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

  • Stay tuned for THIEF! book signings, media interviews and other THIEF! events
  • Media Reviews posted periodically
  • Mobwriter comments on true crime events and books

THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Vinny Vella Mob Actor: More than The Sopranos & Casino

Vinny Vella
Who is this guy?
For one thing Vinny Vella, who grew up in New York’s Little Italy, portrayed the character Jimmy Petrille in the TV hit The Sopranos. Before that a string of mobster and other quirky characters followed his role as Artie Piscano in the movie Casino directed by Martin Scorsese. He’s been called “one of Hollywood's old standbys for playing imposing, street-smart Italian-American hoods.” But there’s a lot more to Vinny Vella than his celluloid mobster persona.

Lesser known facts:
 • Vinny, known as the unofficial “Mayor of Elizabeth Street,”   was born Vincent Franco Vellacerra in New York City’s Little Italy.
• Vinny was the “man about town” in a program on the Travel Channel based on his adventures.
• Vinny says he doesn’t want to be as famous as Robert De Niro, “I don’t need no Rolls-Royce. All I want is to be working a little more, to have a little more money. I want a building with an elevator.”
• Robert De Niro attended Vinny’s wedding.
• Vinny teamed up with ESPN to do over 30 commercial spots for Monday Night Baseball.
• Vinny logged some time behind bars for running numbers.
• Before he was an actor, Vinny used to rent out RVs to use on movie sets.
• Vinny plays Frank Brancato in the movie, The Irishman. It premiered in several cities around St. Patrick’s Day, March 2011.

Mob Speak was curious to see what kind of a guy Vinny Vella really is…

MS: Vinny, many years ago you had a trucking company called “Star Truckers.” How did you snag clients like Madonna, Cindy Crawford and Mariah Carey?

VV: We rented out our vehicles to different fashion industries among other clients. The fashion people used the RVs for makeup and wardrobe. I started working with models like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and many others who were just starting out in the business. The next thing you know we started renting out the vehicles to MTV and VH1 for music videos. Pretty soon we had stars like Madonna on board. Then word got out and the movie studios found out about us.

MS: I read that you got your first acting gig in an MTV show called House of Style.

VV: Yeah, I became good friends with Cindy Crawford. She was always glad to see me when I drove the RV. “Hey Vinny, how are you?” she’d say. I’d entertain everyone, not like the other drivers who would just stand around and try to see the girls without any clothes on…bunch of perverts. If it was a nice day I’d step outside and give the girls their privacy. If it was rainy I’d sit in the front seat and look straight ahead. I respected them and they appreciated that. Well, Cindy Crawford launched House of Style and offered me a spot on the show. Every time I saw a new model I said, “She’s the most beautiful.” The next model I saw I said, “No, this is the most beautiful one.” I tell you I had the best dreams.

MS: How did you happen to land the role of Artie Piscano, a stool pigeon in Casino? Any good stories?

VV: When I was just a driver for the fashion industry I began putting together head shots and submitted them to different NY agents. Got some work as an extra for $100 a day. I took these jobs just to get my feet wet. The next thing you know I heard about auditions for Casino. I auditioned and was offered a very small part. Then they upgraded my role to the Kansas City underboss, Artie Piscano, because they liked what they saw. They asked if that was a problem. “No, no problem,” I said, thinking how lucky I was. Everything started to snowball.

The woman who played my mother in the movie I knew from Elizabeth Street. She happened to be Marty Scorsese’s mother. I spent time with her on the set since nobody wanted to hang out with her. I took her to a casino for fun. Marty saw how well we got along and told me he was going to try something in our next scene. Every time I swore, he was going to have her hit me and make some comment. It's hard to keep your concentration when you’re trying to remember your lines. It wasn’t working out too well so Marty came up to me and took my lines and threw them in the garbage. I had no idea what he was going to tell me. He asked me what I’d do to someone who owed me a lot of money and didn’t pay. I told him I’d do this and that and I'd break their f---ing heads. He stopped me and said, “That’s perfect.”

So I improvised the whole thing. I was waiting for him to say cut because I was running out of stuff. After maybe 2 or 3 minutes he finally said cut and walked over. “Vinny, that was excellent…exactly what I want…now do it over again.” We ended up doing about 20 takes with 3 cameras. I guess it worked out. Some people are shy when the camera starts rolling. Me, I make love to that camera.

Now 16 years later people still come up to me and say, “Hey you’re the guy that screwed up in Casino.” It was a memorable part that started me on a roll.

MS: What about your role in The Sopranos?

VV: They called me down and said I’d be reading with someone else. It ended up that I got the part of Jimmy Petrille with the New York mob. I was in several episodes.

MS: You had a part in director Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog and Coffee and Cigarettes. Jarmusch allegedly said, “The beauty of having a guy like Vinny in your film is that he’s real…he didn’t come out of an acting academy.” How tough is it for you to play a mob guy? Are you afraid of being typecast?

