Tom LaVecchia On Mob Punditry (Plus The Fate Of MBA and Button Man Podcast)

Tom LaVecchia recently discussed mob podcasting, including the abrupt end of The MBA and the Button Man, the now-defunct podcast series he did with former Luchese wiseguy John Pennisi. Other topics of discussion: what it was like getting hit by Gang Land News and the seven ex-wiseguys he’s interviewed (a record, he said).

Tom LaVecchia
Tom hosts Armchair MBA presently. 

While we’ve known Tom for years, this was the first time we formally interviewed him. Tom is admirably patient and refreshingly honest—very unlike the glut of tedious, name-dropping bullshitters out there who spin nonstop blissfully unaware of their transparent shallowness. LaVeccia has been focused on mob stuff for years, and has posted the very first video interview with former Gambino associate John Alite. He tells us he’s interviewed seven ex-wiseguys and multiple associates, so far.

We’ve compared notes and can say we have similar backgrounds—suburban schmucks (he from New Jersey, us Long Island) who probably partied too much but stayed on the right side of the law (mostly)  and consistently devoured every word Jerry Capeci wrote about the latest wiseguy to get his nuts caught in the ringer.

Tom, who currently podcasts under the Armchair MBA brand, posted a video of his interview with Sammy the Bull Gravano in January. It is nearing 200,000 pageviews.

“Sammy the Bull was a top-level gangster, who may never be replicated," Tom said.

What does around 200k views mean? For Tom, it means around $700 earned so far via YouTube advertising.  Also on the monetary front, Tom has an ongoing sponsor, JSV Capital.

John Gotti’s former underboss seems to have nine lives up the sleeves covering his heavily tattooed forearms. Oceans of court filings and testimony have been generated by and about this man. Something we didn’t know: Tom is actually related to him.

“My first cousin married his niece,” he said, though the recent interview “was my first time talking to him as I was 15 when he flipped. I am friends with his daughter because she stayed around.”

As for fresh observations on Gravano, he told us, “He has more of a business mind than I expected.” He also found Sammy to be more refined that he was expecting. “He seems to be extremely intelligent and has strong instincts. He grasps the power of knowing all the details of your business and getting the right employees on the bus (on your team).”

Gravano, whose own YouTube channel is among the top performers in the mob genre, has dozens and dozens of podcasts and each one has garnered admirable traffic numbers.

“Sammy is a worldwide brand now as there is simply an insatiable interest in mob folklore and he is basically the last one standing of the golden era.”

Podcasters without wide-scale recognition face challenges, like how do you tell the world’s mob fans that you just published a podcast with a former mafia underboss? Tom used Google Ad Words “after the initial buzz wore off,” he said, noting that Google generated around 10% of the video’s total views.

Ad Words was only one of the tools he pulled out of his toolkit. He also fell back on the core competencies he’s spent his career cultivating: “I am an SEO expert so I optimized to reach (Sammy’s) current fan base. I also  received some press coverage to assist with the piece.”

One down, six ex-wiseguys to go.

What did his gut tell him about each?

Bobby Luisi, made member of Philadelphia family: “A true boss, almost to his own detriment.”

Paul Tanso, made member in Luisi’s crew: “Happy go lucky, he's the definition of loyalty.”

Anthony Arillotta, former capo of the Genovese family’s Springfield Crew: “Could be successful in "the life" or in business.”

Larry Mazza, former Colombo mobster close to capo Greg Scarpa: “A gentleman.”

Michael Franzese, former Colombo capo “ Top-tier businessman.”

John Pennisi: “He was reserved and appeared to respect the life, but may have been better off choosing an earlier path as he's extremely intelligent.”

He’s more verbose on John Pennisi of course --- he has a history with him. Some may recall that prior to the Armchair MBA there was the MBA and the Button Man. He discussed how the series came about.

“We got together after I found him via CNN (meaning this blog; yes, we’re blushing). I had interviewed Hootie, Alite, under my New Theory brand podcast, but mob stuff wasn’t my main interest at the time. (Pennisi) intrigued me – he was (a) made (Mafia member), and a lot of them aren’t. I approached him, we did an interview that grew into a nine-part series under my New Theory podcast brand. It did really well compared to other content. People have an enormous appetite for this.

“We came up with The MBA and the Button Man – which was mob focused. I had done podcasts with Sammy and Michael Franzese—they are 30-40 years out of the game. Now with John, I had access to a recently made guy. What made it interesting is that we had two Italian Americans who took completely divergent paths in life. John had been arrested more than once—and guys like you and me have never seen the inside of a prison cell. That is something completely foreign to me.”

Another factor in the design: “I was his sidekick—he was the star, I made that clear.”

The podcast took off, generating eye-popping numbers. The show’s 100 episodes garnered 1 million streams, Tom said.  “It was 80% from video and 20% from audio streams as it was a high ranking show on Apple Podcasts."

“We did a lot of shows together – there was a synergy and a friendship. We had sponsors.”

The podcast also got attention over at Gang Land News, which was good and bad—or as Tom said it: “great and shitty.”

“Jerry is the OG, I loved Gang Land and read it all my life. But he pulled my LinkedIn photo and made a comment – I was 10 years younger. I thought it was a little weird. I didn’t love how I was portrayed – and I was shocked he didn’t reach out to me for comment—"

Wait a minute. Jerry Capeci, the old-school newspaperman, never contacted you for a single comment, not even to give you a chance to respond?

“Nope, never. Not even to respond to a hit piece. The Jerry you see is not the one you get.”

We couldn’t help but ask what led to the end of The MBA and the Button Man in October 2021?

“The reason for the breakup – we are different. We’re two different guys – I am a media guy –he is a street guy. I felt the numbers were good but that we needed to market it differently. We also had different approaches to some of the basics. For instance, if someone does a hit piece on me, I want a chance to respond and give my side. I want to start a dialog with that channel, not start fighting back. John didn’t have that insight and preferred not to address the negativity. Since we jointly owned the content – we concluded it would be better to just remove it all.  

“I had a marketing agency so  I could pivot in a day and started Armchair MBA –which is a play on words – a fun name.”

Today, Armchair MBA is doing well with over 200k streams a month, Tom says, adding that John Pennisi is doing well on his own too.

Next up for Tom LaVecchia: he’s working on getting an interview with Karen Gravano.