Film Spotlights Troubled MCA Probe

Instead of searching for alleged mob ties, the media should better
acknowledge former President Ronald Reagan's efforts to crush
the Mafia in America once and for all.

"EXCLUSIVE: Revealed, how the MAFIA helped Ronald Reagan get to the White House. Shocking documentary reveals Mob connections that catapulted him to the presidency - and how a probe was thwarted at "the highest levels."

Taken at face value, that certainly sounds like an intriguing premise for a film about the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989); 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975); and President of the Screen Actors Guild (1947-1952, 1959-1960).

The UK's MailOnline was privy to an exclusive screening of the film in question, Wages of Spin II: Bring Down The Wall, produced and directed by Philadelphia filmmaker Shawn Swords, whose previous work focused on the "dark" world of television icon Dick Clark. Wages of Spin II will soon have its world premier.



Accusations of Reagan's mob ties are decades-old and can be found in tired news stories and books brimming with unproven allegations. The film names two mobsters charged in the case, one of whom was tied to the Gambino family, then helmed by John Gotti, the other to the Bufalino family when the progenitor himself was imprisoned and underboss Edward Sciandra was serving as acting boss.

One recent work that brushes against well-known gossip about Reagan's Hollywood adventures, according to which included rape, is Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers by Gus Russo. Korshak historically has been considered to be among Reagan's alleged links to the mob. (Supermob is in fact mentioned in the MailOnline story, which otherwise focuses on the "shocking documentary" film that prompted the article.)

However, if Russo is to be believed, Korshak and a small cadre of Eastern European Jews controlled just about everything in America for much of the 20th century, from real estate, to the motion picture business, to major unions crisscrossing the nation. The secret "power brokers" were better hidden than the members of America's Cosa Nostra with whom they allegedly worked. This means tracing any ties involving anyone, even Reagan, is automatically dead ended. They can never be proven.

There is one potentially incriminating storyline buried beneath the myriad of rehashed unproven speculation and claims: specifically, the probe "thwarted at the highest levels."

Two federal prosecutors and an FBI agent, all now retired, who were deeply immersed in an investigation into the entertainment business and organized crime say some very disturbing things in this film.

To date, the only mob figure Ronald Reagan has been absolutely linked to is Joseph Bonanno, who had established a second home base in Arizona to which he'd eventually be exiled from New York in the 1960s. This episode doesn't appear to be mentioned in the film, probably for good reason.

The pending documentary makes allegations of mob-related hanky panky specifically involving MCA, Lew Wasserman and Ronald Reagan. (Honestly, I'd be surprised if there weren't some, but believing something and proving it are entirely separate concepts.)


"Highest Levels in Washington" Halted Probe to Protect Higher-UpsWhat the film offers that is new is certain speculation and claims that the "highest levels in Washington" during the Reagan administration ended an investigation into MCA in the mid-1980s when the company was in negotiations to sell out to Matsushita Electric Industrial for billions of dollars. From that deal Wasserman reportedly was to benefit to the tune of $500 million.

The film includes "candid interviews with, among others, two former top Justice Department prosecutors and an ex-FBI agent who were spearheading the ill-fated top-secret probe of MCA. These men lost or left their jobs when their investigation was suddenly ordered shut down at 'the highest levels in Washington, according to Swords and those he interviewed on camera over a two to three year period."

[Note: The Justice Department had investigated MCA for decades beginning in the 1940s regarding monopolistic practices and, yes, mob ties. The particular probe highlighted in the film took place in the 1980s. Also, MCA is the predecessor of NBCUniversal, which since March 2013 has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast. (Vivendi now owns MCA's former music assets, known as Universal Music Group (which absorbed PolyGram and EMI) and Universal Music Publishing Group.)]

The major motive for all this alleged skulduggery was to keep the probe out of the papers; it wasn't kept out of the papers, though. It was widely covered -- and even aired on an episode of "60 Minutes," which in turn sparked another flurry of newspaper articles about the 60 Minutes episode.

The sale still went through.

So, while parts sound intriguing, in the end, the story negates itself.

Also note that The New York Times didn't run this exclusive; the UK's Daily Mail did, and for those thinking that was the Philadelphia-based director's first venue of choice, please email me for information regarding a certain bridge recently put up for sale.

Here is the well-told storyline: Wasserman made Reagan wealthy and helped him up the ladder and into the White House. Reagan's relationship with Wasserman and his Hollywood career in general have evoked ongoing allegations of Reagan's involvement with the Mafia. This story has been told over and over and over and over again.

In the late-1980s the Justice Department launched an investigation into the giant Hollywood powerhouse MCA which, at the time was in the process of being acquired by the Japanese giant Matsushita. The actual purchase happened after Reagan was out of office.

Interestingly, the film includes two mobsters, one linked to the Gambino family, the other to the Bufalino group. Both these gangsters appear prominently in articles in the 1980s as a result of the very investigation that the film claims was aborted, going as far as comparing it to the Watergate episode.

There are many motives for ending a probe, though. Look at the clandestine operations by operatives Joe "Donnie Brasco" Pistone and Joaquin "Jack Falcone" Garcia. Both men wanted to continue their work in order to be inducted into the crime family they respectively had infiltrated. But the FBI stopped both investigations at a certain point, once it appeared too much momentum had been gained, potentially putting in danger the lives of the agents.

Rehashing Old News

Consider the following: "Reagan and his closest friends have portrayed and defended the president's business transactions with MCA, which date back to 1940, as being totally above suspicion. But there remain numerous unanswered questions and allegations about the relationship between Reagan and MCA. These doubts raise delicate issues that involve possible personal and political payoffs--as well as links to major Mafia figures, particularly Beverly Hills attorney Sidney Korshak, who has been described by federal investigators as the principal link between the legitimate business world and organized crime."

That's not from the film or MailOnline article; it's from Chapter One of Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob (Viking Press, 1986) by Dan E. Moldea.

The writer of an article for the New York Review of Books reviewed the book at its debut, writing: "Moldea opens with a drum roll of insinuations—“There remain numerous unanswered questions and allegations about the relationship between Reagan and MCA. ...” But, like the reporters and prosecutors who have walked this road before him, he can’t prove them."

The film highlights a federal investigation that took place just around the time that Dark Victory was published; thus many of the older allegations in the film were put to bed by the time of the investigation about which Wages of Spin makes certain claims.

Still, presumably for context, the film trots out the same old crap about MCA founder Jules Stein, an ophthalmologist from Chicago who started the company in 1924 by booking bands for nightclubs and saloons managed by Al Capone's South Side Outfit. When MCA moved to Los Angeles along with Stein and protege Wasserman, the Chicago mob suddenly became a power there via its control of the largest theatrical workers’ union.

Bottom line: MCA has been under federal investigation for decades but nothing has ever turned up, which is pretty much what can be said for old Ronnie.

A couple of years ago a treasure trove of files on Reagan was released under the Freedom of Information Act. Were any mob ties disclosed? Not really, but as the New York Times noted in 2011, "The documents show that Reagan was more involved than was previously known as a government informer during his Hollywood years, and that in return he secretly received personal and political help from J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, at taxpayer expense."


Reagan's Family Ties to Bonanno

The only revelations related to the mob have to do with Hoover helping Reagan out of a minor scandal involving Reagan's son who had befriended the son of Joseph Bonanno, who had a home in Arizona.

The Times noted that "in early 1965... [Reagan] embarked on his first political campaign, for governor of California. That January, the FBI was closing in on Joseph Bonanno, known as Joe Bananas, the head of one of New York City’s five Mafia families, who owned a house in Arizona.
Joe Bananas

"FBI agents in Phoenix made an unexpected discovery: According to records, “the son of Ronald Reagan was associating with the son of Joe Bonnano [sic].” That is, Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Reagan and Ms. Wyman, was consorting with Bonanno’s son, Joseph Jr. The teenagers had bonded over their shared love of fast cars and acting tough."

Ultimately Hoover had the info buried, though he did have Reagan appraised of his son's activities, for which Reagan was quite thankful (but not dumb enough to ever put it in writing. He covered his tracks, that's for sure).

As for the film, the most interesting and possible fertile areas for further investigation would center on what the federal prosecutors and FBI agent say.

Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force in LA
According to the MailOnline, Richard Stavin, a former veteran federal prosecutor who was assigned to the Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force in Los Angeles and was a member of the MCA-Mafia probe team, declared in the film for the first time: "It's my belief that MCA and its involvement with Mafia individuals, Mafia-dominated companies and our inability to pursue those was not happenstance. I believe it was an organized, orchestrated effort on the part of certain individuals within Washington, D.C. to keep a hands-off policy towards MCA.... I would like to think that the people in the highest levels of this government were not protective of MCA...But I'm not so sure about that."

(Believing whether certain individuals within Washington D.C. had an MCA policy is not the same as proving there was such a policy. It's called insinuation, speculation and without proof, means nothing. Keep that in mind.)

