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Sunday, December 26, 2010

What does a guy nicknamed "The Hatchet" actually do? (photo below)

The following was posted on    

Reviewing the History Behind Famous Mob Nicknames

A colorful nickname comes with the job when you are a reputed Chicago crime boss, often whether you like it or not.

The trial of Michael "Big Mike" Sarno is getting underway in federal court in Chicago, with prosecutors arguing that the 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound Sarno wasn't just imposing because of his size, but because he was the big man behind a violent mob jewelry theft and illegal gambling ring.

Imposing aliases have captivated the public and aggravated mobsters since the days of Al "Scarface" Capone, a fact that apparently was too much for one prospective juror. The juror, a suburban businessman, told U.S. Judge Ronald Guzman he would be biased by the repeated use of nicknames during the trial. So Guzman sent him home.

Defense attorney Michael Gillespie said he's not worried about his large client's nickname, which is pretty mild for an alleged mobster. "There's nothing nefarious about that nickname," Gillespie said. "But I do think (federal prosecutors) put the nickname in there for a reason. They could've just charged him as 'Michael Sarno.'"

A big appetite is a more benign way to get a pet name than, say, Anthony "Joe Batters" Accardo, the former reputed mob kingpin who earned his sobriquet for beating people with baseball bats. The story goes that after hearing of one such beating, Capone himself said, "That guy, (Accardo), he's a real Joe Batters." Throughout his life, everyone called Accardo "Joe," said Gus Russo, author of "The Outfit."

"They started to call (Accardo) 'Big Tuna' in the press, but no one ever called him that," said Russo. Mobsters' nicknames often were generated by the press or FBI agents eager to antagonize their targets, a favorite tactic of longtime Chicago FBI chief William Roemer. "(Roemer) was the one that referred to (Outfit Vegas boss) Anthony Spilotro as 'The Ant,'" Russo said. "That was (Roemer's) way of infuriating these guys."

Attorney Joseph Lopez said the press hung the nickname "The Breeze" on his loan-sharking client Frank Calabrese Sr. "That's a media nickname. No one ever called him that. He was 'Cheech,'" said Lopez. "Cheech is 'Frank' in Italian. It's a neighborhood thing. These guys get their nicknames like anyone else, as young kids in the neighborhood."

Of course, former Lopez client Anthony "The Hatchet" Chiaramonti was known for attacking juice-loan delinquents with a hatchet, the attorney acknowledged. "Hatchet earned that nickname," said Lopez, noting that jurors heard Chiaramonti strangle an informant — who was wearing a wire at the time — during a trial in the 1990s. "I called him Tony."

When reputed mobsters deny, or take offense to, their nicknames, it may be because they haven't heard them until someone plays them tapes of a wiretap. Wiretaps in Sarno's case will show that some of his lieutenants often called their boss "Fat Ass" behind his back. Not a good career move in most jobs, and a potentially deadly one in The Outfit.

"These are not guys you might want to call by a nickname to their face," said Markus Funk, one of the lead prosecutors in the Family Secrets trial that featured defendants Frank "the German" Schweihs; Paul "the Indian" Schiro; and Joseph Lombardo, who was listed with three nicknames: "the Clown," "Lumbo" and "Lumpy."

U.S. attorney's office policy is to include nicknames in an indictment only when the monikers are used in wiretaps or correspondence, said former prosecutor Chris Gair. However, modern mobsters are so paranoid about wiretaps and FBI surveillance that they seldom even risk using a nickname, Gair said. Their coded euphemisms get so vague, often it's clear the mobsters can barely carry on a conversation.

"Instead of a name or a nickname, they'll say something like 'You know that guy down by Grand and Ogden (avenues)?' 'You mean the guy who stands outside the grocery?' And the circumlocutions are so obscure, it's obvious they don't know who the other guy's talking about," Gair said. "But they're so paranoid, they still won't use a name."

Gair, for the record, said he seldom used nicknames in cases he handled.

"I would almost never put (nicknames) in an indictment. FBI agents and IRS guys have a nickname for everybody," he said. "For most guys, they use nicknames the way you or I do among friends."

Thanks to Andy Grimm

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Get Your Sergeant Smack T-shirt for Christmas!

Need some holiday gift ideas for that special guy or gal? Check out Strategic Media Books: 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tony Spilotro's Last Stand

In its heyday, the mob in Las Vegas was really controlled by key individuals in Chicago, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Cleveland. The guys who called the shots manipulated everything in Vegas from their respective cities like puppet masters pulling the strings. By the late 1980s, Las Vegas was in deep trouble. The FBI had painstakingly collected enough evidence to bring down the powerful Chicago Outfit and its accomplices.
In 1994 William F. Roemer, former FBI agent wrote the piece below. It came out just prior to the release of Roemer's book, The Enforcer, a nuts and bolts account of Chicago Outfit frontman in Las Vegas, Tony Spilotro. While it's a little dated and much has happened since, Roemer describes how the FBI dismembered the Las Vegas mob piece by piece: 
IPSN, Spring 1994
Who Rules Vegas?
By William F. Roemer, Jr.

After completing three novels that were interwoven with my real life experiences as an F.B.I. field agent investigating the highest levels of organized crime in the U.S., I have returned to writing non-fiction, my first real love. For the past year I have been researching the career of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, and have recently finished the life story of this pint- sized Chicago hood - brutal, scheming and as anti-social any one hood could be.

