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

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

The Last Godfather: The Rise and Fall of Joey Massino-Simon Crittle

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

The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano- Martin A. Gosch & Richard Hammer

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

The Mafia Hitman’s Daughter-Linda Scarpa with Linda Rosencranci

scarpaThis book is not by any means, an investigative report into Scarpa’s activities.  For the full story on his crimes, relationship with the FBI and its aftermath, the best book that comes to mind is Peter Lance’s ‘Deal With The Devil‘ which chronicles Scarpa’s working relationship with the bureau which spanned several decades.   This is his daughter Linda’s story infused with the recollections a few selected family members and a friend of the family.   The book serves as her journal of what life was like under the roof of the feared mobster whose name sent chills down the spine of many.  Similar to Albert DeMeo, Phil Leonetti and Anthony Colombo,  Linda’s story reveals the ugly and tragic truth of life in a mafia family.   And what we learn through Linda is that no one escapes that life unharmed in some sort of way whether it’s mentally, physically or emotionally.  Prison, murder and other acts of violence become routine occurrences, leaving the surviving family members to grieve for those lost in street wars and deadly encounters of other sorts.

Scarpa, like most other mobsters, did protect his family from the life he led up to a point.  And as we see with Linda, as she ages and learns more about the streets and the life her father has chosen, the stark reality of “the life” hits home awakening her to the bitter truth surrounding the nature of her father’s business.  She is frank with what she knew and what she felt and through her words, we are to see the level of dysfunction plaguing their social circle resulting in a deadly web of violence.  And as the internal struggle for power escalated into an all out war, she is forced to confront even more, the knowledge that her father has murdered men and will murder many more before his own demise from AIDS related complications in June, 1994.

A good portion of the book is narrated by Linda’s mother, “Big” Linda, Scarpa’s widow. And through her recollections, we learn about the true nature of the relationship between Scarpa and the FBI.  A valuable asset during the civil rights era, Scarpa never received pubic credit for his role in breaking those cases, but Linda sets the record straight as she traveled with him on more than one occasion.   And sadly, he was left out of the movie “Mississippi Burning” due to the highly sensitive nature of his working relationship with the bureau.  Former FBI Agent Lin DeVecchio was charged with being complicit in murders carried out by Scarpa, but was acquitted on all charges.  The nature of his relationship with Scarpa came under close scrutiny and in this book, that topic is also discussed freely by both mother and daughter.  It is left up to the reader to decide the level of DeVecchio’s complicity in Scarpa’s activities.

This story by his daughter is moving and filled with all of the elements that could make a modern-day gangster film.  Marriage, divorce, mistresses, money, power and violence all make an appearance throughout the book.  But the one thing that stands out is that nothing is glorified.  There is no glamour or gloating and she is pointedly clear that there are no winners.   What is left are her, her mother and other relatives trying to put their lives back together and even though more than 20 years have passed, their lives continue to be in need of repair.  For some, that healing may never come and others go on trying to live the best life that they can.  Her father is long gone as is her brother Joey, tragically murdered himself on the same Brooklyn streets his father once ran.  For Linda, life will never be the same again and through this, she shares her story to inform others of the risk taken by a life of crime and violence and reminds us that not only do our actions affects us, but they also can affect everyone around us even after we’re long gone from this earth.

ISBN-10: 0786038705
ISBN-13: 978-0786038701

Colombo: The Unsolved Murder-Don Capria and Anthony Colombo

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.

 

CHIN: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante-Larry McShane

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.

 

Murder Machine-Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci

murder machineDeMeo and his crew of psychopathic killers engaged in killing on a scale that rivaled the actions of the former crew of contract killers out of Brownsville, Murder, Inc., during the early half of the 1900s.  And although he’s been deceased since 1983, his name and reign of terror remain legendary in mafia history.  Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci bring us their account of DeMeo’s reign of terror in this excellent investigative report that gives the full story of the rise and fall of one of the most violent street crews in New York City history.   Carefully researched and aided by firsthand accounts of former associates and witnesses, the duo revisits the past and the early lives of Antonio “Nino” Gaggi, Roy DeMeo and Dominick Montiglio, the only surviving member from DeMeo’s crew.

While society tends to glorify stories about the mob through films and documentaries, this book is anything but that.  What we learn in these pages is that the characters we follow, operate in a completely different world.  The majority have limited education, are prone to acts of violence and often fall victim to the many vices that lie in wait on the gritty streets of the inner city.  Deceit, suspicions, greed and homicidal urges take center stage revealing a complex web that devours nearly all of its participants.  The crimes are grisly and the crew’s “disposal” of bodies borders on the macabre.  The book is not for the faint of heart but it is the definitive account of the murderous reign of one of Brooklyn’s most feared killers next to the grim reaper himself, Greg Scarpa.

Similar to Goodfellas, the stories are entertaining and thrilling, the fallout is tragic and in the end we are able to see the dark side of a life in crime and the many victims, both living and deceased that are created in the pattern of dysfunction filled with the worst traits a person can have.  The authors did a phenomenal job of covering the trials and convictions of the major players.  The private and mysterious Walter Mack also makes an appearance and his role and importance in the convictions is on full display.  And the heroic efforts of the many detectives that spent countless hours in their investigations are rightfully profiled.  Nearly all of the gangsters in the book are gone with almost every single one having met a violent end.  However, their names are still mentioned today and their stories continue to be told.  Their stories are a critical part of the history of New York and will remain with us until the end of time.  For those who enjoy true crime and are fascinated by the inner workings of the American mafia, this book is among the best.

ISBN-10: 0451403878
ISBN-13: 978-0451403872

 

 

Deal With The Devil: The FBI’s Secret Thirty-Year Relationship With A Mafia Killer-Peter Lance

scarpaOn June 4, 1994, Greg “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa died of AIDS related complications at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota.  The former mobster is known as one of the most feared killers in mafia history.   Joseph Valachi is thought to be the first made member of a La Costra Nostra family to shed light on the dark secrets held by the mafia.  Following Scarpa’s death, it came to light that he had been an informant for the FBI as early as 1953 preceding Valachi by ten years.  Unlike Valachi, he never testified and while an informant he continued to operate on the streets of New York with sometimes very deadly consequences.  From all accounts, he took part in or played a supporting role in dozens of murders, some of which remained unsolved.   His son, Greg Scarpa, Jr., is still incarcerated but has renounced his former life as a mobster and continues his quest to have his conviction reviewed and his jail time reduced.  I was previously familiar with the author Peter Lance, having read his book ‘A Thousand Years For Revenge’ as a sophomore at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.   This book on Scarpa came as a recommendation from Amazon and I jumped at the chance to read this engaging and shocking expose.  And while the cover of the book is highly enticing on its own, what’s contained is the pages of this book is nothing short of mind-boggling and will make you question everything you thought you knew about the trials and convictions of mobsters, most notably, John Gotti, Vic Orena, Sr.,  Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso.  And next to Scarpa, Casso figures prominently throughout the book and his relationship with the government is just as fascinating.

Lance does a masterful and mesmerizing job of investigation the government’s relationship with Scarpa and the intelligence he was providing to the FBI.   Receiving intelligence in return from the bureau, Scarpa was given a free pass to continue his criminal enterprise, avoid criminal prosecution and perfect his craft as a stone cold killer making the streets of Brooklyn run red with blood.  Lin DeVecchio, who was his handler, was charged and later acquitted of four homicides related to his relationship with Scarpa. And while he avoided prosecution, this book sheds new light on his actions at the time resulting in even more questions than answers.  DeVecchio didn’t take part in this book and never responded to Lance’s requests for interviews.   Whether his choice to avoid Lance is admission of guilt or a carefully thought out plan of defense is up to the reader to decide.  What is clear from this book is that for 30 years, Greg Scarpa, Sr., enjoyed a privilege seldom given to mafia killers.  Following his death, the fallout from his time as a confidential informant continued for several years.   However, not all of the fallout was negative.  In fact, Lance reveals several important details regarding the war on terror that have a direct relationship with the Grim Reaper himself through his son Greg Scarpa, Jr., and his incarceration with the infamous terrorists Ramzi Yousef and Terry Nichols.  For those who have studied the first World Trade Center bombing and the Federal Building  bombing in Oklahoma, this section of the book will be highly interesting.  When I started reading this I literally could not put it down.   For information on Greg Scarpa, the Colombo Crime Family wars and the government’s fight against and collusion with the mafia, this book is a must read.

ASIN: B009NG0SIG

 

For The Sins of My Father: A Mafia Killer, His Son, and the Legacy Of A Mob Life-Albert DeMeo

DeMeo On January 18, 1983, New York City Police Detectives were called to the scene of a grisly murder all too common in the streets battles of organized crime.  An abandoned Cadillac was found with a surprise in its trunk, the body of mobster Roy DeMeo, the homicidal enforcer for the Gambino crime family.  He had been brutally shot several times before his tragic demise.  During his career, it is believed that he participated in dozens of murders, running a modern-day version of Murder, Inc.  His death came as no surprise to some in law enforcement who know very well that many in that life eventually leave it in a body bag.  But for DeMeo’s family, his disappearance and death, shook the family to its core.

Albert DeMeo, his oldest son, stepped into his father’s shoes following the murder and his life changed in ways no one could have predicted.  To the public, DeMeo was a feared mobster whose reputation preceded him but to this family, he was a father and husband who never failed to show his love and teach them the ways of life so that they did not end up in the life that he chose.  Through Albert’s eyes, we see Ray as the stereotypical American father with a wife and three children who lives on a quiet street in an even nice neighborhood.  Albert is aware that his father has a job that is not the standard nine to five but is carefully shielded by his loving father.  After Ray’s death, Albert does not glorify the life or  reveal any smoking guns. But he does recall events involving figures such as Nino Gaggi, Dominick Montiglio, Anthony Senter and Joey Testa.   Senter and Testa became known as the Gemini Twins in mafia circles.

In the beginning, all seems as if there is one big happy family.   But DeMeo’s death changed everything and as Albert tells us, the world turned upside down and those once considered to be Dad’s friends, are seen in a different light as a veil of secrecy develops in the wake of the crime. And it is here that the story changes pace as the fallout begins.  Albert finds himself in the cross hairs as the Mafia wants to see what he knows about the organization and the police want to know what he has to tell about his father’s associates.  He becomes a pawn on a chessboard as two titans wage their war against each other.  The tug of war that ensued would have profound effects on DeMeo and his revelations about the effects on his personal life are eye-opening and tragic.

With this intimate account of his life as a Mafia child, DeMeo joins the group of authors who have published their memoirs that tell the story of life under the roof of an organized crime figure.  And what is clear from his words and theirs, is that life as a Mafia child is exciting as good times come and money flows in but at some point, things inevitably change, typically for the worse and the family is left to pick up the pieces.  In this story, DeMeo picks up the pieces as best as possible but not even he can overcome the adversity that stared the family in the face in the wake of the demise of one of the Mafia’s most prolific killers.

ASIN: B000FC1I4K
ISBN-10: 0767906896
ISBN-13: 978-0767906890