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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
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.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719984″ /]

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
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.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718520″ /]

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.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718520″ /]

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 NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

The Myth of Godfather Journalism

A few hours after Carmine Galante was blown away in Bushwick with the cigar clenched in his mouth, a federal prosecutor began to reach out for his undercover informants in the mafia. No law enforcement agency had a tail on Galante the day he was shot, and the prosecutor wanted to know who arranged for the execution.

His informants didn’t know any­thing, either. But they all get money or immunity from law enforcement for providing information, and they were afraid to admit they knew no secrets. The informants feared they would lose status, or credibility, or even their jobs if they confessed their ignorance. So they all invented theo­ries for Lilo’s demise and attributed them to “word on the street” and other ephemeral sources.

Soon reporters were calling this federal prosecutor, demanding the in­side story of why Galante was hit. The prosecutor did not know, just as his informants did not know. But he could not confess his ignorance to the media, just as his undercovers could not confess their ignorance to him. One television reporter said to the prosecutor: “Just give me your rankest speculation.”

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The prosecutor is close to indicting a mafioso of unusual political in­fluence. He was tempted to anoint this targeted gangster as the next godfather, so that his indictment would receive more publicity, and he would get a bigger budget. He knew that Galante was not the godfather. He knew the mob hasn’t had a boss of bosses since Lucky Luciano, but that the media has a need to name new godfathers with the frequency of new Miss Subways. The prosecutor, unusually honorable, said “no comment” to the reporter. The disap­pointed reporter, who had never in­terviewed an actual working hoodlum in his life, announced he would just have to “work from the clips.”

The preceding anecdote is true and accurately reflects the state of the art of godfather journalism; most mafia report­ing is a consumer fraud.

For example, the headline in Sunday’s Daily News said: RIVALS FEASTED WHILE GALANTE DIED. The story reported that “20 mob bosses” celebrated Galante’s execution by having lunch at Bamonte’s Restaurant at 32 Withers Street in Brooklyn. The detailed account described “rented limousines” lined up outside the restaurant, and even reported that “a phone call to Bamonte’s­ — minutes after the execution — advised the chairman of the crime conference that the contract on Galante had been carried out.”

However, the New York City Police Department, the FBI, the Drug Enforce­ment Administration, the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, and the federal Organized Crime Strike Force all say they have no knowledge of such an event occurring. The proprietor of Bamonte’s denies the whole story, and his attorney promises he will sue the News. The idea of a lavish linguini feast of celebration by 20 mob bosses would have been a nice scene for a movie. But is it true?

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In fact, the public’s impression — and much of the media’s knowledge — about the mafia owes a large debt to the imagery of Hollywood. Most people think gangsters act like George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Richard Widmark, Al Pacino, and Marlon Brando.

The power of the film fantasy is so great that when Joey Gallo was growing up in Brooklyn he went to see Richard Widmark play Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death a dozen times. Gallo, then an aspiring thug, began to imitate Widmark’s posture, body language, slang, and style of dress. Years later, when Hollywood was preparing to make another syndicate movie, and Gallo was by then a chic mafia symbol, an actor asked Gallo if he could hang out with him to study some of his macho mannerisms, the same mannerisms that Gallo had borrowed from another actor a generation before.

This story suggests some of the difficulty in separating myth from reality, lore and legend from fact in understanding organized crime. Movies (and novels and Bob Dylan) have romanticized mafia dons. They are not immigrant populists, or outlaw philosophers with benevolent dignity, or tragic half-ethical super-dons who draw a fine moral distinction at pushing white powder.

Most mobsters would rather stick an icepick in your ear than work. Many are so cheap they won’t pay for their own cappuccino on Mulberry Street. Joey Gallo used to beat up his wife. Lucky Luciano was a pimp. Carmine Galante was an animal whose wealth came from import­ing, distributing, and selling the heroin that went into the veins of ghetto schoolchildren.

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The mafia is not a hierarchical corpo­ration. There is no single chief executive officer. There is no stenographer who takes shorthand minutes at board of directors’ meetings. There is no neat organization chart, no regular merit promotions. When Ed Kosner was fired as the editor of Newsweek, a press release went out saying he was being replaced by Lester Bernstein. When Lyman Hamilton was ousted as chief executive officer of ITT last week, it was announced that Rand Araskog, the senior executive vice-presi­dent, would replace Hamilton. But the mafia did not distribute a press release after Carlo Gambino died announcing that he was being replaced as godfather by Carmine Galante.

The fact is that Galante was nominated for godfather by the Unified Intelligence Division (UID) of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They knew him because he was into heroin. The UID had a “confidential” 59-page report done on Galante under the signature of a single investigator, Special Agent Michael Cun­niff. The report — completed in December of 1976 — was filled with contradictions, hedging qualifications, hearsay, gossip, raw surveillance anecdotes, and “investigative leads.”

The ambiguous nature of the report was captured by one sentence on page six: “Galante is allegedly now the de facto head of the Bonanno La Cosa Nostra family and, according to information from under­world sources, he is a strong candidate for the post of capo di tutti capi.” At another point the UID document observed, “Many Gambino family members believe that Galante is only a tool for Joe Bonnano.”

This classified document was im­mediately leaked to the press, possibly by the DEA, which was then in a bureau­cratic fight to avoid being brought under the jurisdiction of the FBI, because of its own reputation for corruption.

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On Sunday, February 20, 1977, The New York Times published a front-page story under the headline: AN OBSCURE GANGSTER IS EMERGING AS THE MAFIA CHIEFTAIN IN NEW YORK. The story launched the Galante-for-Godfather hype, and seemed clearly based on the UID report. The Times’s story, though it lacked the report’s cautious hedgings, was filled with echoes of undigested surveillance trivia: “If you went to Balducci’s in Greenwich Village, you might well see Carmine Galante… pick over artichokes and tomatoes… or near the L&T cleaners at 245 Elizabeth Street, where he re­portedly operates.”

The next day, New York hit the news­stands with a cover story called “Meet the New Godfather.” The story began with a detailed narrative description of DEA agents following Galante as he left his apartment on Waverly Place. The article flatly declared that Galante’s “peers of the Commission, a nine-member national panel of family bosses that is the supreme court and board of directors of the American Mafia, will soon name him capo di tutti capi (‘boss of all bosses’)… Galante already runs more rackets here and abroad than Don Carlo did. And at the rate his empire is expanding, it will soon surpass the worldwide holdings of the late Lucky Luciano.”

The DEA had done for Galante what the promotional talent of Jon Landau had done for Bruce Springsteen. And over­night, Carmine Galante joined Elliot Richardson and Bess Myerson as the three most overrated people in America. The fact was that Galante’s gang only had 200 street level members and was the fourth largest in New York City.

Eighteen months later (August 21, 1978), New York published another story, by another crime reporter, announcing that another crime boss, Funzi Tieri, “until now a shadowy figure, little known, has clearly emerged in New York City as its most powerful mobster. For the country too, because that is the way it has always been.”

Funzi probably had a more legitimate claim to the mythical title, but even this article was simplistic, exaggerated, and portrayed the mafia as a coherent, hierarchical corporation.

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This week, a wise FBI agent told me: “It’s all bullshit. We don’t really know what’s going on. It’s all tribal warfare with shifting alliances. We are not allowed to put a tail on any of these guys unless we have specific knowledge he has committed a crime.…”

“A few years ago we took movies of Galante at his summer house on Long Island. And we had guys making mafia charts based on these movies. If Galante helped a guy into his house with his suitcase, we decided it was a sign of respect, so the guy must be a big shot, a capo. If Galante didn’t help carry the guy’s bags, we decided he must be a button, or nothing. Maybe Galante just had a bad back one day. Or felt tired. And we were making serious charts based on meaningless gestures which newspapers printed as if it was definite…

“I once had an informant who told me all sorts of stories. Later I found out the guy was simultaneously an informant to the New York City Police Department, only I didn’t know it. What he was telling the police was completely different than what he was telling the bureau. And we were both paying him for his bullshit.”

The truth is that almost nobody has reliable information about the inner workings of the mafia. The mafia is not like a government agency, where a disgruntled bureaucrat will duplicate an embarrassing memo and leak it to a reporter. Serious gangsters don’t talk to anyone, much less journalists, about their last contract killing or kilo shipment of junk.

Most reporters who write about or­ganized crime must rely on law enforce­ment agencies for their information. (A few journalists have relatives who are connected, but they don’t put their bylines on stories.) Law enforcement agencies — many of whom know next to nothing themselves — have a built-in motive to exaggerate: bigger budgets derived from greater publicity. Since they have a near monopoly on the raw data, it’s impossible to independently verify the truth of what they’re leaking. So, at best, what appears in the papers now is “rank speculation.” At worst, it is imaginative writing based on clippings, puffery from informants, and the memory of movies.

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Law enforcement ignorance about the mafia is reflected by the fact that none of the publicized killings of godfathers has led to any trials or convictions for those crimes. No one was ever convicted for killing Albert Anastasia at the Park Sheraton Hotel in 1957, or Joey Gallo, or Tommy Eboli. The contract murder of mob lawyer Gino Gallina on Carmine Street has never been solved. No one has been prosecuted for shooting Sam Giancana.

Moreover, the local media mythology that whoever rules Mulberry Street is the capo di tutti capi is Old World romance. Power in the mafia, like power in the American economy, has shifted to the Sun Belt. Santo Trafficante in Miami and Carlos Marcello in New Orleans represent power much more serious and subtle than Carmine Galante ever dreamed of.

And at a totally different level there is a form of mega-mafia in America that flourishes on the elite margin, where busi­nessmen act like gangsters, and gangsters act like businessmen, and almost every company has access to a slush fund in the Bahamas or a Swiss bank account. These people and their companies don’t have ethnic rituals or “mob wars,” but they have tremendous economic and political power.

As Paul Du Brul and I noted in The Abuse of Power, this is the shadow realm of Sidney Korshak, Meyer Lansky, Richard Kleindienst, Adnan Khashoggi, John Cody, Congressman Dan Flood, Spiro Agnew, Alvin Malnick, Robert Vesco, Frank Fitzsimmons, Bebe Rebozo, Bert Lance, and the Shah of Iran and all his exiled bagmen. This is where crime, labor, and corporate power converge and become almost indistinguishable.

There is no one mafia godfather. There is no capo di tutti capi. There are just law enforcement agencies trying to arrest gangs of career criminals. And newspaper publishers trying to improve circulation.

The rest is hype, the rest is myth.

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From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

The Last Jewish Gangster

Sitting in a small office across Fifth Avenue from the New York Public Library, Murray Wilson doesn’t appear to be a world-class hoodlum, the shadowy link between New York’s Russian and Italian mobs. Neatly dressed in a crisp blue shirt and slacks, his silver hair soldered in place, the 57-year-old businessman flashes an easy smile and tosses quips with the aplomb of a Borscht Belt veteran. Forget for a moment that he is talking about friends who got whacked or meetings with wiseguys like Benny Eggs and Johnny Sausage. Wilson could pass for your uncle, the funny, roly-poly one.

As he reluctantly answers a visitor’s questions about his colorful career — one packed with million-dollar swindles, foreign intrigues, murders, and gangsters galore — Wilson complains, “I don’t need you to write a book on my life. You want to do it and ruin me, go ahead.” He adds, “I just don’t want no more bullshit around me.”

In a city teeming with ethnic gangs, Wilson quietly sits at the crossroads between Howard Beach and Brighton Beach, perhaps the only man to be identified by law enforcement officials as a high-level associate of both the Russian Organizatsiya and the Italian La Cosa Nostra. A twice convicted felon, Wilson — described in one confidential law enforcement report as a “sophisticated fraud man” — is suspected by federal and state investigators of being involved in laundering and investing money for both crime groups.

Wilson’s remarkable career — which began with hosiery sales in the Garment District when he was a teenager — has seen him traffic in diamonds, bauxite, trademarks, stolen checks, stock, aluminum, restaurants, letters of credit, and bootleg gasoline. During this span, Wilson has been the focus of at least eight criminal probes and has surrounded himself with Mafia bosses, Russian killers, captains of industry, corrupt lawyers, and, for good measure, an international art thief and one KGB agent. A former prosecutor who once unsuccessfully tried to “flip” Wilson against his criminal cohorts said enviously of the businessman: “This is the guy who knows about the money.”

But while Wilson has played a key role with both crime syndicates, he has managed to maintain a low profile. Married 38 years and the father of two grown daughters, Wilson lives with his wife, Sondra, in a Forest Hills co-op that they moved into in 1964. He drives a Mercedes and reports income of $240,000 but does not appear to have a flashy lifestyle. Wilson portrays himself as a quiet homebody who spends weekends in his Queens apartment and plans on retiring in a couple of years.

One federal agent was surprised recently when told of Wilson’s recent activity, saying he thought the businessman was dead. A state investigator, too, was unaware of Wilson’s good health, asking, “He’s still alive?” In fact, it appears that Wilson’s name has never appeared in any published or broadcast reports about organized crime. During an interview, Wilson indirectly attributed this to a motto he picked up during an early-’90s hiatus in federal prison: “Obscurity is security.”

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A detailed Voice examination of Wilson’s career, though, has turned up information that he would surely prefer remain obscured. These findings include:

  • A Wilson firm is the second largest shareholder in the publicly held Sloan’s Supermarkets chain, which owns and operates stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In connection with this stock ownership, Wilson has submitted a false report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, omitting details of his criminal background. Sloan’s principal owner is supermarket titan John Catsimatidis, a Wilson acquaintance now embroiled in the controversy over City Hall’s awarding of $43 million in contracts to a Queens-based social service organization.
  • Wilson has a secret interest in two popular Manhattan restaurants, including the favored East Side haunt of former police commissioner William Bratton. Because his criminal convictions disqualify him for a liquor license, Wilson’s fashionable bistros are held in the name of an employee, a Hasidic Jew from Monsey.
  • Though he travels in potentially dangerous criminal circles — a number of his contacts have been the victims of gangland hits — Wilson has maintained a “continuous ‘open door’ line of communication with the FBI in New York” regarding various criminal probes, according to one court document.
  • Along with his FBI cooperation, Wilson has also served as a primary, though unnamed, source on several newspaper and magazine articles about the Russian mob. In the stories, Wilson’s identity is thinly concealed, though his role as a source could prove as perilous as his FBI contacts.

While many organized crime experts busy themselves speculating about who will become the “new John Gotti,” a more appropriate question might be “Who is the new Meyer Lansky?” The financial guru behind some of New York’s original organized crime dons, Lansky and cohorts Gurrah Shapiro, Lepke Buchalter, and Longie Zwillman ran the loosely configured “Jewish Mob,” an outfit obliterated over the years by death and deportation.

Though certainly never the financial genius he has been made out to be, Lansky — like the thousands of uninitiated associates who followed him — helped maintain the Mafia’s financial backbone. Today, this network of associates — which far outnumbers “made” men — continues to help generate, hide, and invest organized crime’s illicit profits. A Mafia affiliate like Wilson — a highly prized moneymaker for the Genovese gang — is required to kick back funds to the family he is “with.”

Though he barely made it through the Bronx’s Taft High School, it is Wilson’s familiarity with complicated business transactions, off-shore financing, and Swiss bank accounts that makes him such a valuable mob “associate.” Wilson claims to run companies chartered in England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Bahamas, and more mundane spots like Delaware. He claims to have “representative offices” in places like London, Moscow, Zurich, Kiev, and Riga.

While not particularly religious, Wilson has dabbled in Jewish causes, including the Jewish Defense League and Soviet Jewry. He has also owned a kosher restaurant, managed the folk singer Shlomo Carlbach, and purchased the trademark name of Grossinger’s, the fabled Catskills resort.

In the rough-and-ready tradition of hoods like Zwillman and Shapiro, Wilson — up from the Bronx streets — is perhaps the last Jewish gangster. To his mob pals, though, the distinction is moot, since making money is a decidedly secular pursuit.

With his panoply of criminal connections and his preference for the shadows, it is surprising that Wilson has recently taken a rather public position with regard to the Sloan’s Supermarkets chain.

According to a 1995 SEC report, a Wilson company called Merchants T&F owns 206,250 shares of Sloan’s stock, or 6.6 per cent of the publicly held company. The only larger shareholder is multimillionaire John Catsimatidis, the firm’s chairman, who owns 42.3 per cent. The value of Wilson’s position — which apparently cost in excess of $1 million — has dropped substantially, since Sloan’s now trades at around $3.50, down from a high of about $9. The chain of 13 supermarkets has 355 employees and recently posted revenues of more than $48.3 million.

Along with his Sloan’s stake, the 47-year-old Catsimatidis also privately owns dozens of other metropolitan area markets, including the Red Apple and Gristede’s chains. In a January SEC filing, Sloan’s reported that it recently bought three of Catsimatidis’s privately held supermarkets and was planning a bond offering to finance the purchase of up to 30 more stores from the supermarket baron.

But the prospective bond deal cannot be helped by the disclosure that Sloan’s number two stockholder, Wilson, has been convicted twice of felony financial frauds. And, in an August 1994 SEC filing which disclosed its significant stake in Sloan’s, Merchants improperly asserted that Wilson — its president and treasurer — had not, in the prior five years, been “convicted in a criminal proceeding.”

Wilson failed to disclose a November 1991 New York State grand larceny conviction. That felony — in a case involving a $1.35 million swindle — came well within the mandated five-year reporting period. (Wilson was not required to mention a federal conviction in Las Vegas — which came exactly five years and 47 days before the SEC filing.)

The SEC filing, which was prepared by the politically connected law firm Davidoff & Malito, was signed by Laszlo Schwartz, a Wilson employee listed as vice president of Merchants T&F. Schwartz refused last Friday to speak with the Voice. Larry Hutcher, the Davidoff & Malito partner who represents Wilson, did not return messages left at his office.

In a sworn deposition taken only days after Merchants filed its perjurious SEC form, Wilson was asked whether, in addition to the Las Vegas case, he had “any other convictions.” He answered, “Not to my knowledge.” The deposition was part of a lawsuit against Wilson brought by investor Edward Reiss, who had charged that Wilson reneged on an agreement to purchase from him shares of Sloan’s.

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Reiss has also filed a federal lawsuit against Catsimatidis and Sloan’s, charging that the company and its chairman belatedly disclosed to stockholders information about a Federal Trade Commission investigation targeting the Catsimatidis supermarket empire. In a bid to squelch the Reiss action, Catsimatidis last August submitted to federal judge Peter Leisure a sworn affidavit from Wilson in which the mob associate asserted that, as a Sloan’s stockholder, he did not believe the FTC’s antitrust investigation hurt the stock’s price. In a March 25 decision, Leisure rejected Wilson’s and Catsimatidis’s arguments, granting Reiss’s lawsuit class-action status.

Catsimatidis said he knew Wilson “got in trouble once” in Las Vegas but that he “didn’t know the exact extent of the problem. What am I gonna do? Ask him if [he’s] a criminal?” Catsimatidis said he has recently turned down Wilson’s request to have his daughter Lori — also a Sloan’s shareholder — appointed to the company’s board of directors. “As far as I know, the guy hasn’t been a bad guy,” said Catsimatidis. “A little weird sometimes, but not bad.”

Reported to be worth in excess of $200 million, Catsimatidis is currently embroiled in the controversy swirling around City Hall’s questionable awarding of $43 million in welfare monitoring contracts to the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee (HANAC), which he chairs. Federal and city investigators are now probing the canceled contracts. The politically connected Catsimatidis is also deeply involved in the nascent mayoral campaign of Fernando Ferrer, helping the Bronx beep raise $1 million last year. Of that total, $1000 came from a Manhattan corporation owned by Wilson.

Catsimatidis and Wilson met each other in the late ’80s, when the tycoon bought into Designcraft, the predecessor company to Sloan’s. At the time, Wilson also owned stock in the firm, which manufactured jewelry. Another investor, according to ex-chairman Sam Beckerman, was Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano, underboss of the Genovese crime family. For years, Mangano, now imprisoned for extortion, was Wilson’s chief Mafia handler and a close friend.

While Beckerman, 79, had nothing but hosannas for Mangano — a hood suspected of involvement in several murder plots — he derided Wilson as a “roughneck” and “a total dumbbell.” The retiree added, “As long as this guy breathes, there’ll be trouble in his future.”

When the Secaucus police first came upon Zvi Hager, he was cowering in the dark behind a factory building. The Brooklyn man told them he had just been robbed, which seemed plausible since the 24-year-old man was standing there naked.

Hager told detectives that his evening had started at a kosher restaurant on Essex Street in Manhattan, where he had met up with Wilson and the businessman’s hulking crony Sam Watenstein, an ex-Jewish Defense League enforcer. Hager, who once worked for Wilson, said he had accepted his ex-boss’s invitation that night to join him and Watenstein on a jaunt to Atlantic City.

As they crossed the river, Wilson told Hager he had to make a pit stop in Secaucus to “pick up a package.” When he pulled up behind a factory building, Wilson turned and laced into Hager, accusing him of trying to break into his office. In an interview with police a few days later, Hager recounted the assault that followed: Mr. Wilson got into the back of the car, took off my glasses and broke them into bits. Then Mr. Wilson punched me in the head and told me to get out of the car. I got out of the car. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Watenstein started to punch me all over. Mr. Wilson put his hand in his pocket and said he had a gun, and told me to take off my clothing. I began to yell and cry. Mr. Wilson came over and started ripping my shirt off and told me again to take off my clothes or he would shoot me. I started to take off my clothes. I was in my underwear. He told me to take off my underwear too.”

“Then what happened?” a detective asked.

“He started kicking me in the balls. And I took off my underwear and he told me to get into the bushes. I went into the bushes. He got into the car with Sammy and left.”

Though Wilson and Watenstein were arrested for assault, a New Jersey grand jury voted not to indict the pair.

