machine guns. Still, Graham didn’t say yes either. And his need to decide was made academic by San Pedro’s February 13 arrest.

The honest cops in Hialeah had long despised San Pedro and to some extent feared him. He was the shadowy man, the fixer, called upon for help by arsonist, hoodlum, dealer. On the day he was arrested, someone placed a note on the police department’s bulletin board. It said very simply: “The untouchable has been touched.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”719763″ /]

IV. OUT OF THE SWAMP

Obviously, every cop in southern Florida is not a crook. Most of the arrests have been made as a result of good tough police investigations along with continuing pressure from the Miami Herald. But it’s unlikely that corruption will soon vanish, the drug dealers joining the dinosaurs in the rot of the swamp. They won’t go away, and cops will continue to be corrupted because there is simply too much dirty money lying around. Cocaine will not soon be legalized: Americans won’t soon surrender their national lust for some form of chemical nirvana.

But if you wonder what happens to some of these men who briefly and luridly occupy page-one headlines, consider recent events in North Bay Village, another suburb of Miami. In 1971, a cop named George Staphylaris was fired from the Miami force for allegedly encouraging a police informant to rob a department store. He appealed the firing, was reinstated with a six-month suspension, then resigned. Six years ago he joined the North Bay Village force. He was soon known to many kids as Officer George, ran the drug education program at Treasure Island Elementary School, often took kids on trips to the Everglades, and had prepared a children’s seminar called “Just Say No To Drugs.”

On the North Bay force, he met another former Miami cop named William David Risk. He too was once fired, for battering a prisoner with a nightstick. He too fought his firing, was reinstated, and resigned in 1979. Last year, he was North Bay Village’s officer of the year, cited for his “superlative performance and dedication.” He was also a weight lifter.

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A third former Miami cop was on the North Bay force. This was Sergeant Fernando Gandon. He quit the Miami force in 1977 after being charged with aggravated battery. While interrogating a man on the street, the charges against him said, he shoved his pistol in the man’s mouth, rattled it around and broke some teeth. Five years ago, he arrived at North Bay and was again given a badge and gun.

On February 27, all three men were arrested by the FBI for selling protection to men they believed to be drug dealers. A Mob guy named Stephen Nahay told FBI agents (posing as drug dealers) in a recorded conversation that if they were moving drugs they should see the three North Bay cops. “They’ll help you out,” Nahay said. “In other words, if you want to kill a guy there … you just tell them the guy and they’ll kick him on to the coroner … ”

Clearly, redemption does not flourish under the southern sun. There are no second chances for such people, only the main chance. But nobody from New York can step back in self-righteous judgment at the sight of Miami police scandals. We have at least one such scandal in every New York generation since the mid-19th century. And late one night, sitting with a Miami cop in a place called Trainer’s, where judges and drug dealers both come to dine, I was asked, “How long can that mayor of yours last?” I wasn’t able to answer. The arrest rate at New York’s city hall hasn’t quite reached that of the Miami cops, but the crimes are about the same general thing: abuse of power for personal gain.

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In Miami, the corruption will go on and on, as long as millions of Americans maintain their passionate love affair with cocaine. Jesse Helms and his fellow yahoos should forget about corruption in Mexico for the moment and acknowledge the rot in a state that went fervently for Ronald Reagan. They might discover that drug dealers love conservatives in power; conservatives forbid things that racket guys can then sell. And while Americans keep buying expensive powders to shove up their noses, the bad guys will keep buying cops. How many. As many as they need.

A good number of Miami cops have the integrity to resist the lure of narcodollars. But just as surely, others will plunge into the swamp and rise covered with the kind of slime that will never wash off. They are there now, driving Chevies and longing for Porsches, dressed in baggy suits and lusting for Giorgio Armani, hearing preachments of denial, while drug dealers leave with the women, and the country at large throws roses to the greedy. They are men of the law but nobody in Miami would ever be surprised to see them leaving the sunshine in handcuffs. Their sweet decaying odor will not go away. ❖

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

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Bernhard Goetz: Notes From Underground

The slow and tedious processes of justice brought Bernhard Hugo Goetz last week to a fifth-floor courtroom at 111 Centre Street and there, at least, the poor man was safe. Out in the great scary city, the demons of his imagination roamed freely; across the street, many of them were locked away in the cages of The Tombs. But here at the defense table, flanked by his lawyers, protected by a half-dozen armed court officers, the room itself separated by metal detectors from the anarchy of the city, Goetz looked almost serene.

