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March 30, 1998
A Bronx Tale

By Jerry Capeci
Steven Crea of The Bronx is now firmly entrenched as underboss of the Lucchese family, but not too long ago his aspirations weren't playing too well in Brooklyn.

Steve CreaCrea, (left) who was a capo on a "ruling panel" set up to run the crime family when its two leaders went on the lam, had been hit with labor racketeering charges by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.

But that wasn't the worst of it: Crea had been targeted for death by a few Brooklyn members of his own gang.

It was the Spring of 1993. Fugitive underboss Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso had just been arrested after being on the lam for nearly three years. Capos George (Georgie Neck) Zappola and Frank (Frankie Bones) Papagni and mobster Frank (No Nickname) Gioia Jr. were looking to the future.

"Zappola and Papagni expressed concern that the power in the family would shift from Brooklyn to The Bronx as Crea was the last member of the ruling panel who had not yet been incarcerated," according to prosecutor Stephen Kelly.

What could they do to stop this? Arrange a sitdown and shoot Crea in the head, suggested Papagni. Good idea, said Zappola, but it will have to be a "sneak job" since there was no way to get approval for the hit.

At the time, however, the Brooklyn boys were too busy arming themselves and plotting to break Casso out of jail. The plan fizzled as they started getting busted, one by one. First Gioia. Then Zappola. And finally Papagni, who's due to be sentenced next month.

Georgie NeckMeanwhile, Crea got a sweet plea deal, spent nine months in prison, and is careful to avoid public meetings with known criminals, a  parole violation which could land him back in jail.

If any of the above is incorrect, Gang Land expects to hear about it from  Zappola, (right) who is not shy about correcting inaccuracies   that crop up about his role in murders and attempted murders in which he was involved.

In a letter to the judge after he was sentenced, Zappola - he got 22 years - denied roles in an attempted murder and a  killing that were attributed to him in a sentencing memo. However, he said he was actually the triggerman in two other gangland slayings in which prosecutors said he'd played lesser roles.

Gang Land Contest

 Frank Sinatra and FriendsThis famous photo of Frank Sinatra and eight of his dearest friends was taken backstage at the Westchester Premiere Theatre in 1976. Gang  Land ran it two weeks ago  and got a ton of e-mail about it from regulars, as well as   newcomers. Two readers said the man standing between Sinatra and Paul Castellano (far left) was not Greg DePalma, as Gang Land had reported. One said DePalma was the man sitting on the left; the other said he was sitting on the right. Others simply wondered who everybody was.

Because of the overwhelming interest, Gang Land is having its first ever contest. There are two prizes. First prize is an autographed copy of Murder Machine. Second prize is an autographed copy of Gotti: Rise and Fall.

The rules are simple: One guess per person, via e-mail, of course. Anyone caught submitting more than one guess will be rubbed out -- with all entries eliminated. Submit first and last names for all nine wiseguys. Here's a hint. Paul Castellano is No. 1; the wiseguy seated at the right is No. 9.

The contest ends Wednesday, April 1, at midnight, Eastern Standard Time. For those on the West Coast, it's 9 PM. You folks in England, Australia, Malaysia, and elsewhere will have to do the math yourselves. This is not an April Fool's joke. It's a real contest. All employees and relatives of Gang Land, The Daily News and The Smoking Gun are ineligible to win a prize. We will, however, list all who correctly name all nine. If more than two contestants name all nine wiseguys, we'll choose the two prize winners at Random, a small town near Hoboken, N.J.



This week, Andy -- pictured at right with Mob Star: The Story of John Gotti, one of his all-time favorite Mafia books -- delves into the activities of  Bugsy Siegel, Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen in a reply to a query from Bill Montgomery who complained that "the movie Bugsy really confused matters" for him.

One of the misleading myths about organized crime in the early part of
the century is that leading gangsters had some special insight into the future and took great advantage of that blessing. Take Benny "Bugsy" Siegel, for example. He rose to prominence in New York during the heady 1920's and '30's when prohibition provided a golden opportunity for thugs and illiterates to become powerful, rich hoodlums - if they lived long enough. Meyer LanskyLucky LucianoSiegel and his partner and mentor, Meyer Lansky, (left) were closely associated with Lucky Luciano (right) during this era and involved in some of the early, historical happenings in organized crime. However, when prohibition ended and Luciano went to  jail, Siegel looked west for new opportunities.

Siegel had visited California before he moved permanently to the west coast as the 1930's drew to a close. There is no credible evidence that this relocation was ordered or planned by the so-called syndicate. It appears that the Los Angeles lifestyle appealed to the vain Siegel who saw many opportunities for a gambler in a city that was still growing and which was not overpopulated with mobsters, like New York. Siegel was soon bouncing with celebrities. His intriguing reputation as a gangster, his friendship with film star George Raft, his bookmaking vocation and his personality, opened the doors in those circles.

At the time, Los Angeles had a small Cosa Nostra Family headed by Jack
Dragna. This group had never been able to control crime in the city of angels. In the days before legal lotteries, providing gambling services was a very lucrative racket. The Dragna Family, Siegel and many others were also involved in gambling. One of the most well known of the independents was Mickey Cohen. He was much like John Gotti in that he loved to see his name in the papers. This eventually created a myth around Cohen and gave him a reputation of being much more important that he actually was.

It was his interest in gambling that drew Siegel to Las Vegas. Gambling
had been legalized in Nevada by the 1930's. In 1941, the Nevada state legislature approved betting on horse races. Obviously, if wagers could be made  on horses, race results had to be available. This absolutely vital service was provided by a race wire company which electronically sent results over telephone lines. The possibilities of having a legal betting operation brought Siegel to Nevada. It was this move that got him killed. But in the process, he became a legend.

After investing in a downtown hotel, Siegel and his partners bought into
an ongoing Hotel/Casino project on what is now known as the Strip. An   entrepreneur from LA had begun the Flamingo Hotel but had run into money problems. Siegel and his partners stepped in and became major investors.

Eventually, the cost of the project ran well over budget and Siegel called on his East Coast wiseguy friends for more money. But all gangsters are suspicious and they believed that Siegel was skimming money for personal use. Combined with Siegel's volatile personality, this was a deadly mix. In 1947, his partners had had enough and Siegel was murdered in Los Angeles at his girlfriend's house. It was a perfect Hollywood gangster story and the Siegel/Las Vegas legend began.

Shortly after Siegel's death, Jack Dragna decided that it was time to move on Mickey Cohen and take over his gambling enterprises. A series of  blotched hits, including two bombings, failed. This accomplished a few  things. It made the publicity loving Cohen a celebrity, and made Dragna's Cosa Nostra Family lose face. Inevitably, Cohen became a target of gang busters, and was nailed for tax evasion, twice. While jailed, he was severely beaten by another inmate. Cohen became but a footnote in mob history. He did enjoy a brief return to glory in the mid 1970's when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. In a self serving attempt to gain attention, the aged Cohen offered his services to find the missing girl. It was a cruel and shameless con but accurately caught the true nature of this criminal. Cohen died in 1976 of natural causes, which was probably his biggest accomplishment.

It has been the practice to belittle Jack Dragna and his crime family. This is
an evaluation based on a skewed sense of success. While Dragna was unable to kill Cohen, unable to control all gambling in Los Angeles, and did not get a piece of a Las Vegas casino, he was, in a sense, the victor. In the violent world in which he lived, he ruled for many years. The leadership of his crime family was never challenged. The relatively unambitious Dragna  was rich and died of natural causes at age 66, a free man. Few other Cosa Nostra leaders could claim the same.

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