Category: <span>Organized Crime</span>

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

Organized Crime

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

Organized Crime

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

Organized Crime

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

Organized Crime

massinoOn July 10, 2013, the Hon. Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York ruled that former Bonnano Crime Family boss Joseph Massino was to be released from federal prison after serving only 12 years of a life sentence.  He will be monitored regularly for the remainder of his life. The ruling was based on Massino’s prior cooperation as a government witness.  To date, he remains the only mafia boss to have become a testifying witness for the U.S. Government. This is the story of his rise to fame and his downfall in a life of organized crime in the five boroughs of the City of New York.

Similar to other books on the legendary crime figures, the story begins in New York City in 1943 when Massino is born into an Italian-American family.  Raised in Maspeth, Queens, his life of crime began in his teen years paving the road for future endeavors.  However it is time as a member of the Bonnano Crime Family that would later be the focus of an unrelenting number of criminal investigations. Crittle does a masterful job of putting together the details of the infamous murders that occurred, including the murders of the three capos (Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, Dominick “Big Trin” Trincera and Philip Giaccone) as portrayed in the hit film ‘Donnie Brasco’, starring Al Pacino and Johnnie Depp.  As the tension in the book builds, we learn about several more murders including those of  Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, Cesare Bonventre and Gerlando Sciascia, whose murder earned Massino a possible sentence of death if convicted.  The reader may recall Napolitano as the mafia captain who was taken to task over the infiltration of the organization by F.B.I. agent Joseph Pistone.  He is portrayed in ‘Donnie Brasco’ by actor Michael Madsen. The film was fairly accurate but several liberties had been taken by the filmmakers, most notably the insinuation that Lefty is called to this death.  In reality,  Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero survived the Pistone episode and died of cancer on November 24, 1994.

Crittle appropriately named the book for Massino is considered to the be the last of the old-school mafia bosses.  However his decision to cooperate with the government was an act unfathomable in the minds of mafia figures and law enforcement personnel.  The author follows Massino’s trial and the sequence of events that lead to the aging gangster switching sides.  The story takes on a life of its own as we witness a level of devastation within the ranks of the mafia never before seen.  The last don’s fall from power and grace is yet another example of the precariousness of life in organized crime.  Many of the characters in the book are either deceased or incarcerated and today they represent an era long gone in American history.   There was a time when the Italian-American mafia controlled nearly all parts of New York and was feared and glorified throughout the country.  Massino’s conviction and defection pushed the organization past the point of no return.

Fans of true crime novels will readily welcome this addition to their libraries.  Crittle takes us back into time in an era where the streets of New York City were filled with mafia figures larger than life such as John Gotti, Paul Castellano, Carmine Galante and Aniello Dellacroce among others.  The younger generation of today are largely indifferent to the mafia.  The mafia rarely makes headlines but remains firmly implanted in the memories of mature readers who lived during the times explored in the book.  For some of them, Joey Massino truly is the last godfather.

ISBN-10: 0425209393
ISBN-13: 978-0425209394

Organized Crime

DutchmanOctober 23, 1935- Arthur Flegenheimer, better known as Dutch Schultz, is gunned down with two of his associates at the Palace Chop House in Newark, New Jersey. Schultz was mortally wounded as he stood in front of a urinal in the men’s restroom.  He survived for another day before dying on October 24, 1935 at the age of thirty-three.  Today, the Palace Chop House is gone, having been demolished to make way for additional parking spots.  Already a legend in the making, Schultz’s murder catapulted him to the top of the list of legendary crime figures during the era of prohibition.In the thirty-three years that he spent on earth, he gained fame, infamy and a legacy that remains in place to this day.  But who was the real Dutch Schultz and why was it necessary to have him murdered?

