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The Priest and The Mob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE PRIEST AND THE HOOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE “CHIN”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SEBCO AND THE WISEGUYS

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

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

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

SENATOR SAM NUNN: What about subcontractors?

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

NUNN: So the wiseguy helps control the subcontractor?

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

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

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

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

CAFARO: Yes. Yes.

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

CAFARO: Top to bottom.

NUNN: Top to bottom?

CAFARO: Sure.

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

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SEBCO’S SILENT PARTNER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TRANSFER OF POWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CLOSE TO HOME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FOR “THE BOYS”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PROBLEM SOLVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RISING PROFITS

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

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

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

BIG HAULS

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

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

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

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WIRED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MEADE AND MARIO

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

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

NO VOW OF POVERTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FATHER G’S HIDEAWAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IS CHIN SANE?

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

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

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

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

POLS AND THE MOB

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

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

DECEIVING THE FEDS
Vincent DiNapoli’s Two Dirty Deeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mob is Dead! Long Live the Mob!

WHERE WERE YOU when the Mafia died?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where’s the money?

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

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

A safe assumption is that some money is invested in legitimate businesses while oth­er monies remain “on the street,” in the form of loan-shark loans. Where the bal­ance goes, that’s anybody’s guess. No informant has ever told of Swiss bank accounts, and it always seems that safe deposit boxes are sans cash, brimming instead with cheap jewelry.

The money riddle may be the best indica­tion that the Mafia isn’t dying. Federal offi­cials mistakenly believe that, with John Gotti in prison, the mob has suddenly been placed on the run. Actually, the Mafia has adopted a defensive posture.

History shows that New York gangsters have a keen sense of when it’s time to hit the mattresses. The spotlight always has a way of fading. That’s when you get back to business. ❖

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

Paul Castellano Hit: Capo Loses Mob Primary

After all the pictures were taken and Paul Castellano’s cigar butt had been re­trieved by the cops and someone had found a piece of his skull the size of a half dollar lying near the entrance of Sparks Steak House; after the bodies of Castel­lano and Thomas Bilotti had been carted away, and the big black Lincoln had been taken to the East 51st Street station house; after all that, two middle-aged men — one black and one white — stood on East 46th Street, staring at the chalked hieroglyphics of murder on the sidewalk before them, retailing “dearies.”

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“My dearie is that the trial took up so much time, dey hadda whack him out,” said the white man, who was in his six­ties. “Nobody was mindin’ the store.”

The black man’s dearie was more up­town. “It had to be the Colombians, man. They tired of these old-time gangsters and they want to take it away from them. So they kill them. It’s simple, man.”

In the days following the murders, such dearies were everywhere. There was, to begin with, the dearie of the Castellano tapes. The government had penetrated Castellano’s home with recording devices, had listened to Big Paul discuss various Mob felonies, and would use the tapes in the prosecution of the five family heads who make up the so-called Commission. So Castellano was knocked off to save the four other bums by making the tapes in­admissible as evidence. Problem: the tapes are still admissible.

But the most popular explanation hinged on the impatience of one John Gotti. This is essentially a generation gap dearie, in which the 45-year-old Gotti, a violent little fat man from Howard Beach, had wearied of the old-world conservatism of the 73-year-old Castellano. What was all this stuff (the young hoods wanted to know), investing in legitimate businesses? Let’s do what we do best: peddle heroin! For several years, Gotti had been restrained by Aniello (Mr. O’Neill) Dellacroce, Castellano’s under­boss, in the Gambino family. But the un­happiness in Mobland was endemic.

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The Gambinos had 250 “made” mem­bers and 550 associates. Since most of these imbeciles can barely read a menu (let alone an annual report), investing in legitimate businesses did them little good, particularly if the investments were in Castellano’s name. The more cautious Castellano became, the less his soldiers had to do; it’s demeaning for a 45-year­old man to steal cars for a living. What hoodlums do best is peddle heroin and kill people.

Castellano had let out the word that he wanted Bilotti to succeed him as head of the family. And Dellacroce had gone along. Then, last month, Dellacroce died in bed. And according to the dearie, Gotti immediately went to a pay phone and called Palermo for outside contractors.

That was, in some ways, business as usual. What was extraordinary in the days immediately following the 46th Street killings was the tepid, impotent reaction among our political leaders. Mayor Koch deplored the killings, of course, and vowed that the gunmen would be caught. But his police commis­sioner was talking as if this were a shake­up at Drexel-Burnham. Neither chose all-out action. There should have been police raids all over town that night, with cops smashing into social clubs, chopping the walls to pieces in search of guns hid­den by the assassins. They should have dragged the wise guys by the hair out of their beds, exposing them before their neighbors, jamming them into police sta­tions for interrogation. Koch could have unleashed the full fury of the law. Noth­ing of the sort happened.

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Mario Cuomo reacted in an even more appalling way. He chose to mark the oc­casion of a rush-hour double homicide by complaining about the use of the word “Mafia.” Not about the killings, but the way they might be perceived. Yes, there are Cubans, Colombians, Jews, Vietnam­ese, Chinese, Irishmen in organized crime. But this branch of organized crime, in this city and this state, is Mafia. It’s a collection of 1500 to 2000 Italian-­American dope peddlers, killers, thieves, and musclemen whose continued exis­tence smears every hard-working Italian-­American in the country. Wise guys don’t work; they live like parasites off other people’s work. And what does Mario Cuomo, the tribune of the working man, have to say? “You’re telling me that the Mafia is an organization, and I’m telling you that’s a lot of baloney!” Cuomo, who will certainly be Mob-baited if he runs for president, should be leading the fight against these skanks. But he doesn’t even admit the Mafia exists; next week he might tell us there’s no Sicily either.

Denying the existence of the Mob is as bad as accepting it as permanent. The drive should he to eliminate the Mob from American life, and that task is not as impossible as books and movies make it seem. Clearly, the cases against these hoodlums brought by Rudolph Giuliani (no matter how poorly prosecuted) have already had some effect. Prosecution ties these aging bums in legal knots; it con­sumes their energies; it makes them cau­tious, diverts them from felony.

But much more could be done. The media could help by taking the romance out of the Mob; these aren’t “men of honor” out of The Godfather. They’re people who spread misery and degrada­tion through heroin; who use physical force to extort what they can’t get with work, intelligence, or talent. In the press discussion of John Gotti, law enforce­ment officials told the story of what hap­pened to a neighbor who accidentally ran over and killed Gotti’s 12-year-old son Frank. A year later, the man disap­peared, and the cops have information that he was chopped up with a chainsaw. These are not people who sit in the gar­den at twilight, reading Marcus Aurelius.

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The cops could also use some muscle in dealing with them, harassing them at ev­ery opportunity, locking them up whenever possible, letting them know that be­ing a hoodlum is a miserable life. The courts should cooperate with warrants, allowing the cops to tear apart their fan­cy homes, their lovely lawns, in search of weapons or drug money. The churches could deny these cretins respectability in the neighborhoods where they live. So­-called “straight” businessmen — particularly bankers — must learn that if they do business with hoodlums, they’re going to do heavy time. None of this can happen if elected leaders treat the Mob as an amus­ing fiction, or an unbreakable component of this society. There must be a recogni­tion that these bums are the enemy, that they’ve made this a more dangerous and degraded city by their operations. Their perceived ability to “get away with it” adds to the city’s generalized cynicism.

On the morning after Castellano and Bilotti were ambushed, I went down to federal court in Foley Square, where doz­ens of these bums — including Castel­lano — have been on trial for weeks. There was a platoon of them in the fifth-floor coffee shop, whispering, smirking, gig­gling. Not one of them had a newspaper, but they’d certainly heard the news. They did not offer any dearies. ■

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives

Martin Scorsese’s Cinema of Obsessions

GoodFellas: Blood and Pasta

Martin Scorsese is a small, fragile man in a pressed, custom-tailored suit and immaculately polished soft Italian shoes. Now that he’s shaved off his beard, his eyebrows seem even more imposing. They’re the first thing you notice about his face, before you catch the flight-or-fight expression in his eyes.

At 48, Scorsese is an anomaly among contemporary film directors. For 20 years, he has managed to make utterly personal, deeply autobiographical movies that are bankrolled by the film industry. He’s both an art-film director — the American equiva­lent of a Buñuel or Truffaut — and a “play­er” in Hollywood. Because his films deal with urban culture in knowing detail, and because their vocabulary is based in Holly­wood, their effect on American audiences is something no “foreign” film can achieve. Scorsese does not make homages to Ameri­can cinema. Rather, he shapes its syntax to his own experience.

His latest film, GoodFellas, is also his largest, budgeted at about $25 million. Whether or not it’s a commercial success, there’s a sense within the industry that Scorsese has been elevated to the ranks of the untouchables. The failure of any single film would no longer prevent him from getting others off the ground. Scorsese doesn’t agree. He’s as anxious as ever. “I just keep hoping,” he says with a nervously flashed smile, “I get to make the pictures I want to make.”

In his tiny apartment with a wide-screen view of Central Park, Scorsese keeps an Eames chair right up against the floor-to-­ceiling windows. This is one of the places where he takes phone calls and watches old movies: 900 feet above the street. Scorsese is a man who knows the edge. His elegant image is self-conscious, if not self-mocking (which is not to say he doesn’t get a kick out of it). He’s incapable of hiding the extreme shyness that might motivate his will to power. In a dark (most likely Ar­mani) suit and nattily knotted silk tie, he looks like a proud child actor playing the part of a Sicilian grandee.

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As seemingly dissimilar as Scorsese is from Henry Hill, the protagonist of Good­Fellas, the director points to one parallel between them. “Henry says that as far back as he can remember he wanted to be a gangster. From the moment I enrolled in NYU film school, I knew I wanted to be a director. Within a year I was planning my first feature.” There is another similarity: like Henry, who first appears in the film as a child, Scorsese has always been intensely aware of the privilege and violence of “wiseguys.” At a press conference for the film, the director is asked how he can look at these mobsters with such a nonjudgmen­tal eye. “It’s what I thought about these people when I was eight,” Scorsese replies. But unlike Henry, he was too sickly as a child to be one of them.

In Little Italy, where he spent much of his childhood, Scorsese led a sheltered life. Asthmatic from the age of three (he carries an atomizer and uses it frequently), he was barred from the obvious routes to becoming a somebody on Elizabeth Street, ex­empted from the male rites fetishized in his films. “On my block, people took games seriously,” Scorsese recently recalled. “They had bets going on them. If a kid dropped the ball, they could get very mad. I wasn’t good at sports; they became anathe­ma to me.” He spent a lot of time in church and going to the movies with his father. “Having asthma, I was often taken to movies because they didn’t know what else to do with me.”

One of the movies Scorsese remembers “being hypnotized by” as a boy was Mi­chael Powell’s The Red Shoes. He says he was drawn to the hysteria and elegance of the picture as well as its characters: to the impresario, with his “cruelty, beauty, and self-hatred”; to the choreographer “who spoke his lines the way he danced”; and to the ballerina (Moira Shearer) who, like Christ in Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, is torn between her special calling and her desire for a sexual and familial life. At the climax of The Red Shoes, the balleri­na, desperately attempting a reunion with her lover, hurls herself down a flight of stairs above the Cote d’Azur railroad sta­tion, loses her balance on the parapet, and falls to her death on the tracks below. Im­bedded in Scorsese’s memory bank — along with Jennifer Jones’s bleeding hands at the end of Duel in the Sun — is the close-up of Shearer’s broken feet, white tights stained as red as her shoes. For what it’s worth: The director who does business from a chair placed at a dizzying height is phobic about flying.

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Ambivalence is central to his style. Scor­sese’s Italian-American trilogy — Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and now GoodFellas­ — mixes anthropology with psychodrama, re­vulsion with empathy, from the perspective of an insider who was also an outsider. Mean Streets is the most overtly autobio­graphical film. (“It was about my friends and myself and about trying to break away.”) Raging Bull is the story of a man who gains fame and fortune by brutalizing others legally. GoodFellas is about the guys who take the other route, becoming gang­sters so they won’t have to stand in line to buy bread. At once a depiction and a critique of upward mobility, the films have elevated their director’s status, even on the street. Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the script for GoodFellas, based on his best­seller, Wise Guys, says that Mean Streets is the favorite film of the gangsters he interviewed.

On Sullivan Street, where I do my laun­dry, the guys in the candy store watch The Godfather on videotape, on a daily basis. Mean Streets isn’t part of their repertoire. When I mention Sullivan Street to Scor­sese, he snorts: “That’s compromised. It’s the Village! People reciting poetry in coffee shops.” Further east, where he grew up, (and where he says “the last bastion is Mul­berry Street”), the guys who live like Scor­sese characters might fixate on seeing their daily rituals set to golden oldies and depict­ed in such florid detail. They might dis­avow the mocking critique of male vio­lence, the comedy of male excess and female domesticity. Outside the subculture, it’s possible to miss both the unsparing ac­curacy and the anguish, to see these films as urban exotica — a celebration of blood and pasta. In any event, what makes Scorsese attractive to the industry, besides the unde­niable skill and economy of his filmmaking, is that the critique doesn’t obliterate the blood. “Violence is a form of expression,” he says curtly. “It’s how people live.”

As Scorsese tells it, Warner Bros. liked GoodFellas so much that they considered giving it a mass release. “Deep down, I knew it wasn’t that kind of picture,” he says. But Warner decided to test their hunch at a sneak preview in plush Sherman Oaks. “People got so angry that they stormed out of the theater. They thought it was an outrage that I had made these peo­ple so attractive.” Indeed, what attracted him to Pileggi’s book was its matter-of-fact, even affectionate attitude toward outra­geous behavior. He enjoys the wiseguys for their energy and single-mindedness, howev­er murderous, while debunking their mys­tique. “I liked the everyday banality of it. Daily life in the Mafia on the lower eche­lons as opposed to the bosses of crime fam­ilies. The real worker bees. Coming from an area where that was part of the life-style, I also found it very funny. They are human beings, human beings have a sense of hu­mor, and the humor is more extreme among people living an extreme life.” (Or, as Freud put it: criminals and humorists “compel our interest by the narcissistic consistency with which they manage to keep away from the ego anything that would diminish it.”)

