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Steel City Mafia: An Interview with author Paul Hodos
Pittsburgh's small but lucrative Cosa Nostra mafia family was on the rise in 1985 with a newly crowned Don... The men who came to dominate the rackets in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and West Virginia opened the family to massive profits from drug trafficking and a street tax on other criminal activities. At the same time, the Youngstown, OH faction of the family launched a brutal mob war against the weakening Cleveland mafia and the Altoona, PA crew violently clamped down on their city. Discover gritty stories of a made member who controlled who a local police department hired, an informant who betrayed his own mafia grandfather and father, numerous unsolved murders and a mob mole in the Pittsburgh office of the FBI. This is the tale of a mafia family at the pinnacle of its power, willing to do anything to hold on to that power and its downfall in the criminal underworld.
Paul N. Hodos is a two-time book author, article author and former FBI supervisory intelligence analyst in the Criminal Investigative Division. He received his undergraduate degree in history at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and his graduate degree in strategic intelligence at the National Intelligence University in Bethesda, Maryland. Paul was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Kensington, Maryland, with his very supportive wife and kids.
Paul, welcome to Crime Capsule, and congratulations on your new book.
Paul Hodos (00:04):
Thank you so much.
Benjamin Morris (00:07):
So, your book came out in April, and you've had a few months to go on this circuit since it has been released. How has the reception been thus far?
Paul Hodos (00:17):
The reception has been really good, it's surpassed my expectations. I actually wrote a history booka few years back in military history, and the reception was fine, but this has blown that out of the water. The local community, and especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio really took to the book really well.
Benjamin Morris (00:40):
That's a tight-knit area, and fascinating to see the many overlapping connections across those state lines for sure, which is something you definitely get into in the volume. But before we get into talking about the book, tell us about yourself. You are in fact, a local boy from that area, aren't you?
Paul Hodos (00:58):
Yes. SoI am originally from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is where my family immigrated from, from Slovakia to get to America. Everybody worked at the steel mills. My generation was kind of the first ones that were not in that business, because as I mentioned in the book, it collapsed in the eighties.
Paul Hodos (01:21):
My father was one of the few that still had a steel working job up until the 2000s when he retired. And so, deep roots there in that sort of steel-coal culture. And Johnstown is about an hour and a half away from Pittsburgh, so that was kind of the big city for us.
Paul Hodos (01:42):
Like where you would go to hang out when I got older. So much more rural where I was, but still a small city, I would call, Johnstown.
Benjamin Morris (01:58):
Yeah, so our sharp-eared Crime Capsule listeners will remember that not a few months ago, we had an expert on some Johnstown history join us.
Benjamin Morris (02:09):
We had Bruce Siwy who wrote this amazing book on an individual whose name I imagine you know probably quite well — Judge Joe O'Kicki, whose hands were about as dirty as you could possibly get them. I mean, so surely, you must have grown up hearing stories about this guy, right?
Paul Hodos (02:34):
Yeah, there were many news reports and even when I was a kid, I obviously wasn't watching the news that often, but it's still in my brain. Like when you mentioned that name, it immediately clicked in, like, remembering the late eighties and the early nineties, and my parents talking about it and their friends talking about it, and it being on TV all the time.
Benjamin Morris (02:56):
Yeah, I mean, one of the astounding developments in that story, of course, was that he had to flee the country. I mean, once the train went off the rails, so to speak, and he had no options left, he couldn't buy his way out of an indictment, he bought a plane ticket and there he went. Do you recall growing up hearing about the flight from justice, the fugitive judge?
Paul Hodos (03:28):
Yeah, I do. I definitely do remember that. Unfortunately, for Johnstown at the time, he might've been the most famous at that time from that city. As you know, that that city is also kind of famous for having a huge flood in the late 1800s, it's called the Johnstown Flood.
Paul Hodos (03:48):
And there was a big dam that broke, and it was one of the most famous floods in history. But in my timeframe when I was a kid, Judge O'Kicki was definitely one of the people that was well-known from Johnstown, unfortunately, for bad things.
Benjamin Morris (04:04):
Well, your expertise on people from your area who have done bad things is very well-received around here, so we are very grateful to have you join us.
Benjamin Morris (04:17):
Now, just on your background; you are not only an historian, you have had another career, which will be of great interest to our listeners, and I'm going to try to phrase this carefully. My understanding is that you did work for the FBI as an analyst. Now, I just have to ask Paul, is an analyst considered a spook? Were you a spy?
Paul Hodos (04:45):
No, it wasn't as exciting as that. It was exciting sometimes, but not as exciting as that. So, the basics of that job are research, writing, sometimes testifying in court, sometimes helping to interview sources and people. And a lot of basically helping the agents out on the squad.
Paul Hodos (05:14):
And if you're at headquarters like I was for a long time, doing a lot of oversight work, picking out national trends, like, let's say, you were working terrorism or organized crime, when you're at headquarters, you get to look at all the cases and pick out the trends from those cases and put them all together.
Paul Hodos (05:35):
And then you brief the executives, you brief sometimes the field agents on what you found, and you try to help them push the cases forward and address whatever threat you might be working at that time.
Benjamin Morris (05:49):
Yeah. So, we have had judges, we have had police, we've had detectives and investigators, but I think you are actually our first guest who has worked in that particular capacity as a criminal analyst.
Benjamin Morris (06:01):
Let me ask you this, the word "research" means many, many things, to different people. But in this particular case, I can see how your training there must have directly informed your work on this particular book.
Benjamin Morris (06:20):
Can you give us a sense, just in your own words, of what it meant to be able to bring that sensibility as a researcher to the digging through archives and interviews and so forth to craft, to Steel City Mafia?
Paul Hodos (06:36):
Yeah, it was really perfectly dovetailed, and I think that's the reason why more than a few FBI people end up writing some kind of book later on after they leave usually. And it's you know how to conduct an investigation, and really, when you're writing a book, especially about true crime, it is an investigation.
Paul Hodos (06:59):
It might be a really, really cold case, you might be writing about something that happened 40, 50 years ago sometimes, but it's like you said, you kind of know where to look. You're looking at investigative files, and especially FBI files, obviously, I authored a lot of those, and I also read a lot of them.
Paul Hodos (07:18):
So, I could pull out the things that are relevant, the trends that I wanted to highlight in the book. It was kind of like writing a paper for work, only you have to make it more entertaining than that.
Paul Hodos (07:53):
And honestly, some of the FBI writers, FBI files that I found were — I admired their writing, they were super detail-oriented. Sometimes stuff that was not super relevant but in the fifties and sixties, some of these agents were trying to write a novel look like. And as far as the interviews go, those were great.
Paul Hodos (08:21):
I had a really good source, a former agent who worked on this case and he was awesome. And whenever I had a gap in my documents, I could just ask him a question and he was there to do it. And that's what good sources do in law enforcement, and that's what he did for me for this book.
Benjamin Morris (08:39):
Well, that's very generous. And sometimes, when folks get out of the game, so to speak, they just want to leave it all behind. So, for him to be able to do that is very much a gift.
Benjamin Morris (08:49):
Let me ask you this, I mean, and I would love to nerd out on this all day long, but can you tell us just a little bit about the levels of clearance and classification that you had to navigate in order to do some of the research?
Benjamin Morris (09:04):
I imagine some of the case files, since this is still living history, maybe some of these folks are even still alive that you write about. I mean, did you have to obtain permission to do the research or to look into areas that were not necessarily under your remit as an analyst, or how did all that work?
Paul Hodos (09:25):
Soas far as my analytical duties go, I had never really worked organized crime, except for like, I would see on the fringes of it. I was a corruption analyst at a certain point that crosses over with crime sometimes.
Paul Hodos (09:41):
And then before that, I was terrorism and you could say I had some counter intel experience too, but the mob was always on the fringes for me. But what I was doing and the investigations I did still helped me with it anyway. The mob is sort of a personal passion for me.
