Nick Pileggi, author of "Wiseguys"
A while ago, when Joe Massino, boss of the Bonnano Crime Family, rolled over and began cooperating with the Feds, someone I know who was close to Joey asked me how he could do something like that. My response was to say that the phrase "wiseguys" wasn’t put together carelessly. I’m sure, I said, that "dumbguys" had never even been considered. That term, "wiseguys," didn’t mean that people with that moniker were geniuses, but that they were slick, sharper to see opportunities than most people; had a ruthless sense of how to survive best. I told my friend that if he thought back over the last two decades, he’d see that working with the authorities had more upsides than downsides. I asked how many men who had testified against the mob since Joe Valachi had been caught up with and killed? He said, "None." I seem to recall one, but can’t remember who, and can’t even be sure I’m right. In either case, it’s little or none.
There have always been rats in the mob. They were harder to identify because they were virtually all "dry snitches," which means they provided information without ever being exposed or having to take the stand and testify. Many times they were the highest ranking members, like Lucky Luciano, who used the authorities to reduce a case or solve a personal problem. Lucky Luciano had his rodent cherry cracked when he was just a young drug peddler in the Five Points area of Little Italy. Arrested without the heroin on him, he led the cops to where he had stashed it; working a deal for a softer charge. He reached back into his rat bag when Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel were at odds with Waxey Gordon, in what was then called "The War of the Jews." Fearing that the war would break into a hot shooting one, with Siegel leading the charge, Luciano and Lansky sent Meyer’s brother, Jake, to the Feds with enough Gordon’s financial records to send Waxey away on tax charges. Quiet. No one in the streets knew. War over. Poor Gypsy Rose Lee had to attend all those parties without Waxey by her side. Boo hoo.
Those kind of dry snitch events are hard to document, since no one came forward to leak those crimes. However, from experience, I am absolutely positive there was much more going on, and usually at higher mob levels, than we can imagine. For mob leaders, it was, and remains, "Do as I say, not as I do." And, as time went on, at least three of my own experiences had higher ups look the other way about proven rats who were making money for them. Two of them went to prison when the informants they protected fro money testified against them.
That doesn’t mean that there weren’t men who were real men in those days. I would say that the great majority were. They came out of the same ghetto environment that the great prizefighters of the day did. Each was fighting his way out of poverty by putting up his body as collateral. Boxers subconsciously said, "Beat my face and body, but I’m not going back there." Mobsters said the same thing, but put their lives and freedom on the line. Becoming a rat was unthinkable, and truly despised, not just with empty words to make them look good. A prime example is a well known story about the "Lord High Executioner," Albert Anastasia. Willie Sutton was a bankrobber who was known more for his escapes from prison than his actual robberies. One day, while Sutton was enjoying a hiatus from his latest sentence, a haberdasher named Arnold Schuster spotted him and informed police where to catch him. The clothing salesman got a lot of good citizenship publicity. Unfortunately for him, some of it reached Anastasia. Despite the fact that Albert knew neither Sutton nor Schuster, he exclaimed, "I hate rats!" and ordered the latter eliminated. RIP Arnold.
On a more basic, day to day, level, in the old days, before mass communication and the Witness Protection Program, and with leaders like Anastasia around, if someone testified against a mob figure then ran away, a local boss could pass off a story about how the turncoat was tortured, dismembered, then fed to animals at the nearest zoo. Other potential turncoats sitting on the fence shook in their shoes and took a jail term instead. Today, the stoolpigeon gets a book and/or film deal, does interviews with Barbara Walters, and has photos released of him lounging by a pool with palm trees in the background. The fact that a lot of what they say in those interviews is self-serving, gratuitous bullshit means nothing.
Henry Hill, for example, never told Nick Pileggi about how he was despised by most mob guys but given some modicum of respect because Paul Vario loved him and cast his wing of protection over him. The expression commonly used about Henry at the time was, "You respect a dog for its master. Instead of that side of the story, he wove a tale of how well he was respected by all. The "facts" he told Pileggi and other interviewers was what they wanted to hear, about how the mob turned on poor him, also means nothing. The truth is that he turned on everyone because he was a junkie and a punk, and decided to trade former friends’ families for his own. Paul Vario, for example, got Hill a no-show job for him to get out of prison and into a halfway house. Hill testified to that fact, which sent his former father figure to jail, where he moaned about the betrayal until he died…in prison. The fact that he tells interviewers what they want to hear makes him a media darling. In the early 1990’s I appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s show, with Hill brought in via satellite. I challenged his lies. His only defense was to nervously stammer that I was wrong. I was never invited back, while he’s always been Geraldo’s mob expert pet and has appeared numerous times over the years.
