Secrets of the Mob

A geezer gangster sings like a canary

It's also possible that Barone just never heard what others called him. His hearing loss, which stemmed from a hereditary condition that deadened the nerves in his ears, was almost total by his fifties in spite of twin hearing aids. He tried to communicate by writing words down on paper, he said, but complications from dyslexia gave him trouble there as well. His ailment caused Barone to be denied a much prized Mafia moment when he couldn't join the rest of the boys in watching The Godfather when it came out in 1972. "I didn't see it for a long time because it wasn't captioned," he told the lawyers. "When they captioned it, I seen it a couple of years later."

The disability didn't make him any less of a threat as far as law enforcement was concerned. The Waterfront Commission, a bi-state agency created in the early 1950s to smoke out mob influence on the New York and New Jersey docks, tried to force Barone in 1960 to testify about the many convicted felons employed at the local unions he controlled, but Barone stayed mum. In 1967, the commission lifted his license to work on the piers, forcing him to relocate his main base of operations to Florida, where he helped organize an ILA local in the Port of Miami.

But he kept up his ties to his New York friends. A 1973 Waterfront Commission surveillance report lists Barone as a regular visitor to ILA offices on West 14th Street, and agents often spotted him dining at the Old Homestead restaurant around the corner on Ninth Avenue. The commission was still watching in 1977 when its agents followed Barone from the offices of his old local, on downtown Greenwich Street, to Andy's Colonial Tavern on First Avenue and East 116th Street, a once popular hangout for Salerno's crew. "Barone then walked through the tavern, exiting a side door, joining a group of eight males, all well-dressed, who were standing in front of a social club at 354 E. 116th Street," the agents duly reported, noting that among the men was Harlem's biggest numbers operator. "Barone shook hands with each and engaged in conversation," they wrote.

George Barone, circa 1954. "I want to tell the story," he says, "and I don't care what happens to me after that."
George Barone, circa 1954. "I want to tell the story," he says, "and I don't care what happens to me after that."


Tune in: Talking with reporter Tom Robbins

All that surveillance paid off a year later when Barone was one of 22 key waterfront figures who were charged with racketeering and extortion in a huge federal operation code-named Unirac. After a nine-month trial, Barone was convicted in 1979 on 18 counts, including shaking down businesses and taking kickbacks. He was sentenced to 15 years and fined $10,000. Through appeals, he got the term knocked down to 12 1/2. With good behavior, he was out in seven.

When he was released in 1990, he was 67 years old. Much had changed, he said. Salerno was in prison for life and soon to die, and so were many of Barone's old mob allies. "I'm broke, most of my guys are dead, Tony is dead," he testified. He waited out his three-year probation at a friend's house in North Miami. "I sat on the porch for three years," Barone said. "It was a barren situation. It was a different world. Seven years had gone by. It was all different."

The readjustment was hard, Barone said. "It took me six months to be able to find out how to walk across the street without getting hit by a car, for chrissakes," he snapped when the lawyers pushed him on his post-release activities.

Not everyone abandoned the old man. A loyal pal named Jack McCarthy, a convicted labor racketeer and veteran Genovese associate, sent Barone $25,000 to help him out. The money was delivered to him in cash by Danny Kapilow, an ex–welterweight fighter. "He was a friend of mine," Barone explained. "They knew I needed money."

There was also a summons back to action by the new leaders of the Genovese mob, who sent an emissary to tell Barone that they wanted his help in obtaining jobs and business contracts in the Florida ports. Glad to be of use again, Barone lined up a cozy $160,000-a-year clerk's job with a major shipping company for the brother of Genovese acting boss Barney Bellomo's girlfriend, and arranged for Bellomo to open a check-cashing company on the Miami docks.

The New York crew also ordered him to take on a much heavier lift: persuading union president John Bowers—son of Barone's old hoodlum pal Mickey Bowers—to back their candidate as the next ILA leader. At the time, Bowers was backing a Texas-based official named Benny Holland. The mob, Barone said, wanted Harold Daggett, the unfortunate fellow he'd made squirm years before, and now the leader of a large New Jersey local.

Barone arranged to meet Bowers during an ILA convention in Miami at a Smith & Wollensky steak house. He hadn't seen him in years, he admitted. "You shouldn't be doing what you're doing," Barone said he told Bowers. "I said, 'What would your father say if he was alive and you were promoting a guy from Texas? This is a New York job. It always has been. We don't want him. We want Harold Daggett.' "

Bowers, who at 82 is still ILA president, has said he was tricked into attending the meeting and fled as soon as possible. At the deposition, Bowers's attorney, John Wing, homed in on Barone's account. "Am I right, Mr. Barone, that you know that John Bowers really hates the Mafia figures?"

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