Skip to main content

Tobacco Fuels Addiction, And Terrorism

Tobacco smuggling is a lucrative business used to fund terrorist organizations around the world, according to a new report. David Kaplan, editor of "Tobacco Underground," explains how the illicit trade fuels organized crime.


Other segments from the episode on July 21, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 21, 2009: Interview with David E. Kaplan; Interview with Tom Folsom; Review of the Montreal Jazz Festival.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Tobacco Fuels Addiction, And Terrorism


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. What’s the most widely smuggled
legal substance? Tobacco. The tobacco-smuggling business helps fund
organized crime and terrorist groups, and according to a new study, the
business stretches from counterfeiters in China and renegade factories
in Russia to Indian reservations in New York and warlords in Pakistan
and North Africa.

Here in the U.S., many states are finding their budget crises have been
made even worse as a result of lost tax revenues from smuggled
cigarettes. Some states are trying to crack down.

A series of articles on tobacco, terrorism and illicit trade has been
published as part of the Tobacco Underground Project. The project is an
investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative
Journalists, which is a project of the Center for Public Integrity.

My guest, David E. Kaplan, is the director of the consortium and the
editorial director of its work. David Kaplan, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Let’s just start with the scope of this. Like how big in terms of money
and number of countries is the tobacco-smuggling business?

Mr. DAVID KAPLAN (Center for Public Integrity): Oh, it’s massive. You’re
talking about huge black markets, literally all over the planet. At
heart, this is really an organized-crime story. It’s about how these
alternate economies have risen in various regions, various countries,
and they’re feeding crime and corruption.

I mean, tobacco is, because it’s a legal substance, the penalties aren’t
as large as they are in narcotics, but the profit margins are just as
big. So tobacco has become the world’s most widely smuggled legal
substance that we’ve ever seen.

GROSS: Has the tobacco industry itself been involved in the illicit
cigarette trade?

Mr. KAPLAN: Oh God, deeply. It really came from them. In the 1990s,
there were series of investigations culminating in one that my group,
the ICIJ, did, showing how big tobacco had systematically engaged
organized crime groups around the world to push smuggled, contraband
tobacco, and the reasons were to create market share and to save money.

Much of the price of a pack of cigarettes is in taxes. So if you can
take cigarettes from a low-tax place, like, say, the Carolinas, and sell
it in a high-tax place like, say, New York, you pocket the difference.
That’s where these huge profit margins come from.

GROSS: We’ll get more into the tobacco industry a little bit later, but
let’s look at, like, who else – just an overview – who else is profiting
from this black market cigarette industry? Big tobacco has profited from
it. You mentioned the Taliban. Who else?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, when you create these big off-the-books economies,
pretty much people across the border are profiting. There are huge
renegade tobacco companies that have risen up in Eastern Europe and
Russia and Ukraine. In South America, Paraguay has become this tobacco
behemoth. It’s pouring a billion dollars of contraband goods into
Argentina and Brazil.

In our own country, we see large tobacco companies flooding U.S. Indian
reservations with untaxed tobacco, and that’s okay on its face. The
Indians are by law allowed to buy untaxed tobacco. What they’re not
allowed to do is then turn around and sell it on the black market to
bodegas and street corner vendors in New York City and in Canada, and
that’s going on, again, another billion-dollar black market.

The problem with these black markets is they create a kind of structural
corruption. There’s so much money flowing through these off-the-books
transactions, pretty soon you’ve got Hell’s Angels involved, and the
mafia and all kinds of spurious characters overseas.

GROSS: And let’s talk about who’s losing money, because there’s a lot of
tax money not being paid on these illegal cigarettes.

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean why really should we
care? I mean, okay, it’s cigarettes. It’s basically a legal product,
even though it’s being smuggled. You really care for three reasons.

One is that it’s feeding organized crime and corruption. Two is there’s
a huge amount of lost tax revenue, revenue that states, that governments
have to make up elsewhere. New York City and New York state are losing
as much as a billion dollars a year, and these are governments in crisis
that cannot fund basic services.

Finally, you care because of the health implications. Studies have shown
that high taxes really do discourage smoking. People tend to smoke less
when cigarettes are taxed high, and when you flood the market with these
black market cigarettes, you undercut that policy, and people start
smoking more. And who’s smoking more? It’s people who are in poor income
brackets. It’s women. We’re seeing explosive growth in developing
countries, and all this is related in many ways to the smuggling boom
that’s going on.

GROSS: And smokers are being hurt by this illegal trade in cigarettes
because some of the cigarettes that are being sold illegally are also
illegally made. They’re not brand-name cigarettes, although some of them
are knockoffs of brand-name cigarettes, and they’re sometimes higher in
nicotine than real, legit cigarettes are.

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah. If you can believe it, as bad as cigarettes are for
you, some of these bootleg smokes are much, much worse. There’s all
kinds of crud in them, I mean heavy metals like cadmium, and there’s
arsenic. Studies have found high rates of pesticides, rat poison, even
human feces.

You have two different categories of these off-the-book cigarettes. One
are basically legitimate brands that are untaxed. They don’t get the
stamps that you’re supposed to have, and they just get shipped every
which way. This is what big tobacco has flooded U.S. Indian reservations

Another kind are these obscure brands, and you can find them sold
everywhere on the Internet, that come out of places like Paraguay and
Russia and China, which, you know, they may be produced legitimately in
their home countries, but they’re completely unregulated.

They’re untaxed, and in many cases they’re counterfeit versions of the
packs that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, and some of the
counterfeiting is really good. I mean, even the industry has trouble
figuring out which are the legitimate brands and which aren’t. They can
even copy, like, the holographic images that are on Marlboro packs to
thwart counterfeiters

There’s one village, Zhengzhou(ph), in Southern China, in Fujian
Province, that is the world center of counterfeiting. The whole town is
dependent on counterfeiting cigarettes, and some of the factories are
literally underground. It’s just amazing, and they’re shipping them in
unbelievable numbers overseas, I mean by the container, by tens of
millions of packs at a time, and what we’ve reported on a couple of
cases, one involving a billion counterfeit cigarettes from China that
came through the U.S.

They really are huge, and you can find them on street corners today, in
neighborhood shops, Indian reservations. It’s really become quite a

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Dave Kaplan. He’s the
editor of the Tobacco Underground Project, which is an investigative
research project on tobacco, terrorism and the illicit trade in
cigarettes. He is the editorial director of the Center for Public
Integrity and the director of the center’s International Consortium of
Investigative Journalists.

What is big tobacco doing about these counterfeit cigarettes, these
knockoffs, coming from China that are sometimes being sold in the U.S.?

Mr. KAPLAN: They’re pretty alarmed. You know, big tobacco has come a
long way since the ‘90s, when they were really behind most of the
smuggling. Now it’s taken on a life of its own. The big tobacco
companies have deployed agents around the world. They’ve got their own
intelligence networks.

They’re trying to get local governments to crack down, but it’s pretty
well out of control at this point, and we think that – gee, I forget the
numbers – something like 12 percent of all sales are now contraband in
the worldwide tobacco market. It’s almost 700-billion cigarettes, and
again, it’s hard to tell when you’re buying a legitimate brand.

Now, you have said that in the ‘90s the tobacco industry itself was
deeply involved in cigarette smuggling. Give us an example of how, back
in the ‘90s, parts of the tobacco industry got cigarettes to underground
groups and to the black market, and how did they make a profit doing

Mr. KAPLAN: We recently ran a piece based on court records that have
been coming out in Italy and Switzerland called “The Montenegro
Connection.” Now Montenegro, if you saw one of the recent James Bond
films, it was filmed there. It’s a very picturesque small Balkan country
on the Adriatic, and for some 10 years it’s been ruled by Prime Minister
Milo Djukanovic.

Mr. Djukanovic, according to these court records, is at the center of a
criminal conspiracy involving about a billion dollars of contraband
cigarettes that he was moving to help support Montenegro during the
Balkan Wars and then to fund the state. It was a quasi-state enterprise
to move off-the-books tobacco.

He was buying those from the big tobacco companies, who had to know. I
mean, Montenegro, which only has a few million people, couldn’t possibly
absorb these huge amounts of tobacco. What was going on, according to
court records, is he and his alleged compatriots were selling them to
two different Italian mafia syndicates, who were then distributing these
untaxed cigarettes all through Europe, and they laundered, allegedly,
about a billion dollars in Switzerland.

The case is being looked again now because Montenegro wants to join the
European Union, and their biggest concerns about little Montenegro are,
well, crime and corruption.

GROSS: I still don’t completely get it how, like, a country like
Montenegro can buy cigarettes at such a discount that there could be so
many middlemen in between and still people making profits every step
along the way.

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, they can buy the cigarettes for as little as, say,
two, three dollars a pack. I mean, that’s what cigarettes cost without
the tax. I mean, you can buy them for under $1 in some countries. But
then if you sell them in a high-priced country, like, say, Norway or the
U.K., they’re going to cost eight, nine dollars a pack. I think they’re
about seven bucks in New York.

