Surveillance Tricks by Mafiosi

Dominick V. Cirillo, known as Quiet Dom
Quiet Dom, Dominick V. Cirillo
While much is made of law enforcement surveillance techniques, it must be said that some mafiosi are quite adept at avoiding detection. Acknowledged by a number of investigators as among the more talented is Dominick V. Cirillo, known as Quiet Dom, and said to have taken command of the Genovese crime family after the arrest and conviction of Vinnie Gigante.

According to John S. Pritchard III, supervisor of the FBI's Genovese squad in the 1980s, Cirillo was an elusive target who relied on "walktalks"— whispering to associates on noisy streets, rather than using the telephone or meeting inside social clubs where federal investigators could record their conversations.

"He would leave his home in the Bronx," the retired FBI expert said, "make a stop in East Harlem to visit relatives and then drive downtown and park his car on the East Side or midtown. On foot, he usually had an escape hatch, going into a building or restaurant that had more than one entrance and try to lose us."

Cirillo had an excellent antenna for spotting surveillance cars and "would drive onto a highway and abruptly pull over to the side. If we stopped or slowed down, he had us made and was behind us— on our tail."

In that, Cirillo was carrying on a tradition long practiced by the Buffalo crime family under the late Stefano Magaddino, who insisted his men not only spot FBI surveillance men but counter their operations. Thus the FBI was kept under surveillance as mafiosi recorded their license plate numbers and the agents names.

This occurred during the period when J. Edgar Hoover's good grooming and dress code for agents was more important than tracking mob guys, and the latter had little trouble spotting their adversaries. In time they could even separate those men assigned to anti-Mafia duties and those keeping tabs on the Communist Party. Being good patriots, the mobsters did not share their intelligence with the "rotten Reds."

Stand-up Guy

The highest-ranking stand-up guy, Louis Lepke
The highest-ranking stand-up guy, Louis Lepke

In the argot of the Mafia, it is a great compliment to be called a "stand-up guy," one who stands up to considerable pressure and threats from law enforcement officials and refuses to turn stool pigeon.

The witness protection program is and has been loaded with fugitives who fall short of "stand-up guy": Joe Valachi, Vinnie Teresa and Jimmy Fratianno, for example. In fact, almost all mafiosi doing time can win leniency if they talk, but many have refused. This does not always reflect strength of character but, as in Peter Joseph Salerno's case, the fear of mob retribution against themselves or members of their family.

Peter Joseph Salerno had every intention of being a stand-up guy. A professional jewel thief, he came to have close contacts with the Genovese crime family. However, Salerno began to believe that when in doubt the mob will kill a potential stool pigeon. He was in Atlanta (like Joe Valachi) when he learned there was a contract out on him, and he decided to turn, becoming one of the federal government's most reliable witnesses against the Mafia and on whose head is posted $100,000.

Probably the highest-ranking stand-up guy in syndicate history was Louis Lepke, the labor racketeer and boss of Murder, Inc., who became in 1944 the only top-level crime executive before or since to be executed. Lepke was known to have information concerning high political and union officials, and his revelations would probably have put Governor Thomas E. Dewey in the White House.

The speculation is that Dewey wanted not only a labor official (allegedly Sidney Hillman who was very close to President Franklin D. Roosevelt), but also the crime bosses as well. On the day of his execution, Lepke had his wife read a statement he had dictated in his death cell:
I am anxious to have it clearly understood that I did not offer to talk and give information in exchange for any promise of commutation of my death sentence. I did not ask for that! [Lepke himself inserted the exclamation point] ... The one and only thing I have asked for is to have a commission appointed to examine the facts. If that examination does not show that I am not guilty, I am willing to go to the chair, regardless of what information I have given or can give.
Obviously the phrase "information I have given" meant Lepke had talked some, but, by using his wife to make the announcement, it was clear he was signaling the syndicate that he was not talking about the crime cartel.

He was talking only about politicians and labor people, which the syndicate would tolerate so long as he did not reveal information about the mob. By using his wife as a spokesperson, he was telling the boys he realized no member of his family would be safe if the crime leaders thought he was talking about the organization.

