THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Real Scoop: Mobwriter in Las Vegas


(Photo at right: The LV Strip as seen from the Jockey Club roof.)


It was a whirlwind trip, just 5 eventful days in Sin City. Here's the rundown:

My best friend, JJ Gamble (her real name!), and I flew to LV for free compliments of her son-in-law who flies for Southwest Airlines. Since we used his buddy passes, we promised we'd refrain from besmirching his good name, i.e., no sex on board, etc.

The silence at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas was deafening. No clink, clink, clink of coins hitting the hollow-bottomed slot machine trays. In fact, only a handfull of folks patronized the rows of slots that kind of resembled tired soldiers standing at attention.

I don't recommend Suzuki as a rental car brand. The compact sounded like it was ready to hop the curb and head for the junk yard any minute. But at least it got us where we needed to go.

We headquartered at the Jockey Club on the Strip (see our suite at upper right, minus the great view), enveloped on the south by the magnificent Bellagio and some new half-built glass thing on the north. In fact, you couldn't actually see the Jockey Club from the street, but that was okay since it's central Strip location made up for it being hard-to-find. Our suite included 2 TVs, well-equiped kitchen (we saved a bundle cooking in), handsomely appointed furnishings, a king-size bed, and ample room to stretch out. Even though we received a discount for attending a promotional event (many, many real estate discounts around LV), the Jockey Club is a solid value anyway. The ground floor even boasts a small grocery store, albeit expensive. And it allowed us to pick up important items such as wine, milk and a map without having to retrieve our clunker Suzuki from the pleasant valet service.

The Strip appears mostly as I remember it from 2001 with its sea of gawkers from all parts of the globe. But direct questions to various employees about how things are really doing were met with grimaces and sighs of relief at still being employed...for now. The word is that people are spending considerably less than normal (whatever that means?) on gambling. In truth, the table games, as well as the slots, at Caesars, Bellagio, Venetian, Paris and Palace Station seemed somewhat sparce. A floorman, who shall remain unnamed (not my intention to hurt anyone's business), said that bet size was down considerably. And a reliable source told us that a popular restaurant owned by a famous chef was serving about 1/4 of normal numbers.

BUT...the 2 shows we attended, Bette Midler, who thanked the audience for choosing her show, and Cirque du Soleil's O, appeared full. Both shows exhibited grand production values that boggled the mind, a far cry from the Las Vegas of yesteryear.

Then there was the visit to Sheri's Ranch, a bordello in Pahrump, Nevada, about an hour's drive west of Las Vegas, where prostitution is legal. My friend, Lora Shaner a retired madam at Sheri's, escorted us to the famous ranch for lunch. The place looked like a standard darkish bar and restaurant...except for the nearly naked girls strutting around. And they were most pleasant while we toured the establishment, including the "dungeon" complete with real devices of torture to drive their patrons to ecstacy! The other theme rooms we visited were far more conventional. Sheri's is sort of a downscaled version of the Playboy Mansion. Check out Sheri's Web site for photos and more info: http://www.sherisranch.net/

Slick took JJ and me to visit his friends, Big Daddy Carlos and his wife, Ava Berman, who are refurbishing Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in Glitter Gulch. (See earlier Mob Speak blog featuring the pair.) While waiting to see Big Daddy who was in a meeting, the multi-talented, accomplished restaurateur and promotor, Ava, made the 3 of us feel like family. She and I even discovered to our utter amazement that we grew up in the same north suburban Chicago town and even went to the same high school! Shucks. They presented us with comp VIP tickets to their Holloween tour in the hotel. It was the neatest, creepiest such tour I'd ever experienced. I highly recommend a visit to the historic Horseshoe if you want a taste of authentic Las Vegas in its heyday. Benny Binion started holding the World Series of Poker at the hotel and the rest, as they say, is history. Be sure to check out the million dollars on display on the casino's main floor, guarded round-the-clock. Don't know about you, but to me a million bucks is still a lot of money.

Yours truly














Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Inside a Major Hollywood Mob Flick




Photos left: Book cover To Kill the Irishman; bottom: Ray Stevenson as Danny Greene; right: Danny Greene.

In my last blog I mentioned a story that appeared on the Website, New Criminologist. I've posted it here in its entirety with express permission of editor Steve Morris at New Criminologist. Hope you enjoy it.

The Irishman: Inside an Upcoming Major Hollywood Mob Flick: Special to New Criminologist UP AGAINST THE BOOK SHELF COLUMN
- Ron Chepesiuk

What is it that attracts us to Mafia movies like steel clips to a magnet? Most of us have seen The Godfather, a movie considered by many to be the greatest ever made. But it’s just one of a long line of great Mob flicks that extend back to Hollywood’s early years where we had such classics as Public Enemy Number 1 and Little Caesar. Just in past two decades or so Hollywood has released such great flicks as Casino, Donnie Brasco, GoodFellas, Jackie Brown, A History of Violence and The Departed, among others.

With so many superb mafia flicks around, we might ask: Has Hollywood seen its best days when it comes to this genre of movie? The quick answer is, no way.

Consider that that this coming spring (2010) an explosive and highly original mob flick is scheduled for release. Titled simply The Irishman, the movie depicts the story of Danny Greene, an Irish-American mobster who takes on the La Cosa Nostra in a vicious and violent gang war that had the bodies piling up on the streets of Cleveland in the 1970s.

Greene is on record as making this bold challenge to the powerful La Cosa Nostra: “I have no axe to grind, but if those maggots in this so-called Mafia want to come after me, I’m over here by the Celtic club. I’m not hard to find.”

That’s great dialogue from the book upon which the movie is based. Written by true crime writer, Rick Porrello, and published in 1998 as To Kill an Irishman, the book has sold more than 20,000 copies. Not bad for a self-published book.

The Midwest Book Review described To Kill an Irishman as “must reading…a true life story more dramatic than anything ever to come out of Hollywood.”

Another review by the Book Reader predicted great things for Porrello’s book when it concluded that it was “a terrific read about powerful losers and mob stuff just a few years ago. We see a Hollywood script soon.”

Porrello is no literary flash in the pan. He had initial success with his first book, The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia: Corn, Sugar and Blood, which Barricade Books published and included Porrello’s research into the murder of his grandfather and three uncles. The book was also a regional favorite and went through several hard cover printings before being re-published in paperback.

But Porrello could not come to terms with Barricade over what literary rights he was willing to sell to the publisher.

“In today’s publishing marketplace, it’s tough to strike a fair deal on your own,” Porrello explained. “You really need a literary agent, but when I queried several literary agents to see if they would represent me, they said it’s hard to sell a book written by an unknown author.”

Porrello, however, didn’t need to publish books to survive. In 1981 the 18-year old talented musician became the drummer for Sammy Davis Jr., the super star entertainer who hung out with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as a member of the famous Rat Pack.

As a stickman for Davis, Porrello traveled the world, appeared in television show, including the Johnny Carson Show, and performed regularly at venues in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

"It was a great life and a great career, but I’ve always wanted to write," Porrello revealed. "Writing is tough, but there is no greater feeling than seeing your book in print."

And that feeling is magnified when the writer becomes one of the chosen few in his profession whose book is transformed into a Hollywood movie. A remarkable achievement considering Porrello has a time-consuming day job. He’s a Cleveland area police chief.

The Irishman movie brings together an award-winning all-star cast and an award-winning all-star production crew. Noted actors Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Paul Sorvino, and Vincent D’Onofrio (Law and Order’s Criminal Intent) will play lead and supporting roles. Director Jonathan Hensleigh was the screenwriter for Die Hard with a Vengeance and Jumanji and wrote and co-directed The Punisher, while Jonathan Walters is the co-writer. The movie’s editor, Douglas Crise, was Oscar nominated for his work on Babel.

Writing the screenplay must have been a challenge given Greene’s complex character and the richness of his story. Porrello described Greene as “a Celtic warrior at heart, obsessed with the color green—green car, green jackets and green ink pens.”

The quirky Irishman was handsome, obsessed with physical fitness and followed a strict diet of fish, vegetables and vitamin supplements. To minimize his hair loss, Greene underwent painful hair transplants.

“Green took his personal hygiene very seriously,” Porrello explained. “He even had a nail brush in the union bathroom to keep his manicured nails scrubbed clean.”

Greene had no problem with using car bombs to blow his enemies to smithereens, but he was also known as an animal lover who put out food for birds and squirrels.

Greene got his start in racketeering in the late 1960s as president of the Cleveland branch of the International Association of Longshoreman, but was deposed after a Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper investigation revealed he had been embezzling union funds. Greene worked as an enforcer for local Cleveland mobsters, including Alex Shondor Birns. He got into a dispute with Birns over $60,000 that Greene refused to repay, and the two went to war.

Birns made several botched attempts on Greene’s life. In one incident, the Irishman found a bomb that Birns had planted in Greene’s car. Greene described his brush with death as “the luck of the Irish” and vowed to get even. “Sure enough,” Porrello explained, “a few weeks later, Birns was blown out of his car in two pieces. It was an excellent hit and Danny was proud.”

After Godfather, John Scalish, died from heart surgery in 1976, the criminally ambitious Greene allied himself with John Nardi, a corrupt teamsters official in a move to take over the Cleveland underworld. When Greene murdered the feared but respected mobster Leo “Lips” Moceri and Eugene “The Animal” Caisullo, the Italian Mafia had had enough and went all out to get Greene. What followed prompted one newspaper to describe Cleveland as the “bombing capitol of the United States.”

You can read the book to find out what happened and watch the movie to see how Hollywood treats the story. We will reveal, though, that the subsequent Mafia war had consequences beyond Cleveland. Besides leading to the murder of dozens of gangsters, the war also created a chain reaction in which the Mob remained in perpetual war not only in Cleveland but also Milwaukee, Kansas City, Los Angeles and other cities across the country.

Meanwhile, Greene became a legend.

Porrello concludes his page turning narrative with a lyrically Irish sounding refrain from The Ballad of Danny Greene: “One day he’ll lie, as all we must, some will laugh but most will cry. His legend will live on for years, to bring his friends mixed pleasure.”

According to news reports about the movie, Actor Ray Stevenson, the star of The Punisher, looks forward to the challenge of playing the complex Danny Greene character.

In an interview with the Internet site Movie Set Stevenson said it was the exceptional script that drew him to the project. He described Green as charismatic, a loner whom the people considered a Robin Hood because he gave turkeys to them at Thanksgiving and Christmas to show “it wasn’t about the money, there was a higher goal.”

The movie project’s genesis can be traced to 1997 when Tommy Reid, then a young, ambitious entertainment entrepreneur stumbled on to the Danny Greene story and learned that Rick Porrello was writing a book about it. Thus began a long and arduous process of getting the movie made. Why did it take so long for The Irishman to reach fruition?

“First of all,” Reid explained to the New Criminologist. “Rick’s book was self- published and not a New York Times bestseller. Even if a book is a New York Times bestseller, it has one percent chance of being made into a movie.

Reid added: “So many elements are involved (in making a movie). You need a great writer to adapt the book to a screenplay. You got to have a visionary production team on board. Then you have to find the financing, so you can make reasonable offers to acting talents like Ray Stevenson and Val Kilmer to get them on board.”

Reid laughed and quipped: “That’s how a movie becomes a 12-year overnight success.”

Each year, for more than a decade, Reid had to buy an option on Porrello’s book to retain the right to make a movie based on it. As the website Wikipedia explains, the option is a “contractual agreement between a movie studio, a production company or film producer and writer, in which the producer obtains the rights to buy a screenplay from the writer, beyond a certain date.”

“Sure ,optioning the book was expensive,” Reid conceded. “My company had to put up a lot of money and it really added up. But we prevailed and never gave up. Along the way the project fell off the horse a few times, but I would get back on and ride it. I was a true believer in the project.”

During the past 12 years, Porrello got several offers from others who wanted to buy the option to To Kill an Irishman. Some of the prospective buyers were bigger names than Tommy Reid in the entertainment industry, but as Porrello explained: “Tommy’s the man. He had a vision for my book and he is ambitious…contagiously ambitious. He got me believing that the project would happen.”

Aspiring entertainment entrepreneurs cannot live by one project alone and so while The Irishman was in development, Reid was busy building his career. The film projects that he has produced and directed include The Wiffler: The Ted Whitfield Story, the true tale of the greatest wiffle ball player of all-time, and Strike, a comedy starring Tara Reid, Ross Patterson and Clayne Crawford.

As a field producer, Reid researched and prepared 120 plus interviews with retired, rookie and 2009 Super-Bowl winning NFL players. “I have to have a couple of irons in the fire to keep going,” Reid said. “But I knew The Irishman was my best project, and all it would take to be successful was timing and getting the right elements in place.”

Still, the challenges were formidable. Reid confided that at one point he got so frustrated at the lack of progress, he decided it was time to produce something tangible from all the work he had done on Danny Greene’s story.

In 2007, the producer went to Cleveland and interviewed nine individuals who had ties to Danny Greene. The interviews form the basis for the documentary, Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman, a factual portrayal of The Irishman’s life. The documentary is in post-production and will be available for distribution in 2010.

Reid plans to use the documentary to help promote the feature film which finally began production in May 2009. “Sitting there watching the production begin I had to pinch myself,” Reid recalled with smiled. “Finally it had all come together.”

The shooting went smoothly wrapped the following month. When asked what’s the movie’s cost, Reid sighed and said: “The cost is never ending. The advertising alone can eat up your budget. Post-production is another cost. That’s the important phase in which the movie is edited.”

When asked when will the movie finally be completed, Reid chuckled: “There is a saying in Hollywood. You never finish a movie; you abandon it. Otherwise, post production can go on forever.”

The movie is scheduled to debut St. Paddy’s Day, 2010. “With an Irish character like Danny Greene, that’s a fitting way to launch the movie,” Reid said. It sure is, but given the uncertainties of the film industry, it may take the luck of the Irish for that to happen.
SIDEBAR FAST FACTS ON THE IRISHMAN

## Based on Rick Porello’s book, “To Kill an Irishman” (Available from Simon and Schuster Publishing in 2010)
## Code Entertainment, Producer
## Executive Producers—Jonathan Dana, Rick Porrello
## Producers Tommy Reid, Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso and Tara Reid
## Co-producer—George Perez
## Director—Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters
## Actors: Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Paul Sorvino, Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio
## Script writers—Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters
## Editor—Douglas Crise
## Cinematographer—Karl Walter Lindenlaub
## Production Designer—Patrizia von Brandestein
## Distributor—Lightning Entertainment
## Domestic Sales—ICM and Jonathan Dana

Ron Chepesiuk (dmonitor1@yahoo.com) is award winning freelance investigative journalist and documentary producer. He is a Fulbright scholar and a consultant to the History Channel's Gangland documentary series. His true crime books include Drug Lords, Black Gangsters of Chicago and Gangsters of Harlem. His three forthcoming books include "Gangsters of Miami"(November 2009), The Trafficantes (an e-book in February, 2010) and Sergeant Smack: The Lives and Times of Ike Atkinson. Kingpin, and his Band of Brother (May, 2010).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Criminologist: Mob Speak's Website of the Year

Just discovered a fascinating Website: New Criminologist--The online journal for criminology.

The site is chock full of important mob-related info, as much as any I've seen, and it's worth your taking a look.

I heard about New Criminologist from my friend Ron Chepesiuk, a multi-published author of a long list of non-fiction crime books and articles. Ron spits out top-quality literature such as his upcoming title, Gangster's of Miami, November 2009, the way bunnies produce offspring.

I'm hoping Ron will give me permission to reprint his article about the movie The Irishman due for release on St. Paddy's Day 2010. The movie is based on Rick Porrello's book, To Kill the Irishman. (Porrello is pictured above.)

Ron describes the lengthy (10 years), tedious book-to-big screen process and why it's a near impossible endeavor. Every word he says is true.

Happy reading!

Mobwriter

Friday, October 9, 2009

How Bad/Good is Las Vegas Economy?


Next week Mobwriter sees for herself what all the fuss is about. My friend, JJ Gamble (great Sin City name!), and I are paying a visit to Las Vegas to take in the sites and see Slick, Tony Montana, retired madam Lora Shaner, and maybe take in some shows.

On my list is checking out some of the bigger casinos on the Strip, off Strip casinos such as the Rio and maybe Glitter Gulch, see how Fellini's Restaurant on the West Side is faring, and get out to an old haunt, Lake Mead, now gasping for life.

I'll report back on my findings...nothing scientific. Just impressions on how Las Vegas seems to be coping or not with the state of the economy.

Stay tuned.

Mobwriter

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gangsters of Miami--New release


Featured Book: Gangsters of Miami
Ron Chepesiuk
October 2009 $23.95 Hardcover

This book chronicles gang and gangster history using profiles to tell the rise of the gangster and history of crime in Miami. Known as the Magic City, the book traces gangsters that include the notorious smugglers of the Prohibition era, famous mobsters like Al Capone and Myer Lansky, the Cuban Mafia, the Colombian cartel, the Russian mafia, and the current street gangs that have come to plague Miami after the advent of crack cocaine.

ENDORSEMENTS FOR GANGSTERS OF MIAMI!!
Since the turn of the century, Miami has been a pivotal destination for emerging criminal organizations: the Mafia, Colombian cartels and local street gangs. Ron’s latest well written tome, Gangsters of Miami, accurately depicts their dominance, control, and method of operation during Prohibition and their progression to gambling and narcotics. This book is a must read for anyone interested in an historical and colorful account of crime in the Magic City!
Ellen Poulsen, author, The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York’s Most Sensational Vice Trial and Don’t Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang.

With a sharp eye for detail and a crisp writing style, Ron Chepesiuk peels back the layers of sun-drenched Miami, exposing a history of corruption and crime, stretching from the Mafia to the Colombian cartels to the Russian mob to the little-known Cuban Corporation. It’s one of the most complete looks at crime in South Florida.
Lew Rice, Former Special Agent in Charge, DEA, and author of DEA Special Agent: My Life on the Front Line.

Meet the real Tony Montana’s and flinch at their ruthless capacity for extreme violence and murder. Chepesiuk’s aptitude for revealing the inner workings of organized crime within a community is once again on display here as the reader is cast into Miami’s bloody underbelly. A remarkable achievement by the author.
Scott M. Deitche, author of Balls: The Life of Eddie Trascher, Gentleman Gangster and Silent Don, The Criminal Underworld of Santo Trafficante Jr.
Chepesiuk provides another fascinating portrait of organized crime in an American city whose uniqueness and location made it a spa for a variety of colorful crimes and criminals. Miami stands as a stark contrast to the comparatively staid underworlds found in the East and Midwest.
Steve Morris, Publisher, The New Criminologist.

Chepesiuk provides another fascinating portrait of organized crime in an American city whose uniqueness and location made it a spa for a variety of colorful crimes and criminals. Miami stands as a stark contrast to the comparatively staid underworlds found in the East and Midwest.
Stephen Brodt, Editor, Trends in Organized Crime Journal.