June 18, 2001|
Books Worth Buying
By John William Tuohy
The Last Mouthpiece: The Man Who Dared To Defend The Mob.
Available on Amazon.Com, most book stores or direct from the publisher. (Caminobooks.com) $24.95
"Mob lawyer" that tag followed me around for years like some sort of dime storm perfume", great sentence and this gem of a book gushes with them. For regular mob readers, The Last Mouthpiece is a mainline dose of inside information, scuttlebutt and juicy details (Nicky Scarfo won’t site next to someone who wears cologne, he suffers from allergies, etc.) about a much overlooked Boys from Philly.
The book also confirms my growing suspicion that if there wasn’t a Mafia, a whole lot of government workers would be out of job.
For those with a passing interest in the underworld, this is a still an interesting book because its a good story made better by Simone’s intelligent structure and craftsmanship.
Mob Mouthpiece. Anyone whose ever been pinched or tangled with the law knows the score; despite what they show on television, the state has all the advantages. Not only are they playing the game on their court, no pun intended, they have free investigators, crime labs, clerks, lawyers and a judge who, essentially, gets his pay check from the same place they get theirs. The state gets paid to go to court, spend twenty-four hours a day building cases and prosecuting people. Its an industry, of sorts, where money is not an object.
The accused, who walks into court with the stigma of opposing the good guys, is already at a massive disadvantage and unlike the state, the accused pays for everything. And I do mean everything.
To balance things out, God invented people like Bobby Simone, a high powered, high priced legal gunslinger with a mind like greased lighting and a court room rap that would put
Dr. Dra to shame.
In his day, Simone was one of the great trial lawyers, but he paid dearly for his skill.
You can’t beat their government at their game. They don’t like it, and, as Simone learned, they don’t fight fair. After Simone won one to many cases against the Department of Justice, they went after him, and considering the size of their war chest and they got of course. He was indicted, based on the testimony of lowlifes up to their ears in hock to the government, on one count of count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, racketeering, extortion, conspiracy to extort and threatening. After a legal blood bath, they nailed the Lawyer on the lightest charge, conspiracy to commit racketeering, racketeering and extortion.
He was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison, technically, on those charges, but what he actually went to jail for was summed by one of the jurors on his case when she said
"Simone is a mob lawyer"
At sentencing, the ever feisty Simone was unrepentant, one of the writers and the books, saving graces. When asked by the court if he had anything to say before it ruined his life, Simone stood and said "Your Honor, there are those who say that I crossed the line and went on the other side. Let me say that whatever one believes about that, I would prefer to be on this side of the line. I would rather be here than on the side with the prosecutors, the FBI……"
In other words, "Fuck you guys and the white horses you rode in on".
But, of all the so-called mob lawyers in business, and there are droves of them across the country, why really motivated the government to single out Simone for ruination?
Their perception that he had crossed over to the dark side certainly had something to do with, of course, but what sparked that perception?
In some part, the answer is ego. Prosecutors don’t make a lot of money, compared to other court room lawyers, but that isn’t why most of them entered the field. The enter the field to establish a track record…a winning track record…so they can then sell their services to the corporate world where the hours are better, the offices are bigger and the pay is fantastic.
Corporate firms scout for former prosecutors. Aside from being pre-trained and well connected, in the drab and hum-drum world of business law, having a guy on staff who once clashed briefcases with the mob gives a little splash, dash and macho to otherwise dreary profession. So, crossing verbal swords with a skilled Barrister like Simone, and losing, isn’t good for their career goals.
Denial plays a role as well. As Simone points out, most prosecutors win over 90% of their cases, so if Simone beat them…and beat them he did…. the theory goes, he must have had an inside track, a fix inside the courtroom with the judge, maybe the jury. When that couldn’t proven and rather than admit the obvious…that Simone simply worked harder and honed his skills more than they did…they pegged him as a hood and set him up for the kill. The government made Simone the target for four separate and very expensive prosecutions
Did Simone cross the magic line? I don’t think so. Its obvious he’s not a stupid man. He is guilty, however, of poor judgment, he says as much himself, but what Simone did or didn’t do is irrelevant. Simone is not the federal government and the better question is, did they cross the line? Did they zero in on Simone, not so much to close a legal avenue to people like Nicky Scarfo, but to scare off other lawyers from beating them in court?
The fact that we should have to ask the question is a sobering thought, because if they, those sworn to uphold the most sacred of societies foundations, abuse their enormous power of position in acts of vengeance to scare off a citizens right to be represented by the best counsel possible , none of us are safe.