Benjamin Morris (10:13):
Well, that leads naturally into my next question, which is tell us, I mean, how did Steel City Mafia get started? What was the actual origin of the book?
Paul Hodos (10:24):
So, when I was a kid, and we were talking about O'Kicki I also remembered hearing about the Big Mafia trial in 1990. And later on in the nineties when I started to read newspapers myself, I would catch the stories from the later history of the family, and it fascinated me.
Paul Hodos (10:47):
And then you have things like as I grew older, the Sopranos came out and you watch Goodfellas. And that further deepened my love of this topic and fascination with it.
Paul Hodos (11:03):
And my grandpa used to tell me this story back when I was a kid. I was a individual who was a bookie back in Johnstown, and my family wasn't Italian. There might be a small little piece of it that is on my mom's side, but not deeply Italian in any significant way.
Paul Hodos (11:22):
And so, my grandpa used to tell me this story where this bookie who was married to one of his cousins was killed by the Johnstown crew of the Pittsburgh Mafia back in the sixties.
Paul Hodos (11:38):
Paul Hodos (11:39):
And it was really the only mafia murder in Johnstown that's been documented. And I remember hearing that story from him, and that kind of piqued my interest too. And it was always sitting there in the back. And then a very good author named Russell Shorto came out of this book called Small Time. It's about actually the Johnstown crew back in the sixties.
Paul Hodos (11:58):
He was related to one of the members of that crew, it was his grandpa. And so, that kind of rekindled my interest in this topic, and I was already starting to research it in a professional kind of way. And then I was like, "You know what, no one's ever written about the Pittsburgh Mafia, and it has an extremely exciting story."
Paul Hodos (12:17):
And I feel like a lot of even Pittsburghers and people from Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia don't really know about it. And so, I was like, "I'm going to do this." I had written that military history book, I knew how to get something published, and I had those skills from the Bureau.
Paul Hodos (12:35):
And to get back to your other question, nothing was really classified in the book. Because it was also old, but I did have to request FBI files through FOIA process. And so, that slowed it down quite a bit. If anybody's looking to become a true crime author, and you want to get FBI files, plan like 5 or 10 years in advance, because they take a while.
Paul Hodos (13:01):
So, sometimes, a lot of the files will come back with a ton of redactions. So, even if they were from the eighties or before, and once again, that's if they think that the person is still alive, et cetera. And so, even though it wasn't classified anymore, it was good to go, they were still crossing out those people's names so they don't get killed by the mafia, whatever might exist of it still.
Benjamin Morris (13:30):
It's funny, the newspapers have been reporting recently that just to get a passport is now months and months compared to where it used to be weeks per the request. But 5 to 10 years for FOIA, that's another level Paul, wow.
Paul Hodos (13:51):
Yep, if it's not something that's expedient like a really important newspaper story or something like that, I think you could put to the back of the line.
Benjamin Morris (14:01):
I imagine that line is very, very long.
Paul Hodos (14:04):
I think it's long.
Benjamin Morris (14:06):
Yeah, as it stands. Well, let me ask you this before we turn to the content of the book. Just soup to nuts, how long would you say it took for you to research and put it all together? From the moment you started writing to the moment that you handed in the manuscript, how long would you say that took?
Paul Hodos (14:26):
So, two years. Yeah, I'd say it was two years.
Benjamin Morris (14:29):
Paul Hodos (14:31):
And that's pretty short for a book.
Benjamin Morris (14:35):
That is moving at a very good clip, we'll put it that way. I imagine you were writing very disciplined to deliver that cut. A manuscript of this length in that timeframe. So, kudos, or as the French would say, "chapeau, chapeau."
Paul Hodos (14:53):
Benjamin Morris (14:54):
So, let's just take a look at some of the themes that you described in the book. And as we were saying kind of off air, rather than go chapter by chapter, I thought what would be interesting to look at right up front would be some of these bird's eye view notions, concepts that you develop because you were dealing with such an unusual time and place. I think for the study of the Mob, typically we think of the biggest cities.