One of the things that struck me during my investigations for the Spilotro book was the depth of strength the Chicago mob had in Las Vegas in the not too distant good old days. The Chicago "wise guys" had everything going for them as well as one could expect in the halcyon years of the "sin city" - now being nurtured as a great vacationland for the American family. The Las Vegas office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed hidden recording devices in the executive offices of the strongly "mobbed up" casinos. Those electronic surveillance devices or "ELSURS," as we called them in our official reports to Washington, clued us in as to the vast amounts of Nevada gambling profits that was flowing into Chicago mob coffers. We're talking about big bucks. Millions of dollars a year! An elaborate haul by any standards.

In the mid-1980s things were deteriorating badly for the Chicago point men operating in Vegas. Three landmark investigations aimed against the Chicago chieftains and their satellite mobs in Kansas City, Milwaukee and Cleveland - known by the government as Pendorf, Strawman and Strawman II - crippled the elite leadership of Midwestern Mafia crime, including such bigwigs as Jackie Cerone and Joey Aiuppa. They had received stiff prison terms for overseeing the administration of the casino "skim" (pilfering the drop from the table games and slots before it could be legally accounted for).

More importantly was the continuing diminution of the Vegas skim monies. what had once been a gusher of illegal revenue flowing into Chicago from the casino counting rooms was reduced to a trickle as a result of the now famous governmental Strawman and Pendorf cases. The pint-sized Tony Spilotro, who had been sent out to Las Vegas to oversee and assure Chicago's interests, was indicted through Justice Department's efforts in Strawman II but he had suffered a heart attack and had to be severed from the case, only to be placed on trial at a later time.

When he was barely out of his teens, the ambitious Spilotro was hand-picked to become an enforcer for "Mad Sam" DeStefano, a notorious juice lender and one of the worst torture murderers in the long and sordid history of crime in a city known for violent innovation. DeStefano's favorite torture device was the ice-pick, which he manipulated with painful impunity on delinquent borrowers. He showcased his skills to his youthful protégé - Tony Spilotro - just a kid out of Steinmetz High who loved extreme violence and exhibited a flair for it early on in his life by shaking down his classmates for lunch money.

Spilotro proved to be a real up-and-comer in mob circles. Undersized but ambitious, he was to become the third Chicago assigned "boss" assigned to enforce the mob edicts along the Strip and Glitter Gulch of legendary Las Vegas. Johnny Roselli was Chicago's first. He served under Frank Nitti, Paul Ricca and the recently deceased mob genius, Tony Accardo. Roselli's endeavors were found wanting, however, by Sam Giancana, who quickly replaced him with Marshall Caifano (a.k.a. Johnny Marshall), another prominent short guy tied in with the wise guys.

Through surveillance techniques, F.B.I. agents found out that every Friday night the lusting Giancana was escorting Darlene Caifano, Marshall's quite attractive better half - to a plush motel in Rosemont which he conveniently owned. (The motel spoken of is now the property of Donald Stephens, current, and apparently mayor for life of the good Village of Rosemont). Smart move for Giancana to send forth Caifano to the Nevada desert country while he had a ball balling Darlene during Friday night interludes!

Giancana had to be replaced, however, as the top boss of Chicago when he refused to testify under a grant of immunity and was sent to jail for one year after which he left Chicago for residency in Mexico. He remained there for eight years while mob interests were being run by the committee of the "Three A's" - Tony Accardo, Joey Aiuppa and Gus Alex. Accardo, of course, was always the key man of the triumvirate. It didn't take these guys long to realize that Caifano was not the enterprising fellow to oversee their interests in Las Vegas and none had an interest in little Marshall's perky wife.

They were also dismayed to learn that several other associates sent to work in the casinos now directly under their control - the Fremont, Stardust, Desert Inn and Riviera - were somewhat cavalier about the whole thing. The sine qua non of the Chicago mob was not legitimate gaming profit, but the skim.

As it turned out, I was the Bureau's case agent at the time who was working "Operation VEGMON" (Vegas Money), which followed the trail of the skim money from Vegas back to Chicago's environs. The courier for the boys was the wife of a wholesale meat supplier who plied the outfit casinos with choice cuts of steaks and chops. To maintain good will and keep his business intact, the owner of the firm sanctioned a plan to have his wife ferry the "skim" from Nevada to the notorious law firm of Bieber & Brodkin (mouthpieces for Chicago mobsters for years and years).

The woman (whose name I cannot reveal) traveled by train and, upon her arrival in the Windy City, she was afforded luxurious accommodations at the Ambassador East Hotel while Bieber & Brodkin made sure that the proper cut was distributed to the proper people. It was a nifty "quid pro quo" for both the businessman and the Chicago outfit, and neither the mystery woman nor her husband were ever prosecuted for their activities.

After the Three A's ridded themselves of Caifano's employ, they installed our story's hero, "Tony the Ant," who provided them with a menacing presence of enforcement in Las Vegas. His tough guy resume was impressive, even by the Chicago outfit's exacting standards of violence and mayhem. Spilotro was allegedly linked to at least 25 mob hits over his blossoming career, including the viciously notorious rub-out of William "Action" Jackson, a 340-pound juice man who was impaled on a meat hook while being slowly tortured to death.

I had a couple of personal encounters with Tony. Twice he tried to ambush me; once while he was in the company of his grisly mentor, Sam DeStefano. The first time Spilotro was hiding in the West Side apartment of one of Sam's juice collectors whom I was attempting to "turn." DeStefano and Leo Foreman were waiting in the apartment with Spilotro but I failed to show due to unplanned developments.

