Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Lies Of the Irishman: Netflix And Martin Scorsese Are Making Their Biggest Bets Ever On The Confessions Of A Mafia “Hitman” - The Guy Made It All Up.

In a previous post, I stated that I was looking forward to watching Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman on Netflix, as the film stars Robert De Niro (who is half-Irish), Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and a cast of other fine actors. 

I love Martin Scorsese’s crime films, such as Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Casino. Goodfellas, in my view, is the best crime film ever made.    

I'm also looking forward to watching The Irishman as I'm from South Philly and the film has a South Philadelphia connection.

But, as I noted in the post, I’ll view The Irishman as a work of fiction.

The Late Frank Sheeran was a Philadelphia Teamster and a low-level crook who confessed in a book, I heard You Paint Houses, that he murdered former Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa, and New York mobster “Crazy Joe” Gallo. He makes other claims in the book as well. 

I don’t believe a word of it. 

I interviewed former Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss Ralph Natale, and when I asked him about Sheeran’s claims, he responded, “Let me tell you about Frank Sheeran. He’s nothing but a drunk and he imagines things. He begged for me to see him when I was home and I did. I went over to South Philly and I met him there. He was half-drunk and that was it. He said he killed Jimmy Hoffa. I know who killed Hoffa. I have a picture in the book with me and a few of the guys from Lewisburg and one of the guys in the photos was one of the three guys who killed Hoffa. His name was Tommy Andretta. His brother was with him and there was the other guy they killed in New York, Salvatore Briguglio. This was a hit squad from “Tony Pro” Provenzano, who was my dear friend. He was a capo. I get a little angry. You know how guys claim to killed Jimmy Hoffa? I think 15.”    

Several former law enforcement officers I spoke to also dismiss Sheeran's claims.

Bill Tonelli (seen in the above photo), a writer and editor who grew up in South Philly, does a fine job of debunking Frank Sheeran’s claims in a piece at Slate.

Assuming you were alive in April 1972 and old enough to cross the street by yourself, you could take credit for the spectacular murder of mobster Crazy Joe Gallo—gunned down during his own birthday party at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy—and nobody could prove you didn’t do it. 

Of course, anyone who knows anything about New York City organized crime can tell you who was behind it: The murder was payback for an equally brazen shooting—in broad daylight, in midtown Manhattan—of mob boss Joseph A. Colombo Sr. a year earlier, an attack Gallo supposedly ordered (though even that no one can say with absolute certainty, since the shooter was shot dead on the spot). But no one has ever been arrested or charged in Crazy Joe’s killing, and so technically it’s still unsolved. 

The same is true about the disappearance, in July 1975, of Teamsters’ union legend Jimmy Hoffa. He had made some lethal enemies in the mob. After serving a prison term, he persisted in trying to regain control of the union even after he was warned, over and over, to back off. The last time anybody saw him, he was standing outside a restaurant in the suburbs of Detroit, waiting to be driven to what he believed would be a peace meeting. The FBI and investigative reporters have devoted decades of effort to solving the mystery, but all we have is guesswork and theories. So if you want to step up now and say you whacked him, be my guest. 

That’s the thing about these gangland slayings: When done properly, you’re not supposed to know who did them. They’re planned and carried out to surprise the victim and confound the authorities. Eyewitnesses, if there are any, prove reluctant to speak up. And nobody ever confesses, unless it’s to win easy treatment from law enforcement in exchange for ratting on other, more important mobsters. Those cases often turn into the ultimate public confessional—the as-told-to, every-gory-detail, my-life-in-crime book deal. Followed by—if you’re a really lucky lowlife—the movie version that fixes your place forever in the gangster hall of fame.

And then there’s the strange case of Frank Sheeran. 

Only if you had been paying close attention to the exploits of the South Philadelphia mafia back in its glory days (the second half of the 20th century) might you have noticed Sheeran’s existence. Even there he was a second-stringer—a local Teamsters union official, meaning he was completely crooked, who hung around with mobsters, especially Russell Bufalino, a boss from backwater Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sheeran was Irish, which limited any Cosa Nostra career ambitions he might have had, and so he seemed to be just a 6-foot-4, 250-pound gorilla with a dream. He died in obscurity, in a nursing home, in 2003. 

Then, six months later, a small publishing house in Hanover, New Hampshire, unleashed a shocker titled I Heard You Paint Houses. It was written by Charles Brandt, a medical malpractice lawyer who had helped Sheeran win early parole from prison, due to poor health, at age 71. Starting not long after that, Brandt wrote, Sheeran, nearing the end of his life, began confessing incredible secrets he had kept for decades, revealing that—far from being a bit player—he was actually the unseen figure behind some of the biggest mafia murders of all time.

Frank Sheeran said he killed Jimmy Hoffa. 

He said he killed Joey Gallo, too. 

And he said he did some other really bad things nearly as incredible. 

Most amazingly, Sheeran did all that without ever being arrested, charged, or even suspected of those crimes by any law enforcement agency, even though officials were presumably watching him for most of his adult life. To call him the Forrest Gump of organized crime scarcely does him justice. In all the history of the mafia in America or anywhere else, really, nobody even comes close. 

Now, though, Frank Sheeran is finally going to get his due. 

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read my previous post on The Irishman via the below link:

And you can also read my Q&A with Ralph Natale via the below link: 

And you can read my Crime Beat column, Goodfellas Don’t Sue Goodfellas; A Look Back at Organized Crime and the Philly Mob, via the below link: 

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