Scores Excerpt: Mafia for Dummies




EARLY 1991 

Mike Sergio invited me to dinner at his restaurant. I was tickled when I arrived because “Grampa” Al Lewis was dining with us that night, and he’d invited Fred Gwynne, the famous Herman Munster himself, for the meal. Just pleased to be a fly on the wall, I listened with interest to these veteran actors discussing their memories from and their roles in the 50s television hit Car 54 Where Are You?—along with Lewis’s plans for a Munster-esque Halloween reunion bash that would include Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster), but not Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) because her ballooning weight was causing her to avoid public appearances.



For my benefit, Sergio goaded Gwynne into voicing his disdain and regret over his Munster role. I was unaware that “pre-Munster,” Fred had also been considered a serious dramatic actor with an impressive resume in Shakespeare. For Gwynne, Herman had forever typecast him, limited his future opportunities to obtain parts his talents merited, and reduced his professional legacy to that of a “green-skinned joke.” Who would have thought? And he sure as shit wasn’t going to attend any Halloween reunion party dressed as Herman.

Gwynne, who lived nearby in Greenwich Village, quickly departed after the meal. As Grampa returned to patron-schmoozing, Sergio guided me over to a table in a quiet elevated section to the right of the pizza ovens where, I’d learned, private business was regularly conducted. Unusually, Sergio postured himself with a serious air.

“Tell me about the new club you’re planning uptown,” Sergio said.

“Nothing much to tell,” I answered, hiding my shock. “I put some people together and we’re working on a club venture up in the East Sixties.”

“I hear it’s in the old Club A space. Right?”

I nodded my head.


Sergio pulled his face very close to mine and whispered, “Michael, do you know who owned Club A? Do you know who controls that space?”

I drew back from him in confusion. “I haven’t the slightest idea who owned Club A, but I know the building is owned by my friend.”

“I’m not talking about the fucking landlord,” he barked. “I’m talking about who owns the neighborhood; who controls the street, the garbage collection, the linen supply, and the liquor wholesalers!”

I just stared back. This was a very different Mike Sergio from the friend and partner I’d come to know so well. He was normally even-tempered and approachable, but tonight he was confronting me with a veritable stew of anger, disdain, and menace.

He shook his head. “You telling me you really don’t know?”

“I really don’t know,” I meekly admitted in halting monotone.

Steve Sergio was among the main guy inside Scores.
 See story.... 

“Well, time to learn. The space you’ve somehow involved yourself in has always been and will always be personally controlled by John Gotti, Sr. and his crew. A capo from another family owns the pizza place around the corner, and if you and your pals think you’re gonna open a place in that spot without making proper accommodations, you’re asking for trouble, potentially permanent trouble. You just don’t go and disrespect the head of the Gambinos.”

My head was swimming and my heart started racing. None of my prior commercial ventures had been in Manhattan, and they had never seriously captured the attention of organized crime. Although the mafia was well-known for “shaking down” clubs and restaurants in “protection” rackets, I’d failed to consider we would draw their interest. Did they know something I didn’t know? I bit back a remark about having seen nothing in the lease about paying tribute to the mob, sensing this was a time to suppress my instinct to use humor as a defense mechanism in stressful situations.

“I’m lost,” I confessed.

Sergio looked back at me as if trying to decide if I was playing with him. Concluding that I really was as naïve as I was projecting, he drew a deep breath. “Look, Michael, your space belongs to the Gambinos. Plain and simple, and the only way you’re gonna open is to have me register you with the family.”

“I can’t believe all this,” were the only words I managed to croak back. Here I was, stepping into a scene from Goodfellas having just left an episode of The Munsters. Bring back Herman!

“What does it mean to be ‘registered?’” I continued, although I was sure I knew where this was heading.

“That means I go where I gotta go and speak with the people I gotta speak to, and tell them you and your club are with us. You’re registered and everybody who needs to know will know. And then we protect you and we protect your businesses. Or, on the other hand, we can do nothing together and you can take your chances on your own.”

“And taking my chances means?”

“In my opinion, that means someone may burn down your place before it opens. That means gunplay in your club on opening night to scare away customers. That means no liquor deliveries, no linen or laundry service, no meats for your kitchen, no garbage pickup. That means any other family, Italian, Albanian, or Russian, has an open invitation to shake you down. Who you gonna call, the cops? We own them too. That means your customers and their cars are fair game. That means you better watch your cash on the way to the bank. That means you’re considered a disrespectful piece of shit and nobody gives a damn what happens to you or your little Jewish ass. Any questions?”

I was now sweating through my shirt, my only comfort coming from the fact that he’d called my ass “little.” I thought of a million stupid things to say, but I remained speechless.

He next tried to console me. “Hey, Michael, you look like someone died. I didn’t mean to upset you; I was just trying to help, to keep you from having problems you wouldn’t see coming.”

I slowly collected myself. “Look, we haven’t even begun construction, or applied for our first license, and I have no idea if the place will even open. How am I supposed to make an accommodation when the club may turn out to be a complete bust, like nine out of ten new businesses in Manhattan always do?”

“I’m not asking for you to agree to nothing . . . now. After all, we can’t make money if you don’t make money. I just wanna know if you want me to register you with the family, with John Gotti, Sr. If you say yes, I’ll go do the right thing. If you say no, forget about this here little talk.” He then added with a laugh, “And I’ll just wait for you to come running for my help later on—when it will be much more expensive.”

I promised to talk to my partners and get back to him quickly. He then called over a waiter, ordered me a club soda, and a glass of red wine for himself.

“Let me ask you something,” Sergio said. “You know I can’t get no liquor license here; some stupid law about the church down the street being too close. You think you could help me get one?”

As the waiter brought over our order, I said, “You mean you sell all this wine and beer every night without a license?”

He looked back at me with a mocking grin. “And who’s gonna tell me not to? But think about a way to get me a license. I’d like one.”



_____________________________



I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself driving uptown, my mind was racing so fast. On the one hand, I couldn’t decide if Sergio was telling the truth or just pulling a low-level shakedown scheme for himself. I decided it was probably a little of both. If he held himself out as a Gambino representative and wasn’t, or if he claimed to have “registered” us and didn’t, he’d be a dead man. So, all the stuff about Gotti was probably true, but Sergio wanted to be the man to bring the new potential “golden goose” to his family.

On the other hand, there was a definite degree of comfort knowing we would be protected, even at a price—so long as the price was reasonable. City history was rife with violent and murderous shakedown tales, and we weren’t exactly a group of tough guys.

On the other hand, I was concerned I might be opening the door and letting the wolf walk right into my little flock. And who would control the mob once they were granted a foothold? They were making a smart approach, through a friend, but there was no doubt that things would turn nasty if I declined their kind offer. And the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know, or so they say. Right?

On yet another hand, did I really want to deal with threats of arson, disruption, and urban terror? We were already into the club for a half million dollars, and that money wasn’t coming back if the mafia scared us off the deal.

Realizing I had no other hands, I decided to relax and bounce the issue around with Davies. When I called him, he cut me off immediately. “Michael, I’m from England and I know absolutely nothing of your New York mafia. This is your decision, all the way. If we need them, we need them; if we don’t, we don’t.”

Faced with deciding, I did what I always seem to do. I chose the path of least resistance and, at a subsequent meeting with Sergio at Bill Hong’s Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, I told him the club wanted to be registered.

“Wait a second, Michael,” he interrupted. “I’m registering you, Michael Blutrich, no one else. From now on, you are the only one who counts at your club, or in anything else you open.

Capisci?”

I really did understand. And that understanding simultaneously filled me with feelings of self-importance and with dread. For better or for worse, I was to be the mafia’s man at Scores.

Sergio beamed back at me, saying he would now do all the necessaries. He ended our dinner, leaving me as always with the tab, and a bear hug. “Don’t worry ’bout nothing. Trust me.”



_____________________________



In May 1991, due to personal issues, including legal woes over child support with his ex-wife, Davies announced he could no longer continue to fund the club. The burden of financing now shifted to me, so I started looking for creative ways of completing construction and getting the doors opened. I turned to my banker and friend Mark Yackow for help.

The “Yackow Inducement Plan” required a strategic mixture of subtlety and outright deceit. I invited Mark to visit the construction site, and we spoke as we walked through the leasehold together. I described the work-in-progress as a “high-tech sports bar,” knowing he would be enticed and enthralled with that kind of establishment. He was immediately enthusiastic. A former patron of Club A, Mark recognized the location as premium. We had his complete attention with talk of big-screen televisions, computer sports games, and memorabilia on the walls. He flipped when we showed him our designs for a half-court basketball court for patron use. But when I added as a feigned afterthought that we might also be featuring “adult entertainment,” I noticed a frown cross his face.

I walked Mark over to a corner for the “kill,” telling him how much we’d sunk into the venture, with another two hundred grand deferred until post-opening, and confessing we were still short to finish. He anticipated my next volley and shot it down in midair. “Michael, there’s no way, no how the bank will make a loan on a new club. It’s against lending policy.”

As I was now in a severe panic, with my best hope for additional money slipping away, Mark put his hand to his chin and mused, “But you know what, I’d love to be involved in this place. I think I can put together a group of private investors and raise the missing cash as a loan. My investors get interest for the loan; I get a piece of ownership.”

We spoke at length and he agreed to contact some of his “money” people and make a genuine effort to lead a new group into the Scores family. As we wandered back to the others, he stopped short. “You know, it’s really a bad idea to brand the place with ‘adult entertainment.’ People will get the wrong idea, thinking it’s like a strip bar or something.” With a smile, he added, “You meant, like a Hooters, waitresses in bikini tops and stuff like that? Right?”

I’d never been to Hooters, but I immediately looked back and responded, “Yeah, that’s exactly what we have in mind.”

“Perfect,” Mark said happily. “Just perfect.”




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