The truth is that government tactics and pressure get too much credit for destroying the mob. It has destroyed itself both by natural causes, as the ghetto areas that spawned traditional mobsters are gone. Little Italy is now restaurant row. East Harlem, which produced many mob legends, is reduced to one famous restaurant, Rao’s, and a couple of social clubs for some of its geriatric neighbors. South Brooklyn is trendy Carroll Gardens. All the other ghetto areas have been turned over to those other ethnic groups at the bottom of the social and financial ladder. Young wannabes grow up in suburbs. They can shoot, but they won’t be shot at. A former partner of mine used to say, "Everybody can be a toughguy if the shoe fits. It’s when the laces get tight that you see who screams." When these young mob hopefuls grow up, the shoe fits comfortably. They have nice homes, girlfriends, cars, and MTV. There is no one that they "needed" to stay alive as they grew up. They have no loyalty experiences in their background. They need their MTV. When the gates clang behind them, those laces tighten quickly and they scream. Older wiseguys feel like jerks when they realize that their co-defendants are likely to have palm trees instead of jail cells, and rush forward. Joe Massino might be the first official boss to roll over, but the recent past is filled with high ranking members who have chosen rolling over to standing up: Jimmy The Weasel, Acting Boss of L.A.; Ralph Natale, Acting Boss, of Philadelphia; Underboss, Sammy the Bull, of New York; Gaspipe Casso, Little Al D’Arco, and on and on and on.
Another problem for the mob is its Americanization; the idea that the only goal is money. Years ago, believe it or not, there was a thread of honor that ran alongside the thread of crime. As time went on, the crime should have been discarded, with the code of honor dictating a tight, secret organization, much like the Masons, which circulated money among its members. The "Me Generation" has taken over. A number of years ago, a partner of mine died. The brass called me in to find out what he had going; what profit was out there to be had. One of the things we had our fingers in was to maintain order in a huge operation. The big guy asked how much was made from it. I answered, "Nothing." He said that if there was no money coming out of the place, we should step back and let someone from another crew go in. I replied that there was no responsibility for him, since I handled all the beefs, and that we had maintained our position of authority there to guarantee that we had jobs for our guys coming out of jail. His answer: "Fuck the guys in jail." That thinking, or lack thereof, explains a lack of loyalty even further. For years, guys have gone to prison with zipped lips, many times to protect others. Unless they are bosses, it is a rarity that any of their families get a cent; that they get any money themselves for commissary. In fact, more times than not, money is stolen from operations they had going when they went to jail. The Government didn’t do that. Add all the corrosion from the inside-out and you’ll see why there are so many rats and the mob is gasping its last breaths.
Twenty years ago a friend of mine from Jersey said that one day there would be a time when a bunch of mob guys would be standing on a corner when they saw another mobster coming, and one would say, "Shhh, don’t talk, he’s a stand up guy."
That day is now.
A current example of the case I’ve made is that of Chris Paciello, a Staten Island "toughguy" until he faced prison time. Paciello has had a book written about him, a television movie about him done too, and will now relocate in Los Angeles, only to mingle with entertainment figures excited by his past. Some may have been patrons of his hot Miami nightclub. Some will probably wind up in his bed.
Paciello came to mind today because of a recent article by Richard Johnson published about him, one that also involves MySpace.com, in the New York Post:
MYSPACE MISERY FOR MOBSTER
January 15, 2007 -- WHILE Brooklyn mobster Chris Paciello tries to start a new life in Los Angeles, having served six years in prison for a 1993 murder, there are plenty of former friends from Bensonhurst who wouldn't mind if he got run over by a truck.
Paciello was a government witness - along with such pals as Fat Sal, Applehead and Skeeve - who helped send a dozen of his old associates behind bars, including Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico, the acting boss of the Colombo crime family.
"Paciello is a no-good snitch, a rat, and a selfish [bleep-bleep]er," says a Brooklynite surprised that Paciello didn't undergo plastic surgery and enter the witness-protection program.
Always quick with his fists, the handsome Paciello was Miami's nightclub king 10 years ago and dated the likes of Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and models too numerous to mention.
Now, one of his enemies has set up a phony MySpace page bearing Paciello's likeness and his (made-up) words: "For some reason everyone in Miami and Hollywood thinks I only ratted on four people." The entry then lists five "Springville Boys" from Staten Island he actually helped put away for sentences ranging from 3 to 10 years.
"I also took the stand against Eddie Boyle [a high-end bank burglar associated with the Gambinos] and Tommy Dono from Brooklyn. I provided information on Tommy Reynolds and Fabritzio "The Hurter" DiFrancesi, now serving 30- and 36-year sentences.
"I also snitched on my best friends from Brooklyn who I grew up with my whole life, Rico Locasio, 5 years, and Dom "Black Dom" Dionisio, 16 years."
A law-enforcement source says this account is accurate: "Paciello would have testified in a lot of other cases, but the majority of defendants pleaded guilty and there were no trials."
The MySpace hoaxer points out that even after all his cooperation, Paciello was sentenced to 10 years: "As I cried in the courtroom, the prosecutor said he would appeal the sentence. A few weeks later, I got a 7-year sentence. Basically what I'm saying is I could not do an extra three years . . . I'm a selfish rat [bleep-bleep]er."
All I can say is, “Kudos to the MySpace mischief maker.”
Click these links to purchase Sonny Girard books online.....
Learn more about these novels at www.myspace.com/sonnygirard
Other Features by this author:
Good Friends Who Did Dumb Things
In the course of my life in the streets, I have had some friends, who did some really dumb things that resulted in their deaths.
To Mob Wannabes:
As someone who lived most of my life in organized crime, trust me, guys, there’s nothing left to wannabe.
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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