Porn Stars

How the mob sent a scary, shocking message to a British press lord

Last week, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn asked a judge to lock up one of five men due to go on trial later this month in a massive pornography racketeering case. The prosecutors said Richard Martino, 45, an alleged soldier in the Gambino crime family, needed to be behind bars right away because he was harassing potential witnesses in the case, specifically one Philip Bailey, a British national who is expected to provide damaging testimony.

In an affidavit, an FBI agent reported that Bailey had called her from England on January 28, saying that a private investigator was prowling London looking for him. The news of the mysterious private eye's arrival had so frightened Bailey's business partner that the partner had been "terrified" and "left work in fear." The agent called the partner, who hadn't actually seen or spoken to the investigator himself, but had learned about the search from a journalist writing about the case. The journalist had described the investigator as "sinister."

"In the course of the conversation," the FBI agent wrote, the business partner "began to cry and stated that he felt very threatened and intended to hold his children 'extra tight' until the situation was resolved."

Alleged mob porn maestro Richard Martino
photo: Jerry Capeci/ganglandnews.com
Alleged mob porn maestro Richard Martino

Lawyers for Martino and the other defendants said they knew nothing about it. One attorney suggested it was a case of "delicate British sensibilities." Judge Carol Amon declined to remand Martino, but she did, as a precaution, order him to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

But if the British businessman's account sounds a little melodramatic, maybe that's because he has heard Philip Bailey's own story right from the horse's mouth. The tale of how Bailey was allegedly abducted and assaulted by unknown thugs during a 1992 trip to New York circulated for years as a rumor around London before surfacing in a Times of London story in December 2000. This fall, after one of Martino's co-defendants became a government cooperating witness, prosecutors filed court papers stating that they would seek to introduce it as evidence in the pornography case. They also filed a separate indictment against Martino in December, charging him with new racketeering and extortion charges.

Defense lawyers have scoffed at the story. Martino's attorney, Gus Newman, said there is no evidence to connect his client to the attack. The real reason prosecutors are emphasizing it, Newman and the other lawyers said, is to bolster claims that Martino and his cohorts used the threat of mob violence to help them earn hundreds of millions of dollars in dial-a-porn and Internet schemes. In fact, there was neither violence nor threats, just clever men who understood how to cater to the private whims of the general public, the lawyers insist. Minus the mob hype, they say, the porn case would amount to merely "garden-variety consumer fraud charges."

That may be true. But what's also true is that the Bailey episode is a riveting tale, one that includes the biggest pornography publishers on both sides of the Atlantic, even Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. The story, as gleaned from sources and records, goes something like this:

It began in an unlikely place, for a mob tale anyway, at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in London, overlooking Hyde Park. The hotel is famous for its high teas. Diners sit on silk sofas; tea and scones are served on silver trays. In late September 1992, three men sat in the tea room conversing. One was a wealthy British press baron named Richard Desmond, whose holdings included several sex magazines, including the British edition of Penthouse magazine. He has since become the owner of the Daily Express and the Sunday Express, two of Britain's biggest tabloids. Across from him were a couple of Yanks: Norman Chanes, dapper and elegant, was the proprietor of a New York firm that placed ads in Desmond's publications; Richard Martino, a little rougher around the edges, owned companies that earned millions every month from dial-a-porn and other products.

Two years earlier, Martino had reportedly walked down a flight of stairs to the basement of a Top Tomato outlet in Manhattan and had his finger pricked by an old-timer, while another mumbled in Italian, making him a member of the Gambino crime family. He was "a monster earner," according to a government informant, so good at making money that he may have been one of the few admitted to the mob without having to commit the initiation rite of murder. "I want guys that done more than killing," John Gotti was heard saying on an FBI bug when Martino was signed up.

If Desmond knew his tea companion's background, he was apparently not impressed. Despite their genteel surroundings, the conversation got heated. Martino accused Desmond of cheating him and Chanes. They'd been charged high rates for ads in magazines that sold no copies, he said. The scam had cost them $1 million and Martino demanded his money back. "You're fucking us," Martino said. Desmond, in a pompous tone, called Martino "stupid" and "a commoner." He didn't need their business, Desmond said. Martino snarled back that Desmond had better not bring his magazines to the U.S. "This is not over," he added as Desmond walked out.

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