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What blew them away in Sherman Oaks was not just the sight of Joe Pesci hacking away at a half-dead, flayed open body; it was Tony Bennett on the soundtrack, launching into “Rags to Riches” as the last blow is struck. GoodFellas mixes comedy and melodrama into a rock ’n’ roll Grand Guignol, further complicating its point of view. “I never intended to make a straight genre film,” Scorsese says. “My films never go from A to B to C.” Rather than fitting emotions into a conventional dramatic structure, Scorsese allows emotional change to shape the picture. GoodFellas has an astonishingly peculiar shape. It starts with an hour-long roller coaster ride that winds up exactly where it began. Then there’s a relentless downhill slide climaxing with frantic depiction of a coke-soaked day in which everything Henry has to keep track of — stirring the sauce, delivering the guns, cutting the coke, avoiding the helicopter — has equally absurd value. Finally there’s a grim denouement of betrayal and revenge: the music fades but the killing continues. As the film relinquishes its breathless pace, the viewer begins to feel the nausea and disgust that sheer kinetic involvement had masked.

Scorsese’s ebullient editing — that sense of being on a roll, of a process taking you over, so that you keep being surprised by what you’re seeing — is one with the experi­ence of his characters. “I wanted GoodFel­las to move as fast as a trailer or the open­ing of Jules and Jim and to go on like that for two hours.” Speed dominates other as­pects of his filmmaking as well. “On film,” he says, “it looks better if the actors do it twice as fast.”

But the power of Scorsese’s films is not merely kinetic; it’s visceral. His earliest memories of movies are seeped in blood and he remains fascinated by images of what violence does to the body. In Good­Fellas, the most brutal murders are shown not once, but twice, so that we see the act not only within the flow of the narrative but as a fetishistic spectacle that stops the narrative cold. It isn’t a laughing matter the second time around. In the end, violence is the means by which he shows us that the body bleeds — to death. And male identity cuts two ways: It’s not only the capacity to inflict pain, but also to withstand suffering. “I enjoyed making those little images of the bleeding heart,” he once said about The Last Temptation. “I enjoyed probing the wounds.”

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His anxieties notwithstanding, Scorsese clearly relishes being in business with the studios. Another layer is imposed on the kid and the artist — the serious but streetwise businessman. It’s a persona he’s still trying on. “I want to be a player,” Scorsese says. “To be a player in Holly­wood, you have to take a lot of bruising.”

An enthusiast with an immense store of knowledge, talking film with dazzling fluen­cy, he can’t help but impress the dealmak­ers. Although he has never produced a megahit, Scorsese has, during the past five years, cut deals with most of the major studios. “What they all want, of course, is another Taxi Driver.” His subsequent films were hardly that. Even a critical success like Raging Bull was not a big money-maker, while New York, New York, and The King of Comedy were regarded as “difficult.” Given the uneven progress of his career in the early ’80s, it’s remarkable how secure Scorsese’s position now appears. It’s not all mystique: the box-office success of The Col­or of Money (his least personal film) proba­bly made GoodFellas possible.

There’s no doubt, however, that his for­tunes improved after he became a client of Michael Ovitz, the agent frequently labeled the most powerful man in Hollywood. Scor­sese had been trying unsuccessfully for 10 years to make The Last Temptation of Christ; within three months of signing with Ovitz in 1987, he was in production.

Although most of Scorsese’s films have been studio-financed, they don’t go through the usual in-house process of development and packaging. How exactly does an auteur from Little Italy convince a bunch of corpo­rate executives whose primary responsibil­ity is to their shareholders to hand over $25 million for a film about gangsters that hard­ly conforms to the rules of the genre?

“You don’t lie to them,” he says directly. “They’ve got to respect your work so they know you’re not just coming in there to make fools of them or take their money. And they’ve also got to like the script, al­though they never fully understand what it is until they see it. So they give attention to other things like the casting — they had sev­eral suggestions which fortunately didn’t pan out because I knew from the beginning that I wanted Ray Liotta to play Henry Hill. Mike Ovitz was helpful in protecting the work and working it out so that the studio and I each got what we wanted. We’re not talking about a blockbuster. We’re talking about something which, if handled properly, can make some money.”

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Scorsese hadn’t thought there was a part for Robert DeNiro in GoodFellas. “In the pictures where Bob and I work together, he’s in almost every scene.” But when he was having difficulty casting the icy hi-jacker/killer Jimmy Conway, DeNiro sug­gested himself for the part. Neither man will discuss their working relationship. When Scorsese directs DeNiro, absolutely no outsiders are allowed on the set. “When I work with actors like Bob,” he says, “we improvise. We work it out in advance, re­write the scene, and then we shoot it.” Occasionally, the improvisation continues, even while the camera rolls. (When Scorsese played his famous cameo in Taxi Driv­er — “Do you know what a 44-magnum can do to a woman’s pussy?” — the tables were turned and DeNiro directed him. “If it wasn’t for Bob, I don’t know that I could have done it.”) In any event, DeNiro’s presence in GoodFellas encouraged the stu­dio to cough up a few million more dollars.

Scorsese has a gift for getting all kinds of people on his side. It’s not merely that he’s funny, smart, and surprisingly open. He’s at once the surgeon and the patient, a man with awesome skill and authority who evokes in others the desire to protect. His jackhammer speech and gestures erupt out of agonizing self-consciousness. His relief when his passionate grasp of an idea or process overcomes anxiety is palpable. Scorsese’s crew of regulars — writers, producers, assistants, technicians, and even ac­tors, some of whom have worked with him since his first film — are constantly worry­ing about Marty. Is he tired? Is he depressed? Is he doing too much? Not that these aren’t reasonable fears. (Scorsese’s workload at any given moment would tax a person 20 years younger who hadn’t been asthmatic all his life.) But the director’s fragility is also functional: it makes it hard for those around him to separate their in­volvement in the work from their concern about his well-being.

The artist who wants to be a player has one film in pre-production, a remake of the 1962 thriller Cape Fear, with DeNiro in the Robert Mitchum sadistic-killer role. Scor­sese hopes to follow up with an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. He’s also planning a film set in 4th century Byzantium and several other projects with Pileggi. He doesn’t intend the Italian-Amer­ican films to stop at a trilogy. “No doubt I’ll always be interested in underworld sto­ries. But no cutesy films about mama’s pas­ta and people getting married. I can’t stand that. It’s completely fake.”

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His enhanced status has opened up other options, like executive producing. The Grifters, adapted from the Jim Thompson novel and directed by Stephen Frears, will be released this fall. He’s also involved in a script by Richard Price to be directed by John McNaughton of Henry… Serial Kill­er fame. “I can’t do the day-by-day produc­tion stuff. I don’t know anything about money. And now that I’ve found out it’s not going to be that artistically satisfying, I have to be careful how much time I appor­tion to it.”

There’s another perk that comes with success as an auteur: Scorsese has become a crusader for film preservation, lobbying the studios, and running a foundation out of his office that locates original materials to be archived. Like the goodfellas who be­come gangsters so they don’t have to stand in line to buy bread, Scorsese can get his hands on any film he has a passion for. He watches movies constantly, though he finds it impossible to look at his own (except for Last Temptation). “That’s what I do,” he says. “Sit here, watch movies and talk on the phone. That’s it.”

He still gives vent to his anxieties about every project. About Cape Fear: He shud­ders to think where he’s going to be in November. He’ll need a pith helmet with netting because mosquitos love him. And he doesn’t know how to make a straight genre picture. He’s never done it. “There are certain rules — how you move the cam­era.” And he wants to have it both ways — ­to make an A-to-B-to-C film, but a bit twisted, like his other pictures. “At the end of Cape Fear, there’s a scene with a boat breaking up. It’s just like a real movie,” he says with mock incredulity. “Like the mov­ies we watch up here. I don’t make real movies like that.”

The notable objects in Scorsese’s mid­town office are a bookcase filled with refer­ence sources essential to a film archivist, and a large desk covered with papers. The walls are cluttered with movie stills, photos, framed strips of 35mm, and posters: East of Eden, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.… Ask him about one or another of his mementos and it’s more than likely he’ll reply with only slightly studied casualness that it’s a gift from this or that studio production head. Tribute to the Sicilian grandee.

Directly behind his desk is a print repro­duction of a Titian altar piece — Jesus on the cross. If Scorsese is in his chair and you are seated directly opposite him, his head appears superimposed on the crucifixion. It’s probably an accident, but the irony of the composition is worthy of his films. Like the man said: players have to take a lot of bruising. ■

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Meade, the Mob, & the Machine

Meade Esposito, the powerful Democratic Party leader of Brooklyn, is currently under active investigation by four separate law enforcement agencies — special anti-corruption prosecutor Maurice Nadjari, the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force, the IRS, and the SEC.

The SEC probe involves fraud and manipulation of a stock called Frigitemp. Two of Esposito’s closest friends — Bernard Deutsch and Joe Marando — have already been indicted in the case and an SEC complaint mentions Esposito’s personal lawyer, George Meisner. Meisner is also a Brooklyn district leader. And Deutsch was honorary chairman or a dinner that honored Esposito on January 7, 1970.

In addition to these four active investigations. Esposito was questioned by two grand juries last year, and an earlier IRS audit was terminated under suspicious cir­cumstances. At that time, several IRS agents complained of a cover­up.

The earlier IRS audit of Esposito’s finances was so inadequate and incomplete that the late U.S. Attorney Robert Morse, and Dennis Dillon, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force, refused to sign the final report, ac­cording to documents on file in Washington.

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The original IRS audit of Esposito’s finances was closed out late in 1972.

Esposito had several secret meetings with former Attorney General John Mitchell during the autumn of 1972. These meetings were never listed on any of Mit­chell’s official office logs, and were at first denied by Esposito. However, after Nelson Rockefeller disclosed he arranged the first of the meetings, Esposito then admit­ted he did in fact meet secretly at least twice with the Republican Attorney General. Esposito says the subject of those meetings with the now indicted Mitchell is “private.”

The meetings with Mitchell not only coincided with the IRS audit, but also with the inexplicable vote of Brooklyn congressman and Esposito protege Frank Brasco against investigating the Watergate scandal while the 1972 Presidential campaign was still in progress.

On October 3, 1972, the House Banking and Currency committee voted in executive session against giving its chairman, Wright Pat­man, subpoena power to launch a full-scale Watergate inquiry.

Brasco was the only Northern urban Democrat to vote with the Republicans successfully and block the investigation. Brasco is the politician personally closest to Esposito in the whole city. Esposito got Brasco his nomination for Congress in 1966. Esposito had a no-show $500-a-month job on Brasco’s congressional payroll during 1967 and 1968. And Brasco’s cousin, also named Frank, is Esposito’s personal chauffeur. Brasco would do anything Esposito asked him to do.

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Moreover, John Dean has told the staff of the Select Senate Watergate committee that there were several long and anxious White House meetings on how to prevent the banking committee inquiry. According to Dean, at one of those meetings, Mitchell said he could “take care of one of the Democrats from New York” on the committee. Brasco was the only New York Democrat to vote against the Watergate inquiry.

About a month after Brasco’s vote, the IRS audit of Esposito was halted over the objections of Morse and Allan.

According to a source in IRS, before the Esposito audit was terminated, three agents went secretly to U.S. Attorney Morse to say there was a cover-up in progress, and that they were not being permitted to conduct a thorough professional investigation of Esposito.

The IRS agents said they were ordered by their supervisors not to interview and investigate judges, or to explore the financial records or the Brooklyn Democratic county organization, or to analyze the books of Grand Brokerage, the in­surance agency Esposito owns with Stanley Steingut.

Sources in IRS say that the area of judicial investigation was crucial because there had been allegations that Esposito had accep­ted undeclared cash in the sale of judgeships.

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The current IRS investigation of Esposito’s finances began six weeks ago, and is expected to take at least nine months to complete. It is being conducted by a special team of agents and accountants that had nothing to do with the suspicious 1972 audit.

If Mitchell did, in fact, stop the inquiry into Esposito, it was probably not the first time the for­mer Attorney General manipulated justice. There is also considerable evidence that Mitchell improperly interfered with the ITT, Dairy Cooperative, Robert Vesco, and Robert Abplanalp investigations, and played politics with the par­dons granted Jimmy Hoffa and Mafia boss Angelo “Gyp” De Carlo.

Congressman Brasco, meanwhile, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to accept $27,500 in il­legal cash pay-offs from a truck leasing company owned by Mafia capo John Masiello.

One of Esposito’s 1972 grand jury appearances also involved a Mafia capo — Paul Vario.

It turns out that Esposito’s name was “all over” the famous tapes made in the bugged junkyard trailer the Mafia used in Canarsie during 1972. The junkyard tapes led to the conviction of 40 Mafia mem­bers and 21 policemen.

Esposito’s name was used frequently in the trailer by Vario, who has since been indicted six times by Brooklyn D. A. Gene Gold as a result of the trailer bug. Vario was recorded saying things like “Ask Meade a bout that,” and “Meade’s a good guy.”

Esposito’s appearance before the Brooklyn grand jury was carefully arranged so that the press never found out about it. The county leader admitted under oath that he knew Vario “very well” for more than 15 years, and that he had first met Vario (who has a record of 27 arrests and a conviction for rape) while he was “in the bail bonds business.”

Esposito, however, said he could­n’t possibly imagine why Vario would so freely drop his name in private conversations with other mobsters.

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***

Meade Esposito is by far the single most powerful Democratic county leader in the state. The Brooklyn Democratic organization has produced, and can claim loyalty and patronage from Mayor Abe Beame, City Council Majority Leader Tom Cuite, State Comptrol­ler Arthur Levitt, Assembly Minority Leader Stanley Steingut, more than 40 Supreme Court Justices, Surrogate Nathan Sobel and Borough President Sam Leone.

Esposito controls more than 1000 jobs. He’s made more than 25 Brooklyn judges, and approves the appointment of every law secretary in Brooklyn Supreme Court. Through Tom Cuite, Esposito in­fluences the committee assignments and chairmanships or the City Council. Through his close friendship with Nelson Rockefeller, Esposito was able to secure a favorable re-appor­tionment of the state legislature in 1972. Dozens of appointments to the Beame administration have to be “cleared with” Esposito. People think he can influence tax asses­sments, liquor licenses, zoning decisions, government contract and judicial decisions.

Every candidate for state-wide of­fice next year will seek Esposito’s private, if not public, support. Ted Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern have all publicly praised Esposito as a great party leader. The New York Times, in a nattering magazine cover story in December 1972, described Esposito as “a new breed of party leader,” and compared his power to that of Mayor Daley or Chicago.

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***

Esposito was born in Ocean Hill 64 years ago. He quit Manual Trades High School at the age of 14 to become an office boy in an in­surance company owned by old­-time Brooklyn Democratic boss James Powers.

In 1947 Esposito went into the bail bonds business with Ronnie Carr. (Carr is now a law assistant to Brooklyn Surrogate Nathan Sobel even though he is not a lawyer.)

Esposito admits that many of his bail bond clients were mobsters, in­cluding Joe Colombo, Jimmy Napoli, and Apples McIntosh.

In 1958 Esposito ran as an in­surgent for district leader in Canarsie and lost by 200 votes. In 1960, he was elected with the public endorsement of Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Lehman. Esposito named his home club after Thomas Jefferson. And he quickly arranged for his campaign manager — Mike Kern — to become a judge.

In 1960 Esposito suddenly became assistant vice-president of the Kings Lafayette Bank, despite no apparent experience as a banker. His friends say Esposito knew he could never become county leader while a bondsman: the bank title gave him the respec­tability needed to acquire party power.

At the time Esposito was hired by the bank as an executive, the single biggest depositor in the bank ($2 million) was the ILA, which many law enforcement agencies believe is Mafia-dominated. It is suspected that the ILA used its in­fluence to get Esposito the job.

In 1970. U. S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau said that while Esposito was vice-president of the bank, he arranged for ILA leader Anthony Scotto’s family to obtain a $250,000 unsecured loan. Morgenthau further stated, “This loan went to buy a country club in New Jersey that became a prime meeting place for members of organized crime.”

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Esposito claims he severed all his ties to the Kings Lafayette Bank in 1970. But an investigator for Special Prosecutor Nadjari told me this week: “Esposito’s relation­ship to the bank still exists. Only now it is more disguised, more cir­cumspect, and more sinister.”

Over the last year, five Mafiosi have been convicted of receiving il­legal loans from the Kings Lafayette Bank.

Esposito is also a vice-president and part owner with Stanley Steingut of Grand Brokerage, an insurance company now located at 70 Broadway. Law enforcement agencies are now trying to discover if Grand Brokerage has sold in­surance policies to politicians who became judges, or received other favors from Esposito.

Grand Brokerage, mysteriously, refuses to provide any information about its finances to Dun and Brad­street. A normal insurance com­pany would depend on a good rating from Dun and Bradstreet for customers and credit. Grand is run on politics, not merit or business acumen. Esposito has of­ten told friends: “I don’t need graft. I got premiums.”

Esposito also was quoted by Tim Lee of the New York Post as saying: “There’s no sense kidding myself — the people wouldn’t be bringing their insurance business to me if I wasn’t county leader.”

Investigators are also looking into the finances of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Brooklyn regulars estimate that the organization raised more than $400,000 last year — $140,000 of it at one dinner at the Waldorf — and there has been no public accounting of those funds. As the result of a loophole in the state’s election law, party organizations do not have to report these receipts and expen­ditures even to the IRS, or to city and state tax authorities.

The county organization does provide expenses, a limousine, and a chauffeur for Esposito.

Also, Esposito admits that Brooklyn Supreme Court candidates are asked to contribute at least $10,000 to the party campaign fund although with multi-party endor­sement no significant campaign is conducted. Frank Vaccaro, who received a Supreme Court judgeship from Esposito last year, says his district leader was told by Esposito that a $10,000 contribution “would be an appropriate amount.”

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***

Esposito’s immense power even awes some of the men who are now diligently investigating him. This is how one federal investigator talked this week:

“I think we will eventually make a case against Esposito, but I’m afraid of what happens after that. I know he was able to protect himself all these years. He’s more than lucky. I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced that John Mitchell protected him. That’s got to be the reason the original IRS audit was covered up. I know how many friends Esposito has, from the lowest hood up to the Rockefellers.

“It worries me. After we get the evidence, then we need a prosecutor to impanel a grand jury and actually sign an indictment. Then we need an honest jury, and honest judge to try the case and give him a sentence. Then we need five appellate judges who can’t be fixed to affirm the conviction.

“I know how much the judges and appellate judges hate Nadjari, for example. I know how many judges, and appellate judges, are friends of Esposito.

“Back during the 1960s, when Joe Hoey was the U. S. Attorney and when Aaron Koota was the D. A., no politicians were ever in­vestigated in Brooklyn. The borough was wide open

“But now, after Watergate, and Agnew and the Knapp Commis­sion, things are changing. At least now we can get permission to go after an important politician, at least now we have a chance.

“But I’m still scared. We’ll work our ass off for the next six months to make a case. We’ll  work 18 hours a day. But I admit it. I’m afraid of what happens after that. This guy Meade has more power than the Pope.”

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***

The current law enforcement probes into the Brooklyn Democracy should be viewed, and understood in the larger context of the recent wave of indictments for political corruption in Brooklyn, and in the historic connection bet­ween the Brooklyn Democratic Party and organized crime.

During the last six months, cor­ruption indictments have been voted by grand juries against seven prominent Brooklyn Democratic political figures.

Brooklyn Congressman Ben Podell was indicted on charges or conspiracy, bribery, and perjury after a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice and the PRI. The 10-count indictment alleged that Congressman Podell had accepted $41,350 in bribes in exchange for using his influence to obtain a route to the Bahamas for Florida Atlantic Airlines.

Brooklyn Congressman Frank Brasco was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to receive a $27,500 bribe for helping a Mafia truck leasing company win government contracts. This investigation was carried by Mike Shaw, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Dominic Rinaldi was indicted on three counts of perjury by Special State Prosecutor Maurice Nadjari.

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Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Ross Di Lorenzo was indicted for per­jury in a case involving organized crime.

William Steinman, a long-time Brooklyn political figure, who is administrative assistant to State Comptroller Arthur Levitt, was in­dicted for attempted bribery, con­spiracy, and grand larceny. The in­dictment alleges that Steinman tried to fix a criminal case in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Calvin Williams was indicted for bribery by Brooklyn D. A. Eugene Gold.

Brooklyn City Marshal Irving Sable was indicted for grand lar­ceny by extortion, also by Gold’s office.

Also, Norman Levy, former president of the City Tax Commis­sion and chairman of the John V. Lindsay Association of Brooklyn, was convicted two weeks ago, of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and tampering with public records. Levy Faces a sentence of up to nine years in prison for his role in a system of fixing about 2000 parking tickets for Brooklyn politicians.

In addition, four Brooklyn judges are now under investigation by Special Prosecutor Nadjari’s of­fice.

Nadjari’s staff of 65 investigators and 24 lawyers currently has more investigations active in Brooklyn than in any other borough.

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***

Municipal corruption seems historically endemic to specific places — Chicago, Miami, New Jer­sey, and Brooklyn.

In his wonderful book. “The Great Bridge,” David McCullough describes the graft of the “Brooklyn Ring” while the Brooklyn Bridge was under con­struction after the Civil War. Millions were stolen by Boss Hugh McLaughlin, “a former waterfront gang leader”; William Kingsley, “Brooklyn’s most prosperous con­tractor”; and Henry Murphy, founder of the “Brooklyn Eagle and Kings County Democrat.”

Almost a century later, the Kefauver Committee’s televised crime hearings exposed the sophisticated connection between the Brooklyn Democratic Party and organized crime. The Third In­terim Report of the Kefauver com­mittee, released in May 1951 said:

“Mobster Joe Adonis’s influence upon the Kings County Democratic organization may go far to explain why neither he, nor a major subordinate like Anthony Anastasia, was ever subjected to prosecution or punishment …

“William O’Dwyer (D. A. of Brooklyn from 1941 to 1945) failed to take effective action against the top echelons of the gambling, nar­cotics, waterfront, murder, or bookmaking rackets. His defense of public officials who were derelict in their duties, and his failure to follow-up concrete evidence of organized crime, particularly in the case of Murder, Inc., and the waterfront, have contributed to the growth of organized crime, racketeering, and gangsterism in New York City.”

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In recent years, the publicly available cumulative evidence of the influence of organized crime on Brooklyn politics should trouble any thoughtful citizen.

Two Brooklyn Democrats have been indicted in connection with attempts to use their public trust in behalf of the Mafia — Congressman Frank Brasco, and Civil Court Judge Ross Di Lorenzo.

A careful analysis of judicial decisions in Brooklyn suggests at least a pattern of favoritism toward organized crime.

The staff of the Joint Legislative Committee on Crime has studied the disposition of 147 felony cases in Brooklyn Supreme Court involving Mafia defendants between 1960 and 1970. Sixty-three per cent of all the organized crime defen­dants won dismissals in Brooklyn. This compares with a 15 per cent dismissal rate for all other types of defendants. Only five per cent of the mobsters indicted actually went to prison. The 63 per cent dismissal rate in Brooklyn com­pares with less than 40 per cent in the four other boroughs for mob­sters.

In the last two years, one Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice — Joseph Corso — threw out indictments against five different Mafia defendants, and all five of his dismissals were later reversed on appeal by the Appellate Division.

Last year, the State Commission of Investigation twice called in Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Monteleone to explain, under oath, why he dismissed an indict­ment against an alleged Mafioso named Frank Cangiano. Mon­teleone’s dismissal was later unanimously reversed by a higher court.

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Judge Monteleone is now under intensive scrutiny by the staff of Special Prosecutor Nadjari. Monteleone was elevated to the State Supreme Court by Meade Esposito in 1970.

Aaron Koota was District Attor­ney of Brooklyn from 1964 to 1968, and is now a Supreme Court Justice.

In July of this year Gerald Mar­tin Zalmanowitz testified in public before Senator Henry Jackson’s Permanent Sub-committee on In­vestigations. Zalmanowitz, who grew up in Brooklyn, is a federal informer whose testimony helped convict Mafia boss Angelo De Carlo in New Jersey in 1970.

Zalmanowitz testified that two cases — one involving Joe Colom­bo — were “fixed” in the D. A.’s office while Koota was D. A. of Brooklyn. One case was fixed for $5,000 and the other with a free Buick from a dealership Colombo covertly owned.

Local 1814 of the ILA, and its president Anthony Scotto, are im­portant pillars of the Brooklyn Democracy. The union provides money, printing presses, and man­-power in every election. The ILA ‘s support was clearly the difference in John Rooney’s narrow primary victory over Allard Lowenstein in 1972.

The Justice Department, as a result of information from two informants, officially lists Anthony Scotto as a captain in the Carlo Gambino family.

Scotto seems an especially am­biguous figure. He is married to the daughter of Anthony Anastasia, and no one gets to be the leader of Local 1814 at age 26 if he is not somehow connected to wise guys. But Scotto has no criminal record and is a college graduate.

But some Mafia experts are not fully convinced of Scotto’s real role. One respected journalist, who has covered the mob for 15 years, put it this way:

“Anthony is half a wise guy. He’s wired to them, but he would never shoot anybody, or do anything violent. The waterfront is control­led by the mob. He exists in that environment. I think he wants to get out of the mob world before he gets hurt. The really bad mob guys think he’s gone legit with Lindsay. They don’t trust Scotto. Anthony just exists in some twilight zone between two worlds.”

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Scotto was first named as a Gambino captain in 1966 during testimony in executive session before Congressman John Rooney’s subcommittee. Rooney, who has been supported by Scotto’s union in every election since 1946, refused to make the FBI listing public.

But in 1969, the Senate committee of John McClellan released Scotto’s name. Scotto was listed as a Gambino captain on the basis of information provided by two infor­mants, one of whom was Joe Valachi. There is no wiretap cor­roboration.

The Brooklyn waterfront mean­while, without ambiguity, remains a center for smuggling, loan­sharking, extortion, union racketeering, pilferage, contraband cigarettes, and bookmaking.

On Monday night, December 10, Michael Cosme was in the Shorefront Democratic Club, 320 Brighton Beach Avenue. Cosme was a bookmaker and a member of the Joe Colombo family. Two men wearing ski masks walked into the clubhouse, stood Cosme against the wall, and killed him with automatic pistols. Police found $4700 in cash and sports betting slips in Cosme’s coat pocket.

The Shorefront Democratic Club has a charter from the Kings County Democratic Party, and Cosme apparently used the clubhouse as his bookmaking office.

The introduction of private immigration bills for aliens is one way politicians can do favors for organized crime. In 1972, the Immigration and Naturalization Service prepared an analysis of these private bills.

The INS study named Brooklyn Congressman Frank Brasco as one of three Representatives who in­troduced private bills for aliens “close to organized crime.”

A further analysis disclosed that Brasco introduced a dozen bills for clients of one Brooklyn lawyer — Thomas Lentini — who was convicted of immigration fraud. Lentini was also chairman of a Brasco fund-raising dinner at Vic­toria House in Brooklyn in 1967.

The Kings Lafayette Bank (17 branches and $23 million in total capital funds) seems an important institution to both the Kings County Democrats and organized crime.

Meade Esposito was an officer of the bank for 10 years, and is believed by law enforcement to still have a covert connection to the bank.

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John Lynch for years has been chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic county committee. For more than 30 years the Brooklyn Democratic organization has banked its own funds at Kings Lafayette. John Lynch is also honorary board chairman of the bank.

State Comptroller Arthur Levitt, a member of the Brooklyn organization’s Madison Club, has deposited large sums of interest-­free state deposits in the Kings Lafayette Bank. During 1973, an average balance of $1.6 million in interest-free public money was placed in the bank by Levitt, which is more than was deposited in banks of equivalent size and capital. The bank also received more than $5 million in time deposits from Levitt.

Last year, directors of the Kings Lafayette Bank purchased two tables for $2000 to the annual dinner of the Kings County Democrats.

At the same time, the bank has had significant contact with organized crime.

Over the last year, five alleged mob members and associates have been convicted of receiving false and illegal loans from Kings Lafayette: Natale Marcone, Caesar Vitale, Ilarie Pisani, Joseph De Cicco, and Barry Mancher. Five others have been indicted and are awaiting trial. A bank branch manager, Louis Mellini, was indic­ted for bribery and loan-sharking, but he later agreed to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.

In 1970, after lengthy hearings, the bi-state Waterfront Commission denied a stevedoring license to the CC Lumber Company because Anthony Scotto had used improper in­fluence to get an unsecured $250,000 loan for the company from the King’s Lafayette Bank.

Scotto’s union had $2 million in pension fund deposits in Kings Lafayette at the time. The CC Lumber Company is owned by relatives of Scotto.

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The State Court of Appeals, in upholding the Waterfront Commis­sion decision in December 1972, concluded in a majority opinion:

“There was sufficient evidence for the Waterfront Commission to find that Anthony Scotto breached his fiduciary obligation as a union officer under Section 723 of the State Labor Law.”

The Kings Lafayette Bank is cur­rently under investigation by the staff of Senator Jackson’s Per­manent Investigations Subcommit­tee as a possible money wash for securities stolen by organized crime.

An investigator for the Jackson committee told me this week: “Kings Lafayette is what you might call a family bank.”

There are at least four reasons for the disproportionate amount of political venality and cynicism in Brooklyn.

One is that Brooklyn is a one-party borough, and the organization Democrats have been uninterrupted in power since Boss McLaughlin started getting rich from the Brooklyn Bridge project in 1867.

Second is the historic roots the Mafia has in Brooklyn, especially on the docks, and in neighborhoods like Canarsie and Red Hook. Three organized crime families — Gambino, Colombo, and Gallo — are based in Brooklyn, and five more derive some income from various rackets in the borough. Joe Hynes of the Brooklyn D. A.’s office estimates that 2500 members of organized crime families now work and live in Brooklyn.

Third the dubious quality of the Brooklyn judiciary is a direct consequence of the control the political structure maintains over the courts and the Brooklyn Bar Association. Until law and justice become separated from patronage and politics, the Brooklyn judiciary will remain a fertile ground for Special Prosecutors and muckrakers.

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And last, there is so much corruption in Brooklyn because there is almost no scrutiny of that borough by the media. Brooklyn has 2.6 million residents dispersed over 80 miles. It is the fourth largest city in the nation. But since the demise of the Eagle, Brooklyn has been without a daily newspaper. The Times, the Post, and the local television news shows continue to report on Manhattan with much more curiosity than on bigger, badder Brooklyn. The Times covers Bangladesh better than it covers Brooklyn.

The future, as always, is inscrutable.

The appropriate remedies, as usual, appear obvious.

Investigation, exposure, analysis, endurance, idealism, and leader­ship will, hopefully, inspire citizen participation in the democratic process.

Meade Esposito, Stanley Steingut, John Rooney, Frank Brasco, Bert Podell, Dominic Rinaldi, Tom Culte, and James Mangano will all be up for re-election in 1974.

If the prosecutors don’t catch them, perhaps the people will. ♦

1974 Village Voice article by Jack Newfield about Democratic machine politician Meade Esposito's ties to the mob

1974 Village Voice article by Jack Newfield about Democratic machine politician Meade Esposito's ties to the mob

 

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives

Does Godfather Know Best?

For quite a while now I have been pinning a wary eye on that new phenom in our midst — ethnocracy. The ethnics (who doesn’t qualify for this group — Hiawatha and test-­tube babies?) have been carrying on like a combination of Snow White’s stepmother and her mirror and historical revisionists.

When they came out of the closet, they put into storage oilcloth, doilies, plastic slipcov­ers, housedresses, babushkas, statues of saints that glow in the dark, boozy fathers, and haranguing mothers.

Scratch an Irish-American these days, and he’ll tell you his “Da” alternated his time between vespers and Lady Gregory in the mother tongue, and his “Ma” had the agility of a member of Spike Jones’s band — plucking the harp with one hand, weaving a shawl from Aran Island wool with the other, squeezing an accordion between her knees, and tooting a penny-whistle between her teeth.

And if the new truth be known, Ukrainians had soufflés for breakfast, and the Polish cognoscenti ate their kielbasa with béarnaise sauce.

Lord, is there anything so sad as people so racked with apologias for their real back­ground that they have to employ an interior decorator of the head to gussy up their past? Maybe the line wasn’t intended that way, but Sophie Portnoy was right when she said, “Other people have children — I have en­emies.”

But all this backslapping flapdoodle is normally harmless enough, since it affords a lot of hacks opportunities to write books and magazine articles, thus keeping the welfare roils at their current level of tolerable fiscal exhaustion. But the danger of granting a bum idea a giant step is that some slick operator will come along and goose it up. Such is the case with the film, The Godfa­ther, Part II, which could have been sub­titled “The Greening of the Gombah.”

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I don’t normally infringe on the turf of my talented colleagues in the film department (the last time was The Exorcist), but like the Pope, I’m moved to my balcony in matters of faith and morals. And from the reviews I’ve read, nobody cited what an insidious piece of propaganda GFII is for the mob.

I believe Molly Haskell dismissed it in these pages; but most of the other reviewers I read swooned, while Hollywood laid more hardware on it than could be found in Isaac Hayes’s wardrobe. And Pauline Kael, who possesses a first-rate intelligence, was downright operatic about it, swinging from aria to aria like Johnny Weissmuller from his Hollywood vines. She even stated that director-screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola (in collaboration with Mario Puzo) was working on a level with Leo — not the mangy beast of MGM, but Tolstoy! Gads! Is this what happens when one spends too much time sitting in the dark?

But before I go into any more criticism of those who championed the film, it is only fair to make my negative case — or in the idiom, make my bones — against the film.

First off, we know the Corleones are into organized crime, but what the family busi­ness explicitly is is a little vague, outside gambling. In GFI Brando, as Don Corleone, pristinely wouldn’t touch dope — a demurrer similar to cops on the pad who tell you they only take “clean money,” that is, from everyone except junk dealers.

What GFII skillfully manages to do (as did its predecessor) is to depict a crime dynasty without victims. In both films, no ordinary citizen outside the ring of corrup­tion which includes mob members, cops on the take, pols in the bag, and the murdered whore (in GFII) is ever introduced, never mind injured. The precise implication is that all the bloodletting takes place between members of Sicilian fiefdoms so steeped in ritual and canon they make the Catholic Church seem like an ad-lib affair.

The audience is made to feel tacky in the presence of these “men of respect” with their insistence on family loyalty and marital fidelity. As Puzo and Coppola present them, they are knights errant jousting with a chaotic world not of their making. The mob is Arthurian with their round-table meetings, their censorship of the breaking of chivalric codes, and their regal gestures of silence and bonding kisses. What nine-to-five brown-bagger wouldn’t feel as if his soul was encased in a bowling shirt in the presence of these silk suits?

But would we be so impressed with the Corleones or, for that matter, care a twit about their faith if we saw them in action vis-a-vis society outside their circle? For instance, watching the family muscle a decent union into submission, take over businesses, blind a reporter with acid, run a protection racket, maim or murder those who resist; or a panoramic shot of the mob processing heroin and then cut to a sweeping shot of their prone victims — say, like the dead and wounded in Atlanta in Gone With the Wind? Of course, one could argue, we all know what the mob does, so the viewers should fill in the gaps. But that, like many of the mob’s true victims, won’t float. Movie­making is a visual medium, and we go to be shown.

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So instead of honesty and realism, we get technical virtuosity, a foreplay device that most reviewers mistake for climax. The costumes are so right, the vintage cars are mint, and Lord! the locations, don’t forget the authentic locations! It is here GFII is unsurpassed. The film has more locales than Nathan Detroit’s crap game.

I must admit that, as an avid moviegoer since my childhood, I love all this. But I am afraid when one inspects the core of the film, it is only Asbury Park. To wit: We watch Vito (Robert De Niro) rise to power by knocking off an old Mustache Pete, who had control of the neighborhood. The old Don was so thea­trically absurd that every time he opened a grocery store door to collect his rake-off we waited for a gust of snow flurries to sweep in behind him. No victim here.

Vito becomes the new Don, but his activities are as opaque and mysterious as a puff of smoke rising from the Vatican. He does “favors” for people, and they “owe” him in return. We do see him in action once, but a multimillion dollar budget wasn’t needed for this tableau — just turn on the tube to any sitcom.

A widow is being evicted because she has a noisy dog (a little piano music from the pit, please), and she approaches the strong man’s wife. At first, he shrugs it off (he’s an important man), but his wife willfully and wilily implores (Jane Wyatt and Robert Young), and he finally concedes to take time out from his busy schedule, whatever the hell that is, to save the abode of the widow and the pooch. He manages a reduction in rent to boot! So was born the first sperm of the Human Resources Administration.

It’s been my personal experience (and police blotters will bear me out) that the mob is more proficient at making widows than saving them. And this scene, shot in deathbed solemnity, didn’t even prompt a titter in the theatre! Anybody who knows the difference between vigorish and gibberish would have laughed it off the screen.

But I must capsulize, since this three-hour plus epic (which would have had Harry Cohn’s ass doing a Highland Fling) cannot be dissected frame by frame. So we will switch to the character of Vito’s son Michael, played by Al Pacino (normally a fine actor but here so taken up with the liturgical ambience of the film he seems to be wavering between Holy Orders and Extreme Unction).

With Vito dead, Michael becomes the Don — beset with an antipasto of angst. His sister, now widowed, is running around with a playboy who is outside the mob and thus despicable. The wastrel is played by Troy Donahue (a cinematic contract if you ever saw one). But in time, she will mend her ways, proving Godfather knows best.

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Michael wants to expand his operation, but needs the blessing of a Meyer Lansky (Lee Strasberg) character in Florida (the international Jewish bankers are still with us). His older brother is a sniveling weakling, somebody is trying to kill him and his non-Sicilian New England­ wife, Kay, doesn’t like the whole mess.

An assassination attempt is made on him in his home, in his own bedroom, where he cries like an English lord discovering a bounder cheating at cricket, “My children come to play with their toys!”

We learn the hit was was set up by the Jew from Miami (we all know they’re declasse and pushy anyway, don’t we?). But questions must be asked. Does the mob grant familial sanctuary to its victims? Numerous incidents prove not. Is there then honor among thieves? Joey Gallo was shot dead in a restaurant in front of his wife and her nine-year-old daughter. So much for that crock of shit.

Throughout the film, there are numerous references to the sexual fidelity of the mobsters. Vito, looking at a woman onstage, says to his companion, who loves the actress, that he understands why he can see beauty in her, but that for himself, he is blind to it, since he loves only his wife.

Michael tells his consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) that Hagen can desert him for another job in Vegas and take his wife, family, and mistress with him. Hagen, being Irish and outside the Sicilian code, looks as if he were gunshot by a dum-dum bullet and mutters, “You don’t have to embarrass me.”

This time I waited for howls of laughter in the theatre, but none were forthcoming. Personally, it was my favorite scene, since I saw it as a sociological breakthrough. It was the first time I have ever heard an Italian admit that the Irish get laid for purposes other than propagating the faith.

But what of the claim of connubial bliss? Perhaps before GFIII arrives, the movie critics should attend a Jerry Vale or Sinatra opening at a nightclub and clock those Carvel-coiffed bimbos sitting with the boys. Believe me, it’s not Mama-Mia in her black dress and cameo brooch. The only explanation I can come up with for the insertion of this balderdash in the film is that perhaps Puzo and Coppola are tomcatting all over Hollywood and are trying to cover their tracks.

But before this piece enters Harry Cohn’s rectal range, I shall attempt to conclude. Since we cannot find any innocent victims of the mob in the film, let us examine their celluloid critics.

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We have established Michael’s rebellious sister has already repented, replete with a musical score that would make Mantovani sound like Tiny Tim. The major political figure in the film is a buffoon of a senator who, though he hates the Italians (he finds them greasy), is so corrupt he’d make Beelzebub blush. I suppose it was this character who moved Kael above bel canto, like Joan Sutherland on a pogo stick.

Kael: “The completed work is an epic about the seeds of destruction that the immigrants brought to the new land, with Sicilians, Wasps, and Jews separate socially but joined together in crime and political brib­ery. This is a Bicentennial picture that doesn’t insult the intelligence. It’s an epic vision of the corruption of America.”

Notice the marvelous masochism of “Bicentennial,” “America,” and “corruption.” The true story of the immigrants is too boring, lacking dramatic flair. They did dog work for the unselfish and slavish reason that their children wouldn’t have to suffer their lot.

To find the true odyssey of the Italians in America, one would have to check the construction sites, the docks, the civil service rolls, and the sunup to sundown grocery stores, bakeries, barbershops, and shoe repair shops they operated.

