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· Joe Stassi?…Give Me A Break
Geraldo Headed for Vegas?
· Camden Corruption Cases
· Merlino Associate to Cooperate
· Philadelphia Stamina
· This Week in Mob History

LAST ISSUE 9-24-01


Joe Stassi?…Give Me A Break

     I finally had the opportunity to read the September G Q magazine article about Joe Stassi. Youngstown Charlie made a copy for me so I didn’t have to pay for a product that Jerry Capeci would define as drivel. This article is the biggest piece of crap since Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos’ Contract Killer book. It’s easy to sit there and give a writer a BS story as long as you don’t have to prove any of your claims. Compare this piece to the August article in The New Yorker about Harold Konigsberg. That article, excellently written by Eric Konigsberg, Harold’s nephew, was well documented as the writer sought to tie up loose ends and present a believable story.

     This article’s author, Richard Stratton, bills the 95 year-old Stassi as the "Oldest Living Mafioso." Stassi is either senile or has taken this opportunity to inflate his rather unknown role in organized crime history. Take your pick.

     Stassi begins by telling Stratton you can’t believe what you read in books, "That’s all bullshit." He then attacks government "rats" claiming, "You can’t believe these fuckin’ stool pigeons. What I’m saying is the truth. I’ll take a lie-detector teat." Well, Joe, I’d like to see you do that. Based on the fact that there is nearly nothing written about Stassi it’s no wonder he maintains you can’t believe what is written in books.

     Stassi bitches and moans about mobsters breaking omerta and then throughout the article he does just that in trying to make himself larger than life. Stratton helps him along by claiming that Stassi’s earned "an underworld reputation as the most dangerous man in La Cosa Nostra."

     Let’s go through some of his outrageous claims.

     First, Stassi claims to have been close to New Jersey mob boss Abner "Longy" Zwillman. Stratton points out that there is a picture of Stassi, where he is identified as Joe Rogers, in Mark A. Stuart’s book, Gangster #2: Longy Zwillman, the Man Who Invented Organized Crime. (If Zwillman invented organized crime what did Arnold Rothstein, Johnny Torrio, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello contribute?) As close as Stassi claims to have been with Zwillman, outside of that picture, he isn’t mentioned once in the book. In addition, he states he was associated with Lansky, Costello, Luciano and Santo Trafficante. However, Stassi is not mentioned in any of the biographies of these mob big wigs.

     Stassi claims it was Zwillman who made the arrangements to have noted columnist Walter Winchell turn Lepke Buchalter over to J. Edgar Hoover at the height of the national manhunt for him. I guess Mark Stuart missed that. It isn’t mentioned in his book. Most people believe it was Frank Costello who brokered that deal.

     Next question. When was Newark, New Jersey EVER the "bootleg capital of the country?"

     I continue to shake my head over his version of the Bugsy Siegel murder. Does anyone really believe Stassi hired an ex-detective to investigate the killing of Siegel? If the mob didn’t want Siegel hit don’t you think they would have scoured the earth for his assassin?

     The Stassi version has Virginia Hill’s brother, Charles "Chick" Hill, whom he claims was a former marine sharpshooter, killing Siegel because, "he hated Ben." To back up his claim he states mob assassins never use rifles. They get up close and empty a revolver into the intended victim’s head – a lesson apparently wasted on Vincent "Chin" Gigante in 1957. In Bugsy’s Baby, Andy Edmonds’ well-researched book about Virginia Hill, Chick Hill is prominently mentioned. However, I guess Miss Edmond’s missed those little tidbits about Chick Hill being in the marines and being a sharpshooter. She never mentions them. She did note that Chick ran errands for Siegel and did lots of odd jobs for him. She quotes Chick Hill as stating, "he thought of Siegel as a combination big brother and father figure." Well, I guess that’s a good reason to hate him.

