The Trafficantes, Godfathers from Tampa, Florida: The Mafia, the CIA and the JFK Assassination – Ron Chepesiuk

trafficante

The official story put forth by the Warren Commission is that President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) who fired three shots from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. However, Oswald’s guilt has long been in doubt and in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations found a “probable conspiracy” in Kennedy’s murder. Some believe that the conspirators included members of the Italian American Mafia, notably mob bosses Santo Trafficante, Jr. (1914-1987) of Florida and Carlos Marcello (1910-1993) of New Orleans, Louisiana. We know for certain that Oswald was at the Book Depository as the assassination happened. However, events that played out following the shooting in Dealey Plaza indicated a darker and more sinister climate of danger that awaited Kennedy as he stepped off Air Force One at Love Field that morning. It is no secret that mobsters were not fans of Kennedy or his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1929-1968). But did the mob have the power to kill the president? Author Ron Chepesiuk explores this question and more in this short book about the Trafficante family and the role the mob may have played in Kennedy’s death.

Believers of the lone gunman theory will not entertain any theories about the mob, CIA, or others. And for good reason. If we do believe the mob was involved, then a conspiracy exists. However, the mob did have motive, and that aspect is addressed in the book. But before we get to the Kennedy assassination, the author primes us with background information on Trafficante and his father Santo Trafficante, Sr. (1886-1954) who were the undisputed rulers of the Tampa underworld. The book is not an extensive biography of the father or son but provides basic information to understand who they were. But what is of more interest are the connections between them and other underworld figures, and this is where the plot thickens.

Because the book is short, there is a lot of information that is highly condensed. Readers may benefit from other material on the Kennedy assassination, and I always recommend the late Jim Maars’ (1943-2017) ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy‘ which provides a thorough analysis of the shooting in Dealey Plaza, the death of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit (1924-1963) and numerous other components of the crime that will send chills down your spine.  Chepesiuk’s story is solely on the Mafia, but he does mention other players when necessary.  However, the story here remains centered around the Trafficantes, Marcello and the nexus of underworld crime figures who welded power in America. There are no “smoking guns”, but I did notice that anyone expected to appear before the House Select Committee on Assassinations seemed to meet a sudden death. Appearances are made in the story by Chicago mobster Salvatore “Sam” Giacana (1908-1975) and mobster Johnny Roselli (1905-1976). Their stories are surreal, especially Giancana’s direct link to Kennedy.

It is impossible to discuss the mob’s anger at Kennedy without acknowledging the impact of former Cuban President Fidel Castro (1926-2016). Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the Mafia had turned Cuba into a cash machine and playground for Americans looking for a quick getaway to have fun. Former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) had allowed the mob open reign but on January 1, 1959, that all changed as Castro marched triumphantly down the streets of Havana. Mobsters who had the means to do so, left as soon as they could. But Trafficante Jr. had an interesting experience in Cuba which I had forgotten about. It is telling of what Castro through of the mob and sets the stage for the future alliance between the CIA, Mafia, and disgruntled Cuban exiles. Castro was serious and the only way the mob could enjoy Cuba was if the bearded leader were gone. This is the beginning of a dark rabbit hole which we cannot go into here. But the author gives us an idea of the sinister partnerships that existed for “mutual benefit”.

There is one more section of the book I want to address, as no discussion of Kennedy’s murder can be held without addressing the dark presence of Jack Ruby (1911-1967), whose actions that weekend following the assassination were strange to say the least. The Warren Commission insisted that Oswald and Ruby did not know each other. But is that the truth? As seen in the book there is compelling evidence that they did know each other, and I recommend readers watch the documentary ‘Rush to Judgment‘ by the late Mark Lane (1924-2016) who published the book of the same name.  Ruby’s mob connections cannot be ignored, and the author weaves them into the story at hand showing that powerful figures were watching Oswald.

The truth about Kennedy’s murder may never be known. And if it is, maybe not in my lifetime as author Anthony Summers says in his book regarding the murder.  Thousands of pages of records are still classified, and as time passes, those with knowledge of what did happen will pass on taking what they know with them to the grave. But I do believe that we have enough information to know that Oswald was only a small piece in a larger puzzle. The mob certainly wanted Kennedy gone and benefited from his death. It had the money and power, but to a certain extent. Removing a president from office is a concerted effort dependent on compartmentalization, a concept the Mafia knew well. The list of Kennedy’s enemies was long, and his death was nothing short of regime change. The mob was only one enemy, and its role is still up for debate. But what Chepesiuk shows is that the mob had a personal stake in seeing Kennedy eliminated. For a good understanding of the powerful crime figures who had turned sour on Kennedy, this is an informative read.

ASIN: B003BIGGQA

The Big Heist: The Real Story of the Lufthansa Heist, the Mafia, and Murder – Anthony M. DeStefano

LufthansaDuring a recent discussion with a friend, he confessed to being unaware that the airport robbery referenced in the 1990 Warner Bros. film ‘Goodfellas‘, was about the infamous heist at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 11, 1978. The thieves made off with an estimated $5.875 million dollars in currency and jewelry. To this day, the stolen goods have never been recovered.  The heist and the loot were tightly controlled by Lucchese Family associate James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke (1931-1996), portrayed on screen by Robert DeNiro. The character in the film is cold and calculating but pales in comparison to the real-life mobster whose penchant for murder scared even the most hardened gangsters. Burke died in prison in 1996 while serving time for unrelated crimes and was never convicted for his role in the heist. However, a surviving mobster from the crew at Robert’s Lounge, Vincent Asaro, was tried and acquitted in 2015 for his alleged role in the crime.  In 2017 he was tried and convicted in a separate case which involved a vehicle being set on fire. However, he is currently a free man, having been released due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and deteriorating health. The other major participants in the crime are all deceased leaving Asaro as the last man standing. But, if he did take part in the crime, why is he never mentioned in the film? And what exactly happened that night at JFK when Burke’s crew pulled off the infamous heist?

Anthony DeStefano takes another look at the Lufthansa Heist and the failed attempt to convict Asaro, to break down the series of events that led up to the heist, and the real-life stories of the people in the mafia underworld.  I did see some reviews on Amazon which pointed out that the book is average. And while I can say that there are no “smoking guns”, where the book does excel is helping the reader and fans of the film to understand the gangsters who were part of Burke’s crew and the world, they operated in.  This book fills in some gaps in the story known because of the film. Most significant is the murder of Paul Katz on December 6, 1969. This crime is not mentioned in the film, and I previously was not aware of the full story. Further, the criminal histories of both Burke and Lucchese Family mobster Paul Vario (1914-1988), who is known as Paul Cicero in the film. The late Paul Sorvino (1939-2022) was excellent as Vario, but the real-life gangster could be far deadlier than the on-screen version. His story, as told here, might shock readers. And even Hill benefited from the charisma of Ray Liotta (1954-2022) who presents a deeply flawed character that is also likeable in the film. The real-life Hill was nowhere near as smooth as the man we see on screen. But the movie was right in showing that Hill did not take part in the robbery. However, he was entrenched in the planning and execution. And for reasons that may be lost to history, he survived a killing spree in which Burke removed connections that could landed him behind bars for the Lufthansa Heist.

While watching the film, it is easy to like some of the characters. But make no mistake, the real mobsters at Robert’s Lounge, who also spent time at Hill’s bar, The Suite, were hard core criminals with drug habits, gambling addictions, violent streaks, and limited formal education. The streets are where they plied their trade, and Kennedy Airport was their playground. In fact, the film only captures a small part of the hijacking aspect. And for the first time here, I learned more of Thomas DeSimone’s (1950-1979) criminal history.  He is named Thomas DeVito in the film and played by the iconic Joe Pesci. Hill said that the portrayal was about 95% accurate, but again, the real-life Tommy was far more ruthless than what is shown in the film. But what is constant both here and, in the film, is that Tommy was a loose cannon. And the section in the book regarding his demise reveals yet another fact left out of the film. There is far more to Tommy’s story than is covered here, and there are dozens of videos online that address the real story behind Goodfellas. However, DeStefano provides intriguing information.

Admittedly, the story does move around a little between Asaro, Burke and Robert’s Lounge’s crew. But towards the end, DeStefano ties it all together as the trial comes into focus and a forty-year-old crime comes back to life. I cannot say I was surprised by the acquittal, but I do think the trial revealed crucial facts about the Lucchese Family’s inner workings that will cause moviegoers to re-think how they see the film. To be fair, Martin Scorsese made an incredible film, and it is extremely accurate. However, there are noticeable changes with the script that omit key events that would have explained some of the scenes in the film. Nevertheless, the movie is considered a masterpiece, and rightfully so.  It remains a favorite in my collection. But when we take a closer look at the ‘Goodfellas’ story, the glamour comes off, revealing a murky world full of deceit, greed, and violence.  If you liked the movie and are interested in the back story of Henry Hill and his co-conspirators, this is an informative read.

““When I met Jimmy Burke in 1964, he practically owned New York’s Kennedy Airport. If you ask me, they named the place after the wrong Irishman.” – Henry Hill (1943-2012)

ASIN:‎ B07TT3PYSM

The Accountant’s Story: Inside the Violent World of the Medellín Cartel – Roberto Escobar with David Fisher


escobar

On September 14, 1986, United States President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) gave a speech to the nation on the Campaign Against Drug Abuse. And though he did not mention names of drug lords, those with knowledge of the flood of narcotics entering the United States aware that Reagan was also speaking to Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (1949-1993), the head of the Medellín cartel who had earned a place on Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest figures. Seven more years passed before Escobar met his fate on December 2, 1993, but prior to the final act of his life, Escobar continued to earn billions of dollars as cocaine became the drug of choice. There are countless documentaries, films, and articles about Pablo, but his brother Roberto has remained in the shadows. His role as the organization’s accountant and proximity to his brother, allowed him to witness the rise and fall of the Medellín cartel. And this is his story of that world and what really happened in their lives as Pablo became the most wanted drug lord in the world.

Before reading this book, I knew of Roberto Escobar, but I did not know his personal story. I did expect it to mirror Pablo’s but the perspective from Roberto’s view is unique on its own and raises questions about morality that I did not expect. Further, what he reveals adds more complication to the legend and infamy of Pablo. After a brief explanation of the family’s history which traces its maternal routes to Spain, Roberto focuses on the young Pablo who has no interest in narcotics. In fact, Robert explains that “in 1974 Pablo was studying political science at the Universidad de Antiochia. There are many who believe Pablo was an uneducated man who succeeded only through drugs. That simply is not true.” But the most significant aspect of the early Pablo’s life is his vision of becoming president of Colombia. It may sound comical looking back in hindsight, but the book leaves no room to believe that Escobar was insincere about this. And though he was trafficking narcotics, he did want to be president of the country.  This is supported by Pablo’s successful political campaign in which he ran for Congress and was elected. Of course, the drugs were never far away but as we learn from Roberto, Pablo did not start out as a narcotics trafficker nor did the violence in Colombia start with the Medellín cartel. Those who are from Colombia or have visited Latin America may find this sobering statement from Roberto that “Colombia has always been a country of violence. It was part of our heritage” to be hauntingly accurate.

After engaging in the transport of contraband and a narrow escape from police, Pablo realizes that he needs another stream of revenue and learns about a paste made from coca leaf extracts. It is chance event that changes history and the lives of all Colombians. But Pablo was unknown outside of Colombia early in his career and the leap from domestic trafficker to public enemy number one of Washington is a fascinating story, and Roberto delivers the goods. We learn that America was always a good drug market and traffic from Colombia and other parts of South America flew under the radar. But that all changed in 1979 when The United States and Colombia signed an extradition agreement to extradite drug traffickers to America to stand trial. It was a move in the making and changed the lives of Pablo and Roberto permanently. However, before that took place, Roberto knew that America was an entirely different arena and recalls that “for the entire family, our lives changed forever the day my brother decided to send his drugs to America“. War was declared and it has not let up to this day. And to drive home the significance of the agreement, Roberto goes on to explain that “Although none of us knew it at the time, the wars had actually begun in 1979, when the United States and Colombia signed a treaty that declared drug trafficking a crime against the United States and permitted Colombian traffickers to be extradited to the U.S. It was that law that changed everything.”

Within Colombia, Pablo and his family enjoy life as they could have never imagined with unlimited access to cash, enforcers, and political influence. However, I could not overlook the deeds by Pablo for the poor people of Colombia. And this part of the book presents a duality the remains constant throughout the story. We know Pablo is dealing drugs, but he also becomes a Robin Hood type figure who commits unbelievably generous acts of kindness, one of which is Barrio Escobar which stands to this day. The complicated nature of Pablo is observed by Roberto who cautions his sibling when needed and provides explanations for the decisions they make. And to be fair, Roberto does not shy away from criticizing his brother in the book when necessary. The best example is Pablo’s entry in politics which the author strongly disagreed with. But that was only the beginning in a bitter feud with the Colombia Government that included the Cali cartel, police hit squads and the notorious group of killers called Los Pepes. Colombia was turned into a bloodbath and the Escobars were the top prizes to be captured. The stories from Roberto are unbelievable and show that the idea of safety was a foreign concept for victims of the drug wars. The violence escalates in the book as expected and readers may want to use discretion.

Any story about Escobar must address the elephant in the room and that is the sad fate of Avianca Airlines Flight 203. Roberto explains that he did not know of any plot, but had he known he would have stopped Pablo. There is no smoking gun and any discussions about it were hidden from Roberto, most likely to protect him from prosecution. This act combined with the attacks on government buildings, political assassinations and deadly battles with Colombian police units, catapulted Pablo to a level of infamy from which he has never descended and never will. Yet while these things were taking place, he was still committing acts of kindness to those in need. But he was firm in his determination to never be incarcerated in an American jail and was clear to Roberto that he would rather die on Colombia soil than sit in a United States prison. In the end he got his wish.

