Thursday, December 31, 2015
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Ian Gittins. Crime and punishment. A new TV series charts the rise and fall of the mafia from Sicily to America. Ian Gittins meets a former mobster whose evidence helped bring one family down. 01 Jul 2005.
We all know how the mafia works, right? The cinema screen and the cathode ray have educated us in mob etiquette and protocol. Anybody who’s ever thrilled to The Godfather, Goodfellas or The Sopranos understands the mafia is a finely nuanced world of respect, fanatical honour amongst thieves and evangelical familial loyalties...
“That’s bullshit!” observes Dominick Montiglio, slamming a heavy fist onto the table of a New York pizzeria. “There is no loyalty in the mafia and there is no honour. Forget that crap in The Godfather - if you’re in the mob, you can’t trust nobody. The bottom line of the mafia is money and killing.”
In all fairness, Montiglio is a man who knows a little about money and killing. As a key figure in New York’s Gambino family in the 1970, he pulled in $250,000 per week in drug and extortion money and supervised the nefarious DeMeo crew, the most notorious contract killers in mafia history. In 1983 Montiglio was arrested, turned state evidence and sent 56 mobsters to jail before vanishing into the witness protection programme.
Twenty-two years later, Montiglio has emerged from anonymity to be the linchpin of a new four-part TV series tracing the history of the mob from its Sicilian origins to the current day. A stocky figure now nearing 60, he’s phlegmatic about the dangers that could face him on today’s rare return to New York: “Plenty of people still want me dead, but what can I do? The trick is not to be scared.”
Montiglio’s life story is a fascinating microcosm of mob life at the peak of the mafia’s 1970s powers. Aged five he was removed from the care of his alcoholic father by his uncle, Nino Gaggi, a Gambino family capo: “My father used to walk down the street and totally ignore me. My uncle had told him, if he talked to me, he would kill him.”
After killing 93 enemy troops as a sniper in Vietnam, Montiglio began to utilise his new transferable skills back in New York. Initially reticent to join the family business, he was soon seduced by the glamour of the wiseguy lifestyle. In 1976 he sealed his place in the Gambino inner circle by shooting dead Vincent Governara, a man whose sole crime had been to break Nino Gaggi’s nose a full 12 years earlier. Montiglio left his wife’s birthday party to whack Governara, returning an hour later to hand over presents and eat cake as if nothing had happened.
Montiglio is remarkably blasé today about Governara’s fate (“I guess he was unlucky,” he shrugs), but this initiation murder soon paled into insignificance when he was made the de facto head of the psychotic DeMeo crew. Operating out of a Brooklyn bar called the Gemini Lounge, this gang of Gambino-affiliated car thieves and drug dealers embarked on a killing spree that Montiglio claims he was powerless to control.
“The FBI reckon the DeMeo crew killed 200 people,” he says. “I reckon that’s a low-end figure. They would entice people there, stab them, wrap them in towels and shoot them through the heart. Then they’d cut their throats, hang them in the shower and eat pizza while they waited for the bodies to bleed dry so they could hack them into pieces. It was basically a crew of nine serial killers.”
Brando’s Don Corleone would struggle to recognise the DeMeo crew’s ethics. When they arrived at one hapless victim’s house to find him hosting a Sunday morning brunch for his neighbours, they machine-gunned the entire breakfast table. Seldom present at killings and inured to slaughter by Vietnam, Montiglio kept an amoral distance: “I saw the DeMeos as cartoon characters, and the people they killed were cartoons too. That was just how things were.”
National Geographic’s TV series takes a censorious tone on the mob’s activities. In interview, Montiglio cuts a far more ambivalent figure. Uneasy - but far from contrite - when forced to discuss the Gambino family’s violent atrocities, the retired gangster becomes positively nostalgic when invited to recall the good times when the mafia, by his own boast, “ran not just New York, but the whole country”.
“Our chief, Paul Castellano, sent me to see a congressman,” he says. “I had a request in an envelope; I have no idea what it was. The congressman called me a couple of days later and said, ‘Tell Castellano it can’t be done.’ Castellano sent a message back via me: ‘If it’s not done, I will make sure every single truck and ship in this country stops working.’“ He claims the congressman rang back the next day and told him the White House would take care of it. “That’s when I realised - this thing goes right to the top.”
As the mafia-dominated 1970s closed, Montiglio’s lifestyle made that of Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas look positively frugal. As his narcotics and extortion network pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars per month, he dutifully acquired the archetypal wiseguy accessories of guns, girls and cars. The Gambino men took their wives out every Saturday night. The rest of the week was playtime.
“There were so many gangster groupies,” he recalls wistfully. “I took one girl back to my penthouse on Central Park. The next morning she was going to get a train home, and I said, ‘Don’t do that.’ I walked her to the Cadillac dealer, bought her a new $22,000 automobile with the cash in my pocket, and she drove off in it. I had absolutely no idea what her name was.”
