Feature Articles

May 2000

Dumb & Dumber
Stupidity In The Underworld

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." Nick Dos

Does it get dumber then Sammy Gravano's recent drug arrest because his wife supposedly was caught and recorded talking about the deals over a tapped phone line?

Sure it does. The mob has a long and honored tradition in stupidity. Take Frank Costello.

It's not clear if Mob father Frank Costello was dumb or just arrogant or both. In 1947, Frank Costello began to see a psychiatrist. He had, at age 60, begun to doubt himself and he question the role of his life, his twisted values. In conversations with close friends, he began to say that he had enough of the mob life and he wanted out. But it went deeper then that. He was also suffering through bouts of severe doubt, depression, insomnia and he was preoccupied with the thoughts of death. The Godfather needed help, so from 1947 until 1949, Frank visited Dr. Richard H. Hoffman of Park Avenue, a renowned psychiatrist to New York's rich and powerful.

Like most people who got to know Costello, Hoffman grew to like him, and advised his patient to get away from the outfit and mingle with a better class of people, broaden his interests or get involved in charity work. Costello liked what he heard. He had already started moving away from the Wise Guy crowd by purchasing three buildings on Wall Street, built a bogus corporation and named himself chief executive officer.

He had always gone out of his way to mix with the most influential and popular people of his time, and he and his wife of 52 years, Loretta, lived in a massive apartment on ritzy Central Park West, and kept an estate in exclusive Sands Point, Long Island, so moving into better circles seemed like sound advice to the Godfather. And Costello liked the idea of charity work. It fit his image of himself as humanitarian, a benefactor and a Father figure.

But, like most things Costello did, he did it big, a mistake for a man who should live his life in the shadows.

In January of 1949, Costello began raising money for The Salvation Army, by sponsoring a fund-raising dinner at The Copacabana nightclub for about 150 guests who ranged from federal judges to professional hit men, and gang leaders like Vito Genovese.

Although he raised almost $20,000 for the cause, the entire event backfired, and backfired badly. The media covered the evening, because they had been invited to cover it, by Costello. The next morning, and, for several mornings afterward, almost every newspaper in the city ran a story about the power and influence of Frank Costello. Some of what was printed was true, most of it wasn't. Then the press found out about Costello and his analyst when Doctor Hoffman came foreword admitted that he was in fact treating the Godfather for depression.

From that day on, Frank Costello became public enemy number 1 and fair game for every city, state and federal prosecutor with a law degree.

A few years later, by the way, a very young Vincent "The Chin" Gigante started daily shooting practice in the basement of his Greenwich village apartment for a planned hit on Costello. After two months, the Chin could hit a Bull's-eye from 500 feet.

On May 2, 1957, the Chin rushed into the lobby of Costello's apartment building, stood four feet from Costello and said "This is for you, Frank" and fired. He missed. The bullet barely touched Costello. When cops searched the Godfather's pockets in the hospital, they found the monthly tally sheets for the Las Vegas casinos and were finally able to tie the various mob families together through the tally sheets.

In Chicago gangdom, Al Capone wins the idiot award for his remark to gangster Roger Touhy when he said that Touhy's kingdom was "Virgin territory for whore houses'"

Then there's the case of Sammy Cesario, AKA, "Sammy the Fish" who was a low level soldier in the Chicago outfit who was dumb enough to marry Milwaukee Phil Alderisio's girlfriend after the Fed's sent Alderisio to prison. Alderisio was the outfit's primary murderer for almost two decades. Informants reported that when Milwaukee Phil discussed the killings, he became sexually aroused.

Cesario, apparently thinking he could reason with a lunatic killer like Alderisio, took a trip down to Atlanta to get the murderers blessing to marry his former girlfriend. Milwaukee Phil gave the couple his blessing. However, right after Alderisio fell dead from a heart attack in the prison yard, the contract he issued on Cesario was called in and in October of 1971, somebody put a bullet into Sammy Cesario's temple.

Los Angeles mob boss Jack Dragna wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed either. In 1950, Dragna planted a bomb under the home of another LA hood, drug dealer Micky Cohen. The bomb left a crater ten feet deep and broke every window in every house for 5,000 feet around. The problem was, they had placed the bomb directly under a double laid cement floor where Cohen kept his safe. Because of that, the bomb blasted sideways instead of upwards. All that happened to Cohen was that the explosion lifted him up out of his bed and threw him back down again.

Next, Dragna sent Sam Bruno to shot Cohen to death. Bruno was said to be the best shot in the mob. One bright, beautiful afternoon he hid behind a tree and fired a shotgun into Cohen's car as he drove by. Bruno's repeated shots killed the car dead, but Cohen was left untouched. After that, mob guys started saying that Cohen made a pack with the devil. In Las Vegas they were actually taking odds on how long it would take to kill him off and the odds were in Micky Cohens favor. They never did make a bullet or a bomb...or a Wise Guy, who could do in the Mick.

In fairness, it's not always the bad guys who are dull of mind. Take the case of New Jersey US Senate candidate Jon Corzine. A Democrat of Italian descent, Corzine was making his bid for office in a state where one out of every of every three voters is a Democrat, and one of four Democrats is an Italian-American. In other words, Corzine was shoo in.

However, after being introduced to a lawyer named David Stein, Corzine allegedly remarked, "He's not Italian, is he? Oh, I guess he's your Jewish lawyer who is here to get the rest of you out of jail" He allegedly followed that up with a second zinger two weeks later when he met an Italian-American contractor and quipped: "Oh, you make cement shoes."

Lastly, there was the New York mob boss who was on trial for a triple homicide. The cops had arrested him at the scene of the crime, smoking gun in hand.

Convinced he would be sentenced to death, he placed one of his Capo's on the jury and told him to make sure that he received life in prison instead. Sure enough, the jury voted unanimously for life in prison with no hope of parole.

The Don thanked the Capo profusely. "Well, thank you" said the Capo "It wasn't easy either" "I'll bet it wasn't" replied the Don. "Darn right" said the Capo "They wanted to set you free, but damn it, I fought like hell and got you life"

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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