Nick Pileggi, author of "Wiseguys"
Because of the secretive nature of organized crime, there have been many myths propagated by insiders for a variety of reasons and outsiders because they didn��t know any better. Some have been so ingrained in the public consciousness that gangsters themselves now believe them. I have no reasons to lie and, as a former inside player in that world, know better, so I��ll affirm or debunk some of those myths honestly and accurately for you here.
MOB MYTH #1: Everyone must "make their bones" by murdering someone before they can become a made member of the mob �C FALSE.
You don��t have to be an insider to count. For example, the number of made men the FBI claims are in all five New York Families runs anywhere from one to three thousand, depending on who��s counting and how much more funding they��re looking for. Now find the substantially lower number of mob-related murders, at most in the low hundreds that have taken place in the last two decades and are not related to a war, like the last Colombo Family conflict of the Early 1990s. Those war figures are discounted because most of the successful hits are by guys who are already made. Now discount the fact that there are guys walking around with double digit notches in their belts. They are the workhorses. One former pal died with a mere eleven dead bodies to his credit; another, an astonishing forty-nine. As a matter of fact, when he was sentenced and the judge mentioned that he was to be sentenced for forty-eight murders, he corrected the judge to make sure it was an accurate forty-nine he��d go to prison for. After considering those figures, it would be virtually impossible for every made man to have killed someone.
From the inside, it��s almost laughable that every "goodfella" left a body somewhere. I��ve known some that couldn��t kill a rubber duck. They were given the honor of membership to keep them��and their assets��within a particular family. Rules are that if the crew one is associated with won��t propose him for membership another family can. Big earners are not turned over to another family under any circumstances. Money overcomes principal in the legitimate world, why not in the mob? One reason Albert Anastasia was murdered was because he was thought to have sold "buttons" for fifty grand apiece. In the 1950s, that was a lot of scratch. After Albert was gone, his successor, Carlo Gambino, had "the books" closed for decades. A more recent, but very telling, story has it that a proposed member who was bothered by never having fired a gun decided to take a few shots into a tubful of water. Embarrassment replaced experience as the bullet ricocheted around the porcelain and into his body. He got made anyway. Remember that the next time some unlikely hood intimates he��s a killer. Chances are if he��s trying to make you think he is, he isn��t. An old Sicilian saying goes: Those who say, do not do; those who do, do not say.
MOB MYTH #2: Once in the mob, you can��t get out �C FALSE.
Aside from becoming a rat and joining the Witness Protection Program, there are ways for both associates and members to get out of the mob, if not totally, at least in effect. One happens when someone is "put on the shelf." Most times it��s not by choice. On the other hand, sometimes it is. During the 1931 "Night of the Vespers," when more than sixty Sicilian "Moustache Petes" were murdered to make way for the new order of Americanized organized crime, led by Lucky Luciano and pals, one of the followers of the old order was also shot, but survived. Through a relative aligned with the young crowd, the shooting victim pleaded not to be shot again. He was not of a mind to seek revenge, he said, and begged to be "put on the shelf," where his button status would be suspended. If granted that wish, he swore to work legitimately for the rest of his life, which he did. More recently, a few made guys who were at odds with the leadership of their crew were all placed on the shelf instead of becoming targets. That meant that they no longer had the backup of their family in disputes with those from others. They would be automatic losers in beefs with other mobsters. It might have been uncomfortable, but, on the other hand, may have been a gift in disguise, leaving them to rein in any activities that might have landed them in prison again. I was fortunate enough to do part of my federal time with my direct superior. I told him I��d written a novel, and didn��t want to do anything in the streets anymore. I saw the handwriting on the wall, that we, as a way of life, were finished. Besides, I said, I thought I��d earned it. I pointed out a so-called friend of ours who was a crybaby through his whole prison time. I pointed out that this guy would go right back to his old life, but would never do time again. His ace in the hole would be information. Not for me. That, I said, didn��t leave me many choices. He agreed with one caveat, that if I decided to go back to the street life, it would be back to where I��d come from; no jumping horses. I didn��t go back; I didn��t jump horses; we remained friends until he passed away. R.I.P. pal. Of course, there are a couple of other ways of effectively being released from obligations: distance, illness (real or feigned), alcoholism (exaggerated so no one thinks of depending on you). Yes, there can be life without dishonor after a life of crime.
MOB MYTH #3: You must be one hundred percent Italian to be made �C FALSE.
It started out as only Sicilians being "straightened out" when the organizations were controlled by Sicilian Moustache Petes. Before 1931 and the Night of the Vespers, Sicilians were killing other Sicilians because of vendettas from the old country and because there were old time rivalries from one town or region to another. That all changed when the new order was formed by younger, more Americanized gangsters like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, etc. At that time a rock solid requirement for membership was that one��s family tree, on both sides, had to be traced back to Sicily or mainland Italy. That rule remained in effect for around a half century. But, as Italian ghettos disappeared, so did the number of those qualified to join. After Carlo Gambino died and the "books" were opened for new members to bolster every family��s depleted ranks, the Italian heritage requirement was modified, so that one��s father only had to have Italian/Sicilian roots. I knew it to be accurate when a long time friend who had previously been "knocked down" for membership because of a German-American mother was finally given his "badge."
MOB MYTH #4: Mob bosses hire outside killers for certain jobs �C FALSE.
I watched a documentary recently on a guy dubbed "The Iceman." I loved the persona of this guy as he described a variety of murders he��d committed. Very matter of factly; almost rehearsed. No doubt he��d murdered a number of people; there was enough evidence of that. However, when he began claiming he��d been hired a number of times by mobsters, at least one a close friend of mine, to kill for figures in the high thousands, I laughed. Fact: Top level mobsters are the cheapest SOBs around. One was even nabbed trying to beat a bridge toll; another friend used to steal cigars from a diner on his way out. Yes, they��ll throw money around for girls, cars, clothes, food, booze, and other entertainment or luxuries, but to pay for something they can get for free? I don��t think so. Killing is easy. Kids do it. So do women. Every mobster of any stature has underlings who would pay them for a chance to prove themselves by killing someone. The higher up the mob guy, the more underlings and the more free opportunities to eliminate those targeted. Would he bypass the freebee and pay fifty or seventy-five thousand dollars to an outsider? Answer that one yourself. One of the people the Iceman says paid him was a dear friend of mine. He had a crew under him that was second only to Murder Incorporated. Would he pay the Iceman? C��mon.
MOB MYTH #5: Married mobsters all have girlfriends �C MOSTLY TRUE.
What are the biggest factors in anyone cheating on a spouse? Accessibility and opportunity. Mobsters have an accessibility to women that is only matched in Hollywood. Females are attracted to the danger and power they associate with organized crime. As a matter of fact, a large number are attracted to any kind of bad boy, from drunks to motorcycle gang members to ex-cons. We used to have a bar in Brooklyn where some of us were periodically arrested on a nonsense charge just for the irritation factor. Each time, the newspapers would run articles about the mob figures rounded up in that bar. The next weekend, the bar would overwhelmingly be filled with females from as far away as New Jersey. One even rode from the Garden State to Brooklyn on her bicycle, just to meet gangsters. I also learned not to speak well of any of my associates to any female. Legitimate guys attracted to mobsters would go home with stories of how wonderful they were. By the time wifey met hubby��s ballyhooed mobster pals she was ready to drop her drawers and jump in the sack with them. Sometimes, many sacks. They were affectionately known as "wiseguy humps." Power brokers in any business have groupies, usually associated with their profession. Mobsters and Hollywood players get them from every walk of life.
Opportunity means having time on your hands to play around. That��s what makes housewives such easy targets for smut novels and movies. A lot of that writing is fantasy; a lot of it is true. The infamous Alice Crimmins had enough time to bed her kids�� barber, the stock boy from her local supermarket, the cop on the beat, etc. And, Alice was not alone. Mob guys have time on their hands. Add that to the access and the fact that they don��t want to expose their wives to much of what they do and you��ve got a recipe for chronic cheating. At least it was that way years ago. Today, it seems, mobsters can��t keep anything secret��even incriminating stuff. Unfortunately for most wiseguys who cheat, they fall in love The overwhelming number of those who cheat actually wind up with two wives. They assume a second set of obligations. They have to put up with double nagging. And, they disclose business secrets about themselves and others that they would never let their wives know. They��re simply, in my opinion, out of their minds. Some comarri, or, girlfriends, even wind up going to prison as a result of their new partnerships. Of course, there are those, few and far between, who are solid family men, not just to their mob families but to their biological ones as well. Hats off to them for loyalty, respect, and, most important if you are in that life, limiting an unnecessary vulnerability. Same with Presidents of the U.S.
MOB MYTH #6: Mob bosses are loyal to their troops �C FALSE.
People think of la famiglia��the family��as a vertical structure that insures loyalty up and down the ladder. Not so. Mob loyalties are more horizontal than vertical. Of course, there��s always the "me" factor, which outweighs any loyalty at all, but the tendency, once someone is initiated into traditional organized crime, is to become part of a caste system. Typically, when a wiseguy goes to a sitdown for some underling or associate��s beef, the first thing he will do is invite the wiseguy representing the opposition outside. That��s where the deal is made: "Fuck them both. I��ll make my guy pay; you tell your guy he lost, and we��ll cut up the money." That same conversation goes on when captains are representing wiseguys and when bosses are representing captains. Loyalties are horizontal. A captain will sooner side with another captain, who might wind up in a higher position one day and be a good connection with that crew, than with the guy under him, who he can silence with a word. Same with bosses. Why do you think there��s a rule in place that you can��t kill your boss and become boss. Horizontal protection of position. That��s why John Gotti was never recognized as a real boss by Chin and others. Can��t kill your boss and become boss.
MOB MYTH #7: Mobsters hate rats �C SOMETIMES.
Only when they��re not profiting from them. Balance two things on a scale: $$$$ - rat, $$$$ - rat, hmmm, $$$$ - rat? $$$$ will win more times than not. Sadly, I��ve seen this myself too often. It didn��t mean much when I was really young and heard a famous mob captain make excuses for a business owner who was called a rat, because he was making money with him. As time went on I occasionally heard those same kinds of charges and excuses made by others surrounding me. I sort of dismissed them because I had no direct involvement with those guys, and thought that the term rat might have been thrown around too easily. Then the experiences got closer.
One of my associates out on Long Island told me he had a guy who was dealing in paper. In those days, paper meant stocks and bearer bonds that male and female workers in banks or Wall Street brokerages were stealing from cages and selling to street guys for a small percentage of the face value. Ten hundred-thousand dollar notes might put ten grand in their pockets. Some were girls just happy to make a mobster they were bedding happy, and got a television at best��along with their romps between the sheets. Those papers were turned over to only one or two central guys for around ten percent who had connections in Swiss banks that would in turn give no-questions-asked loans of up to seventy percent or so. The Swiss bankers would stash the paper in their vaults and own the stocks or bonds at a profit of thirty percent when the loan defaulted. Everyone made money. So, at my associate��s behest, I went to meet his connection.
When I sat down, the paper broker started shooting his mouth off about how he had millions of this and millions of that. No one had that kind of volume unless they were rip off artists or stool pigeons. I asked who knew him; someone I could verify his reliability with. After a while, he asked if I��d heard of Joe Colombo; he claimed they��d been in prison together. I said it sounded familiar and that I��d get back to him. Joe went ballistic, especially since he��d never been in prison, he said. I went back to find the guy, who��d disappeared. Fast forward a couple of years, and I found a close friend of mine in deep conversation with the same paper broker. I called him outside and told him the story. His response was to tell me the guy was really a good guy and he was making money with him. He begged me not to say anything to anyone, and I didn��t. The broker eventually took the stand against him and seven others. They all went to prison.
I brought another wiseguy pal actual court minutes of an associate of his testifying against someone else at trial. His response was to say, "He won��t rat me out if he wants to live." The fact that the guy had testified against someone else meant nothing. $$$$ had once again overcome the rat factor. His pal eventually sent him to prison also. It happened again when a wiseguy in the Bronx stepped in for a guy on the run after he��d actually brought police into a mob club where stolen merchandise was stored. The wiseguy��s plea: "I��m making money with him." Sounds ridiculous, but each story is one hundred percent true. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
MOB MYTH #8: The FBI destroyed the mob �C FALSE.
At the beginning of Mel Gibson��s film, "Apocolypto," there is a printed statement on screen to the effect that no great civilization has ever been defeated from the outside until it had already decayed on the inside. Same with the mob. Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, the American mob, wrongly dubbed La Cosa Nostra by that idiot, Joe Valachi, was doomed the minute it set foot on United States soil. First a word about the name. As a young man, I had heard the term cosa nostra, with lower case letters, to mean this thing of ours that has no name. When Valachi, semi-literate boob that he was, testified before the Senate Committee on Organized Crime, he mistook the lower case cosa nostra for the proper noun Cosa Nostra. It was immediately seized upon by the media and authorities, and so permeated the culture that by the Nineteen Nineties even top mobsters like John Gotti were using the term as if it were the official name of the mob.
To realize why the mob was doomed here in America is to understand history. Every immigrant group to enter the United States had organized gangs. The Irish had gangs like those portrayed in Martin Scorsese��s film, "Gangs of New York." Eastern European Jews had the Bug & Meyer Gang, Murder Incorporated, and Lepke & Gurrah. Each group viewed crime as a vehicle to take them from poverty to affluence. The Sicilian/Italian was the only one to view it as a way of life, to be handed down to their sons and their sons�� sons. They had a tradition that went back some eight hundred years on an island that was constantly run by invaders that spoke a different language and had little or no interest in the Sicilian people. There was no justice. To find justice, a sub rosa government was formed: the Mafia. Like all governments, this one had to tax people to survive, which in this case came in the form of theft, extortion, kidnapping, and other rackets. When Sicilian immigrants came to America they found the same conditions. The local governments were run by people who didn��t speak their language and had little or no interest in their well being. Italians were considered scum by the reigning WASPs, Irish who had immigrated a half-century earlier, and German Jews who had also been in America for decades. They needed justice. The Mafia gave it to them.
Had it not been for Prohibition, Sicilian mobs would have vanished by the mid-Twentieth Century. But the enormous revenue, power, reputation, and businesses that illegal booze had given to them carried the mob for another half-century. What no one realized was that this is not Sicily, and as new generations grew Americanized the need for justice was no longer in their hands. The tradition was gone. The immigrant ghettos that had turned out true toughguys no longer existed. Historically, when Italian gangsters were at their peak so were Italian prizefighters. Each group was fighting its way out of poverty, one by anteing up its life and freedom, the other by having its body pummeled. Look around. Name some Italian champs today. Can��t? What does that tell you. If one group is gone, so should the other. The ghettos are gone for Italians. The tradition doesn��t exist, and has in fact been perverted, where the old code of honor that ran parallel to criminal activities has been discarded and the latter clung to. Had the opposite occurred on the inside, maybe the there would have been no destruction from the outside. Toughguys today are not so tough They don��t grow up in conditions that build loyalty or inner strength. . Instead, they grow up in suburban areas and are as spoiled rotten as any American youth. A former partner of mine used to say that everyone was a toughguy as long as the shoe fit; it was when the laces got tight that you saw who screamed. Add that to the American obsession of money over honor and the demise of organized crime became inevitable, FBI or no FBI.
R.I.P. cosa nostra.
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Other Features by this author:
Why So Many Rats Today?
I asked a friend how many men who had testified against the mob since Joe Valachi had been caught up with and killed? He said, "None."
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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