Saturday, August 1, 2015

Book Reviews: Mob Boss

Mob Boss
by Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins
Everyone is the hero in their own life story. This hoary truism was very obvious reading the book Mob Boss, which detailed the life and career of the titular Mafiosi character, one Alphonse "Little Al" D'Arco. Despite the book's title, D'Arco was technically never the boss of the Lucchese Crime Family, a powerful criminal organization which dates back to at least the 1920s in its present form. But for a short time period D'Arco was indeed the acting boss while the actual boss and underboss fled underground to dodge arrest and trial. 

The underboss, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, put out his own story a few years back in a book written by late biographer Phillip Carlo. In that book, Casso depicted D'Arco as an initially loyal bumbler who let the authority inherent in the acting boss position go to his head, becoming greedy. However Casso was a stone killer and quite likely, though the term is overused, a paranoid psychopath. He had a very loose connection with the truth. Casso is currently serving thirteen consecutive life sentences plus 455 years in federal prison. Like D'Arco Casso became an informant but federal authorities decided that Casso was simply too evil and untrustworthy (they caught him in lies) to use as a witness. So it goes. So D'Arco tells things as he saw them in this book. Many people who could contradict him are either dead or in prison. 

For what it's worth, Capeci and Robbins, two mob experts of long standing, say that they never caught D'Arco in a lie. Every organization has youthful prodigies and shining stars who blossom into consistent top performers in later years. They very quickly become leaders who are well respected for the wealth and status they bring to the organization. Every organization also has people who fervently search for every opportunity to do the least amount of work possible. These people spend their entire career getting performance reviews that read "...has room for improvement....not fully invested in the company's program....needs to reverse current trends." If there are ever cutbacks these employees are immediate and unanimous choices for termination. And finally there are people closer to the middle of the bell curve who are rarely close to being fired but who certainly aren't on the fast track to status and power either. This last is the group to which D'Arco belonged. 

Although he had a decent mob pedigree (both his father-in-law and blood relations on both sides of his family were noted mobsters), D'Arco hadn't had a meteoric rise in the Lucchese Family. He wasn't made (formally inducted) until he was fifty years old, in part because some other members of the Family weren't too impressed with his criminal skills. For much of his career D'Arco earned more money from legitimate businesses such as restaurants, food trucks, real estate and burger stands than he did from such ventures as labor rackeetering, hijacking, burglary, gambling, extortion and loan sharking that made up the bulk of his criminal portfolio. He was also imprisoned for some time, including a sentence for drug dealing, which he claims was a faulty charge. Although he claims to have been mostly opposed to drugs he readily admits to other drug deals. D'Arco is just adamant that the particular drug charge that saw him imprisoned was bogus.

After his second release from prison things started to look up for D'Arco. He joined the same crew made infamous in the Goodfellas movie. One of his friends, Vic Amuso, rose in rank within the family. After the Lucchese Family bosses were convicted they made Amuso and his dangerous partner, Casso, boss and underboss. Shortly afterwards, D'Arco was promoted to captain. As the Mafia is at its base a pyramid scheme, D'Arco's income jumped dramatically. These good times didn't last however, as being captain meant that D'Arco had to deal directly with Casso and Amuso, who were both, to say the least, somewhat erratic and greedy. It's questionable as to whether Casso or Amuso was actually the dominant partner. What's beyond question is that each man had long standing grudges against other Family members. And now that they were running the Family they had the power and authority to indulge their worst instincts. They did just that.

Going underground they used D'Arco as their primary contact to direct an internal purge against informers real and imagined as well as against mobsters who had offended them, or more often, simply had a business that the underboss and boss wanted for themselves. The duo broke a lot of rules in their reign of terror, including the dictate against threatening and assaulting relatives of members. D'Arco says his disgust was growing but it wasn't until he realized he was next on the hit list when he decided that the time was right to flip. 

I thought this book was interesting if a bit too long. Mob Boss explained exactly how labor racketeering and various other crimes (white collar and otherwise) work. D'Arco is an Army veteran. He sees his time in the Mafia as similar because in both organizations it was a mortal sin to disobey an order. When D'Arco was commanded to arrange the murder of a good friend or to ensure that a murder victim had their body mutilated he might feel bad about it but he'd follow orders. 

The Mafia's highest imperative is that money flows up to the bosses. And it's probably a violation of that directive that sealed D'Arco's fate. D'Arco describes a charitable act which Casso saw as theft. No good deed goes unpunished. No one wants to get yelled at by his or her boss. When your boss is dropping people all over the United States, you definitely don't want to be in his bad books. Look for a fascinating aside on how the Mafia uses certain black so-called civil rights organizations as fronts to shake down contractors and construction companies. 

The book brought home how utterly different the Mafia reality is from the fantasy. In fiction the boss gives a private order to the underboss or counselor who does likewise with a captain who repeats this process with a soldier who then recruits another soldier or associate to do the deed. No names, no witnesses, no teams, and nobody talks. In reality the boss meets with various people to order a criminal action or murder. If the boss is as stupid as Amuso and Casso were, he might even pester people at the lowest level for gory details. And everybody gossips about who killed whom, when, where, and why. The criminal life isn't worth it, and this story shows you why. Today D'Arco is somewhere in the Witness Protection Program. Maybe he's living next to you.
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