Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro

Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro
Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro

By the late 1920s the foremost industrial racketeers in New York City and very likely the nation were Louis Lepke and Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro. Of the two, Lepke had the brains, attired conservatively with the look of a respectable businessman, while Shapiro, squat, heavyset and gravel-voiced, a gorilla in man's clothes, provided the fearsome brawn.

His nickname of Gurrah said it all. Whenever he told someone to "get out of here"—which was often—it came out in a snarling "Gurra dahere." His underworld associates dubbed him "Gurrah" for his contributions to underworld English.

Teenagers, Gurrah met Lepke in 1914 on the Lower East Side while both were attempting to rob the same pushcart. It marked the beginning of a rewarding partnership. Lepke realized even then he would have a need for Shapiro's muscle—and Shapiro must have seen the need for a brain.

As a matter of fact, Shapiro was lucky eventually to have two brains working for him. Lepke— together with some other aspiring criminals, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky—had come under the tutelage of the greatest criminal mastermind of the day, Arnold Rothstein, who, if he had lived, would have left a powerful imprint on organized crime as it developed in the 1930s. Rothstein saw a great potential in labor racketeering, far beyond just beating up strikers for pay.

Learning from him, Lepke and Shapiro moved into the union field in the garment industry and terrorized certain locals through a mixture of beatings and murders. Once they gained control of a local, they were set up to take kickbacks and skim on the dues from union members while at the same time extorting huge payoffs from garment manufacturers who wanted to avoid strike troubles.

They began working with Jacob "Little Augie" Orgen, the top labor racketeer of the day, to provide strikebreaking crews for employers. Lepke and even Shapiro soon discovered Little Augie was years behind the times, only looking for the biggest immediate payoff and not trying to build a good thing. Lepke and Shapiro realized they did not need Little Augie, who must have sensed their attitudes since he formed a new alliance with the Diamond brothers, Legs and Eddie, to provide him with extra muscle and protection.

It did Little Augie no good. On the night of October 15, 1927, Little Augie and Legs Diamond were at the corner of Norfolk and Delancey Streets on the Lower East Side when Louis Lepke drove up. Shapiro jumped out, gun in hand, while Lepke started firing from inside the car. In the hail of bullets, Diamond went down, severely wounded. Diamond recovered. Little Augie was not as lucky; he was dead on the spot.

The field belonged now to Lepke and Shapiro, and they put the squeeze on both the unions and the employers. Many employers who tried to hire their muscle soon found themselves under the gangsters' domination.

Gurrah was happiest when he could use force. He always firmly believed that a bust in the teeth was better than a harsh word, and that a bullet or a bottle of acid was more fun than a bust in the teeth.

When Lepke led his organization into Lansky and Luciano's emerging national crime syndicate, he was put in charge of Murder, Inc., the execution arm of the organization, probably because it was felt that he would need it most in his labor extortion field. Lepke's chief aides in Murder, Inc., were Albert Anastasia and Gurrah Shapiro, two natural killers who truly enjoyed the work. Gurrah handled a number of hits personally and devoted much of his spare time seeking out young talent for the murder troop.

In 1935 racketeer Dutch Schultz came before the ruling board of the crime syndicate with a proposal that special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, who was after him, be assassinated. Not surprisingly Shapiro and Anastasia favored the idea. Everyone else paled at such a suggestion, realizing that such a murder would simply generate more heat for everyone.

When Luciano and Lepke voted against the idea, Anastasia and Shapiro, each regarding their boss as mentor, fell into line. Only Schultz continued to demand the Dewey murder, and when it was clear he would get no support in his insane plot, he announced he would go it alone. As a result, Schultz was murdered before he could carry out his plot.

Later Gurrah came to feel that his initial instinct to support Schultz had been right. With Schultz out of the way, Dewey went after the Lepke-Shapiro labor rackets. In 1936, Gurrah was sentenced to life for labor rackets. Lepke was also sent to prison and later went to the chair on an old murder he had commissioned.

During Lepke's murder trial Gurrah managed to smuggle a message out of the penitentiary to his mentor. He reminded him of Schultz's murder plot and concluded triumphantly: "I told you so."

Before Shapiro died in prison in 1947, he bitterly told other convicts that he had been a fool to follow Luciano, Lansky and Lepke, that if he had stuck to his own code of violence he would have been a free man.

Fiore “Fury” Siano

In the traditional old-line mafioso state of things, a crime family was exactly that—a family. Brothers, brothers-in-law, sons, cousins, uncles, nephews— when they were all together it was believed that omerta, the code of silence, would be kept. Even in the most perfect of worlds there might be weaklings who could not stick with blood, and they would be exterminated within the family. At the same time, it was the duty of mafiosi to protect other relatives at all costs.

It was his family that doomed Fiore Siano. Siano was the nephew of informer Joe Valachi. Valachi had brought Siano, his sister's son, into the mob, or what he called the Cosa Nostra. Valachi was proud of the "kid," as he called him. Siano was a very good murderer. He fully deserved his nickname "Fury."

Twice Valachi used him as a hit man, both in very important murders. One was at the behest of Vito Genovese, who ordered the death of Steve Franse, a once-trusted associate, whom the gang boss blamed for his wife, Anna Genovese, "falling out of love with him." Siano followed instructions meticulously, seeing to it that Franse suffered before he died. The victim was badly beaten before he was finally strangled with a chain. Siano pummeled his victim, leaving his with contusions and abrasions of the face and body as well as a fractured rib.

An even more important hit was that of Eugenio Giannini, a mobster heavily involved in narcotics dealings, and, at the same time, an informer for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Lucky Luciano, in exile in Italy, learned of Giannini's duplicity and ordered his extermination. Siano was one of an efficient three-man hit team that handled the job.

Fury Siano's future in the mob looked and was secure. Then Joe Valachi turned informer. Siano started walking around with a haunted look on his face. About nine months after it was learned Valachi was telling all, Siano suddenly vanished.

A New York City police intelligence report stated: "Siano disappeared about the end of April or the beginning of May, 1964. He has not been seen since three unknown males took him out of Patsy's Pizzeria, 2287 First Avenue, during the aforementioned period. Siano is believed dead. The rumor is that his body was disposed of in such a manner as to prevent it from being discovered."

The old mafioso belief that blood was a litmus test in criminal organization held true in Siano's case, in this case that "bad blood" infected the family.

Valachi spent his last years in federal custody, protected from underworld retribution. His family, he reported, would have nothing to do with him. "And I don't blame them," he said.

Sicilian flu

Sicilian flu
Sicilian flu

Mafiosi, when arrested or facing investigative committees or court appearances, develop a gamut of medical maladies ranging from heart trouble to common colds.

It is common for FBI agents derisively to diagnose such ploys as "Sicilian flu," a term coined when the late Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino promptly took to bed when agents came to arrest him. He claimed to have the flu and was much too ill to be fingerprinted. As Special Agent Neil Welch put it, "It won't hurt. We just want to hold his hand."

Subjected to a bedside arraignment, Don Stefano sucked on an oxygen tube and gasped, "Take-a the gun. Take-a the gun and shoot me, that's what you want!" At the time, Don Stefano was 77, and some five years from his final reward.

Claims of ill health do seem to have some validity however, in the cases of the older dons. Ascribing heart conditions to "Sicilian flu" may in fact be a bit uncharitable. Carlo Gambino claimed his heart condition kept him abed most of the time in his tightly guarded home on Long Island.

More likely he stayed in bed because, stripped of his citizenship, his "bum ticker" protected him from deportation. He still schemed, issued orders and, indeed, seemed to have little trouble venturing forth when crime family business beckoned. Yet in the end it was a heart attack that put him down for good.

Scientific study is elusive on the subject, but it is obvious to any reporter on the Mafia beat that members of organized crime suffer more from heart attacks and heart disease than the population as a whole. Perhaps the high incidence of stress-related diseases is an indication of the pressures on Mafia Dons. Is a heart disease a condition that goes with the territory?

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel

In superlatives about members of organized crime Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel certainly stands out in the most precocious category. When he was 14 years old he was running his own criminal gang and soon became a power on the Lower East Side. He teamed up with Meyer Lansky and the two formed the Bug and Meyer Mob, which handled contracts for the various bootleg gangs operating in New York and New Jersey—doing so almost a decade before Murder, Inc., was formed to handle such matters.

