Q&A #2 With Former Luchese Wiseguy John Pennisi

The way ex-Luchese mobster John Pennisi tells it, he'd still be a true-blue wiseguy today if his capo and others had not wrongly suspected him of being a "rat." .... The following Q&A is part of our continuing coverage of John Pennisi's side of the story about what happened between him and the Luchese crime family. Some questions were lightly edited ...

Luchese boss Vic Amuso, former Colombo acting boss Vic Orena,
GOODFELLAS: Luchese boss Vic Amuso, Colombo acting boss Vic Orena, Little Nicky Scarfo.

Q: To an outsider today (today meaning pre-COVID) the mob seems smaller, better hidden, and less of a factor in daily life. In say 1988, if one night I went to a weekly poker game (and won BIG), then bought some blow and went to a strip club, then stopped by a guy to borrow money, it’d be a safe bet that the mob profited off every one of those activities. If I did that same “circuit” last week say what are the chances that the mob got a piece of all those activities?

JOHN PENNISI: The mob has learned from past mistakes, exposure is its enemy. Low key is about survival. I was always labeled paranoid but it paid off as the Gov’t had no cases, indictments or investigations on me. To answer the second part of your first question, the only drugs I have heard of for my time in that life was Boopsie coming to me and asking if I knew anyone who wanted pounds of weed? I hardly entertained anything he had to say so I definitely paid him no mind with his trying to peddle pot. Gambling is a definite and still goes on, strip clubs I know of a few that belong to a borgata (family) and loan -sharking is a key money maker for guys today. 

Q: In 1988 wiseguys went to social clubs frequently — crews had weekly dinner, etc. In 2020, are they likely to still do that? How have the social aspects of the life changed? In '80s there was lots of schmoozing and camaraderie— today is there less?

JP Growing up in Ozone Park and Howard beach there were social clubs practically on every corner. Today, you hardly see any. We had one in the Bronx, which was shut down. The FBI was always parked down the block taking pictures. Big John’s cigar shop in Staten Island was like our club for our crew. I always voiced my opinion that we were getting a great deal of exposure by going there but if fell on deaf ears.

Socializing I still seen a lot of but mostly in restaurants. We were always out eating and drinking running into guys from other families.

Q: Lots of wiseguys were related by blood back in the day, it seemed like every guy had uncles, brothers, grandfathers, fathers, nephews etc in the mob — would you say that’s still true? That practically everyone is related? 

JP: You still have guys proposing relatives. I will soon tell a story about a guy who called a friend of his every name under the sun and badmouthed the guy and yet he got that person straightened out. Why? Money. Money rules in the mob as it does everywhere else.

Q: Who is the John Gotti of today’s mob meaning guys on the street now?

JP: John Gotti was a gangster when he woke up and when he laid his head down to go to bed. Unfortunately, his flashiness did damage and put a bigger target on the mob. I didn’t see much of that, people tried to tone it down. You didn’t see guys suited up every day, we wore sweats and jeans. You had your exceptions, but overall no John Gotti’s walking around. Like a virus, the mob adapts and makes changes according to the environment.

Q: Did you know if Robert Spinelli, that guy wearing the wire in the Crea and Madonna case, was a stone cold crack head, and they had him passing messages, big John and his brother Boopsie we’re dime peddlers making direct sales, not managers or running the spots, they worked for Frankie Bones, back in the day 1990’s. It was said if you sold a 1/2 a Key you get straightened out in that family, in John and Boopsie's case it was a 1/2 pound of hydro.

JP: I did not know Spinelli, heard Big John & Boopsie were petty drug dealers back then.

Q: Whats John's opinion on the Luchese Borgata using a Black Shooter on a Cosa Nostra Piece Of Work? How was it looked at in the family?

JP: Using a black shooter is wrong- nothing to do with race. The problem is they don’t care who you use they just want it done. It was frowned on by many as it made us look like we had no one to pull a trigger anymore.

Q: Hey Eddie can you ask JP what the Lucchese reaction was to Mr. Cali's killing in 2018 and also Jimmy Bulger? Was Bulger a Genovese-ordered hit or a random prison attack? How is the relationship with the what remains of the Chicago Outfit and New England Patriarcas today?

JP: I walked away already when Frankie Cali was killed. That definitely shook up everyone for a few days. Whitey Bulger happened to be at the wrong prison at the wrong time. He was a big target, anyone putting their hands on him or taking him out would be in the good graces of the mob.

Sometimes a New York family will do some business with another family in a different state. We would recognize them, unless told not to.