The second run-in occurred in Columbus Park at Central Avenue and the Eisenhower Expressway. I was on my way to rendezvous with an informant when I was accosted by Spilotro, who was not armed. Given his small stature and the notable absence of a weapon, it was not all that hard for me to fend off the little runt and send him on his toddling way.

For all of Spilotro's gun work, I could see why Accardo and company chose the little man to enforce their fiats in the west.

Unfortunately for Tony Spilotro, he managed to invoke the ire of his superiors when five of his underlings chose to become government witnesses - a practice frowned upon by all. Three testified against Aiuppa, Cerone and other n'er-do-wells named in the government's Pendorf and Strawman Indictments. The other two spouted here-to-for or unknown happenings in cases against Tony himself. The once-reliable Spilotro had definitely become a security risk to his bosses. He was indicted in Vegas for heading a burglary ring, and violated mob decorum by conducting a fling with the wife of a Chicago pal - one Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who aided Tony in his Las Vegas startup years earlier.

The federal government investigators were moving closer and closer to Spilotro. Clearly, swift action had to be taken just in case the diminutive guy decided to "flip."

Tony and his brother, Michael, were last seen the afternoon of June 14, 1986, when they left Michael Spilotro's Oak Park home to run an errand. Several days later, the partially clad bodies of the two brothers were unearthed from a five-foot grave in a cornfield a hundred yards off the main road near Morocco, Indiana. They had been beaten, kicked, stomped and presumably buried alive by their assailants. It was plain to see their services were no longer of necessity to mob guys calling the shots.

For Tony Spilotro, it was a fitting, if not ironic, ending for he had inspired so much terror in the hearts of mob juice customers by the simply-stated reminder: "If you don't get the money you owe me, I will put you in the ground!" He foretold his fate.

What goes around comes around and now a replacement for the role of Las Vegas overseer had to be found. This time, however, the Chicago leadership turned to a man who was the complete antithesis of the brutal Tony Spilotro who spoke in the "dese, dems and dose" street vernacular. They selected the refined, urbane Donald "Wizard of Odds" Angelini. To the best of my knowledge, he never intimidated or killed anyone, unlike his predecessor.

Don was a real cut above the average Chicago wise guy in the brains department. The guy exudes class. White haired, trim, very well spoken and nice appearing with an ingratiating smile, Don Angelini could have undoubtedly been anything he wanted to be in this world. I first got to know Donald in the late 1950s when he received his real estate license. From the very beginning, however, he was deeply involved in the Outfit's gambling operations.

Bill Kaplan, a holdover from the days of Al Capone, had built up a lucrative racing and handicapping service on Clark Street, just north of the old Sherman Hotel where the State of Illinois Building now stands. He had supplied odds to bookmakers all over the world in the years before the nation's scattered wire services were legislated out of existence by the government and supplanted by the Las Vegas casinos. Kaplan was one of the last of the Chicago independents. He had thus far resisted "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio's attempt to squeeze him out of his game. But it soon became apparent that Kaplan was not strong enough to keep the heavy-hitting Alderisio at bay much longer.

Bill Kaplan went to George Bieber and Mike Brodkin - capable attorneys for the "boys" - to cut the best possible deal, knowing that he was negotiating from a position of weakness. He agreed to hand over 50% of what he had built-up with the proviso that mob muscle man Phil Alderisio would remain out of the picture. The accommodating lawyers brought forth the dapper Don Angelini as the intermediary and the deal was struck.

Posing as a degenerate gambler, I had been assigned to infiltrate what was now commonly known as the Angel-Kaplan Handicapping Service to learn the locations of hundreds of wire rooms, and the identities of illegal bookies who serviced clients around the world. As a side note to all of this, I wagered a sum of money with Angel-Kaplan on the outcome of the 1961 National League pennant race. My favorite team, the Cincinnati Reds, were pre-season longshots that year, but they managed to win the N.L. pennant as it turned out and Donald and Bill both thought I was a genius handicapper as a result. These guy leaned on me for my Notre Dame expertise - I happened to know a lot about the football program at my old alma mater.

Unfortunately, I never succeeded in "turning" Don Angelini. I turned scores of mob guys but Angelini was never one of them. He always let me know that our mutual interest was sports - it did not extend to the operations of the Chicago outfit. The boundary lines were very clear-cut in our professional relationship.

By 1986, the year that Spilotro was greased and the torch was passed to Angelini, I was retired from the Bureau and working in Tucson as an attorney representing news organizations who were being sued for libel by organized crime figures.

Conditions had changed markedly in Las Vegas since the early days of Marshall Caifano's capers. What Don Angelini had come to oversee was just a fraction of the gambling empire Chicago controlled in the 1950s. Joey Lombardo had been the "cap" or captain who oversaw Spilotro. But he had gone away on sentencing after being convicted in the Pendorf and Strawman cases.

Angelini found himself operating with a new crew of underlings in Vegas at a time when Chicago's flagship casinos were badly crimped. Though the outfit's top leadership was momentarily crippled by the government's successful prosecutions, we in the F.B.I. were unable to finger Angelini in Las Vegas. Oh, we know he was there all right. We "fisured" him several times as he stepped off the plane at McCarran Airport, but never on Las Vegas Boulevard, the Strip, or downtown.