Paul Sann (1914-1986), a former editor for the New York Post,  examines the Dutchman’s life in this investigative report that is the definitive account of the death of Arthur Flegenheimer.  Schultz never wrote an autobiography or kept a personal journal like the majority of crime figures from his era.  His story is put together by court records, testimony of those who either knew Schultz or dealt with him [personally and various other sources of information.   And the image that we come to see is of a life nothing short of complex and tragic.  Known on the streets and in the media as the Beer Baron of the Bronx, he gained infamy as a suspect in the murder of several people, most notably Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, a former partner turned mortal enemy.  The two waged an intense turf battle that ended with Coll being shot at least fifteen times inside a phone booth in front of 312 West 23rd Street on February 8, 1932.  Although Coll was retired effective immediately, Schultz had another enemy, one that would bring his downfall and unknowingly play a part in his murder, former Governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey, then former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, gained notoriety for his efforts at fighting organized crime and the conviction of Charles “Lucky” Luciano in 1936.  The no-nonsense attorney became the Dutchman’s biggest obstacle and threatened to end his career permanently.  The events that unfolded as these two titans clashed is stuff of underworld lore and critical to understanding Schultz’s tragic end in Newark.

In the aftermath of his murder, law enforcement had no positive identification of his murderer and it would be many years before the identity of his killer became known as Sann shows us.  As we learn the true story of his murder, we also see the many enemies that surrounded Schultz with a vested interest in his elimination.  The Dutchman was close friends with Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and other top members of what was called “The Syndicate”.  And like many of those mobsters and other outlaws of the era such as John Dillinger and George “Babyface” Nelson, he found himself on J. Edgar Hoover’s most wanted list.  When he muscled in on the Harlem number rackets he earned a lifelong nemesis in Stephanie St. Clair, the top female and African-American crime boss in New York City at the time.  Never known to be afraid of violence, stories of the Dutchman’s short temper and eagerness to use a firearm helped to cement his legacy as one of the toughest Jewish gangsters in New York City history.

Today it’s hard to picture the lawlessness that once existed on the streets of New York City.  But at a time not more than 100 years ago, the streets of New York ran red with blood as gangsters traded lead cutting each other down and waged gun battles with cops. Organized crime ran hundreds of rackets and corruption was rampant throughout the city. Mobsters, police and elected officials worked in tandem as everyone received their share of the proceeds.  Crusaders such as Thomas E. Dewey, Fiorello La Guardia and Lewis J. Valentine, the former Police Commissioner, are a few of the colorful figures who joined in the effort to restore prestige to the City of New York and in the process bringing and end to the careers of those such as the Schultz.  If you’re a fan of the old stories of the prohibition era gangsters, follow Sann as he steps back in time into the underworld full of characters such as Al Capone, Frankie Yale, Johnny Torrio, Salvatore Maranzano and the late Schultz.  The book is an engaging account of a pivotal moment in the criminal underworld of New York City.

ISBN-10: 098843010X
ISBN-13: 978-0988430105

Organized Crime

16057485-_uy200_January 26, 1962, Naples, Italy – Salvatore Lucania, also known as Charlie Luciano and Lucky Luciano, dies of a massive heart attack at Naples Airport at the age of 64.  The aging mobster had suffered several recent heart attacks and had arrived at the airport to meet film producer Martin Gosch, who was to adapt a screenplay of the legendary mobster’s life.  Luciano had resided in Italy since February, 1946 when he left New York Harbor for the last time.  The terms of his parole, granted after lending his help to the allied effort in World War II, required that he leave the United States and never return. Tragically, it wasn’t until death that he was allowed to come home when he was interned at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, New York.

Luciano never wrote an autobiography and it is for this reason I’d like to point out that this is not his autobiography.  This book is based on notes from the conversations that Gosch (1911-1973) had with Luciano before his death during the years 1961-1962.  Gosch has long been deceased.  Richard Hammer is still alive and has commented on the criticism that the book received. He admits that the originals of the notes are no longer in existence and much of what Luciano said is hard to verify.  With that in mind, I think it is wise to remember that the book is a look at this life but not a word for word autobiography.   And since Luciano is also deceased, he is unable to verify its contents.  But I think on the whole, the book is a good look into the New York underworld of that era and the major players.  The major events in the book are true and have been well documented. The smaller day-to-day events, transactions are thoughts alleged to have come from Luciano himself are sometimes questionable.  Do I believe that all of the statements attributed to Luciano are true? No, but I do believe a large number are probably accurate.

It would have been great if Luciano could have either written this himself or given his approval but since neither is possible, this is the closest we have to any type of statement by Luciano about his life aside from the postcards, letters and other miscellaneous documents in his writing that are currently in existence. Mafia bosses have rarely written or verbally told their life story with the exception of Joseph Bonanno who broke from the norm publishing a book of his life in the mafia. But what we do know is that Luciano was in negotiations to have a movie based on his life produced.  His untimely death canceled any possible deal and the project has been lost to history.

His role in the reorganization of the American mafia can never be understated but it can be overstated.  To many he is the man who built the modern-day mafia but to others, just a smaller part of a big effort to change the  direction of organized crime in the United States.  Here is and his story is left up to the reader to cast judgment.  Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Thomas Dewey and all of the big names from the era make an appearance in the book resulting in an engaging tale that pulls the reader in from start to finish.  But it is important to remember that sometimes the line between fiction and non-fiction can become slightly blurred. Nonetheless, it’s a good look at the legendary figure.

ISBN-10: 1936274574
ISBN-13: 978-1936274574

Biographies Organized Crime

WestiesIn New York City history, the Italian-American mafia has always captured the public spotlight in regards to organized crime headlines.  The five families, filled with larger than life characters, captivated the American public becoming glorified in films and music.  But at one time in New York City, in a small neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen, the Irish mafia controlled the streets. T.J. English takes us back in time to when Hell’s Kitchen was one of the most dangerous parts of New York City.  Today the area has changed substantially.   The faces have changed and the area once known to harden criminals, has seen a surge in gay and lesbian residents.  The bars are still there but the area has become a focal point for New York City nightlife.  The violence is long gone but some of the remnants from the past will always remain.

As we follow English back in time, we are re-introduced to the many notorious figures of the era and bear witness to the development of the racketeering,  loansharking and homicides that became staples of the neighborhood.  All of the major players are here, including Paddy Dugan, Mickey Spillane and even the Italian gangsters from Brooklyn such as Roy DeMeo, Paul Castellano and Nino Gaggi,   Drugs, money, sex and violence are all here making the novel feel like something Martin Scorsese would have brought to the silver screen.    Similar to ‘The Departed’ and ‘Goodfellas’, the fast life and hard fall for Featherstone, Coonan and company reminds the reader of the stark reality of life on the street where friends become enemies and enemies become acquaintances. The dark and seedy underworld rises to the surface, brought to life by English showing us the gritty scene that once existed in the island of Manhattan.

Similar to the story of Henry Hill, Sammy Gravano and Phil Leonetti, Featherstone also becomes a testifying witness and it is towards the end of the book, that the Vietnam Veteran and former street hustler makes a claim for redemption, helping the authorities to close homicide cases and break the Westies gang permanently. Now a member of the Witness Protection Program, Featherstone cooperated on the book and his participation gives the book an added touch of authenticity.   And as we make our way to the epilogue, we learn the fate of the major figures throughout the book.

Featherstone and Coonan will never again walk the streets of Hell’s Kitchen together as they once did.   Coonan will spend the rest of his life in prison and Featherstone has no desire to return to his old haunts.  Their lives are no longer in NYC, but their past lives remain a permanent part of New York City history and time where there was much more to the name Hell’s Kitchen that most wanted to know.

ISBN-10: 0312362846
ISBN-13: 978-0312362843

Organized Crime

s-l300June 28, 1971-Joseph Colombo, the charismatic leader of the Italian American Civil Rights League and head of the Colombo crime family is shot and gravely wounded during a Unity Day rally in Columbus Circle.  He lingers in a coma for 8 more years before dying on May 22, 1978 in Blooming Grove, New York.  His assassin, an African-American man from New Brunswick, New Jersey  named Jerome Johnson, was shot and mortally wounded himself. The official story is that Johnson was a crazed gunman possibly acting on the orders of Colombo’s rival, Crazy Joey Gallo.  Gallo, a Colombo associate, is known for his hair-trigger temper and blunt manner of speech.  Gallo denied being behind the murder and maintained that position up until the time of his own murder on April 7, 1972 as he dined at Umberto’s Clam House in Manhattan. The motive behind Colombo’s murder was never discovered and his murder is essentially a closed case.  But upon deeper inspection, we come to see that when examined thoroughly, the facts surrounding the case cast serious doubt on Johnson’s means and motives.   Colombo’s son Anthony and Don Capria have reexamined the late Colombo, Sr.’s life and death in this gripping investigative report that is bound to leave the reader with more questions than answers.

More than 45 years have passed since Colombo’s murder, but his life remains one of the most intriguing of the 20th century.  On the streets of New York, he was known to law enforcement as a high-ranking member of the American Mafia.  But at home, he was simply known as dad.  The father of several children, Colombo is examined here as a husband and father as Anthony travels back in time recalling all of the fondest memories from the time spent with his late father.  The Colombo we see here is far removed from the mafia boss described in police reports and FBI files.  Fiercely protective of his family, reputation and heritage, he took the unprecedented step of picketing the FBI offices after being subjected to surveillance and harassment by the bureau.  And in his effort to redeem the image of Italian-Americans, he created the organization that was unrivaled in its size and popularity in New York, the Italian-American Civil Rights League.   Colombo continues to stand out as the most unusual mafia chieftain of all time.  And to this day, his act of picketing the FBI offices has yet to be matched by any other mobster.  But his popularity and actions did not go unnoticed and came with a steep price.  And as his son Anthony shows us, the FBI and local police never let up on their crusade to put Colombo behind bars for good.  And his relationships with other mobsters were either positive or negative depending on the situation.

The strongest part of the book is the relationship between father and son.  As I read this book I continued to recall the story of Albert DeMeo as he talks about his father Roy in ‘For The Sins of My Father‘.  Spending the majority of their time in upstate Blooming Grove, the relationship between the two was strong, sometimes tense but ultimately full of love and unconditional loyalty.  One might expect the book to contain confessions from Anthony about his father’s criminal escapades. But here, like in DeMeo’s book, that isn’t the case. Insulation of the family from the streets was routine practice by many mobsters and Colombo was no different.  Those looking for a smoking gun about Colombo’s street activities won’t find it here.  This book is purely about Colombo as the family man, center of law enforcement investigations, civil rights activist and tragically, murder victim.   Following his death, the Colombo family eventually became embroiled in an internal civil war that left dozens of mobsters dead as Vic Orena and Greg “The Grim  Reaper” Scarpa lead internal rival factions that caused the streets of Brooklyn to run red with blood.  Today, the family’s name is hardly mentioned at all and Colombo remains a figure of a distant and forgotten past.  But at one time in New York City’s history,  his name was the talk of the town.

 

Organized Crime

chin2On December 19, 2005, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, died at the age of 77 at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.  The late mafia boss gained notoriety on the streets of Little Italy as he walked about in a bathrobe speaking incoherently to himself and those around him.  He became known in the media at the “Oddfather”.  His death marks the end of an era as the late Gigante is considered to be among the last of the old-fashioned Mafioso who controlled the streets of New York City.  The former boxer, trigger man and boss remains a legend in organized crime history.

But just who was the true Vincent Gigante? And what really went on behind the bathrobe and mystifying ramblings?  Larry McShane, a writer for the NY Daily News, presents to us an inside look into the life of one of the most intriguing mob bosses to have ever lived.  Based on interviews with those who knew him, including his younger brother Father Louis Gigante, court records, investigation records and testimonials of mafia members,  McShane has composed a definitive account of Gigante’s life from his beginnings on the lower East Side all the way to his final confession that his “demented” state was an act to throw off authorities.  And what has resulted, is an incredible life story of a complex character committed to the life of La Costra Nostra.

Before reading this book, I had little knowledge of Gigante’s vast family, including several siblings and the two women in his life with whom he created two separate families while at the same time, ruling a Mafia family with an iron fist.  The careful don evaded conviction through several decades due to impeccable street smarts and a cloak of privacy that confused and threw off investigators for years before the final curtain call.  Once a confederate of such names as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Vito Genovese, the late Gigante was a walking history book having witnessed some of the most important events to have taken place within the American Mafia.  And even among some of the most hardened members, his name evoked fear and images of murder and other acts of vengeance.

Today, the Genovese crime family is far different from under the leadership of the Chin.  The big names are either deceased or in prison and the family no longer has the power it once did.  The RICO act combined with the testimony of cooperating witnesses served as the final nail in the family’s coffin.  But while the family has lost a large portion of its aura, the Gigante name lives on as does the Chin’s legacy.  Some of us will feel that he was nothing more than a street thug who came up with a ridiculous gimmick while others will look back on their time with him and remember a loving relative and good friend.    His past deeds and life aside, he remains a crucial figure in New York City and American history.  For those who are interested in the Italian-American Mafia and the life of one of its most colorful bosses, this book is a must read.

 

Organized Crime