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· Putting Heat on Gang Land News
When You Thought It Was Over
· Death of Peter Maas
· Interesting Books – New and Old
· This Week in Mob History

LAST ISSUE 8-27-01


Putting the Heat on Gang Land News

     Recently on the BostonMafia.com Forum a poster wrote, Capeci’s Gangland just isn’t the same anymore; he just seems to recite the prior week’s already reported mob stories."

     While I concur that "Gang Land" has waned somewhat since Jerry Capeci left the New York Daily News, I disagree that his column is a total rehash. I do have some sympathy for the poster, who touched off a string of pro and con comments on Capeci. I also have some insight to share with him.

     First, I will always have a soft spot for Jerry who launched my organized crime writing career back in November 1998 when "Big Al’s Corner" was part of Capeci’s "This Week in Gang Land" for eight short weeks. What an opportunity for a novice writer to break in with one of the very best organized crime writers in America.

     Jerry had a great opportunity while at the Daily News to use his vast connections to write a weekly column for us mob followers that would grant us an insight to information that was truly unique. We ate it up. Every Monday, and then Thursday, I made a beeline for his column to get caught up on the latest mob news.

     When Jerry moved on to a new career as Director of Communications for John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, not "some kind of professor" as another poster surmised, it was obvious that his day-to-day exposure to organized crime figures would be limited and that the criminal trials that he covered for the Daily News would be nil.

     While I agree that the insider information we were all used to has diminished, I can’t think of anyone else out there that can supply us with any better information that Jerry. I think he had a novel idea in allowing George Anastasia, who I consider Capeci’s equal in writing, to bring us several updates on the Merlino trial. Perhaps Jerry will grant one of the Boston reporters the same privilege in regards to upcoming events in Beantown.

     Since I don’t have, and probably never will have, the contacts Jerry has had over the years my column here at AM.com covers information that I have gleaned from recent articles and I try to put a humorous spin on them or ask something that I hope will be thought provoking. (My comments on letting John Gotti die with dignity two weeks ago brought this response from one reader; "Did John Favara die with dignity? Rot in hell, Gotti!!!")

     Columns, especially current event columns, are not the easiest pieces to write.

     Now about that insight I said I would provide for the BM.com poster. What I like about the BostonMafia.com Forum is all of the articles that the posters put up there. These articles not only cover the mob and other high profile American crimes, but posters find articles from Canada and around the world regarding organized crime and post them for all to share and comment on.

     That being said, keep this in mind – few of us have the privilege to have BM.com access. (I have mine, thanks to Chris). We can review these articles all day long as they come in. However, how many people have passwords? One hundred? Two hundred? Capeci claims that he gets 50,000 to 100,000 hits a month. That means that normally 10,000 to 20,000 people across the country read his column each week and are getting this information for the first time. I don’t think that this audience, which does not have access to the articles like a relative few of us do, consider his columns to be a rehash.

     As far as the poster who felt that Jerry’s 15 minutes of fame were up. I think Capeci has had a lot more exposure since he left the Daily News. Jerry speaks at conferences around the world, still appears on documentaries, has had several articles written about his website, was recently on the "Politically Incorrect" television show, and has been a guest on Court TV several times.

     With one poster I do agree whole-heartedly. Jerry it’s time to get a new Gotti picture.

Just When You Thought It Was Over     ^TOP

     Like a Phoenix rising form the ashes AM.com has learned that political corruption with a mob connection has reared its ugly head in the Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Pittston section of northeastern Pennsylvania. Once the domain of mob boss Russell Bufalino, the alleged boss of this family in the Lackawanna Valley is William D’Elia.

     Instead of a Cosa Nostra boss causing the stir local newspapers – the Citizen’s Voice (Wilkes–Barre) and the Scranton Times Tribune – fired off several articles last month zeroing in on Lackawanna County Judge Michael Barrasse, who was accused in a recent civil RICO lawsuit of "masterminding a criminal organization involving drugs and prostitution."

