Monday, November 2, 2015

Wisconsin's Northwoods: the real gangsters' paradise

Story thanks to Max Gorden, Multimedia Journalist and Links provided:

MINOCQUA (WAOW) - October, 2015

Wise guys like Al Capone and John Dillinger ruled Chicago in the late 1920's and early 30's. These infamous men reaped riches and often left a trail of destruction.
But when these gangsters weren't out and about on the town in Chicago, they were often in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. During the 20's and 30's, the Northwoods area became a playground for those who made their living in Chicago's underworld.
Brothels dotted the area, catering to their gangster clientele.
In Minocqua, the boathouse of BJ's Sporting Goods was once home to a different sort of business. In the 20's and 30's, it was known as "Trixie's Brothel." According to local lore, when Trixie the matriarch died, her body and her jewels were buried on an island on Lake Minocqua.
When Chicago's most infamous weren't hanging out with local call girls, they were relaxing at the Northwoods' numerous resorts, such as Little Bohemia in Manitowish Waters.
"[It was] a place for the gangsters to get away, a place for everyone to get away," Little Bohemia owner Dan Johns Jr. said.
It was at Little Bohemia that John Dillinger and his gang almost met their end one night in April of 1934.
"The gang was inside, having a good time, always suspicious, but not thinking that anything was going to happen at that minute,” Johns said. “And then the FBI shows up."
A shootout ensued, bullets flying through the windows and walls of Little Bohemia – bullet holes that can still be seen by visitors in Little Bohemia's dining room.
"The gang realized that the jig was up,” Johns said. “So they busted out and started running in all different directions."
Dillinger's gang scattered after their shootout with the FBI, but few know the story of what happened after the escape.
Dennis Robertson, the President of Dillman's Bay Resort, owns a piece of history connected with the plight of Dillinger's gang – a cabin used by George “Baby Face” Nelson as he evaded the FBI. Nelson was wanted for his connections to various murders and bank robberies. After two getaway cars failed on him, Nelson trekked 18 miles in a suit and wingtip shoes from Little Bohemia through the woods until he came upon a cabin inhabited by a local family.
"He had three guns with him,” said Robertson. “And he said, 'I'm going to possibly stay here with you for a little while and nobody can leave.' He ended up staying, what we know of, two nights and three days there. And he finally left and went back to Chicago."
The structure that Nelson stayed in is now known as Cabin Five at Dillman's Bay Resort. Though Cabin Five has been expanded and moved since Nelson's stay, visitors still have the opportunity sleep in the room that once housed the notorious gangster.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Old Mobster Now on Trial for the Massive Airport Heist from ‘Goodfellas’

Photo by REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Story thanks to John Surico and Links provided:

Oct. 20,2015  In a Brooklyn federal courtroom on Tuesday, Gaspare Valenti did the one thing mobsters like him aren't supposed to do: talk.

As his son glared at him from the gallery and his cousin sat enraged at the defendant's table, Valenti recounted how the first time he went on a score, he showed up in a seersucker suit, not quite understanding that "come dressed" meant come with a gun. He even told the court how he "got rid" of a body by pouring lime over it. "I was told it helps it decompose faster," the 68-year-old said, nonchalantly.

But when asked what his biggest crime was, Valenti replied with one word: "Lufthansa."

That answer marked the first time a gangster has admitted in court to helping carry out what was once the largest cash theft in American history: the 1978 Lufthansa heist at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. The robbery was a key plot point in Martin Scorsese's 1990 gangster classic Goodfellas, and the way Valenti described it, you could see why it showed up in a movie.

"I was separating gold chains and watches and the diamonds and emeralds and rubies," the criminal told the court of the spoils.

Valenti is the key witness in the trial of Vincent Asaro, his 80-year-old cousin, who is charged with taking a cut from the $6 million heist, as well as murdering Paul Katz—who was believed to be a snitch—with a dog chain a decade earlier. That's the man Valenti graphically described burying, exhuming, and then "getting rid of" a second time, years later.

Valenti was arrested in 2013 for racketeering conspiracy, pleaded guilty, then agreed to wear a wire to help the Feds catch his cousin mouthing off about the heist. A year later, Asaro was arrested. When asked by a federal prosecutor on Tuesday what the penalty is for talking to law enforcement—one of the biggest no-no's in Mafia politics—Valenti responded quickly: "Death."

Throughout Valenti's testimony in the courtroom on Tuesday, Asaro stared at him, his hands clasped below his chin. At one point, when Valenti described a robbery where he dressed up like a woman to avoid detection, Asaro broke character, laughing to himself, perhaps at the memory of a mafioso in drag getting cat-called on the streets of Queens. It was clear that at one point, the cousins were friends.

In many ways, Asaro and Valenti's relationship closely resembled the one famously shared by the two other major players in the heist: Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill, the Lucchese family associates respectively played by Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta inGoodfellas. According to Valenti, Asaro and his father, who were both part of the Bonanno crime family, brought him into organized crime. Asaro apparently taught him how to rob, signed off on all of his scores, and, in one situation, instructed Valenti to brutally beat a bartender "who showed him disrespect" after a Fourth of July party.

But most importantly, Asaro always wanted to make sure he was making money, Valenti said, which is why he was invited to get in on the multi-family Lufthansa heist led by Burke. Fortunately for prosecutors, Valenti was able to offer a play-by-play of the caper.

If true, Valenti's account of the Lufthansa heist represents pure gangster gold.

He reeled off a list of alleged participants—something that the feds were never able to fully compile—and discussed the meetings held beforehand at Burke's club in Queens to plan just exactly how they'd rob the airport hanger. (Blueprints were apparently provided by Henry Hill's friend, Marty Krugman—the guy in Goodfellas who keeps pleading to Liotta for the heist money. He was later allegedly murdered in cold blood.)

On the night of the heist, Burke and Asaro waited a mile away in a "crash car," according to Valenti, and before arriving at the scene, Tommy DeSimone—Joe Pesci's character—bragged about using his silencer. Valenti then recounted how he and Burke's son, Frank, held up two terminal workers at gunpoint, hiding them in a van while the two mobsters cleaned the place out.

What happened afterward, though, is where the key details lie. "A robbery that big and nothing discussed of where anyone would go afterward," Valenti recalled thinking to himself.

Apparently, the group hadn't chosen a place to store the money, so at the last minute, according to Valenti, his own house in Brooklyn was chosen to stash the burlap sacks filled with the stolen $6 million. It was initially divided up around Christmastime to the families involved who were guaranteed a cut. Valenti asserted that he and Asaro were promised $750,000 at the onset. "Jimmy and Vinnie said, 'Don't spend anything,'" Valenti said. "'Don't catch any heat.'"

But the final amounts weren't fully doled out, he said. Some participants were apparently killed for disobeying Burke's orders (you might remember this scene from the movie, set to "Layla"), and others went missing. So the rest of the cash and diamonds allegedly remained in Burke's possession, especially when Burke later came under fire for unrelated crimes—something that apparently particularly pissed off Asaro, as he and Burke were partners for some time.

Years later, Asaro's frustration was caught on Valenti's wire. "We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get... Jimmy kept everything," Asaro is reportedly heard saying. Prosecutors claim that whatever cut Asaro did end up with, he blew it all on gambling. (That vice ran in the family: Valenti testified that he, too, went straight to the racetracks and social clubs with his end of the heist.)

After an explosive first-day primer of Mafia life, the key witness's testimony made up the entire second day of Asaro's trial, and could provide the feds with their best chance at booking Asaro for the age-old crimes with a life sentence. However, just as Valenti's memory serves the prosecution nicely, it also lays the groundwork for the defense to argue that his knack for details is suspicious—or too good to be true.

Regardless of Asaro's fate, Brooklyn federal court saw history on Tuesday: an admission from someone who was apparently involved in a legendary crime nearly four decades ago. In the process, old grudges—these rivalries and relationships that once dominated the New York City crime underworld—were given a dramatic public airing.

Follow John Surico on Twitter.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review - The Milwaukee Mafia: Murder in the Heartland

I purchased this book several weeks ago authored by Gavin Schmitt and here is my review.

After learning many years ago that some of the people I dealt with back in Milwaukee in the 1970’s were mob “connected”, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past many years trying to learn about the history of the Italian mob in Milwaukee.

Gavin Schmitt has spent decades researching the history and has been a valuable resource in my own education. After learning that his second book had been published, I immediately ordered a copy and finished reading it this week.

The book covers in great detail the events from the early 1900’s up until Frank P. Balistrieri was anointed the head of the Milwaukee mob in 1961. There is a chapter on John Alioto, Balistrieri’s father-in-law who was the boss preceding Frank from 1952 to 1961. If you grew up in Milwaukee, you will read many familiar names from back in the day, it’s a very well researched book, very detailed and provides a lot of little known historical facts.

As written in the book’s description on Amazon:
From the time Vito Guardalabene arrived from Italy in the early 1900s, until the days the Mob controlled the Teamsters union, Milwaukee was a city of murder and mayhem. Gavin Schmitt relies on previously unseen police reports, FBI investigative notes, coroner's records, newspaper articles, family lore and more to bring to light an era of Milwaukee's history that has been largely undocumented and shrouded in myth. No stone is left unturned, no body is left buried.

Milwaukee's Sicilian underworld is something few people speak about in polite company, and even fewer people speak about with any authority. Everyone in Milwaukee has a friend of a friend who knows something, but they only have one piece of a giant puzzle. The secret society known as the Milwaukee Mafia has done an excellent job of keeping its murders, members and mishaps out of books. Until now.

There is a lot of investigative detail in the book, names, addresses, dates and times. I found it easy to picture the locations in my mind as I was familiar with a lot of the areas  and locations mentioned. The murders of John Di’Trapani and Jack Enea are covered in detail.

All in all, this is a good book for people interested in Milwaukee Mob History and I highly recommend it. Just be aware, the book only covers the time period up until 1961, when Balistrieri took power. I’m hoping that Gavin will look to publish another book covering the Balistrieri years up until the present!
Also, Gavin has another book titled “Milwaukee Mafia (Images of America) consisting of about 125 pages of fascinating photos and captions of the early mob days in beer town. Click this Link for a previous post that I wrote about it.