"Being Oscar: From Mob Lawyer to Mayor of Las Vegas - Only in America" (Weinstein Books), by Philadelphia native Oscar Goodman, with former Inquirer staff writer George Anastasia, arrived in bookstores Tuesday.
First of two excerpts.
IBM, NOT FBI
They say you can't go home again, but in the mid-1980s I got a chance to spend quite a bit of time in Philadelphia. The FBI had a major investigation into the crime family there, targeting mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo and most of his top associates.
Bobby Simone, Scarfo's lawyer, had recommended me to Leland Beloff, a city councilman who had gotten caught up in one of the many cases the feds had pending against the Scarfo organization.
Beloff called me and I flew out to meet him. Once again, informants were the key. The mob rat I had mentioned earlier, Nicholas "Nicky the Crow" Caramandi, was the chief witness.
It was interesting to return to the city where I grew up and where my Dad had built his reputation as a lawyer. Some people still remembered him, and those who did always had nice things to say about him.
What they were saying about my client was another matter. . . .
Beloff was a millionaire. He had inherited a nursing home business that his father, a former Philadelphia judge, had founded. He was a handsome, well-spoken councilman whose district included part of South Philadelphia, which was the mob's nesting place, and an area along the Delaware River that had been targeted for redevelopment. For years the city had talked about Penn's Landing, a location along the river that supposedly was the place where William Penn had landed when he came to Philadelphia.
Urban planners saw the riverfront as a natural location for a commercial, residential, and community development, something like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore or the South Street Seaport in New York. The city had finally gotten its act together and had tapped Willard Rouse, a nationally known developer, to spearhead the project.
According to a federal indictment, the mob jumped into the middle of the project through Beloff. A couple of city ordinances needed to be passed before the Penn's Landing project could qualify for some federal aid programs. Several million dollars were at stake in terms of the federal funding, and many more millions when you considered the entire development plan. Beloff, as the councilman in whose district the project was located, could either hold up those ordinances or shepherd them through.
The feds said he cut a deal with the mob. Caramandi, a con artist, degenerate gambler, and overall low-life gangster, became the point man. He went to the Rouse people and told them he could hold up the ordinances or have them passed. What he wanted in exchange was $1 million.
It was a not-so-subtle mob shakedown. What Caramandi and his mob associates didn't figure on was Rouse. They were apparently used to dealing with corrupt politicians and corrupt businessmen. But Rouse, who wasn't from Philadelphia, went to the FBI. The feds got an undercover agent into the negotiations, posing as a Rouse project manager. He met with Caramandi, who repeated the demand, claiming that he had Beloff in his back pocket.
Scarfo, Caramandi, Beloff, and Bobby Rego, one of his council aides, were indicted. A short time later, Caramandi flipped and began cooperating, claiming he was convinced that Scarfo was going to have him killed for screwing up the shakedown. At around the same time, another member of the Scarfo organization, Thomas "Tommy Del" DelGiorno, cut a deal with the New Jersey State Police. Eventually DelGiorno was turned over to the feds.
These guys were murderers and had been targets of federal and state investigations, but now they were welcomed into the federal fold with open arms. Both were treated with kid gloves by their law enforcement handlers and by the judges who eventually sentenced them. They didn't spend time in prison, but rather in safe houses. . . .
That was the legal minefield I walked into when I was hired to represent Beloff. He was somewhat volatile, but was treated with a great deal of respect in the city. His constituents loved him. His aide, Bobby Rego, was a charming guy who lived in South Philadelphia and had grown up with some of the mobsters. And Lee's wife, Diane, was very nice. She was the better part of that duo. . . .
We had a decent defense in the case and were able to beat up Caramandi pretty good on the witness stand. He looked like something out of central casting, wearing a leather jacket, a two-day beard, and had a gruff, heavily Philadelphia-accented voice. He also had a criminal record that went back decades. He was a scam artist with a conviction for passing counterfeit bills, and he was now admitting to being a hit man for the mob. . . .
The jury had only been out a couple of days when they sent a note saying they were deadlocked. The judge, John P. Fullam, a very dour man, immediately declared a mistrial. I think he knew the prosecution's case had gone badly, and in effect, he gave them a second chance. It was as if he was on a mission. I thought he was totally out of line, and I think if he had let the jury deliberate longer, we might have gotten acquittals. . . . We tried the case a second time, but retrials are always bad for the defense. . . . Scarfo, Beloff, and Rego were convicted. Beloff got ten years, Rego got eight, and Scarfo got fourteen.