'Secret Judge' Was True Underworld Boss: NY Post

UPDATED: Did you now there was a secret judge who quietly ruled the underworld for decades, directing the bosses of a criminal organization made up of loosely connected street gangs? That the "Mafia" was a media invention and did not exist as we know it?

That there were never any "families," and no "Five Families" in New York, with all-powerful bosses at the top? Oh, sure -- these street crews did have bosses, like a man named Carlo Gambino, but he was just middle management, and not the criminal mastermind he is known as today.

The man who really gave the orders was Paulie "Lefty" Della Universita, who ran this Italian entity of non-organized crime crews from the McCarthy 1950s to Reagan 1980s. Among other things, the "Judge," which is only one of the many names he went by, supposedly saved Vito Genovese's life.

This is according to a book, "For Members Only: The Story of the Mob's Secret Judge" by G.T. Harrell, about which the NYPOST.com recently ran a feature story. Why it would run a feature story now about a self-published book that is two years old is a good question worth asking.

The problem is, the book is hard to believe or even take seriously since it is based entirely on anecdotal evidence given to the book's author by relations of Della Universita, as well as videotape stories told by "Lefty" himself.

The author claims his source material was three interviews, which he calls "more like courtroom depositions," obviously to lend them a patina of credibility they don't have. The depositions were written out by a "stenographer." So what? His source, "Uncle Sonny," who was Lefty's brother, and "Frankie," their great nephew, bolstered and expanded on the interviews with Lefty.

Uncle Sonny was "full of apparently hundreds of interesting stories... I decided to take one of my digital video cameras with me. The plan was to record every moment of my visit with him, especially each and every story as it would be told."

One of Sonny's anecdotes: "Let me tell you, kid, there is no such thing as the Mafia. There are no 'Families.' There is no 'La Cosa Nostra. ... I have never heard anyone use the term 'Family.' It's all bullshit trumped up by the media and newspapers ..."

Harrell, the author then, unbelievably, says since Sonny and Frankie are putting him up in a hotel, what the hell! He had nothing to lose, and a free trip to Manhattan sounded great! This is how the author tries to inject proof into the story, make it believable for the gullible -- "Uncle Sonny was on the very streets where he 'was in action.' Holy shit, was I really being asked to drive to Little Italy to meet an honest-to-goodness ex-gangster and film him as he walked around his neighborhood and eat in his favorite hangouts?" It's this kind of drivel, fish-out-of-water crap that propels the book.

Here is a website, set up and operated by the author and supporters of the story, where you can see videos of Uncle Sonny holding forth. There was even a video made specifically to address allegations that the stories are untrue. Here is Uncle Sonny's explanation:

"I emphatically believe," the author is eventually forced to concede, upon realizing the words of Lefty and his blood relatives were all he'd have, "that Uncle Sonny and his relatives gave me the inside story of the mob, and his brother's rise to power..."

I have read lots of books and am well-versed in Mafia history -- especially the Five Families of New York. I have never, ever heard of Universita. I recently checked my rather large library which includes books from decades back, thinking maybe I will find mention of this guy. There is no mention in "The Valachi Papers," "The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano," "Man of Honor: the Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno," and other books, including Selwyn Raab's more recent masterpiece about the Five Families.

Della Universita, according to one source and unverified published material found on the web, may have been a Genovese-inducted Little Italy bookmaker. Maybe he did serve as an advisor to the Genovese family -- to this day, no one really knows who the hell did what in that borgata, which incidentally was founded by Lucky Luciano himself). Maybe he did do some sort of service for other bosses. But if someone is trying to say that Della Universita held a role of power, ruling the mob, if there are only his words to back up the story, and no documents or objective sources to back this up in any way, then I don't believe it. Someone is betraying this man's legacy: if I am incorrect and a man did secretly manage to do what "Lefty" did, he wanted it kept secret. So rolling it out in such a gaudy, unbelievable way is not admirable and betrays the man's whole life, which if he did live it as is said, he did everything possible to keep it a secret.

Organized crime law enforcement sources I have spoken to, who have debriefed some of the biggest Mafiosi in the country, told me they had never heard of Della Universita. One investigator added that "none [of his made-Mafia informants] ever mentioned that there was such a guy in a position like that. It would seem to defy the whole structure of the mob."

A couple of Cosa Nostra guys I contacted said that they had never heard of him, either, although there was a claim by a friend of one of these sources who said that he remembered a Universita who was a well-respected bookmaker from Little Italy -- not a judge or power broker or anything like what is claimed in the book. (And, no, I didn't ask them if they believed the Mafia existed, or if there is such a thing as the Five Families in New York. I may want to call them again.)

One goodfella told me, "[A friend of mine] from Mulberry Street remembers [Universita] as a bookmaker and respected guy, but not at the level he claims. Everyone has different memories."

Another mobster adds: "I know someone who knew the guy, and he says he was not what his grandson portrays him as."

Luciano turned down offers to become boss of bosses and decreed that there never would be such a person. The last "official" boss of bosses was Sal Maranzano, who was murdered by the Jewish gunmen pretending to be government accountants who were working with Luciano and the Italians. Luciano knew that having one central boss over the 20-25 crime families that existed at the time would've created too much volatility.

What Della Universita did do, at least according to a single published source, was pull off a major drug heist in 1945 -- one of the largest ever, up until that time -- when he stole endless cartons filled with morphine off a ship destined to bring the morphine to places like Germany and the Far East to be injected into the bloodstreams of suffering solders with agonizingly painful wounds. Not a crime to brag of, and one which blackens the Mafia's eye, as the New York Post author of the very story prompting this post goes into an unfair ad hoc argument about the lack of patriotism in the Mafia. I already addressed this farcical view, here: Cosa Nostra News: Gangsters Are Decorated War Vets, Too.

The facts which I can believe: "The book was commissioned by Lefty's great-nephew Gerald Vairo Jr., based on interviews with family members and Little Italy residents, and researched with the help of lawyer John Laikin," the New York Post says in its story, the beginning of which follows this preamble. "It chronicles the rise of 'The Judge' from a poor Sicilian teen to a legendary adjudicator, who called the Mafia's shots from the shadows, earning him another nickname, 'The Ghost.'"

Here is the article, based on the book, from the NYPOST.com:

Frank Costello, known as the "Prime Minister of the Underworld" and head of the Luciano crime family, announced that he was near retirement in 1957 -- and was unceremoniously shot in the head.

But Costello survived, and fingered Vito Genovese's chauffeur as the shooter. [Ed. Note: This is a huge mistake, either the Post's or the book's; Costello NEVER identified his shooter, who as we wrote above, was a young, hefty Vincent "the Chin" Gigante - the Chin famously thanked Frank for this, right there in the courtroom after he was acquitted.]

A war was sure to ensue. Eager to avoid bloodshed, the dons gathered in a "for members only" club on Mott Street between Hester and Grand streets in Little Italy. There sat a Gambino, Bonanno, Luchese and a short, gravel-voiced man nicknamed "Lefty."

Genovese pleaded his case to his mobster peers. The other bosses listened, but it was Lefty who coolly rendered the verdict: Vito's life would be spared, but one more such infraction, and he'd be as good as dead.

Such was the power of Paulie "Lefty" Della Universita -- known as "The Judge" -- who served as an adviser to the Mafia's Five Families at the height of New York City's mob activities, a book claims. [The book does claim that, according to Lefty's grand nephew, there was no formal entity called the Mafia, and there were no families into which it was carved up; the book states this, right in the beginning.]

From the 1950s until the 1980s, Lefty provided the final say in almost all mob disputes, according to "For Members Only: The Story of the Mob's Secret Judge" by G.T. Harrell.

When the Gambino family wanted to rub out a made man, they went to Lefty. If the Bonannos wanted to discuss financial matters, the family's boss and cronies held closed-door meetings at Lefty's apartment above Vincent's Clam Bar in Little Italy. And if a lower-level mobster was going to be promoted, Lefty's say was law.

The book was commissioned by Lefty's great-nephew Gerald Vairo Jr., based on interviews with family members and Little Italy residents, and researched with the help of lawyer John Laikin. It chronicles the rise of "The Judge" from a poor Sicilian teen to a legendary adjudicator, who called the Mafia's shots from the shadows, earning him another nickname, "The Ghost."...

Read complete article: Meet the mafia's 'judge' - NYPOST.com: