Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cosa Nostra Has Decorated War Vets Too

Sherman tanks refueling at Normandy, 1944.

Yes, mobsters are criminals, but some of them are heroes, too, or at least damn good Americans.

Before you shake your head in befuddlement, understand we refer here to gangsters who fought in American wars and were decorated for their valiant efforts.

John "Johnny Green" Faraci, a Bonanno crime family member, was described as "a large-scale loanshark with numerous loanshark victims," who, by one law enforcement estimate, had half a million dollars in loans out on the street. He died in January 2011 at age 88.

Ten years before his death, the aging Bonanno soldier and three underlings faced federal loansharking charges after a would-be victim went to the FBI and agreed to wear a wire. "I got a nice baseball bat in my trunk; bust your legs up," one of Faraci's crew members said to the cooperator, according to the arrest complaint. In another taped conversation, the same guy bragged about his abilities: "Yesterday I got a hold of a young guy in my neighborhood. I gave him such a f-----g beating. . . . I've been doing this all my life."

The same Faraci landed at Normandy in 1944 and earned himself a Bronze Star for having fought Hitler's Wehrmacht across Europe.

George Barone, identified as one of the Mafia’s most feared hit men, also died in January 2011, at age 86.

Barone is suspected of personally murdering more than 20 people back in the days when the mob truly ran New York's waterfront.

He eventually flipped, supposedly when his own crime family put a price on his head. Barone then put numerous criminal cohorts behind bars.

Mobsters in the Genovese family rarely flip -- one report called Barone only the third member of the family to break the mob’s code of silence.

According to Gangland News (which seems to have gotten the year of Barone's death as well as his age incorrect -- errors by Jerry Capeci are as rare as Genovese soldiers flipping) Barone had volunteered at 18 to serve in the Navy. 

Barone fought in battles on Guam, Saipan, Leyte, Luzon, and Iwo Jima. A radio man, his daily job was to guide landing crafts onto the beach. One of Barone’s many lifelong ailments from WWII was a respiratory illness. It started, he told friends, after he'd buried his face into Iwo Jima beach's black sand in an effort to evade the deadly ongoing Japanese shelling. "I breathed in so much of that damn sand, I’m still spitting it out,"' he'd tell friends.

He participated in the five "bloodiest invasions in the Pacific theater," Capeci wrote.

Barone returned home to become a founder of a street gang, the Jets -- yes, they were later immortalized in the musical West Side Story. Still, Barone was more about killing than choreography....

Going farther back to The Great War -- that's World War I -- we have the case of Edward “Monk” Eastman. A Brooklyn native who once was a pet store owner, he ran "one of the fiercest and most powerful gangs in New York City. According to legend, he would carve a notch in his beloved club each time he bashed in the head of a rival thug."

But by 1917 Eastman was addicted to opium and nearing a dead end. So at age 43, he sought a new start, and enlisted to serve in World War I after serving several jail sentences.

"When the examining physicians noticed the famously tough-looking Eastman’s poorly healed bullet wounds, scarred knuckles and marks from knife and razor cuts, he asked which battles the new volunteer had seen. “Oh, a lot of little wars around New York,” Eastman replied gruffly. He went on to serve honorably in France, returning home a hero—and resuming his life of crime shortly thereafter."

"Matty the Horse" was a decorated vet.
Some call this a parado

Another noted war vet/gangster was Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, a Genovese capo who also served in the South Pacific, where he got a Bronze Star for making a deliberate offensive charge directly into a Japanese machine gun nest. His New York Times obit (he died at 93 on August 15, 2012) barely mentions this. (Interestingly, In the 1970s, Ianniello disobeyed strict Mafia protocol when he assisted the authorities in the search for 6-year-old Etan Patz who disappeared on a Manhattan street. Ianniello was described by the Washington Post as: "a businessman in a world where brutality often spoke loudest, operating like a CEO rather than a street thug.")

Venero Frank "Benny Eggs" Mangano, also of the Genovese crime family, served as a bomber tail gunner with the United States Army Air Corps in Europe and was decorated with a Distinguished Flying Cross (for "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight") and an Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters and three Battle Stars.

Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi, a Whitey Bulger associate and quite lethal mob killer, actually got his nickname not from his work on the street but rather in reference to his stint as a sharpshooter in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He enlisted at age 17 and served two tours of duty with the 187th Infantry Regiment and won both the Silver and Bronze Stars.

