What Did Roy Cohn Allege About Castellano Hit?

"C'mon over, I've got a dynamite story on Paul Castellano."

It's December 1985, two days after the storied execution of the Gambino crime family boss derisively referred to as "The Pope."
Big Paul Castellano

Considering who the caller was, the reporter, Sidney Zion, couldn't arrive fast enough.

Zion had been telephoned by none other than notorious mob defense attorney Roy Cohn, a man considered a scumbag by friend and foe alike.

Roy Marcus Cohn (Feb. 20, 1927 – Aug. 2, 1986) earned enough venomous scorn to last a lifetime even before he represented mobsters such as Carmine Galante. 

Cohn first gained prominence as a key member of the prosecution for the U.S. Department of Justice. He was a member of the team behind the 1951 espionage trial of alleged Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. (In 1995, a series of decoded Soviet cables, codenamed VENONA, confirmed that Julius had indeed acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets. As for Ethel, however, no compelling evidence was found.)

The Rosenberg trial brought Cohn, 24, to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's attention. Hoover, in turn, recommended him to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who hired Cohn as his chief counsel (in place of Robert F. Kennedy). 

The inebriated Senator saw his name in lights as he busied himself with the task of rooting out the specter of communism. His witch-hunting senate committee ruined scores of American lives with little more than legendary innuendo. From 1950 to 1954 McCarthyism held sway over the U.S., capitalizing on the widespread fear and paranoia engendered by ongoing Cold War tensions.

McCarthy, ultimately censured by the United States Senate, died on May 2, 1957, at 48, of acute hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver. (He drank himself to death).

Cohn, however, was on a roll. He set his sights on Manhattan and quickly established himself as a high-powered defense attorney to the wealthy, whether Mafiosi or blueblood. Cohen defended a diverse roster of clients that included Donald Trump, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti.

Roy Cohn 

According to noted New York newspaperman/attorney Zion, Cohn also defended, in some capacity, Gambino boss Paul Castellano. Which is why Zion, who was writing Cohn's autobiography with him at the time, rushed over to Cohn's townhouse one freezing cold evening in 1985.

Cohn led Zion into the small office and started talking.

"As soon as Rudy was appointed, the rumors began that his big thing was to ride to governor or the Senate or even higher office by prosecuting top Mafia leaders," Cohn said. He added that he'd heard this through his underworld sources.

Zion smiled. Giuliani's motives were quite apparent. The pontificating Mayor-to-be was viewed as altruistic by only the idealistic fool.
Cohn added: "OK. It was an open secret. Rudy was going to arrest every single mob leader. And, of course, he's doing it and nobody else has ever done that." [This was in the midst of the Commission Case.]

Then Zion chirped in, "I heard you went to see Rudy for Castellano."

"Tommy Gambino [son of Carlo Gambino and nephew to Paul Castellano] asked me to do it, and I was glad to do it. Tommy's a good friend and he was right."

Tommy was upset that the first indictment--the one prior to the Commission Case, that stemmed from the car-theft operation run by doomed Gambino capo Roy DeMeo--included charges related to drug dealing.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the public largely believed that "noble" old-time bosses such as Carlo Gambino and Fat Tony Salerno had kept the drugs off the streets (and to an extent they may have, at least in the neighborhoods where they actually lived. Notice Tommy wasn't bothered by the fact that his uncle may have profited from drugs, only that the charges would appear in the indictment.)

So, two or three weeks before the first indictment was delivered, Cohn met with the Federal Prosecutor.

"I made my speech," he said. "I started by saying I knew these people, I knew Paul for 20 years, and [Giuliani and his staff] knew I had represented Tony Salerno..." 

Cohn also had gotten John Gotti a sweet plea bargain for participating in the Jimmy McBratney murder in the early 1970s as a favor to Carlo -- never mind the fact that McBratney had had nothing to do with the kidnapped and murdered Gambino nephew...