Here is a lengthy, edited excerpt taken from the MailOnline article:
Marvin Rudnick, another Strike Force prosecutor involved in the probe, "was shockingly fired by the Justice Department and considered 'rogue' because he wanted to continue to pursue the suspected MCA bad guys, even if the trail led to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." 
"But the investigation was mysteriously ordered closed. He was later reinstated." 
"For the Justice Department to kill the case was a little extraordinary," Rudnick declared on camera. "You wonder where it starts and where it ends. We did not get the investigation done because of interference from high up." 
Special Agent Thomas G. Gates, who was heading up the FBI end of the investigation, declared in the film: "The powers trumped what we were trying to to do. The players within MCA tried to stay as low-key as they could. I don't know how much influence Wasserman was able to put on President Reagan when he was in office because he [Wasserman] was always a backdoor participant, but we knew who he was associating with." 
Gates stated that information about the probe "was leaking out that shouldn't have" from the Justice Department in Washington. 
The film's director, Shawn Swords, asserted to MailOnline that the Mob or MCA actually had a mole in the Justice Department. "It was somebody who was feeding information to the Mob and MCA. The FBI knew it was one of twelve people, but they couldn't finger the guilty one." 
Along with Rudnick's firing, and Stavin's quitting after his part of the MCA probe was shut down, all of the sealed files and wiretap documents were said to have mysteriously disappeared from a supposedly secure federal government warehouse in Maryland. 
Who was pulling the strings behind all of these questionable events, the more than two-hour documentary essentially asks. 
Shawn Swords said about Reagan and MCA, "One hand washed the other. That relationship was so incestuous, and Ed Meese, who was the attorney general [appointed by President Reagan] who headed the Justice Department was really good friends with the board of directors at MCA.... "
The article later notes:
The Justice Department-FBI investigation into Mob ties within MCA started by chance when organized crime strike force prosecutor Marvin Rudnick came across intelligence that a man by the name of Salvatore Pisello was in the hierarchy of MCA.

A red flag instantly went up. How and why, Rudnick wondered, was a high-ranking soldier in the Gambino Mafia family of New York who was known to his associates as 'Sal The Banker', 'Sal the Swindler,' and 'Big Sal,' doing business in MCA's offices in Universal City. 
Pisello had just been sentenced to four years in prison on tax evasion charges, and Rudnick at a hearing in U.S. District Court in L.A. stated that evidence had been uncovered linking him to 'criminal activity in the record industry.'

Pisello had denied any involvement in organized crime, and declared, 'I'll go to prison for 20 years if anyone can prove that. I go to church every Sunday and the only organization I ever belonged to was the Holy Name Society.' Regarding his MCA connection, he declared, 'I'm in the record business for one year and I'm supposed to have destroyed the industry.'

But his connections and dealings became the target of several federal grand jury probes. MCA denied knowing anything about his alleged organized crime links, and claimed to have no idea how he got in the door. 
"... the probers found another alleged Mob connection at MCA -- Eugene Giaquinto, who was the head of MCA Home Video. Wiretaps had caught Giaquinto talking to 'La Cosa Nostra people in the East,' and the FBI agent Gates stated on camera that 'Wasserman was Giaquinto's mentor and promoted in the MCA's Home Entertainment Group which was very powerful.' 
According to Stavin, Giaquinto, who was an executive at MCA for some two decades, had ties to Mob boss John Gotti, and it was learned by the investigators that when a power struggle between two division heads at MCA had erupted it was allegedly resolved by Gotti...
In one bizarre spin-off to the whole complicated case, Gotti was asked to kill a planned movie in which the actor James Caan, who starred in "The Godfather" reportedly was to play the role of Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky.

Giaquinto, a target of the MCA-Mafia probe, reportedly was involved in trying to get the film blocked. Caan dropped the project.

In the book Supermob, Giaquinto was identified as the source who went into action to get the MCA-Mafia probe brought to an end. The author quoted the source as recalling Giaquinto going ballistic and declaring, 'I'm calling [Attorney general Ed] Meese and getting this thing stopped right now.' The book also quoted an attorney for several MCA executives who had been cooperating with Strike Force prosecutor Marvin Rudnick as saying, 'There was [talk] about how Ed Meese wanted certain actions taken because Nancy Reagan had a friend in high places in the entertainment industry.'

What these former prosecutors and FBI agent say sounds pretty damning. But again, remember: speculation is speculation; it doesn't win convictions, if it can even reach trial.

But then MailOnline negates the power of the argument when it writes: "If the probe became public, it would most likely have impacted Wall Street and MCA's publicly held stock, and possibly driven away the Japanese buyers and the lucrative purchase. Wasserman, according to the documentary, wasn't going to let that happen."

It did happen.The investigation was the focus of many news stories, running for years, on relationships between MCA and Salvatore Pisello and Eugene Giaquinto.

Gambino and Bufalino Mobsters Worked at MCA
Pisello's involvement with MCA resulted in a 1986 $240 million lawsuit against the company. Sugar Hill Records, a small New Jersey record company, filed suit against MCA Records, alleging it had conspired with Pisello to defraud it of millions of dollars in earnings and assets.
Of course John Gotti gets a mention here. Not
charged in the case, but he gets the mention.

Giaquinto is more interesting. He had actually worked for MCA for around 20 years and had made it to president of MCA Inc.'s home video division. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1988 that "Giaquinto purportedly siphoned funds from the company to Edward M. "the Conductor" Sciandra, a reputed high-ranking member of Pennsylvania's Bufalino crime family, through a New Jersey concern that held a contract to package MCA's videocassettes."

Then in 1989 an episode of "60 Minutes" even highlighted MCA's ties to the two mobsters. The show prompted an AP report: MCA Denies Ongoing Links to Organized Crime that, among other things, says the investigation actually focused on MCA's record and home video businesses.
Several MCA executives, most speaking not for attribution, said that Sunday's ''60 Minutes'' report on relationships between MCA and reputed mobsters was biased and overlooked facts that would depict MCA in a more favorable light. ''The story left the unfortunate impression of ongoing associations with criminal elements,'' said Ronald Olson, an attorney retained by MCA. ''But in fact, there is no basis for those implications.'' Olson said that MCA has been advised repeatedly by the government that it is not a target of a Department of Justice investigation. The ''60 Minutes'' report focused on transactions between MCA Records and Salvatore Pisello, an alleged member of New York's Gambino crime family, and MCA Home Video's dealings with Eugene Giaquinto, who an FBI affidavit identifies as a ''close associate'' of organized crime figures. The CBS news magazine report on MCA was seen in approximately 20 million homes, a network spokesman said Monday. MCA consistently has denied any wrongdoing, saying that it didn't know of Pisello's alleged organized crime ties and that the company discharged Giaquinto last December after the FBI's affidavits became public. The company severed its ties with Pisello after his 1985 conviction for tax evasion, a charge related to his transactions with MCA. MCA has been linked to a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice into the influence of organized crime in the entertainment business.

The sale was completed in 1990. In the end, even if the probe was halted, it made big headlines and even appeared on a top-rated news show. And the sale still went through. The Japanese apparently weren't squeamish. Maybe they know a few things from having their own homegrown Mafia: they call it the Yakuza.

And if there was any incriminating proof, chances are, as noted in the story above, it went up in flames and has disappeared forever.

So one has to wonder, what exactly is the film trying to do? There are a lot more immediate concerns on both the international and domestic fronts to bother taking another look into mostly stale, unproven allegations.

Right?

ALSO SEE: Supermob: The Secret Power Brokers Said to Have Ruled America, Including the Mafia

Comments

  1. Nice article ed never read anything about Ron involved with oc but u can see where theres smoke thetes fire

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Check out revise -- added info on the mob stuff

      Delete
  2. Sad part those who did know anything are dead or in there 90.s with memory loss.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I sent my email dont know much about setting these things up. Ur work and facts are always on point and if ur not sure u ask most people in ur profession dont do that keep up the fine work ed its apreciated

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, much appreciated...

      Delete
    2. I might be getting off point .
      Did this and the people who ran hollywood back then were they part of the Black list or is that something different altogether?

      Delete
    3. Something else. The stuff about Reagan informing to Hoover - who in return buried the Bonanno story had links to the blacklist. Reagan basically was throwing fellow actors to the wolves; the irony is, some went to Reagan for help because they knew they had histories that could be deemed as suspicious. Reagan promptly phoned J Edgar and informed on them. That's the blacklist.

      Delete
    4. Thanks for info Ed have a nice HOLIDAY.

      Delete
  4. What about his mobbed-up labor secty, Raymond Donovan?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honestly, don't know. I spent enough time on this story... I could . Look into it and get back to you... thanks...

      Delete
  5. Jimmy Weasel Fratianno had a lot to say about Korshak, Wasserman and MCA but I don't recall him ever dropping Reagan's name. I think he knew all the players.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll have to check; he was a West Coast guy.... thanks

      Delete
  6. Reagan involved with OC? I would say throughout his career, because of the era he may have been at arm's length; i.e., if he partied with Sinatra, which he occasionally did, he may have been bound to possibly rub shoulders with some gangsters; but I do recall that he was the union busting president and he did go after the Teamsters and broke their back, and they have never been the same. As a matter of fact, Rudolph Giuliani worked in his cabinet. Go figure. If he had mob ties, he forgot them when he became president, much like the Kennedys, classic politicians.
    Ed, I have been distinguishing myself from just Anonymous with Old-School Anonymous, but I'm so old school that I can't figure out how to put a nickname in the select profile. Maybe you can help. God Bless. Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your material. It's a lot safer than hanging out at after-hour clubs, social clubs, and the streets.
    Old-School Anonymous

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll set you up and email you the info. No worries....it's taken care of....

      Delete
    2. Ed, I've since changed my email. What was the email you gave me last time?
      Old School

      Delete

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