Following the Avianca tragedy, the writing is on the wall, and we know that Pablo will not escape alive. But there is still more carnage to come, and Colombia saw more bloodshed before the drug lord was ambushed and eliminated. Roberto recounts those finals weeks with Pablo and the feeling they both had as the walls closed in. Both were deeply affected by the isolation from their children and Roberto goes through three marriages while telling the story. The Escobar name became a liability and the bounty placed on their heads resulted in death coming from all angles. But following Pablo’s demise, their mother takes action to end the battles with the Cali cartels and rebel groups with astonishing courage. Roberto suffered a different fate and his ordeal in prison at the time of Pablo’s death and its aftermath are beyond shocking. It is a miracle that he is alive today. The glory days of the Medellín cartel are gone but drug trafficking continues to exist. But there was a time when a simple man from Colombia with an unobstructed vision of destiny became the poster boy for the cocaine trafficking industry. And along for the ride was his brother Roberto who served as the accountant, confidant and voice of reason when needed. If you want to know the real story of Pablo Escobar, this book is a must read and a welcome addition to the books we have now about the man who entrenched himself permanently in the history of Colombia.

“It is impossible to even imagine how much money remains put away somewhere, probably never to be discovered. People who managed millions of dollars got killed without telling anyone where the money was hidden. Or they took the money and disappeared when Pablo was killed. I feel sure there are undiscovered coletas in houses all throughout Colombia—but also in New York and Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles, and the other cities in which Medellín did business. I am also certain there are bank accounts in countries whose numbers have been lost and forgotten and never will be opened again.” 

-Roberto Escobar

ASIN:‎ B001RIO2IU

Colombo: The Unsolved Murder-Don Capria and Anthony Colombo

s-l300On June 28, 1971, the Italian American Civil Rights League (“IACRL” held a “Unit Day” rally in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. The league was co-founded by Joseph Colombo (1923-1978), the former boss of the Colombo Crime Family. The mafia don had become a public figure due to his criticism of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and its actions against Italian Americans. During the rally, Colombo made his way to the podium to deliver a speech when he was shot and mortally wounded by Jerome Johnson (1946-1971) who had used fake press credentials to gain access to the guarded Colombo. Three shots struck Colombo who never regained consciousness. He remained in a coma for eight more years before dying on May 22, 1978, in Blooming Grove, New York. The shooting was shown in the 2019 film ‘The Irishman‘, which earned rave reviews. The film is good  entertainment but contains inaccuracies from start to finish. Six years ago I read this book co-authored by Colombo’s son Anthony (1945-2017). I recently viewed a clip online which re-sparked my interest into the murder which never made sense. And upon reading this book a second time, I have come to see a darker unknown element at work which was determined to silence Colombo for good.

Unofficially, the murder was attributed to mobster Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo (1929-1972) who was known to dislike Colombo and wanted more power for himself and siblings within the family. Gallo never claimed responsibility for the murder and to this day, no mobster has ever gone on the record and tied him to the crime. The bad blood between Gallo and Colombo is no secret but no proof has surfaced that Gallo took their feud to the next level. And in this book, Colombo’s son Anthony provides even more information he learned himself after his father’s shooting that cast doubt on law enforcement’s widely accepted theory. But to understand why Colombo would have been a target, it is necessary to learn who he was as a person and that was one goal of this book. His son revisits the family’s life before the crime and peels back the layers encapsulating his father, Joseph Colombo, Sr.

I instantly took note of the family’s connections to organized crime and the fate of Joe Colombo’s own father Anthony in 1938. The events of that dark night in his father’s life, provides an eerie premonition of what comes later in the book. The tragedy was not lost on young Joe Colombo who went on to have several children of his own. Anthony recalls the day-to-day life in their home with a father determined to see his children succeed and stay out of “the life”. And with the help of Don Capria who provides snippets of historical events in each section, the book becomes an valuable tool for insight into family life within the mafia. The story is as normal as one could expect with Colombo being a dedicated family man. There are moments where he is overbearing and strictly adherent to his beliefs, but otherwise the home is stable. But when Colombo catches the attention of the FBI, everything changes and this is where the book picks up speed and never slows down.

The back story to the league’s creation is discussed and despite the accusations that it was sham and front for the mafia, the story within shows that the people behind the scenes were dedicated to the cause of civil rights for Italian Americans and the distinction between the mafia and hardworking Italians in America. However, as the FBI probed deeper in the Colombo crime family, the mafia boss went from public hero to a liability. And the FBI was determined to see him indicted and convicted by any means necessary. Readers may be both shocked and disturbed at the actions of its agents who try to get Anthony to provide them with information on his own father. Whether they believed he would do so or used it as another form of harassment I cannot say, but the term questionable to describe their antics would be an understatement. That is not to say that Colombo was an angel, far from it. We know that the mafia survived because violence was a tool often utilized to keep everyone in line. But that is why evidence is collected to prove crimes without any doubt. Without that evidence, the FBI could only harass Colombo who fought back through the IACRL. But everyone knew that the battle would one day come to a head.

In regard to the Colombo story, the pushback he was getting behind the scenes should not be overlooked. The threat of retaliation against him was high and the future of the IACRL was in question. But Colombo was determined to move forward and knew that behind the scenes, he had the support of other mobsters across the board.  However, as Anthony shows, his father did receive warnings that something dark was coming but no one knew exactly what it was. In the days leading up to the rally, there were suspicious events that took place as shown in the book. And they force the reader to ask the question, who knew Colombo would be shot? What we learn cast serious doubt on Johnson being a crazed lone gunman. Inevitably, Unity Day arrives and the moment we dread takes place resutling in pandemonium. Johnson unleashed a hail of bullets on Colombo before being fatally shot himself. The long-standing explanation was that one of Colombo’s bodyguards had killed Johnson in response, yet that person was never identified. Further, the two people with Johnson escaped through the crowd, never to be seen again nor were they identified. And just when I thought thought the story could not get any stranger, Capria’s explanation of the forensic evidence sent chills up my spine. With each page I read, my personal belief that Colombo’s murder was not a “mob” hit was reaffirmed.

But if the murder was not a mob hit, then what did happen? Well, the authors explore that question here and what was discovered is sure to make the hair on your neck stand up. And it all starts with the background of Jerome Johnson, a career criminal with a highly suspicious record. The information provided on Johnson is surreal and if he was a lone gunman, he was the craziest that ever existed to have infiltrated Unity Day and murder a famous mafia boss. Capria and Colombo also address long-standing myths about Gallo’s “close ties” to Black gangsters. This murder is shrouded in mystery and none of them leads directly back to the mafia itself. Colombo was undeniably a powerful leader who courted alliances with Meir Kahane (1932-1990) of the Jewish Defense League (“JDL”) and other social activists, and this alone would have made him a target of both overt and covert investigations. Mention is also made in the book of the role Colombo Family hitman Gregory “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa (1928-1994) played in providing he FBI with crucial information about his underworld connections. To be clear, there is no accusation anywhere that Scarpa played a role in Colombo’s shooting. There is a lot to unpack in this book which will leave you with more questions than answers. And though we know how Colombo was shot, the why remains a mystery. The shooting changed New York City history and the lives of Colombo’s family, left to grieve the act of violence that took their father known as an activist, criminal figure and a person you could speak with to discuss any problem. And it is clear is that Anthony never recovered from his father’s death. The pain in his words is evident and there is a moment in the book where he tells his dad “we can always have another league, but I can only have one father”. The full truth about Colombo’s murder may never be known but the authors have shown enough here to remove any doubt that elements of the crime remain unsolved.

ASIN:‎ B01B247LHW

Carmine the Snake: Carmine Persico and His Murderous Mafia Family – Frank DiMatteo and Michael Benson

carmineInfamous gangster Alphonse “Al” Capone (1899-1947) famously quipped that “once you’re in the racket, you’re always in it”. The seasoned gangster knew the pitfalls of a life of crime and conditions that apply. He was convicted on October 18, 1931, of tax evasion and sentenced to eleven years in prison. On November 16, 1939, Capone was released from prison due to effects of Syphilis which had spread to his brain. The disease continued to cause deterioration in the mobster and on January 25, 1947, Capone did in his sleep. It was a sad ending for America’s most famous mobster but less violent than the grisly fates met by other gangsters “in the life”. Carmine “the Snake” Persico (1933-2019), a former Colombo Family boss, also escaped a grisly fate but remained in prison until his death on March 7, 2019. And with his passing was the end of another era in New York City history. In his prime, Persico was one of the City’s most notorious figures and implicated in scores of mafia-related crimes, including the murder of Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia (1902-1957), revisited by here by Frank DiMatteo is a Brooklyn native raised in the Park Slope neighborhood controlled by the Persicos, with whom his father was affiliated. This is the story of Carmine Persico and the terror his mob family unleashed on the City of New York.

Readers familiar with Park Slope might be surprised to learn how saturated the area was with mobsters in the past. Today, the area has changed significantly but remnants of the old days still exist there as they do in other parts of New York. The early part of the book focuses heavily on the Park Slope area where the budding gangsters are getting experience on the gritty streets of Brooklyn. The crimes are petty and routine, until Carmine and older brother Alphonse Persico (d. 1989) have a fateful encounter with a friend turned rival named Steve Bove. At this point in the book, the writing is on the wall that Carmine is destined for a life of crime. From this point on, the schemes become more daring and the violence deadlier. Yet, Persico always manages to slip out of tense situations, earning him the nickname of “the Snake”.

Though Matteo is writing about Persico’s life, a bonus is that the book is filled with information about mob events that shocked the city. Sadly, there are no “smoking guns” that have not been previously revealed but he does offer information that might explain why the events happened. In particular, the murder of Joseph “Joe” Colombo (1923-1978) remains controversial. The assailant Jerome Johnson, was shot and killed immediately by one of Colombo’s bodyguards but the woman he was with, masquerading as a reporter, has never been found along with a second man in their group. The hit has never been fully explained but has been blamed on Colombo’s rival at the time, Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo (1929-1972) and his brothers at odds with Colombo and the family’s prior boss, Giuseppe “Joe” Profaci (1897-1962). DiMatteo discusses the Colombo murder, and it is possible that Gallo was telling the truth when he stated he had nothing to do with the shooting. As the author shows, Colombo was respected by not well-liked, and the list of people who might have wanted to see him removed was long. The truth about the crime may be lost to history. But there is no question regarding the bad blood between the Gallo and Colombo factions, a simmering animosity that caused division within the family. The feud between them became so infamous that a part of it was reenacted on screen in The Godfather Part II. I won’t go into detail here, but if you have seen the movie and read this book, you will know which scene it is. Also provided is a satisfying amount of inside information about the production of the Godfather films and the filmmakers’ interactions with real-life gangsters including Persico. DiMatteo does mention other notable crimes in mafia lore such as the Air France Cargo robbery in 1967 and the Lufthansa Heist in 1978, both of which are depicted in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic ‘Goodfellas‘. The crimes are well-documented, so the author does not devote too much of the book to them, but they are discussed in relation to Persico’s story and the state of the mafia at the time.

Hollywood eventually moved on, but as we see in the book, the mob was getting stronger, and more blood was spilled on the streets of New York City before peace was established. But the difference is that the next war was within the family. With Colombo in a comatose state, the grabs for power kicked into high gear. And at Persico’s side was notorious hitman Gregory “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa (1928-1994). Scarpa’s reputation in mob history is cemented as someone not to cross. The section about Scarpa is not a biography but readers unfamiliar with him may want to read Peter Lance’s ‘Deal With The Devil: The FBI’s Secret Thirty-Year Relationship With A Mafia Killer‘ and the account by Scarpa’s daughter titled ‘The Mafia Hitman’s Daughter‘. Scarpa was a dark figure and the battles between the Persico faction and the soldiers loyal to acting boss Vittorio “Little Vic” Orena feel like a story out of the motion picture industry.

The story takes a significant turn at this point and is nothing short of wild. Combined with the inter-family wars brewing, Persico is also on the radar of the U.S. Government and was indicted multiple times as detailed by the author. Franklyn, it seemed that as soon as he was released, he was back inside yet again facing more charges. The unbelievable story as told by DiMatteo highlights the lengths to which federal prosecutors were willing to go in their mission to dismantle the Italian American mafia. The introduction of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as the “RICO Act”, signaled that the end was near for the mob. The legislation drafted by attorney G. Robert Blakely became an invincible tool in the Government’s arsenal that is still used to this day. As the convictions piled up, mobsters facing RICO charges knew the only options were to make a plea or face life in prison. Persico ended up with life in prison and had to live with the fact that his sons “Allie Boy” and Michael also followed their dad down the path of no return.

The sad fates of the major players compose the concluding section of the book and there are no happy conclusions. Death, incarceration, and financial ruin decimated the mobsters who found themselves targets of the Government. DiMatteo finished the story before Persico’s death resulting in the epilogue not containing mention of his passing. However, the sentence Persico received made it clear that he would die behind bars and that is exactly what happened. At the time of his death, the power, fame, and money he enjoyed on streets was gone but at his height, his life was one heck of a ride that even Hollywood could not have scripted. This is a fascinating look at the mob and the reality of life in it.

ASIN: B077WW4W1T

The Gotti Wars: Taking Down America’s Most Notorious Mobster – John Gleeson

GleesonAmerica has always loved gangster stories. Tales from the lives of larger-than-life characters both feared and respected have captivated film audiences and true crime readers. In my hometown of New York City, the Italian American mafia holds a firm place in the annals of the city’s crime history. Of all the mafia bosses, none was as flamboyant and media savvy as the late Gambino Family boss John J. Gotti (1940-2002). The media nicknamed him the “Teflon Don” due to the acquittals his lawyers obtained of a multitude of charges that could have put the mafia boss in prison for life. On March 13, 1987, Gotti and his co-defendants were acquitted of federal racketeering charges and the verdict left prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York licking their wounds. Gotti and his fellow mobsters were elated the Federal Government was far from finished. However, prosecutors knew that to convict Gotti, they needed irrefutable evidence of his crimes and witnesses willing to testify. As fate would have it, in time prosecutors would obtain all that they needed through a chain of events that began with wiretaps in the home of mobster Angelo Ruggiero, Sr. (1940-1989) known as “Quack Quack”. And leading the mission for the Government was lead prosecutor John Gleeson, also a former judge in the Eastern District. This is the story of how the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn secured a conviction against America’s most notorious mobster.

Gleeson provides an early recap regarding the murders of Gambino Family boss Paul Castellano (1915-1985) and his driver/underboss Thomas Bilotti (1940-1985) in front of Sparks Steak House on December 16, 1985. Castellano’s death, less than a year after former underboss Aniello Dellacroce (1914-1985) paved the way for Gotti to assume the throne and removed the threat of death to mobsters whose crimes were discussed on the wiretaps from Ruggiero’s home. However, the murder was far from the end and only part of the downward spiral that culminated with Gotti’s conviction. After a brief discussion regarding his early life and how he arrived in Brooklyn, Gleeson moves on to the 1987 trial and defense verdict. Following Gotti’s acquittal, morale in the prosecutor’s office plummeted and its relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) was strained to say the least. Further, prosecutors soon learned that the mafia had its influence everywhere and dismantling that vice grip would not be a simple effort. Gleeson had his work cut out for him but that did not deter the young prosecutor and soon enough, he would prove himself as an able litigator.

Readers do not need prior knowledge of Gotti’s life to enjoy the book, however, a minimal understanding of the Gambino Crime Family will make the book more intriguing. Gleeson does include a short biography of Gotti’s life before moving on to his criminal empire. The crux of the book is undoubtedly the investigation, arrest, and conviction in the wake of the 1987 not-guilty verdict. But the most interesting part is how the case came together. As stated before, wiretaps had already been placed in Ruggiero’s home, but a second bug placed in the apartment of widow Nettie Cirelli located above the Ravenite Social Club helped doom the mafia boss. The story of how that wiretap came into existence is broken down by Gleeson who expertly narrates the developing case. As a sub-story, the current investigation also provides clues as to how the 1987 case was lost. It may feel at times as if the information being uncovered is overwhelming. The story is a roller coaster ride full of dark criminals, shady lawyers, and collateral damage. The Cirelli wiretap had captured Gotti himself on tape, but prosecutors still wanted an air-tight case. They eventually received the biggest surprise of their life when a high-ranking mobster wanted to talk.

As the story progresses, the case against Gotti begins to take shape and eventually he and several co-defendants are arrested. After early shenanigans at the hands of defense counsel, several of whom were dismissed and/or convicted of other crimes, the government begins to lay out its damning case against the mobsters with prosecutors becoming increasingly confident of a conviction. The mountain of evidence had cast a dark cloud over Gotti, but when Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano reached out to prosecutors through his wife Debbie, the case took an earth-shattering turn. Gotti had no idea the avalanche was coming towards him. Gleeson explains in detail the step-by-step secretive movements to debrief Gravano and protect his cooperation which required Gleeson to conceal his actions from his superiors as well. Gravano was a wildcard and at the time, no one knew for certain how he would affect the pending case against Gotti. But as he divulged information on the organization’s structure and crimes, prosecutors knew they had Gotti right where they wanted him. The events were dramatized for the silver screen in the 1996 HBO production ‘Gottistarring Armand Assante as the mafia boss and the 2018 film of the same name starring John Travolta as the Teflon Don.

I appreciated how Gleeson explained the legal hurdles they faced during each trial. Each obstacle is explained in layman’s terms giving the book a reader-friendly narrative that does not require knowledge of civil or criminal litigation. Interestingly, the firm I work for had Gleeson as a presiding judge in the past and he was always seen as fair but stern. That code of conduct which became his trademark is on display here as he manages Gravano as a government witness and presents his case in front the jury who held Gotti’s fate in their hands. However, Gravano soon steals the show as he peels back the layers on crimes that mystified law enforcement. And what he reveals is nothing short of riveting and highlighted the cutthroat nature of life in the mafia. Honor, loyalty, and success are nothing more than smoke and mirrors in the mob with death lurking around every corner. The way in which people were murdered for reasons that were pure insanity discard any nothing of “family”. Life in the mob was far darker and less glamorous than Hollywood productions. The proof is contained here in this book that sets the record straight. Frankly, the mafia life is not one to be admired.

When Gotti was convicted, I remember the media frenzy and the shock that the “Teflon Don” was headed to jail. The mob boss had become a folk hero and a modern-day Robin Hood to those who loved him. For years, it seemed as if the mafia was untouchable. But that all changed on April 2, 1992, when the jury announced its verdict. It was clear to anyone paying attention that the once invincible mafia would soon be reduced to a lightweight crime faction far removed from the heights of its power. The government had proved without question that no one was above the law. If you like true crime, New York City history and have an interest in how the mafia met its demise, this is must-read.

ASIN:‎ B09JPK7XLW

The Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires – Selwyn Raab

Between 1930 and 1931, rival factions of the crews headed by Joe “the Boss” Masseria (1886-1931) and Salvatore Maranzo (1886-1931) became entagled in a bitter feud that is known today as the Castellammarese War. The bloodshed and senseless violence convinced the younger mafioso composed of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962), Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), Frank Costello (1891-1793) and Bugsy Siegel (1906-1947) among others, that the old guard would have be removed in order for business to flourish. Both bosses would be murdered in the conflict but Luciano had no interest in taking on the title of “Capo Di Tutti Capi” and instead created the Five Families with the boss of each to sit on a “Commission” that would mediate diasgrements, expand criminal plans and if necessary eliminate those who violated Mafia rules. Today they are known as the Gambino, Bonanno, Lucchese, Colombo and Genovese families. The organizations known as borgatas, established a stronghold of criminal empires over the Big Apple for several decades and its incredible story is chronicled hered by New York Times investigative journalist Selwyn Raab that is bound to leave readers spellbound.

Part of my childhood in Brooklyn was composed of news broadcasts reporting on the murders of Italian-American mobsters across the Five Boroughs. The grisly images of Paul Castellano (1915-1985) and his driver Thomas Bilotti (1940-1985) sprawled out on the pavement in front of Sparks Steakhouse on December 15, 1985, are still shocking nearly thirty-five years later. However, the pair were only two of hundreds of mobsters that met a grisly demise in a life of crime. The gritty details of the scores of gangland murdres are included here helping Raab drive hom the point of the murderous nature of Mafia members. Some readers will find the murdes disturbing but the stories are true and the images of fallen mafioso taken over the years confirm the violence that permeated through life in the mob.

The book is exhaustive researched and it shows in the staggering amount of information that will surely result in a significant number of notes. Readers highly familiar with Mafia history will know many of the facts in the book. Personally, I knew a good amount of the information provided but even learned some new things myself. As a native New Yorker, I have the benefit of remembering when stories of mob escapades were plastered across newspapers, radios and television screens, making them hard to forget. I vividly recall the multiple trials of John Gotti (1940-2002) whom the media began calling the “Teflon Don”. Readers who are learning about these events for the first time will be both shocked and appalled at what transpires over the the course of the story. But this is what did happen and all of the savagery and thirst for blood is included to drive home the point that there are no “good guys” in the mob. And inspite of the glamorization of their lives by Hollywood, being a mobster is akin to playing Russian roulette with nearly every cylinder loaded.

In the collection of films that I have at home, are the masterpieces The Godfather and The Godfather II . The films are simply breathaking in all aspects of production but not entirely accurate portrayals of everday day life in a crime family. They are great cinema but the actions of Joseph Colombo (1923-1928) while the film was in pre-production and the stark reality shown in the book, will undoubtedly prove to readers that the Mafia was far deadlier and that the films were largely smoke and mirrors. Real mobsters lived with the constant threat of death and most did not want their children in the life. In book, we witness an incident where Vincent “The Chin” Gigante (1928-2005) expressing disappointment that John Gotti’s son known was Junior had entered the life of crime..

I cannot stress enough just how much an influence the Mafia had over New York City. My father has told me stories from the times he worked in a printing shop that was infiltrated by mobsters. The parties he described were nothing short of jaw dropping. And what is even more surprising is that my father was not much older than 16 years of age at the time. He did say they paid well and he and my uncle asked no questions about anything. But what he remembers cleary is that money was not an issue and there was plenty to go around. Today he laughs about his experiences but as a 16 year-old teenager, I can only imagine how intimidating some of these figures must have been. They had power, money and frightening reputations but curiously, they remained carefully hidden from public light but during the 1950s the layers of secrecy were slowly peeled away revealing what many Americans were oblivious to.

For most of his time as director of the Federal Buurea of Investigation (“FBI”), J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) had publicy refuted any ideas of a “Mafia” operating in the United States. As we know now, he eventually changed his tune but for reasons even he could not control. Raab breaks down the Hoover aspect of the story and explains how the FBI eventually came to see the mob as an American menace. And as a primer to the discussion on Hoover, we revisit the formation of the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management led by Senator John L. McClellan (1896-1977). Commonly known as the McClellan Committee, the senator and his team that included future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), confronted the existence of a Mafia in America and at that point the genie was out of the bottle. However, many years would pass before the United States Government developed a tool to dismantle the Mafia but when it did, the fallout was catastrophic.

As the book moves towards the 1970s, the Mafia is moving full steam ahead and generating millions of dollars. The FBI does not have much of an arsenal to fight the growing threat and Hoover’s refusal to cooperated with Harry J. Anslinger (1892-1975) and his Bureau of Narcotics had left the agency in the dark. But the FBI proved to be a quick learner and the creation of a revolationary crime law changed the game completely. It is at this part of the book that the stage is being set and the United States Government declares that it is open season on La Costa Nostra. The pace of the story picks up when prosecutors become aware of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. This statute which is simply known as the RICO Act, proved to be the most damaging tool the government would use as it dismantled the Mafia piece by piece. Raab covers the investigations into the bosses and underlings, explaining in detail how each case developed over time. And like a domino effett, after the first major conviction by use of the RICO Act, prosecutors in both the Southern District of New York and Eastern District of New York hit the ground running. However, they would have their own feuds and Raab also discusses that backstory and how overzealous prosecutors bungled many things. Famed former federal prosecutors Rudolph Giuliani and Edward McDonald also make appearances in the story. But make no mistake, the RICO Act takes center stage and the as each mobsters turns into government witness, I found myself struggling to keep up with the number of defections. La Costa Nostra was coming apart at the seams.

The last chapter follows the downfall of the Chin, a mainstay since the formation of the Commission and one of the last old-school bosses to fall victim to federal proecutors. Following the conclusion, Raab provides a further discussion of each family and also provides a timeline of the bosses in power in each family over the years. I found it to be a great reference guide for names and times. The exhaustive amount of work that went into this book has resulted in one of the best books I have ever read about the Mafia. To be sure, there are others about the mob, some of which I have reviewed such as Colombo: The Unsolved Murder by Don Capria, Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi and Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci. I strongly recommend all three in addition to The Mafia Hitman’s Daughter by Linda Scarpa, For the Sins of My Father by Albert DeMeo and Deal with the Devil by Peter Lance. There are others of course, far too many to list here. However, the others are focused on either one person in particular or one family. Raab’s work here is by far the best widespread account of New York City’s Five Families. If there is one part of the book that I could take away from it is that with regards to the Lucchese Family, there is no discussion about Paul Vario’s (1914-1988) crew which included Henry Hill (1943-2012), James Burke (1931-1996) and Thomas DeSimone (1950-1979), all of whose lives were portrayed on screen in Goodfellas. However, I believe that if Raab had went into exensive detail about their exploits, he would have drifted off topic. Vario is mentioned in the book but only in passing. Further, other notorious figures such as Roy DeMeo (1940-1983) are mentioned in passing as well for obvious reasons. The main subjects here are the familes and the bosses. Discussions about each crew and their capos could easily be composed into a separate book. Raab makes sure to stay on course here and as a result, the story never drifts or stalls. I found that I could not put it down once I had started reading. For those who have a fondness for Mafia lore and true crime about the mob, this book is a must have.

ASIN: B003GY0KK2

On the Run – Sean Flynn, Gregg Hill and Gina Hill

hillI have always wondered what happened to the family of former Lucchese family assoaciate Henry Hill (1943-2012) following their entry into the Witness Protection Program.  Hill had been expelled from the program due to multiple arrests, including one in 1987 for narcotics trafficking.  In the years that followed, he became somewhat of a celebrity, appearing on shows and giving interviews about his life in the mafia. His ex-wife Karen, has remained out of the public light, living her days peacefully under the cloak of anonymity.  Their children Gregg and Gina have families of their own but do their best to also remain out the public light.  Their father’s life was portrayed on screen by Martin Scorcese, whose film Goodfellas, is considered by some to the best film about the Italian-American Mafia ever made. Ray Liotta gave a great performance as Hill and what I found while watching the movie, is that for all his faults, Hill still comes in the film as a likable person. I had heard that the real Henry Hill was not as nice as portrayed on screen and the real story was far worse than what we see on film.  Neither the film or Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, shed light on the relationship between Hill and his children so we are not given any hints as to what things were like at home.  There is one scene in Goodfellas where Henry and Karen have a blowup fight and as Henry storms out, the camera zooms in on one of their daughters to capture her reaction.  However, there is much that was not said.  That is where this book by Gregg and Gina Hill comes into play.  Written with Sean Flynn, the siblings tell their story of life with a mobster father and the realities of being in witness protection.