VV: I pretty much play myself. No, I don’t worry about becoming typecast. People seem to like what I do. I’ve also branched out into comedy in movies like Analyze This and Analyze That. I’ve done a comedy called The Last Days of Limbo where I play a bishop. There’s a scene in the movie where I’m cooking sausages and one of the characters asks if I know what I’m doing. “Of course I know what I’m doing,” I say. “I’ve been cooking all my life.” At that exact moment a lot of smoke comes up out of the turns out very funny.

MS: You portrayed real life mobster Frank Brancato in the recently released movie, Kill the Irishman, based on Rick Porrello’s book To Kill the Irishman, The War that Crippled the Mafia. How did that gig come about?

VV: I think I was watching The Price is Right and I get a phone call from Jonathan Hensleigh, the director, who told me he wanted to get me on board. I said, “So when are guys going to start filming?” “Next week,” he said. “When you’re ready, call me,” I said. You could waste a lot of time sitting around waiting for stuff to happen. Here's what I believe in: When I’m actually in front of the camera. Jonathan told me who was in it and asked if he could send me a script. It sounded like it was on the up-and-up, so I said yeah. We worked out a contract. It was great what they offered me. I was in Detroit (which doubled for Cleveland) like 5 weeks.

Ray Stevenson not only looked like The Irishman Danny Greene, he was one of the greatest guys you’d ever want to meet. We hung out and played pool and drank in a bar across the street. Well, Danny Greene always wore a gold chain with a gold cross on it. So at the end of the shoot Ray gave all the principal actors, 10 to 15 people, a gold chain and cross. Must have cost at least a couple hundred a piece.

MS: You’ve been in something like 50 movies, Vinny. Do you remember them all?
VV: It’s not that I’m losing it…it’s that I’ve already lost it. I’ve done so many movies and TV shows that I lose track.

MS: Okay, you opened a pizzeria in Brooklyn called Vinny Vella’s Pizza that attracted a colorful assortment of characters many of whom are ex-wiseguys and actor buddies of yours including Robert De Niro, Danny Aiello and many of The Sopranos crew. (Does that make them friends of yours or friends of ours?) Then you renamed it Better Fellas in 2009. Is it still going?

VV: I got rid of it because of my partner who had “slippery fingers.” He’s lucky he still has his fingers because if this was years ago his hands would have been in the oven. But that’s another story…

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Offspring of Mobsters Victims Too

Calabrese, Sr.

Joey Lombardo
If you think it's all about lucrative movie and book deals for relatives of dead mobsters, read on. This was posted on the Website, Chicago Syndicate:

Surviving Relatives of Mob Hits Feel Re-victimized by Mobster Books and Museums

The public's fascination with traditional organized crime didn't end with the Godfather movies, Casino, Goodfellas or the Sopranos on television.

Even after Chicago and New York crime families were decimated by federal prosecutions, there is a renewed public appetite for the mob. But some people aren't biting.

"It's something that never leaves your mind or your heart," said Bob D'Andrea whose father was killed by the mob.

"It destroys you, it destroys the inside of you, it destroys you as a person," said Joey Seifert whose father was also murdered by the mob.

Decades after their loved ones were murdered by the Chicago mob, sons and daughters and wives and parents say they continue to be victimized. Not by a pistol-whipping or the payment of protection money but by a new book by ex-Chicago Outfit thug Frank Calabrese Jr., who is beginning a promotional tour this week in the city where he turned on his own father and helped put him away for life. And they say they are revictimized by two mob museums opening soon in Las Vegas.

"What you see when you go there? You are going to see the mob guys laughing and holding their kids, like trying to humanize them. And they are not, they are monsters," said Seifert.

At age four, Seifert watched a masked mob hitman kill his father. It was Joey "The Clown" Lombardo.

Anthony Ortiz was 12 years old in 1983 when his father was killed in front of the Cicero tavern he owned, gunned down by the ruthless Outfit boss Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese Sr.

"To me, a mobster is just a glorified gangbanger, am I wrong or am I right? They beat people up, they take their money, they threaten them," said Ortiz.

It was the Calabrese crew that committed a 1981 hit on suburban trucking company owner Michael Cagnoni by a remote-controlled bomb on the Tri-state Tollway after Cagnoni refused to be extorted by Outfit bosses.

In her first ever interview, Cagnoni's widow, Margaret, says hoodlum-turned-author Frank Calabrese Jr. should not be turning a profit off victims' grief. "Frank [Jr.] was not an innocent person...To him, to go out and make money on our loses and our sorrow and profiting from victims' families is disgraceful. We suffered enough," Cagnoni told the I-Team.

"I didn't kill anybody. OK, so if they're mad that I'm going to profit off of my story with my dad, I don't know what to do. I feel bad for them. I feel sorry for their losses. I can relate to them," said Frank Calabrese Jr.

"If he is really sorry from what he did and wants to do good and show that he is making amends for his past. Why don't you show that you're sorry by donating, if you are going to write a book donate the profits to a worthy charity," said Cagnoni.

The I-Team asked Calabrese Jr. if he thought about donating his profits to a victims' fund. "I haven't. That's definitely a possibility. I talked to some of the victims' kids, and I'm trying to form a relationship with them because I want to hear their stories too," he responded.

"It would be nice if he did something nice like donate a part of the proceeds to the families, it's not like he wasn't in the business," said D'Andrea.

"His dad and his uncle are the ones who killed my dad. Why should anyone benefit from that?" said Ortiz.

"We all went through something similar, in different ways...Unfortunately all the mob that put us together," said Seifert.

And now, mob victim and mobster have something else in common; Joey Seifert has written his own book and screenplay. "It's more of a survivors' book, a family survival of this is what happened, how it shredded our family and how it brought us back together," said Seifert.

Relatives of several Chicago mobsters are paid consultants to the mob experience opening this month in Las Vegas including such names as Spilotro, Giancana and Aiuppa.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gotti's Adopted Son Subject of 2-Part Radio Show

John Gotti & adopted son, Lewis Kasman


March, 2011—This coming March 17th and 24th, the radio show, CRIME BEAT: ISSUES, CONTROVERSIES AND PERSONALITIES FROM THE DARKSIDE, will feature a special two-part program focusing on Lewis Kasman, John Gotti’s so-called 'Adopted Son', and his lawyer, Joel M. Weissman, one of the country’s top divorce lawyers. Kasman, at one time a millionaire garment executive, became one of the closest confidants of the late John Gotti, the notorious Gambino crime boss known as the ‘Dapper Don'. When John Gotti died in prison, Kasman brought the body home in a private Lear jet, planned the funeral and gave the eulogy at Gotti’s funeral.

Lewis Kasman’s story is fascinating because he gained unprecedented power within the Gotti Mob. The Dapper Don entrusted Kasman with the authority to pay gambling debts, lawyer fees and assorted bills relating to Gambino crime family matters. After Gotti was sentenced with a life sentence in a federal penitentiary, Lewis Kasman hid millions of illicit dollars in a toy chest in his attic and later became a government witness in 1996. Feeling the heat from the Feds, Kasman agreed to wear a wire and recorded 130 tapes with top mobsters inside the Gambino ranks, as well as John Gotti’s own family. The court sentenced Kasman to probation as the reward for his invaluable secret work. Kasman is also credited with saving the lives of noted crime reporter Jerry Capeci and a federal worker at Springfield, Missouri.

In reflecting on the years he spent with John Gotti, Lewis Kasman told Crime Beat, “If I was to characterize my relationship with Gotti, I suppose I would say it was blind allegiance. I have many regrets.”

Weissman represented Kasman in a high profile divorce that the tabloids covered. In addition to discussing his representation of Kasman, Weisman will talk about his successful career as one of the best criminal and divorce lawyers in the United States.

Joel Weissman will appear on the Crime Beat radio program March 17th from 9-10 p.m. EST, while Lewis Kasman’s appearance is scheduled for March 24th from 9-10 p.m. EST. Listeners can access the program by going to, clicking on the “Live Weekly Show Schedule” and then clicking on the “Crime Beat” link. See also

CRIME BEAT is hosted by award-winning crime writer Ron Chepesiuk ( and broadcast journalist and freelance writer Willie Hryb. Ronald Herd 11, the popular Internet radio host and regular listener of Crime Beat, said Crime Beat “sounds like an organized crime greatest hits collection...I am loving it!

Guests on previous shows included Jack Garcia, former FBI agent and best selling co-author of Making Jack Falcone, the story of how Garcia took down a Mob family; Andrew DiDonato, ex-mobster and co-author of Surviving the Mob: A Street Soldier’s Life in the Gambino Crime Family; Rick Porrello, author of To Kill an Irishman, the inspiration for the Hollywood movie, Kill the Irishman, that will premiere this March 11; and Tim Donaghy, former NBA referee and author of Personal Foul who was Crime Beat's special guest last week on February 24th.

“We are delighted to have Lewis Kasman and Joel Weissman on our program, “Chepesiuk said. “We expect to hear a lot of interesting things about Mob life and the activities of John Gotti and his crew.” Chepesiuk, the author of several true crime books, is a consultant to History Channel's Gangland documentary series.

It’s going to be a real special program,” Hryb added. “What can be more interesting than having two guests in the know talk for a couple of hours about the law and the Mob?"

For more information or to listen to the archives of Crime Beat, go to the Artist First Worldwide Radio Network at To contact the Crime Beat radio program for interviews, e-mail or call 803-366-5440.