Feature Articles

April 2000

Mob Monthly
A Round Up Of The Usual Suspects 4-10 thru 4-14-00

By John William Tuohy

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

compiled by John William Tuohy

AUSTRIA: The 10th U.N. Conference on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders was held this month and U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette warned that organized crime is now transnational and is threatening legitimate businesses and the stability of entire nations through forced labor, prostitution to smuggling drugs and arms.

Frechette said it was more important than ever to bring together governments and crime fighters because of criminal opportunities created by globalization.

"To these organized criminal, opening borders means it is easier to traffic in women and children for forced labor and prostitution, to smuggle drugs and arms, and to escape justice"

CALIFORNIA: A veteran U.S. immigration officer has been found guilty of allowing 3,550 pounds of marijuana and 25 undocumented immigrants into the United States.

Richard Lawrence Pineda, was found guilty on 12 counts, including smuggling and conspiracy.

The U.S. attorney's office claimed Pineda earned at least $350,000 in bribes. The U.S. has also indicted two Mexicans, including a Tijuana police officer, who allegedly conspired with Pineda. They remain at large and are believed to be in Mexico.

Hollywood: HBO says it's going to be a year before the third season of the hit "The Sopranos" is televised.

Fan interest reached a peak this month Sunday, when the second season-ending episode of the series aired. Nine million viewers tuned in, making the episode the most-watched original series ever on cable, according to HBO.

Also, an actor who had a bit part as a mobster on the show was sentenced to prison on Wednesday for a stock scam that targeted the elderly.

Thomas Bifalco ran a boiler-room operation out of a small Wall Street office where he and others used high-pressure sales tactics to sell worthless stock in a shell company called Falcon Marine Inc. to elderly victims, prosecutors charged.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Herbert Adlerberg passed the maximum sentence, two to six years in prison.

"He does not realize this is not 'The Sopranos,''' assistant state Attorney General John Panagopoulos said. ``This is not television. He can not shake down real victims and walk away unpunished."

The prosecutor also said that Bifalco had reneged on an agreement to pay restitution to his victims, claiming he needed the money more than his victims did.

Bifalco played a minor, unnamed mobster on ``The Sopranos'' and also appeared on the hit sitcom ``Spin City.''

...... Claire Trevor, actress who won an Academy Award for her 1948 performance as a boozy, broken-down torch singer in "Key Largo" died of natural causes earlier this month. Ms. Trevor was 91 years old.

Of the film Key Largo, she said once "everyone in the cast was interesting or exciting or different. I could have stayed on that picture for the rest of my life. I adored it."

In the film Trevor played ex-singer Gaye Dawn, mistress of gangster Edward G. Robinson.

COLUMBIA: Police smashed Colombia's most powerful narcotics ring this month, seizing the alleged ringleader, a cousin of former drug capo Pablo Escobar, and 45 others accused of smuggling more than $9 million of heroin to the United States and Europe each month. The gang is thought to have shipped up to 110 pounds of heroin a month, hidden inside rubber penis-shaped sex aids, women's bras and false-bottomed suitcases, police said.

Authorities said the cartel shipped drugs to the United States, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy.

Colombia is the world's largest cocaine producer with an output of some 520 tons per year. It is also a leading supplier of heroin to the United States, with production of some six tons per year, according to the DEA.

Almost 1,600 agents, backed by a fleet of planes and helicopter gunships, launched pre-dawn raids in four cities and a handful of towns in what was dubbed "Operation Millennium II."

The arrests coincided with the visit of Columbia's President Andres Pastrana to Washington. Pastrana is urgently lobbying for a $1.3 billion U.S. package of military aid to fight the drug war and Marxist rebels. The package is currently bogged down in the U.S. Senate.

CUBA: During a summit of the Group of 77 Third World countries in Cuba, Pakistan and Nigerian officials called for action to stop corrupt politicians smuggling money out of their countries into first world banks.

