Monday, March 4, 2013
The end of an Era in Los Angeles Gangland
“There are no happy endings in the life.” - Joseph "Joe Campy" Campenella
The Life is what being a wiseguy or being in Organized Crime is called. Very few men involved in The Life ever live out a full life. The Life is hard, treacherous and stressful. Men in The Life never take care of themselves and are frequently locked up. I’ve seen it so many times in my life. A guy does very well, lives a super star life and then when he is older he loses it all and there is no way for him to get it back.
Mickey’s not-so-happy ending
Mickey Cohen lived The Life. He bought a home in Brentwood for forty thousand dollars and then spent forty nine thousand in renovations. He spent eight hundred dollars a year on shoes. He bought two new Cadillacs a year. All money that legally he should have paid the IRS. So he did his first prison stint in about four years. Mickey came out and opened up a plant business that supplied real and plastic plants to restaurants. The scam? Mickey would have some of his guys walk into places and tell them they needed his plants at say 200 a month. This was a way to get his hooks into restaurants and clubs. He would also continue his bookmaking business. The house was gone and so was his wife, so Mickey moved into a small apartment. He had it redone with new carpets, floors and closets. Then Mickey came up with a brilliant scam. The reporters had loved him because he sold papers every time he was on the front page they flew off the racks. Mickey was a known name and he found that he could use this infamy. He started working on a piece about himself with a screenwriter who had written the original Scarface. He started hitting up anyone rich or poor to buy a piece of his life story. He would collect upwards of four hundred thousand dollars. This was working out very well for Mickey until the night of December 2, 1959 at Rondelli’s, when Jack Whalen was murdered. Mickey and his friends were put on trial. Luckily for him, they were acquitted. However, Mickey had no time to celebrate because the IRS came down on him again. They proved he was guilty of not paying his taxes again and he was sent to Alcatraz, this time for 15 years. He was there a short time when he was released on an appeal bond but this freedom did not last long. The appeal was rejected and he was back in Alcatraz. Alcatraz was closed and he was relocated to a Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was hit in the head with a pipe and partially paralyzed. After Mickey was home from his prison sentences and in a wheelchair, he lived in an apartment. This time there would be no long nights at clubs or thousand dollar dinners with movie stars. This was the same man who years earlier had raised a million dollars for the state of Israel and then claimed the ship carrying the arms was “lost at sea.” The same man who once had hundreds of bookies paying him weekly. When Mickey died from stomach cancer in 1976 he was worth a total of three thousand dollars. So much for being the King of the Sunset Strip.
The Sica Brothers
Joe “JS” , Alfred “Fred” , Angelo and Frank Sica. These were the real faces of Organized Crime power in LA. Nobody writes about them and they are not in movies. JS gave many a gangsters his start and right now one of the top guys in the Boston Cosa Nostra is a Sica taught man. They were part of LA’s Underworld from the 1940’s until the 1990’s when JS passed. The Sica Brothers had long worked out of the Formosa Cafe. They were still running their empire from their ranch in the Valley all the way to Northern California in the shadows.They Shylocked, Booked sports, ran dope and anything else that made them cash. The Cosa Nostra had not missed a step when Dragna died in 1956. They would keep it going till today. This I will get into in future blogs
The LA Family tried for many years to get a casino but had failed. Jack Dragna was a good boss, but he was complacent. He did not have the drive to get into a casino, he wanted the cash now, not long term. The others did not have what it took to lead the family into these lucrative rackets. They would come close. Pete Milano would almost get into the Tallyho, Jimmy Frattiano just missed getting into a counting room of his own. Jack Dragna had been close to Benny Benion the Dallas gambling kingpin and later Casino owner but he never did do anything but hit him up for cash.
The Mickey Mouse Mafia is what the LAPD called the LA Family, the press picked up on this and ran with it. The LAPD likes to pat themselves on the back and claim the Gangster Squad was the reason the Cosa Nostra never grew like it did back east. The truth though was simple. The family had no talent pool to pull from. The Families back east had a large population of Italian immigrants to pull talent from. If you look back on who was in the LA Family everyone was from back East. If you follow the Cosa Nostra now, you can see that even in New York they have problems today. They do not have the pool of qualified hoods to pull from. The Commission realized the pool was small and at the behest of Carmine Persico and John Gotti they decided to okay making guys who were not 100% Italian. This was in the early 80’s. The two bosses did this mainly so that their sons could join the life and take over for them. The other families gladly welcomed it because they could fill their depleted ranks.
There is no denying that the men who fought against the gangsters were brave and put their lives on the line for what they felt was right. Those men from LAPD who chased the gangsters during the time after the war would end up much better than the famous gangsters they chased. One example is Jerry Wooters, the cop who had fed info to Jack Whalen. After Jack met his end, Jerry soon left the force and started a career in sales. He did very well and moved his family to Newport Beach where he would die a wealthy man.
Jack O'Mara went from the LAPD right to leading the large Security force at Santa Anita Racetrack. He would live a long fruitful life with his wife and kids. He would laugh about the old stories of dealing with gangsters. One he often recalled was taking Marshal Caifano up to Coldwater Canyon where he explained to him why he did not want to be in LA. Marshal was “the man” in Las Vegas for a while but he ended up in exile in Florida.
Lindo "Jaco" Giacopuzzi was the one Italian on the squad who could speak Italian. Lindo became rich and successful like Jerry Wooters. He would build a huge shopping center and he also moved to Newport Beach.
This ends the Gangster era of post World War Two Los Angeles.
Fifty eight murders and only two of those would ever result in people going to prison.