The Bug and Meyers also kept themselves busy hijacking the booze cargoes of rival outfits. While Lansky clearly was the brains of the operation, Siegel was no flunky and stood on equal footing with him. Siegel frequently bowed to Lansky's wishes out of a genuine affection and high regard in which he held Lansky.

By the time Siegel was 21 it would have been hard for him to mention any heinous crimes he had not committed. He was guilty of hijacking, mayhem, bootlegging, narcotics trafficking, white slavery, rape, burglary, bookmaking, robbery, numbers racket, extortion and numerous murders.

Along with Lansky he hooked up with some rising Italian mobsters—Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia, Tommy Lucchese, Vito Genovese and others—and with them would become one of the founding members of the national crime syndicate. Along the way, Siegel carried out a number of murders for the new combination to bring it to fruition. (Siegel was one of the gunmen who cut down Joe the Boss Masseria in a Coney Island restaurant in 1931.)

Siegel was always a man of the gun, feeling that a few homicides could clear up most any problem. And he was a "cowboy." Years later a deputy district attorney in California explained why Siegel almost always had to lend a hand personally in mob murders: "In gangster parlance Siegel is what is known as a 'cowboy.' This is the way the boys have of describing a man who is not satisfied to frame a murder but actually has to be in on the kill in person."

In the 1930s Siegel was sent from New York to California to run the syndicate's West Coast operations, including the lucrative racing wire to service bookmakers. The Los Angeles Mafia was bossed by Jack Dragna. Siegel soon made it clear who was in charge. Considering Siegel's reputation for violence and the fact that he had the backing of Lansky and Luciano who, from prison, sent word to Dragna that he had best cooperate, Dragna had to accept a second fiddle role.

Just because Siegel was a bit of a psychopath didn't mean he wasn't a charmer. As the saying went, he charmed the pants—and panties—off Hollywood, while at the same time he functioned as a mob killer. He was so enthused about killing, he was called "Bugsy," but not in his presence. Face to face, he was just plain Ben.

A suave, entertaining sort, Siegel hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities, including Jean Harlow, George Raft, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Wendy Barrie (who once announced her engagement to Bugsy and never gave up hoping) and many others, some of whom put money into his enterprises.

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Financing the Flamingo Hotel, 1946-1947
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Financing the Flamingo Hotel, 1946-1947

Siegel could be at a party with his "high class friends" and then slip away for a quick murder mission with a longtime murder mate of his, Frankie Carbo (who later became the underworld's boss of boxing). Siegel played his cowboy role in 1939 when he knocked off an errant mobster named Harry Greenberg on orders from New York.

While a busy man about Hollywood, running the mob rackets and committing murder, Siegel still had time for some truly bizarre stunts. There was the time he and one of his mistresses, Countess Dorothy diFrasso, traveled to Italy to peddle a revolutionary explosive device to Benito Mussolini. While staying on the diFrasso estate, Siegel, the wild little Jew from New York's Lower East Side, met top Nazis Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels.

Underworld legend has it that the Bug took an instant dislike to the pair, for personal rather than political reasons, and planned to bump them off. He only relented because of the countess's anxious pleas. The explosive device proved a failure and Bugs and his lady returned to Hollywood where he took on the added mob chore of setting up a narcotics smuggling operation out of Mexico.

In the early 1940s Lansky had Siegel scout out Las Vegas as the possible site for a lavish gambling casino and plush hotel. At first Siegel thought the idea was loony, regarding Las Vegas as little more than a comfort station in the desert for passing travelers.

However, the more Siegel looked at the possibilities the more he liked the idea, and he became the enthusiastic booster for a legal gambling paradise. He talked the syndicate into putting up a couple of million dollars to build a place, and the figure soon escalated to $6 million.

Siegel dubbed the place the Flamingo, the nickname of another Siegel mistress, Virginia Hill. At one brief time after the Flamingo opened Siegel had four of his favorite women lodged in separate plush suites. They were Virginia Hill, Countess diFrasso and actresses Wendy Barrie and Marie McDonald. Whenever she saw Wendy, Virginia went wild and once at the Flamingo punched the English actress, nearly dislocating her jaw.

However, woman trouble was not Bugsy's main worry. The syndicate was upset about its $6 million. When the Flamingo first opened, it proved a financial disaster. Reportedly, the mobs from around the country demanded their money back. What really upset them was the accurate suspicion that Bugsy had been skimming off the construction funds, as well as some of the gambling revenues, and having Hill park it in Switzerland for him.

The syndicate passed the death sentence on Siegel at the famous Havana conference in December 1946. Despite his later denials, the key vote was cast by Meyer Lansky and affirmed by Luciano. Siegel knew he was in deep trouble but got what he thought was an extension of time to turn the Flamingo around. By May 1947, it was making a profit and Bugsy started to relax.

On June 20, Bugsy was sitting in the living room of Virginia Hill's $500,000 mansion in Beverly Hills. Virginia was in Europe at the time. Siegel was reading the Los Angeles Times when two steel-jacketed slugs from an army carbine tore through a window and smashed into his face. One crashed the bridge of his nose and drove into his left eye. The other entered his right cheek and went through the back of his neck, shattering a vertebra. Authorities later found his right eye on the dining room floor some 15 feet from the body.

Some thought Jack Dragna, nursing his longtime hatred for Bugsy, had carried out the hit personally, but this was almost certainly not true. The most informed guess was that Frankie Carbo handled the chore on direct orders from Lansky, who doubtless grieved that such an old and dear friend had to go.

In the grim months before Siegel's murder, construction tycoon Del Webb had expressed nervousness about his personal safety with so many menacing types around the Flamingo. In a philosophical mood, Bugsy told him not to worry. He noted he himself had carried out 12 murders, all of which had been strictly for business reasons. Webb, Bugsy said, had nothing to fear because "we only kill each other."

That was certainly true in the Bug's case.

Silver Street, Capone mob vice area

Silver Street in Hurley, Wisconsin
Silver Street in Hurley, Wisconsin

Probably no family in organized crime organized vice to quite the extent of the Capone Mob. A typical Capone area in the 1920s was Silver Street in Hurley, Wisconsin. Sometimes referred to as B-girl U., it was the site of a mob-run crime school that functioned as long as B-girl bars and brothels were a major portion of mob operations.

Much of Silver Street was composed of honky-tonks where teenage girls, brought there from Canada and around the Midwest, were taught the gentle arts of "mooching and dipping." When they were fully schooled, they were shipped from Hurley to underworld dives all over the country.

Many of the girls lured from Canada thought they were getting dancing jobs, but when they arrived, they were informed the jobs were gone. Since most didn't even have money enough to return home, they were ripe for propositions claiming they could make some money simply by drinking with honky-tonk customers; if they got the customers drunk they could steal money from their wallets.

The girls were taught the art of the "swift dip," which involved taking a wallet, removing the money, and slipping the wallet quickly back into the drunk's pocket. Particularly proficient girls were taught the dosages and administration of the Mickey Finn, while those not up to such deceptions were forced into prostitution.

Runaway girls were especially victimized, many ending up as virtual slaves. Some were turned into strippers on the underworld's burlesque lounge route. Girls who tried to get away were subjected to violence, beatings (that did not affect their market value), knifings or acid in the face (if they were to be made an example of for the other girls). Eventually, most girls were turned into narcotic addicts to make them more cooperative.

The Capone Mob's business in vice and in Silver Street died a natural death after a couple of decades, but not because of reformers or the mobsters' own regeneration. The nature of vice changed after World War II, swinging away from whorehouses to independent call-girl setups that the mobs found much more difficult to control.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra

Sinatra and the mob—it's an old and long, long story and perhaps less significant than one might think. Some feel there is much to be made of it. Sinatra himself felt too much was made of it. He was in showbiz, he said, and there is no way to avoid gangsters all of the time.