FLORIDA: A retired federal drug agent accused of taking part in a smuggling ring left his trial, drove to a highway and killed himself by stepping into the path of a tractor-trailer.

Stephen Michael Swanson's trial had reached closing arguments when he left the courthouse during a lunch break. He faced 10 years to life in federal prison if found guilty, and his lawyer suggested that he killed himself out of concern for his cancer-stricken wife. If convicted, Swanson would have lost medical benefits she needed.

He was charged with racketeering and money laundering in connection with a ring that smuggled hashish and marijuana into the United States. Swanson claimed that he was working for the government.

In a poorest choice of words Swanson's lawyer said `I thought that our defense had a realistic shot at succeeding,''

ITALY: A bomb killed a construction industry executive this monthly in an area of southern Italy that is home to a branch of the Mafia. The victim, 42-year-old Domenico Gullaci, was the owner of a construction supplies company. He died when his luxury car blew up outside his home in Marina di Gioiosa Jonica, a seaside town near the regional capital of Reggio Calabria, home of the 'Ndrangheta, the local version of the Sicilian Mafia. The organization has used violence in the past to enforce extortion demands on the business community.

LONDON: Hannibal the Cannibal is one of us. Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins dropped his British passport and become a U.S. citizen this month.

Hopkins, a Welshman, won the best actor Oscar for ``Silence of the Lambs,'' was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993, giving him the right to use ``Sir' ' before his name. However, he was required to recite the words: ``I further renounce the title of nobility to which I have heretofore belonged.'' The British Consulate said Hopkins could continue to use his title in Britain and would still be recognized as a British national.

LOUISIANA: Former Gov. Edwin Edward's flatly denied charges that he and six codefendants carried out a series of extortion schemes involving the licensing of riverboat casinos. Edward's, his son and five other men are accused of running a bribery and extortion scheme around the licensing of riverboat casinos.

Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo's claim that Edward's wore a money belt under his shirt to smuggle a $400,000 cash payoff through the San Francisco Airport on March 12, 1997.

Edward's acknowledged taking the money out of DeBartolo's car in a briefcase during the meeting, but he said, as he has said all along, that the money was a legal payment for consulting work he did to help DeBartolo get a casino license.

Edward's said that secretly taped conversation about splitting the proceeds of a proposed tugboat deal is being misinterpreted by prosecutors.

In the taped conversation, Edward's is heard discussing a way to rent a tugboat to a gambler, and then hike up the rental fee. He also discusses charging the gambler for made-up work.

MEXICO: The US Government has accused on of Mexico's richest and most politically influential families of having links to the illegal drug trade.

The Hank family, led by patriarch Carlos Hank Gonzalez, was cited by the U.S. government's National Drug Intelligence Centre (NDIC) as ``a significant criminal threat to the United States,'' for alleged cocaine smuggling and money laundering.

The family has vast interests in banking and financial services in Mexico and the United States and is believed to have enormous real estate holdings here as well. They are also thought to be back room power brokers in Mexican politics.

......MEXICO CITY: Three Mexican federal drug agents were killed in the north of the country this month. Police say the murders were a warning to authorities from one of the country's most-feared drug cartels. The bodies of the three agents for Mexico's FEADS anti-drug agency, the equivalent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, were found in a car in the northern state of Baja California.

Mexican authorities said the murders are a warning from the Arellano Felix brothers, who run one of Mexico's top two narcotics-smuggling organizations and are regarded as one of the most drug violent cartels in the business.

Mexico's anti-drug chief said the three agents had been assigned to Tijuana, where they were investigating the notorious Arellano Felix brothers and their alleged financial adviser, Jesus Labra. Labra was arrested in Tijuana on March 11 and moved immediately to Mexico City, where he remains under house arrest. Three days after the capture of the cartel's alleged financial mastermind, his lawyer Gustavo Galvey Reyes was executed by persons unknown assassins in Mexico City. The eldest of the Arellano Felix brothers, Ramon, is on the U.S. FBI's ``Ten Most Wanted Fugitives'' list.

MICHIGAN: Just the bare facts, and nothing butt the bare facts. Ann Arbor police are threatening to arrest anyone who takes part in Friday's Naked Mile, while the University of Michigan campus police, who apparently own more camera, said they will make no arrest of anyone running au natural. This years Naked Mile is the 15th running of the event held each year to celebrate the end of classes.

NEW JERSEY: Prosecutors in a professional boxing corruption case said on Tuesday that corrupt officials took advantage of young boxers by demanding bribes in exchange for advancement in the rankings and a chance to fight big-money bouts.

Robert Lee Sr., president of the International Boxing Federation, the nation's only boxing sanctioning organization, and his son, Robert Lee, Jr. are accused of taking $338,000 in bribes from managers and promoters from 1985 to 1998 to move boxers up in the rankings and positioning them for more lucrative bouts. The Lees are also charged with racketeering, mail and wire fraud and money laundering.

SWITZERLAND: A Taiwanese man suspected of smuggling Scud missile parts to Libya was arrested after officials found missile components in his luggage.

The who was traveling from Taiwan to Libya via Hong Kong and Zurich, was stopped at Zurich airport after a tip-off.

The prosecutor's office said he was carrying mechanical parts in his luggage which were identified as Scud missile components. Scud missiles are short-range missiles developed by the Soviet Union which are manufactured in several countries. They have a range of 300 to 550 km and can carry conventional, nuclear or biological warheads. It is not known if the man has links to the Asian or Russian mobs

WASHINGTON: The United States is in the process of implementing the so-called kingpin law signed by President Bill Clinton last year. Under the law, the US will name foreign businesses or other individuals believed to have links to the drug trade. The bill also gives the government the right to freeze their U.S. assets.

.......A bill has been introduced in Congress which attempts to outlaw legal gambling in Nevada on college sports. Commercial casino interests are working hard against the legislation.

Sen. Sam Brownback, (R- Kansas) and Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vermont) are co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, and a similar bill is working its way through the House.

The gambling industry's chief lobbyist, Frank Fahrenkopf of the American Gaming Association, says the bill is "ridiculous."

Opponents of the bill argue that there is no connection between legal gambling in Nevada and the more widespread practice of illegal gambling on college sports. However, the American Gaming Association says the federal government's own research indicates that legal betting on college sports in Nevada represents no more than 1 percent to 3 percent of all sports betting nationwide -- $2.3 billion in 1998, compared to an estimated $80 billion to $380 billion nationwide.

......Recently released FBI documents on Lou Abbott and Bud Costello were investigated by the G men for hoarding pornography and befriending mobsters.

In October of 1944, the bureau investigated a "purported ring of obscene motion picture operators in Hollywood." and discovered that Costello and actors Red Skelton and George Raft were among the ring's regular customers.

Fourteen years later, a Los Angeles Police Department informant provided information that Abbott had been collecting pornographic films for years and reported that the comedian had collected some 1,500 in all. That report prompted the FBI to reopen its files on Abbott becuase it believed that he was involved in interstate transportation of obscene matter. They later concluded that the alleged film collection was for private use.

Also, while the FBI was investigating a White Slave ring, they reported that "two prostitutes put on a lewd performance for Lou Costello, the movie actor." and that they were paid $50 each for the performance.

The feds also reported that in 1946, Costello had contacted a New Jersey hood to 'take care of' one [redacted] who was making a play for Mrs. Costello,"

The actor was said to be close to mobster Frank Costello.

The Feds were also keeping files on baseball great Micky Mantle and his gambling habit. A report read that a "well-known Texas gambler who frequently made 'heavy bets' on professional football games and other athletic contests" would get information on upcoming games. The bureau's memo states that "some of the professional athlete's contacted by this individual allegedly included Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees."

It also reported that in June of 1957, according to the file, a Washington "gambler and bookmaker" bought several Yankees a night in a local brothel. "Allegedly, Mr. Mantle was one of the members of the team who was entertained at this house of prostitution," the memo states.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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