You don’t have to sell them at exactly that rate, but gee, if you’re
paying two bucks wholesale and then you turn around and sell it for five
bucks, which is still a much better deal than the retail price, you’re
more than doubling your profit. So these cigarettes are sold untaxed and
on the black market, and that’s where these big mark-ups comes from.

GROSS: And Montenegro is getting their cigarettes from legit cigarette
manufacturers, the big brand-name companies.

Mr. KAPLAN: Exactly, yeah.

GROSS: So the big brand-name companies are making their profits on it

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, they were happy to move product, and they were
creating market share. More people are smoking. That means a bigger
future market. They use that for market penetration in mainland China.
They use Triad criminal organizations to move product that way. You
know, more people smoking is better for business.

GROSS: You said that the big tobacco companies had a big part in tobacco
smuggling in the sense that they were selling huge amounts of cigarettes
to places like Montenegro, probably knowing that they’d be used in the
underground business? Yes? They probably knew that?

Mr. KAPLAN: Oh, there’s no doubt. I think court records reflect this, as
do our own investigations. If you look at what’s happening in the U.S.
right now, I mean we’ve got a map on our site which shows how many
cigarettes American Indians on New York reservations would have to smoke
to account for all the cigarettes that big tobacco has been selling to

You know, on some reservations it’s like a cigarette every, you know, 30
seconds. It’s impossible to account for the numbers of cigarettes that
have flooded these various places - like the reservations, like
Montenegro in the ‘90s and like Paraguay is doing to Brazil and
Argentina today.

So we just looked all these different markets, and billions and billions
of cigarettes are just disappearing. They’re disappearing into these
black markets that are creating just a real health nightmare.

GROSS: Now, why have Indian reservations in Canada and the United States
been involved in the underground cigarette trade?

Mr. KAPLAN: It’s lucrative, and you know, many reservations have had a
challenging time creating good livelihoods for their people, and this
has been a proven way to make some real money on the reservation. And we
calculated it. It’s about a billion-dollar black market.

So a billion dollars is suddenly off the books. That has implications.
It has implications for law enforcement, for health policy, for lost tax
revenue. It’s serious stuff.

GROSS: New York’s Governor David Paterson last December signed
legislation designed to stop the illegal - the underground cigarette
trade coming out of Native American reservations in New York. Can you
tell us about that legislation?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, New York’s gone at this again and again, and it’s been
a problem from the get-go, and the reason is the Indians, particularly
Mohawk reservations, are quite adamant that they have a right to sell
these cigarettes untaxed, and the state and the city of New York dispute
this and they believe they are losing hundreds and hundreds of millions
of dollars in needed tax revenue. But the last time they tried to crack
down, I think there were Indian blockades and threats of violence, and
the state is not interested in provoking a crisis with their Native
American populations.

So there’s been an uneasy truce, and the result is that the cigarette
black market has grown and grown, and this last legislation passed by
New York state was an attempt to crack down on this, but we don’t see
any real intent on putting real teeth into enforcement, and the reason
is they don’t want to provoke a confrontation with the Indians.

GROSS: You said in the ‘90s that the big tobacco companies played a
major part in the underground cigarette business. Why, then – that
implies that they no longer play a big part. What changed? Was it
lawsuits against them?

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah, exactly. There were big lawsuits in the United States
and Canada and the EU. There’s one in Colombia that is, it’s reaching a
conclusion right now, where the tobacco industry has had to pay billions
of dollars for - not just for pushing an unhealthy product and covering
up evidence about its effects but actively encouraging smuggling, and
they’ve had to make deals and they’ve had to make pledges that they
would clean up their act.

In many cases they have, and I think they decided it was no longer in
their best interest to be so deeply involved in smuggling. Now, that’s
not entirely the case. We got a piece we just published on Ukraine in
Eastern Europe, where there’s like 30 billion cigarettes that are over-
produced by big tobacco companies in Ukraine. Well, where do they think
those are going? They’re all being sold on the black market in the EU,
where they get huge amounts, and we interviewed representatives of the
big tobacco industry in Ukraine. They were surprisingly frank about
what’s going on. But basically the attitude is, look, we produce it.
It’s not our job to police it, but the evidence is pretty clear that
they end up in the black market.

GROSS: My guest is Dave Kaplan, editorial director of the International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists. We’ll talk more about their
Tobacco Underground Project after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Dave Kaplan, and we’re
talking about the Tobacco Underground Project, which is an on ongoing
series of investigative articles on tobacco, terrorism and the illicit
trade in cigarettes. This is a project that started in 2000 by the
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is a
project of the Center for Public Integrity, and Dave Kaplan is the
editor of the Tobacco Underground Project and editorial director of the
Center for Public Integrity.