Any good mafia story requires a fall from grace, and Montiglio’s playhouse came tumbling down in 1983 when he was jailed for racketeering. Fearful that he would talk, the Gambinos took out a $1m contract on his life. Montiglio took a decision that was “harder than doing three more terms in Vietnam”: he shopped Castellano, the DeMeo crew and the entire family.
Locked into the witness protection programme for the next decade, Montiglio’s family fell apart as his wife and children proved unable to cope with constant moves to cowboy hicktowns in Wyoming, Alabama and Colorado. Poverty-stricken and alone, he quit the programme in 1993: “I felt the risk had diminished, but the point was that it was a miserable life and I just couldn’t live like that any longer.”
Still living under a secret identity, Montiglio now makes a living painting lurid and disturbingly primal artworks (“It’s great therapy”). The recent discovery of Agent Orange around his lungs, an unwanted souvenir of Vietnam, has also made him more fatalistic about breaking cover for media appearances such as this. So what of the US mafia today? Has their peak inevitably passed?
“The Italian mob as I knew them are still around, but they’re more underground and doing more legit business,” he says. “Nowadays the Russian mob are moving in everywhere, and they will shoot anybody as soon as look at them.” There’s a pause, and a sigh. “You know the problem? They have no class.”
It’s a family thing:
Dominick Montiglio runs a wiseguy’s eye over screen mobs.
“It’s so romantic but no mob family is like that. That’s how we’d all love the mafia to be - it makes us the good guys.”
“It’s good, but I get pissed off with the Henry Hill character. Henry never did nothing in real life. He was our coffee boy, our gofer.” [That’s the point.]
“The most realistic mafia movie of all. I gotta say, respect to Joe Pistone - he had some nerve to be undercover in the mob for as long as he was.”
“The Sopranos is a joke. A mafia boss seeing a psychiatrist - are you kidding me? He’d get whacked as he walked out the door!”
Growing Up Gotti [US reality show following the fortunes of late don John Gotti’s law-abiding but spoiled offspring]
“Jesus Christ! I knew John Gotti’s kids when they were little. Now they’re whining about not having enough diamonds? I want to smack the lot of them.”
The Mafia, starts Sunday, 9pm, National Geographic channel
Saturday, December 26, 2015
1. AMY GOODMAN: Despite the Senate vote approving a measure to give President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, opposition to the deal continues to mount ahead of this month’s House vote. Critics, including a number of Democratic lawmakers, oppose the TPP, saying it will fuel inequality, kill jobs, and undermine health, environmental and financial regulations. The negotiations have been secret, and the public has never seen most of the deal’s text. Well, this morning, the whistleblowing group WikiLeaks launched a campaign to change that. The group is seeking to raise $100,000 to offer what they describe as a bounty for the leaking of the unseen chapters of the TPP. WikiLeaks just posted this video online.
2. NARRATOR: WikiLeaks is raising a $100,000 reward for the missing chapters on America’s most wanted secret: the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And this is why.
3. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: TPP is for American businesses, American businesses, businesses, businesses.
4. MIKE SYNAN: It’s called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and it might not sound important to you, until you hear Democrats railing against their own president and saying your job could be on the line.
5. SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Who will benefit from the TPP?
6. LORI WALLACH: It is enforceable corporate global governance.
7. THOM HARTMANN: It is a giant giveaway to monster transnational corporations.
8. SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the upcoming trade deals in their favor.
9. NARRATOR: All 29 chapters of the TPP are secret, but three of them have been WikiLeaked. So what do we know so far?
10. THOM HARTMANN: The United States has negotiated the TPP almost entirely in secret, with the help of about 600 private corporations.
11. NARRATOR: The TPP is a multitrillion-dollar treaty that is being negotiated behind closed doors by the Obama administration. They say it’s a free trade deal, but in reality it is anything but free. And 80 percent of it isn’t even about trade.
12. MELINDA ST. LOUIS: There are 29 chapters. Only five of them have to do with trade. They have to do with our freedom on the Internet. They have to do with the financial regulation, of food and product safety.
13. NARRATOR: The treaty covers nearly half of the world’s economy and is the largest ever negotiated. It will have implications beyond matters of trade, intruding into almost every aspect of people’s lives. The TPP bans favoring local businesses. Experts say it will send millions of jobs overseas and drive down wages and conditions at home. Multinational corporations will be able to sue the government for passing laws, including on the environment and health protections that they claim affect their expected future profit.
14. JOHN OLIVER: That’s right. A company was able to sue a country over a public health measure through an international court. How the [bleep] is that possible? Philip Morris International, a company with annual net revenues of $80 billion, basically threatened to sue Togo, whose entire GDP is $4.3 billion. Togo, justifiably terrified by threats of billion-dollar settlements, backed down from a public health law that many people wanted. And it’s not just Togo. Two tobacco companies sued Australia in its highest court. Philip Morris International is currently suing Uruguay. British American Tobacco sent a similar letter to Namibia, ... the Solomon Islands.
15. NARRATOR: Pharmaceutical companies will be allowed to expand their monopolies, restricting the availability of affordable generic drugs. The TPP requires Internet service providers to become Internet policemen, watching your every click. It is a one-way ticket. Once signed, it will be locked in place for decades. But the scariest thing about the TPP is that there are 26 chapters that cover our daily lives that we have not seen.