What The Godfather is trying to peddle us is that turning to crime was not a choice but a necessary absorption in order to get along in a hostile country. Thus it is an ode to impotence and a grave insult to the Italians.

The impotence theme is carried further by suggesting that sons cannot escape fathers — a little Viennese cream on top of the demitasse, Hollywood-style. The real truth about the sons of immigrants would be better found on the registrar’s lists at such colleges as Brooklyn, Queens, Fordham, and St. John’s than on the Silver Screen.

Only Americans, with their materialistic minds, think they can corner the market on misery and corruption. Nixon has made us provincial: we have to be Number One in something. So now, instead of telling strangers at bars the glory of our bourbon, we tell them of our lock on the apocalypse — which makes us even more boring. Apocalyptic longing has always been one of man’s sugary dreams. Unfortunately, life is not a two-reeler but an endless coming attraction. We hear of an impending Ice Age (at last!) only to be told next of the erosion of the earth’s ozone layer which, to this unscientific mind, should cause the ice to melt — a twist Didi and Estragon surely would have foreseen.

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And if one has to deal with the tragedy of the immigrant, there are sadder sounds to plumb than the Godfather waltz. The trouble with the immigrant is that if you scratch him, you find an unquestioning patriot. This, I suppose, is out of gratitude for what they left behind (their apocalypse?). It has been carried over into their children (the hardhat class, if you will), leaving them politically rote and uncritical. That is the true tragedy.

With this dandy dissertation out of the way, we turn to that mean little film once more and the critical characters who fall outside the majesty of the mob. The Senate committee that investigates Michael not only has as a member the corrupt senator but is headed by counsel in the employ of the Lansky character, a fact the audience I sat in adored. And when Michael outfoxed the committee, a sigh of satisfaction usually associated with successful birth was audible.

The most dangerous interlude for the mob myth is when we find out that Michael is going to have his older brother killed. But how dangerous is it? After all, his brother conspired against him, inadvertently setting him up for a hit. Add to this that the brother’s character is punk-ridden, and the actor (John Cazale) is not very attractive physically by movie definition (you damn well wouldn’t kill James Caan and get away with it!). Also, in the course of the movie, he says his mother always used to tell him that she must have brought home the wrong baby. So what the hell! Snuff out the aberration and keep the strain pure. It’s done in all pedigrees.

That leaves us with Michael’s wife, Kay, as a voice of conscience. Even though she is blonde from New England, a heathen in the inner sanctum, she promises to be a worthy adversary. Her antimob tirades to Michael fall refreshingly on the audience’s ears, until in a fit of rage she confesses she aborted his son. Not an unhealthy fetus, mind you, or a child who would be economically deprived, but a bouncing baby boy who would grow up to frolic on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Now I ask you, what kind of a crazy cunt would do a thing like that? You see what I mean — no outside innocent victims, no viable critics — an offer the gullible couldn’t refuse.

A gossip columnists wrote that after GFI, Puzo was in Las Vegas and his tabs, gambling et al., were being picked up by “mysterious” admirers. If this be true, after Part II, his admirers ought to buy him Caesar’s Palace as an outhouse.

It is also said that Puzo goes to fat farms to reduce. The suggestion here is that on his next trip he should take Coppola along to melt the suet. And concentrate their efforts on il stomaco.

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Memories of Crazy Joe Gallo

The way Bobby Kennedy told it in his book, The Enemy Within, it was all very sinister. Joey Gallo showed up for a private pre-hearing interview in a black shirt, black shoes, and black suit, scuffed the office rug with his foot, and said, “This would be a nice place for a crap game.” The way the surrogate Nicely Nicely told the story subsequently in the Corner Bistro was, if not more accurate, certainly more entertaining. “I read that bullshit,” he said, “and just for openers I didn’t have a black shirt on. I was wearing a one-buck work shirt I picked up at an army-navy story on Sixth Avenue.

“The first thing he told me was if I helped him get Hoffa” — the occasion was Gallo’s 1958 appearance before the Senate Rackets Investigating Committee, Robert Kennedy counsel — “I’d never want for nothing. When I told him the hell with that and that I was going to take the Fifth he said: ‘You’re not so tough — I’d like to fight you myself.’ And when he came around from behind his desk and started to peel off his coat, I told him, ‘I don’t fight,’ and I reached in my pocket and pulled out a mezuzah that Sid Slater had given me and shoved it in his face.”

Joey laughed at the thought of using a mezuzah on Kennedy as one might use wolfbane on Lon Chaney, Jr. Laughter was central to his life, the private life he lived in the Village apart form the cruelties which were his public life. Without defining it, Joey’s private role playing had him as Dick Powell playing the last Billy the Kid, the white Malcolm X, but he loved to laugh at himself if anyone was paying attention and attention was compulsory. Sitting once in the late Waverly Lounge in the Earle Hotel he said: “My brother Larry’s public enemy number one or number two — I forgot which because I’m the other one.” Then he emitted a small laugh, one with an edge on it because it was 1962 and he was on trial, and he turned to Laurie Brewis, who is also late and was then piano player, and said, “I’ll bet the papers are out now,” and Laurie who was small but no smaller than Joey, scuttled out to Sixth Avenue as if someone were shooting at him and came back with the Mirror and the News and both had lengthy stories about the trial of Crazy Joey.

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He explained his name that night and it made perfect sense to Leo, who owned the bar. “They put me in this nut factory, the Kings County Hospital,” he said, “because they wanted to keep me for 90 days and they didn’t have any other way to do it. So this doctor came around and showed me something and asked me what it looks like. ‘It looks like somebody spilled ink on it and folded it over,’ I say, and so they say I’m crazy. I say to the doctor that he’s paid by the taxpayer’s money and so is the D.A. and so is the police commissioner and I’m not talking to any of them and they tell me I’m crazy again. I pass my time painting and they come around with my paintings and they say, ‘Would you like to live in a house like this?’ If I could answer questions like that I would be crazy.

“Finally I tell the doctor, ‘You tell me I’ve got a persecution complex. Well, it happens that I am persecuted.’ But I tell him, I’ve got a lot of friends. He asks, ‘Are you threatening me?’ Well, I told him I wasn’t but you know what? He gave me better marks than my own shrink does. Does that sound crazy to you?”

Joey loved the Village as only those who move here from some other where can. He spoke of his Brooklyn home as someone else might speak of Ashtabula. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, when he was at war with the Profacis, it used to be a regular police number to run over to 49-51 Pres­ident Street in Brooklyn, the of­fice of his Direct Vending Machine Company and, upstairs, what was known as the Dormitory for his associates, and pick up maybe a couple of dozen of his friends, then to scour the Village and Little Italy looking for Joey. One night he issued a blanket invi­tation to everyone in Jack Barry’s to breakfast with him at Luna’s at 112 Mulberry Street — half a block from where he was killed the week before last — and when he was told the cops were looking for him he and everyone else went out the back. The only reason a participant remembers the event is the sight of Gallo boosting a lady over a fence, an event sexually stirring for the onlooker, if not the lady.

Joe lived for a time at 63 East 11th Street but his last home before he went up was in a build­ing now gone next to the Ameri­can Youth Hostel, also now gone, where there is now a series of shops at 14 to 22 West 8th Street. He lived there, in a ground floor apartment, with his wife, Jeffie, when they ran into Jeffie’s first husband, Gerry Mulligan, who was playing at the Village Vanguard. It must have been a bad split because, Joey said, laughing, “He looked me up and down and then he turned to Jeffie and said: ‘You must have scoured the gutters of the Village to find somebody lower than a jazz musician.’ ”

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Joey got sent up, he always maintained, on a bum rap. It was extortion and he freely admitted — cheerfully admitted might be more accurate — that he was trying to extort money from a man named Ted Moss. The thing was, Joey said, that the cops said he was trying to extort a piece of Moss’s bars. One night in one of the bars, the one at the corner of 12th Street and University Place, where Shine’s was later, he ges­tured to the only other customer in the bar and said: “Look — this joint takes in maybe $150 a week. Do I need to muscle a guy for a lousy $75? But the bastard is shylocking and this is my territory. Let him keep his fucking bars but let him keep out of my business.” The cops, Joey claimed, couldn’t admit in court that they were talking about shylocking so they doctored their telephone tapes. He stood mute, thinking that he would win on appeal, and did 10 years as a result of that mistake.

Even that mistake was made with a little Gallo panache. His lawyer, David Price, was ill and Joey asked for a continuance. General Sessions Judge Joseph A. Sarafite refused and, instead, ap­pointed a lawyer, Irving Men­delson, to defend him. Joey took Mendelson aside and said, “That goddamned dago judge is never going to give me a fair shake.”

When Mendelson said Sarafite certainly would give him a fair shake and that he could vouch for it because the judge was a lifelong friend, Joey said: “You just told me all I want to know” and thereafter refused to speak to the judge’s lifelong friend. Sarafite subsequently hit Joey with the maximum possible sentence.

His daughter was born after he was sent up and Joey refused to see her or Jeffie on the theory that he was in and they were out and the hell with it. On a train back from Ocean Beach one summer Jeffie explained all that and said that when Joey got out the baby would be in her teens, she would be in her 40s, and that they both needed someone to love them. “But who?” she asked. “Would you marry me?” There was laughter and Jeffie laughed, too, and then said: “That’s the trouble. Who’s going to marry Joey Gallo’s wife, the chief of police?” She did have something of a problem, one that was resolved only when Joey gave her specific permission to get a divorce and re-marry.

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New York is a tough town and no one who remains alive ever knows quite how tough. Sid Slater, who gave Joey the mezuzah he flashed at Bobby Kennedy, turned out later to have been something other than what Joey used to call his “token Hebe.” He was also Frank Hogan’s token fink, and it may be a mark of Joey’s class that when he had him beaten he had him beaten in the Copacabana. But Sid was a gangster and one night he left Joey’s apartment with Pat Wilson, the singer, and another friend, and started walking own MacDougal Street. He heard a heavy clomp of running feet behind him, reached into his coat, pulled out his piece, and whirled around to discover a Villager running to keep up with his Dalmatian who never knew how close he came to meeting Mr. Death.

Now that Joey is dead it seems to be a popular idea — perpe­tuated, it would seem, by his sup­posed biographer — that he be­came bright only in prison where he is said to have read Camus and Sartre. Men do not become bright in their 40s by reading books in li­braries. Joey was sitting in the late Jericho Tavern on Sixth Ave­nue one day talking about a certain Lieutenant Hoffman who had raided the Dormitory on Pres­ident Street the night before. He was asked if it was the same Hoffman who, as a detective, had picked him up for running a dice game when he was 16. “‘Yeah,” Joey said. “I forgot about that. You know, that son of a bitch is playing ‘Les Miserables’ with me.” Joey had read books before he went to prison.

Joey, as has been said, loved to laugh, but there was a thread of bitterness in it. “They say I’ve been picked up 15, 17 times,” he once said. “That’s bullshit. I’ve been picked up maybe 250 times but they don’t make a note of it. I’ve been worked over so many times my hat sits on my head like I’m a midget. I’ve been picked up at least 50 times for consorting with known criminals — my father and my brothers.”

When Joey got out of the can last May he moved to 14th Street and, after the shooting of Joe Colombo, found himself suddenly an object of radical chic by those who had gotten bored with the Panthers. He talked into tape re­corders and sent miles of tape up to Viking to be written by anonymous editors and, one must think,­ in the fastness of the night he laughed.

Vale, Joey.

Categories
From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Crazy Joe Gallo, Playing the Godfather Game

“Poor Crazy Joe, he should have stayed in jail where he was safe,” said a newsman while Rome fell down around us. We were in front of Umberto’s Sea Food Restaurant at Mulberry and Hester Streets and it was 10 a.m., five hours after Crazy Joe’s shooting by an unknown as­sassin. The street was mobbed.

There were neighborhood kids and a gang that called itself “the Elizabeth Street Crew,” delivery truck men, an Italian tv outfit (the anchorman held up a copy of “Honor Thy Father” and said the word “Mafioso”), random old folk, plainclothesmen in brim hats, and cops. They weren’t allowing the press into Umberto’s. Chief of Detectives, Albert Seedman claimed it wasn’t his idea, but Oscar Ianello, the manager, had had it and enough was enough. So I peered through the plate glass windows. Beyond the cramped bluecoats, I could spot a dozen or so butcher block tables with chairs piled sky high, a tiled bar, a jukebox, and a couple of men with tape rulers measuring distances between tables. I could see a sign that said Italian pastries and one that said home­made clam chowder, scungilli, calamari, and a plant with a red ribbon streaming from its green leaves — a good luck gift to Um­berto’s on its opening, seven weeks before. And a couple of waiters sweeping the floor of debris and a cop with a mop.

Around the corner on Mott Street, Paramount shot the scene from The Godfather where Marlon Brando as Don Corleone was gunned down at the fruit stand. And on Grand Street, only a block a way, last week, a heist of $55,000 from Ferrara’s. Killing is met with a shrug in Little Italy, but to rob a “family” establishment on Easter Sunday, a place where you take the wife and kids, you don’t do.

But someone did, and someone got to Joey, and someone said “Praise God, they got Joey” and someone else said “Don’t go out tonight, there’ll be shooting on the streets” and the manager of Ferrara’s wasn’t talking about the heist.

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The press conference that Chief Seedman and Police Chief Murphy called for 3 p.m. began with a four-foot diagram of Um­berto’s Restaurant attached to a blackboard and wheeled out to the waiting cameras. Little red dots indicated where bullets were found on the restaurant floor. An X marked the table in the back of Umberto’s where Gallo sat with his party. The back doorway where the gun-man entered and got away was marked, and circles indicated tables where other patrons sat and a horizontal line showed the clam bar and a square indicated the kitchen in the back. Murphy held a long pointer and detailed the chart. He said there was another outbreak of gang violence in the city that involved or­ganized crime and proceeded to explain the wherefores of the shooting, if not the whys.