One of the interesting stories that the Tobacco Underground Project has
investigated is Jin Ling cigarettes, which is the first cigarette
manufactured and designed explicitly for smuggling. Tell us what Jin
Ling cigarettes are and where they’re made.

Mr. KAPLAN: Gee, I love this story, not just methodologically. I’ve been
an investigative reporter for 30 years, and there was this transnational
underground empire that we penetrated and put the story together for the
first time. But the scale was extraordinary.

Three years ago this outfit didn’t even exist. There’s a company called
the Baltic Tobacco Factory, and it shows you how quickly things can
change in a globalized world. From virtually nothing, this outfit
started pouring about a billion dollars of cigarettes into the European

They’re called Jin Ling, which is actually a Chinese name. It’s the old
name for Nanjing, ancient Chinese city, and somehow it ends up, the
brand in Russia, these factories start producing it, and it costs a
fraction of what the big brands, the name brands, in Europe cost because
of high taxes.

So they started pouring Jin Ling cigarettes all over the EU, and as we
looked, we went from country to country - suddenly from nothing, Jin
Lings has become the second-most-seized cigarette next to Marlboros in
the EU.

GROSS: So are these officially illegal cigarettes, or are they just kind
of cheap ones designed for smuggling. Are the cigarettes themselves

Mr. KAPLAN: No, no, and that’s the dilemma with so much of this. You
know, I mean, cigarettes are a legal product. It’s - under law it’s okay
for people to, you know, of age, to smoke cigarettes. The problem is
when they’re either counterfeit or they’re untaxed and unregulated.

These were untaxed and unregulated. So they would take these cheap Jin
Ling cigarettes and smuggle them across various borders in Europe and
then sell them on the black market, sell them untaxed. And suddenly Jin
Ling cigarettes are flooding these places, and nobody had heard of Jin
Ling, and you know, we may see similar operations here in the U.S.,
start seeing strange brands coming in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAPLAN: You can find them on the Internet. Go ahead and Google Jin
Ling, J-I-N L-I-N-G. You’ll get a lot of hits.

GROSS: What do the packages look like?

Mr. KAPLAN: They look like Camels. There’s a picture on our site. It’s –
but instead of a Camel, there’s a goat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAPLAN: And we did the project. You know, ICIJ, our international
consortium, works with partners around the world, and one of our
partners on this was Novia Gazetta(ph), the gutsy weekly in Moscow, and
the name of their story is “Who Will Answer for Our Goats?”

GROSS: David E. Kaplan will be back in the second half of the show. He
is the editorial director of the International Consortium of
Investigative Journalists, which is part of the Center for Public
Integrity. You can find a link to their Tobacco Underground Project
reports on our Web site, I’m Terry Gross, and this is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross.

Let's get back to our conversation about international cigarette
smuggling and how it's funding organized crime and terrorists groups. My
guest, David E. Kaplan, is the director of the International Consortium
of Investigative Journalists, which has produced a new series of reports
as part of its Tobacco Underground Project. The consortium is part of
The Center for Public Integrity.

One of the groups that is profiting from the underground sales of
cigarettes is the Taliban. So let's talk a little bit about how the
Taliban are profiting from cigarettes. Where do they get their cut?

Mr. DAVID KAPLAN (Director of the International Consortium of
Investigative Journalists): Well, we zeroed in on the Pakistan Taliban
in particular because there's a very large and lucrative tobacco
industry in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier, which has been in the news so
much with, you know, people - intelligence experts think that's where
bin Laden may be hiding. The Taliban has tried to take over swaths of
Pakistan territory and well, how are they funding themselves?

Part of it is through heroin shipments. They tax the shipments as they
come from Afghanistan into Pakistan. If you're coming through this
territory, the Taliban have arms, they control key passages, and if
you're going to bring it through, you have to pay them the tax. They're
doing the same thing with cigarettes and Pakistan intelligence officials
told us that second only to heroin the Pakistan Taliban are profiting
from the cigarette industry.

And there've been studies that look at why some conflicts last longer
than others and there's a category called contraband finance. Well,
whether it’s narcotics like heroin and opium or blood diamonds or
illegal timber harvesting, or illicit tobacco - tobacco smuggling, when
they fuel civil wars and insurgencies and other conflicts, they tend to
last as much as five, six times longer than conflicts that aren't fueled
by these criminal sources of income, so it’s another reason the trade is

GROSS: So are the Taliban basically like demanding protection money from
tobacco - from cigarette manufacturers and cigarette smugglers in

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah - that's exactly what's going on. It's a protection
racket where they get fees not to interfere and to allow safe passage.
And, in fact, we found the same thing is going on with al-Qaida's
franchise in North Africa. They're allowing safe passage through these
ancient smuggling routes that go from West Africa through the Sahara
into the North and it’s, again, it's safe passage money, and very

GROSS: It's taken you a team of international journalists through the
Tobacco Underground Project, which is part of the International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists. So it's this international team
that track down what's going on, that investigated what's going on. Will
it take similarly an international global crackdown on this illegal
trade to actually do anything about it? Is it too difficult for
individual countries to really accomplish anything that would stop the
global trade?

Mr. KAPLAN: This is actually a solvable problem. It took some initiative
on our part to put the big story together. But the problem in these,
when you allow these kind of black markets to fester and to expand, they
create their, how should I say it? They take on a life of their own and
they become - the criminal economies become institutionalized. It's the
same principle where they start fueling conflicts overseas, these
sources of contraband. And it becomes very hard to rip out that sort of

GROSS: You’ve been working on a lot of different projects and a lot of
them have to do with terror networks in one way or another, even in the
tobacco thing, there are terror networks that profit off of the tobacco
trade. So you're getting to see this, you know, almost aerial view of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...what's going on because you're researching so many different
cross-border projects, many of them related to terrorism. So I'm
wondering if you're seeing patterns that you think a lot of other people
aren't seeing.

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, I don't know if I...

GROSS: You know, their interconnectedness?

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah. I don't know if I'm seeing them and other people
aren't but it's, you know, I started as a crime reporter and it's all -
they're all crime stories to me. I mean, even - I was covering al-Qaida
before 9-11 for U.S. News and World Report. I went to East Africa after
the embassies were bombed and these were criminal conspiracies, they're
criminal organizations. That's what terrorist cells are, and they have
different motives.

You know, organized crime functions because of profit. These people love
to make lots of money very quickly. You know, the terrorists tend to
function because of political or religious reasons. So the motives are
different but the MO's are very similar.

They're using safe houses. They're smuggling products. They're moving
contraband goods. They're smuggling arms, they use violence to enforce
their way. And I guess I see this as all one continuum. Even though the
motives are different, it’s - I'm almost at the point here where you
have to clean up the whole world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAPLAN: You can't just take on organized crime or take on terrorism
or take on cigarette smuggling. I mean, you have to clean up dirty
money. You have to develop and educate societies. You have to create
transparency and accountability and civil society in these various
cultures. I mean, that's what's really going to do it.

GROSS: Well good luck to you and thank you so much for talking with us
about the Tobacco Project.

Mr. KAPLAN: A real pleasure. Thanks so much.

GROSS: David E. Kaplan is the director of the International Consortium
of Investigative Journalists, which is part of The Center for Public
Integrity. You can find a link to their Tobacco Underground Project on
our Web site,
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Tom Folsom And The Great Red Hook Mafia Wars


Joey Gallo is part of gangster lore. Bob Dylan sang about him in his
ballad, "King of the Streets." Joey Gallo also inspired Jimmy Breslin's
comic novel about bumbling gangsters called "The Gang That Couldn't
Shoot Straight."

Gallo was gunned down in Manhattan's Little Italy in 1972. Now there's a
new biography of him called "The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo And The
Revolution At The Edge Of The Underworld." It’s by Tom Folsom who
interviewed people who knew Gallo and read through almost 1500 pages of
unpublished FBI files on him. Files based on wiretaps of underworld
conversations. Folsom also coauthored Nicky Barnes’ memoir about his
life as a drug kingpin. Barnes was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the
film, "American Gangster."

Tom Folsom, welcome to FRESH AIR. Your book starts by saying that the
tale of the Gallo brothers has been recounted in the lore and legend of
New York City crime, but you felt that no nonfiction book had captured
the madness of the Gallo's. What do you mean by that?

Mr. TOM FOLSOM (Author, “The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the
Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld”): Well, you look at a guy like
Joey's life and you wonder what’s the thread here? You know, he's more
than just an ordinary hood. You know, in the early ‘60s he moves to
Greenwich Village at the same time as Bob Dylan, this is in 1961. He
gets caught up in the fervor of Greenwich Village. He gets caught up in
the spirit of wanting to create, of wanting to paint, to write.

He's hobnobbing with high society in the early ‘70s, guys like Jerry
Orbach and he gets a book deal from Viking Press. He's quite literally
the toast of the town in the months before he gets whacked outside of
Umberto's Clam House.

GROSS: It's just odd to me, you know, he's reading Kerouac. He's
reading, you know, the existential novelists and, you know, identifying
with all this. And I'm wondering, like, what exactly is he getting out
of it? Does he see himself as like a beatnik murderer or an existential
extortionist? I mean...

Mr. FOLSOM: I...

GROSS: does all this like deep reading that he's doing relate to
what he's doing in real life? Which is, you know, he's a hit man. He's a
mobster. He's trying to overthrow the crime family, take control

Mr. FOLSOM: Joey Gallo was a frequent of the Eighth Street Book Shop in
Greenwich Village. It's percolating in the coffee shops around this
time. You know, when you’ve got the beatniks talking about whether or
not a guy like Fidel Castro is hip or square. There's stirrings of
revolution that we'll see later in the course of the ‘60s come to

But Joey picks up on that early and decides the enemy is the
establishment. And Joey's seeing the establishment as the Mafia. So, you
know, Joey will incorporate things, you know, when he goes to - like in
the 1960s he starts creating alliances with black nationalists groups,
with heroin dealers like Nicky Barnes. They forge alliances in the joint
and they make plans to, you know, do things like control the
distribution of heroin in New York City.

Now it’s very significant that a guy like Joey Gallo is reaching out to
a black heroin dealer like Nicky Barnes because this was just something
that wasn’t done in the mafia. Sometimes Sicilian-only, you know, maybe
put some Neapolitans in but this is a very Italian-dominated
organization. So Joey, he's got some revolutionary ideas of where he
wants to take street crime.

GROSS: So Joey Gallo became a made man in the Profaci family. What was
the Profaci family like?

Mr. FOLSOM: When you talk about a character like Joe Profaci, The Don,
it's helpful to think of Don Corleone in “The Godfather.” They called
Joseph Profaci the Olive Oil King because at the time he was America's
largest importer of olive oil. He had ruled South Brooklyn really since
about I’d say the 1930s. He was a force to be feared and he demanded
really strict discipline for the members of his family. And he did what
was called wetting the beak.

This is something that's famously told about in "Godfather II" which is
that the Don, he's going take his cut of the profits of the underlings.
So for a guy, you know, for a guy like Joey Gallo who's collecting the
nickels and dimes off the jukebox industry, the Don is, he's taking a
pretty hefty cut of the Gallo's profit. So therefore, this was a source
of contention for the Gallo brothers when they decided to revolt against
the Don.

GROSS: In one story that you tell that has resonance in fiction, both
with "The Godfather" and also the "Sopranos," the Gallo's hit man Joey
Jelly is taken to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and this is by one of the
rival gangs and what happens? Who takes him and what happens?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FOLSOM: Joe Jelly, he is the Gallo's bodyguard. He's got a
reputation as the most feared hit man in Brooklyn. Now, in the midst of
the Gallo-Profaci negotiations where we’re not, you know, sure what's
going on here in the Gallo war. Are they fighting? Are they not? There's
a very uneasy truce in the summer of 1961 when Joe Jelly decides he's
going to go on a deep sea fishing trip with some of his buddies.

Joe Jelly never comes back but a few days later there's a mysterious car
driving by the Gallo family diner. It's a place called Jackie's in
Flatbush. And out of the backseat of this car comes a package. Inside
the package are Joe Jelly's clothes wrapped around a dead fish. Of
course, the line is Joe Jelly swims with the fishes.

GROSS: So it’s not just that they drowned the hit man in Sheepshead

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...they did a lot worse than that.

Mr. FOLSOM: Yeah. The FBI reports say they cut off his arms and legs,
stuffed him in a barrel, and tossed it into Sheepshead Bay. And one
report even says the barrel actually floated back up and had to be
weighed down even further so it would really sink.

GROSS: So Joey Gallo is sentenced to prison.

Mr. FOLSOM: Right.

GROSS: Convicted of conspiracy and attempted extortion in 1961 for
trying to take over a check cashing business.

Mr. FOLSOM: Sure.

GROSS: He's sentenced to seven to 14 years. So is the war still going on
between the Profaci family and the Gallo brothers when Joey goes off to

Mr. FOLSOM: Well, there's a truce that's called when Joe Colombo becomes
the Don of the family. He makes some concessions with the Gallo
brothers. Joey, of course, he says, you know, it doesn’t apply to me
because I'm in prison at this time. But Joey's really, he's - his time
in prison in the 1960s is really his time to get his intellectual
ammunition for the fight. This is when he really starts becoming
increasingly radicalized.