Still, it's closer to the truth to say that Sinatra went out of his way to be with them than to avoid them. He flew to Havana in 1946 to attend a big underworld bash for Lucky Luciano (who had only months before been deported back to Italy after being paroled from his organized prostitution conviction). Later, when Luciano was away from his home in Naples, Italian police found a gold cigarette case with the inscription: "To my dear pal Lucky, from his friend, Frank Sinatra."

During the Kefauver investigation, Sinatra was questioned in advance by committee counsel Joseph L. Nellis to determine if he should be called to testify. At a 4 A.M. meeting held in an office atop Rockefeller Center, Sinatra was asked about mobsters he knew, and he acknowledged "knowing" or "seeing" or saying "hello" and "goodby" to an impressive—but possibly incomplete—list of them: Lucky Luciano; the brothers Fischetti, Joe, Rocco and Charles, cousins of Al Capone and powers in the Chicago Outfit; Meyer Lansky; Frank Costello; Joe Adonis; Longy Zwillman; Willie Moretti; Jerry Catena and Bugsy Siegel.

Ultimately the Kefauver Committee did not call Sinatra. With Sinatra's career then in decline, the committee felt no real purpose would be served by lambasting him in public and perhaps finishing off his career. Implicit in that decision was the fact that Sinatra, even if the senators didn't know it at the time, was little more than a Mafia groupie. Joe E. Lewis and Jimmy Durante would qualify just as readily.

After the hearings Sinatra's career revitalized, and he continued to be linked with mafiosi, but it would be hard to tell whether Sinatra was more entranced with mobsters or they with him. Each at various times may have gained something from the other.

Ralph Salerno, a specialist on organized crime formerly with the New York Police Department, quoted by Nicholas Gage in The Mafia Is Not an Equal Opportunity Employer, was upset that people, knowing Sinatra was an acquaintance of presidents and kings, would figure his other pals were okay. "That's the service Sinatra renders his gangster friends," says Salerno. "You'd think a guy like Sinatra would care about that. But he doesn't. He doesn't give a damn."

Actually the mob was able to use Sinatra and his P.R. clout many times. When Doc Stacher, Meyer Lansky's close associate, was building the Sands in Las Vegas, he told interviewers years later, "we ... sold Frank Sinatra a nine percent stake in the hotel. Frank was flattered to be invited, but the object was to get him to perform there, because there's no bigger draw in Las Vegas. When Frankie was performing, the hotel really filled up."

Sinatra's first gangster friend appears to have been Willie Moretti, the New Jersey extortionist, narcotics trafficker and murderer. Moretti, also known as Willie Moore, took a liking to the young fellow New Jerseyan and helped him get some band dates when he was struggling in local clubs and roadhouses for peanuts.

Then Sinatra recorded his first hit song with Harry James in 1939, "All or Nothing at All," and eventually went to work for Tommy Dorsey for what seemed an astronomical salary of $125 a week. A myth built up after Sinatra and Dorsey had parted that they remained warm friends. "Hot enemies" would have been a better description. Sinatra's popularity had soared.

Bobbysoxers followed him everywhere. He desperately wanted to dump Dorsey, and the underworld story has long circulated that Willie Moretti came to the rescue. Moretti was said to have obtained Sinatra's release from the band leader in convincing Mafia style, jamming a gun in Dorsey's mouth. The hard bargaining that followed called for Dorsey to get $1 in compensation for selling him Sinatra's contract.

Not that Moretti didn't also chastise the singer at times. When Sinatra's marriage to his first wife, Nancy, was busting up and he was planning to marry Ava Gardner, the mobster wired Sinatra: "I AM VERY MUCH SURPRISED WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING IN THE NEWSPAPERS BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR DARLING WIFE. REMEMBER YOU HAVE A DECENT WIFE AND CHILDREN. YOU SHOULD BE VERY HAPPY. REGARDS TO ALL. WILLIE MOORE."

As it turned out, Sinatra had little more time in which to offend Moretti. The mafioso was executed by the mob. His advanced syphilis affected his brain, and it was feared he was revealing too much about Mafia operations.

In later years Sinatra was frequently linked with a number of other top mafiosi, especially Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, the Chicago mob honchos. Sinatra was embarrassed with a news photograph showing him with an arm around Luciano at the time of the infamous Havana gathering.

In more recent years another widely published photograph, taken in Sinatra's dressing room at the Westchester, New York, Premier Theater, shows the star grinning widely in the company of such mafiosi as the late Carlo Gambino, hit man-cum-informer Jimmy "the Weasel" Fratianno, and three others later convicted and sentenced for fraud and skimming the theater's box office.

In 1985, cartoonist Garry Trudeau depicted a tribute to Sinatra by President Ronald Reagan and followed it in the next panel with the Westchester theater photo. Outraged, Sinatra issued a statement through his personal public relations firm: "Garry Trudeau makes his living by his attempts at humor without regard to fairness or decency.

I don't know if he has made any effort on behalf of others or done anything to help the less fortunate in this country or elsewhere. I am happy to have the President and the people of the United States judge us by our respective track records."

Over the years Sinatra was as thick with presidents and presidential candidates as with mafiosi. He had close ties with John Kennedy (until barred from the White House by Robert Kennedy after he checked Sinatra's background), Hubert Humphrey (who scheduled him for a series of fund-raising concerts but quietly dropped him from the campaign in 1968 after a Wall Street Journal piece listed some of his underworld relationships), Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Gerald Ford and, of course, President Reagan.

Jimmy the Weasel, after he turned informer, was apparently quite upset when the Federal Strike Force didn't go ahead with a case that had what he clearly regarded as Sinatra star quality. According to Fratianno, Sinatra "gofer" Jilly Rizzo approached him and complained about a former Sinatra security guard the singer had fired; he was supposedly supplying the weekly tabloids with material about Sinatra.

The word was that the man, Andy "Banjo" Celentano, was about to write a book about Sinatra. The Weasel quoted Rizzo as saying: "We want this guy stopped once and for all," meaning that Celantano should have his legs broken and be put in the hospital. "Let's see if he gets the message." Fratianno accepted the assignment to watch Celentano, but neither he nor other California mafiosi could locate their target. Celentano solved their problem altogether by suffering a fatal heart attack on October 8, 1977.

Clearly, the Weasel saw a delightful show trial in his revelations and was disappointed when the Federal Strike Force showed little interest in the matter. There was no evidence tying in Sinatra, and certainly federal lawyers weren't wild about pursuing Jilly Rizzo. Not when, as one told Fratianno, "you've got a chance to put bosses in prison.

Those are one-in-alifetime chances. With an informant-type witness, overexposure is a terminal disease." Politely, the government was telling Fratianno that there was no legal case and they were not going to let him grab headlines for scandal purposes.

Unlike with cartoonist Trudeau, Sinatra expressed no outrage when deadly hit man Fratianno recounted the details of the alleged incident in his book The Last Mafioso.

Steven Seagal

Steven Seagal
Steven Seagal

It wasn't just like in the movies. It was a Mafia reality show. In films, Steven Seagal handled the bad guys with splattery aplomb. But in real life he was up against the Mafia, whose credo, no matter the situation, was always the same: turn fear into money. In Seagal's case it was some $700,000 for starters and more to come later.

How did it happen that Seagal came to be in a real-life shakedown script with him as the intended victim who allegedly was determined not to reveal any payoffs were made? Seagal's woes began in the summer of 2001 when the actor split with his business partner of 15 years, producer and accused mob associate Jules Nasso. The latter responded by hitting the star with a $60 million lawsuit.

As the dispute raged, neither participant knew that the FBI was deep into an investigation of the Gambino crime family and taped a conversation allegedly between Nasso and a reputed hard-eyed New York capo named Sonny Ciccone in which the pair discussed extorting money from an "entertainment figure" later identified as Seagal. Nasso and Ciccone were charged with extortion.

It must be said that getting information out of Seagal was like pulling teeth. But the truth came out after a court ordered the actor to overcome his reluctance and appear for testimony. Finally Seagal apparently had no recourse but to testify, and while it had the elements of a scene straight out of a bad Hollywood movie, he was picked up by "guides" who took him by car to Brooklyn with an obligatory switch of vehicles to prevent pursuit.

In the end he was deposited in the darkened upstairs dining room of Gage & Tollner, a landmark Brooklyn restaurant, where the specific mob threat was made that Seagal would have to pay $700,000 for severing his business ties with Nasso, an associate of the Gambinos and the brother of a genuine soldier in the mob.

Among other matters besides the shakedown for money, Sonny Ciccone lectured the actor on the matter of eye contact, something highly practiced in film art, after Seagal let his gaze wander as the capo was speaking. As Seagal later put it, "Sonny explained to me that it would be better if I looked at him when I spoke."

The experience so intimidated the screen tough guy that he agreed to pay the $700,000 as a down payment on $3 million. (It was to be left for later that Ciccone also would demand $150,000 for every future Seagal film.) Later, after the shakedown meeting, Nasso informed Seagal that if he had balked, he would have been killed. That too had certain comic overtones.

It turned out neither Ciccone or his underling nor the Nassos were armed, and the FBI bugged a conversation between Ciccone and another mobster chortling how scared Seagal was, adding it was right out of the movies and "if we only had guns in our belts, it would be really good." By contrast Seagal told jurors he had a licensed weapon on him for the meeting, saying, "In New York, I always carry a gun."

In the ensuing investigation Seagal seemed to shift in and out of his film persona, insisting at the later trial he never was frightened but was "uncomfortable" and "increasingly uncomfortable." And he was prepared to fight back. Under prosecution questioning, Seagal said he went to see an imprisoned mobster of another crime family whom he knew for help in the matter. Seagal said he could not turn to the government because, in part, he was too well known.

"I can't go in the witness protection program. They can't help me." If sometimes on the stand Seagal held to his tough guy image and bellowed his answers to defense attorneys, there were other signs of a more tame attitude. He had to put on reading glasses to study court exhibits and carefully arranged two shawls over his lap, apparently to warm his chilly knees.

Careerwise, Seagal's moviemaking had veered toward a more placid approach, which apparently may have led to the dispute between Seagal and Nasso. He apparently was eschewing extreme violence because of his adoption of Buddhism. In interviews the Nasso camp insisted Seagal had walked out on movie commitments because his Buddhist advisers had warned him that his violent movies could stand in the way of "felicitous reincarnation."

Seagal gave a very worldly response to this by declaring in court, "That's the dumbest lie I've ever heard in my life." He said he broke up his partnership with Nasso because the latter was an abusive person who was on mood-elevating drugs and "going into psychotic rages."

While the Seagal case drew the most media coverage, the government concentrated more on convicting Ciccone and Nasso's brother Vincent on waterfront racket charges. Julius R. Nasso was sentenced in the Seagal matter after a guilty plea, drawing a prison term of a year and a day. Under a plea agreement, Nasso agreed to pay a $75,000 fine and receive mental health counseling after his release.

It seemed clear enough the mob had had their fill of Seagal. As to whether the actor's future films will be on the tamer side in his apparent pursuit of felicitous reincarnation, will have to be left to Seagal enthusiasts as they monitor the splats, whacks and bams to be offered to an adoring public.

Anthony M. Scotto

Anthony M. Scotto
Anthony M. Scotto
He was for a time hailed a "new breed labor leader," one who could bring respectability and honesty to the New York waterfront. Anthony M. Scotto came to the fore in New York longshoremen's union affairs after the death in 1963 of Anthony "Tough Tony" Anastasio, to whom he was related by marriage. His father-in-law, also named Anthony Anastasio, was Tough Tony's nephew.

Scotto moved in high-echelon political and business circles. But, in 1979, federal investigators found that labor racketeering was still the order of the day on the waterfront. Scotto was then general organizer of the AFL-CIO International Longshoremen's Association and president of the union's Local 1814 in Brooklyn, Tough Tony's old fiefdom and one of the top three posts in the 100,000-member union, representing workers from Maine to Texas. Scotto was arrested.

Scotto's father-in-law was tried along with him, and both were convicted despite such character witnesses for Scotto as New York governor Hugh L. Carey, (who called him trustworthy, energetic, intelligent, effective and dedicated) and two former New York mayors, Robert Wagner and John V. Lindsay.

Scotto was convicted of taking more than $200,000 in cash payoffs from waterfront businesses despite his claim that he had "never taken a cent" for himself from anyone. He did allow he had accepted a number of "political contributions," not payoffs, totaling $75,000, which he claimed he gave to New York lieutenant governor Mario M. Cuomo in his unsuccessful bid for the mayoralty in 1977 and to Carey for his successful 1978 reelection try.

Scotto could have been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, but U.S. District Judge Charles E. Steward Jr. gave him only five years and fined him $75,000, explaining he had been "extremely impressed" by letters from numerous business, labor and political leaders pleading for leniency.

Gerlando Sciascia

One of the newer rules passed by the new Mafia leaders during the recent resurgence of the mob was "thou shalt not speak ill of other wise guys." In the old days there were no hit, no killing, and no drugs rules in action, under the pain of death. Now a no slander rule also applies. It is the bosses' way of offering no additional openings for crime busters to find out inner secrets of the mob.

Of course, there always was a no slander rule against lower-ranking minions for bad-mouthing the godfather or other high-ranking mob figures, but now the edict was extended to others. The reason was the same, to keep the bad-mouthing from rebounding on the new bosses. The new bosses know their new setups are fragile indeed and under constant pressure by the law. Silence therefore is imperative.

This is the reason that Gerry Sciascia had to die. Sciascia, a capo in the Bonanno crime family, openly criticized another capo in the same outfit, one Anthony Graziano, for having a cocaine problem. There was a time when such criticism might have been tolerated, but not under the new order.

The family boss, Joe Massino, would not tolerate Sciascia's blabbing. Massino had recently elevated Graziano in the leadership and now Sciascia was tearing down not only Graziano but the boss as well. For this offense, it was said, Massino told underlings that Sciascia "had to go." The victim went under the boss's careful ministrations, according to the law, as Massino sent out the order for the job, assigned the killers, and arranged for the untraceable murder weapon.

Next, say informants, Massino and his wife went on an extended Mexican trip. In March 1999 Sciascia was invited to meet with another capo. The meeting resulted in Sciascia having three bullet holes in his head and three others in sundry places. When Massino returned from Mexico he told others, "It served him right for telling me how to run the family."

The new Mafia may be changed, but like its predecessors, it is not a democratic society and allows no strings for the law to work back to the all-powerful boss.

Michele Sindona, Criminal Financier

Michele Sindona
Michele Sindona

At one time banker Michele Sindona served as a financial adviser to the Vatican and was hailed by Italian government officials as the "savior of the lira." When it became clear he worked hand in glove with both the Italian and American Mafia, an Italian state prosecutor denounced him as one of "the most dangerous criminal elements in Italian society."

As Sindona's true character was bared, he faced fraud charges in the United States, as well as fraud and later murder conspiracy charges in Italy. He fought back by recruiting his Mafia cohorts to eliminate anyone who threatened him. Sindona recruited hit men to kill a government-appointed liquidator of his bank in Milan. The man was murdered.

A murder plot in the United States proved less successful. Sindona sought a "Zip" hit man to murder Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kenney who was prosecuting a case against him. The hit man, Luigi Ronsisvalle, had previously handled some "rough-up work" for the financier. Sindona wanted him to plant heroin or cocaine on Kenney's body to make the murder seem drug related.

While he was an accomplished contract killer, Ronsisvalle balked, saying, "You talking about something heavy." Ronsisvalle was not considered a smart man, but he knew the American mobs frowned at killing prosecutors; in fact the mob made it a practice, such as in the case of Dutch Schultz's plot to have prosecutor Tom Dewey assassinated, to whack out anyone daring to upset the status quo in that fashion.

Sindona continued the plot with others but finally backed off when one of the intermediaries arranging the would-be murder carelessly mentioned Sindona's name on a telephone that the banker feared might have been tapped. Sindona was convicted for his American crimes and sentenced to 25 years. U.S. authorities then shipped him to Italy where he was convicted on charges there and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Shortly after his conviction the 65-year-old Sindona drank a fatal cup of poisoned coffee in his prison cell. The coffee in his cup had been laced with cyanide. He keeled over and shouted, "They have poisoned me."

Nevertheless authorities decided Sindona had committed suicide.