"So now you're going after Paul for drugs," Cohn continued his story. "I tell you, I think it's crazy, it's wrong."

According to Cohn, Giuliani said he had a witness who would testify that Big Paul was always at a restaurant where drug deals were known to have occurred.

To which Cohn said: "Rudy, you're here now. There could be a lunch meeting 10 blocks away and someone could say that you were there, that drug deals were happening and you were there. How can anybody protect himself against this stuff? It'd double hearsay."

What was Rudy's answer?

"He didn't say anything. His people wanted to know if Paul would take a lie detector test and if he'd testify before the grand jury. ... I said I didn't know what he'd do, but I'd said I'd recommend it. They said, 'See you later.'"

So Roy sometime afterward met Castellano in his car. 

"We went over all the propositions. I told him I'd insist on the questions in advance so there'd be no curveballs. He was 50-50."

What happened?

"It fell apart because of my conditions. The idea of the lie detector and grand jury testimony was to exonerate him from the drug charges. But in testifying he'd have to get into relationships with other people, he couldn't just make a denial."

Had there been talk of Castellano cooperating with the government?


So that's why it didn't happen, right?

"That's not it."


"Paul Castellano never gave me a flat 'no' on cooperation."

Asked exactly what he was trying to say, Cohn smiled. "It never got the the point of giving up people."

And: "He never gave me a flat 'no.'"

Did this get out to the mob? Zion asked.

"Not from me," Cohn said.

Zion: "Roy, are you trying to tell me that Castellano was hit because they thought he would talk? I mean, he was on trial when they hit him."

"It wasn't the drug trial.... He just died the other day.... I don't know why he was killed."

"But you seem to be saying..."

"I haven't checked it out yet."

Zion said Cohn never said another word about the Castellano hit again. And he couldn't stop remembering how the phone call had started. That Cohn had said he had a dynamite story on Paul Castellano.

Zion wondered if he'd started asking too many questions and that Roy may have said more if he hadn't seen Zion's dramatically ratcheted up enthusiasm.


  1. As Valachi said: "I'm not talking about Italians, I'm talking about criminals."

  2. Clinton CeeRay FussellJun 19, 2014, 2:36:00 AM

    After reading plenty of recent articles from Sicily I have to say I agree with a fellow reader that Cosa Nostra is far from finished. Of course the articles were poorly translated into English but from what I got out of them Cosa Nostra is still a force to be reckoned with unlike what all these people say about them being so far behind the Camorra and the Ndrangheta. It's just that a lot of Cosa Nostra news don't make it to the English language headlines.

  3. Good point. As for the Camorra and Ndrangheta thriving ahead, you have to realize this is because historically the police in Italy have kept the spotlight on Cosa Nostra, concentrating their efforts on Sicilian clans in the past, so outfits established on the mainland where able to thrive due to lack of attention from law enforcement. That's all changing know. It seems on a nearly daily basis we hear of raids and investigations across Italy and Europe. As for Americans, some are a bit clueless and think the mob is just a plot device in a film. I occasionally hear from someone who's like: the mob still exists? They still have capos and soldiers and the Tom Hagen consiglieri? Yes, I say, they do. And with the Feds shifting their focus to terrorism, they're gonna thrive, I'd say.

  4. Wrong pal, the only animals as you say are in the FBI and government along with the assorted wealthy white collar crooks like Madoff who steal and destroy more lives then any mob guy ever could but keep going around saying and believing that the boogeyman is an Italian man with a pinky ring

  5. What a joke this guy was on the show. Had so much potential then and has nothing now

  6. Pretty brave of some on here to call the guy a fake loser than use anonymous as your name

  7. Sopranos Pine Barrens episode pure classic

  8. Well I think he was a FAKE LOSER and not at all scared !
    He reminds me of the gangster's in the movie " The Shipment" they did the same thing shooting off there mouths......... but it was in the wrong place and the wrong time !


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