     Stassi claims that Siegel "owed nobody money," and that everyone knew Las Vegas was "going to be big." He forgets that the opening of the Flamingo was a flop. Anyone who has read about Lansky, Siegel and Luciano knows they were friends from childhood and loved each other. It is absolutely ludicrous to believe that if Siegel’s death had nothing to do with money matters that both Lansky and Luciano would discuss sanctioning Bugsy’s demise. What could they possibly gain from admitting this if they had nothing to do with it? Stassi calls the mob hit on Siegel, "fictional gangland lore gleamed almost entirely from second and third hand information." However, the most credible information comes first hand from Luciano himself.

     In The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano the mob boss reveals:

     "There was no doubt in Meyer’s mind that Bugsy had skimmed this dough from his buildin’ budget, and he was sure Siegel was preparin’ to skip as well as skim, in case the roof was gonna fall in on him. Everybody listened very close while Lansky explained it. When he got through, somebody asked, ‘What do you think we ought to do, Meyer?’ Lansky said, ‘There’s only one thing to do with a thief who steals from his friends. Benny’s got to be hit’"


     Also, if Siegel wasn’t having money problems why is there that famous bounced check made out to contractor Del Webb, which appears in books about Siegel?

     Lastly, Stassi forgets that moments after the shooting Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum entered the Flamingo and announced a takeover in the wake of Bugsy’s sudden demise. If this wasn’t a planned mob hit then how was this carried out in such quick order.

     The best tale Stassi gives us has to be the one on Dutch Schultz. Stassi claims he was given the assignment to have the Dutchman hit without offering us any reason why. First, Stratton writes, "Hoover’s FBI had named Schultz Public Enemy No. 1 after he beat an IRS case." Stratton, a former criminal himself, should be aware that Public Enemy status is given to criminals in hiding and wanted by the authorities. Schultz was holding press conferences in Newark and was completely accessible to law enforcement. The Public Enemy status was when he was a fugitive PRIOR to the IRS case.

     Stassi says he brought Charley Workman, Mendy Weiss, Gyp DeCarlo and another man in on the hit. Eyewitnesses claim there were only two shooters and one driver. Was DeCarlo disguised as a tablecloth?

     Stassi, the man who earlier claimed mob hitmen don’t use rifles, states he gave DeCarlo a rifle to use. Then he reports that DeCarlo used the rifle to "shoot all Dutch’s men." Stassi apparently forgot to check ballistics because all of "Dutch’s men" were hit with .38 caliber bullets and pellets from a shotgun.

     Stassi’s story is no where near the version that leaked out from Murder, Inc. members later. While I am the first to admit that the sequence of events at the Palace Chop House in October 1935 doesn’t quite make sense the way some crime historians have chronicled them, I scoff at Stratton’s notion that, "Stassi’s confession clears the books on one of the Mob’s most spectacular hits."

     All in all I consider myself lucky. I didn’t pay a cent for this garbage which, who knows, could have come out in $25 book instead of a magazine article. At the end of the piece the magazine states "Richard Stratton is at work on a film documentary about the life of Joseph Stassi." Please, Richard, give us all a break. By the time this gem comes out Stassi will have revealed his participation in the murders of Joe Masseria, Salvatore Maranzano, Albert Anastasia and Joey Gallo.

Geraldo Headed for Vegas?     ^TOP

     Treasure hunters looking for hidden loot belonging to the late Lonnie "Ted" Binion dug a hole in the former casino owner’s back yard two weeks ago – one day after the third anniversary of his controversial death. The intruders began digging near a playhouse Binion had constructed years ago for his daughter.

     It was believed at first that Binion, who had a long history of drug dependency, had died of an overdose of heroin and Xanax, an anti-anxiety sedative, on September 17, 1998. However, after an investigation, Binion’s live-in girlfriend, Sandy Murphy and her lover, Rick Tabish, were charged with his murder.

     Binion, whose family owns Las Vegas’ Horseshoe Club gambling casino, telephoned his lawyer before his death and told him, "Take Sandy out of the will if she doesn’t kill me tonight. If I’m dead, you’ll know what happened."

     During the highly publicized trial, in which both defendants were found guilty, Binion’s estate received an anonymous telephone call stating that "valuables were buried" under the playhouse. However, the estate decided at that time against digging up the yard.

     The Associated Press reported in an article last month, "Binion was known to have a penchant for burying things valuable to him." Perhaps if Binion had buried Sandy instead of his $5 million silver collection he’d still be alive today.

     Look for Geraldo Rivera to head out to the Binion homestead soon with an excavation crew. It may not be as interesting as his discovery of Al Capone’s vault in the old Lexington Hotel in Chicago, but maybe he’ll uncover more than just a couple of old empty beer bottles.

     On a final note, famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz has filed an application to represent the Murphy, a former stripper, in the appeal of her murder conviction.

Camden Corruption Cases     ^TOP

     Former Camden, New Jersey City Council President James R. Mathes was recently indicted on corruption charges. The indictment is a spin-off of last year’s conviction of Camden Mayor Milton Milan.

     Mob watchers may remember Milan’s trial served as a kind of warm-up for prized government witness Ralph Natale, whom law enforcement officials touted as the "first sitting mob boss to testify for the government." During the trial Natale testified that mob associate Daniel Daidone was his liaison with Milan in trying to steer city contracts to mobbed-up contractors.

     After Milan’s conviction several jurors indicated that Natale’s testimony had little to do with their decision.

     The allegations involving Mathes state that "the mob provided a diamond ring for Mathes’ girlfriend in exchange for his promise to steer contracts to mob-linked companies." Mathes was caught during a surveillance of Natale speaking to the mobster in a Pennsauken restaurant. Natale was having dinner with Philadelphia Family member Steven Mazzone and two others at the time.

     As in the Milan case, the indictment doesn’t indicate that Mathes awarded any city contracts to companies designated by mobsters.

     Natale is expected to testify again, this will be the third trial for the "star witness." His lengthy testimony during the recent trial of Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and others members of the Philadelphia Family did not achieve the expectations that government prosecutors had hoped for. So far, at least according to jurors, Natale has been a dud.

Merlino Associate to Cooperate     ^TOP

     In the "City of Brotherly Love" Roger Vella, the 30-year-old former driver for Joey Merlino, pled guilty to third-degree murder on September 18 and agreed to cooperate with the government. Vella has implicated another member of the beleaguered Philadelphia mob in the February 1995 murder of Ralph Mazzuca.

     Mazzuca, a reputed drug dealer, was shot to death and set on fire near the Food Distribution Center in South Philadelphia. Mazzuca was alleged to have broken into the home of Vella’s parents and terrorized the family before stealing two kilograms of cocaine. It is interesting to point out that Vella’s attorney, Nicholas Nastasi, told the court that his client’s parents and younger sister, "are not supportive of his decision to become a government witness."

     In addition to the Mazzuca murder Vella is believed to have provided information on the killing of alleged mob associate Ron Turchi. In 1999 Turchi’s body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car in South Philadelphia.

     Another Philadelphia note, Steven "Gorilla" Mondevergine, leader of the Pagan motorcycle gang, was sentenced to 27 months in prison for attempting to shoot rival gang member John Hendri last November.

     In August 1999 Mondevergine was shot nine times after leaving a neighborhood bar. Although listed in critical condition, the burly gang leader pulled through. After confronting Hendri, who Mondevergine believed took part in the assault on him, the Pagan Motorcycle Club president fired two shots at him at high noon near 11th Street and Oregon Avenue as police and bystanders looked on.

     Hendri was not harmed and Mondevergine was arrested at the scene. Mondevergine told the judge before sentencing, "What I did that day was in poor judgement." Based on the sentence she handed down, Judge Mary McLaughlin was in full agreement.

Philadelphia Stamina     ^TOP

     The Philadelphia Family has a strange history. Since the 1980 murder of "Docile Don," Angelo Bruno, the family has endured 20 years of bloody gang warfare. More surprising is that it has survived despite two major Federal RICO trials which knocked down the "Little Nicky" Scarfo regime as well as the John Stanfa family.

     The results of those trials, as well as from all the killings, has left the Philadelphia mob with unusually young leadership:

     Boss – Joseph Merlino 39

     Underboss – Steve Mazzone 37

     Consigliere – George Borgesi 37

     It’s interesting how this family has survived when you consider the following. First, many mob experts in New York have been saying for years that younger people are shying away from getting involved in the mob families there due to all of the arrests and imprisonments, many brought on by informants, rats and deceit within the families. Philadelphia is no stranger to mob rats. Just look at the books:

The Plumber – Joseph Salerno

Blood and Honor – Nicholas Caramandi

Mob Father – Thomas DelGiorno

Blood Oath – George Fresolone

Still waiting on one from Phil Leonetti

     Second, unlike Philadelphia, other cities that have had their mob families devastated by Federal / State Organized Crime Strike Forces have not returned – or if they have, are not nearly at the strength they once were. We’re speaking of Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Providence, Rochester (NY), St. Louis and, even to some extent, Chicago.

     Somehow through it all the Philadelphia Family survives. Let’s hope the convictions from the recent Merlino trial will be the initial blow that will put the Philadelphia Family away for good.

This Week in Mob History     ^TOP

October 1, 1952 – Vincenzo "James" Capone was the oldest of the seven Capone brothers. Capone left home in his teens to join the circus and lived in the Midwest before serving in World War I. Taking on the name Richard Hart he became a Prohibition agent and worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In later life, when James became destitute, Ralph Capone helped him out. See my column http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_11-8-99.html

October 2, 1931 – Joseph Mullen, an employee of Dutch Schultz, was murdered in front of a Bronx beer drop off by Frank Giordano and Dominic Odierno during the Schultz / Coll Beer War. Reliable eyewitnesses identified the two killers. A rarity in gangland history, Giordano and Odierno were tried, convicted, and executed for the murder. See my article http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters/schultz/2.htm

October 2, 1980 – Dominic P. "Junior" Senzarino was a victim of the Naples / Carabbia War that took place in the Mahoning Valley in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Senzarino, a cousin of the Carabbia brothers, was shotgunned to death in his garage where his assassin had been hiding.

October 2, 1992 – Rocco Scali, owner of a North End restaurant, was shot and killed as he sat in his vehicle in the parking lot of a pancake house in Dedham, Massachusetts. His murder was part of the on-going mob war in Boston. See my column http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_9-11-00.html

October 3, 1991 – Barry Lazzarini a former restaurant owner, was found tied up and brutally beaten to death in his home in Manomet, Massachusetts. Lazzarini was one of the early casualties in the Boston mob war. See my column http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_9-11-00.html

October 4, 1951 – Willie Moretti was the colorful boss of the New Jersey rackets whose criminal career began during the Prohibition years. A close ally of Frank Costello, Moretti was suffering from advanced stages of syphilis and was believed to have been too talkative. He had been a comical witness in the prior year at the Kefauver hearings. Despite Costello’s attempts to protect his friend, the murder was called a "mercy killing" and was alleged to have been ordered by Vito Genovese.

October 5, 1912 – Jack Zelig was a New York City gang leader during the early years of the 20th Century. Tied in with New York Police Lieutenant Charles Becker, Zelig was alleged to have supplied the gunmen that killed gambler Herman Rosenthal at Becker’s request. Zelig was murdered as he entered a streetcar the day before the Becker murder trial, at which he was scheduled to testify, was to begin.

October 5, 1995 – William "Billy" Veasey was on his way to work when two gunmen shot him six times as he drove near Oregon Avenue and 17th Street in Philadelphia. The killing was alleged to be orchestrated to intimidate his brother John who was scheduled to testify for the government that morning against John Stanfa.

October 6, 1977 – Daniel Patrick "Danny" Greene was killed in a spectacular explosion in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst. Greene had just left a dentist office and was entering his car, which was parked in a medical center parking lot, when the bomb was set off by remote control. The death of the flamboyant Irish mobster signaled the beginning of the end of the Cleveland Mafia. See Rick Porrello’s article http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_6.html, or better yet, buy the book To Kill the Irishman.

Contact: AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com


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