By design or habit, he was dressed as an ordinary citizen: pink cotton shirt and jeans over the frail body, steel-rimmed glasses sliding down the long sharp nose. His hair looked freshly trimmed. You see people like him every day, passing you on the street, riding the subways, neither monstrous nor heroic. From time to time, he whispered to the lawyers. He made a few notes on a yellow pad. His eyes wandered around the courtroom, with its civil service design and the words In God We Trust nailed in sans-serif letters above the bench of Judge Stephen G. Crane. Goetz never looked at the spectators or the six rows of reporters. In some curious way, he was himself a kind of spectator.

So when it was time to play the tape-recorded confession that Goetz made to the police in Concord, New Hampshire, on New Year’s Eve, 1984, he, too, examined the transcript like a man hoping for revelation. The text itself was extraordinary. Combined with the sound of Goetz’s voice — stammering, hyperventilating, querulous, defensive, cold, blurry, calculating — it seemed some terrible invasion of privacy. We have heard this voice before; it belongs to the anonymous narrator of Notes from Underground, that enraged brief for the defense.

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Goetz furrowed his brow as he listened to this much younger, oddly more innocent version of himself that had ended the long panicky flight out of the IRT in the second floor interview room of police headquarters in Concord. He started by telling his inquisitor, a young detective named Chris Domian, the sort of facts demanded by personnel directors: name, birth date, social security number, address (55 West 14th Street, “in New York City, and that’s, uh, that’s zip code 10011”). But it’s clear from the very beginning that he realized these would be his last anonymous hours.

Goetz: You see, I’ll tell you the truth, and they can do anything they want with me, but I just don’t want to, I just don’t want to be paraded around, I don’t want a circus … I wish it were a dream. But it’s not. But, you know, it’s nothing to be proud of. It’s just, just, you know, it just is.

Exactly. It wasn’t a dream, certainly not a movie; it just was. On December 22, 1984, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, Bernie Goetz boarded a southbound number 2 Seventh Avenue IRT train at 14th Street and his life changed forever. So did the lives of Darrell Cabey, Troy Canty, James Ramseur, and Barry Allen. Within seconds after he boarded the train, they were joined together in a few violent minutes that changed this city. And when you listen to Goetz making his jangled confession, you understand that on that terrible afternoon, there were really five victims.

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Domian: Okay, let’s start with the person that was, uh, on the right, so to speak, laying down.

Goetz: Yeah, I think he was the one who talked to me; he was the one who did the talking.

That was Canty. He is now 20, finishing an 18-month drug rehab treatment at Phoenix House. Before he ran into Goetz, he had pleaded guilty to taking $14 from video games in a bar. In his confession, Goetz is trying hard to explain to Domian (and to officer Warren Foote, who joined Domian) not simply what he did, but its context. The resulting transcript reads like a small, eerie play: the man from the big city explaining a dark world of menacing signs and nuances to the baffled outlanders.

Goetz: I sat, I sat down and just, he was lying on the side, kind of. He, he just turned his face to me and he said, “How are you?” You know, what do you do? ‘Cause people joke around in New York a lot, and this and that, and in certain circumstances that can be, that can be a real threat. You see, there’s an implication there … I looked up and you’re not supposed to look at people a lot because it can be interpreted as being impolite — so I just looked at him and I said “Fine.” And I, I looked down. But you kind of keep them in the corner of your eye …

Domian: Did he say anything else to you?

Goetz: Yeah, yeah … the train was out of the station for a while and it reached full speed … And he and one of the other fellows got up and they, uh  — You see, they were all originally on my right-hand side. But, uh, you know, two stayed on my right-hand side, and he got up and the other guy got up and they came to my left-hand side and … You see, what they said wasn’t even so much as important as the look, the look. You see the body language … You have to, you know, it’s, it’s, uh, you know, that’s what I call it, body language.