16. AMY GOODMAN: Part of a new video released by WikiLeaks today. Well, on Memorial Day, I traveled to London and interviewed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he’s lived for nearly three years with political asylum. Assange faces investigations in both Sweden and the United States. I asked him about WikiLeaks’ TPP campaign.
17. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, we are raising $100,000, which we think won’t be any problem at all, in pledges, for the 29 chapters of the TPP. Now, we have already obtained four and published four, but we’d also like updated versions of those four. Now, why is this so important? This agreement covers 40 percent of the global economy, and it lays the foundations for a new system of international law that will be embedded in all the economies involved. And it is a predecessor agreement to something called the TTIP, which is the U.S.-EU version. So, it’s going—
18. AMY GOODMAN: Called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment—
19. JULIAN ASSANGE: Partnership.
20. AMY GOODMAN: —Partnership.
21. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, so this is going to cover more than 60 percent of GDP. And it is the framework, if it gets through, of international law, and filtering into domestic law. It is the construction of a new world, a new way of doing things, a new legal regime. So it’s, in historical terms, the largest-ever such agreement negotiated. And so that’s the importance. But we also want to also demonstrate that whistleblowers who give information in relation to this, they shouldn’t be chased or harassed, they should be celebrated. They should be celebrated like the Nobel Prize celebrates people who do good work, for the Nobel Prize. And so, I think we can achieve not just encouragement and incentive for people to look for such information, but rather, we can award and celebrate their courage and tenacity in getting a hold of it.
22. AMY GOODMAN: So, in a sense, you’re saying it’s not paying for the information, but it’s prize money for turning it over?
23. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, it’s prize money for demonstrating the courage and tenacity in finding such information.
24. AMY GOODMAN: Can we go to the issue of journalism in the United States and how it’s being practiced today when it comes to whistleblowers, the issue of what it means to get information from a whistleblower, how you get that information? You have said you feel this is deeply endangered now and that laws are being considered that would criminalize journalism.
25. JULIAN ASSANGE: Right. Well, we want to take a—we also want to take a strong stand in relation to this. Now, the U.S. government, in terms of its attack on WikiLeaks, has tried to construct a theory which, if permitted, will be the end of national security journalism, not just in the United States, but also about the United States. That claim is that journalists can’t solicit information from sources and to solicit information is to be involved in a conspiracy. And—
26. AMY GOODMAN: An accomplice to the conspiracy.
27. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah. And the United States, in terms of the charge types that it’s trying to charge me with—those include conspiracy and conspiracy to commit espionage—this is rubbish. We cannot tolerate this at the political level or the media level. If we do tolerate it, then that standard will be erected. Then what happens in practice? How does traditional investigative journalism work? Well, you hear a rumor about some event occurring. Let’s say it’s an assassination squad assassinating people. You hear a rumor that there might have been an event, and you go and speak to your sources, or perhaps one approaches you and says, "I heard that this happened." And then you say, "Well, that’s good, but we need to be able to prove it. So do you have information that can prove it?" And then they say, "Well, I think I might have some report on the incident." And then you say, "Well, that’s good. Can we have that report? Can we see that report?" And that’s the way journalism has always been done. Now, the U.S. DOJ—
28. AMY GOODMAN: That’s the smoking gun.
29. JULIAN ASSANGE: That’s the smoking gun. That’s—if you see the Edward Snowden case, without that, without those documents, you don’t get anywhere. If you’ve got that, then they’re undeniable, if they’re official documents. So, we cannot allow a standard to be erected, in national security journalism or other forms of investigative journalism, where that is not permitted, where that is seen to be unlawful. And a number of journalists, as a result of the DOJ pushing this line that it is unlawful to solicit tips from sources, have been—to protect themselves, they have said that they’re not. But as a result, a new standard is being erected—is in danger of being erected, where you cannot solicit tips from sources.
Now, we even fell into this mistake back in 2011, 2012, where our situation was quite precarious. Based on legal advice, WikiLeaks doesn’t solicit information. In fact, WikiLeaks is one of the few organizations, because of our infrastructure, that we do often get unsolicited information. But we think it’s necessary to hold the line and say, "No, asking for tips is a very important thing to do. It’s always been done in journalism." And we’re going to show that we do that. We are confident about doing that. We are confident that that is legal, under most judicial systems, and it should be legal also in the United States—we say it is legal under the First Amendment. And if the U.S. DOJ wants to have a fight about that in relation to the TPP or anything else, then bring it on.
30. AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has taken refuge for the past three years. I interviewed him on Memorial Day. You can go to democracynow.org to see the two hours of our exclusive interview [hour one, hour two].
Also go to democracynow.org for the graduation speech you weren’t supposed to hear. The response has been tremendous when we played it yesterday on Democracy Now! And now we’ve posted part two of our interview with Evan Young, the Colorado charter high school valedictorian who was barred from speaking at graduation because he was planning to come out as gay. That’s democracynow.org. When we come back, Cuba. Stay with us.