Obviously, behind Wilson’s affable front hovers more than a hint of menace. In fact, several of the mob associate’s acquaintances would only speak to the Voice if granted anonymity, fearful of reprisals from Wilson. One described his former friend as a “brilliant guy. Diabolical, but brilliant.”

Accounts of Wilson’s wild streak poured from his ex-associates as well as the businessman himself: tales of Wilson punching a busboy at a restaurant, or smacking a fellow motorist who had leaned too long on a car horn. A public relations executive once testified that Wilson and Watenstein barged into his office one day and threw the contents of his desktop out the window because the man was slightly late in repaying a debt. The usurious loan would have made a loanshark blush: Wilson gave the PR man $20,000 for one month, but required a $25,000 repayment — the equivalent of a 300 per cent annual interest rate.

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Wilson himself recounted a soured business deal in Israel that ended with him almost getting arrested for busting up his own clothing factory with a sledgehammer and painting swastikas — a crime in that country — on the destroyed equipment. Wilson defended “the doing of the artwork,” saying his Israeli partners had robbed him, causing a $250,000 loss.

Asked about an incident that occurred after his final break with JDL founder Meir Kahane, Wilson smiled broadly and listened as one of his wildman episodes was recounted. Once an early financial supporter of the JDL, Wilson’s relationship with the right-wing rabbi deteriorated, in part because he believed Kahane had stolen JDL funds.

In late 1984, Wilson orchestrated a harassment campaign against Kahane while the JDL boss was fundraising in New York. One night, Wilson and some accomplices broke into Kahane’s auto and stole some of the rabbi’s belongings. Before spray-painted the words “Nigger get out of America” on Kahane’s car. The rabbi eventually complained to the FBI that Wilson was plotting to have him killed, a claim Wilson denied.

“I never would do that,” Wilson said of the spray painting. He added slyly, “That’s vandalism!”

Wilson does little to dispel his tough guy rep, in part because he appears genuinely enthralled with the gangster image. Once, before heading to a Christmas party at Mangano’s Thompson Street social club, Wilson turned to Watenstein and — excited by their Mafia social climbing — exclaimed, “Sammy, we’re getting up there!”

In Voice interviews, Wilson spoke freely about gambling with Mangano in Atlantic City, and of his frequent trips to the wiseguy’s Village hangout, mentioning how he would point out FBI agents trying to conduct surveillance of the club. Wilson said he met with Mangano to discuss their mutual interests in the closeout clothing industry. “If I had to discuss business with him at night, I would stop down at the club and have a coffee and discuss business with him.” A phone call apparently would not suffice.

Along with his trips to the Village, Wilson attended the christening of Mangano’s granddaughter and — for a time — used the hood’s son Joseph to write his insurance. “He handled my insurance, but he screwed it up,” Wilson said. Of Benny Eggs, who was imprisoned in 1993 following a federal extortion conviction, Wilson said, “He had probably a much better reputation than I did… for honesty and integrity. I didn’t find any fault in being near him.”

Law enforcement officials have pointed to Wilson’s close ties to Mangano, the number two man in the country’s strongest crime family, as evidence of Wilson’s own stature in the Genovese gang. Investigators have also said Wilson was once close to Genovese captain Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello, a charge he denies.

With Mangano jailed, sources said that supervision of Wilson has fallen, at times, to Mangano’s longtime sidekick John “Johnny Sausage” Barbato and Daniel Pagano, a powerful Westchester-based Genovese member. The businessman has bragged, according to one source, that he remains able to “send a message downtown in the morning and get an answer in the afternoon” from the Genovese leadership regarding business decisions.

Asked about meetings with Barbato, Wilson said, “Yes, I run into him,” but he could not remember when, where, or why he met with the Mafia soldier. As for Pagano, Wilson claimed, “I’ve met him, never dealt with him.” Wilson said that he was introduced to Pagano by either Alex Zilber or his brother Victor, both of whom are members of the Russian mob and longtime Wilson cronies.

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Now in their midthirties, the Zilbers arrived from Odessa with their parents about 15 years ago. They have been involved in a variety of business ventures, including their not-so-secret ownership of Rasputin, the gaudy Brighton Beach restaurant. Ledgers seized by the FBI indicate that the pair poured more than $4 million into the establishment, a marble shrine to blinis and beef Stroganoff.

The relationship between Pagano and the Zilbers, sources said, was rooted in their joint interests in gasoline bootlegging. The lucrative scam, which relies on the evasion of excise taxes for its huge profits, was the first criminal enterprise jointly run by Italian and Russian gangsters, beginning in the early ’80s.

The Pagano-Zilber connection was first exposed in a November 1994 New York magazine story written by Robert I. Friedman. In that article, there can be little doubt that Wilson is the “Genovese crime-family figure” quoted at length about both mob groups. In fact, at least four other Friedman pieces — dating back to 1988 and published in the Voice, Vanity Fair, New York, and The Washington Post — also bear a similarly distinctive Wilson stamp.

Friedman, a former Voice staff writer who is now pitching a book on the Organizatsiya, authored a 1990 biography of Kahane which includes Wilson’s on-the-record recollections of his JDL activities, including his role in the 1984 harassment campaign against the militant rabbi.

In the 1994 New York story, Friedman reported on the November 1992 attempted murder of Victor Zilber, indicating that the shooting may have been a bid by Pagano — in the face of a federal criminal probe — to silence a potential liability. Zilber, shot in the head, is now “blind and cuckoo,” according to his friend Wilson.

The hit theory was bolstered by some colorful quotes from an unnamed “Genovese associate” who noted that “Zilber had big balls. Unfortunately he used them for brains.” The source concluded that “He’s lucky his head wasn’t blown off. Victor was a loose cannon. Shutting him up was an act of survival.”

Of course, the irony of the latter quote is that Wilson either willfully ignores or is somehow oblivious to the inherent danger of his talking about mob business. The reckless behavior, though, does not surprise one old friend who believes the publicity — though anonymous as it must be — thrills Wilson. “He’s doing [business] deals that would scare normal people,” the source said, noting that Wilson — a high-stakes gambler — has never shied from taking chances.

The New York article also reported that when “Alex Zilber asked one of his Genovese partners” to arrange a sitdown with reigning Russian mob boss Vyacheslav Ivankov, “the mobster offered to have the Italians wipe out Ivankov.” The story continued, quoting the Genovese source: “The Brighton Beach boys are crazy, but they are still a pimple on an ass next to the Italians. Ivankov would never take on the Italians.” The voluble source concluded that if the Russians “ever challenged us, they’d never leave Brighton Beach alive.”

“I happen to like Robert and I’ve spoken to Robert on many occasions,” Wilson said, but he denied serving as the reporter’s source. Asked about passages from a 1993 Vanity Fair story which point to him as the source, Wilson quipped that he didn’t read the glossy “except when Demi Moore’s picture was on the cover.”

Potentially more dangerous than conversations with a journalist are the mob associate’s contacts with the FBI. In court papers, Wilson’s Las Vegas criminal attorney mentioned his client’s “continuous ‘open door’ line of communication” with the FBI regarding “investigations of others for which the FBI wishes to speak with” Wilson.

The disclosure of Wilson’s “continued cooperation with Governmental authorities” was made in a 1989 motion to secure relaxed bail conditions for Wilson. Attorney Mitchell Ogron noted that “At no time, past or present, has Mr. Wilson requested anything in exchange” for his assistance. Another document referred by name to two FBI agents who would, Ogron claimed, vouch that Wilson posed no threat to jump bail. One agent is an organized crime supervisor, while the other handled many JDL investigations.