Hill’s arrest in 1980 by Nassau County narcotics officers officially marked the end of his  life in the Lucchese family.  As the reality of the charges settled in and the threat of murder by his former associates became strikingly clear, Hill made the decision to cooperate with federal prosecutors, forever changing the lives of his wife and children.  We would expect to hear that the family was close knit and fully prepared for their new life together. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  I feel compelled to warn readers that this book does not have a typical happy ending.  And what we learn about the Hill household both before and after Hill’s arrest in 1980 through the words of his children, is both eye-opening and mind-boggling. Karen Hill did not participate in the writing of this book but of course, she is in the story.   And whether she will one day write her own memoir remains to be seen but if she has not done so by now, I doubt that she ever will.

Those of us familiar with other books by former mobsters and their family members know that the life is nowhere near as glamorous as movies portray.  It is a dysfunctional and dangerous life that shatters lives.  The Hill children ae frank about the off the wall experiences they had as the children of a man who was “always looking to score”.  Hill’s addiction to drugs is portrayed accruately in the film but what his children describe here in the book puts things in a whole new light.  And at some points I shuddered as I read Gina’s words about the parties held at their home.  This part of the book was actually the most difficult to read and I felt an inner rage as what was a severe case of negligence.  Their parents were caught up in the life and not even the words of their grandmother whom Gina calls “Gram”, were enough to get Hill to change. And Gregg’s description of their last day in New York before disappearing is truly hearbreaking.  His his father had become increasingly bizarre and embarrassing and Hill’s inablity to live a normal life combined with his demons, created sharp divisions between parent and siblings.  Gregg sums up his frustrations with his father in this simple yet pointed statement:

“What I really wanted was a father. Or maybe I wanted my mother to leave him, to stop visiting him in prison so we could move on with our lives. It was his mistake, his fuckup, that created all these problems, that made her work so hard, that made us rely on food stamps to eat, that got the electricity shut off because there wasn’t enough money to pay the bill. I didn’t know how to say that then, but I knew having a normal father would have been better than any present.” – Gregg Hill

The book picks up speed and intensity as they enter the Witness  Protection Program under the care of the United States Government.  They soon find themselves in a cycle of settling into a new place and then being uprooted unexpectedly.  Omaha, Nebraska is the first stop, before moving on to Kentucky and eventually Redmond, Washington.  But no matter where they went, Henry could not let go of his gangster past.  Gregg and Gina have an endless supply of anecdotes about their father’s actions which put the family in danger on more than one occasion.   In fact, Hill became so out of the control, that the the U.S. Government was forced to make a decision that Gregg only learned about years later while reading the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) file on his father.  The family’s life in Washington State simply spirals out of control as Henry embarks on a path of destruction that finally resulted Gregg and Gina making life changing decisions.  Alcohol, drugs, gambling and infidelity surrounded enry and he was unwilling and maybe unable to face them once and for all.  Throughout all Karen remained loyal and supportive but even she too reached her breaking point, divorcing Hill in the late 1980s.  Following a very scary physical altercation with her father, Gina reflects on all that happens and remarks:

“I don’t know why I didn’t leave after that. I guess it was because I didn’t want to abandon my mom. I didn’t understand then the role she’d played in everything, how if it hadn’t been for her tolerating my father, always taking him back and believing his apologies, none of it ever would have happened. Maybe we never would have had to run from New York. Maybe we would have had a chance, a good chance, at the life I’d always wanted.” – Gina Hill 

If you liked the film Goodfellas and want to know more about the family of Henry Hill, you cannot go wrong here.  And although Uncle Jimmy (James Burke), Uncle Paulie, Tommy (Tommy DeSimone) and Stacks (Pernell “Stacks” Edwards) are mentioned in the book, it is only in a memory by one of the Hill children, Gregg more often than Gina.  I am sure the book was painful to write and dredged up dark memories of life with an alcoholic and abusive father who could not leg go of “the life’.  It is a sobering account of the real effects that a life of crime has on those we love.

ASIN: B001DAI79W

Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family – Nicholas Pileggi

20200413_171348Recently, I was browsing Netflix and saw that Martin Scorcese’s classic film Goodfellas had been added to their collection.  The film was released in 1990 and nearly thirty years later, it still captivates audiences while remaining part of American pop culture. Surprisingly, I have come viewers of the film who were unaware that the film based based on a true story and was adapted for the silver screen from this best-selling book by author Nicholas Pileggi. Aptly titled Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, the book chronicles the life of Lucchese Family associate Henry Hill (1943-2012). Several years ago I read the book to satsify my curiousity about the real life characters that are in the film. A few days ago while watching a short documentary about the real-life story, I realized that there were some things I could not quite recall and realized that I needed to take another look at the story behind the film.

The movie does follow the book quite closely, although some events were rewritten for the big screen.   As a kid, Hill adopted as a fatherly figure, the Mafia figure Paul vario (1914-1988). In the film, he is played by actor Paul Servino, and his last name is changed to Cicero. Further, the film mentions very little about Vario’s brothers Lenny,  Tommy and Salvatore, who were all involved both legal and illegal ventures.   The author explains their presence and dominance in my old neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn.  Hill quickly learns the tricks of the trade and Mafia code, and in the process becomes a full fledged gangster to the dismay of his parents Henry, Sr. and Carmela HIll.  But as  he explains in the book,  his father could never understand what he was apart of and how it made him feel as if he belonged. I could not help but wonder if Hill would have taken a different path if the relationship he had with his father had been different.

The differences between the book and movie diverge greatly when it comes to the characters in the story.   Some of the names were changed by filmmakers but the core group of  Karen Hill, Jimmy Burke (1931-1996) (last name changed to Conway in the film),  Thomas “Tommy” DeSimone (1950-1979) (last named change to DeVito in the film) and the crew at Robert’s lounge are all here, with each playing a different role in the story.   However, Hill is the main focus and his story is told spot on in the film. I personally think Liotta nailed the role perfectly with the only exception that the real-life Hill was a far heavier drinker and more reckless.

In the film, only the biggest schemes that took place are shown, most likely due to time constraints.  Hill goes into more detail here about how he learned to score and bring in money for the family through dozens of smaller schemes that range from credit car fraud to cigarette hijacking.  Many of the schemes are low-level but Hill made a name for himself with the Air France robbery in 1967 and later Lufthansa heist in 1978.  The latter placed the Lucchese family on a level of infamy from which is has never returned.  And on a side note,  the money and jewelry taken from the heist were never recovered.  Exactly what Burke did with money and jewelry remains a mystery.  And because all of the major players involved are now deceased, whatever information could have been gleaned is most likely lost for good.

There is one aspect of the book that might confuse some readers.  In the story, Henry and wife Karen have two daughters and the same is portrayed in the film. However in real life, the couple had a son Gregg and daughter Gina.  Hill later had a third child Justin with Kelly Alor, but that took place long after the film had been released and this book had been published.  The most reasonable explanation that I can think of is that at the time the movie was released, Hill’s family was still in the Federal Witness Protection Program and keeping their identities secret was of utmost concern as the Mafia still had an open contract on Hill’s life.

As I read through the book, I felt that Hill’s story was even more dysfunctional than we see in the film.   Between the stormy relationship with his wife, threat of death on the streets and large amounts of narcotics and alcohol, Hill was a walking timebomb.  When he is arrested for the last time, he makes a comment in the book that sums up the exhaustion that comes with a life that moves at the speed of light.  Karen Hill also narrates in the book, giving her side of the story about the life she shared with Hill. But unlike her former husband, she has stayed out of the public sight since entering the witness protection program and her current location is unknown publicly. In the film, she is played actress Lorraine Bracco. He words support Hill’s story and also should remove all doubt as to the surreal existence their life became. Those who have never lived “the life’ as they call it, will find their words had to understand and accept.  But this was their life in the mob and all that came with it.

I may watch Goodfellas again in the near future, to see what I may have missed in prior viewings.  And I will probably watch many more times in the future as my nostaglia for history related films kicks in.   And when I do, I will keep the real story in mind as I watch Henry and Karen’s life on screen.  Good read.

ISBN-10: 0671723227
ISBN-13: 978-0671723224

Friends of the Family : The Inside Story of the Mafia Cops Case – Tommy Dades and Michael Vecchione with David Fisher

cops2On October 18, 1986, Betty Hydell answered the doorbell and her home and was confronted by a police officer looking for her son James.  She politely told him that Jimmy not home and she did not know his exact whereabouts.   At the time, she had no idea that she would never see her son James again.  Several hours later,  he was picked up by two men in what appeared to be an unmarked police car. However, he never arrived at the local precinct and no record was made of any arrest.  It was if he simply vanished into thin air and to this day, his body has never been found.  It became one of the many cold cases on file in Brooklyn South.  His brother Frank, had is own encounters with the two and on one occasion Betty even confronted the officer looking for him as she drove her car past his unmarked vehicle.  Frank was later murdered April, 1998 after visiting a gentleman’s club in Staten Island, New York.

On November 6, 1990, Edward Lino, a capo in the Gambino Crime Family, was shot execution style as he sat behind the wheel of his car after being pulled over on the Belt Parkway in South Brooklyn.   Lino’s death became a cold case until it was learned that he was pulled over by two men in what appeared to be an unmarked police car.   A photo of Lino slumped over in his car shows the execution style murder in graphic detail and for some, brings backs memories of the days when mobsters were killing each other across New York City with reckless abandon. Hydell’s disappearance and Lino’s murder remained cold cases for many years and no one then could have imagined that they would both come back to haunt those involved and help reveal one of the biggest scandals in the history of the New York City Police Department.

But who were the two men in what appeared to be an unmarked police car?  Their identities nearly remained a secret for good if not for a book and a television appearance on Sally Jessy Raphael.  Former NYPD Detective Louis Eppolito had written about his life on the force and his family background, appropriately titled ‘Mafia Cop’.  He had starred in Hollywood films, including a bit part as “Fat Andy” in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (Warner Bros., 1990).   On that fateful day of his television appearance, Betty Hydell was one of millions of viewers watching the former detective promote his book.  I can only imagine the shock on her face as she watched the television screen listening to the former detective who once came looking for both of her sons. For NYPD Detective Tommy Dades, this was a major fire among the smoke that surrounded Eppolito and his former partner, Steven Caracappa, who died on April 8, 2017, while incarcerated in Butner, North Carolina.  Dades’ investigation, supported by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, opened up Pandora’s Box, revealing a cast of characters who conspired to commit crimes that many thought to be unthinkable.

Michael Vecchione is a senior figure in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, and at age 63, continues to serve the City of New York.  He and Dades go back a long way and when it became apparent that two cops had gone rogue, both knew that this case would be one they would never forget.  This is their recollection of the development of the case and how and why it was then taken over by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  The story at first resembles an intricately woven puzzle with each piece coming into the picture as the story moves forward.   And as each revelation comes to light, I was  as shocked and confused as Dades and Vecchione were then.  But the seduction of the case keeps them lured in and both are determined to do whatever they can to bring down the two corrupt cops who had since retired and moved to Las Vegas. But this was no ordinary cold case and it quickly became apparent that there was far more than meets the eye.

It should be noted that this is not the story of the lives of Eppolito and Caracappa.  While the authors do provide some background information on them, they never go into extensive detail but provide the information when necessary to the narrative at hand. This is the inside story of the case to bring them to prosecution, a case which almost completely fell apart after a District Court Judge reversed his own ruling. At times the story seems surreal as we meet mobsters Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso and Burt Kaplan, who died in July, 2009.  And like a Hollywood production, the story takes off as the mobsters reveal staggering numbers of robberies and murders.   But the cream of the crop were their tales about the cooperation and services of two NYPD Detectives.  To most people, the story seemed absurd and I remember reading about the trial in the newspapers.  Hardly anyone though that two cops could have been pulling off hits for a crime family and shaking down criminals.  But the truth is that we had seen it before with the corruption scandal of the 90s, Michael Dowd and through the testimony of Frank Serpico.  But what was horrifying is that Eppolito and Caracappa had been accused of taking the corruption to a higher and far more deadly level.  In short, this was a whole other ball game and both the Brooklyn DA and U.S. Attorney’s office knew this to be a cold hard fact.

Many of us would like to believe that the effort to bring the deadly duo to justice was the result of a concerted effort by law enforcement. But as the authors point out, this was far from the case and almost from day one, a web of suspicion developed as the FBI and U.S. Attorney began to see the payday in prosecuting the two cops.  At that point it was game on and the cat and mouse spectacle between the State and the Government bordered on the unbelievable. They pull no punches in this book and lay out the case from start to finish.   And while the government did get a RICO Act conviction that was later affirmed by an appeals court, the case nearly crumbled under its own weight.  But the justice system worked as it was designed giving prosecutors the victory they desired.  Today, Eppolito and Casso are still alive but will both spend their last days in prison.   We can only guess as to how many more crimes occurred that were never revealed.  Those are secrets that all of them will undoubtedly take to the grave.  But this book by Vecchione, Dades and Fishers, gives us an inside look into what might possibly be a black hole of crimes between mobsters and law enforcement that have escaped prosecution. In fact, the crimes that are revealed are so mind-boggling that I found myself not wanting to put the book down at times because I could not wait to see where the investigation would lead next.

In the end, the prosecutors and cops scored a victory,  but on personal levels, many sacrifices were made and these are also revealed in the book, showing the human and personal side of the major players.  Their lives are not glamorous and in fact, during the case, they would each go through their own personal dramas that might have pushed others over the edge. Incredibly, the remain dedicated to the case while trying to save marriages, professional relationships and even their sanity while the work on bringing two of their own to justice.  Today as they look back on the case, I am sure they will smile with satisfaction at having achieved justice for Betty Hydell and the families of the other victims of the killer combination of gangster and cops. Eppolito has maintained his innocence from day one, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.  As he sits behind bars, I can only assume that he has pondered his past and how it shaped the future he his now living.   He will take many secrets with him to the grave but he and Caracappa will forever be known as the mafia cops. This is a story of crime, dishonor and the prevail of justice in the City of New York.

ISBN-10: 073228533X
ISBN-13: 978-0732285333