You have bank robber Willie Sutton telling a really colorful story about
how Joey Gallo is walking around with one of Mao’s little red books. And
he's talking about the fact that, you know, all the prisoners need to
join in the revolution. This is very much in keeping what Joey Gallo
does when he teams up, so to speak, with Harlem heroin dealer Nicky

By teaming up I mean that what Joey Gallo does is he starts to forge
this alliance with Nicky Barnes because he realizes that if I could get
a guy like Nicky and I can teach him the way of the Mafia, and a guy
like Nicky, and Nicky, you know, I wrote this book "Mr. Untouchable"
with him in witness protection so Nicky told me this story personally,
is that Joey wants a guy like Nicky to create his own sort of Mafia as
this vehicle for distributing heroin across New York City. For Joey,
he's thinking well, you know, if the Gallo brothers can team up with
Nicky Barnes' group then we’re going to be able to rule the streets.

GROSS: So when Joey Gallo's in prison and he's reading more books from
the Eighth Street Bookstore that are shipped to him, he's making
alliances with African-American gangsters and heroin dealers like Nicky
Barnes. And he’s increasingly identifying with this uprising against the
bourgeois oppressors of the world. And God, there’s part of me that
thinks, like, this is so ridiculous, like, the bourgeois oppressors of
the world that he wants to overthrow is a crime family that’s taking too
big a take of the money that he’s stealing from people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FOLSOM: Right, right.

GROSS: There’s just, like, something so irritating about the whole thing
of him kind of identifying with these larger, like, intellectual and
political, social ideas.

Mr. FOLSOM: Yeah, I mean, this is really a tale of the absurdity of not
only just, you know, Americans love with gangsters, but, you know, where
this – it was part of the joy in writing this book. As a writer, I just
found it fascinating how Joey’s taking the zeitgeist and he’s twisting
it to his own ends…

GROSS: Exactly.

Mr. FOLSOM: …for criminal means.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. FOLSOM: It’s absolutely infuriating. But, it certainly makes for
good reading and it was a kick to write about.

GROSS: While Joey Gallo was in prison, the Colombo family became very
powerful and his brothers became part of that family. Why?

Mr. FOLSOM: Well, essentially what happened is Joe Colombo takes over
the mantle of don of what was the Profaci family, which is now called
the Colombo family. Joe Colombo makes concessions to the Gallo brothers,
saying that well, we’re going to give you this and that. And these
concessions really - they never seem to come through as the years go on.
So, when Joey Gallo comes out of prison and he sees Joe Colombo not
giving the Gallo brothers the respect he feels that (unintelligible)
deserves, he very quickly resparks the Mafia war. And the Gallo brothers
go to the mattresses again against the don.

GROSS: So, when Joey gets out of prison, he wants to take down the
Colombo family. He wants to take down…

Mr. FOLSOM: Right.

GROSS: …particularly Joe Colombo. And Joe Colombo is shot. He remains in
a coma for years and then dies. And Joey is suspected of being the man
who hired the hitman. Why is Joey suspected?

Mr. FOLSOM: Well, Joey is suspected of being the hitman because it’s an
African-American that guns down Colombo. And the papers immediately
seize on the fact that Joey was in prison making alliances, you know,
with heroin dealers like Nicky Barnes, he was reaching out to black
nationalist groups. And as a result, you know, the Colombo family holds
a kangaroo court and they indict Joey for this murder because of the
fact that a black man was the one who gunned down Colombo.

GROSS: Do you think the Joey Gallo was behind the killing and that the
gunman was hired by Gallo?

Mr. FOLSOM: It’s tough to say. There’s evidence on both sides. But,
these hits were - they were done by professionals and they made it so
where - you wouldn’t found out. So, I don’t think there’s really any way
of getting to the bottom of these mafia mysteries, so to speak. But what
was significant to Joey Gallo’s story is that whether or not he did it,
he was pinned for doing the murder and as a result there’s an open
contract on his life.

GROSS: So, describe the scene of his murder?

Mr. FOLSOM: Well, I think it’s significant to go back to the night that
he’s going out to the Copacabana on his 43rd birthday. And he goes to
the Copacabana with his wife of - they’ve just, you know, been married
three weeks ago. This is a marriage covered in the New York Post. You
know, Earl Wilson, Midnight Earl sends one of his people down to cover
the weddings. You know, Joey is very much a society item, as he’s coming
to the Copacabana to celebrate his 43rd birthday. He looks out on the
stage and he sees Don Rickles there doing his act. Don Rickles makes
acknowledgment to Joey. Everybody looks up, they even laugh when they
see Joey Gallo, you know, he’s there in his pinstripe suit because John
Rickles makes a joke at his expense.

So, Joey Gallo is quite literally - he’s the toast of the town at this
point. He’s got intellectuals like Suzanne Sontag who, she’s dying to
meet Joey Gallo. He’s, David Steinberg who now directs “Curb Your
Enthusiasm”, he was the best man in Joey Gallo’s wedding. Jerry Orbach,
who played Joey Gallo in “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” he -
actually a character based on Joey Gallo, Kid Sally Palumbo. Jerry
Orbach is a, you know, he’s, he and Joey are, they’re best pals, they’re
really tight.