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That’s what started it off: “How are you?” and body language. It just went from there. Goetz remembered: “He [Canty] stood up and the other fellow stood up. And they very casually walked, or sauntered — whatever you want to call it — over to my left side. And the fellow … uh, he said, ‘Give me five dollars.'”

This is the moment that helps explain the intensity of the public response to the Goetz story. It is one thing to read with detached amusement about Jean Harris or Claus von Bulow; such tabloid soap operas have little to do with our lives. But for millions of New Yorkers, what happened to Goetz is a very real possibility. Being trapped on the subway by four bad guys demanding not a dime or a quarter but five dollars is similar to the nocturne about the burglar beside the bed in the dark. A quarter is panhandling; five dollars is robbery. Such scenarios don’t often happen, but you wonder what you would do if they did. For Goetz, it happened.

Goetz: One of the other fellows, he had in his fur coat, he had his hand or something like this and he put a bulge … And even that isn’t a threat. Because the people, you see, they, they know the rules of the game, the rules of the game in New York. And you know, they’re very serious about the rules … You see you don’t know what it’s like to be on the other side of violence. It’s, it’s like a picture. When it happens to you, you see, you see it … People have the craziest image; they see, like Captain Kirk or someone like that, getting attacked by several guys and boom, boom, boom, he beats ’em up and — and two minutes later, he’s walking arm and arm in, with a beautiful woman or something like that. And that’s not what it is ….

Goetz was not Captain Kirk. He was a frail bespectacled young man living in New York and he had learned the rules of the game. He knew what was meant when one of four young black men told him he wanted five dollars.

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Goetz: I looked at his face, and, you know, his eyes were shiny, you know. He, he, he was, if you can believe that, his eyes were shiny, he was enjoying himself … I know in my mind what they wanted to do was play with me … You know, it’s kind of like a cat plays with a mouse before, you know …

Domian: After you got that impression, what did you wind up doing?

Goetz: That’s not an impression, that’s not an impression …

Throughout the confession, Goetz struggles with what he clearly believes is an impossible task: to explain to his rural auditors the terrors of New York.

Goetz: … You have to think in a cold-blooded way in New York … If you don’t … think in what society’s going to brand it, as being you know cold-blooded and murderous and savage and monstrous … I feel it’s irresponsible … How can you understand that here in New Hampshire? How, how, how can you?

He explains to the two New Hampshire cops that he began, in his mind, to lay down “my pattern of fire.” He would shoot from left to right. That was the only thing he could do, he insists, because this act wasn’t premeditated: “I never knew those guys were on the train, you know, and like I said, I’m, I’m no good guy or anything like that. But if they had acted a little differently, if they hadn’t cornered me … ” Clearly what he feared most from them was humiliation. And so he decided to shoot them with the unregistered nickle-plated featherweight .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Special that he had shoved inside his pants.

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Domian: Your, your intention was to shoot these people?

Goetz: My intention, at that moment, let me explain: when I saw what they intended for me, my intention was, was worse than shooting.

Domian: Okay. Was it your intention to kill these people?

Goetz: My intention was to do anything I could do to hurt them. My intention — you know, I know this sounds horrible — but my intention was to murder them, to hurt them, to make them suffer as much as possible.

No, he explained, he didn’t have a pistol permit, because the New York police department had turned him down. And then, recalling all this to the cops in New Hampshire, the core of his rage began to burn. The reason he wanted a pistol permit was because he had been attacked three years before and was left with permanent damage to his knee. The cops caught the man who did it, Goetz said, and two hours and 35 minutes after his arrest, he was back on the street without bail, charged with malicious mischief; Goetz himself claimed he spent six hours and five minutes filing the charges and talking to the bureaucrats in the victim aid program.

“That incident was an education,” he said, his voice beginning to tremble. “It taught me that, that the city doesn’t care what happens to you. You see, you don’t know what it’s like to be a victim inside.”