Benjamin Morris (15:26):
And yet, your argument here is that you had an outfit, which was modeled in some way after those in the biggest cities, but it was much more homegrown, and it was much more insular in some ways. So, your account as I was reading through it, presented a couple of different major themes, and I just wanted to take those in turn with you.
Benjamin Morris (15:50):
The first is just that very notion of size. So, you advance the argument that there is a kind of tension or relationship between the smaller crime families like you get in Pittsburgh, and the much larger, more formalized outfits like in Chicago, New York.
Benjamin Morris (16:14):
So, what's interesting about this particular tension is that this small families operate in what seems like a semi-autonomous relationship to the big outfits.
Benjamin Morris (16:29):
And forgive me if I misread something, but it seemed to me as I was going through your account, sometimes you have the small families collaborate, work with, engineer incidents alongside the larger outfits, or they'll take orders from the larger outfits. And then other times the larger outfits will just leave the smaller families like the Pittsburgh crews alone, so long as they don't bring too much heat on everybody.
Benjamin Morris (17:00):
So, can you help us to see that relationship to have almost like a provincial mafia versus a recognized established group?
Paul Hodos (17:14):
Yeah, sure. So, the first thing I'll say is that one of the things that's really unique about the Cosa Nostra, which is this thing of ours, which is the mafia, is that it is interconnected in a way that I think not many criminal organizations are. That might not be the case now as much because there aren't as many families in this day and age.
Paul Hodos (17:42):
But back in the days when the book was written, the eighties and nineties, they still had a lot of those networks intact. And they would do, like you said, joint criminal schemes pretty often, especially things that would span territories like union control.
Paul Hodos (18:01):
When you think about Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, it seemed like every family was involved in that in some fashion in the United States. Like Pittsburgh in a kind of a smaller way, and then other places like New York and Kansas City and Chicago like in a big way. But they all had a piece of it.
Paul Hodos (18:24):
And it's like you said, that the dawn of a territory, whether it was more of a provincial type of family like Pittsburgh or a bigger one in New York, has a ton of power. They can kill their members if needed, and they can make decisions about criminal schemes without consulting with anyone because they're basically the lord of their territory.
Paul Hodos (18:50):
But as you would have in medieval Europe, there's a lord, and then there's the king or the overlord, and so there was a little bit of that going on in the American mafia too. And New York is the place where the commission resided, which was sort of the deliberative body of Cosa Nostra, the five families of New York.
Paul Hodos (19:11):
And they were the ones who set the rules for families, especially families like east of the Mississippi, and every family in that sphere had a representative on the commission, someone that would represent them to that body, that very powerful body in New York.
Paul Hodos (19:35):
And the Pittsburgh families was the Genovese family, not to be confused with the name of their boss who wasn't directly related to them really. But the Genovese family is still, if you read the newspapers in New York, is still the most powerful mafia family in the United States, and back then I don't think it was any different.
Paul Hodos (19:57):
And so, from my research, they had to get permission to open their books to make members from the Genovese family. And they had to maybe check in sometimes for certain things. But really, the making of members, from what I could see, was really the main lever that the Genovese family had over Pittsburgh. Other than that, they pretty much left them alone, they were pretty independent besides that.
Benjamin Morris (20:38):
There were some instances in which you write about ...In which you have infractions, disrespect or too much ambition, which leads to somebody's end. And I'm thinking particularly of a scene very early in the book where you describe an individual, I think's Bonanno, who goes to a banquet in New York. And he had already transgressed in one particular way.
Benjamin Morris (21:01):
While that reaches the ears of the commission, they invite him to this banquet, and of course, it is the last meal that he ever eats. And it wasn't even clear to me if he got to enjoy the banquet at all before he got whacked.
Paul Hodos (21:22):
So, yep, that is an incident from the 1930s, and it was really the first test of the commission. I didn't get to delve as deeply as I wanted to with that in the book, but since we're here, I can do it a little bit.
Paul Hodos (21:41):
So, his name was Bazzano, his last name was Bazzano.
Benjamin Morris (21:45):
Paul Hodos (21:46):
And he was the boss of Pittsburgh at that time. And he murdered — it was sort of the St. Valentine's Day massacre of Pittsburgh, if you know that famous hit in Chicago that Capone did.
Benjamin Morris (21:58):
Paul Hodos (21:59):
He killed three brothers, the Volpe brothers that were his enemies, and they had friends in New York, and they went and complained to the newly formed commission. And the commission thought that Bazzano had overstepped. And like you said, they killed him at that dinner.
Paul Hodos (22:17):
And it really cemented the power of that body and the power of New York vis-à-vis the smaller families. So, I'm sure the Pittsburgh Mafia didn't like being the example, but they ended up being the example, like, "Hey, we can interfere if we want because we've got hundreds of made guys, and you might only have a few dozen."
Benjamin Morris (22:38):
Let me ask you, there's a tension that emerges sometimes where you have like an underdog, and they say that the cornered dog is the one you have to fear the most in a fight.
Benjamin Morris (22:49):
Just reading your account of some of the early bosses in Pittsburgh, Amato and LaRocca and so forth, do you think that the Pittsburgh crew in general being smaller, had maybe more of a chip on its shoulder and were in fact, more violent as they got started? Or do you think that's even possible to compare overall proclivities or tendencies towards violence between crews? Is that even an acceptable question?
Paul Hodos (23:24):
I don't think so, and that's with all due respect, but I'd say that their levels of violence were probably on a par with other families. If you look at their neighbor, Cleveland, which almost destroyed itself because of a family civil war which was then followed by war with Pittsburgh over Youngstown, and their violence destroyed them.
Paul Hodos (23:50):
And I'd say Pittsburgh kept it to a level that was very limited, especially under Amato and LaRocca. It ticked up again under Genovese for various reasons, but even he tried to keep it under control, I think.
Paul Hodos (24:04):
But I'd say they were on a par with other families and possibly, even a little less violent than some of them at least with disciplining their own members using murder. Because they had less members, and I think they cherished those made members more.
Paul Hodos (24:22):
Associates, not as much. You were more likely to be killed if you're an associate, for sure. But as far as the bigger families go, like you talk about Philly and some of the ones in New York, like they're legendary bloodbaths. And I feel like Pittsburgh was able to avoid that to a certain extent.
Benjamin Morris (24:48):
As I was reading your account, it felt like some of the violence in Pittsburgh was maybe a bit more targeted and less kind of helter-skelter, but every bit is grizzly. I mean, every bit as lethal. And it's funny you mentioned Cleveland. Our listeners cannot of course see this, but our producer, Bill Huffman, who is working with us today, is a Cleveland native.
Benjamin Morris (25:10):
And I hear him nodding very loudly about the crime families and the violence that emerged in his hometown, for sure.
Benjamin Morris (25:23):
Well, let me ask you about the second theme that emerged in your book. And this is one which is common to many portrayals of the outfit, but I thought it was just particularly interesting in yours, it really stood out in by relief as they say.
Benjamin Morris (25:43):
And it's about the sort of politics of personality. So, you have a structure, and in fact, the first few pages of your book outline the hierarchy of the Pittsburgh outfit. You have a structure and the structure throughout the course of the 20th century, which was really the lifespan of the Pittsburgh Mafia, for the most part, it absolutely holds together.
Benjamin Morris (26:16):
You didn't see sort of major revolutions, you didn't see huge shakeups or coups. In our previous interview with the Harrison Fillmore looking at the Chicago's Chinatown, there were rival factions that began to launch wars and so forth, and it led to major shakeups within the Chinese, organized crime community there.
Benjamin Morris (26:42):
But here, you have a structure which kind of holds over the lifespan of the organization. But what's interesting of course, is that structures, commands, rules are always at the mercy of the boss, the Capo, as you said, whoever that happens to be at the time; Amato, LaRocca, Genovese, et cetera.
Benjamin Morris (27:05):
So, how does your average foot soldier, your average associate navigate the difference between, there's a structure you can appeal to when things go right or wrong, but then there's also like the ... He might be your buddy who's gone up in the ranks a little faster than you have, and you got a good relationship with him, and sometimes you can appeal to a personality. It seemed like the rules weren't always so hard and fast, does that make sense?
Paul Hodos (27:40):
Yes, it does. And I think in organized crime generally, but definitely in the Pittsburgh family because of the wide span of the territory, that was very huge, spread out. And you had those area bosses over little cities and towns who made a lot of independent decisions. You had to tread very carefully and you had to be aware of politics.
Paul Hodos (28:09):
You had to be aware of the personality of the area boss and sometimes, the bigger boss up in Pittsburgh too. Because one mistake can lead to your demise or your demotion or just even just getting kicked out of the rackets sometimes.
Benjamin Morris (28:28):
You open the book with a scene in which someone is assassinated because he inadvertently let an informant into the organization, and then boom, he's curtains, he's done, you know.
Paul Hodos (28:39):
Yeah, and that guy's a good example. He was a very low-level associate, someone who probably did not interact with the hierarchy very often at all because he was just so down there. And it's not really his fault, he thinks this guy is just another gambler, and lets him into the family and starts meeting with him, and I'm sure the undercover agent was throwing money around.
Paul Hodos (29:06):
So, he thinks it's just another marker, another person they can become an associate possibly, somebody who could help them make money. And it turns out it's an undercover agent, which in the sixties, which is when that story happened — it's something that I don't think the Mafia is thinking about at that time. That's a new thing, like somebody undercover in your family. Post-Donnie Brasco, I think they thought that a lot.
Paul Hodos (29:28):
But at that time, you can't really blame him. And of course, they have to blame somebody. And then his interactions with the person who was the acting don at that time, allegedly ... And it ends up being a very terrible confrontation where the associate ends up lying and ends up paying for it with his life.
Paul Hodos (30:02):
So, yeah, even a lower-level member has to have some knowledge of that higher politics, like, "Hey, I'm being targeted by law enforcement and powers that are much bigger than me, and this unintended consequence is that I'm in a coffin."
Benjamin Morris (30:22):
I'm going to ask you a really obvious question, and I'm going to ask for a much better answer than the one I have (you're the expert here). How do you rise through the ranks?
Benjamin Morris (30:35):
I know one way is you make a lot of money for the outfit, for your local crew, for your local boss, et cetera. You bring in the bucks, that's a pretty good start to climbing up the ladder, but how else do you climb up the ladder?
Paul Hodos (30:55):
So, I would say, and this isn't just for Pittsburgh. I'd say your simple answer is the number one thing, you make a lot of money illegally and you kick up your cut up to the boss, and you make sure that it's definitely the cut that is fair and that they've asked for, or that you think they're due. As long as you kick up, you probably won't have a lot of problems with the boss.
Paul Hodos (31:27):
I think another thing that sometimes is overlooked is that you have the right friends when you're growing up. A lot of these guys knew each other from when they were kids back on Larimer Avenue in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh.
Paul Hodos (31:43):
And they created bonds when they were kids that still existed when they were old men. And there's this implicit trust between them. And you have to be, I would say, a little bit brave and put yourself out there, and do some crazy stuff, a bank heist here, armored truck robbery there, and expanding your gambling territory.
Paul Hodos (32:14):
You have to take these risks, but you can't push too hard because that's how you get killed. What if you step on another made guy's toes before you're a made guy, and then you're dead.
Paul Hodos (32:27):
So, it takes a lot of street smarts, it takes a lot of business savvy, and the right connections, some of which is where you were born and where you lived. Sometimes back in the old-old days, it might matter if you were Sicilian or Calabrian — that mattered less as time went on.
Benjamin Morris (32:52):
It struck me, most of your guys here are actually in Napolitano which is kind of interesting.
Paul Hodos (32:55):
Yeah, like the leadership at the time that I was writing was more that. The consigliere was Sicilian, but the other guys had the mainland Italian connections. And I think that's generally the mafia going forward through the years.
Paul Hodos (33:15):
But yeah, if you add all that stuff up and a little bit of luck, you could become a made guy. It was very hard to become a made guy in Pittsburgh. They weren't just making anybody, they kept the family small.
Benjamin Morris (33:26):
Yep, and there were a couple of instances which you note in which folks who were not Italian by blood or that maybe they were of mixed ancestry and so forth, there were very rare instances in which someone who was not Italian by birth would be made, but those were few and far between.
Paul Hodos (33:49):
Yeah, really, the one instance where that happened was Chucky Porter, and he was half Italian. Usually, when you're half Italian, you get made into the mafia, it's your father — they require it that it comes through your father.
Paul Hodos (34:05):
The Pittsburgh family broke the New York rules a little bit by inducting Chucky Porter who had it through his mom, and that is very rare. I mean, if you had seen the movie Goodfellas, like Henry Hill, who's the main character, (it's Ray Liotta character) he was half Irish, half Italian, but he had it through his mother.
Paul Hodos (34:26):
And his family, the Lucchese family would never make him, because he was Italian on his mother's side. In Pittsburgh, if you were making enough money and had enough connections like Porter, you could get inducted.
Benjamin Morris (34:41):
One other aspect of rising through the ranks on the way to becoming made, which struck me actually in your book, was loyalty of course, is paramount. But in particular, loyalty is often defined as not snitching. I mean, maybe you get thrown in the clink. Maybe you get picked up but can you keep your trap shut? Can you protect the integrity, the outfit? That's a pretty strong sign that your made man material.
Paul Hodos (35:17):
Yeah. Going to prison for a few years is kind of part of a rite of passage. And if you don't snitch, then that's like a sign, like you said, "We can trust this guy. We're going to induct him because he did his time and he was able to come out and not talk."
Benjamin Morris (35:33):
And of course, you've got examples of folks who definitely flip, and then surprise, surprise, certain things happen to them.
Benjamin Morris (35:43):
Now, let me ask you ... that of course leads beautifully into my last major theme to ask you about this week, which is, you describe how everybody's coming up together.
Benjamin Morris (35:57):
You name Larimer Avenue is kind of a place where the perps are coming up together, but Pittsburgh for all of its geographic size. I mean, we know Pittsburgh is still a village, it's still a small town in some ways, and Johnstown of course, is too, and everybody knows everybody.
Benjamin Morris (36:16):
And so frequently in these smaller regional cities, so to speak — the guys who end up doing the crimes and the guys who end up putting them in cuffs, they grew up on the same block.
Benjamin Morris (36:32):
I mean, there are relationships between the criminals and law enforcement that smaller cities have that you may just not necessarily find in an LA or a Chicago or New York, where everybody kind of just meets everybody for the first time.
Benjamin Morris (36:47):
So, I'm curious, you do describe a couple of instances in which law enforcement were bought and sold. They were on the take two, they were involved. But in general, I mean, how would you characterize the Pittsburgh specific dynamic of longstanding relationships between organized crime and law enforcement over the years?
Paul Hodos (37:17):
Okay, so I would characterize it as a pretty big factor. One of the things that makes the mafia unique is that it's not just the drug business, it's not just prostitution, they're also doing this ... Illegal gambling is really their bread and butter, and that is a very static type of business.
Paul Hodos (37:38):
You need a location ... This is before offshore betting became very popular in internet gambling and all that. So, you need this location, you need runners, you need people who are taking bets and everything, bookies.
Benjamin Morris (38:02):
Paul Hodos (38:02):
Yeah, all these places have telephone numbers and addresses, and so you'd need law enforcement and/or local politicians like mayors and city council people to look the other way. And so, bribery and trading favors, and that sort of thing is completely necessary. And that happened in every territory in the Pittsburgh Mafia.
Paul Hodos (38:32):
And they had some higher up people on their payroll in the police sometimes, and specifically, in Youngstown, because that's the best documented. You had a situation where up until the nineties, where they basically owned all of the politicians and police who mattered in that area.
Paul Hodos (38:57):
And even really, it's much rare because the FBI isn't necessarily made up of locals who grew up in that area. The FBI tends to, at each office, you have some locals, but there are also people who are transplants from around the United States who are just moving to Pittsburgh because that's the office they were assigned to.
Paul Hodos (39:21):
So, there isn't as much of the local flavor in the FBI office, but even there, there were some who were turned in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. In Pittsburgh it was a secretary who ended up passing some of the investigative secrets to the mafia during the eighties.
Benjamin Morris (39:44):
There's one instance you record in which there's a raid, I believe it's a federal raid on a gambling house. And there's this kind of amazing moment afterwards where the local PD end up standing guard outside those gambling halls basically saying — the feds get in there and they do the raid, and then the local PD come in after, and they're actually serving as a security detail.
Benjamin Morris (40:10):
So, in case anything else happens down the road, and you just think about like, "Well, this is interesting, what does that conversation look like?"
Paul Hodos (40:21):
Yeah, it's pretty awkward. And that's what you get when organized crime gets its tentacles so deep that there's sometimes an adversarial relationship between the local police and the federal, that is a nightmare to deal with.
Benjamin Morris (40:40):
Well, and that actually is maybe my last question for you, and this is drawing on your experience working for the Bureau as an analyst. Does it always help to be an outsider, or do you in fact need that kind of local expertise and local understanding of personality and landscape, and terrain, and that sort of thing, political terrain in order to develop these longstanding relationships?
Benjamin Morris (41:12):
We're going to talk a lot about Michael Genovese next week, and one of the things that's interesting about him is that he in fact, maintained relationships with law enforcement that were not always hostile. They were not always antagonistic necessarily, which is really interesting about him for being capo of the area.
Benjamin Morris (41:31):
But in your experience, or from your vantage point, where do you stand on that? How do you create the successful blend of local expertise versus transplant objectivity?
Paul Hodos (41:50):
So, I think that for local expertise, and as I said, in local bureau offices, there are definitely people there who are from the area and that is very useful. And so, they have that innately, just like I would do when I'm writing this book.
Paul Hodos (42:09):
I just know certain things about the area, which made it easier when I was looking for what to look up and I knew that there was going to be something about — like as far as the steel industry goes, for instance, that's something I lived, my family was affected by the rise and fall of it. As far as outside people, what you need is go-getters, as you would need in any job.
Paul Hodos (42:41):
Like what you need when you're doing federal law enforcement and you're not from that area, you need to research the heck out of it basically. You need to go in, you need to talk to people, you need to — and I think that's what my retired FBI agent helper did with this book, Roger Greenbank, who I give a lot of credit to.
Paul Hodos (43:04):
He went in there in the late seventies when the rise of Mike Genovese was happening, and he was in an office that I think did not know much about the local mafia at that time they were a little bit in the dark about a lot of things.
Paul Hodos (43:25):
He went in there, he cultivated sources, he pushed the envelope, he learned as much as he could about the local culture. I think that he became basically de facto Pittsburgher by the end of his tenure there, despite being from that Delaware, Maryland area.
Paul Hodos (43:40):
And he pushed the buttons in the right ways, and he overcame that lack of local knowledge. And I think that he was that perfect mix where of he had the objectivity, but then he certainly by the late eighties and I'm sure before that, even like he was up on everything that was going on, like he was definitely the expert.
Benjamin Morris (44:08):
Well, we will reap the benefits of those investigations next week as we look at Mike Genovese because that is such a fascinating character and reminded me, in some ways of Tony Soprano, but in other ways he is very unique. And really appreciate your sharing this with us thus far. Paul, thank you for joining us and we will see you back in a week's time.