Eventually, matters caught up with Donald, however, but not in Las Vegas. Occurrences in San Diego, where he tried to infiltrate the Rincon Indian Reservation with the assistance of Sam "Wings" Carlisi and John "No Nose" DiFronzo came to the fore. These three ranking Chicago bosses were attempting to skim the legalized gambling operations on the Reservation. "Wings" Carlisi skated, but Angelini and DiFronzo were convicted and each received 37 months for their part in the scheme.

There are those who believe that the San Diego case was only a slight jolt and Donald will soon return to the streets ready to resume his status as a boss in the Chicago outfit. I sure hope not, because if anyone could bring the outfit out of its present doldrums, Angelini has the brains to do just that. But I surmise that he is too smart to fall into that trap because he knows that law enforcement will make him a sitting duck - the main target - like all the top guys in recent years.

I arrested Donald twice in my career. I won't be around to do it again, but dedicated F.B.I. agents in Chicago like Pete Wacks will, and the "Wizard" knows that to be true, and will assuredly exercise the proper caution.

My last encounter with Don Angelini occurred a few years ago at Giannotti's Restaurant in Norridge. I was doing consulting work for the TV program "Hard Copy" and the film crew was with me when we filmed outside the restaurant. I was tipped off that Donald was inside, so when we finished our business, I went in and shook hands with the man they called the "Wizard." He told me that he had read my book, so with curiosity, I asked him how he liked it. Angelini gave me the Italian salute with his fingers flipped out under his chin. But then, before I could take offense, he winked and smiled in his usual custom.

I know this and have a feel for man, and I think Don Angelini is smart enough to realize that he must leave the outfit's heavy work to guys like Sam Carlisi, head of a West Side street crew specializing in gambling operations, juice loans and terror.

The media calls Carlisi "Wings" - but his mob code name is "Black Sam." I never met him during the time I was in Chicago, but he was the driver for Joey "O'Brien" Aiuppa when Aiuppa was the boss of Cicero and then, eventually, the entire Chicago outfit. A mob chauffeur is an important job in the outfit - not so in the real world. But many of the top bosses in Chicago put in their time over the years chauffeuring their superiors before climbing to the top spot.

After the unlucky Spilotro brothers were lured to their deaths in 1986, informants later told us that Carlisi's driver, Jimmy Marcello, set up the meet that spelled doom for Tony the "Bug."

Most people mistakenly believe the erstwhile Michael Spilotro was the wrong guy in the wrong spot at the wrong time. But it was Mikey who received the marching orders to bring Tony to the party for a "sit down" with "Black" Sam. Tony was grooming his brother Michael and made him privy to what was going on. Both brothers had to go when a murder decision was made. It was that simple. A double hit.

Sam Carlisi was lucky to beat the federal government in the San Diego caper. However, the government struck back on December 16 of this past year. Carlisi and seven "associates" (James C. Marcello, 52; Anthony "Little Tony" Zizzo, 58; Gill M. Valerio, 42; Richard Gervasio, 43; Brett O'Dell, 39; Joseph J. Bonavalente, 37; and Anthony "the Hatchet" Chiaramonti, 59) were convicted on assorted racketeering, extortion, loan sharking and gambling charges.

"Black" Sam is 71 years old now, and will probably spend the rest of his years in a federal prison. He joins a long line of losers, beginning with Al Capone, who were all top bosses of the Chicago chapter of La Cosa Nostra before death or prison overtook them. Tony Accardo was the only one who beat us. No time for him. So I have to believe that Don Angelini - with the weight of history against him - will think twice with his incisive mind about assuming the mantle of leadership of LCN once he gets out.

The last time I spoke with Supervisor Lee Flossi of the Chicago Bureau of the F.B.I., he told me that as yet no clear leader has emerged to oversee gambling operations in Chicago and Nevada. I'm not saying that the mob is beaten. Not by a long shot. Such would be naïve. There is too much revenue potential and influence at stake and I'm quite sure the outfit will plumb the depths to stay afloat. But I do not believe Angelini will want to risk the drop a second time.

Bill Roemer's biography of Anthony Spilotro is titled The Enforcer: The Chicago Mob's Man Over Las Vegas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From the Belly of the Beast

Seth Ferranti Interview

The traditional Mafia is still big news and the public’s fascination with the mob and criminal behavior shows no signs of letting up. While glorifying the gangster isn’t what Mob Speak is all about, we continue to present various criminal viewpoints without editorializing. Our role is to let our readers discover what makes criminals tick—hear their story—firsthand.

Such is the case with Seth Ferranti, currently serving a 304-month stint in federal prison for peddling marijuana and LSD. Seth is a first-time, non-violent offender. During his incarceration Seth founded Gorilla Convict Publications. He’s also a regular contributor to Don Diva magazine originally written for prisoners and gangsters but now enjoys a much broader reader base. He’s earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Iowa University and is currently working toward his Masters degree from California State University.

Seth has been the subject of numerous interviews including my good friend, Ron Chepesiuk on the website New Criminologist. From reading Seth’s books I found him to be an intelligent and articulate writer who wraps his considerable knowledge of the street in the language of the hood. There’s no doubt that Seth Ferranti knows what he’s talking about.

MS: Your research speaks volumes about your desire to get the facts straight. While incarcerated in federal prison, you wrote three books: Street Legends Vol. 1, Street Legends Vol. 2 and Prison Stories, based on real personalities. What motivated you to write the books?

SF: For the Street Legends series (Vol. 1 and 2) I wanted to do for the black and Latino gangsters of the crack era what writers like you are doing for the mob stories. I have read a lot of the mafia true crime books and have found them all fascinating. But I noticed there weren't many on black and Latino gangsters so I decided to fill that void. these are figures that have been lauded in the lyrical lore of hip-hop and I was locked up with a lot of them so I had access and I found that a lot of them wanted to tell their stories so I came up with the street legends concept. I just did like writers do with the mafia books except I switched it up a bit. It’s still true crime though. Prison Stories was my attempt to show the time that I was doing in the feds in the ‘90s. I had read In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbot and Hothouse by Pete Early and I wanted to show the world what the time I was doing in the feds was like. I believe I captured it very well in Prison Stories. Just as Street Legends captured the ghetto icons memorialized in hip-hop.

MS: In your various publications, a name that crops up regularly is Don Diva magazine. For those of you who haven’t heard of Don Diva, the Washington Post stated, “Don Diva is a magazine a bout gangsters that is published for gangsters -- and for wannabe gangsters, imprisoned gangsters and folks who just want to experience the excitement of gangster life without getting shot or going to prison, which is, alas, the fate of most of the gangsters Don Diva profiles.” Tiffany Chiles, whose husband Kevin Chiles was released from prison in 2003, launched the magazine in 1999. Don Diva bills itself as “The Original Street Bible.” What role does the magazine play in your life, Seth?

SF: I was in FCI Fort Dix in 1999 writing a sports newsletter/paper for the intramural sports leagues run in the prison. Some guys had transferred in from FCI Allenwood where Kevin Chiles was doing time. He was looking for writers for Don Diva which he had just started. The guys, who were homeboys of his from Harlem, saw my writing which was posted in the housing units. It was just sports stuff from the prison leagues, basketball and stuff like that, commentary and game reports. They liked the way I wrote and approached me. They told me about Kevin and the magazine. Also there were some dudes on the compound that Don Diva wanted to interview. So I interviewed them, wrote the articles and sent them to Tiffany. I have been writing for Don Diva ever since. They have promoted my work and it has been a productive relationship.

MS: You’ve done considerable research for your books, website and blog. How do you accomplish this considering you lack access to important individuals and resources?

SF: Actually I think being in here is easier because I can just walk through my unit and find criminals from this town or that town. Whoever I am researching a story on its very easy to find someone who might know them or know of their legend. Just because they are from the streets or from that area. Let’s say I am doing a story on a ghetto icon from New York I can walk down the block and talk to someone from New York and get all the street info and rumors on that person. The newspaper stuff I get my wife, who acts as my manager slash secretary slash agent slash editor slash publisher, to download from Lexus Nexus and print out for me and the court records are easy because they have extensive law libraries in prison. So actually being where I'm at is a plus for researching. That’s crazy yes? But I am relentless too and I never take no for an answer and if I am blocked doing something I am trying to do, I find a way around it.

MS: A constant theme in your books is the parallel between the traditional Mafia and those whom you call Street Legends, gangsters who have achieved great fame or popular renown. The quote “we only kill our own” was coined by the traditional Mafia but it was not true of them, nor is it true of the so called Street Legends, both of whom killed plenty of innocent bystanders. Care to expand on this?

SF: A lot of the stuff about loyalty and honor and all that is bullshit for real. I have learned that a lot of these so called stand-up guys and street legends are really psychos, not people you'd want to have over for dinner. It goes right with the whole Godfather themes. It’s a glorification, a romanticism. I didn't create these legends. I just perpetuate them. I put them on paper. It goes back to the whole Billy the Kid thing. I mean who was Billy the Kid? He could have been some snot nosed punk. But look at his legend. That is my medium. That is my passion. I bring the legends to life. Sometimes it’s easier to look at the legends than to look at the real people but I try to give an accurate portrayal buying into the mythology but at the same time destroying it when necessary. I do it from the criminal side though. I am not a mainstream journalist upholding the government angle. I take a look at these legends, their lives and crimes, from all angles. I try to draw an honest and real perspective that can take readers into these peoples’ lives and circumstances. But I don't sugarcoat it when a guy is a killer I give him his due.

MS: Put slightly differently, few would argue that finding a way out of oppressive poverty can be a noble quest. Does that justify the taking of innocent lives even by accident?

SF: I wouldn't say that anything justifies taking an innocent life. But in our world stuff happens. Who am I to judge? I just try to tell the story. I see myself more as a historian. But my history is not colored by facts. I report the story from all angles and give an honest perspective. Life is precious but the fact of the matter is people die every day for all different types of reasons and it’s not pretty. Life is cruel and ugly. That is a fact. But speaking from the criminal side, a man who doesn't snitch on his comrades is noble. Maybe he killed some innocents, on purpose, no, does that lessen it? No. It is what it is. I could go on about casualties of war and all that but I won't. Death isn't pretty but when you carry and use a gun it’s an occupational hazard. But taking innocent lives is never justified. Even in war.

MS: The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini said, “I would rather live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a lamb.” With the exception of Frank Matthews who apparently still avoids capture and perhaps a few others, the Street Legends seem to share a consistent character arc. They live large, leave their mark, then sit out the rest of their lives in a prison cell, many with no hope of parole and little outside contact. Most say they have no regrets. In your opinion, are a few years of glory, fame and fortune worth spending the rest of your life incarcerated?

SF: At the time most would say yes but after 20 years in the belly of the beast most would say no. It’s all a matter of perspective. Some dudes live for that rush, that recognition, that fame. But in the end was it worth it? Most would say no. But most would say they are men of principles too and taking the time for upholding those principles are what they are doing. So in the big scheme it’s about principles. If someone raped or hurt my wife or children would I kill them? Yes, I would, because I am a man of principle. So if you can understand that then you can understand these men who burn brightly and flame out. It’s all about being able to look yourself in the mirror and being comfortable with who you are and your circumstances in life, whatever they might be. But I think too that as younger men these guys don't realize the consequences of their actions. They are risk takers, they are gamblers—but the stakes they are playing for are their lives.

MS: Let’s get more specific. Are you alleging that because Kenneth ‘Supreme” McGriff conducted himself with finesse, it exonerated him from all the stuff he did?

SF: Supreme is an honorable dude. But I speak as a criminal because my ideals are different than those from society. He upheld the code, omerta, and never snitched. He embodies what all this gangster stuff has been glorified as and romanticized as. He is the real deal. That is rare these days. That is why I write about these dudes to honor what they are. It's the principle I am recognizing. But supreme is a criminal. A drug dealer and shotcaller from the jump. His organization was the first to deal crack exclusively and his actions, direct or indirect, caused a lot of tragedy in the hood. He made money off of other peoples misery. That is true. I can put it all in perspective. That doesn't take away from who he is. How many political leaders and even presidents of our own country have made money off the misery of others? That is the American way. I don't think supreme is evil. I think he is a good hearted person that just got caught up in a violent world in one of the most violent epochs of American history—the crack era. Was it pretty, no. But it’s history. Hip-hop has celebrated his legend and I have put it in book form for any readers who wish to indulge in it. That's all it is. Nothing more nothing less. The man is serving a life sentence in one of the harshest prisons ever conceived. So he is paying the price for his glory and legend. He hasn't been exonerated from anything.

MS: Forget the movie American Gangster which is the subject of another blog entry. What’s your take on Frank Lucas?

SF: For me personally Frank Lucas is a fraud. He incorporated other peoples life events and sold them as his own. He is a scam man, a hustler. But to give him his due he sold the story and got paid. But he is a fraud and he is a snitch. I have no respect for a dude like that. But I liked the movie. I like that it got made. I like that it raised the profile for this whole black gangster movement that I am a part of. But Frank Lucas didn't have to steal other peoples stories to sell as his own. That is wrong.

MS: From your book Street Legends Vol. 1 you said “…Anthony Jones, the king of Baltimore, is still silent. Denied access to the mail, phones and visits he sits at ADX Florence, the federal supermax , under the tightest of security in permanent lockdown by court order.” Perhaps it’s like the moth that’s drawn to a flame. What’s the motivation when the convicted perps are nearly 100% guaranteed to spend their lives in jail?

SF: I think the motivation is their circumstances that they are trying to rise up out of. Their environment. Maybe that is all they know. I can make excuses but in reality people just get caught up in their life. Like I said before they want the recognition, they want the fame, they court the controversy. They bring it on themselves. They are the moth drawn to the flame.

MS: Many families, whether they admit it or not, have a relative who is somehow connected to the illicit drug trade. My own now deceased brother was a mule in Miami for Columbian drug traffickers in the ‘70s. He was on the run from the FBI a good part of his life, taking on menial jobs even though he excelled both in languages and math. I often wonder what he might have become if he chose a different path.

Like my brother, you seem to have multi talents: intelligence, energy and drive that would make you successful in any walk of life. What’s your story?

SF: I moved from California to Virginia as a teenager with my mom and stepdad. I was angry, I was rebellious but at the same time I wanted attention. I wanted to be popular. The area was very affluent, Fairfax, Virginia, the kids I met there had money to spend and they wanted drugs. I bragged that I could get them so they brought me several thousand dollars to buy them. I called my cousins in California and had them sent to me overnight. This started my life in smuggling. Three years later at the age of 19 I was supplying marijuana and LSD to about 15 colleges in 4 states. It wasn't something I planned, it just happened. By the age of 22 I was sentenced to 25 years on a continual criminal enterprise charge. I am still in shock at it. But I have done the time. I have walked it down. Now I am almost ready to go home.

MS: You said, “A better life awaits us” In Street Legends Vol. 2. What do you mean exactly?

SF:  You know I write for people in prison. That is my audience. I wrote that for them. It means better life awaits us when we get out.

MS: To paraphrase, you’ve said: All true Legends are visionaries and accept both sides of the coin…the good and bad and take full responsibility for their actions. Are you saying that people don’t choose a way of life, but rather are chosen?

SF:  No, I am not saying that. I  am saying that to be the type of person that becomes a legend you have to have some kind of vision or scope that is bigger than yourself. You have to be able to become bigger than the sum of your parts and accept all that comes at you. You have to hold your own and carry your weight. You can't put your problems on someone else. To me that is admirable and honorable and that is what the legends I write about epitomize.

MS: The Robin Hood analogy crops up often with regard to how the Street Legends are viewed, i.e., rob from the rich and give to the poor. The drug lord Anthony Jones allegedly said to the neighborhood youth, “Don’t use drugs; don’t sell them.” He was also known to help friends with college tuition and more. Yet he was a vicious killer tied to a dozen murders. Sure these guys threw crumbs to the neighborhoods poor the same way that Al Capone doled out Thanksgiving turkeys. But can you say that they did all this for altruistic reasons? It seems more like savvy public relations.

SF: I think it’s more a matter of you help your own. Yes, they poisoned their communities but they helped too. They tried to outweigh the bad that they did. But it’s not like they were killing innocents although some inevitably get caught in the crossfire. If you are a criminal or a player in the game, death or jail is often the result. These people live life large while they can and then pay the ultimate consequence. They just try to spread some of the love around while they can so they will be remembered fondly. I don't think it is an active attempt at public relations though. It is just human nature.

MS: Almost everyone on the streets seems to idolize these dudes. I get the point of Death before Dishonor meaning they didn’t rat anyone out, an admirable trait. But what a price to pay for a few flashes of glory. Can you explain?

SF: These dudes came from the gutter. They didn't have nothing. I can't even imagine how they lived or what life was like for them. Can you? They lived and grew up in poverty and degradation. Their whole culture has been criticized and they as black men have faced racism from day one. So it is hard for me to explain. I have attempted but I can't really understand. I just try to keep it as real as possible and authentic and honest. Maybe the temptation to live like a king for even only a minute was worth the risk for them. That is all I can say on that.

MS: Apparently, the 1980s was the heyday for illicit drug sales such as cocaine and heroin in the U.S. One of the Street Legends dubbed Boy George said “Drugs are the biggest generator of money in this country, so how could the game be dead?” What’s the drug situation like today? If it’s in decline, what’s killing it?

SF: I don't think the drug situation has been killed. Illegal drugs are probably still the biggest money maker in this country. But for the blacks and Latinos the crack era was like prohibition for the Italians. A lot of guys got rich overnight. They say the game is dead because with the war on drugs and the proliferation of snitching it’s hard to get in and out with your money. That’s what they mean when they say the game is dead. The object of any game is to win and if you end up in prison with a life sentence or dead in the gutter then obviously you didn't win. The best and the brightest in the drug game used to win. Now that isn't so much the case.

MS: From what I’ve heard, the prison system in this country sucks. It’s run by a corrupt, greedy lot (gee, just like on the outside!) and rehabilitation is a joke. If you agree with that view, how would you change things? What can we all do to change the prison system? God knows…we pay enough to keep guys in there.

SF: I think they should have a type of reward or good time system instead of the current system where you have to do 85% of your time. There should also be something in place for first-time, non-violent offenders. They should have more education and programs. Right now the prison system is just a warehouse for men. A place of employment to prop up rural economies. It is all wrong. It would take a lot to make it right but it could be done. There is no oversight and staff face no consequences for their actions or inaction, be that as it may. I do believe that some people belong in prison and the crimes they commit are not redeemable—they should never be let out. But a lot of people are in here for very minor stuff. The war on drugs is a joke. I have 17 years in for non-violent crimes committed when I was a teenager. That is crazy.

MS: What would you like to add that we haven’t covered, Seth?

SF: Check out my blog, order my books, let me know what you think about the work that I am doing. I welcome all comments and critiques. My new book THE SUPREME TEAM: The Birth of Crack and Hip-hop, Prince's Reign of Terror and the Supreme/50 Cent Beef Exposed is coming out in March 2011. Check it out and watch out for my Gorilla Convict releases this year. Thanks for the interview and take care.


MS: And thank you for a thought-provoking and candid interview, Seth. Mob Speak wishes you all the best.

Visitors can contact Seth Ferranti through his website: For more information on Seth check out his blog:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Italian police arrest top mafia fugitive

NAPLES | Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:50am EST
(Reuters) - Italian police arrested on Wednesday a mafia boss who had been on the run for 14 years and was one of Italy’s most wanted men, judicial sources said.
Antonio Iovine, a boss of the Camorra, the Naples version of the Sicilian mafia, was arrested by police and was being transferred to a safe location, the sources said.
Iovine, whose name was on the list of Italy's 30 most wanted mobsters, was considered a leader of the Camorra's infamous Casalesi clan.
His capture is the latest in a string of high-profile mafia arrests by Italian authorities in recent months.
(Reporting by Laura Viggiano; Editing by Charles Dick)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seth Ferranti Interview...You're in for a Big Surprise

Next week Mob Speak posts an interview with Seth Ferranti from prison. Ferranti's answers chill with their stark honesty. The man dissects a situation, examines all parts and rationally states several points of view. He is both philosopher and observer of the human condition without judging. He'd be great on the debate team. But I'll let you see for yourself. Look for the interview Wed., Nov. 24. 

Yours truly,

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Awwwwww. Common!







Sunday, October 31, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 26th in Series

Tips from an Old Timer 

If I said I could tell you how to win at any casino game, I’d be lying. And if I actually knew how to win, I’d be doing that instead of writing this book. What I can do after 60 years of gambling is to offer a few tips on how to get the best value for your money. Of course, there’s always the possibility that you know more than I do. If so, I’d like to hear from you. Maybe we can make some money together.

First, you need to look out for cheaters. There are more of them around than you might think. So, if I’m going to gamble, I go to a licensed casino, and I don’t mean the Internet. Once you’re there, you should play the game you have the most knowledge of.
At blackjack, always play with a bankroll you’re comfortable with and have a plan for what to do when you’re winning and losing. I’ve seen more people double their money when they’re losing. If you’re losing, that’s the worst thing you should do. Instead, head to another table or head out the door. There’s always another day. Pit bosses love it when folks throw good money after bad. With the odds in favor of the house, the longer you play, the better your chances of losing. When you’re winning is the time to double up. It’s in your best interest at least to acquaint yourself with Basic Blackjack Strategy which is available in most bookstores, Online and even at some casinos. There’s more to playing good blackjack than meets the eye. Learn how to increase your chances of winning by reading one or more of the many books on the market that spell it all out.
Don’t camp out at the crap table after a good roll. That’s when you should maybe take a hike to the sports book where you can catch almost any sporting event on TV. If you make bets in your mind, then all you lose is your mind. If one of the dice flies off the crap table I off all my bets. I’ve seen the dice 7out over and over after the dice have skipped off the table. It’s so easy for a dice mechanic to replace the good dice with doctored dice using sleight-of-hand.
When playing poker, wait for a good starting hand, unless you have your own strategy. If you catch trips (3 of a kind) on the flop and lose, go home. In Hi/Lo, if you don’t start with the nuts (ace/deuce), fagetaboutit, as the Sopranos would say. And if you’re playing Omaha and catch 4 of a kind, throw them in the muck.
Regarding roulette, the worst bet is black or red. You have a 50/50 chance of winning or losing. How good is that? Look for a roulette wheel that has only one zero which, with one less number, offers better odds than two zeros. You might have to go to England or France to find a single zero roulette wheel, though. Other than that, you’re on your own.
In Keno and slots you probably know more than I do.

Even though I mentioned cheating earlier, I want to emphasize a few things. You can thank the licensed casinos for plugging most of the cheating holes with their state-of-the-art surveillance techniques. Cameras are now so sophisticated, that some can even see through synthetic fabrics. So pay careful attention when selecting your underwear on a gambling day. Notice the casino rules such as not touching your chips once you’ve bet. Most rules are really necessary for the protection of the casino and honest players. You’ll occasionally find cheaters trying to switch cards or cap a bet, but that’s extremely rare these days and their actions don’t affect you.
In poker, collusion teams signal their hole cards to one another. Sometimes they do this by the way they place their chips or cards. You would rarely encounter such action in the higher limit games.
In 1979 I worked with Eric Drake to make all Las Vegas poker room rules the same. Today these rules are nearly universal:
·         Only one player per hand. (No help from anyone.)
·         Check and raise is permitted. (Some casinos disallow this.)
·         Four raise limit with three or more players; no limit of raises with just two players.
·         All games are table stakes. (Table stakes means you must leave money on the table when winning; if losing, you get action for any money on the table until you leave the game.)
·         A called hand may be seen by anyone at the table.
·         String bets are not allowed. (A string bet is when you throw a bet into the pot and reach back for more chips to raise; you must call the raise; you can only make one motion when betting chips.)
·         Cards hitting the muck are dead cards. (The discard pile is called the muck; you can’t retrieve your cards once they’re mucked; also, cards that are too few or too many when the dealer misdeals are dead.)
·         Seating changes must be approved by the floorman.
·         Maximum rake is 10%. (Rake is the money, expressed as a percentage of the pot, that the house charges players to play and is taken out of the pot during each round. Most casinos stop taking a rake after 10%.)
·         English is the only language spoken at U.S. poker tables.
·         Indecent language will not be tolerated.
·         No smoking allowed in the poker room. (A relatively recent rule.)
·         Management is not responsible for chips left on the table.
·         The floorman’s decision is final.

I hope this clears up many questions. Remember, the dealers are there to help you. Don't forget to sign up at the podium for a poker table that spreads the game of your choice as soon as you enter. You might have to wait for a while if there's a long list. As a rule, your spot will be held for an hour.
Someone once said, the difference between praying in church and praying in a casino is that in a casino, you mean it. Good luck.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Slick & Tony Montana on YouTube video

Just found this video posted on YouTube when Slick and Tony Montana were selling our book Thief at Borders Books, McCarran Airport during their regular Monday gig:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sicilian Police Arrest Mob Fugitive

Always of interest to Mob Speak is the Sicilian Mob and ongoing arrests of its top fugitives. This in from the Associated Press: 
Top Mafia fugitive nabbed in Sicily
Associated Press, Oct. 23, 2010
Police in Sicily have arrested one of Italy's 30 most dangerous Mafia fugitives.

Gerlandino Messina had been on the run for 11 years before being nabbed Saturday by Carabinieri in Favara, near Agrigento, his power base in Sicily.

In a statement, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the arrest was the latest evidence of the government's "unprecedented success" in cracking down on organized crime.

The ANSA news agency said the 38-year-old Messina had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for mafia association and a series of murders.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the arrest showed Italy was getting closer to nabbing the head of the Sicilian Mafia. Only 16 men remain on Italy's list of 30 top fugitives following a series of arrests.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Capone's possessions still command hefty sums

The story below appeared earlier today in the British newspaper 

Daily Express Reporter:



Story Image

October 20,2010

By Daily Express Reporter

The prohibition era gangster complains that his cell is “damp and a lack of air sometimes keeps me up during the nights.” 
The letter was sent to the US Federal Prisons Director in July 1936, four years after Capone was jailed for tax evasion. 
He wrote: “My life is in constant danger, I have in fact received over six threats in the last three months.” 
Capone remained in the island prison in San Francisco Bay for a further three years before being moved prior to his release in 1939. He died in 1947 from a heart attack. The letter is being sold next month in Los Angeles alongside one of his gold rings.