|March 30, 1998|
|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
Crea, (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
But that wasn't the worst of it:
Crea had been targeted for death by a few Brooklyn members of his own
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
Meanwhile, 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
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.
| This 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
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
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
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.
Siegel 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.
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.
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.
has been the practice to belittle Jack Dragna and his crime family. This
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.