What Lepke couldn't grasp was that Dewey, whatever his desires and ambitions, could not possibly accept a deal that delivered political figures, his electoral enemies, but let every important crime leader in the country—Luciano, Lansky, Anastasia, Siegel, Costello, Adonis, Lucchese and many others—off the hook.

As a result, Louis Lepke went to the chair—a stand-up guy.

Suckers: Expendable Wise Guy Wanna-bes

Expendable Wise Guy Wanna-bes
Expendable Wise Guy Wanna-bes

Contrary to common belief and the claims of prosecutors, the mob has little trouble recruiting new recruits. This is more true than ever in the new Mafia that emerged by the turn of the 21st century. These newcomers may not be the most dependable sort and likely to "spill their guts" if arrested, but contrary to common belief, this does not worry the mob too much.

These adherents are not likely to be around too long. They are there because the mob needs them. Many operations require a lot of bodies and not necessarily too much upstairs. Gambling needs all kinds of "laborers" to get the operations to go. They have to tote up slips, and for illicit gambling joints or floating games they have to supply transportation for the players. The mob will take almost anyone.

The Bonanno crime family in New York recently used a 93-year-old grandmother in one of the outfit's wire rooms. Her job was to tidy up the place, which included flushing betting slips down the toilet in case of a raid. Another man worked for the New York finance department by day and then did gambling chores, hoping to make it up to the level of a wise guy wanna-be.

These recruits have true value; they are "suckers." Most mobs use them in a number of rackets, and if they are caught they usually don't have much information to offer the law. In the 1990s the Boston mob grabbed these recruits wholesale as what Boston reporters Gerard O'Neill and Dick Lehr call quasi–wise guys.

Young suckers were integrated into gambling operations, then into other activities if they seemed dependable and might even hold their tongues a bit. This made them even more expendable. The suckers were offered a lot of meaningless camaraderie so that they could take the fall for the mob if necessary. Many were promised several hundreds of dollars if they had to do time, with the further guarantee that they would move way up when they got out. Generally, the money stipend vanished after a few months, and the suckers were on their own.

Amazingly, most of those who came out had not been disenchanted, their eyes still set on the prize—full membership in the mob. As a result Boston had plenty of dirty workers handy for dangerous tasks. Some even were assigned roles in mob hits. If anyone got caught in such a job, it was almost invariably the throwaway suckers.

In the long run some of these victims get unhappy, but they could be held in line by making them think they were being regarded by seasoned wise guys as new "big shots." Of course, some of the brighter ones realize they are going nowhere, and they come to regard the FBI as a savior for them. This means the tactic can turn very hairy for the mob.

The usual solution: have them taken out before they start talking to the law. And the new Mafia leaders are so petrified of informers that they quickly give the okay when someone, perhaps even another sucker, wants the suspect sucker taken out for his own reasons.

As a result some suckers are wiped out on a mistaken belief that they might start talking to the law. Miscarriages of justice do not worry the current mob bosses. A murder now and then will keep other suckers in line until they are needed. In today's Mafia a sucker's lot is not a happy one.

State Street Crap Game

State Street Crap Game
State Street Crap Game

The importance of gambling to the Mafia cannot be overestimated. It provides the mob with the money and power to set up other operations that the public finds less wholesome such as narcotics dealing and murder.

A case in point, Brooklyn's State Street Crap Game, operated by the mob in the 1930s, financed Murder, Inc., the official mob extermination branch. The game was run in a building just off the busy corner of State and Court Streets in downtown Brooklyn. It was for high rollers, attracting wealthy businessmen, and, at times, even police brass and politicians—who suffered big losses and ended up beholden to the gangsters.

Abe Reles, together with Pittsburgh Phil Strauss, one of the two most important hit men of Murder, Inc., was designated by crime bosses Louis Lepke and Albert Anastasia to be the official shylock of the game.

Reles's underlings would move among the players, wads of money at the ready, making loans at a trifling 20 percent interest—per week. (Mob hit men are seldom if ever paid for any particular murder, but are usually put on a sort of retainer, often consisting of exclusive rights to a certain racket, such as gambling.)

The play per night at the State Street game was usually in excess of $100,000, and Reles's nightly profit from the shylock operation was, by his own estimate, anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. And the businessmen—compulsive gamblers who ended up paying huge amounts of "or else" interest—never realized they were footing the bill for murder.

When Reles turned stool pigeon concerning Murder, Inc., operations, the authorities cracked down on the State Street game with a subsequent big loss to the mob. However, gambling is the easiest racket to get started anew and with the public, the politicians, the police—up to and including J. Edgar Hoover— claiming gambling was at most a "minor" crime, the mob's loss was hardly irretrievable.

Walter Stevens

Walter Stevens

The press was to call him the Dean of Chicago Gunmen, and Al Capone used him for dozens of murders, with never a complaint. In fact, Walter Stevens probably killed more members of the Spike O'Donnell Gang for Capone than any other gunner.

Stevens started his career as a professional killer some time around the turn of the century. He once did a killing as a favor for a mere $50, and on another occasion a "half a killing" for just $25. Stevens became an honored slugger and killer for Mossy Enright in his union-busting operations. When Enright was murdered in 1920, Stevens started renting out his guns to other mob leaders, and he soon became a favorite of Johnny Torrio and Capone.

In all, Stevens is believed to have committed at least 60 murders. Direct evidence linked him to at least a dozen murders, but since his activities were centered in Chicago and Illinois, it went without saying most of the evidence never led to any prosecutions. In fact, Stevens only went to prison for one murder, that of a policeman in Aurora, Illinois.

But the conviction didn't amount to much. Len Small, then the governor of the state, was himself indebted to Stevens for some past mayhem. Having some years earlier been charged with embezzling more than a half-million dollars while state treasurer, Small remembered Stevens's part in bribing jurors and threatening others to achieve an acquittal. Now Small pardoned Stevens.

As mean and deadly as Stevens was in his professional life, he was a bit of a pussycat at home. Very well educated and read, he was fully conversant on the works of Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London. This was very highbrow among the Capones. He neither smoked nor drank, and for 20 years took loving care of an invalid wife.

Stevens adopted three children and saw that all received excellent educations. He was very prudish as a father and censored the children's reading material, ripping out pages of books he thought immoral. The children could only attend stage plays and movies that met his puritanical standards. His daughters were not to travel down the road to degradation by wearing short skirts or lipstick and rouge.

Stevens got out of the killing business in the late 1920s when, for the first time, an attempt was made on his life. After that, members of the underworld would say of him—although never to his face—that he was like Johnny Torrio: "He could dish it out, but he couldn't take it."

Stevens would more realistically put it that he had beat the odds longer than most hit men, and it was time to hang up his guns.

The Stockade

The Stockade
The Stockade

The Maple Inn, popularly known in the Chicago area as the Stockade, was the largest brothel run by the Torrio-Capone syndicate in the 1920s. But flesh peddling was not the Stockade's claim to fame. Rather, the whorehouse was one of the very few 20th-century Mafia operations ever to be the target of vigilante action.

It was Capone's technique to take over communities just beyond the Chicago city line and engage in excesses far beyond those carried out within the city itself. The suburban village of Forest View soon came to be referred to by Chicagoans as "Caponeville."

Booze wars, murder, gambling dens, physical intimidation of public officials and above all prostitution greatly upset the decent citizens of Forest View. Law enforcement officials remained doggedly unable or unwilling to meet this gangster invasion and rape of what had previously been a quiet community.

The symbol of the Capone blight on Forest View was the Stockade, an immense old stone-and-wood structure that housed gaming rooms and a bar, as well as a 60-girl whorehouse. However, the Stockade was more than just that. It was a hideout for wanted Capone gangsters and an arsenal with secret chambers hidden behind false walls, floors and ceilings.

Within this labyrinth was an extra-large chamber to which the whores could retreat in case of a raid. For the gangster on the run, there was a particularly lavish room beneath the eaves soundproofed with cork lining. The fugitive in residence enjoyed a most comfortable living area with deep pile rugs, comfortable couches and easy chairs.

There was also a speaking tube to place orders for food and drink which was conveyed to the hideaway by dumbwaiter. The puncture eyes of female figures painted on the ceiling gave the secreted criminal an overview of the rooms below, including the saloon and gambling hall. The secret compartment contained a number of steel-lined panels built into the walls in which were stored dynamite, grenades, shotguns, rifles, automatic pistols, machine guns and ammunition.

The residents of Forest View felt helpless against this Capone invasion stronghold—until 1926, when State's Attorney Robert E. Crowe, taking considerable heat at the time for a scandal involving his aides cooperating with gangsters, ordered an attack on Capone's suburban empire.

Among the joints hit was the Stockade, and axe-wielding raiders smashed slot machines, crap tables, roulette wheels, beer barrels and cases of whiskey, and hauled away the prostitutes as well as the ledgers and a safe jammed with cash receipts.

Capone accepted this for what it was meant to be—a short-lived inconvenience—and he planned to keep the resort closed for a short period before a gala reopening. Since there appeared to be little to protect, the mob kept only a skeleton crew of guard over the Stockade.

The following night Forest View vigilantes struck, attacking in a convoy of automobiles. The Stockade was set ablaze in a half-dozen places. Frantic Caponeites sounded fire alarms and several nearby fire brigades arrived. However, they made no effort to stop the fire, only seeking to prevent its spreading to neighboring homes.

"Why don't you do something?" an irate gangster demanded of a firefighter.

"Can't spare the water," was the laconic reply.

Ironically, the Capone forces were angered by such a departure from the standards of law and order and demanded an investigation.

"Investigate?" Chicago deputy chief John Stege, a determined Capone enemy, said. "I should say not. No doubt the flames were started by some good people of the community." And the Reverend William H. Tuttle said, "I appreciate the wonderful news. I am sure no decent person will be sorry."

Faced with such citizen opposition, the Capones backed down. Indeed, over the next few years Capone began backing away from blatant prostitution activities, especially in stiff-necked suburban areas, because of the hostility it aroused and the vigilante passions it nurtured. It was a learning experience for organized crime.

Stock “geniuses”

Stock “geniuses”
Stock “geniuses”

Wanna make it big in the stock market? Follow the mob financial experts. Bull market, bear market, the wise guys always make out. They get hold of stocks that are bound to go up, just as certain stock analysts predict. They pick a stock at $5 and sell out quickly at, say, $8, for an impressive 60 percent profit.

The mob guys may not know how to read a balance sheet or a stock report, but they do know numbers. Predicting a stock's profits will soar is easy to do when they can pick their own numbers—or have rogue analysts do it for them. The incentive for such educated numbers people may be as simple as one of the mob's standard ways of influencing people—holding people out of a high window headfirst.

Actually, it is not difficult to get so-called experts to play the numbers game with their forecasts. In a February 2003 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, legendary investor Warren E. Buffett wrote, "Managers that always promise to 'make the numbers' will at some point be tempted to make up the numbers."

It was a lush field the Mafia couldn't miss out on. The fact that the feds were driving the mobs out of some of their traditional rackets, actually opened up the joys of Wall Street for the boys. As one expert put it, "They used to have the number racket in Harlem. They used to have the Fulton Fish Market. They used to have garbage. They went seamlessly into Wall Street."

It must be admitted that the Mafia needed to be hit with a ton of bricks before they fully appreciated the potential. (It was the same thing at first about stolen jeans. The older mafiosi did not see the sense in stealing such "junk" as dungarees until they saw what younger customers were willing to pay for the stuff. That convinced them—and even got them to wearing jeans themselves.)

They finally noticed that the so-called Russian mob and certain other eastern European gangsters were getting into stock scams. They tended to concentrate on lower-priced securities not listed on major stock exchanges. The stocks were pushed by corrupt stock sellers who could find enough suckers to push up a stock to a point where the crooks could then pull out leaving the victims with huge losses.

These mobsters kept their salesmen allies in line with the threat of force. But it was only a matter of time until major Mafia families came on the scene, often having been approached by the corrupt stock people looking to get the East European gangsters off their backs when they began taking the lion's share of the profits.

It was of course too naive to think the Mafia in the long run would be fairer partners, but for a time the corrupt stock promoters usually considered themselves the major partners in the arrangement. They could indicate to the mobsters when certain operators would not join in the schemes, and the mob would apply their usual convincers, the threat of violence and when needed very harsh violence.

Quickly, the mobs saw far greater potential in stock frauds, and in the 1990s the six Mafia families in New York and Philadelphia were enlarging their toeholds on Wall Street. They may not have understood the theories behind junk bonds and derivatives, but a market for derivatives exceeded $100 trillion.

To the mobsters, especially the Colombos, Wall Street was an easily penetrated area with tons of money for the taking. They found it easy to take advantage of the kind of people who could be recruited in so-called chop houses, pushing worthless stocks. The time had passed when M.B.A.s and Ivy League credentials were vital to achieve success on Wall Street as far as unscrupulous brokerage houses were concerned.

Even a young punk with a moxie for fraud could become a stock hustling genius. Such was the case of 20-yearold Louis Pasciuto, who at the time was pumping gasoline in his native Staten Island, New York. He was found to be a genius at pushing stocks on unsuspecting buyers, mainly because he showed no compunction about stealing.

Young Pasciuto became very rich, especially since he had his "Mafia guy"—one Charlie Ricottone—who babysat him with protection that also extended to the management of the houses using Pasciuto. The "guys" also settled disputes between various chop houses, which meant eventually that they controlled many of the houses.

It was a wonderful world for Pasciuto. The mob took care of everything. An imposter was hired to take Pasciuto's National Association of Security Dealers exam for him. Pasciuto just lived the good life with a yacht, a Ferrari, and an impeccable wardrobe. Unfortunately, his relationship with his "Mafia guy" got messier and messier: The mobster wanted more and more money.

It was, of course, the standard never-ending Mafia shakedown. Unfortunately, Pasciuto was spending and gambling away money faster than he could steal it from his fat cat stock-buying victims. Ricottone, a veteran of the Colombo wars, was not pleased, so he just tightened the screws on Pasciuto. He suggested he would have to have Pasciuto's wife gang-raped.

As a result Louis grew more desperate and careless. He was charged with cashing bad checks and committing securities fraud. And his Guy was after him. Pasciuto decided to cooperate in 1999 and over the next few years helped the FBI and prosecutors make dozens of arrests of Mafia-affiliated brokers and extortionists in the next few years.

But it was doubtful that Pasciuto was little more than a drop in an ocean of stock thievery. Gary Weiss, a senior staff writer at Business Week, told Pasciuto's tale in a 2003 book, Born to Steal: When the Mafia Hit Wall Street, but he disputes the idea that the mob is or even can be gotten out of Wall Street.

He argues that organized crime may have played a major role in the spectacular rise—and then fall—of the financial markets. He sees organized crime still having a corrosive influence in the financial world. The honey in part is that mere $100 trillion floating around in the derivatives market alone. Clearly, the Mafia ain't leaving that.

Stock Theft and Manipulation

Stock Theft and Manipulation
Stock Theft and Manipulation

There are bulls and bears on Wall Street. There are also mafiosi. The bulls and bears sometimes make money and sometimes lose money. The mafiosi always make money.

Organized crime has long played the market, and they have carried it far past the old-time crude bucket shops that operated early in the century. Officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission once estimated that 90 percent of all stock frauds in the country are the work of about 150 operators, almost all pinstriped Anglo-Saxons but with strong financial backing of the Mafia crime families.

There is no way to estimate the Mafia's take in stolen securities. Known thefts in the 1970s ran at about $45 million annually, but investigators in a report to Senator McClellan estimated there was $25 billion in stolen and counterfeit stock floating around.

Stock fraud and theft is considered an "open territory" by organized crime, and the various crime families operate such schemes anywhere in the country. It is not considered an impingement of New York territory, for instance, for the Marcello family in New Orleans to work a swindle on Wall Street, or in Chicago or on the West Coast.

Securities used by racketeers may be stolen, inflated or even counterfeited; the Mafia can call on the best engravers, printers and suppliers of excellent paper as needed. The mobs had plenty of training in counterfeiting, producing funny ration stamps during World War II.

It is simpler, however, to steal the certificates. This can be done in several ways, one through the theft of registered mail at airports (which is one indication of the importance of mob control of rackets at major airports) or by pilfering them from banks and brokerage houses.

The mob finds it easy to subvert low-paid employees at brokerage houses to do their dirty work. First they involve these clerks in gambling and get them in hock to gang loan sharks. Then the loan sharks threaten the clerks with beatings or death, finally offering them a way out by pinching some certificates.

The clerks are instructed how to steal the securities, but, more important, to destroy the microfilm records of such stocks and bonds. In one case the mob got a million dollars worth of securities from Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith, the country's largest brokerage. Even though the company finally discovered the theft, it was unable to determine which certificates were taken because the microfilms were also gone. The stolen securities were good as gold.

A congressional committee investigating the activities of syndicate mobsters in stock thefts found that such certificates were readily moved "through confidence men, stockbrokers and attorneys of shady reputation, fences, and other persons who have the ability, technical knowledge, skill, and contacts to sell the securities or to place them advantageously as collateral in financial transactions."

Not even Charles "Bebe" Rebozo's close relationship with President Richard M. Nixon exempted his Key Biscayne Bank from falling victim to a loan of $195,000 obtained by one Charles L. Lewis of Atlanta, Georgia, who put up 900 shares of IBM stock as collateral.

Eventually Rebozo attempted to sell the stock only to discover it was stolen. Indictments in the case later linked the theft to two close Meyer Lansky gambling accomplices, Gil Beckley and Fat Tony Salerno, who later became head of a New York crime family.

Street Tax

Street Tax
Street Tax

The Mafia "street tax" is one imposed on any number of illegal or "fringe" enterprises for the right to operate in Mafia-controlled areas. Burglars, thieves, hijackers, X-rated movie houses, pornographers, chop shop operators, pimps and prostitutes are required to pay tribute to the mob.

For many years Harlem's top numbers racketeer, Spanish Raymond Marquez, paid a street tax of 5 percent of his take to a leading Mafia boss, Fat Tony Salerno, and thus was free of any mob headaches.

Freelance crooks operating within a crime family's territory can face very high taxes. For instance, an independent thief or hijacker working New York's JFK airport may be subjected to a 25 percent tax by the Gambino crime family. Some families demand as much as 50 percent of the take when a crook fails to clear his caper in advance.

However, many sharp crooks do not feel it safe to clear things in advance because a crime family may have plans of their own and can make points by turning the independent in to the law so that the authorities then owe them one. Clearly the no snitching rule does not apply to outsiders if it serves mob purposes.

Talent Hunters

Joe Massino
Joe Massino

By the 21st century the Mafia families had given topdrawer attention to security. It supplemented the Mafia's desperate need to recruit safe new members. Easily the crime boss most determined to carry out such a process was Joe Massino, the last of the bosses of New York's five families to be indicted in 2003.

Massino held his men to strict adherence to security, and he followed the lead of the late Carmine Galante to limit his comments on the telephone to mere grunts. He is credited with calling safer intragang meetings by having the wise guys picked up at various points in rented trucks, then all being transferred to a different rented truck chosen at the last moment, and finally the boys being taken to the meeting place.

Massino, along with some other top mafiosi, inaugurated the practice of calling some meets in Mexico or even European nations, such as France or England, where generally U.S. investigators could not react quickly enough to arrange any bugging. After such a meeting the boys would frequently head for Italy and Sicily for a talent hunt for new recruits.

The boys learned from bitter past experience that the screening had to be done well to avoid those who might turn informers or, just as dangerously, switch sides in later intrigues in the United States. It has been said that they tended to recruit from large family groupings who guaranteed their later loyalty with a promise of swift vengeance for any offender.

Like any system, the tactic could not be regarded as foolproof, but the crime families recognized Massino as an innovator worth listening to. It has been said that the loss of Massino to the feds would be a deadly blow to the emerging leaner, meaner Mafia in America.