Simone is the son of an immigrant Italian father who worked his way through Temple University law school selling ice cream, waiting tables and substitute teaching. By his final year in law school 60% of his entering class had either flunked out or gave up but Simone, true to his style, stayed the course ""I breezed by with a 1.04 average, right at the bottom of the class"
Admitted to the bar, he slam dunked his first case "I couldn’t help but think how exciting all was, the trial and its aftermath. It still didn’t dawn on me how easy it was for even a smart and ethical lawyer to get into trouble if he did his job to well. I would learn soon enough.
No matter, I now knew why I went to law school and did so well in criminal law courses. This was a major part of my life and just about every thing else would have to plat second
fiddle. This was where the action was."
And there was plenty of action over the next thirty years. It Simone who coined the phrase "Borrow shark" when he was defending a bar tender accused of making verbal threats against two lawyers he had loaned money to. Simone defended his client, who was suspected of being a front for alleged gangster Felix "Skinny Razor" Di’Tullio, with the incredible argument that that people who borrow money without paying it back…borrow sharks….were worse than loan sharks. The jury bought it and the bartender walked from the charge.
With wins like that, Simone was soon one of the busiest criminal lawyers in Philadelphia, so it was only a matter of time before mob guys, who are the busiest customers prosecutors have, were knocking respectfully on his office door.
And that’s where the book get good. The mobster stories. Legal issue’s aside, the book, at its core, is one of the best gangster chronicles to come down the long mile this year because Simone loads the work up with inside peeks at the elusive Nicky Scarfo, including his spur of the moment decision to purchase a Florida mini mansion "Nicky examined the interior of the house, which was large, airy and comfortable. The rear of the house led to a pool area and a dock right on the inland waterway connecting to Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Nicky fell in love with the house, and he let the guy know it. "I want this house. You and Bobby negotiate and work it out"…..(He) formed a corporation, Casablanca South and the
new company leased -purchased the property within a couple of weeks. Nicky had his dream house, which he renovated and refurbished inside and out. He called it, of course, "Casablanca South" and placed a large name plate outside the front entrance.
Shortly thereafter, a 40-foot yacht named Casablanca was docked behind the pool on the inland waterway. Underneath the name of the boat, the phrase "Usual Suspects" was written. Nothing could be closer to the truth…Nicky loved to entertain on the boat, but he never drove it as, as far as I know"
The more cases Simone won, defending Scarfo and company, the harder and more often the feds tried to rattle his cage. There were several attempts to disqualify him from defending a hood by filing motions that Simone was an active member of the Philadelphia mob. When that failed, they placed him under investigation and used, or tried to use, the pending investigation to disqualify him from court. Another tactic was to instill paranoia, a stable in the underworld. During the course of one trial, an FBI agent approached the lawyer and said "We have reason to believe that you are going to be killed. There is a hit out on you." And again "Our information, from a reliable source, is that Nicky Scarfo and some of his people feel you know to much, that you can’t be of any use to him now with all the publicity that came out of your last trial"
When Simone pushed the agent for proof, there wasn’t any, but the ploy worked and Simone was forced to confront Scarfo on the alleged murder plot as the alleged gangster sat in his office eating soft pretzels.
You have to wonder why the government can’t be this motivated and inventive in delivering the mail on time or making tax forms less confusing.
In an era in mob history when selling out is the profitable vogue and a literary agent
is a must for hoods entering the Witness Protection Program, Simone sticks to his guns. He admits to mistakes, like his gambling habit, but he never budges from his stance on his clients whom he freely admits he knew were not "all altar boys or in the cement business"
Simone ends with a thoughtful paragraph, made even more relevant by the recent misadventures of Boston’s Whitey Bulger and New York’s Sammy Gravano
"Today’s criminals have little or no fear that they will suffer severe punishment if they commit a serious crime. They will either get away with it, or if caught, buy their way out of prison by testifying against one of the government’s prime targets" and "I believe that the responsibility for the inequities and injustices that occur does not lie solely with the informants. The fault must be shared with the agents who offer the deals, the prosecutors who deliver the packages, the juries who buy the lies, and finally the judges, who by releasing
the real criminals sanction these outrageous deals"
Whether you agree or disagree with Simone take on gangland, this is still a solid book and well worth adding to any true crime library.
Mr. Tuohy can be reached at MobStudy@aol.com
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