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

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 17th in Series

Back in the 1970s, a friend of mine, ex-boxer Mike DeJohn from Buffalo, NY, was working at the Sahara. I used to see Mike occasionally at the Paradise Spa way south on the Strip. Mike told me one day that when he fought Liston, he hit Mike so hard, Mike had to lie down. And DeJohn was no slouch.

In 1961, a group headed by Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo, two mobsters, bought Liston’s contract. One year later on September 25, Liston beat heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson. Defending his second title as a 7 to 1 favorite, Liston lost to Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali. (Photo above)

On Jan. 5, 1971, Liston's body was discovered by his wife, Geraldine, in their Las Vegas home. She’d been away visiting family. Coroners determined he had died at least a week earlier. The cause of death remains a mystery. Officially, Liston died of heart failure and lung congestion, but needle marks found on his arm suggest he may have died of a heroin overdose. Some believe mobsters murdered him. At least one acquaintance suggested Liston was involved in a loan-sharking ring and was demanding a bigger take.

"Ultimately, the true cause of Sonny Liston's death was the mystery in him," Nick Tosches wrote in The Devil and Sonny Liston. "He rode a fast dark train from nowhere, and it dumped him from that falling-off place at the end of the line."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

U.S. & Sicilian Mafia Still Tight?

( Pictured above: Fourteen Sicilian mobsters arrested at the first known national meeting of the Mafia held in Cleveland in 1928, and hosted by Cleveland mob boss Joe Porrello. Notable are Joseph Profaci (seated in wheelchair), head of what would become New York City's Colombo crime family. Flanking Profaci are Capone representative Joseph Giunta on the left and Pasquale Lolordo.)

Is the link between the Sicilian and U.S. Mafia dead? This article appeared in the News-Press several weeks ago. Read on:

Raids Hit Mafia in U.S. and Sicily
The Associated Press

New York -- The FBI arrested a reputed U.S. mobster Wednesday on charges he provided protection for a Sicilian counterpart mapping out criminal turf in Florida -- part of an international sweep aimed at further crippling the storied Gambino organized crime family and disrupting its ties to the Italian mob.

Wiretaps and surveillance revealed that suspected Gambino soldier Gaetano Napoli Sr. had a "close relationship" and "communicated extensively" with Roberto Settineri, a suspected member of the Sicilian Mafia facing charges in Florida and Italy, according to court papers charging Napoli and two sons. They said Napoli helped settle a dispute last year between Settineri and members of the Colombo crime family during a "sit down" at a social club in Pompano Beach.

Settineri, 41, and Italian citizen living in Miami Beach, was caught on tape telling Napoli he wanted his participation to "show everybody good manners" -- what authorities say was a reference to the La Cosa Nostra custom that only made members handle such negotiations.

At a news conference in Miami on Wednesday announcing three more arrests there, U.S. and Italian authorities told reporters the Sicilian mob had dispatched Settineri to the United States to generate more business with American gangsters.

"He had the important ties to the American crime families of Gambino and Colombo," a top Italian National Police officer, Raffaele Grassi, said through a translator.

Napoli, 71, and a son, 44-year-old Gaetano Napoli Jr., were arrested Wednesday in North Carolina on extortion, bankruptcy fraud and other charges contained in an indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn. They were to be arraigned in Raleigh on Thursday.

A second son named in the indictment, Thomas Napoli, 31, pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn to concealing assets in a bankruptcy of a family business. He was released on $100,000 bond.

FBI agents arrested Settineri on Wednesday hours before he was to fly from Miami to Italy, authorities said. He and 39-year-old Daniel Dromberhauser were indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiring to launder $10 million in crime proceeds.

Another Settineri associate, 37-year-old Italian citizen Antonio Tricamo, was indicted separately on charges of attempting to sell some 250,000 cigarettes without paying Florida taxes, laundering $1 million in ill-gotten gains and arranging a fake marriage in an attempt to gain legal status in the U.S.

Simultaneously, authorities in Italy executed about 20 arrest warrants targeting a Palermo-based Mafia crime family suspected of running extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking operations.
Judging from the above, I guess some associations have a very long "shelf life."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 16th in Series

Boxing Capital of the World

Nevada legalized boxing in 1897 and held its first big fight where Bob Fitzsimmons took away the heavyweight championship title from James J. Corbett in Carson City.

In the 1970s, Las Vegas was proclaimed the Boxing Capital of the world. You’d run into great champions all over the city like Joe Lewis, Billy Conn and Joey Maxim. What fight fan didn’t stop by Johnny Tocco’s Gym to see who was working out? Every Tuesday at the Silver Slipper’s second floor ring it was like a who’s who of boxing. You sat next to big stars watching renowned fighters duke it out in some of the biggest fights in boxing history—Hagler vs. Hearns, Tyson vs. Berbick, Leonard vs. Hearns, Bowe versus Holyfield—to name only a few.

Watching boxing on TV can’t compare to experiencing a live fight. It was an exciting part of my Las Vegas…a time I’ll never forget.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Mob: from Hollywood to Vegas

For all you mob documentary lovers, I discovered a DVD set (at Target, no less; also available at Amazon) called The Mob from Hollywood to Vegas, collector's edition. It consists of 4 discs for a total of 19 one-hour episodes. It cost me only $7.50, but cost may vary.

I've watched four episodes so far. While there's some repetition, especially at the beginning of each episode, the production quality compares favorably to series seen on A&E and the History Channel. Long clips from movies such as Little Caesar with Eward G. Robinson, Paul Muni in Scarface and James Cagney in Public Enemy compare their screen identities with their real life counterparts in original newsreel footage.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hell's Angels: More than "Toys for Tots"

Boy, I must really be naive. I learned recently there's a much darker side to Hell's Angels than being just a hell-raising motorcycle gang. This definition is taken directly from Wikipedia:

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) is a worldwide one-percenter motorcycle gang and organized crime syndicate whose members typically ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In the United States and Canada, the Hells Angels are incorporated as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. Their primary motto is "When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets".

Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada classify the Angels as one of the "big four" motorcycle gangs, contending that members carry out widespread violence, drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and extortion. Members of the organization have continuously asserted that they are only a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have joined to ride motorcycles together, to organize social events such as group road trips, fundraisers, parties, and motorcycle rallies.


So what started all this? It began when a potential client from up North began telling me his nightmare story about how Hell's Angels began to extort him. They even took over his contracting company without his knowledge and used it to launder money. As unbelievable as that may seem, the more this guy told me, the clearer it became how this could happen. Mind you, I'm intentionally keeping the facts vague so as not to get this guy in trouble. I will tell you he's from the Midwest.

During that same time, I was editing my friend Rick Porrello's book The Irishman for it's paperback version. In the following excerpt it's 1977 Cleveland. Several mobster's names are mentioned who are now dead:

Crnic's death posed a major problem for the Hell's Angels. For some time the Mafia had been using the Angels as muscle, but now the Cleveland mobsters were furious. It was obvious that the bikers also accepted murder contracts against them. Licavoli issued stern warnings and his men held a meeting attended by the Hell's Angel's president. The biker boss defended his club explaining that they were not responsible for Crnic's actions because he was a former member at the time he planted the bomb. Despite distrust and finger-pointing by mob members, the explanation was accepted by Licavoli. But it was two years before the Hell's Angels were used for another mob contract.

What an eyeopener.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Where's Marcello and The Clown?

James Marcello (photo: right) Cleared of Parole Violation

Reputed Chicago mob boss James Marcello won a court skirmish with federal prosecutors Wednesday when a judge cleared him of an old charge of parole violation, but the victory did not win him his freedom.

Marcello left court to return to federal prison where the sexagenarian must continue to serve a life sentence for his part in an almost-two-decade organized crime wave that included a series of 18 long-unsolved murders.

U.S. District Judge William Hibbler ruled that federal prosecutors had failed to show that after Marcello's release form prison in 2005 he had violated the terms of his supervised release.

Marcello was arrested and put back behind bars a year later when prosecutors unsealed their sweeping Operation Family Secrets indictment of alleged leaders of the Chicago Outfit - the name of this city's organized crime family - and their followers.

He was convicted of murder in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison.

Prosecutors wanted Hibbler to revoke Marcello's supervised release. That way, there would still be a way to keep him behind bars if his conviction in the Family Secrets case were reversed.

Two other big-name reputed mobsters - Frank Calabrese Sr. and Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo (photo:above left) - are serving life sentences as a result of their convictions in the Family Secrets case.

Thanks to NewsRadio 780 as posted on

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 15th in Series

Craps, Where Men are Men

Seven you win, seven you lose. They hand you square dice and tell you to roll them, round chips and tell you to stack them. Times sure have changed. After playing dice since I was a kid, I looked up one day and there was a female craps dealer. It reminded me of when I saw my first female bus driver. I thought, Okay…I’ll give the female dealer a shot.

If you’re thinking of a career working as a casino dealer, you should know that most of the bosses come from the crap pit. The tips are usually bigger in craps and it’s easier to find work since it’s the hardest table game to deal. Another plus is when you get older you can sit down and be a boxman.

Here’s the simple dictionary definition of craps, although I can assure you the game is anything but simple: A gambling game played with two dice in which a first throw of 7 or 11 wins, a first throw of 2, 3, or 12 loses the bet, and a first throw of any other number (a point) must be repeated to win before a 7 is thrown, which loses both the bet and the dice.

The dice go around from player to player. When it’s your turn, there’s no point in shooting because the first roll is the “come out” roll. It’s a game where you can make several bets at one time, just like roulette. Of course, there’s a lot more to this game, but you can go to any bookstore (The Gambler’s Bookshop on Tropicana Blvd. in downtown Las Vegas is a good start), to read up on the game of craps.

Some of the biggest scores are made at the crap table. All you have to do is learn to say, “press it” which means double it up. And if you’re in the mood to piss people off, bet the “don’t.” But be careful not to “crap out.”