The ‘On The Waterfront’ Trials
Part One: The First Trial Begins in Brooklyn Federal Court
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
Marlon Brando’s place in Thespian history is assured by his Oscar-winning performances in two films dealing with the American Mafia; 1954’s ON THE WATERFRONT and 1972’s THE GODFATHER. In ON THE WATERFRONT, Brando portrayed a boxer who “coulda been a Contender!” had he not accepted Mafia bribes to take a dive in an important fight. This movie was one of the most shocking of its decade, exposing to America the pervasive corruption by the Mafia of Labor Unions, in this case the International Longshoremen’s Union. ON THE WATERFRONT was based on the rampant corruption of Local 1814 of the ILU, and now, a half-century later, the Feds in Brooklyn are going after the ILU in not one but two Mafia trials this year. Under indictment are members of the Gotti family of the Gambino Mafia Family and the Gigante family of the Genovese Mafia Family, the two most powerful of the American Mafia.
According to Tim Dirks of Greatest Films, which is regarded as one of the best sources of film reviews, information, and history on-line, (www.filmsite.org), ON THE WATERFRONT began as a series of exposés entitled ‘Crime on the Waterfront’ written by Pulitzer prize winner Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun. This sensational series in 1949 helped set the stage for the televised hearings in 1951 led by U. S. Senator Estes Kefauver that investigated the Mafia and its control of the American Labor movement. With the attention of the American people focused on this growing problem of the victimization of working people by their Unions, Hollywood Director Elia Kazan, along with writer Budd Schulberg then developed the screenplay based on Johnson’s series that was turned into the acclaimed motion picture.
Over two generations later, the Feds in Brooklyn are now going after Local 1814 and the ILU in two trials that will likely capture the attention of both the American public and Hollywood. The first trial, which has just begun with the Jury selection process, is scheduled to feature an international movie star as a Prosecution Witness, action film star Steven Seagal. Indicted last Summer were Frank “Red” Scollo, President of Local 1814 of the ILU, Peter Gotti and Richard Gotti, two brothers of the late Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti, Gotti’s nephew Richard Gotti, Hollywood film Producer Julius Nasso, his brother Vincent Nasso, Gambino Captain Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, and 10 others on charges including racketeering, extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, misuse of Union Health Care Plan funds, a kickback scheme regarding the Participants in the Union’s Prescription Drug Plan, and the operation of illegal gambling operations. The 68 Count indictment was the result of a joint investigation by the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the U. S. Department of Labor, the District Attorney’s Office of Richmond County, and the NYPD.
The second ‘On the Waterfront’ trial will feature another alleged ‘actor,’ Genovese Family Godfather Vinnie “The Chin” Gigante, who is accused of Obstruction of Justice by “acting crazy” for many years as a means of avoiding prosecution by the Feds. Federal Prosecutors will play a tape of Gigante phoning his son Andrew on 9/11 from the Federal prison in Texas where Gigante was sent after his 1997 racketeering conviction. Like all Americans, Gigante was horrified by the terrorist attacks and was concerned about the safety of his children. When the “Oddfather” learned that all of his children were safe, Gigante’s concerns turned to the children of other Americans. On the tape, Gigante asks his son if there were any children killed in the attacks and Andrew replies that there were in fact children on the hijacked planes. “I will pray for them!” Gigante replies.
The tape of this conversation shows that Gigante, despite being a convicted leader of a criminal enterprise, is nevertheless a patriotic American who is religious and concerned about the welfare of children. The tape also, the Feds will claim, will prove that Gigante is not mentally ill, but rather ‘crazy like a fox,’ who fooled mental health professionals for years by pretending to be crazy to avoid prosecution.
The theme of Mafia figures and mental illness has in recent years, in cases of ‘Art imitating Life,’ been explored by the popular HBO series THE SOPRANOS, as well as the Robert DiNero Hollywood films “Analyze This!” and the current sequel “Analyze That!”
