The 1970s Were the Mob's Golden Age?

Many believe this is a photo of the 
first Capo de tutti Capi, Salvatore
Maranzano. It is not. 

Sonny Girard, the retired gangster/working writer, has drafted a couple of interesting essays on how NatGeo got quite a bit wrong last week on its "Inside the American Mob" debut episodes.

Click here to read it; you should.

I had some notes I've been meaning to flesh out into a post, so I might as well do it now. I have to say one of my thoughts aligns perfectly with Sonny's -- which I take to mean I got it right.

Obviously most of the talking heads on the show -- on both sides of the law -- got the wealth of their experience in the 1970s, so the show focuses, so far, on that era, calling it a Golden Age for La Cosa Nostra.

But hold up. The 70s were the Golden Age of the mob? I though that was the 1920s - remember something called Prohibition, which helped turn organized crime into a viable billion-dollar enterprise -- as well as the 1930s - when the mob filled the booze void with classic rackets still used today -- and the 1940s and '50s --decades in which J. Edgar still refused to accept the mob's existence. The 1960s are when I'd say things started the turn southward. Appalachian happened, RFK was frothing at the mouth to deport elderly mobsters into the middle of dangerous South American jungles -- probably because he was trying to hide the fact that the mob had dared to help get his beloved brother in the White House in the first place (and probably instigated his leaving it a short three years later.)

The Feds rolled out RICO in the 70s; "Jack Licavoli (August 18, 1904 − November 23, 1985) was one of the earliest organized crime figures to be convicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act)" as I wrote in an earlier post; this too was in the "Golden Age" of the1970s.

The Colombos were in the middle of one of their many civil wars -- and Tony Sirico was liviing "by the skin of [his] nuts." Danny Greene was blowing up Cleveland, and the Feds slipped an undercover agent into a real Manhattan-based Mafia crew -- yes, I refer to Joe Pistone. Some golden age!

Now, as for the mob's basic structure, the show gave the glory to Luciano, the "genius" (boy, bet he would've loved to be around to hear that one!). Basically it's a matter of, everyone knows "Lucky," and no one's ever heard of Salvatore Maranzano. So like they do in films, they condensed the two men into the more well-known one.

We have former mob boss Joe Bonanno's autobiography to find some useful details, but only those that dovetail with information from separate sources. Bonanno selectively told the truth in his book. Joe Bananas virtually left out of his tome the reason for a trip to Italy he made way back in the 1940s (I admit I am not certain on the date) in which he arranged for the flooding of America with Sicilian heroin.

But one thing I absolutely believe is that Bonnano worshiped Salvatore Maranzano. He wrote about it -- talked proudly about it on 60 Minutes to the ever-loving shock of Mike Wallace who nearly fell out of his chair, croaking, "Your role model was a murdering thief?!" [Wonder if this is how Rudy got the idea.]

So why didn't Bonanno revenge Maranzano's murder? Recall Bonanno was quickly made boss of the former Maranzano family. Greed can be a great way to manipulate people, as the genius knew.

So when I ran the story about Maranzano's role in setting up the historical hierarchy of the mob as well as the original Five Families, I am surprised someone would challenge me without doing a single bit of research. This is one of the mostly widely reported -- everyone covered it, I mean, everyone! -- pieces of Mafia history. (Less known is that the picture a lot of books run of Maranzano -- isn't Maranzano! Here is the post about that.)

NatGeo got it wrong, too.

Switching gears, Joe Pistone is certainly a heroic figure to many law abiding citizens in this country. He did dangerous and heroic things.

But in one sense, he for years may have been adding salt to the stew -- that is, keeping himself in the headlines by hyping a supposed half-million-dollar contract on his head. Jerry Capeci, who rarely gets it wrong, has written for many years that he doesn't understand why Pistone risks ridicule after his heroic effort to take on the mob by hyping that the "Commission" put a contract on his head. Jerry gets this assertion from some Feds who never bought into the contract story.

Here is some interesting 2006 info from Ganglandnews, which is worth the price of admission every week.

Pistone acknowledged that mobsters usually don’t target FBI agents for doing their jobs. Soon after his undercover work ended, he told Gang Land,agents contacted mob higher-ups. “They were told that (I) didn’t have anything to worry about,” said Pistone. “It was nothing personal, strictly business as usual.”

Later on, however, the FBI learned from informants that the mob had changed its mind and placed a contract on his life, Pistone said.