In an interview, Wilson denied providing information to the bureau. The hint of cooperation, though, becomes even more dangerous, since while so many of Wilson’s associates have been arrested over the past five years, he has faced no criminal charges.

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Records obtained by the Voice show that Wilson has served as Alex Zilber’s financial adviser, co-owned a company with him, and was involved in one real estate transaction with the Russian gangster. Zilber, Wilson said, “would only come to me for advice every now and then” when business problems arose.

Wilson and Zilber were partners in a 1991 joint venture — formed in conjunction with a large Ukraine-based manufacturer — to purchase bauxite for the production and sale of aluminum products across Europe and the former Soviet Union. The inclusion of Zilber in the deal could be attributed to his relationship with Russian gangsters in his native Odessa, where the manufacturing plant was located.

Before the arrangement collapsed in 1993 amid a flurry of lawsuits over the division of profits, the venture recorded about $500 million in sales — including many deals with fugitive financier Marc Rich. Bank records show that a Wilson firm, Bronx Investments, Ltd., received $7.2 million in wire transfers from the venture’s New York bank account. Another $250,000 was paid in April 1993 to Merchants T&F, the Wilson firm that owns stock in Sloan’s.

According to court documents, Wilson also lurked behind the scenes of the gasoline scheme that almost cost Victor Zilber his life. That illegal operation, federal prosecutors in New Jersey said, cost tax authorities more than $100 million in uncollected revenue and triggered more than $48 million in money laundering. The Newark probe resulted in convictions against a number of Wilson cronies, including Russian mobsters Arkady Seifer and Jacob Dobrer. Victor Zilber was also charged in the 1993 indictment but has been judged unfit to stand trial.

Cooperating witness Jeffrey Pressman, a key gas scam participant, testified that Wilson “did financing” for his illegal business. Pressman said that Victor Zilber also participated in some of these monetary transactions, which involved Wilson securing letters of credit from overseas banking institutions. A federal source said that the FBI, aided by the cooperation of four members of the New Jersey scheme, is continuing its probe of the illegal gasoline operation. Investigators are targeting members and associates of the Genovese crime family, certainly bad news for Wilson and Pagano.

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Over the past decade, Wilson’s contacts in the leadership of the Russian mob have had a rough time in office. Along with the now “cuckoo” Victor Zilber, Wilson cronies have been murdered, sent to prison, or become government informants.

Wilson pal Evsei Agron was the first Brighton Beach boss. Before getting rubbed out in 1985, Agron was a feared presence in Brooklyn’s Russian immigrant community. Agron, the legend goes, carried a cattle prod like it was a walking stick.

In April 1983, Agron and a large contingent of Russians accompanied Wilson on a Passover junket to Las Vegas’s Dunes Hotel. The immigrants were there to assist Wilson in a $1 million heist from the hotel casino. The plan was simple: Wilson, a valued Dunes customer, had arranged for credit to be advanced to the Russians, who — unbeknownst to the hotel — had no intention of gambling. Instead, the Russians returned the chips to Wilson, who had Watenstein and Hager (then fully clothed) redeem them for cash.

At Wilson’s and Watenstein’s subsequent 1989 fraud trial, Hager and other witnesses testified about the chip operation, recalling how Wilson’s hotel suite was awash in black $100 chips, delivered to him by a steady stream of Russian-speaking runners. Wilson instructed Hager to shout a code word — the Hebrew phrase for “to go up” — when it was time for the Russians to bring chips to Wilson.

In return for their services, Wilson treated the Russians to sessions with a pair of Vegas prostitutes. Asked if some of her johns wore “religious garb,” hooker Sally Kallestad — no Talmudic scholar — answered, “Yeah, beanies. Those little beanie things.”

A federal jury found Wilson and Watenstein guilty of mail and wire fraud, and the pair received prison terms, respectively, of three years and 18 months. Wilson served about a year in Allenwood before being paroled to a halfway house for six months. As a condition of his release, he was required to enroll in Gamblers Anonymous, and he is eternally grateful. “I thank the government.… Because you sit in a room with people who have the illness and you start to notice on others what you see a little bit of yourself.”

So, a reporter asked, “You’ve quit gambling?”

“No. I bet the Super Bowl,” Wilson laughed. “I had Tyson in the third round the other night,” he continued, referring to the ex-champ’s victory last month over Frank Bruno — which came by TKO in the third round.

In addition to Agron, other Russian mobsters along for Wilson’s holy days heist included Dobrer, Seifer, and a tattooed thug named Emil Puzyretsky. While Dobrer and Seifer would later be convicted in gas tax cases, Puzyretsky suffered a worse fate. The hoodlum, who reportedly did time in a Soviet gulag for murder, was himself killed in a 1991 gangland rubout in Brighton Beach.

Wilson claimed that he did not know Agron well and did no business with the mob boss. “He tried to get me into a real estate deal in Brooklyn,” recalled Wilson, “which I never went in.” But two sources recalled Wilson mediating a dispute between Agron and Genovese family members over a shipment of stolen merchandise sold by the Italians to the Russians. Wilson denied involvement in this deal, saying he had never heard of the transaction.

Succeeding Agron was his lieutenant, Marat Balagula, who is suspected in his ex-boss’s violent demise. Balagula, now serving time for — what else? — a gasoline tax swindle, was a sharp businessman with whom Wilson grew close. Sources said their business dealings were extensive and included diamonds as well as gasoline. The duo was even involved in Sierra Leone, the West African nation that had somehow become a virtual outpost for Russian hoodlums.

Through Balagula, Wilson was also introduced to a shadowy criminal named Shabtai Kalmanovitch, who, according to federal investigators, became “a close business associate” of Wilson’s. Through his ties with the Sierra Leone government, Kalmanovitch had become the diamond-rich nation’s unofficial economics czar. He offered Russian mob contacts — including Balagula as well as Wilson — a variety of investment opportunities, including importation and fishing rights. Supermarket baron Catsimatidis recalled Wilson once trying to recruit him to invest in “some far-flung scheme in Sierra Leone. Rice and diamonds, or something. I wasn’t interested.”

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Wilson said that he met with Kalmanovitch once in Sierra Leone but would not deal with him because “I saw Shabtai was a crook.” He said his relationship with Balagula was “very peripheral.”

In December 1987, Kalmanovitch was arrested and later convicted in Israel on espionage charges. Months before Kalmanovitch’s bust, the spy was involved with Wilson, Watenstein, Balagula, and others in a counterfeit scheme to negotiate $12 million in phony Merrill Lynch checks, according to an FBI investigation.

The FBI determined that Wilson and the others “were involved in arranging the counterfeit checks and carrying them to Kalmanovitch in Europe.” The KGB spy was able to cash $3 million in bogus checks before his May 1987 arrest at the Sheraton Towers Hotel in London. “Hotel records show Wilson as staying in the hotel at the same time as Kalmanovitch,” while a search of the spy’s room turned up “an address book with Wilson’s name, address, and phone numbers.”

(The Merrill Lynch scam was detailed in papers filed by prosecutors during Wilson’s Las Vegas mail and wire fraud prosecution. They also reveal Wilson was under investigation for passing $10,000 in bribes to New York State tax agent Anthony Tedeschi. The payoffs were to fix a tax problem Wilson had with his now defunct kosher restaurant, La Difference. Though the document stated “Wilson is likely facing additional serious charges” for the payoffs, he was never indicted. In an interview, Wilson acknowledged knowing Tedeschi, who cooperated with prosecutors, but declined to talk about the allegations, except to call Tedeschi, “a guinea piece of shit.”

Law enforcement sources said Wilson was introduced to Tedeschi by notorious swindler Irwin “The Fat Man” Schiff, a childhood buddy and Taft High School football teammate of Wilson’s. Schiff, also a Genovese associate, was murdered in 1987 on orders from the crime family’s leadership. Wilson has said that when investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s office tried in 1988 to convince him to “flip” on Mangano, they said the Genovese underboss wanted him dead, and had been involved in Schiff’s murder.)

While Kalmanovitch and a partner, William Davidson, were hit with federal fraud charges, Wilson and Watenstein were never indicted. The case against the swindlers was brought in North Carolina, since many of the bogus checks were drawn on a North Carolina National Bank account. Twenty years earlier, Wilson maintained a checking account at that same Southern bank, according to Wilson’s 1970 bankruptcy filing. Only 31 years old at the time, he stuck his creditors for a whopping $1.4 million, the equivalent today of $5.6 million.

Questioned about Davidson, Wilson denied doing business with Kalmanovitch’s sidekick. Court records and other documents, though, reveal that Wilson claimed to have been involved with the crook in a $1.3 million diamond venture, for which Wilson said Davidson owed him $1 million. After securing a judgment against an agreeable Davidson, Wilson set out to collect the money he was supposedly owed.

Showing monumental chutzpah, Wilson — armed with the Davidson judgment — launched a legal battle in Monaco to seize funds from a bank account opened there by Davidson. The frozen account happened to be where Kalmanovitch and Davidson had deposited the proceeds from the counterfeit check scheme. It is unclear whether Wilson succeeded in latching on to any of these funds — money the FBI claimed he helped originally steal.

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When he was asked about his array of contacts with the Russian mob, Wilson scoffed: “You really think the Russians are organized crime? Do you really believe that? It behooves me how anyone can think the Russians are organized.”

Wilson said that he met most of the men through work he performed for Bris Avrohom, an organization that helps settle newly arrived Russian Jews. “I met these Russians through my solicitation of donations [in Brighton Beach] for this charity. Some may have turned out bad, but the majority turned out to be very nice citizens,” he said.

During an interview, Wilson proudly displayed a journal from a 1986 dinner at the Hilton which honored him and his wife Sondra for their work with the New Jersey–based Lubavitch group. Wilson beamed as he pointed to form letters from Ronald Reagan and George Bush saluting Bris Avrohom and the couple.

Wilson broke with the group after the charity, he claimed, abandoned him during his stay at Allenwood: “We had 80 Jews out of 800 people up there. I think 79 had rabbis visit them. I’m the only one who didn’t have a rabbi.” Wilson was also upset that Bris Avrohom did not help him get a special furlough to Miami, where selected federal inmates were allowed to congregate for Passover services.

Though hardly religious, Wilson wrote on his prison furlough application, “I was a very ‘active’ Jew and have lost the feelings,” adding that he wanted to again “do the mitzvahs I once did.” He even claimed to be considering “aliya within 3 years,” the Hebrew term for immigration to Israel.

One former associate, whose general opinion of Wilson is harsh, said that he always respected the businessman’s “strong Jewish identity” and support for Israel. The ex-friend surmised that Wilson’s worldview has always been colored by the belief that “I am a little kid from the gutter from the Bronx. And I was beaten up because I was a Jewish kid, or taken advantage because I was a Jewish kid. Now we got our own state: Fuck you. Fuck the world.”

In fact, the single thread that runs through Wilson’s career — gangsters and scams notwithstanding — is his involvement with Jewish businesses and causes. In 1994, he plunked down $225,000 for a piece of Jewish-American history, buying a partial trademark for the name Grossinger’s. Wilson, who can license it for bread and chicken products only, said proudly that he now earns “two cents on every loaf” of Grossinger’s rye bread sold.

The businessman has even adopted an alias, he has claimed, to better identify him as Jewish. By using the name “Harvey Schwartz,” Wilson — who said he is often mistaken for being Italian — leaves no doubt about his heritage. To detractors who sense an improper motive, Wilson has answered, “It is done as a matter of pride, not for the purpose of concealment.”

Along with his Grossinger’s purchase, Wilson last year paid — again at a bankruptcy auction — $1.47 million for the assets of a chain of jewelry stores. It was at least the sixth time he has bought a firm out of bankruptcy, prompting one acquaintance to joke that Wilson “always was a closeout guy.”

Along with these ventures, Wilson dabbles in commercial finance, providing loans to anyone willing to pay steep interest rates. One recent borrower was art thief Richard Erman, who collateralized a $150,000 Wilson loan with Dans Le Parc, an oil painting by French artist James Tissot. The work — stolen by Erman and smuggled into the United States — had been scheduled to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in May 1993 for between $800,000 and $1.2 million, but the item was instead seized by U.S. Customs agents. Claiming that Erman — who is now jailed in France on tax charges — never repaid the loan, Wilson is now waging a court fight against the auction house and the French government for possession of the painting. Wilson has said that, at the time of the Erman loan, he was unaware the 19th-century work was hot.

One of Wilson’s bankruptcy “closeouts,” sources said, was the joint purchase of Tribeca’s Ecco and the Upper East Side restaurant Campagnola, which, according to the Daily News, is the favorite restaurant of former top cop William Bratton. In fact, last Friday — after his final day at police headquarters — Bratton hosted a dinner party at the First Avenue nightspot. But while the ex-commish helped lower crime rates citywide, he apparently was oblivious to the fraud playing out in front of his plate of penne à la vodka.

State Liquor Authority records list Wilson sidekick Laszlo Schwartz — who does not have two felony collars — as “president and sole own­er” of both Italian establishments. But Voice calls to both restaurants asking for Schwartz caused confusion. “Does he have a reserva­tion?” a hostess at Ecco asked one night. On an­other occasion, the response came back, “There’s no Mr. Schwartz here.” A call to Cam­pagnola elicited a simlilar response. ”Never heard the name,” a man answering the phone said. The idea that Schwartz, an Orthodox Jew, would own a nonkosher, trayf-filled establish­ment is unlikely, said one source familiar with Wilson’s 53-year-old sidekick.

The response was quite different when a caller asked for Wilson at the eateries. At Ecco, a helpful receptionist offered, ”I know Mr. Wil­son is a part owner.” In February, a Campag­nola employee said, “I don’t know if he’s com­ing in today,” adding that he did not know if Wilson — who travels frequently — was “in town.” On another night, a caller was told, ”You just missed him.”

Wilson seems to stop by Campagnola reg­ularly after work, something he effectively de­nied during a Voice interview. Referring to his low-key lifestyle, the Forest Hills resident said, “That’s why I go home every night. You’ll never see me in the city having dinner…”

Wilson’s Merchants T&F company also has an interest in Akbar, an Indian restaurant on Park Avenue near 57th Street. Merchants paid $180,000 in May 1994 for the eatery’s assets, which included the establishment’s valuable ground-floor lease.

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Seated at his desk one afternoon, Wilson is talking about the joys of typing. He does not need a secretary (”I save $600 a week!”) be­cause he types every contract and licensing agree­ment his office produces, a chore he finds relax­ing. “That was my job at Allenwood. I was the head typist,” the ex-con said. Wilson then ticked off the fringe benefits: ”An air conditioned of­fice! With girls!”

To the left of his desk, where Wilson’s gaze often falls, is an up-to-the-minute account of his stock holdings. A Quotron clone, the computer screen across the room is far enough away so that an optically challenged reporter cannot decipher the flickering ticker symbols.

The best peek into Wilson’s market hold­ings comes from 1993–1994 records from a trading account he maintained at the Zurich of­fice of Prudential Bache. The documents record Sloan’s trades as well as a 25,000 share position in a New York firm then controlled by Wilson’s uncle. At times, other holdings included Getty Oil, Bethlehem Steel, and Wal Mart.

While the account balance fluctuated from month to month, it usually hovered near $1 mil­lion. However, the most recent statement ob­tained by the Voice, covering May 1994, reflect­ed a closing balance of $4.25 million, due to the purchase of $2.9 million in U.S. Treasury notes.

As with most matters involving Murray Wilson, the answer to the question, “Whose money is this?” remains, for now, obscured. ❖

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES show-old-images THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

The Billion-Dollar Reason for Jimmy Hoffa’s Disappearance

The Billion-Dollar Reason for Hoffa’s Disappearance
September 8, 1975

Shortly after Jimmy Hoffa van­ished, a newspaper colleague for whose intelligence I have the utmost respect commented from across the lunch table, “I don’t know why I should care whether he’s dead or not. They’re all crooks anyway.”

What she was saying, in effect, was that the black headline across the front of the Daily News that morning (FBI SAYS HOFFA DREW $IM CASH) was just the News’s standard police trivia, appealing to the same readers for the same reasons as the front page headline the next day (GUNMAN, MOLL SLAIN BY COP).

But several important facts ele­vate the Hoffa case from that of the unfortunate but forgettable man and moll who were interrupted in mid bank robbery.

First, Mr. Hoffa’s pending return to Teamster politics threatened to obstruct the Mafia’s drain on the union’s multibillion-dollar financial holdings — or else, why would he have vanished? In all probability, either the hoods he was meeting for lunch the day he disappeared came to that conclusion and set him up, or Mr. Hoffa figured they were about to come to that conclusion and took it on the lam, or, if you like long shots, the Justice Department figured somebody was about to come to that conclusion and sequestered Mr. Hoffa.

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Twice in the year before Mr. Hoffa disappeared, the Justice Department was told by an emissary that Mr. Hoffa was willing to supply information that would “get” his rival, Teamster boss Frank Fitzsim­mons, according to a senior official of a large U.S. attorney’s office, who says the emissary approached him personally. The official, who had been involved in investigating the union and who says he thinks Mr. Hoffa is dead now, asks not to be identified. He will identify the emis­sary only as a “reputable, respected member of the media.” And he says the offer was turned down.

Second, merely the ability of the mob to remove from activity some­one as important as Jimmy Hoffa and get away with it would signify that in 1975, nearly 20 years after Robert Kennedy’s Senate hearings exposed Teamster corruption, the mob retains undiminished access to the union vault and still feels free to defy society and its laws with impunity.

Third, the $100 million deals that Teamster leaders transact with all sorts of suspicious characters are of a size beyond the imagination of most bank chairmen, let alone most bank robbers.

Moreover, the Teamster money is not merely being stolen by one set of crooks from another. Nor, ultimate­ly, is it even being stolen from union workers or their bosses. The majori­ty, though by no means all, of the 2.2 million Teamsters have in one way or another acquiesced in these she­nanigans, and could, with a real will, stop them. The same could be said of their employers.

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When you get right down to it, the money is being stolen from every one of us who ever buys anything, any part of which was ever shipped by truck or loaded in a warehouse. And to ignore what happened to Jimmy Hoffa would be to join the Teamsters and their employers in institution­alizing this thievery. (Actually, the pool of victims is expanding, as the Teamsters’ latest image-building ad campaign points out; victims now include drinkers of Gallo wine, patrons of certain telephone systems, and even the taxpayers of Michigan, some of whose state police just voted to join up.)

What separates Jimmy Hoffa from his rivals for power in the union is that Mr. Hoffa long has had the personal loyalty of hundreds of thou­sands of rank and file teamsters. Most of these Teamsters know very well that Mr. Hoffa has helped de­fraud their pension fund of enormous sums. They know he went to prison for it.

But they also know that what they have left over after he and his col­leagues have finished stealing is still more than they ever had before Jimmy Hoffa built their brotherhood into America’s most powerful union. They are grateful.

The employers of these men aren’t blind either. They have purchased union stability, labor peace, and even a share of the pension fund action, all at the price of simple in­tegrity.

The money for this industrial coziness is coming from us.

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Every week the employers of Teamster members pay a contribu­tion in lieu of salary into one of 200 union-connected pension funds. The biggest group of these workers, truckers covered by the master freight agreement, are supposed beneficiaries of contributions of $22 a week for each employee. The largest of the funds — the Central States, Southeast, and Southwest Areas pension fund, headquartered in Chicago — takes in about $400 million a year. Its reported assets exceed $1.3 billion.

This is the fund that Mr. Hoffa was a trustee of when he was interna­tional president of the Teamsters. It is the fund that he went to prison for defrauding, and the fund that his successor and rival, Frank Fitzsimmons, is a trustee of now.

Such funds aren’t required to disclose much about themselves to the public or to their members (even under the so-called Pension Reform Act of 1974), and the Central States fund has always gone to great lengths to keep its records secret. Information about how it handles its money has leaked out much more slowly than the money itself.

Several years ago, however, the fund was required to turn over a list of its investments to a federal court in connection with a lawsuit fired by a Teamster dissident. Although this investment list was sealed by the court at the union’s request and thus kept from public inspection, copies of it were obtained by Overdrive, a West Coast trucking magazine, and by the Wall Street Journal, both of which have recently published series of articles based in large part on its contents.

The records showed that some 89 per cent of the fund’s money was invested in real estate loans to businesses — against less than 5 per cent for the average similar fund; that many of these businesses seemed to have little other source of financing; and that a shocking 36.5 per cent of the money thus invested was in loans that already had gone delinquent or had been foreclosed, with indications that a lot more could wind up the same way.

Many loans have been made to companies owned by mobsters and their cronies; to companies at least partly owned by lawyers, consul­tants, or other insiders who help run the fund itself; and to companies employing Teamster workers. The union has on occasion refused to support its members in labor disputes with employers who have outstanding loans from the fund.

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Mr. Hoffa was deeply involved in the channeling of union money to crime figures beginning with his rise to power in the Chicago-based Cen­tral Conference of Teamsters 25 years ago. The head of a Detroit local, he needed a power source in Chicago and found one in Paul “Red” Dorfman. Mr. Dorfman was a leader of the Chicago Waste Handlers Union (until later expelled by the AFL-CIO for misuse of funds) and a close ally of racketeers since the Capone era.

When Mr. Hoffa took power in the Central Conference of Teamsters, he immediately switched its group insurance business, which exceeded $10 million a year even in those days, away from a large, reputable company and over to a small one, whose general agent, just appointed, was Red Dorfman’s son Allen. Allen Dorfman and his friends prospered accordingly.

Young Dorfman became Mr. Hoffa’s right arm in pension-fund matters when the fund was estab­lished in 1955. He not only held its insurance business and was assigned to monitor the insurance needs of borrowers, he also was the man to see if you wanted a loan, and he stayed on as such after Mr. Hoffa began his prison term.

Mr. Dorfman sometimes acquired land in development projects that the fund was financing, or stock in a company that borrowed millions of dollars from the fund. He has sold such stock at a high personal profit before the borrowing company re­paid much of its loan. He and other insiders have taken over a company in default to the fund, sold it at hundreds of thousands of dollars profit without repaying the fund, and arranged for the fund to transfer the unpaid mortgage debt to the new buyers.

Sometimes through arrangements made by Mr. Dorfman and sometimes not, the fund loaned millions of dollars to companies that were asso­ciated then or soon afterward with mobsters. Among the men involved in fund-financed projects who have been identified as prominent racketeers by government agencies and the press are Anthony “Tough Tony” Spilotro, Joseph “The Clown” Lombardo, Andrew Lococo, Michael “Big Mike” Polizzi, Louis “Lou the Tailor” Rosanova, and even the notorious, confessed torture-murderer Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio.

Millions of dollars from such loans weren’t repaid on time if at all.

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The fund also has created controversy with its bizarre concentrations of loans. Las Vegas, for, example, is largely built with Teamster money, hundreds of millions of dollars of it. Much of the original investment was channeled through Morris “Moe” Dalitz, identified in congressional testimony as a bootlegging and gambling figure from Cleveland from decades ago. Mr. Dalitz bowed out of the Nevada business, though he stayed a part of the fund’s $57 million investment in the lavish La Costa resort and land development near San Diego, which is patronized in large part by union insiders and their cronies.

Nevada gaming authorities have been requiring clean records for casino operators there, so lately the Teamster investments have been channeled through men like Morris Shenker, long Mr. Hoffa’s lawyer, and Allen R. Glick, who, barely 30, rose meteorically from being an employee of a San Diego real estate firm to authority over more than $100 million in pension-fund investments.

Mr. Shenker also was a central figure in the biggest fund loan of all, some $116 million–$140 million to the Penasquitos land development project, in Southern California. The loan was foreclosed with barely $5 million repaid. The pension fund now owns the 16,000 mostly undeveloped acres in the project, and as in so many other cases nobody has accounted publicly for the money.

With all this cash going out, one might wonder how the fund pays its pensions. The answer is, it often doesn’t.

The fund won’t disclose how many men apply for pensions and how many are turned down, but it’s not hard to sit at a phone and locate dozens of Teamsters and former Teamsters who say they have been gypped out of pensions they believe they are entitled to. Mostly, their cases involve loopholes that are written into the fund rules. Most Teamsters apparently aren’t aware of these loopholes until it’s too late.

After a four-to-six month wait for the fund to process their applications, pension seekers often are told that they must prove they have 20 years of industry credit. In an industry like trucking, made up of many small companies that go in and out of business fast, satisfactory records often are unavailable. The fund itself would be best able to keep them, but it says it doesn’t.

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For example, one Florida retiree wasn’t approved for a pension, apparently on the grounds that his work time in the 1950s with an Ohio firm, long out of business, wasn’t adequately verified. He submitted an employee identification card and a photograph of him driving a company truck, but his application was returned with only the cryptic explanation, “The attached papers are being returned to you.”

When he persisted, the fund wrote back many months later, “Kindly be advised that affidavits must be submitted from fellow workers, owners, or supervisors. These affidavits must include the type of work you did, the number of years you worked, and the number of hours worked per year. You may also submit your check stubs.” None of this documentation can be obtained now, the retiree says.

Other pension applicants are stunned to learn of the so-called break-in-service provision, under which, if a Teamster spends three years in other work, all prior pension credits are eliminated. Many truckers seek factory work during hard times in the hauling business, and then go back to trucking, now knowing that they are starting over on their 20-year pension service.

Many others spend a few years driving rigs that they are trying to buy under installment contracts such “owner-operators” still must maintain union membership, but the fund counts this time as a break in employee service. Often the installment contracts don’t work out and the driver goes back to salaried work, only to discover years later that he has lost his pension rights.

Moreover, many of the 200 pension plans don’t have reciprocal credit agreements with each other or with the big Central States fund. Truckers, in the course of their jobs, often must transfer from a local covered by one plan to a local cov­ered by another, and thus, without realizing it at the time, lose their pension rights.

Occasionally an individual Teamster has gone to court and won the right to his pension, but dissident groups have never been successful in overthrowing the way the fund is run. The union always goes first­-class on legal protection, and law­yers for dissident members, usually operating without fee or on contingency, run out of patience fast when faced by mountains of technical motions and other delaying tactics filed by the union’s high-powered law firms.

All of this, of course, works to the pleasure of the union leaders and the mob. When Mr. Hoffa, who did much to organize the system, went to jail, apprehension must have rippled through the Mafia beneficiaries of the union’s largess. But under Mr. Fitzsimmons, apparently nothing has gone awry.

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Most impressive, when Allen Dorfman was forced to resign as “special consultant” to the fund in 1972 because he was on his way to jail for taking a $55,000 bribe in the award of a loan (he served less than a year), affairs continued to flow smoothly. (Interestingly, Mr. Dorfman went out of sight last month about the same time Mr. Hoffa did. His family and office say he’s traveling in Europe and can’t be reached.)

Like Theodore Roosevelt retiring from the White House in 1908, Mr. Hoffa on his way to jail had picked as his successor a weak man, a flunky, who could be expected to yield power on request. But as with Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Hoffa decided later that he had chosen wrong, and felt constrained to launch what was in effect a third- (in this case, second-) party movement.

The mob may well have decided that a campaign between Messrs. Hoffa and Fitzsimmons could only cause trouble. Harmful charges might inevitable have leaked out even if both candidates tried to remain loyal to the system. But there was also the possibility that Mr. Hoffa would have stopped at nothing to regain power, and the possibility is based on more than mere speculation.

Friends of Mr. Hoffa have been arguing that the last thing in the world they would expect him to do would be to turn to the government with evidence about Teamster corruption. But the Justice Department official who told of being approached by an intermediary says otherwise.

The official says he declined to pursue the offer of information from Mr. Hoffa for two reasons. In general, he says, the Justice Department doesn’t want to be used as an in­strument to help individuals “get” their enemies. And in particular, the offers came when the department was near trial in a major criminal case over an alleged plot to defraud the Central States pension fund of $1.4 million. Among the seven defendants in the case were two trustees of the fund and Messrs. Dorfman, Spilotro, and Lombardo. Prosecu­tors feared that the offer from Mr. Hoffa, if accepted, might somehow, compromise the prosecution of that case, the winning of which was con­sidered crucial to forcing changes in the fund administration.

The case was tried this spring for 10 weeks. One of the government’s two star witnesses, a businessman who had helped the alleged plotters and then had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, was shotgunned to death shortly before the trial. The judge ruled out any evidence about the shooting, or about the defendants’ backgrounds, and the jury never learned the checkered history of the pension fund.

The defendants were supported not only by some of the best legal counsel in the country, but also by Arthur Young & Co., the large accounting firm, which apparently was paid $150,000 in pension-fund money (channeled indirectly through the defense law firms) to prepare, belatedly, well-balanced books for the mobster-run company that defaulted on its $1.4 million loan.

All seven defendants were acquit­ted.