Then Seedman took over. Gallo, his wife, stepdaughter, sister, bodyguard, and bodyguard’s girlfriend had been to the Copaca­bana earlier for Don Rickles’s opening and to celebrate Joey’s 43rd birthday. About 4 a.m. they hopped into Joey’s 1971 Cadillac­ and drove to Little Italy for an early morning snack. They decided on Umberto’s. Joey had never been there before. The theory is that he was fingered and trailed from the Copa. The shooting occurred at a time when the Gallo party was in a particularly festive mood. The assassin entered. About 20 shots in all were fired, some by the killer (three 38s hit Joey), some by Joey’s bodyguard, Pete the Greek, some by a stranger seated at the clam bar who chased the (gunman) out of the restaurant, firing at him and missing. Joey himself had no gun. Hit, he staggered out the front door. The killer kept firing. Gallo collapsed and died in the middle of Hester Street, near his Cadillac.

“Any questions?” asked Seedman, about the morning’s events. Plenty. “Was it a profes­sional hit?” “Seems like it.” “Is it true that the organization never fingers a victim when he’s with his family?” “There’s nothing to make us come to this conclusion.” “What did Gallo’s death do to the Colombo investigation?” “So far nothing. There may be no connec­tion at all.” (This remark bought a snicker from the newsmen.)

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The questions continued. “Was Gallo in some way responsible for the Colombo shooting?” “Mere supposition at this point.” “Was Colombo responsible for the Gallo shooting?” “Same answer.” “What’s happened to the Jerome Johnson murder investigation?” “We’re still in the process of put­ting it together.”

Seedman has been in the process of putting it together since July 1971.

There are a few other murders that Seedman is either in the process of putting together or, for some reason, has abandoned com­pletely — these three in particular have certain similarities:

BOBBY J. WOOD: His bullet­-riddled body was found on a Queens street on February 18, 1970. Wood is the former owner of the Salvation Restaurant at 1 Sheridan Square. He left letters with his lawyers telling how the mob muscled in. The letters alleged extortion and threats and named names, among them Thomas (“Tommy Ryan”) Eboli, who controlled Tryan, the vending machine operation on Jones Street; John Riccobono and Andrew B, both employees at Wood’s restaurant; and Joseph Riccobono, an alleged consigliere in the Carlo Gambino family.

Two months after Wood’s murder, the Salvation re-opened with a new name, the Haven, and with a new policy: it was now a teenage gay-straight drug drop juice joint without a liquor license, operating under a state charter as a social club. On many weekends, Sheridan Square looked like a freaked-out circus. Finally, through pressure from Community Planning Board 2 and the residents of the area, the Haven was closed in September 1971. Proprietor Nicolas De Mar­tino, who was also vice-president of TelStar (a reputed Mafia organization under which the Haven had received its state charter), was found guilty on a contempt charge by the State Supreme Court. At his trial in January, De Martino said he hadn’t a pot to piss in. He claimed he had mended his ways and received a fine of $250 and a lecture by the judge. He has since found a gold­en cauldron for his urine — he is fronting a son-of-the-Haven type operation in the East 80s. Sepa­rate from that, a new night spot is being talked about by new people at the old Haven. Vincent H. Petti and Robert Santopietro have rented the place and applied for a liquor license. If it does open as a Haven type operation, it’ll be “over the dead bodies” of the Washington Place–Sheridan Square Block Association. And the man behind the dead body of Bobby Wood still roams the streets, unless he too has got hit, Gallo style, saving the depart­ment the bother.

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SHELLY BLOOM (real name: Allan Gold). On March 21, Bloom was shot in the stomach and chest and had his skull fractured in his plush Gramercy Park bathroom. According to police, robbery was not the motive — $14,500 was found in the apartment, plus an assort­ment of expensive jewelry. Bloom and Seymour Seiden operated the Sanctuary at 407 West 43rd Street, a midtown version of the Haven. Bloom’s murder, coincidentally, occurred two weeks before the Sanctuary was closed down by the Supreme Court and by Lee Miller, the state prosecuting attorney who successfully handled the Haven case. Coincidentally, too, the Sanctuary’s closing came as a result of pressure by the 43rd Street Block Association. The place was also under surveillance by the police.

Behind the walls of the former church Sanctuary, the depart­ment discovered the workings of a stolen car operation. It discov­ered stolen credit cards, counter­feit money, plus “a supermarket in drugs” (33 drug busts in three consecutive nights, three em­ployees arrested for pushing meth and amphetamines). There was little overhead. On a good week­end, the Sanctuary would net $4000 a night.

Incidental disjointed facts: the late Bloom and his Sanctuary partner were also partnered in Poutassa, a discotheque that still operates at 1234 Second Avenue. Both men were frequent visitors at the Tambourine. Speculation is they were involved in that opera­tion, too. The Sanctuary building is owned by Seymour Durst, who also owns a number of buildings on that West 43rd Street block and is one of the six people working with the city on planning the West Side Convention Center. The West 43rd Street Block Association is fighting both the commer­cialization of its neighborhood by big time real estate operators (it is waging a war against Durst, who is trying to get a zoning variance in order to construct two 46-story apartment buildings) and the drug sore spot that, until its recent closing, made the block a murderously dangerous reality. Coincidentally, again, at the same time that the Sanctuary was get­ting its final “move away” papers, Shelly Bloom got his final “move on.” What’s up?

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PETER DETMOLD. Killed by knife wound, January 6. No arrest made. Detmold was executive director of the Turtle Bay Associ­ation Board, and was hassling a sore spot in its midst, the Tam­burlaine. It was located at 148 East 48th Street, an offshoot of the Haven, a sister of the Sanctuary, basically the same customers, same of the same front men. The day before Christmas, the Tam­burlaine was mysteriously gutted by fire. It never re-opened. Two weeks later, Detmold was found murdered

With Seedman as Chief of Detectives, it will be interesting to see how long the Wood and Bloom and Detmold murders remain un­solved, how long before we know the identity of that mysterious gunman who gave it to Crazy Joe on his birthday, how long before we know who bumped off Jerome Johnson and why, and how many more rounds of the Godfather game will be played, and who’s playing the game, before we get to the final reel.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Dylan Dallies With Mafia Chic: Joey Gallo Was No Hero

Whenever Bob Dylan puts out a new album, it is sure to generate a lot of talk. What is he thinking, what is he saying, what does he mean? A cynical person might respond that he releases these things, no matter how sloppy they are and no matter how long we might have to wait for something half-baked, precisely so people will keep talking about him. History is, after all, a rather gray address. It is automatically assumed that every Bob Dylan album is an event, but there are times — the Rolling Thunder tour is probably a good example — when our sense of the enterprise in question as an event eclipses whatever signifi­cance and integrity it might possess.

As for Desire, much has been made of Dylan’s support of Hurri­cane Carter’s defense, and of his return to topical songwriting in general, but I think there are grounds for questioning his mo­tives. Does Bob Dylan really care about Hurricane Carter, Joey Gallo, and, in retrospect, George Jackson, or might not our same hypothetical cynic contend that he is merely using all these people to insure his own continuing “rele­vance”? The answer can only he found in Dylan’s handling of these people in the songs which purport to convey the folk/street truth be­hind the headlines. I am not so much interested in Rubin Carter — ­and I think most listeners would have to admit that they feel the same way — as I am in whether Bob Dylan is being straight with me or not. The man does, after all, have a reputation second only to David Bowie’s for image-mongering, and second to none for mythmaking. One tends to wonder if the myths he has made, even when they deal with actual historical personages, might not devolve to an endless alienated outlaw narcissism; if he has not, in fact, been talking about himself all the way down the road. I believe that; I don’t think he is being straight with his audience anywhere on Desire, but is rather exploiting both them and the subjects of his songs to keep his own image polished.

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I think you can find all the evidence you need in Desire’s longest cut, the ponderous sloppy, numbingly boring 11-minute ballad “Joey,” about yet another folk hero/loser/martyr, mobster “Crazy Joey” Gallo, who was murdered by other mafiosi in Lit­tle Italy in 1972.

During the ’60s, there were five Mafia “families” dividing up the pie of various turfs and rackets in New York City, under the control of one Godfather-like “boss of bosses.” Although the modern Mafia encourages more of a “busi­nessman” image and tries to play down the bloodletting, the families are usually fighting among themselves for greater power and influ­ence, and one of the most successful families during the ’60s was the Profaci family, which later be­came the Colombo family. In in­termittent but very bloody opposition to them was the Gallo family, led by the brothers Larry, Joey, and Albert “Kid Blast” Gallo, who were never quite able to attain equivalent power even though they remained the overlords of one small section of Brooklyn. Accord­ing to a detailed analysis of mob warfare by Fred J. Cook in the June 4, 1972, New York Times, “The severe bloodletting in the Profaci-Colombo family began when the greed of the Gallo brothers set them lusting after [the former’s] power. Indeed it touched them with the kind of madness that drives a shark berserk in a blood-stained-sea,” and the Gallos tried every lethal ploy that they could think of to muscle their way into a bigger piece of the action. In October 1957, according to some reports, Joey Gallo acted on a Profaci contract and blasted the notorious Albert Anastasia, one time lord of Murder, Inc., out of his barber’s chair in a celebrated rub-out, thus paving the way for Carlo Gambino to become, and remain, boss of bosses through the ’60s and early ’70s. But the Gallos never found any more favor with Gambino than they had with his predecessors, so they embarked on an all-out war with the Profacis that lasted from 1961–63; though there were no real winners, the Gallos were no match either in numbers or tactically for the Pro­facis, and the war ended in early 1962 when Crazy Joe Gallo was sentenced to seven to 14 years in prison for extortion, and, a few months later, Joseph Profaci died of cancer.

While Joe Gallo was in prison, he read extensively, becoming a sort of jailhouse intellectual, and when he was finally released in 1970 he began to cultivate contacts in the literary and show business worlds, who welcomed him to their parties and obviously considered him an exotic amusement indeed. Jimmy Breslin’s book, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, had been inspired by the legendary inepti­tude of the Gallo family in their early-’60s bids for power, and Joey developed close contacts with Jerry Orbach, who played a char­acter corresponding to him in the movie based on the book, and his wife Marta, with whom, in the last months of his life, Joey began collaborating on various autobiographical literary projects. Out of Radical Chic bloomed Mafia Chic; he became something of an above-ground social figure, and told col­umnist Earl Wilson that he was ‘”going straight.”

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Apparently that was a lie, howev­er. While Joey was in prison, his gang languishing and awaiting his return, a new figure had arisen from the Profaci ranks to bring New York mob power to a whole new, all but avant-garde level: Joe Colombo. Colombo founded the Italian American Civil Rights League, an organization ostensibly devoted to deploring and “legiti­mately” opposing the “prejudice” which caused most Americans to link mob activities with citizens of Italian descent. Between 150,000 and 250,000 Italian-Americans ulti­mately joined the league, and the impact on politicians was consi­derable, which was how Nelson Rockefeller and Louis Lefkowitz ended up having their pictures taken with underworld toughs. Joey Gallo returned from prison with his power on his own turf intact but of course completely cut out of the Colombo empire. On June 28, 1971, Joe Colombo was gunned down by a supposedly lone and uncontracted black man in front of thousands of his horrified followers at a rally in Columbus Circle. The consensus was that Crazy Joey was behind it, espe­cially since he’d perplexed other mafiosos by hanging out with black prisoners during his stay in the joint, and ostensibly aimed to start a black mob, under his control, when he got out. According to many inside sources, there was a contract out on Gallo from the day Colombo was shot, and on April 7, 1972, as he celebrated his 43rd birthday in Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, an anonymous hit-man walked in off the street and shot Crazy Joey to death much as Joey himself claimed to have murdered Albert Anastasia. It was the end of a gang war that had lasted almost a decade and a half — a few more of their henchmen were disposed of, and the Gallo family was decimat­ed, their power gone. Mobsters in general breathed a collective sigh of relief — the Gallos had always been hungry troublemakers — and went back to business as usual.

It is out of this fairly typical tale of mob power-jostlings that Dylan has, unaccountably, woven “Joey,” which paints a picture of Joey Gallo as alienated antihero reminiscent of West Side Story’s “Gee, Officer Krupke!” lyrics — “He ain’t no delinquent, he’s misunderstood.”

Always on the outside of whatev­er side there was
When they asked him why it had to be that way
Well, the answer — just because

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Joey Gallo was a psychopath, as his biographer, Donald Goddard, confirms, although the analyst who examined him while he was in prison diagnosed Joey’s disease as “pseudopsychopathic schizophren­ia.” Joey’s answer: “Fuck you. Things are not right or wrong anymore. Just smart or stupid. You don’t judge an act by its nature. You judge it by results. We’re all criminals now… Things exist when I feel they should exist, okay? Me. I am the world.” Toward the end of his life, his wife routinely fed him Thorazine, which he docilely took, even though it still didn’t stop him from beating the shit out of her.

Dylan then goes on to paint a romantic, sentimental picture of Joey and his brothers in the gang:

There was talk they killed their rivals
But the truth was far from that
No one ever knew for sure where they were really at.

Well, according to the DA at Joey’s early-’60s extortion trial, “In the current war taking place between the Gallo gang and es­tablished interests, there have been killings, shootings, stran­gling, kidnappings, and disappearances, all directly involving the Gallos. Interestingly enough, since the defendant’s being remanded on November 14 in this case, there have been no known offensive ac­tions taken by the Gallos in this dispute. This would give some cre­dence to the belief that Joe Gallo, is, in reality, the sparkplug and enforcer of the mob.” But who believes DAs, right? Okay, try his ofttimes enormously sympathetic biographer:

“Almost all the charges ever brought against him, even in the beginning, were dismissed. No witnesses. Once people got to know that careless talk was liable to bring Joe Gallo around to remon­strate and maybe make his point with an ice pick, witnesses in Brooklyn became as scarce as woodpeckers. Once the story got around that Joey had gripped a defaulter’s forearm by the wrist and elbow and broken it over the edge of a desk to remind him that his account was past due, the Gallos had very few cash-flow problems with their gambling, loan-sharking, and protection business.”

