Why the F.B.I. Loves Mob Podcasts


To be a part of the Mafia, one should take an oath of omertà, the code of silence that’s meant to maintain details about enterprise dealings inside the household. Breaking it’s a crime punishable by dying, however, as of late, a whole lot of mafiosi are talking fairly freely. Take Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano, the Gambino household underboss in the late eighties, who was concerned in at the least nineteen murders throughout his tenure as John Gotti’s right-hand man. He now makes an sincere residing podcasting from the Phoenix suburbs, the place he relocated after spending seventeen and a half years at a supermax jail. In an unhurried Bensonhurst accent, Gravano, now seventy-six years outdated, recounts his greatest hits (corresponding to the one carried on the Mob boss Paul Castellano, Gotti’s predecessor), and his personal notorious breach of omertà: the 1992 courtroom testimony that despatched Gotti to jail for all times.

Back in New York City, one other ex-hit man who labored for Gotti, John Alite, blends tales of his “six murders, more than eight shootings, and dozens of baseball battings” with inspirational recommendation for youth on his “Mafia Truths” podcast. Meanwhile, Jimmy Calandra, a infamous enforcer for the Bonanno household—reportedly the most brutal of the Five Families who managed organized crime in New York—insults varied “fat rat scumbags” and “stone-cold losers” on his YouTube sequence, “A Bath Avenue Story.” Those in the hunt for cleaner fare may take a look at “The Sit Down with Michael Franzese,” an interview present wherein the Colombo capo turned Orange County motivational speaker chats with celebrities and affords film evaluations and life-style tricks to his viewers. (No. 1: “Fly under the radar.”)

The rising glut of Mob content material, with its mixture of graphic violence, relationship drama, and aspirational wealth, has carved out a pure area of interest for itself in our reality-TV and true-crime panorama. Gravano’s podcast, launched final 12 months, boasts greater than 4 hundred thousand subscribers; Franzese’s “Sit Downs” generally garner greater than one million views every—roughly equal to the variety of opening-weekend streams acquired by the “Many Saints of Newark” (which, in keeping with Franzese, made Italian Americans “look like degenerates”). But the style has drawn, alongside the traditional true-crime obsessives, a extra shocking set of devotees: F.B.I. brokers, on the lookout for a deeper understanding of a few of the greatest instances of their careers.

“I spend hours and hours listening to these wiseguys,” the retired particular agent Bill Fleisher instructed me, the different day. Fleisher, who lives in New Jersey, spent most of the nineteen-seventies engaged on organized-crime squads in New York, Boston, and Detroit. “I could talk to them, I could polygraph them, I knew how they operated—but I could never get in their heads,” he stated. “That’s why I like these podcasts. I’m beginning, like a shrink, to understand their thinking.”

Most of the mobsters sharing their tales immediately have coöperated with authorities in the previous and now have authorized immunity that permits them to talk overtly about their crimes (these to which they’ve confessed, anyway). In the means of telling these tales, they usually reveal solutions to questions which have stumped legislation enforcement for years. “Instead of us going into prison and interviewing Sammy the Bull—how convenient, he starts his own podcast,” James R. Fitzgerald, a former F.B.I. profiler and one other devoted listener, stated, from his home in Maryland. “If you watch and listen to enough of them, you can pick up on the trajectory of where they’re going, and maybe even solve some of those old crimes.”

The different afternoon, Fitzgerald, Fleisher, and I gathered on Zoom to look at a YouTube video of Sammy the Bull’s podcast “Our Thing,” a reference to the Cosa Nostra. Neither agent had met Gravano personally, however, having tracked his and his household’s dealings so intently, they each felt like they knew him in addition to an outdated pal. In the clip’s opening animation, a bull fees via a concrete wall earlier than Gravano seems, seated in a leather-based chair, in a recording studio outfitted with a fire, a neon bull glowing above the mantel. On the partitions are framed portraits of the crime bosses Al Capone and Charles (Lucky) Luciano, and the actor James Cagney, identified for his iconic portrayals of gangsters onscreen. Our host, small and wiry, is wearing a white T-shirt and slacks.

“I’m glad to see Sammy in more traditional garb,” Fitzgerald stated. “Back in the late eighties, early nineties, when I was dealing with these guys, the Adidas running suits or sweatsuits were the big uniform of the day.” (To be honest, in the video, Gravano was nonetheless carrying a pinky ring and gold chain.)

The podcast is focussed on one in every of the greatest investigations in F.B.I. historical past: the 1989 homicide of an undercover D.E.A. agent by a low-level Mafia affiliate. “This is one of those pretty heavy stories that I really shouldn’t talk about,” Gravano begins. He begins by describing the affiliate: “There was a guy named Gus Farace. . . . Real tough guy, big guy, steroid freak, big ,huge fuckin’ body, arms, fairly good-lookin’ guy.” (“He was played by Tony Danza in the made-for-TV movie,” Fitzgerald identified.) Gravano explains that Farace had met the undercover D.E.A. agent, Everett Hatcher, on a Staten Island overpass to promote him some cocaine. But one thing unsettled Farace. “He started thinking this guy may have been an undercover, not cop, but an undercover informant,” Gravano says. “They must have had words in the car, and he shot and killed him.”

Farace went on the lam and the F.B.I. cracked down on each household in the Cosa Nostra, raiding their golf equipment and playing rings, arresting parolees for any minor infraction, in an effort to extract details about Farace’s whereabouts. “Everyone in this game knew the rules had been changed,” Fitzgerald defined. “We don’t kill them. They don’t kill us.” Farace, who wasn’t even a made man, had “violated rule No. 1,” so the Mafia “knew it was hard times ahead for them.”

According to Gravano, at some point, the F.B.I. knocked on his door, and ordered him to trace down Farace: “ ‘Sammy, we want you to tell John Gotti that we want this guy found, and we don’t care how.’ The way they said it,” Gravano continues, “I just had to ask the question: ‘Are you asking me to kill him?’ ”

“ ‘No, no, Sammy,’ ” the agent supposedly responded. “ ‘No, we’re not going there. We don’t give a fuck how he’s found.’ ”

Gravano didn’t purchase it. (Or, perhaps he didn’t need to purchase it.) “There would be nothing better for me to do for the government than to kill somebody for them,” he tells his viewers. “That would give me a license to do whatever the fuck I felt like doing.” He goes on, “They checked themselves right away. But that was the message.”

Fitzgerald interrupted: “We honestly didn’t want that,” he stated. “We wanted to put this guy on trial, and maybe even to flip him and get information.”

“But it tells you how Sammy’s mind works,” Fleisher added. “As a wiseguy, a lot of his orders, given and taken, are done by nods, innuendo, double-entendres.” If a boss describes a man as “ ‘always smiling,’ that could be a message to go knock his teeth out.”

In any case, the two sides had definitely entered “a very strange situation,” Fitzgerald stated. “The F.B.I. and the Mob are both looking for Gus, and who’s gonna get him first?” The Mob, it turned out. Nine months after the Hatcher homicide, Farace was discovered, shot lifeless, in the streets. “The moral of the story is, this kid did not belong to us in the Mafia,” Gravano concludes. “If you like this story, press Like, subscribe.”

After the episode ended, I requested the brokers what they’d ask Sammy if they’d the probability. Fitzgerald stated he’d ask him why he flipped on Gotti: “You violated the most sacred code of all, omertà,” he stated. “What did one F.B.I. agent say to you to convince you to give it all up?”

A number of days later, I known as Gravano as much as ask him why he broke with omertà again in the day, and why he’s nonetheless spilling Mafia secrets and techniques now. “I want my children and grandchildren to know my truth—good, bad, and ugly,” he stated. Plus, “it’s a good way to earn.” As for flipping on Gotti, “We were brothers,” he instructed me. “I killed for him. I rigged trials.” But when Gotti received caught on tape implicating Gravano in a number of murders, that was the finish. Gotti instructed Sammy that he’d must do the time in order that Gotti might go free. “I walked from that meeting and said, ‘Fuck John, fuck the Mafia,’ and I quit.”

“The agents Frank [Spero] and Matty [Tricorico] who were assigned to me, they were always around me,” Gravano stated. At Christmas, he would convey espresso and cookies to their automobile whereas they staked out his home. “I trusted them. I liked them.” So when he wanted to speak, he turned to the brokers, who had been more than pleased to pay attention. They nonetheless are.


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