Sampa Diary: “São Paulo Is New Jersey, With Palm Trees, Capyvaras and Cururus”

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Vintage roleta with bichos. Source: Musem of the Policia Civil, Rio de Janeiro

Of all the extraordinary stories to emerge about the war on organized crime, none is quite so bizarre as the U.S. government’s 1988 prosecution of the notorious Lucchese crime family, the mob that claimed to “own” New Jersey. Federal authorities called it the most ambitious legal attack ever mounted against underworld figures–a sixty-five-page indictment capping a ten-year investigation that would take out an entire organization, from godfather to street soldier, in one knockout blow. The two-year proceeding became the longest Mafia trial in American history–but it took the jury less than two days to render its verdict: not guilty. On all counts. It was a devastating blow for the government. How did this happen?Reviewing The Boys from New Jersey: How the Mob Beat the Feds, by Star-Ledger reporter Robert Rudolph

And I don’t know who killed who
I’m having a sex change
To a woman who loves too much
My sister’s a petty thief
–John Hiatt, “Shredding the Document”

Having rented out our Brooklyn apartment and shipped our cat to the Southern Hemisphere, my Italo-Tupi wife and I currently live in a state — São Paulo, Brazil –where the gambling rackets allegedly own cops and judges, drug lords continue to run their businesses from prison by cell phone, and the muted gurgling of vast underground dirty-money pipelines undermine the integrity of public institutions.

We might as well have just moved to New Jersey and saved ourselves the schlep.

Imagine this, for example: A state governor plagued by corruption scandals calls a press conference.

Among other things that look kind of bad for the governor, there is this case, reported on June 13, 2004:

NEWARK, N.J. – Federal prosecutors have charged Gov. James E. McGreevey’s top fund-raiser with hiring a prostitute to try to thwart a federal probe, authorities said Tuesday. Real estate developer Charles Kushner hired a New York City call girl to have sex with a witness in the investigation, had the sex act videotaped and sent the witness’ wife a copy of the tape, U.S. attorney Christopher J. Christie said.

Kushner’s son bought the New York Observer in 2006. The father pled guilty to 18 counts of tax evasion, campaign finance violations and witness tampering and served 2 years.

What will the governor say? How will he explain the situation?

He does not explain the situation.

Instead, he steps up to the microphone and announces — non sequitur of non sequiturs — that he is “a gay American.”

Boing.

Did you see that one coming?

I didn’t.

Did anyone?

It gets weirder, too: His relationship with his state Homeland Security secretary, who was not an American, but an Israeli, citizen …

The state is now run by a former Goldman Sachs chief executive. What is it about senior Goldman Sachs executives? They do seem to pretty competent at running things, though, you have to admit. Former Goldman executive John Thain, for example, got the NYSE-Euronext deal done and will now put his shoulder to the wheel at Merrill Lynch. Just look at the moral equivalent of Operation Iraqi Freedom — “the liberation of Iraq will essentially be self-financing” — that the “bullish” bank’s magical thinking got it mired in.

As a local observer complained at the time, this seemed to fit

McGreevey’s pattern of announcing something socially startling to draw attention away from the incredible graft, scandal and alleged sexual harassment that would have otherwise defined his administration.

Filibustering while changing the subject is — according to the NMM-Tabajara Signal-to-Noise Measurement Laboratories® — a prime indicator of the banana-republican guilty plea.

And the tactic tends to work best when you can convince the owners of the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone to promote it.

Do a search on coverage of this incident, for example: The man really does seem to have engineered his own political hagiography with amazing success. He probably will go down in history as “the gay American governor,” just as his Wikipedia autohagiography says.

At any rate, speaking of numbers rackets, ultraviolent drug gangs, and the mobile Internet, the Associated Press reports this week, dateline Newark, N.J. —

Authorities broke up a major organized crime ring Tuesday that took in a staggering $2.2 billion in gambling bets over the past 15 months and supplied drugs and cell phones to gang members inside a New Jersey State prison.

Why “staggering”? Is there a paragraph in the Associated Press Stylebook that I missed, decreeing that all news ledes must now contain an element of emotional ventriloquism?

“Be shocked! Be very, very shocked!”

File under “mountains of money!”

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Scene from Teleamazonas (Ecuador), Patiño Video No. 1. Starring Joe Dallesandro.

State Attorney General Anne Milgram said the arrests of two ruling members of the New York-based Lucchese organized crime family and 30 others puts a major dent in the criminal operation.

Change “New York” to “Rio” and “Lucchese” to “Captain Guimarães” or “The Big Turk,” and put the words into the mouth of a Brazilian federal police delegado, and it all starts to sound awfully familiar.

“With today’s arrests and charges, we have disrupted the highest echelon of the Lucchese organized crime family in both New York and New Jersey,” Milgram said. “Disruption of the command structure of an organization is the most effective way to disable it.”

The interesting part of the charges: Old-school numbers racketeers working with the 9 Tre Gangsters (Bloods) to smuggle cell phones and drugs into prisons, with the help of bought-off cops and guards.

Organized Crime 1.0 is the new Organized Crime 2.0.

Narco vice and non-narco vice in mutually beneficial coopetition!

They must have sent their kids to Harvard B-School. Compare

Among those arrested were two of the family’s three reputed New York bosses, along with a capo from East Hanover and the capo’s three sons.

Men from Florham Park and Parsippany also were arrested.

Suggested working title for the book on this landmark mafia trial: The Men From Parsippany.

Arrests were still being executed Tuesday.

“This has to be one of the biggest (mob takedowns) we’ve ever done,” Milgram said Tuesday.

Milgram said the massive gambling operation included bets on professional and college sports, greyhound racing and their own criminal lottery.

Numbers rackets.

Now that is old-school.

She said the operation shows a clear link between old-time gangsters and new-generation gang members.

Specifically, Milgram said the mobsters were working with a top boss of the 9 Tre Gangsters, a subset of the Bloods, to smuggle drugs and prepaid cell phones into East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge.

A prison guard accused of personally delivering the drugs and phones, supplied by Lucchese associates, to inmates was among those arrested Tuesday.

Among the reputed Lucchese crime family members arrested were Joseph DiNapoli, 72, of Scarsdale, N.Y., and Matthew Madonna, 72, of Seldon, N.Y., on suspicion of promoting gambling, money laundering and racketeering. They are alleged to have controlled the crime family’s gambling operations and other criminal activity from New York.

The racketeering and money laundering charges each carry sentences of 20 years upon conviction.

Also arrested was the reputed alleged New Jersey Lucchese captain, Ralph V. Perna, 61, of East Hanover, and Perna’s three sons.

The law firm that represented some of the Lucchese mobsters in that 1988 case, by the way, now represents Daniel Dantas. [Cue spooky theremin music.]

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