“I was really pissed when we got information about the contract,” he said, recalling that mobsters had griped to agents that Pistone had done too good a job. “They thought of me as one of their own. They felt that I crossed the line. I had socialized with them, met their wives and girlfriends socially. I was the best man at Lefty’s wedding,” a reference to civil ceremony involving Bonanno soldier Benjamin Ruggiero (played by Al Pacino in the movie.)

Even so, Pistone said, he never worried about retaliation from “any real wiseguys” but he is still apprehensive about “some wannabe mutt jacked up on drugs looking to impress somebody.”

Asked about the $500,000 figure that his publisher had alleged was the price on his head was attached to the “contract” on his life by the publisher of “Donnie Brasco,” Pistone conceded that there was a fair amount of good old-fashioned hype attached to that figure. “You can’t get five dollars from these guys,” he laughed.

Speaking of hype, prosecutors Conniff and Marrah engaged in some over the top spin of their own by stating in court papers that the Gambinos had put out a $250,000 contract on Falcone’s life [Jack Falcone also infiltrated the mob, the Gambinos, similarly to Pistone: His focus was mob capo Greg DePalma) and that a jailed mob associate had accepted it. Their source? “Press reports that were published last summer.”

It’s true that the New York Post reported that story, and that the FBI investigated the possibility that there was a contract on Falcone’s life. But it’s also true, according to law enforcement officials, that the FBI was never able to determine that the report was real.

Shows like "Inside the American Mob" face a major challenge -- which stories do they tell? They can't tell em all! It probably makes more sense to them to offer the easiest, most dramatic story line, blur where they must and skirt whatever they have to. Ratings are a key concern, not just facts.

But again, time is a big factor. Just about every piece of info they doled out could have been parsed. Anyone in the mob is a boss or a soldier -- they called Pistone a soldier, which would mean he'd been made, inducted into a family, which most certainly is not the case. Guess the term "associate" is not dramatic enough. And I think I heard them call Carmine Galante the boss of the Bonannos, which is a position he never held. (When he finally got out of prison so the Commission could finally whack him, he blew up Frank Costello's mausoleum, or at least had its door blown off. I never hear that mentioned; did NatGeo mention it? Fascinating.)

One other thing about "Mafia Contracts." They are figurative in the sense that the dollar amount only signifies the worth of the marked man's death. No upstanding Mafia member/associate would dare whack someone who has paperwork on him, then try to collect. Contract hits are done to protect the family -- they are for honor, maybe brownie points -- but not for cash. This is not the kind of business transaction Hollywood would have us believe...

And of course when they introduced "the legendary mobster Sonny Franzese" they said he had been in prison for years for "masterminding a series of bank robberies."


They could've mentioned that for the past 40 years there has been widespread doubt about Sonny's guilt in this crime. I did a little investigating, spoke with Tina Franzese who sent me an interesting letter I wrote about here in which it is noted that:

Franzese was convicted and sentenced to 50 years for managing a series of bank robberies across the nation which were committed in the mid-1960s by John Cordero, Jimmy Smith, Richie Parks and Charles Zaher.

Over the years, high-profile journalists have come forward and expressed doubt regarding the strength of the case against Franzese, whether he was really guilty or a convenient scapegoat, and whether the FBI had overstepped its bounds.

According to an article by J. R. de Szigethy posted on Rick Porrello’s site,

Jack "White" Licavoli
former New York Post columnist Jack Newfield had penned a detailed report on various crimes committed by FBI agents to set up Franzese for the bank robbery. "One disturbing aspect of this case was revealed years later when Michael Gillen, the prosecutor made a startling confession to Sidney Zion, the New York Times reporter who covered the trial; 'Gillen admitted to me that he intentionally went drinking with me one night in the hotel bar to keep me distracted while two FBI agents broke into my car and photographed my notes and files.'"

Aside from the media, all four witnesses who had fingered Franzese recanted their testimony at one time or another.

A sworn affidavit by the wife of one of the robbers stated that Franzese and other defendants convicted in the 1967 trial were not involved in the robberies. It also stated that the supposed getaway driver, Anne Messineo, was not the driver at all; she too was framed.

I could see why NatGeo would sidestep this -- they could get bogged down in an hour-long episode, at least, from these details alone! And why go to bat to save a mobster who may actually be not guilty! Who was wrongfully convicted perhaps -- locked up like an animal for years -- likely for no reason.


  1. This was not easy or fun to read. I actually had to stop half way thru.

  2. I am John Cordero nephew and I know for a fact that my uncle was not guilty and that bitch of an x-wife framed my uncle and his friends! Because of her I have not seen my uncle John since I was 9 years old.
    He was great man, a good friend and the best uncle any kid could have!


Post a Comment