Carlo Mastrototaro died in 2009 at age 89, his obit noted, adding that he'd been frequently identified as both a "kingpin of organized crime in the Worcester area for much of the latter half of the past century and a highly decorated World War II combat veteran." A Genovese capo and a lieutenant of powerful New England mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarcha, his actions won him the Silver Star and a Purple Heart for being wounded during the Battle of Saipan He was mustered out of the Marines in 1944. His unit was virtually annihilated at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Benny Eggs also heroically fought for his country.

We thought we'd give a couple of honorable mentions here.

Meyer Lansky was reputed to have disrupted rallies by Nazi sympathizers in New York City (and later shipped arms to pro-Zionists fighting for an Israeli state, the creation of which was prompted by the Nazis' genocidal efforts). Lansky also supposedly helped the CIA-precursor known as the Office of Naval Intelligence‘s Operation Underworld to recruit criminals to watch for German infiltrators and submarine-borne saboteurs.

Lucky Luciano also allegedly helped the U.S. military in the invasion of Italy, as did the Sicilian Mafia, which reportedly patrolled the island's roads for snipers, provided guides over mountainous terrain and arranged safe passage for advancing troops (courtesy of Luciano).

(In return the U.S. army inadvertently helped revitalize the Sicilian Cosa Nostra by putting its erstwhile allies in political power positions all over Sicily.)

As for Operation Underworld, it involved the cooperation of organized crime figures who, from 1942 to 1945, served to counter Nazi spies and saboteurs mainly by protecting the U.S.'s northeastern ports, as well as by helping avoid wartime labor union strikes and limit theft by black-marketeers of vital war supplies and equipment.

However, after the war, Axis records showed no sabotage operations had existed. As well no evidence has ever been produced to indicate there had ever been underworld sabotage. The Normandie sinking was almost certainly an accident. (Albert Anastasia boasted that the mob had sank the ship and had been exploiting U.S. fears of Nazi sabotage to get Luciano out of prison. He was lying).

Fears about possible sabotage or disruption of the waterfront were indeed running high though. Commander Charles R. Haffenden of the ONI in New York set up a special security unit. He sought mobster Joseph Lanza, who ran the Fulton Fish Market, for help.

"Socks" Lanza suggested he approach Charles Luciano who was in Dannemora prison (since renamed Clinton, it is the prison from which the two inmates escaped earlier this month, on June 6, 2015) at the time serving a 30- to 50-year sentence for running a prostitution ring. (Many believe Luciano, though a murderous racketeer, was nonetheless railroaded by Thomas Dewey in this case. Salvatore Lucania was never the overlord of New York's whore houses but apparently lots of the city's hoodlums found it easier to use Luciano's name when they were collecting their money from the prostitutes.)

For his cooperation Luciano was moved to a more convenient and comfortable prison in May 1942.

Luciano’s influence in stopping sabotage remains unclear, but authorities have noted that waterfront strikes stopped after Luciano’s attorney, Moses Polakoff, contacted underworld figures who held influence over the longshoremen unions.

In 1946 Luciano's sentence was commuted. After serving 9½ years, he was deported to his native Italy.

If you're interested in this topic, two books we suggest you read are Rodney Campbell's 1977 The Luciano Project: The Secret Wartime Collaboration of the Mafia and the U.S. Navy and Tim Newark's more recent, 2007, Mafia Allies. The True Story of America’s Secret Alliance with the Mob in World War II.
We wanted to offer in closing what one early commenter to this story wrote, some four years ago. We don't necessarily agree--do you?

"Mobsters are only upward mobile Americans who took the route available. 
"The establishment, the Yale educated upper crust members of the intelligence community guard the portals of power jealously. If not invited in, or worse excluded by birth, religion or ethnicity, then one must force his way in. Exactly what members of the Judaeo-Italian underworld did. 
"Largely by providing malum prohibitum [a Latin phrase used in law to refer to conduct that constitutes an unlawful act only by virtue of statute as opposed to conduct evil in and of itself] services denied the populace by the upper crust, but desired by them none the less. 
"On balance is America a better place for the availability of the services provided by the rackets, which are to a large measure victimless crimes? Acts by people claiming the right to do what they want with their time, money and bodies."

Excerpt from Novel About Meyer Lansky, Greatest Jewish Gangster

Excerpted from I Pity the Poor Immigrant: A Novel  by Zachary Lazar (Fiction; April 8, 2014). The Bomb magazine published this first proof.

Lazar is the author of three books, most recently the novel Sway, about the Rolling Stones' early days, and the memoir Evening’s Empire: The Story of My Father’s Murder, which may be of interest to regular readers. 

When he was just six years old, Zachary Lazar's father, Edward, was shot dead by hit men in a Phoenix, Arizona parking garage. The year was 1975, a time when, according to the Arizona Republic, "land-fraud artists roamed the state in sharp suits, gouging money from buyers and investors." How did his father fit into this world and how could his son ever truly understand the man, his time and place, and his motivations? In Evening's Empire, Zachary Lazar brilliantly attempts to reconstruct the sequence of events that led to his father's murder.

Lazar's writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and other places. He teaches creative writing at Tulane University.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Philly Mafia Prince Sought Bulger's Demise

Phil Leonetti is one of our favorite former gangsters. 

His inherent talent for being unintentionally hilarious we deem as legendary. And despite all the years he's spent out of his former life, he still doesn't seem to appreciate the magnitude of some crimes. Like murder.

Phil Leonetti

Did you see the interview where the newscaster asked him if he, Phil, thought it odd that he had married the widow of a man he himself had murdered?

Monday, June 22, 2015

West Side's "Deadly" Interest in Joe Massino

Crime families opportunistically form and break alliances.

Shortly before the third shooting war began, Colombo leaders including Carmine Sessa met at the Persico family estate in Saugerties, New York, to plot the murder of Vittorio "Little Vic" Orena.

Vincent The Chin Gigante, powerful boss of the Genovese crime family, wanted Bonanno boss Joe Massino dead, period.
Chin Gigante
When the other crime families learned of the pending war, leaders of the Luchese, Genovese and Gambino families tried to resolve the problem before the shooting began by meeting with Colombo leaders. (Notice one family is missing?)

Alfonso "Little Al" D'Arco, former acting boss of the Luchese family, discussed this series of meetings meant to stop the third Colombo war at Orena's trial. The talks only postponed the shooting, which formally broke out in late 1991.

D'Arco said the four-family meetings had been held in apartments and hotel rooms around New York City.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Judge Throws Book at Gangster Who "Chose Omerta"

Joseph Mignacca fired a Glock at a man with an AK47 in an attempt to
murder Raynald Desjardins, now in prison awaiting trial.

The man who saved the life of Vito Rizzuto's mortal enemy was sentenced to seven years in prison for exchanging gunfire with at least one man firing an AK47 (presumably a Mafia shooter sent to kill Raynald Desjardins, then a major figure in the Montreal underworld).

Quebec Court Judge Gilles Garneau added two years to the prosecution's recommended sentence.

Jonathan Mignacca, 30, a St-LĂ©onard resident, was found guilty in January for discharging a firearm while with Desjardins, who reportedly split with the Rizzuto organization after serving a lengthy prison sentence. Allegedly Desjardins (whose nicknames include "Old" and "China," both rather baffling) buffered Rizzuto from becoming ensnared in the drug trafficking case.

Perspectives on AMC's "Making of the Mob"

AMC's ongoing miniseries...

This was written by a guest columnist for Cosa Nostra News....

The AMC miniseries "Making of the Mob: New York" will be be shown over the next two months, highlighting the history of the American Mob and making it a topic of discussion around many water coolers.

Movies like Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco, mixed with The Sopranos, and other guilty pleasures such as Vh1’s Mob Wives and previously high-rated exploits like Growing Up Gotti have always generated huge interest referencing the affects that the Mafia has had on pop culture.

Making of the Mob: New York is an eight-part docudrama chronicling the rise of successors like Carlo Gambino , John Gotti, “Lucky” Luciano, Frank Costello and many more who have inspired countless hit films and TV stories- oftentimes glamorizing the reality behind the myths and every generation’s fascination with the major head bosses of the most infamous crime families.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Meyer Lanksy: Gangland Figure Tough Until the Bitter End

Lansky was one tough bastard to the very end, as one Miami cop learned.

Meyer Lansky spent the final years of his life in sun-baked Miami Beach, Florida, which was not his first choice.

He had fought like hell to stay in Israel, believing it to be the one place where he could live out the rest of his life and die in peace. But following two years of legal battles, he was tossed out. 

How sincere was Lansky about wanting to live in Israel?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rapper Sings of Mafia's So-Called "Good Life"

Sicilian hip hop singer Marracash has a song called Ero Vivo.

It includes wiretaps and promises made to new recruits. As the song progresses, Marra realizes the smoke & mirrors that have been sold.

As for the name, Eros was a Greek god of love.

Appropriately Named "Op Rock Bottom" Snags Eight

Vincenzo Reda of Franklin Square.

Authorities busted an online enterprise that used an offshore website for sports betting, the Rockland County District Attorney said this past Thursday.

Eight were arrested on charges of gambling and loansharking in a probe named "Operation Rock Bottom."

The arrests follow a search-and-seizure operation in April, when law enforcement hit a dozen properties, seizing gambling records and more than $750,000 in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tony Lodi Is Out; Spilled the Beans on Fiumara Crew

Tino Fiumara was the major topic of discussion at
sealed courtroom proceeding.

Anthony "Tony Lodi" Cardinalle, indicted in early 2013, was once upon a time one of 30-plus defendants nailed following a multi-year FBI probe into the mob's control of the private sanitation industry in New York and New Jersey.

Cardinalle, a longtime Genovese associate, cooperated with the FBI and Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office. He plead guilty to two counts, racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit extortion, and copped to his role in a plot to shakedown a cooperating witness who owned a waste hauling company.

The Mafia Hit the Jackpot With the Slot-Machine

Mayor  Fiorello LaGuardia smashes confiscated slot machines

From its inception, the American Mafia included among its plethora of rackets the slot-machine.

So popular during the twentieth century's first few decades were these little games of chance, it's difficult today to truly comprehend it.

Perhaps the most suitable image to remind us is the photograph above of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia sledgehammering a machine (the scene also was captured on film footage).

All the historical Mafia bosses, especially the men who served as heads of New York's Five Families—Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Vito Genovese and, most famously of all, Frank Costello, for example—reaped fortunes from slot machine profits.

New York City alone reportedly had more than 25,000 slot machines in the early 1930s. They were placed everywhere—but primarily in places where the general public easily could access them and stuff their coins inside.

LaGuardia was not voicing platitudes nor was he conducting a political crusade to make himself popular.

Historians generally agree that the man truly loathed organized crime, especially the Mafia which perpetuated a negative stereotype of the Italian-American community (and in LaGuardia's view, brought great shame upon it).

His first order as mayor, reportedly, was for his chief of police to arrest Lucky Luciano -- for any reason.the chief could invent. (He wasn't finished with Luciano, however.)

In 1934 LaGuardia hunted down Frank Costello's slot machines, resulting in the action caught in the photograph atop this story. Mayor LaGuardia sledgehammered a slot machine as part of his larger public effort to show his distaste and zero-tolerance policy for both the New York Mafia and the citizens who used the machines.

“Let’s drive the bums out of town,” he said on radio in September 1934, the same day the photograph was snapped. He then tossed a huge batch of confiscated slot machines into the Long Island Sound. Around 12,000 machines were eventually tossed into the water.

In a Getty Images video, shot on October 15, 1934, LaGuardia tells the camera: “Let the gamblers, tinhorns, racketeers and gangsters take notice that they have to keep away from New York from now on.”

Whether the slots still exist at the bottom of the Sound, we can't say.

 In 1935 LaGuardia appeared at The Bronx Terminal Market to institute a city-wide ban on the sale, display, and possession of artichokes, whose prices were inflated by the mob. When prices feel, he lifted the ban.

In 1936, LaGuardia had special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, a future Republican presidential candidate, single out Lucky Luciano for prosecution. Most readers know what followed, we assume.

The Mayor, while able to remove the slot machines from the collective memory of everyday urbanites, didn't live long enough to see the resurgence in the Mafia's use of new slot machines with video displays in the 1980s and 1990s, a time when the illegal gaming machines were once again linked to organized crime, albeit with a lower profile than the mob's pre-1930 efforts.

The video gaming machines, called “VLTs” ( Video Lottery Terminals), "reintroduced gambling into the urban fabric of New York City," as the website Untapped Cities noted in a report.

The amount of money the mob earned in the 1990s from these machines was worth killing over, as we noted.

As one example, there's the case of Bonanno mobster Antonio Tomasulo, also known as "Boots," who built up and operated a highly lucrative Joker Poker slot machine gambling operation (one establishment reportedly served up $15,000 per week).

After he died in 1990, his son Anthony assumed daily control and presumed he'd inherit the operation. But the Bonanno family claimed the racket for itself. Anthony objected -- and threatened the life of his mob superior.

Sal Vitale ordered the young man's 1990 murder.