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Later in the song Dylan asserts that “The police department hounded him.” Considering the number of rackets that the Gallos were involved in, nothing could be further from the truth. Goddard:

“Right from the start, relations between the Pizza Squad [NYC anti-Mafia cop team] and the Gallo gang had been imbued with a grudging professional respect, which, in certain cases, shaded into something close to affection. They played the game by the rules.” Adds a cop:

‘They’re a peculiar mob… They knew what we had to do and they weren’t going to question it. They treated us like gentlemen. That don’t make them good guys, but they had a little more savvy [than the Colombos]. It was like ‘Why stir the pot? If you’re going to be down here, let’s make it pleasant for both of us.’ It’s a game. If you get caught, you get caught.”

Perhaps most curiously of all, Dylan says that “They got him on conspiracy/They were never sure who with.” Funny, because everybody from Goddard to the courts and cops agree that Joey’s down­fall came when, early in May 1961, he tried to muscle in on a loan shark named Teddy Moss. Moss resisted, and, in the presence of undercover cops, Joey said “Well, if he needs some time to think it over, we’ll put him in the hospital for four or five months, and that’ll give him time.”

But how can Dylan have a mar­tyred Mafioso without an evil judge:

“What time is it?” said the judge to Joey when they met
“Five to ten,” said Joey
The judge says, “That’s exactly what you get.”

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This is what, for want of a better phrase, must be termed poetic license. The truth is that Joey’s lawyer was as lame as his gang, and never made it up from Florida for his trial, and Joe refused to have anything to do with the two other lawyers appointed to repre­sent him, choosing to stand mute while the DA delivered a steady stream of evidence that was pretty solid in the first place and never disputed. That Joey allowed this to happen suggests, not that he was railroaded, but merely that he was incredibly stupid. Goddard:

“Readily concurring that Joey was ‘a menace to the community,’ Judge Sarafite chalked up the first victory in the attorney general’s [Robert Kennedy, who once branded Joey Public Enemy No. 1] assault on organized crime by handing down the maximum sentence of seven and one-quarter to fourteen and one-half years’ imprisonment.”

Dylan: “…10 years in Attica/Reading Nietzsche and Wilhelm Reich.” He also read Freud, Plato, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, John Dewey, Bergson, Santayana, Herbert Spencer, William James, Voltaire, Diderot, Pascal, Locke, Spengler, Wilde, Keats, Shakespeare, Goethe, Will Durant, Oliver Crom­well, Napoleon, Adenauer, de Gaulle, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Clarence Darrow, and Louis Nizer, as well as taking part in a homosexual gang rape about which he bragged at a cocktail party after his release:

“He described how, with several other convicts, he had spotted a pretty young boy among a new batch of prisoners and laid in wait for him. Dragging him into the Jewish chapel, they ripped his pants off and were struggling to hold him down when one of them heard the rabbi talking in the next room. A knife was immediately put at their victim’s throat with a whispered warning not to cry out, and the rape proceeded in an or­derly fashion, each man taking his turn in order of seniority. They wanted this kid, Joey said, while his asshole was still tight.”

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This was most likely not, howev­er, the reason that (according to Dylan) “his closest friends were black men.” It was “Cause they seemed to understand what it’s like to be in society/With a shackle on your hand.” And also, as pre­viously stated, because Joey for a while entertained dreams of launching a black Mafia when he got out. The psychoanalyst who interviewed Joey in prison voices agreement with Dylan in more clinical terms, but adds “Joey was a terrifically prejudiced guy… on a strictly, and deeply, personal level, he was a knee-jerk nigger-­hater,” and also allows that it was “entirely possible” that “I was conned by one of the greatest con artists of all times.”

After Joey is finally sprung, Dylan has him blessing both the beasts and children: “’Twas true that in his later years/He would not carry a gun.” Of course not; no Mafia chieftain ever has, unless in unusually dire fear for his life. The cops would like nothing better than to send one of these guys up on a carrying concealed weapons rap, and anyway that’s what the wall of protective muscle that accompan­ies them everywhere is for.

“ ‘I’m around too many chil­dren,’ he’d say/‘They should never know of one.’ ” Again true — mob leaders have always been scrupu­lous about keeping their wives and children universes removed from the everyday brutality of their work. Anybody who saw The Godfather knows that. But as for Joey’s magical touch with children, let his daughter, Joie, speak: “He would come home and say, ‘Make me some coffee,’ And I would say, ‘Daddy, I have home­work. Can I do it later?’ ‘No. Now.’ It was like I was refusing him, and nobody ever did that. He was the king, and I couldn’t stand it… He used to abuse Mommy terribly, and I resented him coming be­tween us. He broke her ribs once… I used to complain to Mommy about him and bug her to leave him. ‘What a man you picked,’ I’d say. ‘Who’d want to live with that maniac? You’ve got to be crazy to put up with this.’ So then I’d divorce him as my father. I’d take a piece of paper and draw a very fancy certificate that said, ‘I, Joie Gallo, hereby divorce Joey Gallo as my father.’ ”

Joey, Joey… what made them want to come and blow you away?

There are several theories in answer to that question. The most prevalent was that, since most people took it for granted that Joey was behind the shooting of Joe Colombo almost a year before, there was an open contract out on Gallo by the Colombo family, meaning that Joey had effective­ly committed suicide in having Colombo shot. Two other theories advanced by investigators ex­tremely close to the case have Gallo once again trying to muscle in on territory occupied by other, more powerful mob factions. In one case, he could have told two thugs to crack a safe for $55,000 in Ferrara’s Pastry Shop in Little Italy, a landmark frequented by Vinnie Aloi, at that time a very powerful capo in the New York Mafia. This would certainly have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to the mob bosses’ patience with Gallo’s hust­les, as would another incident reported in the June 4, 1972, New York Times:

“Three weeks prior to Gallo’s getting killed, he, Frank (Punchy) Illiano and John (Mooney) Cutrone went out to the San Susan nightclub in Mineola, L.I., in which John Franzese [another powerful capo in the Colombo family] is reported to have a hidden interest. Joey is reported to have grabbed the manager and said, ‘This joint is mine. Get out.’ In other words, he was cutting himself in. This was the first sign we had that Crazy Joe was acting up again.”

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In any case, any of these courses of action (and Gallo may well have undertaken all three) amounted to signing his own death warrant. An interesting sidelight is that at this time Joey was broke, practically reduced to the shame of living off his bride of three weeks; his mother had already mortgaged her house and hocked her furniture to pay for bail bonds. Meanwhile, of course, he had begun to hang out with what Goddard calls “the show-biz, tablehopping cheek­-peckers’ club”: Jerry and Marta Orbach, the Ben Gazzaras, Neil Simon, David Steinberg, Joan Hackett and her husband — people that, as his bride Sina warned him, “might be exploiting him for the thrill of having a real live gangster empty their ashtrays and talk about life and art.” Marta Orbach told him Viking Press was interested in publishing whatever liter­ary collaboration he could cook up with her, so they began making daily tape recordings of his reminiscences at her house. At first it was supposed to be a black comedy about prison life, but then there was talk of an outright autobio­graphy and even a meeting with an MGM representative to discuss selling it to the movies — so there is also the remaining possibility, as a final theory, that just about any­body in the underworld, getting wind of this might be nervous enough about possible indiscre­tions to want him snuffed.

The two key points here are that (a) by this time he was totally pathetic (Goddard: “He had outgrown the old life. To allow himself to be forced back into it was unthinkable — a submission to circumstance, a confession of fail­ure. As for his new life, the pros­pect was hardly less humiliating. It entailed another kind of surren­der — to show-biz society and public opinion. His self-esteem would depend, not on his power and sover­eign will, but on how long an ex-gangster could stay in fashion. Like an ex-prizefighter, he might even be reduced someday to mak­ing yogurt commercials.”), and (b) Dylan got even the very last second of Gallo’s life wrong: “He could see it coming through the door as he lifted up his fork.” Gallo was shot from behind. So all that remains now is the question to Bob Dylan: Why? Although that is one that I doubt he is going to answer, I was able to get through to his collaborator on “Joey” and the rest of Desire, Jacques Levy, who explained the way he and Dylan had worked on the album, and had a ready defense for the lionization of Joey Gallo: “Bob liked the work I’d done with [Roger] McGuinn, said, ‘Let’s get together and see what happens.’ So we’d sit around tossing ideas back and forth until a song was finished. Bob would have an idea, or I would have an idea, and we would write the songs together, throwing lines, words, rhymes, plot schemes back and forth. It wasn’t even a case of writing every other line.

“I suggested the Joey song to Bob; I took him to dinner with Jerry and Marta Orbach, we told him about Joey, and he became excited about the prospect of the song. I don’t think he ever read much more about Joey than what most people did; but we had all known Joey very well, and told Bob all about him. You know, Bob has always had a thing about outlaws, people on the outside of whatever side there was. Would you call John Wesley Harding [sic] a small-time hoodlum? I think calling Joey that is labeling someone unfairly, and he wasn’t a psychopath either. He was just trying to build something, to help his people and family, and I don’t mean family in the Mafia sense. Yeah, he was a victim of society — of growing up poor, and if you look at the results of the Gallo-Profaci war, say, you’ll find that it’s never been proved that the Gallos killed anybody, but plenty of Joey’s people got killed. And I don’t think he set up Joe Colombo. If there was a vicious side of Joey, I think that people like myself, the Orbachs, people who were around him for at least a year before he died, would have seen it come out.”

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But, I interjected, Joey himself bragged that he had killed Albert Anastasia. Levy almost laughed: “That was Joey’s wise-guy side bragging about something like that is not proof of having done it. That was Joey posing as the tough guy, the Hollywood Richard Widmark–Jimmy Cagney stereo­type.”

Levy and I ended up agreeing that we would never agree on this subject. He had known Joey; all I had were the biased accounts of Donald Goddard, Joey’s ex-wife and first daughter, journalists, cops, and judges. The reader can draw his own conclusions, although I do think that Dylan can stand accused of not doing his homework. But then he’s a poet, and poets aren’t expected to do homework, right? It seems to me that the reason why Dylan’s Joey is so at variance with most ac­counts of Gallo is the same as the reason Dylan doesn’t like to do retakes of his songs — he is simply lazy. I also think Desire is an exploitation record, that the answer to the question, “What is Dylan thinking? is that he is not thinking at all, and that the only thing remaining is to suggest antihero fodder for future Dylan compositional products: Elmer Wayne Henley, William Calley, Arthur Bremer, and that kid who tried to rob a bank at 13th Street and Sixth Avenue and ended up drunkenly requesting replays of the Grateful Dead on the radio. Certainly they all qualify as alienated victims of our sick society, every bit as much on the outside as Joey Gallo.

One does wonder, however, what Gallo would have made of Dylan’s tribute to him; and one receives a possible answer in Goddard’s book, where Gallo’s ex-wife describes borrowing a hundred bucks from Joey’s father to buy records so that the Prince of Brooklyn, always a fan of contemporary music, could catch up on what had been happening in soundsville during the decade he’d been away reading Reich in the slams: “He got especially mad over a Byrds album called ‘Chestnut Mare’ that I wanted him to hear. ‘Listen to the lyrics,’ I said. ‘They’re so pretty and well done.’ ‘I don’t want to hear any fags singing about any fucking horse,’ he says — and he’s really venomous. ‘It’s not about a fucking horse,’ I said. ‘If you’ll listen, it’s about life.’ But he doesn’t want to hear about life either.… Next thing I know, he jumps out of the bathtub, snatched the record off the machine, stomps out in the hall stark-naked, and pitches it down the incinerator.”

 

Categories
From The Archives From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Littlejohn & the Mob: Saga of a Heist

Littlejohn & the Mob: Saga of a Heist

Tuesday, August 22. Home about 10 p.m. A message from a friend on my cassette phone unit. “Just heard a couple of homosexuals are holding up a bank in Brooklyn and they’re holding people hostages. Thought you’d be interested. Bye.” I made a couple of quick calls and got through to the CBS local newsroom. “Yes, two men have been holding seven hostages at gunpoint since 3 this afternoon at a Chase Manhattan branch in Brooklyn. We have the bank’s phone number.” I called. “Hello, this is Arthur Bell from The Village Voice. Can you tell me what’s happening?” The voice at the other end said, “Arthur, am I glad it’s you. This is Littlejohn.” “Littlejohn, what the hell are you doing down there?” “I’m one of the robbers.” “Jesus Christ!”

John Wojtowicz, whom I’ve known through Gay Activists Alliance as Littlejohn Basso (Basso was his mother’s maiden name), proceeded to tell a bizarre story. He said he met a Chase Manhattan bank executive at Danny’s a Greenwich Village gay bar, some time ago. The executive told him how he could rob a branch of $150,000 to $200,000. The money was expected to be delivered by armored truck at 3:30 that August afternoon. John said that he and a couple of friends, Sal (Natuarale) and Bobby (Westenberg) entered the bank shortly before 3. They discovered that a mistake had been made: the big money had been called for at 11 a.m. So instead, they took the $29,000 on hand. As they were about to leave, several cop cars pulled up and surrounded the bank. Somehow Bobby managed to escape. But Sal and Littlejohn were stuck inside. They had no alternative but to hold the bank staff hostage until they cleared out. They had six women and one man and now the place was surrounded by cops and FBI and onlookers and Littlejohn was sure the boys in blue wanted to pull an Attica. They wanted him dead.

So he had issued a list of demands. One of them was to release Ernie Aron from Kings County Hospital. Ernie is the part-time transvestite whom John had married in a $2000 mock Roman Catholic ceremony in December. John wanted Ernie to enter the bank in exchange for one of the hostages. Another demand was to bring hamburgers and Cokes to the bank. The third was to provide transportation to Kennedy Airport and to have a plane waiting there to take Sal and Littlejohn and the hostages to points unknown. They would release two hostages at a time at stops along the way, until they reached their final destination. The FBI, he said, was reneging. They brought Ernie from Kings County, but Ernie didn’t even get near enough to kiss John. Littlejohn couldn’t believe Ernie was that terrified, and thought it was an FBI plot to keep Ernie away. The hamburgers didn’t come. Instead they brought pizza, which he didn’t like. He said he paid for the food anyway. He tossed a lot of bills out the bank door. Now he was afraid that the cops would screw him up with the plane plans. “We’ve got guns and rifles and bombs here and I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just want to get out of here alive.” He told me that Sal was uptight and mad as hell because the radio reports were labeling him a homosexual. “Sal’s not gay. I’m the only gay one here.”

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Could I do anything, I asked. Could I come down and talk to him? John said, “Yes, you come down and be our mediator. Tell the FBI chief that I want to talk to you, and I’ll tell him at this end. He’ll let you in.” I confessed it’s been a long time since Flatbush Avenue days and I didn’t know how to get to Brooklyn and it might take a while. John said, “Grab a cab. I’ll throw a few $100 bills out the window.” “Sit tight,” I said, “don’t do anything. I’ll call you back in a few minutes,” and hung up.

I then called Voice City Editor Mary Nichols at her home and explained the situation to her. Mary made a few phone calls. Twenty minutes later, Sergeant David Durk, the honest cop who testified before the Knapp Commission, and Ed Powers, another efficient cop, showed at my apartment. They were to have guested on the Barry Farber radio show that night and minutes before showtime they were called off to whizz me down to Brooklyn. I phoned John at the bank again to tell him I was on my way. He gave me the phone number of the female wife whom he had separated from, to call in case anything happened. “I’ve got news for you,” he said. “I think they’re going to give us the boot. We’re not going to walk out of here alive.

“That money, I wanted it for a sex change operation for Ernie. Now I can’t even see him to kiss him. Come here as quick as you can. Do you want to speak to a hostage?” He put on Mrs. Shirley Ball, a teller from Brooklyn. “It’s a damn shame that nothing’s being done and the FBI are sacrificing seven lives for two. They’re backing John against a wall and I don’t know how long our luck is going to hold out.” Mrs. Ball said that John was okay, that Sal was trigger happy. She’d been allowed to call home and spoke to her husband who was waiting outside the bank with the rest of the mob.

About 11:15 p.m. a radio car from the 19th Precinct showed up in front of my apartment. David Durk phoned Brooklyn FBI headquarters to tell them we were on our way. We zoomed down FDR Drive, sirens blazing, about 90 miles an hour, got off at Houston Street, picked up Mary Nichols, and whizzed down the drive again to Brooklyn. Twenty minutes later, we were in the thick of the hubbub. Thousands of spectators. Hundreds of cops. Dozens of city officials, and hordes of reporters. David Durk directed us through the mob to the FBI chief of operations. No dice. Change of plans. He wouldn’t let me near the bank. Why? He shrugged his shoulders. Was he afraid of my safety? No answer. Had they a master plan afoot? No answer.

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So I broke and tried calling the bank again, but this time Littlejohn wasn’t answering. Mary Nichols and I mingled among the crowd of reporters and spectators. A radio guy, from a network better left unmentioned, said, “I never thought I’d see the day when fags could pull the punches. Grab the little punks.” Obviously the whole reverse macho trip was part of the street excitement. Homosexuals are supposed to be victims. And here’s a tough guy John Dillinger victor. Instead of demanding his Lady in Red, Littlejohn was asking for his transvestite in pajamas.

John’s male wife (I don’t know how else to describe Ernie Aron — they were married) sat in a barber chair at the Palestinian Barbershop, which was set up as police headquarters. Wan, despairing, his eyes two blank sockets, his face white, his body weed thin, clad in hospital garb, a bedraggled bathrobe, bunny slippers, a Kings County guard constantly at his side. Two days before, Ernie had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. He refused to go near the bank because of John’s bad temper, “but he was also good-natured, and that was the problem. John and I couldn’t live together because of mental problems on both sides. It would never have worked out. John was sadistic in his sex habits. He could control himself, but sometimes he went overboard with such things and he terrified me.” When I told Ernie about John’s admission to me that the money was to pay for a sex operation, Ernie claimed he wasn’t aware of this at all. He broke down. And he insisted he’d go to the bank with me to speak to John. I went to fetch an FBI officer again, and again the answer was “definitely no.”

I spoke to John’s former male mistress. Earlier in the day, he had been called by Littlejohn to come to the bank, and in front of an approving crowd they kissed smack in the mouth at the bank doorway. The mistress believes that John loved Ernie but wanted him. “John robbed the bank for two reasons. First for Ernie’s sex change, second to run away with me. But I don’t think he had the brains to mastermind a plot like that.”

According to at least two intimates, the real story is as follows: Alleged soldiers in the Gambino organized crime family were behind the hold-up. (This is not the first foray of the Gambino family against the Chase Manhattan Bank. The big boss, Carlo himself, is under indictment for conspiracy to rob a Chase armored truck a few years ago.) Ernie knew it, others around town knew it, and the hold-up was in the planning stages for a long, long time. Ernie, however, found out only last Sunday, when Littlejohn received at least one of the guns used in the hold-up from Mike Umbers (long involved in the Mafia gay bar and pornography and prostitution scene). Ernie tried to stop Littlejohn and threatened to kill himself if his lover-husband went through with it. John didn’t buy. Ernie took an overdose of sleeping pills and was rushed to Kings County Hospital. The following day, Umbers gave himself up to the police department on an unrelated charge. The charge dated back a couple of weeks and involved promoting obscenity. It stemmed from a police raid on two of Umbers’s buildings and the discovery of a treasure trove of pornographic movies, photos, books, and magazines. Umbers told the police he surrendered because things were just too hot in town. Those close to the situation speculate that Umbers’s real reason for surrender was so as not to be implicated in the robbery planned for the following day. Nevertheless, Umbers was released on $2000 bail.

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According to the informants, the senior Mafia members’ share of the big heist was to have been 50 per cent, or $75,000 to $100,000. The other 50 percent was to have been divided among the three robbers (originally five were involved; two chickened out). The sex change story, said Voice sources, was peripheral to the motive.

To digress a little, my own recollections of Littlejohn date back to May 1971 when John first came to the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse. He brought his little son with him and claimed the kid was the youngest member of GAA. John was pleasant, spunky, a little crazy, and up front about his high sex drive. Once, during a Firehouse dance, he balled with a guy on a mattress in the basement. The next day, the mattress was removed, and there was talk about removing Littlejohn from membership. In June 1971, he requested that the members allow him to use the Firehouse for his wedding to someone who wasn’t Ernie. A heated floor debate followed: is a homosexual marriage against the goals of gay liberation, or did the goals of gay liberation encompass all life styles? I supported John’s marriage, but Arthur Evans, one of the big guns at GAA protested vehemently about John’s use of the Firehouse to perpetuate the worst of heterosexual life styles. I believe the marriage motion passed, but John decided to postpone the wedding. Interestingly, about two weeks later, John in his dumb, earnest way asked Arthur Evans if he could deliver Arthur’s nominating speech for his delegate-at-large platform. John did a beautiful job — an homage to Arthur, “it’s better to love and forgive.”

About a month later, I interviewed Mike Umbers for The Voice (“Christopher’s Emperor,” July 22, 1971). Mike’s mouth ran diarrhetic. He described himself as a veritable Joan of Arc, a straight man who was a “gay catalyst” providing jobs for down-at-the heels teenagers, such as running messages for him and helping out at his Christopher’s End. He talked about his porno connections, his real estate involvements, the call boy service he operated from his Studio Book Store, and touched on his acquaintanceship with Jerome Johnson, the man who hit Colombo and was subsequently killed by an unknown assassin. (The genesis of Johnson’s gun has never been discovered. Johnson, incidentally, roomed for a while at the Hotel Christopher, where Christopher’s End was located, and was involved in the making of porno movies.) A few days later, Umbers’s Christopher’s End was raided by the New York Joint Strike Force Against Organized Crime. The End was closed down for a couple of days, then reopened. Umbers advertised “Weird Sex — Now.” Gay Activists didn’t like it, and threw together a demonstration to protest Mike and the Mafia and the exploitative ripping off of the gay community. Littlejohn attended the protest plan meetings. He relayed secret GAA information to Umbers. When the march took place (plans were formulated and carried out in one day), John stupidly placed himself outside Christopher’s End with a “Mike Is Good” sign, thereby blatantly switching affiliations. He was rarely seen around the Firehouse thereafter. I bumped into him on Christopher Street a few times. He was always friendly and open and never with Ernie. Last April I asked him if I could interview him for a story I was doing on gay marriages. He said Ernie had left town and the marriage was on the rocks. The last time I saw Littlejohn before the Brooklyn escapade was at the Christopher Street Liberation Day march at the end of June.

To get back to the scene in Brooklyn, about 3 a.m. the crowd heard a shot. We were told it was a prankster’s firecracker. Later, a cop leaked that the shot came from within the bank — fired shoulder-high through the back door. Apparently Sal thought someone was breaking in. At 3:50, Littlejohn came out of the bank with a rifle strapped around his shoulder, a peacock strutting, a little man holding a magic wand. He talked with U.S. Attorney Robert A. Morse. Not long after, John ordered all of the cops, including the brigade in bulletproof vests, to drop their guns. A grin crossed his face. “I want them all down on the ground, please.” Guns fell, and John slipped back into the bank. Then one by one, the hostages walked the tightrope from the bank to vehicle — the magic carpet that was to take them to Kennedy and to faraway lands. Noises erupted from the crowd behind. A man tried to push through. “Who are you?” asked a cop. “I want to see if my wife goes into the car.” “I’m sorry, you’ll have to step back.” “But she’s my wife.”

All but one hostage hopped into the vehicle. The car zoomed away, and the crowd cut loose and rushed the bank. Dozens of officers blocked the entrance. Only the fingerprint squad and officials high in FBI and police circles were allowed inside.

An hour later, David Durk, Ed Powers, Mary Nichols, and I rode back to Manhattan. And not long after — it was dawn — I turned on the radio to hear that Sal Natuarale was shot dead by an FBI agent at Kennedy while waiting for the airplane. Littlejohn was taken into police custody, and the hostages were all okay.

***

A couple of days later, I attended a Gay Activists Alliance meeting at the Firehouse. The attendance was about double what it usually is. After the usual order of GAA business, I was to moderate a discussion on the bank robbery. Did it or didn’t it, should it or shouldn’t it relate to the gay liberation movement? I couldn’t effectively participate as a speaker because the discussion was based on the facts that the papers had carried to that point and my knowledge about the organized crime hook-up could not be divulged on the GAA floor. However, someone I’d never seen before, a former bartender at Danny’s named Gary Badger, showed up to make a plea for money to bury his best friend, Sal Natuarale. Gary’s plea came before the general Littlejohn discussion, and met with a less than enthusiastic response from the membership. Gary said he had to talk to me, and we left the general meeting and climbed up to the third floor of the Firehouse. Gary discussed what he knew about the robbery. His information jibed with the information I received from Littlejohn’s friends. When I asked him “why are you telling me all this?” his answer was “because after Sal’s death, it hit me that Umbers and the Gambino people were using young kids without giving a fuck about life or death to rake up money and power.” We returned to the meeting proper, Gary sat next to me. He did not sit quiet. Following an inane statement by a long-winded GAA filibusterer, Gary shouted, “It’s not as simple as that. The robbery was planned in April. You’ll know a lot more when next week’s Village Voice comes out.”

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At 10:30 that evening, Gary and I split. I went to the Barry Farber show where Farber quizzed me about the events of last Tuesday and where, again, I could only speak up to a point. Farber raised the question several times. Had the FBI allowed me to see Littlejohn, would events have been different, would a life have been saved? While I was verbally gymnasticizing with Farber, Gary Badger, in his raw-nerve state, visited New Jersey, then went back to the Village. He called me early the following morning to claim that he had been pot shot at the Morton Street pier and he wanted to see me because he had a lot more to tell. I called The Voice. Mary Nichols and Assistant City Editor Alan Weitz picked me up at home and we drove to Gary’s place in the Village. We whisked Gary into the car and headed toward The Voice office. The place was teeming with cops and firemen. There had been two bomb threats at The Voice from the time Mary left the office to the time we returned — a period of no more than an hour. With Gary and me stooped low in the car, we drove to FBI headquarters, where Gary told the feds what he had to tell. We returned to The Voice again later in the day. There was a phone call from Ed Powers of the New York City Police Department. Powers said the police had raided Mike Umbers’s Mark-Litho Printing Plant earlier in the day and confiscated printing press material valued at $500,000. A new warrant was out for Umbers’s arrest on that charge.

Here’s how it stands, this Tuesday morning, August 29. Mike Umbers, the “gay catalyst,” is roaming the streets somewhere or sitting tight, his heart in his mouth; a 19-year-old kid is dead, his body on ice, about to be removed to Potter’s Field; Littlejohn is under federal custody; several dozen people are stuck with sewer hole memories in their heads; organized crime, like the March of Time, marches on; homosexuals continue to frequent bars run by the Gambinos since there are few alternatives (ironically, the Stonewall, the bar that precipitated the first gay riot and the beginning of the gay liberation movement, was a Gambino operation); and members of the gay liberation movement, including yours truly, are having a helluva time figuring out how the whole Littlejohn thing relates to gay liberation — and it does — and what we can do about it, if anything.