On the Friday night of June 27, 1969 the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, and a firestorm of protest erupted that continued over the next several nights. The Stonewall riots are considered the birth of the modern gay rights movement, and over the following decades often has been characterized as a protest against police harassment. However, in actuality, the Stonewall Inn was raided pursuant to an investigation against its reputed mob owners, and the ensuing rage on the streets by its gay patrons was directed as much against the wise guys as the boys in blue. Of course, a few rowdy nights by some angry patrons were not going to chase the Mafia out of the lucrative gay bar racket which it had controlled for decades in New York City. Indeed, in 1986 the feds obtained a conviction against Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, the reputed Genovese capo who allegedly was behind the Stonewall Inn, for a skimming operation involving some of his gay bars. The question remains whether the mob to this day still has a hidden hand in some gay establishments, and based upon claims from some industry insiders, the answer may be yes.
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In 2004 historian David Carter published Stonewall, and shattered the myth that the NYPD's raid was intended as harassment against the bar's gay clientel. Carter reviewed the 1969 police files concerning the raid and interviewed Seymour Pine who was the Deputy Inspector in charge, and Carter concluded that the cops were looking for bonds they believed had been stolen by a closeted Wall Street executive at the blackmailing behest of mobsters who operated out of the Stonewall Inn. Lucian K. Truscott IV, the writer who covered the events for the Village Voice in 1969, last year wrote a piece for The New York Times ("The Real Mob at Stonewall") in which he stated the following: "Deputy Inspector Pine had two stated reasons for the raid: the Stonewall was selling liquor without a license, which it was, and it was being used by a Mafia blackmail ring that was setting up gay patrons who worked on Wall Street, which also seems likely."
Although the protestors on the streets following the raid no doubt directed plenty of well-justified invective against the NYPD -- on numerous occasions in the past raids were done for no purpose other than harassing gays -- they also were targeting the Mafia. Indeed, a flyer that was distributed by the Homophile Youth Movement expressly states that "[t]he nights of Friday, June 27, 1969 and Saturday, June 28, 1969 will go down in history as the first time that thousands of Homosexual men and women went out into the streets to protest the intolerable situation which has existed in New York City for many years --- namely, the Mafia (or syndicate) control of this of this city's Gay bars," and "[w]hat is illegal about New York City's Gay bars today is the Mafia (or syndicate) stranglehold on them."
At the time of the Stonewall riots the Mafia -- primarily the Genovese, Gambino and Colombo crime families -- had controlled gay bars in New York City for decades. The mobsters entered the racket not only to profit from an underserved market which was illicit in its own right -- gay bars in NYC were illegal until 1967 -- but further as a means to launder money, sell non-taxed or stolen booze, move drugs, traffic boys, distribute smut and blackmail the rich and powerful. Of course, mob control over gay bars at the time was not unique to New York City. As muckrakers Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer wrote in their 1952 bestselling U.S.A. Confidential which provided a voyeuristic tour of underworld culture: "All fairy night clubs and gathering places are illegal, and operate only through pay-offs to the authorities. They are organized into a national circuit, controlled by the Mafia which also finds unique opportunity to sell dope in such dives. Many gangsters like it that way, too, after indoctrination in prison."
The feds targeted Vito Genovese for his interests in gay bars after his wife Anna ratted him out during their divorce proceedings in 1953, and ultimately learned that he was trafficking heroin through them for which he was convicted in 1959. One of the more colorful spots in which Vito allegedly had an interest was Club 82 at 82 East Fourth Street which provided well-produced drag shows for tourists, and his then-wife Anna, often rumored to be a lesbian, reportedly operated the place. Of course, a night at Club 82 was not fun for everyone. Genovese frontman Stephen Franse who operated the nearby gay Club 181 at 181 Second Avenue was whacked on the orders of Vito on the night of June 19, 1953 after leaving Club 82. Franse had been assigned the duty of keeping Anna in line during her messy divorce from Vito, and he failed miserably as Anna had tipped off the feds to Vito's interests in numerous gay nightclubs. The Bureau of Narcotics within the United States Treasury Department frequently observed Ralph Polizzano, a reputed Genovese member, visiting Club 82 in the mid-to-late 1950s. Many of the Genovese-controlled bars and restaurants in the East Fourth Street and Second Avenue vicinity were used in connection with the crime boss's heroin operation. Indeed, the processing plant where workers cut the imported pure heroin for further distribution was located at 36 East Fourth Street, and the neighborhood developed a reputation for drugs that has endured for decades.
Other gay bars in which Vito Genovese allegedly had interests were the Bon Soir at 40 West 8th Street and Moroccan Village at 23 West 8th Street. A May 29, 1958 FBI report states:
New York files reflect that . . . the Club Caravan, the Savannah Club, the 82 Club, and the Morroccan Club were owned by . . . VITO GENOVESE, and the syndicate, but were fronted by someone else. On March 25, 1953, ANNA GENOVESE appeared at the office of the New York State Liquor Authority with her attorney, H. DAVID FRACKMAN, and was questioned, under oath, in a public hearing conducted by the State Liquor Authority. She stated that she did voice the opinion in Superior Court of New Jersey, that the 82 Club, the Club Caravan, the Savannah Club, and the Moroccan Village were owned by VITO GENOVESE and the syndicate, and that the proprietors of record were fronting for them.
The right-hand man to Vito Genovese was Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo, and he allegedly was in charge of the crime family's gay bar rackets. According to FBI reports, Strollo conducted much of his business at the "negro nightclub" Savannah Club at 66 West 3rd Street and the gay and beatnik San Remo at 93 MacDougal Street. Strollo "disappeared" from his Fort Lee, NJ home in April 1962, and according to police sources was "crushed to death in the seat of his car as the vehicle was run through a scrap metal compressor" as reported by a June 7, 1973 article ("Who owns the Limelight?") for The Village Voice.
Although the Genovese crime family was the 800-pound gorilla in the gay bar industry, the Gambinos also had a nice piece of the action. During the 1960s reputed Gambino soldier Eddie DeCurtis emerged as a player in the gay bar racket, and recently released FBI files on DeCurtis reveal some of the more mundane operating details of the business. For example, according to informant allegations from December 1968:
Caesar's Corner night club on Second Avenue, New York City, is a "queer" joint owned by Eddie "Dolls" DeCurtis, who also presently owns the "Rat Race" on First Avenue between East 76th and East 77th Street, also a "queer" joint. Informant advised that [redacted] is Eddie DeCurtis's "front man." The bartenders in DeCurtis's places allegedly make $15.00 per night salary, $40 per night tips, plus ten percent kickbacks from waiters.
During the 1960s the State Liquor Authority denied licenses for gay bars, and accordingly the mob typically established gay bars either through private bottle clubs which were not within the SLA's jurisdiction or by converting straight bars which already had liquor licenses. FBI documents illustrate that DeCurtis employed the conversion practice. For example, an April 1967 FBI document states that under the suspected influence of DeCurtis the Cornell Pub on 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues may be "converting to a queer hang out," and the Rave Inn on Staten Island may be "converting to a queer joint."
Another gay bar in which DeCurtis allegedly had in interest in the mid-1960s was the Mystique Lounge, and the FBI reported the following:
On August 17, 1966, NY T-3 [the informant] advised that the Mystique Private Club, Incorporated, at 45 West 56th Street, used the be the Mystique Lounge which catered exclusively to homosexuals and was owned and operated by a [redacted]. During 1965 the lounge ran into financial difficulties and its operation was turned over to Eddie and Guido DeCurtis. Informant added that during April, 1965, one [redacted] was employed at the lounge to protect the interests of [redacted]. During November, 1965, the liquor license for the lounge was revoked and the place closed down.
DeCurtis allegedly conducted most of his business during the mid-1960s out of the Pompier Restaurant at 82 West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village which "caters to the homosexual crowd." An informant told the FBI that DeCurtis "owned the Pompier Restaurant," and "is there every day from 4:00 to 6:00 pm on weekdays and until closing time on weekends."
John "Sonny" Franzese, currently the reputed underboss of the Colombo crime family, also had significant interests in gay bars during the 1960s. An October 8, 1967 article ("Mafia Increasing Investments in Business on L.I.") by Charles Grutzner from the New York Times states: '"Franzese is reported to have a concealed stake in several bars, motels and cocktail lounges, including places patronized by homosexuals. A sideline in the operation of such spots is the blackmailing of wealthy or prominent patrons." Steve Ostrow, the owner of the infamous Continental Baths at 230 West 74th Street in the Hotel Ansonia, alleges in his 2007 memoir Live at the Continental: The Inside Story of the World-Famous Continental Baths that mob boss Joseph Colombo provided his gay bathhouse with protection from rival mob families after he agreed to install its vending machines on the premises. The Bonanno crime family also allegedly had some interests in the gay nightlife industry. For example, a March 5, 1978 article ("Sex Business Linked To Alleged Mobster") from the New York Times details that Michael Zaffarono, a reputed Bonanno capo, had purchased buildings at 1603-07 Broadway and 207 West 48th Street, and that subsequently sex businesses began operating out of them including the Broadway Arms in the 1603-07 Broadway property which is "a 'private club' that caters to homosexuals."
The Genovese, Gambino and Colombo crime families, rather than competing as rivals, allegedly operated their interests in the gay bars pursuant to a well-managed alliance through Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello who currently is a reputed Genovese capo. Sonny Franzese allegedly worked with Ianniello, and the FBI reported on April 13, 1967 that Eddie DeCurtis regularly visited the offices of M&M Trading Company at 135 West 50th Street which was one of the many alleged fronts through which Ianniello managed gay bar interests.
The late R. Thomas Collins Jr., a Daily News reporter and editor from 1974 to 1979, has several pages on Ianniello in the chapter "The Sultans of Midtown" from his book NewsWalker:
In 1960 he formed a partnership with . . . Edward L. DeCurtis, a k a "Eddie Dee," financier of afterhours gay joints in the Village. Such after-hours spots were a specialty of the rackets because their patrons were homosexuals who drank like fish. You could serve liquor in private clubs without a license, and nobody watched the cash. Besides, such customers sometimes were involved in legitimate business one might wish to "invest" in. While growing in this new line of business, Ianniello was sponsored into the Genovese crime family by Frank "Funzi" Tieri. Now a made Mafioso, Ianniello did business with John "Sonny" Franzese, one of the city's most notorious, feared and respected hoods, whose patronage put a shield of protection around Ianniello. Another patron of Ianniello's was Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo, a right-hand man to Vito Genovese, easily the most vicious gangster in the city at the time. * * * Eventually they turned to the smut rackets. They got in through the bars, the dirty book stores, the gay after-hours joints and all the businesses—garbage, vending, talent, advertising, whatever—that fed off them.
Matty Ianniello, Eddie DeCurtis and Sonny Franzese all allegedly had hidden interests in the Stonewall Inn at the time of the 1969 raid, and a few nights of protests in the streets by some newly-empowered activists failed to dethrone the wise guys, and over the next 15 years the Mafia maintained its dominating market share by using extortionate threats and even resorting to murder.
For example, Robert Wood, the gay owner of the nightclub Salvation at One Sheridan Square which had become quite the hot spot in the supposedly newly-liberated Greenwich Village, was murdered in February 1970 -- only eight months after the Stonewall riots -- with five bullets to his head after failing to bottom for the mob. Wood left behind three letters which were sent posthumously to District Frank S. Hogan and United States Attorney Whitney North Seymour Jr., and a March 19, 1970 article ("Gun-Charge Suspect Is Former Manager Of Slain Man's Club") from The New York Times states:
A police official said that Wood's letters, which named several men listed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as members of the Mafia, described "a classic case of how organized crime moves in on bars and nightspots, puts its members or associates on the payroll, and eventually takes over. The Salvation, at 1 Sheridan Square, had been patronized by cafe society when it opened in 1967 but is said to have begun catering to homosexuals after Wood put money into it. It went out of business four months ago after the Mafia, according to Wood, drained off the profits and had him operating at a loss of $2,000 a month.
Tony Sirico, the actor who played Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri on The Sopranos, once was known as Gennaro Sirrico, and according to The New York Times article he allegedly was a former manager of the Salvation, and had been arrested -- and subsequently was convicted -- on a gun charge after allegedly harassing John Addison who operated the gay club The Together at 308 East 59th Street with a reference to the Wood murder. At the sentencing hearing the prosecutor alleged Sirico stated the following to Addison:
He said there was one guy who gave him a hard time also, who refused to give Junior Sirico the respect he thought he deserves, who refused to comply with every wish and whim of Junior Sirico, and that was Bobby Woods, and he said, "You saw what happened to him," and Mr. Addison knew what happened to Bobby Woods. Mr. Bobby Woods was found dead with five bullets in his head in Queens with a .32 automatic. He told Mr. Addison that this could happen, and Mr. Addison was afraid, and he came to the District Attorney's office and filed a complaint.
In addition to old-fashioned extortion and murder, the adaptive mob also attempted to appease the gay community following the Stonewall riots by providing them with a piece of the pie. By setting up gay businessmen as fronts, hiring gay bartenders and managers, and participating in the annual pride celebrations, the Mafia rebranded itself as more gay friendly. And now cynically donning the mantle of gay rights, the mobsters would accuse the police of homophobia if one of their bars were raided.
Mike Umbers typified how the mobsters hijacked the nascent gay rights movement in an attempt to provide cover for the mob's role in the gay bar industry. Umbers, an ex-convict with prior arrests for drug trafficking and procuring "young boys of 16 and under" to make dirty movies, allegedly was a frontman for reputed Gambino soldier Paul Di Bella with suspected interests in numerous afterhours gay clubs in the West Village. Di Bella was the principal target of a July 1971 raid against gay bars by the feds, and in a July 22, 1971 article ("The big bar bust: hitting where it hurts") Mary Perot Nichols writes for The Village Voice:
The strike force . . . nailed a Mafia soldier, allegedly part of the Gambino crime family, and his stepson, who had been known to be involved in at least eight Village nightspots[.] * * * Crime reporters have noted that the Gambino family has been operating around the edges of the former empire of Genovese which is centered in Greenwich Village. The take-over of Genovese territory by Gambino men in the Village area has apparently been a friendly operation to date. "You can even find a Gambino bar side by side with a Genovese one without any trouble," said a federal strike force investigator. * * * The relationship of organized crime to gay bars has long been an established fact in New York.
The savvy Umbers, also targeted in the raids, played up his post-Stonewall gay pride in an attempt to deflect attention from his own alleged criminality and instead generate community outrage at law enforcement. A July 22, 1971 article ("Christopher's emperor: Mike Umbers") by Arthur Bell for The Village Voice states:
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. * * * "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?
Some gay activists were not impressed with the hijacking of gay liberation by the Mafia, and they bemoaned the number of gay men -- so-called "Uncle Toms" or "Auntie Gays" -- who were seduced by dollars to become tools for the mob in their enterprises. A July 29, 1971 article ("Godfather of gay lib?") by Arthur Bell for The Village Voice states:
This has been a week of marches and open confrontations between Uncle Toms (or Auntie Gays) who have been siding with the syndicate, and the liberationists and revolutionaries who are seeking alternatives to the back room clip joints. Cleverly, Michael Umbers in his public appearances has placed his emphasis of the after-hours raids on police harassment of his good friends, "the poor homosexuals," thereby diluting the impact of syndicate control and manipulating, via media, the current thrust of the issue. * * * The Stonewall riot may have well have been the greatest event to happen to the homosexual. Paradoxically, it may also have been the greatest event to happen to the syndicate.
The Mafia even became involved in NYC's annual June gay pride parade in order to promote its newfound "legitimate" gay nightlife industry. A June 28, 1973 article ("Hostility comes out of the closet") by Arthur Bell for The Village Voice discusses the alleged involvement of the mob at the Fourth Annual gay pride parade:
To the liberationists, the set-up was a mockery-show time, promo time, with gay liberation as a by-product. * * * Mike Umbers, the straight owner of Gay Media Inc. and "described by police and as a soldier in the Gambino mob and one of the city's biggest porno entrepreneurs" (Daily News, August 22, 1972) with a Police Department yellow sheet of eight major arrests ranging from promoting prostitution and obscenity to grand larceny, stationed himself in the press section with a video crew to film the events and to distribute a few hundred balloons to publicize "Where It's At," his "gay" publication. * * * Craig Rodwell, founder of the Oscar Wilde Book Shops, and original founder of the committee, puts it this way: * * * "After the first march, a lot of parasites and leeches who literally kicked me out of their bars for passing out leaflets and who were constantly putting us down saw that we represented the yearnings of their customers and that we were affecting their earnings. They had to get in there to save their own necks. So they did. * * * So we're back to supporting our local syndicate bars and we're back in the ghetto again. We've gone the full circle."
Among those who allegedly advertised in Where It's At was none other than Matty Ianniello. A September 6, 1973 article ("Feds move in Village") by Mary Perot Nichols for The Village Voice states:
A recent issue of Where It's At had only one advertisement in it from a "straight" bar. That bar, not so coincidentally, is Umberto's Clam House in little Italy where "Crazy" Joe Gallo got his. Umbers, who has been described as a Gambino "soldier," is connected to Umberto's Clam House by his closeness to a mobster known as "Matty the Horse" Ianiello. Ianiello is reported to been at Umberto's when Gallo was assassinated. Ianiello's two brothers own the clam house.
One of the "Auntie Gays" who allegedly betrayed gay liberation for mob cash was Seymour Seiden. The term "Velvet Mafiosi" was coined for Seiden, and he was behind the Sanctuary at 407 West 43rd Street -- perhaps the first modern gay dance club -- which was closed by the city in 1972 as an alleged drug supermarket. In July 21, 1975 article ("Inside the Disco Boom") from The Village Voice, Richard Szathmary and Lucian K. Truscott IV alleged that the Sanctuary was a "mob-run joint which featured pills (ups, downs, hypnotics) sold at the door and behind juice bars." And after authorities shut down the Sanctuary, in 1973 Seiden allegedly opened Hollywood at 128 West 45th Street. The venue was previously known as the gay hustler bar Peppermint Lounge, and subsequently as the circus-like gay disco GG Barnum's Room both of which allegedly were tied to reputed Genovese capo Matty Ianniello. Seiden further allegedly may have had a role with Carmine Cardello in the Limelight, a gay bar which operated from 1973 until 1980 at 91 Seventh Avenue South in Sheridan Square, as reported by Henry Post in his December 4, 1978 article ("The Front") for New York Magazine: "Cardello is a reported associate of Vincent Gigante, a key aide to Frank Tieri, head of the former Genovese crime family that is now the largest and most powerful crime group in New York." (Rep. Barney Frank, originally from Bayonne, NJ, was profiled last year in a piece by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, and according to the Congressman "his father was involved with the Mafia," and "Funzi Tieri, a big-time gangster with the Genovese family, came to my brother David's bar mitzvah.")
Seiden's last hurrah was the reputed gay hustler bar Rounds that opened in 1979 although his involvement apparently was not disclosed to the State Liquor Authority. In Camelot Lost, a self-styled memoir by Charles Scaglione Sr. who was a partner in the bar, Scaglione alleges that Seiden told him:
You and Ken have clean records. Because of my relationship with my partners, I can't be on the liquor application, or even suspected of being a partner with you and Ken. There is some prejudice against Italians at the Authority. Italian mobsters as my ex-partners are suspected of undisclosed ownership in our clubs. We will have no problem. You have a Jewish partner. It helps with the bigots at the Authority. Some may hate Jews, but they know we're not mobsters. Ha!
Seiden died of AIDS in April 1988, and the NYPD shut down Rounds in 1994 according to a Sept. 4, 1994 article ("Gay Bar Shut in Loop") by Bruce Lambert for The New York Times.
By the late 1970s the gay bar industry had become such a wide-spread lucrative racket for the Mafia -- and Matty Ianniello in particular -- that it was the subject of an August 1, 1977 article ("Crime Group Leader Said to Rule Many Bar Businesses in Midtown") in The New York Times by Selwyn Raab and Nathaniel Sheppar Jr. who wrote:
The control and much of the profits of the multimillion-dollar bar business in midtown Manhattan has been taken over by an organized-crime group led by Matthew Ianniello, confidential law enforcement records show. * * * A confidential 1975 report prepared by intelligence officers in the Police Department's Organized Crime Control Bureau found that Mr. Ianniello's primary source of income at the time appeared to have been derived from a string of more than 80 New York bars and restaurants, many of which, the report said, were "connected with prostitution, narcotics and homosexuals." The previously secret 1975 report, along with other private and public documents and interviews with law enforcement investigators and others familiar with New York's bar and nightclub operations, provide a rarely seen portrait of how one man has created a lucrative barroom empire for organized crime.
One couple with suspected ties to organized crime who allegedly had interests in dozens of gay bars was Jennie and William "Sonny" Tobin, and real estate records reveal that Jennie Tobin may have had a professional relationship with Matty Ianniello's right-hand man Carl Moskowitz. Ed "the Skull" Murphy, a long-time doorman and bouncer at Mafia-owned gay bars since the 1950s who was at the door on the night of the 1969 raid against the Stonewall Inn, spoke with Arthur Bell for a May 8, 1978 article ("Skull Murphy: The Gay Double Agent") from The Village Voice:
Methodically, Skull rattles off the names of owners of at least a dozen gay bars. Some, he claims, are mob-connected. Some aren't. Most of the bars he laces into are run by a husband-and-wife team who have been around the gay-bar scene since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians. * * * [A]ccording to him, the couple own more property than the Catholic Church and have old East Side Yorkville Mafia ties. Whatever those ties are, he doesn't say. * * * Among the spots they own or have owned are the Pub, La Fiesta, Boot Hill, the Wildwood, the Roundhill Lounge, Dirty Edna's, the Barrow Inn, the Mailbox, and Gracie Manor in Brooklyn.
In his Dec. 4, 1978 article ("The Front") from New York Magazine, Henry Post alleges the following about Jennie and Sonny Tobin:
Monday is Jennie Tobin's busiest day. The chauffeur takes her from her little home at 21-21 Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens, and together with her husband, Sonny Tobin, she makes the rounds of bars and restaurants around the city, all ripe with weekend cash. Jennie looks like a pie-baking, plump little grandmother, free with her kisses and hugs, wide-eyed and sweet-voiced; she's the last person one would connect with the Police Department's Organized Crime Control Board, the State Select Committee on Crime, or the State Liquor Authority, where a file describes her as having "connections with organized crime elements . . . [and] a long record of undisclosed interests in many bars over the last 25 years." * * * What investigators say about this sweet-faced woman is that she's smart, wealthy and dangerous. They also say that no matter how many bars, restaurants, cabarets, motels, warehouses, vending companies, massage parlors, and other businesses she may be illegally involved in, Jennie Tobin has made very few mistakes.
According to court records Sonny Tobin "was the principal . . . of Yorkville Vending Corp. and Revere Vending Corp. which supplies amusement and vending machines to various licensed premises," and the Tobin's son-in-law Thomas Edward Mendez, the husband of their daughter Joanne Robyn Mendez, was "employed by both Yorkville Vending Corp. and Revere Vending Corp." According to real estate records, from 1967 to 1982 Thomas Edward Mendez and Joanne Robyn Mendez owned the Queens home at 21-21 Steinway Street out of which Jennie and Sonny Tobin lived.
An examination of real estate records reveals that Jennie Tobin apparently had some ties to Carl Moskowitz who shared an office with Matthew Ianniello at 135 West 50th Street. According to the real estate records, from 1977 to 1982 the owner of 232 West 48th Street, New York, NY was 2232 W. 48th St. Corp. of which Jennie Tobin was the president. On the deed by which the corporation obtained title to the property the address for its place of business is identified as "c/o Carl Moskowitz, Esq., 135 West 50th Street." Similarly, real estate records also show that from 1978 to 1988, the owner of 224 West 79th Street, New York, NY was 79th St. Real Estate Corp. of which Jennie Tobin was the president, and on the deed by which the corporation obtained title to the property the address for its office is identified as "c/o Carl Moskowitz, Esq., 135 West 50th Street."
Jennie Tobin had extensive real estate holdings throughout the city including several properties on the Upper West Side concentrated around Amsterdam Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets. In his 1978 article on Jennie and Sonny Tobin for New York Magazine, Henry Post alleges:
Tommy D. . . . point[ed] out, according to State Liquor Authority files, "various licensed premises that were owned by the Tobins." Tommy pointed out nine bars, restaurants and cabarets and then claimed that the Tobins owned an entire block on Amsterdam Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets and also a warehouse at 1991 Broadway, where, according to the same report, "they store various vending equipment in connection with their licensed premises." (Another State Liquor Authority affidavit, filed by former Tobin employee Ed Posner, claims that the Tobins actually own, to his direct knowledge, more than 22 bars as well as a hotel located in Greenwood Lake, New York.)
One source with whom this writer has corresponded alleged that Jennie Tobin "operated out of an antique/second hand store," and stated that he heard from one of her bartenders that "she had some very expensive stuff mixed in with junk":
I supposed that some of it must have come from the docks. She pulled up at the Picadilly once and came in and said she had stuff that guys might be interested in. In the trunk were a couple of crates. [The bartender] said "Tiffany" was stenciled on one, most of the stuff was dishware and when he pulled one piece out of its packing it had a Limoges marking. Some "dishware."
One bar in which Jennie Tobin once allegedly had an interest was The Candle Bar, previously known as the Candle Light, which opened in the mid-1960s at 309 Amsterdam Avenue. According to court documents, the State Liquor Authority revoked the liquor license for the Candle Bar in 1978 because the disclosed principals, Jean A. Sabathe and Helen Linsalto, "were charged with not being the true and/or sole parties in interest in said premises, but that William Elmer 'Sonny' Tobin, Jennie Endicott [a/k/a Jennie Tobin], his wife, and/or Joan Mendez, their daughter, a principal in landlord corporation, also have an interest therein." In 1980 Robert E. Ader, a gay attorney, took over the Candle Bar.
Curiously, Ader had a previous relationship with the Tobin family going back to at least 1975. According to real estate records Ader represented Jennie's and Sonny's daughter and son-in-law Joanne Robyn and Thomas Mendez in connection with their June 1975 purchase of a Queens property at 87-27 Santiago Avenue. In addition to his interests in the Candle Bar, Robert Ader and his boyfriend Lonnie Kennett also operated gay bars Cross Road at 858 Ninth Avenue and Tunnel Bar at 116 First Avenue from the late 1970s or early 1980s until the early 1990s when they both died of AIDS. The two men also purchased the properties out of which their gay bars operated. Ader purchased 309 Amsterdam Avenue in 1985 from 309 Amsterdam Realty Corp. of which Jennie Tobin was President, and obtained a mortgage on the property from the company. Ader purchased 858 Ninth Avenue in 1985 from M.Z. Holding Corp. of which Jennie Tobin was the president, and obtained a mortgage on the property from her. Kennett purchased the 116 First Avenue property in 1984, and obtained a mortgage on the property through Milford Funding Co. of which Robyn Endicott was a partner. It is unclear whether Robyn Endicott refers to Jennie Tobin or her daughter Joanne Robyn Mendez. According to real estate filings and court documents the mother and/or daughter are referred to by a number of variations including the following: Jennie Tobin, Jennie Endicott, Joanne Robyn Mendez, Joanne Robyn Endicott, Joanne R. Endicott, J.R. Endictott, Joanne Mendez, Joan Mendez, Robin Endicott and Robyn Mendez. (Just to be clear, this writer is neither stating nor suggesting that Robert Ader, Lonnie Kennett or any other individuals involved with their bars and/or the ownership of the buildings out of which they operated were fronts for Jennie Tobin or otherwise involved in or associated with any wrongdoing.)
In a Dec. 4, 1978 article ("The Front") from New York Magazine, Henry Post alleged how Jennie Tobin allegedly attempted -- unsuccessfully so -- to take over a restaurant located at 68 Second Avenue which later became a gay bar. At the time the establishment was a restaurant called La Boheme which was opened in 1975 by Israeli national Samy Shmuel Zarum that was patronized by local theater people. However, in June 1977 Samy received a visit from an allegedly self-admitted Gambino soldier identifed as Tommy D. who had learned the restaurateur was interested in selling the place. Accordinging to the article, Tommy D. introduced Samy to Jennie Tobin, and a sales agreement was reached by which Samy unwittingly remained the official owner with the liquor license until Tommy D. could secure a liquor license in his own name for the place. Post alleges:
Tommy D. took over La Boheme. He ripped out $12,000 to $13,000 worth of equipment, moving it to the Tobin warehouse. He reopened the place as Timbers, a cheerless gay bar, and moved in rented equipment -- a pool table, pinball machines, and jukebox -- all supplied by Yorkville Corporation, a vending machine company run by a nephew, Bobby Tobin.
The relationship among the parties apparently did not work out well. Samy allegedly was not receiving his weekly installment payments for the sale of the business, and instead was receiving bills in the thousands of dollars for liquor that Tommy D. was ordering for the newly-christened gay bar. Samy went to the authorities, and Post alleges: "On December 30, 1977, Samy, with the help of four police officers, served Tommy D. with a court order to get him out of the former restaurant. The locks were changed and as Tommy D. was escorted from the premises, [Samy's] wife claims he muttered, 'This place is gonna burn.'" Samy renamed the gay bar Timbers to The Bar, and over the next year allegedly received some trouble according to Post's article:
At 2 A.M. on November 15, three men pulled up to Samy's bar in a Checker cab, license No. 7130 TD. They announced to patrons, "There's gonna be trouble," and two of them flipped over Samy's new pool table. They then left and drove off in the cab. SLA [State Liquor Authority] informer and former Tobin employee Ed Murphy described this "as a typical Jennie Tobin move. She usually has this taxi driver, Jimmy Shine, and a few of his goon friends do his dirty work." A police check found the cab registered to a company located near Jennie Tobin's place in Long Island City. Police arrested Jimmy Shine. * * * One of Samy's last conversations with Jennie Tobin took place after his bar received a bomb threat. "Oh, Samy," she said. "People don't do that stuff here. This is America."
(Just to be clear, this writer is neither stating nor suggesting that Samy Shmuel Zarum or any other individuals involved with The Bar and/or the ownership of the building out of which it operated were fronts for Jennie Tobin or otherwise involved in or associated with any wrongdoing.)
No doubt the gay bar industry has had some rough moments. Jennie Tobin knew some people who were murdered not the least of whom was her husband Sonny, and she reportedly witnessed him getting whacked at their Queens home in 1978. A Dec. 5, 1978 article ("2 Businessmen Slain In Their Homes") from the New York Times states:
William Tobin, a 54-year-old businessman dealing in vending machines, bars and motels, was shot to death in his home by an unidentified man early morning yesterday, according to the police. Mr. Tobin lived at 21-21 Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens. The police, who last night could offer no motive for the killing, said Mr. Tobin's wife had witnessed the shooting.
The murder of William "Sonny" Tobin remains unsolved.
In 1987 Theodore Fay, the manager of the gay Midtown 43 Club at 127 West 43rd Street -- and former manager of Jennie Tobin's Nickel Bar on West 72nd Street according to a source -- was murdered reportedly on the orders of Spiros Varsos who allegedly "had his vending machines in a number of clubs in Manhattan" that were managed by Fay. A September 14, 1987 article ("A Manhattan Nightclub Operator Is Slain in Early-Morning Dispute") by Philip S. Gutis from The New York Times states:
A 47-year-old man, who was the operator of a nightclub on West 43d Street, was shot to death early yesterday morning as he stood outside his car on Third Avenue, the police said. The man, Theodore Fay, a resident of 30 Waterside Plaza in Manhattan, was shot once or twice in the back at 3:55 A.M., the police said, as he stood outside his 1986 Lincoln near the corner of Third Avenue and East 37th Street. Two Bronx residents were arrested soon after the shooting and charged with second-degree murder, said Capt. Edward Minogue. Although a motive had yet to be established, Captain Minogue said robbery apparently was not the cause of the shooting. Mr. Fay was carrying $1,200 when he was killed, the captain said. An officer close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition his name not be used, said the police are examining two possible motives. ''We are looking at what kind of business he was in and the business associates he had,'' the officer said. ''And we are looking at a possible narcotics connection on the part of one of the shooters.'' Although the police would not describe the club, the Midtown Club at 127 West 43d Street, a bartender interviewed there yesterday afternoon said its clientele is primarily gay black men.
Spiros Varsos later was convicted for ordering the hit. In reporting on his arrest, an Oct. 15, 1987 article ("Two More Suspects Arrested in Slaying Of Nightclub Owner") by John T. McQuiston from The New York Times states:
Two more suspects were arrested yesterday and charged with murder in the slaying last month of a midtown Manhattan nighclub operator, the police said. One of the suspects was indentified as Spiros Varsos, 52 years old, of 301 West 53d Street in Clinton, the owner of a vending-machine company. He was arrested outside his home at 12:30 P.M., according to Capt. Edward Minogue, chief of detectives in the midtown area. Captain Minogue said the arrest was ''based on information from witnesses.'' * * * Captain Minogue said Mr. Varsos paid the two gunman $8,000 to kill Mr. Fay ''for unknown reasons.'' ''There is no clear-cut motive,'' he said. He said neither the victim nor any of the suspects had links to organized crime. * * * Captain Minogue said Mr. Varsos owned the Big Apple Vending Machine Company in Astoria, Queens, and ''apparently did business with Fay.'' He said Mr. Fay managed a number of clubs in Manhattan in which Mr. Varsos had his vending machines.
According to Robert Russo who testified at the murder trial in 1988, Spiros Varsos "had organized crime connections" as reported by William Glaberson in an April 26, 1990 article ("Prisoner Tells Of Confession By Defendant") for The New York Times.
Jennie Tobin not only apparently knew Theodore Fay -- the murder victim -- but she also may have known Spiros Varsos who ordered the hit. Varsos was in the vending machine business -- like Jennie Tobin's whacked husband Sonny -- and according to real estate records a man identified as Spiros Varsos was involved in companies which engaged in transactions with companies in which Jennie Tobin was involved; however, this writer has not been able to verify whether the Spiros Varsos who was convicted for the murder of Fay is the same individual identified in those real estate documents.
In 1975 the NYDA and NYPD initiated an investigation dubbed Operation Together which, among other things, was looking into mob control over gay bars, several murders of gay bar operators, drug trafficking at gay bars and underage boy sex rings. Among the several murders being investigated by the authorities were those of Robert Wood, the owner of Salvation who was killed in February 1970, and Shelley Bloom, the co-owner with Seymour Seiden of the Sanctuary who was killed in March 1972. A May 13, 1977 article ("Investigation of the Sex Industry Begun by New York State and City; Inquiry Seeking Organized-Crime Involvement Is Outgrowth of Aborted Police Project") by Howard Blum from the The New York Times states:
Mr. Bloom had been found shot to death in his apartment on the night before he was to testify before a federal grand jury investigating a South American cocaine-smuggling network. According to a confidential police report, the murder of Mr. Bloom may have been connected to the attempt by organized crime to control homosexual bars, to eight other unsolved homicides, to the procurement and prostitution of young boys and to narcotics trafficking.
This writer spoke with a former NYPD detective who worked undercover on the Operation Together investigation, and he stated that one of the men identified in Robert Wood's letters complaining of mob extortion was Sonny Tobin. The source also identified for this writer a reputed Genovese associate whom he believes was responsible for the murder of Shelley Bloom, and stated that the guy's primary role was collecting the mob's take from several gay bars. However, 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.
Operation Together allegedly implicated officials at the highest levels in New York City politics, power and society. For example, the former detective with whom this writer spoke alleged that the underage boy sex rings involved several high profile names, and among those he identified was an Oscar-nominated director who was notorious for his sex parties which he stocked with jail bait. And of course, the mob had the goods on the powerful gay men who participated in these illicit Bacchanalian orgies which exploited children. Indeed, a mobster visited the investigator, and warned him to close the investigation because of where it would lead. The investigation nevertheless continued, and then a fire bomb was tossed through the window into the apartment where the detective and his family lived. The detective claims that the NYPD refused to report the incident to federal authorities as required by law, and further refused to provide him with protection. Two weeks after the bomb attack, "top brass" at the NYPD closed down Operation Together in 1977 over the objections of the 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:
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. * * * 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.
Ianiello and some of his associates and fronts were convicted in 1985 for skimming tax-free cash from a few of their gay bars including the Hay Market at 772 Eighth Avenue, the Gilded Grape at 719 Eighth Avenue, and the Peppermint Lounge a/k/a Hollywood a/k/a GG Barnum's Room at 128 West 45th Street. A November 27, 1985 article ("Jury Hears About Skimming") by Arnold H. Lubasch for The New York Times states:
"This case is about skimming of millions of dollars from bars, restaurants and nightclubs in New York City," Mr. Rather said. He told the jury that the principal evidence would include video and audio tapes from electronic bugs that had been secretly placed in the offices of Mr. Ianniello and his associates. He said the evidence would show that Mr. Ianniello had used fronts to conceal his ownership of several establishments that were keeping double sets of books.
A December 31, 1985 article ("9 of 10 Found Guilty in Skimming Trial") by Arnold H. Lubash for The New York Times states:
A reputed Mafia leader, his business partner and seven associates were convicted yesterday in a racketeering case that involved skimming more than $2 million from bars and restaurants. * * * The taped conversations, Mr. Rather said, showed that the defendants were getting their secret ''cut'' of cash taken from the bars and restaurants over a long period of time. Putting on black-and-yellow earphones, the jurors listened to the tapes, which included a conversation about ''cutting up'' more than $500,000 a year for four years.
Their convictions were affirmed by a federal appellate court in United States of America v. Ianniello, 808 F.2d 184 (2d Cir. 1986), and the decision provides a detailed step-by-step guide to the skimming operation.
Most of Ianniello's gay bars were notorious for one reason or another; however, his hustler bar Hay Market in Times Square at 772 Eighth Avenue perhaps was the most infamous. 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.
Since the 1986 conviction of Matty Ianniello and some of his associates there has been no law enforcement action involving the mob's role in the gay bar industry. Many gay bars are backed by legitimate business people, and the Mafia certainly does not maintain the near-monopoly it previously had enjoyed for decades. However, sources have told this writer that the mob does have its hidden hand in at least a few NYC gay bars. For example, one former employee of a downtown gay bar claimed that the place was run by the mob, and a freelance reporter who was working on a story for a major online gay news site interviewed a bartender at that same establishment who acknowledged such a "rumor" but was "too afraid" to ask about it. The news site killed the story prior to its publication but the freelance reporter provided this writer with a draft copy. This writer spoke with a former employee of an uptown gay bar who claimed that the establishment at which he worked -- plus another one nearby -- were run by "wise guys." Indeed, this writer also spoke with a bartender at that same uptown establishment who identified an alleged mobster who from time-to-time made an appearance, and although married with children the guy apparently has a little sugar in his tank and is known to sample the merchandise.
Given that a primary purpose of the Stonewall riots was to kick the Mafia out of gay bars, perhaps more than forty years later it's time to honor the memory of those pioneering gay and lesbian street activisits by finishing their work. After all, the mob is no friend to the LGBT community -- just ask Bobby Wood -- even if it has befriended a few Auntie Gays. So if you have any info involving the hidden hand of the mob in any gay bars, feel free to tip off the FBI. The agency's New York Field Office can be reached by phone at (212) 384-1000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org