Indicted along with “Chin” are his son Andrew Gigante, an ILU Labor leader, Ernest Muscarella, the alleged Acting Boss of the Genovese Family, Captain “Chuckie” Tuzzo, “Mickey” Ragusa, “Barney” Bellomo, Thomas Cafaro, and “Patty” Falcetti. Charges include racketeering, misuse of Union Pension and Welfare Benefit funds, a “pump and dump” stock fraud scheme involving a Gold mining operation, and the extortion of businesses in New York, New Jersey, and Florida through the Mafia’s control of the International Longshoremen’s Union. Falcetti is also accused of bribing officers of Local 32 B/J of the Service Employees International Union.
The Justice Department indictment in the “Red” Scollo case details the troubled history of the Local Union that was the inspiration for the movie ON THE WATERFRONT. In 1979 Anthony Scotto and Anthony Anastasio, the President and Vice-President of Local 1814 ILU were convicted of racketeering acts involving the Union and the Gambino Family. A decade later the Feds brought a civil racketeering case against “Red” Scollo, “Sonny” Ciccone, and other Associates of the Gambino Family and Local 1814 ILU. As a result of this case, Scollo and Ciccone were prohibited from associating with members of organized crime. This Decree laid the groundwork for the legal justification for the investigation that led to the indictments last year.
In the Federal indictments, Hollywood Film Producer Julius Nasso and his Associates are accused of a scheme to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Steven Seagal. Seagal testified before the Grand Jury in regards to the alleged extortion just a couple of months after Nasso, a former Producer of his movies, filed a $60 lawsuit against Seagal, alleging Seagal backed out of a deal to produce 4 more motion pictures with him.
To many observers of this case, the bizarre events that have transpired since these indictments were handed down would rival any plot line in a typical Steven Seagal motion picture. Just weeks after the Federal charges, two reporters, Anita Busch of the Los Angeles Times and Ned Zeman of Vanity Fair Magazine lodged complaints with law enforcement officials that they were being threatened by persons unknown as they pursued their investigations of Seagal and his association with members of the American Mafia. Zeman then published a scathing indictment of Seagal in Vanity Fair with the help of Seagal’s ‘nemesis,’ investigative reporter John Connally, a retired NYPD Detective who has written extensively about Seagal in SPY and PENTHOUSE Magazines. In the Vanity Fair article Zeman and Connally detailed allegations that Seagal mistreated women and derided him for his public claims that he has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the fact that his waistline has expanded in recent years while his hairline has receded.
Seagal has offered no public corroboration of his alleged work for the CIA, but it should be noted that Seagal counts as his closest advisor one of the U. S. Intelligence Community’s most prized assets in the campaign against Communist China, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet’s Bhuddist population, a religion that Seagal is an active practitioner of. The Vanity Fair article also noted that Seagal, unlike his former business partner Julius Nasso, has not been charged with any crime. Seagal previously filed a Defamation lawsuit against Connally, which was later dropped.
However, the Vanity Fair article alleges that Seagal sought to replace Julius Nasso as the Producer of his future movies with Danny Provenzano, a great-nephew of the late Teamsters Union Boss “Tony Pro” Provenzano, who has been identified by the FBI as one of the corrupt Union Officers responsible for the abduction and murder of former Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa. After the Vanity Fair article was published, Danny Provenzano went on national television to make the contradictory statements that there was no such thing as the ‘Italian Mafia’ while at the same time promoting the new Hollywood motion picture he wrote, directed, and starred in, ‘THIS THING OF OURS,’ a film about the new generation of Mafia Associates. ‘This Thing of Ours’ is an English translation of the Italian ‘La Cosa Nostra,’ a reference invoked by members of the Mafia when speaking with acknowledged members of their own Mafia Families. Danny Provenzano recently pleaded guilty to Federal racketeering charges as an Associate of the Genovese Mafia Family.
In October, an employee of a private investigator allegedly hired by Steven Seagal was arrested in Los Angeles, charged with threatening L. A. Times Reporter Anita Busch. Alexander Proctor was charged after Busch reported to the authorities that someone smashed her car windshield and placed a dead fish and a rose upon it with a note stating: “Stop.” The Judge in this case, citing Proctor’s previous convictions on drug and burglary charges, denied Proctor Bail.
Proctor was an employee of ‘Private Investigator to the Stars’ Anthony Pellicano. While investigating the crimes committed by Proctor, authorities found during a search of Pellicano’s office illegal C-4 plastic explosives and other weapons. Pellicano was charged in November and released on $400,000 Bond.
Seagal’s attorney Martin Pollner has denied Seagal was involved in a scheme with Pellicano or Proctor to intimidate reporters Busch and Zeman, telling the Media that the allegations against Seagal are part of “an ongoing conspiracy to intimidate and discredit Mr. Seagal and reads like a bad screenplay!” Proctor has changed his story more than once as to whom he was working for in the intimidation of Anita Busch. In December, Brooklyn Federal Judge Frederic Block, who is handling the Nasso case, blasted the criminal attorney for Julius Nasso for issuing phony subpoenas to potential witnesses in the case as a clear means of intimidation. “I am telling you now that all of this is to stop immediately!” the New York Post quoted Judge Block in his lecture to Nasso’s attorney.
As Jury selection began, criminal attorney Gerald Shargel asked Judge Block to release his client Peter Gotti on Bail because his mental state has allegedly deteriorated during the past few months as a result of being held in Solitary Confinement. Shargel has previously represented John “Junior” Gotti, his father John Gotti, and many other Mafia Associates. Shargel also successfully defended former Congressman James Traficant’s private investigator Juval Aviv on Federal fraud charges. Aviv gained notoriety in 1989 when Traficant used his claims that the CIA was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Those claims have now been disproved, a Libyan terrorist has been convicted for the bombing, and Traficant himself is in a Federal prison, having been convicted on Federal racketeering charges last year.
As the current ‘On the Waterfront’ trial gets underway a new development has been reported by the acclaimed website THE SMOKING GUN; just a couple weeks ago, Steven Seagal filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging he is the victim of a plot by members of the German Mafia to extort money from him. The lawsuit concerns a house in Berlin which Seagal rented in 2001 while filming his latest motion picture HALF PAST DEAD. Seagal claims German Mobsters tried to extort money from him by falsely claiming his film crew damaged the property. By his own account, Seagal has now run afoul of organized crime figures in four countries; Japan, the United States, Canada, and now, Germany.
Should Seagal testify in the ‘On the Waterfront Trial’ and come across as a credible Prosecution Witness, and, should Julius Nasso and his alleged accomplices be convicted, Seagal could then write a screenplay about this Court case and turn it into a motion picture, presumably starring himself as himself. It would be, after all, the story of a tough-guy movie star, whom, with the help of his spiritual advisor, the Dalai Lama, takes on the Mob – and wins!
Stay tuned to this one!
J. R. de Szigethy
The ‘On The Waterfront’ Trials
Part Two: Three Members of the Gotti Family are Convicted
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
A half-century after Marlon Brando’s electrifying performance in a movie that exposed to America the pervasive Mafia corruption inside labor Unions, the Feds in Brooklyn have won a victory in a trial that involved the Union that inspired the movie classic ‘On the Waterfront.’ Alleged Gambino Family acting Boss Peter Gotti, his brother Richard V. and nephew Richard G. Gotti were convicted on racketeering and money laundering charges regarding their control of Local 1814 of the Longshoreman’s Union. Peter is the brother of the late John Gotti, who, along with Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, took over the Gambino Family with the sensational execution of Godfather Paul Castellano. Jurors in the Federal trial also convicted Gambino capo “Sonny” Ciccone and three of his associates.
This trial will be remembered for the complexity of the charges, the trial Judge who was openly hostile to the Prosecution’s case, and the testimony of reluctant Prosecution Witness Steven Seagal, the action star renown for his roles as the good guy who single-handedly takes on the bad guys. The guilty verdicts must seem a vindication to Seagal, who had his reputation smeared by several Media outlets in the months leading up to the trial, with many reporters predicting Seagal would not come across as a credible witness. Three journalists for the New York Post, which normally is considered a pro-law enforcement publication, offered nothing but derogatory reports on Seagal, including Post columnist Victoria Gotti, the best-selling author who is the daughter of John Gotti and the niece of two of the accused.
As a Prosecution Witness Seagal described how associates of the Gambino Family threatened him and tried to extort money from him. Under cross-examination, Seagal held his own and assertively handled the questions from the criminal attorneys who were determined to discredit him. Seagal’s appearance in Court did not quite become the Media circus many expected it to be only because during his days on the Witness stand New York City was under the highest level of alert for terrorist attacks issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and thus attention by many members of the Media was diverted to covering that story. On any typical ‘slow news day’ the appearance of a movie star as a Witness in a Mafia trial would have been front-page material.
Seagal still has to testify in a second part to this trial this year, in which he will make allegations against Julius Nasso, the former Producer of his films ‘Marked for Death,’ ‘Out for Justice,’ ‘Under Siege 2,’ and ‘Fire Down Below.’ Prior to his indictment along with the Gotti family members in this case, Nasso had filed a $60 million lawsuit against his former partner Seagal alleging Seagal backed out of a deal to Produce 4 more movies with him.
Another Witness in the Gotti trial was “Little Joe” Defede, a former Acting Boss of the Luchese Mafia Family who is now a member of the Witness Protection Program. Defede claimed that on several occasions he attended sitdowns at which Peter Gotti represented the interests of the Gambino Family, but only as a ‘capo.’ Criminal attorney Gerald Shargel’s getting Defede to admit that he only knew Gotti as a capo and NOT the Acting Boss may have only served to re-enforce in the juror’s minds that Gotti was in fact a member of an organized crime family.
Also testifying for the Feds was former Local 1814 ILU President “Red” Scollo, an original Defendant in the case who pleaded guilty. Under Scollo’s leadership Local 1814 was crippled by a Strike against the British company that owns the Dominos Sugar Plant in Brooklyn where the Union workers were employed. After 18 months ‘On Strike’ the members of Local 1814, realizing their own Union had victimized them, one by one crossed the picket lines and returned to work. One member committed suicide. The hopelessness and despair that was evident on the part of the Local 1814 Workers mirrored the plight of the Workers depicted in the 1954 movie classic.
Another allusion to Hollywood in the Gotti trial came with the testimony of Genovese Family associate George Barone, who revealed the Mafia’s influence in the Waterfront Unions goes back many decades. Barone grew up on Manhattan’s West Side and in his youth joined a gang known as the “Jets,” which were the inspiration for the Broadway Musical “West Side Story,” later adapted into an acclaimed motion picture. Barone later took control of a waterfront Union in Manhattan and was arrested for a brutal beating he gave to a fellow Longshoreman who dared to challenge the Union’s autocratic rule. The Waterfront Commission eventually revoked Barone’s right to work in New York and Barone then fled to Miami, where he helped found Local 1922 of the International Longshoreman’s Union. Barone was convicted on labor racketeering charges involving Local 1922 and spent several years in prison. After his release, Barone allegedly ran afoul of Andrew Gigante, the son of Genovese Family Godfather Vincent “Chin” Gigante, who ran his own company in Florida that dealt with the ILU.
In the Gotti trial Barone admitted in Court to having participated in several murders. Barone is expected to testify in the upcoming ‘On the Waterfront’ trial of Vincent Gigante, his son Andrew, and several associates in regards to allegations involving Mafia crimes committed with several Locals of the Longshoreman’s Union. That trial has been thrown into chaos due to a recent ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court that rejected Prosecutor’s invocation of the racketeering statues in a case against anti-abortion protesters, a ruling that now affects all cases involving racketeering. The ruling prompted Federal Judge Leo Glasser to throw out 2 of the extortion charges against Gigante just as jury selection was to being in that case. Gigante is being represented by criminal attorney Benjamin Brafman, who previously has represented Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and nightclub owner Peter Gatien. The Feds hope that a tape of Gigante speaking on the phone to one of his sons on 9/11 will prove that Gigante is sane and thus was feigning mental illness to escape prosecution for many years by ‘acting’ crazy, which included wandering around the streets of Manhattan wearing his bathrobe.
To be continued
J. R. de Szigethy
The ‘On The Waterfront’ Trials
Part Three: ‘Oddfather’ Vincent “Chin” Gigante Admits to ‘Crazy Act’
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
The bizarre ‘On the Waterfront’ trials, replete with instances of ‘Life imitating Art imitating Life,’ have taken on another strange twist with the confession by convicted Genovese Family Godfather Vincent “Chin” Gigante that his displays of irrational behavior over several decades were a performance to avoid prosecution. Gigante’s odd behavior included wandering the streets of Greenwich Village dressed only in a bathrobe while mumbling to himself, and other classic stunts, which would include checking himself into mental hospitals. In the end, the Feds finally had the incontrovertible evidence that proved Gigante was not insane – tape recordings of Gigante’s horrified reaction to the defining moment of our time – the terrorists attacks on America on 9/11.
Like almost every American with relatives in New York and Washington on 9/11, Gigante’s first reaction to the tragedy was to telephone his children to determine if they were safe. So shocked and stunned was Gigante over the unprecedented loss of innocent lives that his emotions took the better of him, and he dropped the insanity façade as he spoke to one of his sons from prison, a conversation that was recorded. The tape shows that Gigante was concerned that innocent children might have been murdered, and one of his sons confirmed that there were children on the planes that were hijacked and crashed. Gigante reacted to this horrific news by stating he would pray for the children.
This tape betrayed Vincent Gigante to be a religious man who is patriotic and cares about America’s children. The tape also shows Gigante to be someone who is in contact with reality. The tape thus also suggests that Gigante was faking mental illness for many years as part of a ploy to avoid prosecution and that in doing so, Gigante was guilty of Obstruction of Justice. Facing almost certain conviction, Gigante agreed to a plea bargain in regards to those charges and other charges involving the control of the Genovese Family of the Waterfront of New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Such control was possible through the Mob’s influence in corrupt Locals of the International Longshoremen’s Union, a persistent plague on working people and their families that has been occurring for over half a Century and was the inspiration for the movie classic “On the Waterfront.” That movie detailed the story of a young boxer, portrayed by Marlon Brando in an Oscar-winning performance, who could have “been a Contender” had not he taken money from the Mob to take dives in important bouts. Mirroring actor Brando in real life, a young Vincent Gigante also sought a way out from poverty by becoming a boxer, only to fall prey to the easy money offered by the Mob who fixed the fights he engaged in. Once hooked by members of Organized Crime, Gigante was theirs for life.
As Gigante rose up in the ranks of the Genovese Family throughout the ensuing years and decades, getting a handle on the ‘real’ Vincent Gigante would become a game for professionals in both law enforcement and the Media. Evidence regarding the man was often conflicting. There was ample evidence that Gigante was a devoted family man who loved his children and took measures so that they would have a better life, one not involving organized crime. There was evidence that Gigante was something of a bumbling figure, as evidence by his botched attempt in 1957 to carry out a hit on Mob associate Frank Costello. Gigante would later play on this theme as he carried out his crazy act. Gigante was regarded by many as something of a pure businessman, and the Genovese Family of which he was the alleged head of for many years was run as a sophisticated operation that ran many white-collar, non-criminal operations, including in the recording industry and motion picture industry. As Gigante’s stature grew, he became so revered, respected, and feared that most “connected” men would never dare speak his name in public, but rather refer to him by stroking their chin, a reference that goes back to his days as a boxer when he sported a prominent and defiant chin to his opponents.
One member of the Gigante family has conceded to reporters that Gigante was in fact a “gambler” and was thus “connected” but was adamant in that he was not the Godfather of the Genovese Family. Gigante’s brother Ralph, also said to have been involved in gambling, died a tragic death several years ago. Another brother, Louis, a Catholic Priest, has served New York’s minority communities for many years as the provider of quality low-income housing to the working poor of the Bronx. Father Gigante had seized upon the opportunity that presented itself when decades of failed Social policy in New York resulted in the literal destruction by arson of Housing projects in the Bronx, a phenomenon that created the ‘war-zone’ backdrop of motion pictures such as ‘Fort Apache, the Bronx.’ Much of the bleak landscape depicted in that movie is now a thing of the past.
As Father Gigante developed his career as a community activist his brother continued his undoubted rise within the Genovese Family. By the 1970s Gigante’s behavior had become so bizarre that some psychiatrists had become convinced that Gigante was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Gigante, after all, was exhibiting classic symptoms of the illness, which included his rantings that members of law enforcement were plotting against him and following his every move. On the other hand, some could make the case that such behavior on Gigante’s part was an indication of his contact with reality, as it was a fact that members of law enforcement were indeed plotting against him and following his every move. Whether this was a case of self-fulfilling prophecies, the fact is that Gigante’s interaction with law enforcement became increasingly surreal; in one instance, when approached by FBI agents on a Greenwich Village sidewalk, Gigante fell to his knees and started praying; in another legendary instance, FBI agents armed with subpoenas found Gigante standing naked in the shower of his bathroom, holding an umbrella over his head to keep him dry. Such antics both amused and infuriated those in law enforcement determined to bring down the “Oddfather” of Greenwich Village.
Gigante’s crazy act succeeded for years in preventing him from standing trial. Finally, by 1997 Court proceedings and rulings had at long last allowed the Feds to pursue a case against him. During Gigante’s racketeering trial in Brooklyn, opinion was divided among those reporters covering the trial as to Gigante’s mental status; some believed Gigante was a sane person pretending to be insane; some believed Gigante was an insane person pretending to be insane; some believed Gigante’s mental condition was actually harmed by the many drugs his doctors were giving to him, which included Valium. This theory would later be supported when Gigante’s mental condition improved dramatically once he was incarcerated by the Feds and no longer medicated by his former physicians. Gigante’s improved mental capacity proved to be his downfall once the Feds had the incriminating conversations made on 9/11.
In addition to the tape-recorded evidence against Gigante in the new trial, the ‘Oddfather’ would have faced the testimony of George Barone, a Genovese Family associate. Barone grew up on Manhattan’s West Side and in his youth joined a gang known as the “Jets,” which were the inspiration for the Broadway Musical “West Side Story,” later adapted into an acclaimed motion picture. In the first Waterfront trial Barone admitted to his role in several murders. Despite such admissions, Barone’s testimony in that trial helped secure the convictions of all the defendants, including two brothers of the late Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti. In the second trial, Barone was prepared to testify as to his dealings with Longshoremen’s Union operations along the East Coast, some of which put him at odds with one of Gigante’s sons.
Facing what would be for someone of Gigante’s age and health a life sentence if convicted in the latest trial, Vincent Gigante made what would seem to those familiar with this case a rational decision; a guilty plea to the Obstruction of Justice charge in exchange for leniency in sentencing both himself and his son, who also pleaded guilty. The deal with Federal Prosecutors was hammered out with the help of Gigante’s criminal attorney Benjamin Brafman, who previously has represented clients including Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and nightclub owner Peter Gatien.
With this second trial now concluded, the Feds have one more remaining ‘On the Waterfront’ trial to pursue this year; that of Julius Nasso, the former Producer of the Steven Seagal films ‘Marked for Death,’ ‘Out for Justice,’ ‘Under Siege 2,’ and ‘Fire Down Below.’ Seagal, who appeared as a Prosecution Witness in the first trial, alleges that Nasso and some Associates of the Gambino Family attempted to extort money from him. Prior to his indictment in this case, Nasso had filed a $60 million lawsuit against his former partner Seagal alleging Seagal backed out of a deal to Produce 4 more movies with him.
Some who believe in Free Will are likely to have no sympathy for Vincent Gigante, believing that he made choices early in his life that led him on the road to a lifetime of involvement in organized crime. Still, others may view Gigante the actor in the light of the character portrayed by Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT, as someone whom life offered few choices or options. Gigante the boxer and later actor, like Brando, the actor portraying a boxer, saw their one opportunity out of poverty as their skills as a fighter. In both the real world and the motion picture that represented that world, both men found themselves drawn into a profession that was completely controlled by the Mafia. With the fights Vincent Gigante participated in being fixed by the Mob, young Vinnie never really was presented with the opportunity to show to the world his true fighting skills. Had he been given a level playing field, Gigante may in fact have failed in his boxing career. On the other hand, if the boxing profession had been a clean one, who knows how far Vincent Gigante could have gone? Perhaps he could have been a Contender.
…To be continued