Mob Podcasting: A Good Way To Earn

Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, the underboss who helped John Gotti run the Gambino family, before he helped the FBI take it apart, was sitting in a brown leather chair in his dimly lit social club-type podcast studio preparing to launch into his latest—only this podcast, something very different was about to come out of his mouth.

Michael Franzese, Patrick Bet-David, Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano
Worked up (about something): Michael Franzese, Patrick Bet-David,  Sammy Gravano.

Instead of another riff about this or that gangland hit, Sammy the Bull was pitching a mental-health services platform that connects people with psychotherapists.

"Is there something bothering you and giving you anxiety, preventing you from achieving your goal?" the Bull intones in unhurried gruff Brooklynese. (The same voice Gravano used to describe how, one night at Sparks, “shots rang out in the night air" with "people running, screaming, falling, scrambling all over to get away.")

"When I got out of prison," the Bull's pitch continues, “I felt that way. Better Help will match you with a professional and help you with your specific situation."

Gravano—who has around 425,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel—was doing the spiel, he explains, for a company called Better Help (tagline: "You deserve to be happy"), which was sponsoring that podcast, called: He Went To Get A Gun In His Car, They Shot Him In The Head.

 Podcasts, like television and radio shows, have commercials when you least expect or want them.

"Mobsters love to talk. You can't talk unless you flip. That's the rule. I flipped. I like to talk,” Sammy told the Patch in April in a long, revealing interview about the launch of his show, called Our Thing, among other things. (The interview is heavy and a downer. Another interview Sammy did with the Toronto Sun months later, in August, showcases Gravano in a different mood. He discusses his newfound celebrity as a podcaster, saying: “John Gotti must be rolling in his grave… I can’t tell you how much I wish I was 46 instead of 76. I think half the women in the country want to bang me.” “Unfortunately, I’m in bed by 8:30 these days.”)

Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano,
Gravano flipped and testified in the early 1990s.

In blunt words, the former Mafia underboss tells the Patch reporter about all the folks who write to him seeking advice and guidance, including about following in his footsteps. (Funny how despite the many, many hours of his podcasts freely available online, we still prefer the seemingly unrehearsed stuff said off the cuff in media interviews.)

"I have a story. You can look at my story. You want to follow that path? Go ahead. You're gonna do 22 f------ years in prisons. But that's your choice. Follow my story, you hear about more than 22 years in prison. Go ahead. Want to get shot in the back of the head by one of your best friends? Go ahead. You want to shoot your friend? Go ahead. It's your life, right? I'm not telling people what to do. I don't really get into all of that."

Referring to the cigar he was puffing on, "I could get a $200 Cuban cigar, but who needs it? This one is cheap and it's good, doesn't burn. I'm 76 now. I'm interested in money like everybody else, but I don't need to flash it around. I don't need a $3,000 Brioni suit or a hand-painted tie. I drive a Kia. I could drive a Mercedes, but why? I like the way the Kia drives. It's good enough for me, It gets me to the store. Things like flashy suits and expensive cars, that's just showing off."

"John did more to destroy the mob than anyone. It's supposed to be a secret society, yet everything he did was flashy, showing off, flamboyant. We had rules, and one of the main rules was to keep it confidential. No matter what. That's the last thing he did. Everything he did put us on the front page. He did more damage to the mafia than 15 cooperators put together. History will show how much damage he actually did by what he did."

"I'm a gangster all my f------ life," he says. "I'm still a gangster right this minute. But I think it's very honorable. Same time, I'm a little different than the ordinary gangster. Right? I have compassion. People will choke on that. But I do. I hold the door open when I'm going in the store. Right? I just do these things instinctively."

Gravano, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of mob podcasters. Former Colombo capo Michael Franzese surpasses Sammy with around 709,000 subscribers. Franzese talks about mob stuff, but his podcasts also focus on other topics. Franzese interviews sports legends and celebrities, does movie reviews, he even offers lifestyle tips such as "fly under the radar." (Good advice.) As is often the case with Michael Franzese, he knows what he is doing and then some. His podcasts are polished and sleek in both subject matter and delivery. (He has been a motivational speaker since the 1990s, he's also reborn and has written multiple books).

Franzese and Gravano represent the premium end of the burgeoning mob podcasting genre. The videos have high production values and reportedly are professionally directed and edited and include multiple camera angles, archival footage inserts, dramatic music, and voiceovers. Also, these two  podcasters were longtime mobsters who spent years, decades, on the street and have the scars to prove it. (Franzese seems better able to hide his.) They are veterans who earned buttons with crime families in the 1970s, Franzese with the Colombos and Gravano with the Gambinos. Both have legitimate bragging rights and can talk with absolute authority about that world, where each once played a pivotal role. They know where the bodies are buried, quite literally—in Gravano’s case because he probably helped bury some of them. (We get that from the facts: Michael, more a legendary, prodigious earner than a head cracker, said he never took a life, and Sammy, the violent Machiavellian mob manager-politico, claimed to have a hand in 19 murders.)

The growth of the "mob" genre (a subcategory of the true crime genre) in the past year or so on YouTube is part of the natural technological evolution. Still, mob podcasting has already experienced market "corrections." Some shows have vanished or were retooled. The Johnny & Gene Show, which kicked off around the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, flamed out last March with the arrest of Gene Borrello, the Gene, for allegedly making threatening remarks. Borrello, who flipped against the Bonanno family and helped put away more than 21 mobsters, pleaded guilty in 2016 and was sentenced to three years of supervised release and time served. Borrello’s arrest wasn’t directly related to podcasting. Gene allegedly threatened to kill an ex-girlfriend’s husband and hurt her father after she refused to grant him the rights to use a photo of her in a book. The wrath of the Feds returned him to prison and banished him from YouTube.

The Johnny part of the show relaunched as Mafia Truths with John Alite, though the show currently seems to be on hiatus. Or at least a new episode hasn't been published in about a month. (John used to do around 10 a day, it seemed.)

The MBA and the Button Man, which included former Luchese wiseguy John Pennisi, the button, and Tom LaVecchia, the MBA, also is gone, with the final sign off on October 10. "John and I are disbanding," Tom LaVecchia said, noting that all 90-something episodes of the show had been taken offline. Absent is any mention about the why. Pennisi is still doing podcasts as a brand extension of his Sitdownnews blog.

To wipe away a fallacy, mob podcasters are no longer in the mob. We can’t think of a single “active” wiseguy in America who has made a podcast (though we can’t say anything with certainty about some of the younger guys in Sicily). They have flipped, testified, and are making use of their Constitutionally protected right to free speech to earn off YouTube by talking about crimes that would get you 20 to life. Which doesn't necessarily mean they can say whatever they want without fear of repercussion.

In the case of Michael Franzese and Sammy the Bull Gravano, both have been off the street for decades—Michael exited the Colombo family in 1986, the first year of John Gotti’s reign, when Gravano, who flipped in the early 1990s, hadn’t even hit his apogee yet. Defense lawyers probably aren’t scrutinizing their podcasts with bated breath. Not the case with other mob podcasters, who have been keeping defense attorneys busy filing various legal motions, including to seek new trials based on perceived contradictions between YouTube digressions and sworn testimony.

Case in point: Pennisi, a made Luchese soldier who flipped and testified against wiseguys in two crime families in three racketeering trials, including the one that buried former Luchese acting boss Matthew (Matty) Madonna and underboss Steven (Stevie Wonder) Crea in life sentences. Pennisi, who writes a blog and also does podcasting, was inducted into the Luchese crime family in 2013. He started cooperating with the FBI when he became convinced that his Luchese cohorts, after wrongly pegging him as an informant, had marked him for death. (Incidentally, Pennisi testified at the trial for the last reputed gang land hit, which was in the Bronx in 2013 when the Luchese bosses supposedly greenlighted the killing of associate Michael Meldish.)

Pennisi started blogging at more than a year ago. The New York Post reported in October 2020 (referring partly to a Gang Land News story) that the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office was involved in a two-year ongoing effort to build a “blockbuster” racketeering case against acting Luchese boss Michael (Big Mike) DeSantis and underboss Patrick (Patty Red) Dellorusso. The revelatory blog by “a potential trial witness” didn’t sit well with a “furious” U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI, who, according to Gang Land, “have pushed [Pennisi] to take it down.”

Then, this past June, an Appellate Court ruling granting a requested delay cleared the path for a new trial for Crea and Madonna, plus codefendants Christopher Londonio and Terrence Caldwell. Crea attorney Anthony DiPietro said, “there are public podcasts/shows made by some of the witnesses that we believe reveal new information that requires a new trial,” and that this information “will be addressed in our prospective filing.”

Examples of podcasters clashing with the criminal justice system proliferate, and most of them have been reported by Gang Land News in painstaking detail. Legal ramifications seem more likely when podcasts include witnesses talking about things related to cases that are ongoing. (Duh!)

One doesn't have to be a mobster to be a mob podcaster. Patrick Bet-David, an entrepreneur and successful YouTuber, has been interviewing former wiseguys since around 2017 and has done podcasts with both Gravano and Franzese. He’s also interviewed them together, as well as other former gangsters. Former Gambino associate Salvatore Romano recently popped up in a podcast with Bet-David, whose Valuetainment YouTube channel has around 3.17 million subscribers. Bet-David also produced a documentary video series in which Gravano and Franzese engage in a live sitdown. Rudy Giuliani, the former US Attorney for New York's Southern District from 1983-1989, also participated in Mafia States of America, a video series in which Gravano, Franzese, and Giuliani discuss organized crime. Chazz Palminteri did narration for the series, which is hosted by Patrick Bet-David. See the trailer, which we added below. (Apparently, Mafia States still isn't available, as far as we can tell.)

Bet-David sees ginormous potential for Gravano and Franzese, telling the Independent, “They are both going to be million subscriber channels in no time."

Jimmy Calandra with Bath Avenue Crew
Jimmy, top left, with other Bath Avenue Crew members.

Mob podcasters come in all shapes and sizes. Jimmy Calandra, the former Bath Avenue Crew member, offers the YouTube series A Bath Avenue Story. Jimmy’s approach is more street than other podcasters. Jimmy is raw (and seemingly under the influence sometimes). He insults various “fat rat scumbags” and “stone-cold losers.”  A more detailed review on Jimmy's show tk.

The New Yorker recently detailed how some FBI agents, seeking more insight into some of the biggest cases of their careers, are an eager audience for mob podcasts.

“I spend hours and hours listening to these wise guys,” said retired agent Bill Fleisher, who spent the 1970s probing OC in New York, Boston, and Detroit. “I could talk to them, I could polygraph them, I knew how they operated—but I could never get in their heads,” he said. “That’s why I like these podcasts. I’m beginning, like a shrink, to understand their thinking.”

“But it tells you how Sammy’s mind works,” Fleisher added. “As a wise guy, a lot of his orders, given and taken, are done by nods, innuendo, double-entendres. If a boss describes a guy as “ ‘always smiling,’ that could be a message to go knock his teeth out.”

“Instead of us going into prison and interviewing Sammy the Bull—how convenient, he starts his own podcast,” said former FBI profiler James R. Fitzgerald. “If you watch and listen to enough of them, you can pick up on the trajectory of where they’re going, and maybe even solve some of those old crimes.”

Pretty soon, we wonder, psychotherapists will start watching the mob podcasts. Then we realized, they already are. Recall Sammy's latest sponsor, Better Help....

Anyone can do a podcast about anything, including the mob....Which is something we are concerned about. While veteran wiseguys like Sammy the Bull and Michael Franzese have spent decades on the street and can tell true stories until kingdom come, some podcasters with smaller or less significant mob experience have less to work with. They could try to be creative and do more with less. But we’re concerned they will go the other route -- by “enhancing” and “improving” their content. We are concerned about outright hucksters. Disinformation is a highly virulent contagion…. Wait a second. What did Fitzgerald say about old crimes?