New Invention for Amusement
The slot machine was invented in Brooklyn in 1891 by Sittman & Pitt as just another amusement  for placement in bars and taverns. It used drawings of playing cards to mimic card games.

The machines were rigged from the beginning, usually by "missing" certain important cards to reduce the probability of a player winning with, say, a royal flush.

These nickel machines could not provide cash payouts so bartenders would offer beer or cigars to winners.

The first slot machines were hugely popular despite technical drawbacks, such as the player being unable to draw new cards, for example. 

"One would be hard pressed to find a bar in New York City that didn’t have at least one poker machine besides the bar,” author Jack Harper wrote in King of Slots: William “Si” Redd, about the life and rags-to-riches story of Redd (1911-2003), who changed the casino gaming industry.'s promotional copy reads:
"Both a business book and a biography, it introduces readers to the nation's leading gaming centers, Apollo-era technology and how it changed gambling, and the race to perfect the first video poker game. It also gives them a chance to meet the characters with whom Redd rubbed shoulders, including Howard Hughes, Raymond Patriarca, Arizona cowboy and pig farmer Jimmie Hughes, gaming legend Bill Harrah, and casino visionary Jay Sarno."

Machines with a more realistic user experience--that used real playing cards, versus sketches of them--were created in San Francisco. Automatic payouts also were included in the new generation of slot machines.

San Francisco also was the perfect city to capitalize on the new machines due to widespread political corruption and theproliferation of the city's drinking establishments.

The hugely popular Liberty Bell slot machine arrived on the scene in 1895, sparking the initial use of the “one armed bandit” nickname.

Minining towns in Nevada saw an enormous uptick on the slot machine business, while in San Francisco, an effort to ban the gambling machines gained traction, which prompted a movement that quickly spread into the rest of California, as well as Nevada.

Bar owners, slot machine operators and distributors didn't watch their fortunes dissipated in the face of this new mindset--and the slot machine kings' efforts had such an impact on the gaming  industry its ripples are still scene today.

Daniels Antiques, which sells vintage slot machines made by firms in Chicago, said, "The owners were not going to take the ban sitting down and they “fired back” by changing the coin slot machines to offer candy, gum, or tokens, and so they decorated the wheels on the slot machines with pictures of gum or different fruits i.e.. cherries."

The “disguise” enabled placement of slot machines in new public venues, such as stores that children inhabited. Soon, machines seemingly designed for children appeared -- the ramifications of which were reported as recently as 1998 when the New York Times reported: “Video arcades for children along the Boardwalk in Atlantic City include reconditioned slot machines that work just like the real thing but offer prizes instead of money.”

Charles Fey desperately tried to hold onto his immense business by not licensing his technology or give up his sizable control over the production of the machines.

Still, new players entered the fray.

The successful Mills Novelty Company put out the Mills Liberty Bell slot machine in 1906, utilizing the principles of assembly line production and mass marketing.

Herbert Stephen Mills, head of the company, became known as the “Henry Ford of slot machines.” The Mills Novelty Company would become the preferred (and perhaps only) producer for Frank Costello’s slot machine racket in both New York City and New Orleans.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Exposing the Mafia's "Honorable Men" Myth

By Nick Christophers, from the May issue of Saint Red Magazine.

People look at him and think 'there goes a good looking man with style'. But when they learn about his checkered past, fear sets in. It is a normal reaction and comes with the territory for someone like him. John Alite was John Gotti Jr.'s bodyguard and did what he was told within the world of the mafia. But those days are over as he begins to build a new life.

Coming from an Albanian family the world of crime was not so foreign to him. Albania itself has been pegged as a breeding ground for criminality. Yet not all Albanians follow that lifestyle. John himself attempted to lead a law-abiding life but somehow was side-tracked. He was raised in Jamaica, Queens in the 1970's were it was a strong-hold for the mob.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Luchese Chief "of Interest" in Meldish Mob Hit

Suspects were never in short supply regarding the Michael Meldish murder.

The former Purple Gang boss was offed in November 2013 in what's described as a classic gangland hit tableau.

Michael Meldish, former Purple Gang leader, may have died for pissing off
a high-ranking Luchese Mafioso.

His body, expensively attired, ensconced in a camel-colored leather jacket, was slumped over in the driver's seat, his head back, his mouth agape.

“Michael was a stone-cold killer,” Joseph Coffey, former commanding officer of the NYPD’s organized crime homicide task force, told the New York Daily News.

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