     The trouble began back in 1998 with the closing of a local watering hole called Lavelle’s Pub after a grand jury determined that drugs were being used and distributed there. Newspaper sources said a high ranking Lackawanna County official was a frequent visitor at the bar and had thorough knowledge of what was going on there. This official, who used the alias "Michael O’Malley", is believed to be Barrasse.

     While there appears to be widespread criminality involving several individuals, we’ll focus on the judge this week. The lawsuit against Barrasse was filed by David Kurtz, and attorney of dubious character, who is currently on "inactive status." Kurtz was recently convicted of stealing money from clients to the tune of $23,000, was placed on probation and fined $1,000 plus court costs. The charges were brought against Kurtz by then prosecutor Barrasse.

     In his suit Kurtz claims that the prosecutor initiated the charges against him in order to "cripple him financially" because Barrasse was upset at Kurtz for successfully defending clients who were "specially targeted for prosecution." In seeking $1.0 million Kurtz claimed, "his practice was hurt, his civil rights violated and his reputation libeled."

     Meanwhile, now judge Barrasse denied the accusations stating, "It’s unfortunate that, number one, these types of lawsuits can be filed and, number two, that they can be printed. They will be thrown out."

     Among the other accusations against Barrasse, Kurtz contends that:

1) False charges were brought against himself, Frank Eagen, a former judge; Michael Keslosky, a police officer from Old Forge, PA and Robert Hughes. The charges against Hughes were later withdrawn.

2) Barrasse prevented several of his friends from being arrested by claiming they were informants.

3) Patrons of Lavelle’s were warned about impending raids.

4) Barrasse was a drug addict who was part of a drug ring and as prosecutor protected drug traffickers from 1988 to 1997. (Barrasse was Lackawanna County district attorney from 1989 to 1999.)

Enough ? Hardly!

     The civil complaint goes on to state that working with local prostitution "king pin" Al Carpinet, Jr. Barrasse helped develop a drug distribution plan that had prostitutes moving the drugs.

     Finally, Kurtz alleges that Barrasse failed to investigate three drug-related deaths. One was that of a former intern in the district attorney’s office, while another individual overdosed in Barrasse’s presence at an Old Forge bar.

     Meanwhile an on-going investigation into individuals involved with the selling of cocaine at Lavelle’s Pub resulted in joint raids being conducted by the Internal Revenue Service, US Postal Inspectors and the State Police this past May 31. Among the homes searched were those of Thomas Joseph, Samuel Marranca, Jeanne Stanton and William D’Elia.

More to come next week.

Death of Peter Maas     ^TOP

     August 23 marked the passing of author Peter Maas. The noted author gave us the best-selling books The Valachi Papers and Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano’s Story of Life in the Mafia. In addition, he also wrote Serpico, the story of New York City police officer Frank Serpico who exposed corruption in the New York City police department in the 1960s. Serpico was turned into a hit movie starring Al Pacino.

     In early February 1973, after a mild heart seizure, Frank Costello, the "Prime Minister of the Underworld, sent word to Maas that he wanted to do a book about his life. Hospitalized, Costello said he would work with Maas once he was sent home to his West Central Park apartment in the Majestic. Unfortunately, Costello never made it home. He died of a heart attack on the morning of February 18. What a missed opportunity for us followers of organized crime.

     During his career Maas wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, Collier’s magazine, and Look magazine.

     Maas’s name joins the growing list of mob authors who have left us over the past decade: Claire Sterling (1995), William F. Roemer (1996), Hank Messick (1999) and John Kobler (2001). They all will be sorely missed.

Interesting Books – New and Old     ^TOP

     Speaking of books and authors. I still amaze myself every now and then by finding some obscure book from decades ago that I have never heard of that offers a good story or insight into organized crime.

     Rick Porrello once told me you need to have the word "Mafia" in your title, or sub-title, for it to sell as an organized crime book. Hence his two titles – The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia and To Kill the Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia. Rick appears to be correct if you look at the long lost gem The Conspiracy of Death. I’m quite sure I’ve never come across this title in all of the bibliographies I have scoured over the years. Even the Tommy gun and bullet holes on the cover didn’t help this book to become a mob reader’s staple.

     Written by George Redston with Kendell F. Crossen The Conspiracy of Death was published in 1965. The jacket cover reads:

"Former bookmaker, investigator for the Secret Six in Chicago, investigator for Senators McCarran and McCarthy, bodyguard for assassinated Mayor Cermak of Chicago, and convicted murderer, George Redston has long opposed the Mafia and knows more about its nefarious enterprises than anyone who is not one of is members. As frightening as it is fascinating, this startling expose tells the inside story of the American underworld."

     The index reveals a list of entries from Accardo to Zwillman. Hmmm, where have we heard that combination before? Between those entries Redston covers personalities from New York’s Joseph Valachi to Hollywood’s Johnny Stompanato.

     I came across another gem recently when I staggered into an out of print bookstore in Cleveland that will remain nameless. The first time I went to this location, over a decade ago, I must have walked out of there with 30 titles. This time I found the book Hoodlums: New York, by Ted Prager and Leeds Moberly. A paperback that was priced at 50 cents when it was published in 1959, its sub title was "Big Rackets, Big Racketeers from Anastasia to Zwillman." Like I said, what a gem. Ted Prager began as a police reporter in New York City in 1916 and over the years covered more than 1,000 murders. Both authors worked for the New York Daily News. The book is extremely well written and has great coverage of Albert Anastasia’s life and death, as well as stories on Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis and Longy Zwillman.

     Make every effort to track down these two books before the only place left to purchase them is at Russ McDermott.com, which recently changed its name to I Just Made My First Million By Over-Pricing Old Mob Books.com.

     Two recent releases that didn’t seem to make a splash, although "Louie the Hammer" just exposed one at BostonMafia.com, are Gotham Unbound: How New York City was Liberated from the Grip of Organized Crime, by James B. Jacobs and Once Upon A Time in New York: Jimmy Walker, Franklin Roosevelt, and the Last Great Battle of the Jazz Age. These books were published in 1999 and 2000 respectively. My good friend Charlie "the Youngstown Moose" Molino discovered these books for me.

     Speaking of Charlie. Two weeks ago I walked into a local book store, part of a Cleveland chain, called "Half Price Books." I walked out with a copy of The Ceremony: The Mafia Initiation Tapes for an incredible $2.66. I was so excited I called Youngstown Charlie to tell him about my coup. Less than two hours later Moose called me back to let me know he had bartered the book away for me. Well, what are friends for?

     Anyway, the moral of the story is these books are out there for the finding. So if you don’t have friends like Charlie Moose to help you find them, or if you don’t have some obscure out of print stores in your area, expect to pay mega-bucks for these classics at Russ McDermott.com, which recently changed its name to I Just Bought A New Lamborghini After Selling Old Mob Books At Exorbitant Prices.com

This Week in Mob History     ^TOP

It’s a big week for mob hits.

September 5, 1962 – The one-time boss of the San Francisco Family, Mike Abati, died of natural causes in Italy where he had been deported on July 8, 1961. Abati took over the leadership of this West Coast family in April 1952 when Anthony J. Lima was imprisoned for grand theft.

September 5, 1976 – John "Mooney" Cutrone, an associate of the Gallo brothers, was murdered in the aftermath of the Colombo shooting.

September 6, 1975 – Joseph Spinuzzi, identified in Organized Crime: 25 Years After Valachi as the boss of the Colorado Family, died of natural causes.

September 6, 1989 – Morris "Moe" Dalitz was known as the "Grandfather or Godfather" of Las Vegas. During Prohibition Dalitz was known as "first among equals" of the prosperous Cleveland Syndicate. Dalitz made his way to Las Vegas where he ran the Desert Inn for years. He died of natural causes at the age of 89.

September 7, 1923 – Jerry O’Connor became the first casualty of the Chicago Beer War. O’Connor, out on parole after having been sentenced to life in Joliet prison, was roughing up opposing saloonkeepers with the South Side O’Donnells. When Saltis-McErlane gang members caught up with the group that night, O’Connor, who didn’t move fast enough, was shoved outside where he found himself face-to-face with Frank McErlane. The psychopathic McErlane aimed a shotgun at the hapless O’Connor’s head and pulled the trigger. See my column 8-28-00, "Frank McErlane – Chicago’s ‘Murder Machine,’" (Part One) http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_8-28-00.html

September 7, 1928 – Antonio "Tony" Lombardo was Capone’s self-appointed leader of Chicago’s Unione Siciliana. His reign was short lived as assassins murdered him in broad daylight near the busy intersection of Madison and Dearborn at 4:30 in the afternoon. See my column dated 10-30-00, "Chicago’s Unione Siciliana – 1920 – A Decade of Slaughter," (Part 6). http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_10-30-00.html

September 7, 1957 – Joseph Scalise was the brother of Frank "Don Cheech" Scalise, who was considered the right-hand man of Albert Anastasia. When "Don Cheech" was murdered, after allegedly selling Mafia memberships, Joseph Scalise swore revenge. He was reported missing by his son and never seen again. The rumor was he was set up at the home of an Anastasia capo, murdered and dismembered.

September 7, 1958 – John Robilotto, known as Johnny Roberts, allegedly "earned his button" by killing New Jersey mobster Willie Moretti in 1951. Roberts was close to Albert Anastasia and after the "Mad-Hatter’s" murder in 1957 Roberts became expendable and was murdered the following year. His body was found on a Brooklyn street corner.

September 7, 1973 – Sam Battaglia, known as "Teets," grew up in Chicago’s infamous "Patch" and was a member of the notorious "42 Gang." A close associate of Sam Giancana, Battaglia was close to reaching the top rung of the Chicago Outfit when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on an extortion charge. He was released from prison with a terminal illness nine days before he died.

September 9, 1928 – Joseph Ferraro (Joseph Moreci) was a bodyguard of Tony Lombardo and shot down with him two days earlier. Ferraro lingered near death, paralyzed with his spinal cord severed. After his death his body lay unclaimed at the morgue until a relative arrived and identified him as Joseph Moreci. See my column dated 10-30-00, "Chicago’s Unione Siciliana – 1920 – A Decade of Slaughter," (Part 6). http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_10-30-00.html

September 9, 1930 – John Pinzola was hand picked by Joe "the Boss" Masseria to replace the murdered Tom Reina. Ranking members of Reina’s gang, Gaetano "Thomas" Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese rebelled against the choice. After just six months as the leader Pinzolo was murdered. There are two versions of who murdered Pinzolo. Valachi claims Girolamo "Bobby Doyle" Santucci killed him, while Luciano says it was Dominick Petrilli. Neither man was arrested. Instead, Lucchese was indicted, but the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. After Pinzolo’s murder the Gagliano-led family aligned themselves with the Maranzano forces in the Castellammarese War. See my column 06-19-00, "Gaetano Gagliano: A Mafia Short Story." http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_6-19-00.html

September 9, 1934 – Ferdinand "the Shadow" Boccia was involved in a plot hatched by Vito Genovese to cheat a New York merchant out of $166,000. Afterwards Boccia demanded his share of the money. Genovese reneged and hired two men to kill him. Genovese would be indicted for his murder in 1944. He was arrested in Italy and brought back to the United States after having left in the mid-1930s. The chief witness against him was poisoned in his jail cell.

September 9, 1935 – Abraham "Bo" Weinberg, a chief henchman and killer for Dutch Schultz. If the rumors of the hits he was in on are true, and they basically came from Weinberg himself, then few killers have as many major hits under their belts as he had. His notches include Salvatore Maranzano, Jack "Legs" Diamond and Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll. Weinberg disappeared and was believed murdered by Schultz after having sold him out to Lucky Luciano. His body was never found. Weinberg is believed to be responsible for the birth of the Sicilian Vespers legend. See my column 2-1-99, "A Sicilian Bedtime Story," http://www.americanmafia.com/Allan_May_2-1-99.html and my full-length piece "Dutch Schultz: Beer Baron of the Bronx" at CrimeLibrary.com. http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters/schultz/

Contact: AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com

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