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And he began to explain what it’s like to live in an almost permanent state of fear. This can’t be sneered away; thousands, perhaps millions of New Yorkers live with this most corrosive emotion. Most of us have adjusted to the state of siege. We are tense, wary, guarded; but most of us function and do not explode. Goetz was different.

Goetz: … I kind of accept my life, as I know it, is finished. But, but, boy, it would be just — to lead a normal life. If, if you can’t, I mean, is it too much to ask? … To live being afraid is unbearable, you know? It’s too much to ask, goddamn it .. .”

All over the tape, Goetz talks about fear and its denial. “I’m not afraid of dying instantly,” he says at one point. “I don’t have a family or anything like that. What I’m afraid of is being maimed and of, of these things happening slowly and not knowing what’s going to happen from moment to moment. The fear, in this case, the fear is a funny thing. You see, this is really combat.” He then becomes even more analytical, sounding like a man who had mastered the theory before engaging in practice. “The upper level of your mind, you just turn off. That’s, that’s the important thing. And you, you react … your sense of perception changes, your abilities change. Speed is everything, speed is everything.”

And so, with speed, he shot Canty, Allen, Cabey, and Manseur. “They had set a trap for me,” he tells the cops, “and only they were trapped. It was just so bizarre. It was — I know this is disgusting to say — but it was, it was so easy. I can’t believe it. God.” He insists that he knew exactly what he was doing when he was doing it. “I don’t believe in this insanity stuff. Because you know what you’re doing. You cannot do something and not know it. I mean how could I do it and not know it? This is, this is all bullshit … But if you can accept this: I was out of control … Maybe you should always be in control. But if you put people in a situation where they’re threatened with mayhem, several times, and then if, then if something happens, and if a person acts, turns into a vicious animal — I mean, I mean, you know, how are you supposed, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, what, what do you expect, you know?”

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After firing the first shots, dropping Canty, Ramseur, and Allen, he saw Cabey sitting down.

Goetz: I wasn’t sure if I had shot him before, because he just seemed okay. Now, I said I know this sounds, this is gonna sound vicious, and it is. I mean, how else can you describe it? I said, “You seem to be all right. Here’s another.” Now, you see, what happens is, I was gonna shoot him anyway, I’m sure. I had made up, I mean, in my mind, that I was gonna pull the trigger anyway. But he jerked his right arm. And on reflex, he was shot instantly. You see, that’s the whole thing. You’re working on reflex. You don’t think …

Scattered through the confession there are many other examples of Goetz’s fury and rage, which sound as if they too had become reflexes. “If I had more [ammunition] I would have shot them again and again and again.” He says that “I wanted to hurt them as much as I possibly could.” But even in his rage, he could recognize the fallen men as humans: “I wanted to look at his eyes, I don’t even want to say what may have been in my mind. And I looked at his eyes … there was such fear.” It was as if Cabey’s fear was the only sign to Goetz of their common humanity. “You know, the, the, the look had changed. And I started — it was kinda like slowing down. All of a sudden it’s like putting on the, screeching of the brakes, and you just start slowing down … ”

He talked about the reactions of other passengers, the train slowing down, a conductor coming in and asking what was going on. He talked about jumping out into the tracks after the train stopped in the tunnel, and coming up at Chambers Street and taking a cab home, and then a long drive that night in a rented car to Vermont because “instinctively, somehow I kinda feel like heading north is the way to go if there is a problem.”

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Goetz stayed in Vermont for a week. And if you can believe the confession, he seems actually to have been happy. What he did in the subway, he thought, would be considered just another New York crime. “… When I got back to New York, the stuff was still on the news and people were talking about it. You see, up here people have just forgotten about it. It was one more piece of, excuse me for using the word — one more piece of shit that happened in New York.”

Hearing himself say those words, Goetz massaged his temple, and then lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes. In the end, the eruption that Saturday afternoon on the IRT wasn’t just another piece of shit that happened in New York. It was a lot more than that. ♦

1987 Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about Bernie Goetz and the subway shooting

1987 Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about Bernie Goetz and the subway shooting