Joe Coffey, a former commanding officer of the New York Police Department's organized crime unit, and Michael Franzese, a former capo with the Colombo crime family, have been all over CNN expressing their shock that the indictment earlier this week against suspected Gambino crime family members and associates included not only prostitution charges but allegedly involved the exploitation of teen girls as young as 15. For example, Coffey told CNN: "The mob as we know it historically holds very few things sacred, but they do hold women and children sacred." The guys need a refresher course in mob history.
The involvement of the Mafia in the vice rackets has been widely known ever since Thomas Dewey nailed Lucky Luciano in 1936 for controlling the largest prostitution ring uncovered in American history, and reached its culmination during the 1970s and 1980s when New York City's crime families controlled the sex industry in Times Square which included gay bars catering to chicken hawks, prostitution rings exploiting teenage runaway girls and smut shops where child pornography was ubiquitous. Robert DiBernardo, the Gambino capo who was whacked in 1986, was the biggest pornographer in the United States, and at the time of his death was under federal investigation for kiddie porn.
The mob's sexual exploitation of underage boys has been a racket in NYC since 1900. For example, in Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (1994), Yale Professor George Chauncey writes:
The Italian neighborhood of the Lower East Side had numerous saloons where fairies gathered interspersed among the saloons where female prostitutes worked. In 1908, Vito Lorenzo's saloon, located at 207 Canal Street (near Baxter), was charged by the police with being a "fairy place." In 1901, agents conducting a systematic survey of "vice conditions" on the Lower East Side found male prostitutes working at two Italian saloons on the block of Elizabeth Street between Hester and Grand, the same block where the Hotel Zaza's manager hired rooms to female prostitutes who stood at the windows in "loose dresses and call[ed] the men upstairs." One investigator noted that the Union Hall saloon was crowded with old Italian men and several young fairies on the night of March 5; a few doors up the street, at 97 Elizabeth, stood a saloon where the fairies, aged fourteen to sixteen, could "do their business right in [the] backroom." A month later the same saloon was said to have "5 boys known as [finocchio, or fairies] about 17 to 25 years of age."
During the 1960s and 1970s Genovese associate Ed "the Skull" Murphy and Gambino associate Mike Umbers -- longtime figures in the gay bar industry who now are dead -- were involved in running boy prostitution rings. For example, a July 22, 1971 article ("Christopher's emperor: Mike Umbers") by Arthur Bell for The Village Voice states:
A week ago last Monday, Mike Umbers sat on the deck of his Gay Dogs on Chistopher Street, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand, a Lark in the other, and talked about prostitution and pornography and real estate – and himself. Late Thursday, Christopher's End, his heavily patronized all-male after-hours bar, was raided, and cleared for the night for ABC Liquor violations. Sunday morning, 4 a.m., the place was raided again, this time by the feds as well as city cops. Two of Mike's employees were arrested and charged with failure to have the $56 federal tax stamps required for retail liquor dealers. Mike, who was not on the premises, escaped arrest. Mike's three big operations are Christopher's End, when it's open, the Studio Book Store, and Gay Dogs. All right-out exploitative. Mike calls himself a gay catalyst and flesh peddler. He deals in boy-boy sex. He describes Mark Lithko, his publishing house, as a means to produce paper flesh that his Studio Book Store peddles. Gay Dogs is cruising flesh. And Christopher's End, with its backroom and nude boy shows, is climax flesh. Mike is also rumored to have his finger in the controversial Stonewall Inn. It was boarded up June 27, 1969, and won’t be re-opened until a liquor license is issued. Negotiations have been going on for several months. Right now, the second floor of the two-story Stonewall is occupied by a bevy of young men. * * * The July 18 raid on Christopher's End was one of nine that took place on after-hours bars that night. The Daily News labels the raids "a move to cut off one of organized crime's sources of income, estimated at $2 million annually from nine after-hours clubs alone." * * * And the fed at Christopher's End figures this is just small pickings in the overall big syndicate scheme. * * * "I have gay businesses and I employ gay people. I started this whole empire myself, and I'm doing more for the gay community than any organization." I wonder what Mike means by "any organization." Is he talking about gay liberation?
A Dec. 23, 1971 article ("The After-Hours 28: Greetings from the feds") by Arthur Bell for The Village Voice states that "a couple of years ago, Umbers was arrested along with two other men and indicted on charges related to violation of the state obscenity law": "According to an official assigned to the case, the men conspired to conduct a pornography operation soliciting young boys of 16 and under. They'd have them participate in 'deviate sexual acts' which they’d film and distribute. Umbers procured the kids."
With respect to Ed "the Skull" Murphy who was involved with various gay bars allegedly tied to the Genovese and Gambino crime families during the 1960s, historian David Carter writes in his 2004 book Stonewall:
Beyond Murphy's involvement in the Stonewall Inn and in blackmailing gay men, he was deeply involved in male prostitution. Chuck Shaheen, who had a very high regard for Murphy, told Martin Duberman, "I knew Eddie Murphy for a long time. . . .He was into young boys. Most definitely. And he was very, very involved with the procurement of young boys." Danny Garvin recalls how he would "always see these hustlers hanging out with [Murphy]. He had connections,and these hustler kids would hang out with him." Tommy explains why the Mafia would operate the Tenth of Always as an ice-cream parlor in terms of Murphy's predilections: "The Tenth of Always had a kind of particular feeling, that you knew you were there because Murphy liked chicken. In there I felt like I was in some surreal Catholic Youth Organization dance, because everybody was like my age or younger, and the drag queens just looked like regular high-school girls, and the hustlers looked like regular high-school boys. And then it really looked crazy because everyone was sitting, sipping these sodas, and it was like – there’s no word to describe – it wasn't a brothel, a bawdyhouse, or whatever. It was like the pickings of johns: that's what it was set up for." Bob Kohler, who hated Murphy passionately, cited as evidence of Murphy's loathsomeness that he paid the youths he pimped with counterfeit money.
Some of Murphy's young charges allegedly did not fare well, and Carter further writes: "The suspicion that Murphy was involved in the murders of youths goes back at least to the early sixties. Stephen van Cline recalls, for example, that Murphy had been involved with the early 1960s waterfront gay bar called Dirty Dick's, where, he says, a number of young men were seen for the last time." According to one eyewitness in the late 1960s a Puerto Rican youth known as Tano with whom Murphy was sexually involved was kidnapped right off the streets never to be seen again as recounted by Carter in Stonewall.
In 1975 the NYDA and NYPD initiated an investigation dubbed Operation Together which, among other things, was looking into mob-controlled underage boy sex rings but just as law enforcement was prepared to seek indictments the investigation inexplicably was shut down in 1977 over the objections of the investigating ADA and two detectives assigned to the case. R. Thomas Collins Jr., a former Daily News reporter, writes about the shut down of Operation Together in his 2002 memoir Newswalker:
For 18 months a team of as many as 56 investigators from homicide, vice, narcotics, and intelligence worked under the command of the department's Organized Crime Control Bureau. In all, Operation Together made dozens of arrests for dope peddling, prostitution and other morals charges, and attempted bribery of police. The strategy of the investigation was to target people involved in gay bars, nab them on narcotics charges and get them to turn on their mob controllers, partners or extortionists. Among the depravity unearthed by this team was a network of chicken hawks—patrons of child prostitution and kiddie porn—as well as mob control of the gay bar scene. Then suddenly, just as members of Operation Together felt they were getting close to making investigative breakthroughs, the plug was pulled. The task force was broken up; detectives, undercover officers and the assistant Manhattan district attorneys were reassigned. When a couple of plainclothes guys protested, they were given uniformed foot patrol. One Midtown pimps and pros expert was sent to Harlem. There was bad blood among the police. Cops I spoke to believed the worst, that the mob had pulled strings inside the NYPD and gotten the investigation killed. That's what they suspected; fearing that whoever committed these murders would get away with it.
A July 27, 1982 article by the Associated Press reported that investigator Dale Smith, who worked for the New York State Senate's Select Committee on Crime, said "organized crime in New York" was running a six-city boy prostitution network – Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, Washington and Houston – with the "male prostitutes between the ages of 13 and 16 . . . shuttled between the cities."
The Mafia continued to dominate Times Square well into the 1980s, and among the mobsters who had a role in the neighborhood was reputed Genovese capo Matty Ianniello -- convicted in 1985 for a skimming operation involving several of his gay bars -- who allegedly was behind the hustler bar Hay Market at 772 Eighth Avenue according to court documents. With respect to this particular establishment R. Thomas Collins Jr. writes:
The crowds were at the gay bars, which cops told me the mobsters opened in a cynical attempt to attract a clientele from an underserved market. I got to the Hay Market, at 772 8th Ave. just before midnight. The bar was five deep with men and boys hustling, talking, laughing—and drinking. Lots of drinking. The air was thick with cigaret smoke. The jukebox played loud pounding rock music. Patrons moved unselfconsciously to the beat. The bar was long and thin, with a shelf of liquor lined against the back wall. Against the opposite wall hustlers were seated against a railing, some of the boys looking as young as 15. One was staring into space, his thin frame covered with a faded denim jacket, scruffy jeans and black boots. Several of the men from the bar across the way were watching. Several of the boys wore varsity jackets with leather sleeves. Others had shiny plastic jackets. They were all working. One of the men at the bar in his early twenties wore an elegant camel's-hair jacket, black pants and silk ascot. A portly, balding man in a business suit sat next to him. He wore rimless glasses and could have passed for an accountant at any midtown office. Another boy came up to the balding man and whispered in his ear. Two stools down, a handsome man smiled at the mirror. Behind him stood a goon wearing a T-shirt with barbells stenciled on front, with the sleeves rolled up. His arms were folded across his chest and he flexed his biceps. In the doorway, a young boy with a woolen stocking cap blocked the way, forcing everyone who came in or walked out to ask him to move.
And Bruce Benderson, author of User, writes the following about the Hay Market for 3am Literature:
Don't believe the hype about the infamous Stonewall bar being an oppressive place where sad homosexuals had to hide from police oppression and where Mafia bosses exploited their desperation. Any illegal bar run by the Mafia always has the hottest, most inspiring atmosphere. And excitement, risk and underground activity are what makes the best writing. The Mafia may have created a lot of heartache in our cities, but we owe them a debt for having created such good illicit bars, which were at the basis of a lot of good American literature. As for me, I probably wouldn't have written a decent sentence if I hadn't discovered Times Square and the hot Puerto Rican hustlers who came down from the South Bronx to frequent its mostly Mafia-owned bars. * * * The first and most famous Times Square bar I ever went to was called the Haymarket. It was a big, sprawling place on Eighth Avenue with cheap drinks, a long bar counter, booths you could sit in and a big pool table. In those days, a lot of the hustlers were poor white kids. Since the minimum drinking age in those days was 18 (rather than today's 21), there was some very young trade in there. The place was pulsing with young testosterone and horny old men willing to spend the $20 on some fresh meat.
Remember when the mob used to contend that it was not involved in the narcotics trade? That myth was exposed when Vito Genovese was put away in 1959 for trafficking heroin through his Greenwich Village and East Village gay bars. And if the current allegations made by the feds bear out in court, then the conventional wisdom that the Mafia is not involved in the prostitution racket or the exploitation of children may turn out to have been just another myth.
Indeed, Henry Hill, the former Lucchese crime family associate who was portrayed by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, is not so surprised by the allegations as reported by Emanuella Grinberg for CNN:
Hill calls the allegations business as usual for the mob. "There is no line that they draw, as far as luring underage girls, teen prostitution," Hill said in an interview Wednesday. "Most of those guys do not have consciences; they'll do anything, and they'll go to any length to make an illegal dollar as long as they don't have to use the sweat of their brow." * * * In his time, Hill said that child prostitution was a big enough taboo to be off limits for the Lucchese family. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen then, or especially now. "There's a lot of people in organized crime, a lot of bosses, families, that don't condone it. But some do, and they don't care what they have to do to make a buck," he said.
Further reading that may be of interest: