Nick Pileggi, author of "Wiseguys"
As someone who lived most of my life in organized crime, trust me, guys, there’s nothing left to wannabe. One of the things that really bother me is when I see the sons and grandsons of my friends going to prison. I know how it all began for them, listening to their elders relating "war stories" from the golden days of the mob. The stories were exciting, funny, and interesting, and the fact that it happened to Nonno, or Pop, or Dad made the youngsters say, "I want be like him." Their formerly innocent eyes would light up at tales of beatings, shootings, robberies, or court cases beat through bribery or chicanery. I know, I have bags full of those stories. The problem is that the older guys left out one essential part of each and every story: a preface that it was a very special time when these war stories occurred, and that it could never happen that way today.
Years ago, from the first waves of immigration, first from Ireland then later Italy and Eastern Europe, especially in big cities, there was minimum exposure for maximum profit. Crime was a way to get out of poverty with a small chance of going to prison, and, yes, a little bigger chance of winding up with lead poisoning, but, if you played by the rules and didn’t get caught up in a political struggle, it was okay. Today, the paradigm has reversed itself. Now, it’s maximum exposure for minimum profit. Sentences are especially high in Federal Courts that now judge cases that were never under federal jurisdiction. Conviction rates in those Districts are much higher than State convictions. For example, the Southern District of New York boasts a conviction rate like a body temperature, more than ninety-eight percent. Sentences today are meted out in decades not years, and instead of maxing out at two-thirds of that time, now it’s eighty-five percent.
To make the point better, let me give you some personal anecdotes. By far, the biggest asset and encouragement for young hoodlums years ago was that every area of law enforcement was open to bribery. At the social club where we hung out, Friday was Precinct Day. A black and white from the local precinct would pull up at the club, and a friend of mine would hand them a brown paper bag of money through the car window. Broad daylight. In return, we’d have inside information of warrants being issued so we could go on the lam, unless the cops were able to bury them so they never got found to be served. Remember, there were no computers. I was once released from jail pending charges, without bail having been posted. No one ever knew. Back to the cooperation of the authorities, if any of us wanted to open a crap or card game, or an after hours club, the precinct was the first call. If a raid was scheduled, we’d get a call to abandon the place before the cops arrived. Sweet, huh? Doesn’t happen like that anymore.
On my first major pinch as a teen just beyond JD (Juvenile Delinquent) status, the cops were from the Boro Squad, a step up from the precinct guys we knew. One separated me from everyone in the house; brought me in the bedroom for a talk. As a JD, a talk meant being beaten around the head and shoulders by the officer. I braced myself to get hit, and totally ignored whatever the cop was saying. Oddly enough, I didn’t get hit, but got dragged downtown and booked. Called the lawyer; couldn’t wait for his praise about what a strong, standup kid I was; a few pats on the back at the club. Instead, when he arrived, his first words were, "You f _ _king moron!" Me? But, but… He continued, "This cop said he talked himself blue in the face, trying to get you to offer him money. He wanted to let you go." But, but… "You’re an imbecile!" So went my glory.
Another time, I busted someone up over a car to car argument. I went on the lam while my friends tried to reach out for the guy who was hurt. They offered him a substantial amount of money to drop the charges. He was all for it, but his battle-axe wife wasn’t. She insisted she wanted me to go to jail. What did we do? Gave the judge half the money we’d offered the other guy to drop the charges, which His Honor promptly did. Also bought my way out of a wild car chase involving a stolen car and three precincts chasing me. When they found out where I came from they saw dollar signs instead of an arrest. While they huddled, I hid money in my socks and underwear. The first thing they asked when they returned was how much money I had on me. I pulled my pockets inside out with the few hundred I had left in them. One snatched it without even counting then wrote a ticket instead of pulling me in. I waddled to the car, getting chafed from the major part of the money I started the night with.
We also had neighborhoods that protected us while we protected them. Clichés and stereotypes don’t come from nothing. That the former has been applied to mob neighborhoods where residents could walk the streets safely at any hour of the day or night came from real relationships between its legitimate citizens and the local mob. I met an old Hispanic actor a few years ago who told me that he had grown up in and around the Italian section of East Harlem during the Great Depression. He said he could still remember his mother waking him in the middle of the night and dragging him down to the local social club, where its members handed out part of whatever had "fallen off the truck" that day to local residents. He said that the gifts of food, clothing, and other items had kept his family going during those worst of times. On the other hand, I remember FBI Agents looking for me at my social club. I was a couple of doors away, playing pinochle in a luncheonette. The crowd watching the agents knew where I was, yet not one man, woman, or child would say a word. As soon as they left so did I…for Atlantic City until the problem could be straightened out.
Get it now? Today’s a different era with conditions that don’t encourage the kind of behavior we were able to get away with at that time. Sure, the war stories are great. The times were great. They were times of nightclubs, and restaurants, and beautiful girls; of junkets to a glamorous Las Vegas to see Sinatra, Martin, and Louis Prima live…all for free. But those times are gone. There’s nothing left to wannabe. Even if authorities are tempted to take a bribe, most are too afraid that you will rat them out. You young guys, enjoy the stories like you would stories of the old west…then go about life as if they both happened over a hundred years ago. For those of you out there who actually want to pursue the life, I love you guys. I love your spirit. Because there’s a warm spot in my heart for young toughguys, I want to see you live your lives outside of prison walls, instead of inside. Do something else. Anything else. And for any of my old pals who might catch up with this blog, please, guys, give the young ones a chance. Tell them the stories because they are great. I love them myself. But make sure you let them know that our old glory days are gone…forever.
My heart broke one night, when I sat alongside a dear friend as he sang "Little Pal" to his child, who was propped on his knee, as his own body was being ravaged by cancer. I sang it to my three year old the night before I left for prison the first time. "Little Pal" will always be special.
"LITTLE PAL" Little Pal, if daddy goes away, Promise you’ll be good from day to day. Do as mother says, and never sin. Be the man your daddy might have been. Your daddy didn’t have an easy start, So here’s the wish that’s dearest to my heart: What I couldn’t be, Little Pal, I want you to be, Little Pal. I want you to sing, to be happy and gay. Be good to your mommy while your daddy’s away. Each night, how I pray, Little Pal, That you’ll turn out just right, my Little Pal. And if some day, some day you should be, On a new, a new daddy’s knee, Think about me, now and then, my Little Pal.
Little Pal, if daddy goes away,
Promise you’ll be good from day to day.
Do as mother says, and never sin.
Be the man your daddy might have been.
Your daddy didn’t have an easy start,
So here’s the wish that’s dearest to my heart:
What I couldn’t be, Little Pal,
I want you to be, Little Pal.
I want you to sing, to be happy and gay.
Be good to your mommy while your daddy’s away.
Each night, how I pray, Little Pal,
That you’ll turn out just right, my Little Pal.
And if some day, some day you should be,
On a new, a new daddy’s knee,
Think about me, now and then, my Little Pal.
* * * *
And so, till we meet again,
Heaven knows, knows where or when,
Think about me, now and then, Little Pal.
Pray for me, now and then, my Little Pal.end To Mob Wannabes
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Other Features by this author:
Fooled you, huh? You thought I was talking about illegals crossing the Mexican border.
The Best True Mob Story
In the case of traditional organized crime, you're watching American history unfold.
Sonny Girard, a former mobster, decided to have his protagonist be caught between three agencies: the GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence), the FBI, and…you guessed it…the mob.
SONNY GIRARD BIOGRAPHY:
Though born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Girard spent most of his formative years in the Red Hook and Navy Yard sections of South Brooklyn. Making little use of an IQ of close to 150, he instead chose to follow the path of the only people in that desperately poor neighborhood who seemed to have money: "wiseguys."
By the time a three-and-a-half year undercover operation by New York’s Organized Crime Control Bureau, targeted at Sonny Girard, was culminated with the arrest of seventeen, Girard was characterized by the New York Post as "…a middle echelon member" of one of New York’s five mob families. As a result of the arrest, Girard was sentenced to three years in State Prison, which he served to maximum time in Sing Sing, Dannemora, Downstate, and Arthurkill.
In 1985, Sonny Girard was convicted of racketeering, under the RICO statute, by Rudolph Giuliani’s office, and was sentenced to seven years in federal prison. During that term, which he also served maximum time on, Girard became interested in writing. Along with another inmate, who had sold a manuscript to a major publisher, Girard helped form a fiction writers’ workshop. It was during that time that Girard completed his first novel, BLOOD OF OUR FATHERS (Pocket/Simon & Schuster, hardcover, June, 1991; softcover, May, 1992).
Due to his experience in and ability to communicate about organized crime, the author has been in demand from various television shows and newspapers as an expert on various crimes, including organized crime activities. He recently appeared on Fox Network’s "National Enquirer T.V.," to analyze the authenticity of HBO’s hit show "Sopranos," Fox News Channel’s "The Edge," with Paula Zahn, to discuss John Gotti’s legacy, and "The O’Reilly Factor," regarding the disappearance of Chandra Levy, and ABC’s "Politically Incorrect," with Bill Maher, for "Mob Week." He was also called in to consult with the screenwriter of record on "Mickey Blue Eyes," starring Hugh Grant, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and James Caan. Italy’s RAI T.V. has done a biographical piece on Girard, as have Italian national newspapers "Corriere Della Sera" and "Il Tempo."
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