Jon Roberts recounts his criminal life -- from his early NYC days as a Gambino nightlife operator to his later Miami days as a Medellin cocaine trafficker -- with noted journalist Evan Wright in the newly published American Desperado as reported by NPR:
By the time he was 20, he was one of New York's biggest nightclub impresarios, rubbing shoulders with everyone from Jimi Hendrix to John Lennon. But after a business partner turned up dead and an informant told the police Roberts was involved, he hightailed it to sunny Miami. The year was 1975. * * * By the end of 1976, Roberts says he was moving 50 kilos of cocaine worth $500,000 or more a month. Roberts was living it up: He had half a dozen servants, a Porsche, multiple houses, dozens of race horses and friends in high places, including the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Of course, it all came to an end. The feds busted him in 1986, and then after a five-year run as a fugitive he became a "cooperating witness and informant for the federal government" in order to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison.
During his NYC days Jon Roberts was known as John Riccobono who during the late 1960s and early 1970s muscled in on the burgeoning disco scene for the Gambino crime family. Roberts saw that the discos were an untapped market which could be as big for the Mafia as the gay bars in which every crime family was involved. Indeed, the idea came to Roberts after witnessing how profitable the gay bars were for reputed Bonanno mobster Anthony "Fat Anthony" Rabito, and he writes in American Desperado:
I saw that Fat Anthony had a very nice business going. Fat Anthony controlled a bunch of fag bars in New York. In the late 1960s, the fag joints were changing. They weren't just for fags anymore. They were turning into discos. The fags still went, but so did all the normal people. Discos were a big business. They were growing up and down Manhattan so fast, a lot of them didn't have any Mafia control.
Carlo Gambino himself blessed the disco shakedowns, and Roberts claims the boss assigned his former personal driver and bodyguard Andy Benfante to work directly with him on the new business venture:
Most of the times we took over a club, we kept the same owners. All we asked was they give us a cut, buy booze from the suppliers we chose, put our guys on the door for security. * * * Andy and I took a piece of half a dozen nightclubs before I even turned twenty-one in 1969.
Going into the 1970s Roberts says they "expanded control of New York's discos for the Gambino family," and "we took cuts of . . . clubs up and down Manhattan."
Among the clubs from which Roberts says the pair took a piece was celebrity hotspot The Salvation at One Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village which was owned by Robert Wood, and he was murdered in February 1970 with five bullets to his head.
Wood had left behind three letters which were sent by his lawyer 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.
In American Desperado Roberts has nothing good to say about Wood: "By 1970 he had become a real problem to our business. Any wrong thing you could think of, Bobby Wood was doing it. He was stealing money from us, picking fights with customers, shooting his mouth off."
And perhaps Wood's greatest offense was disrespecting wise guys who visited the club, and Roberts writes:
Bobby got into trouble with other wiseguys who came into our clubs. Bobby was a nobody Jewish guy from Jerome Avenue. He got so out of his mind, he hit on the girls wiseguys brought with them. When they'd comment to him that he should show respect, he'd insult them. Andy and I pulled Bobby aside many times and said, "You need to control yourself, bro."
Bobby did not listen. He disrespected the wrong people in our club. It got so bad, my uncles came to me. They told Andy and me to take care of him. Looking back, it's almost funny. There was no specific thing Bobby Wood did that made people want him killed. He was just an asshole. That was his crime. He was an annoying asshole, he had to go.
In early 1970, on a cold winter night, somebody put several bullets in Bobby Wood and dumped his body on the street. Everybody said Andy and I did it. I have no comment regarding the truth of that rumor.
Among those whom Wood may have disrespected was Junior Sirico. Most may know Sirico today as the actor who played Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri on The Sopranos but Roberts claims that back in the day he worked under Fat Anthony Rabito.
According to the above-cited New York Times article Sirico 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.
Jon Roberts a/k/a John Riccobono now has fourth-stage terminal cancer, and soon will be reminicing with Bobby Wood about the good old days.