So, Joey’s really got what he wants in terms of all his intellectual
aspirations: his idea that he wanted to be an artist, he wanted to be a
writer. You know, he secured a book deal. So Joey’s kind of got it made.
And a few hours later he’s at Umbertos Clam House for some late night
snacks with his family, and in comes the hitman and he gets gunned

GROSS: So, what mark would you say, what kind of, like, legacy would you
say that Joey Gallo left in the world of organized crime?

Mr. FOLSOM: Well, I think in the world of organized crime, you know,
there’s a line in “Goodfellas” which I think really speaks to this. It
talks about, you know, a young Henry Hill is looking at the heyday of
the mafia and he’s seeing all the wiseguys and they’re all - they’re
really living it up and, you know, the world is theirs, and he says,
well, this was in the days before Joe Gallo decides to take on a boss.

I think what happened after the Gallo war is that, the young Turks of
the mafia decided, well, you know, there’s - they’re not going to treat
their don as, you know, as the pope, as the God anymore here. You know,
if we don't like what the don’s doing, we’re going to revolt. And so
this was something that eroded discipline in the mafia. So, I think
that, in part, is Joey Gallo’s, you know, legacy to organized crime.

GROSS: Well, Tom Folsom, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FOLSOM: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Tom Folsom is the author of “The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and
The Revolution at the Edge of The Underworld.” Coming up, Milo Miles
reviews the music that wasn’t jazz at he Montreal Jazz festival. This is
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
At Montreal Jazz, A Global Sound


This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Music critic Milo Miles attended the first few days of the event in
early July and discovered many unexpected musical pleasures.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES: Although some people complain about it, one of the best
things about music festivals is that they don’t stick tightly to their
stated format. Lots of performers show up who have little or no relation
to the official style of music. For example, I recently attended the
first five days of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. But
I’m here to celebrate the international aspect and all of Canada,
including Montreal, rather than the jazz. That’s because in my
experience you can see more diverse international music at Montreal Jazz
than in any other North American festival.

There are major stars from other countries like King Sunny Ade, but also
heavy hitters from the U.S. like La India who earned her title, The
Princess of Salsa, with a potent, inventive knockout of a show. I
discovered at the festival that the Latin fusion group Kuduro were
braver, spunkier and more funny than their albums. The Wesli Band, a
group I had never heard of, delivered a fresh variant on Haitian kompa
that was saucy, irresistible dance music.

(Soundbite of song)

THE WESLI BAND (Musicians): (Singing in foreign language)

MILES: Finally, at Montreal Jazz, I found out that Cuban-born Luis Mario
Ochoa is not only a charming and warmly cosmopolitan singer-guitarist
and bandleader, but the founder of the Latin scene in Toronto, which I
didn’t know existed. Yes, I’m a typical American music fan, uninformed
about the North. And with tight tour budgets and tight radio formats,
it’s harder than ever to hear new Canadian performers. The Montreal
Festival seems to champion two things: speaking French and being
Canadian. It certainly works these days as a worthy form for locals to
reach outsiders. So, I also endorse the Montreal Jazz Festival for
street pop kicks you won’t hear otherwise.

I didn’t hear a world-changer like Neil Young or Joni Mitchell, but
anybody alive to big beat fun could enjoy the zany dance rock of the
band Creature or The Lost Fingers, who combined Django Reinhardt and
dance hits of the age.

(Soundbite of song, “Pump Up The Jam”)

THE LOST FINGERS (Musicians): (Singing) Uhh… Uhh. Pump up the jam. Pump
it up. While your feet are stompin’. And the jam is pumpin’. Look at
here the crowd is jumpin’. Pump it up a little more. Get the party going
on the dance floor. See ‘cause that’s where the party’s at. And you’ll
find out if you do that. Ooh, ayyyh, a place to stay. Get your booty on
the floor tonight. Make my day. Ooh, ayyyh, a place to stay. Get your
booty on the floor tonight. Make my day. Make my day. Make my day. Make
my, Make my, make. Make my day. Make my day. Make my day. Make my, Make
my, make…Pump up the jam…

MILES: There were many non-Canadian highlights, particularly Stevie
Wonder’s glorious free opening concert, sparked by his fervent tributes
to Michael Jackson. But I kept coming back to the Northern natives. The
Montreal Jazz Festival show that Canadian musicians are listening to
American pop all the time. Shouldn’t we give them at least a little more
love and attention in return?

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. You can download podcasts of our show
on our Web site:

(Soundbite of music)

I’m Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue