By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"Me, personally, I found prison, I don't know, fuckin' comfortable, you know?" It was, he says, just another form of hanging out.
Shortly after Campanella arrived at Allenwood, federal marshals offered him witness protection.
"Most of these guys love witness protection mostly for the wrong reasons," says Howard Abadinsky, a St. John's University professor of criminology who wrote the textbook Organized Crime. "They use the new identity to commit more scams. It gives them a blank slate in the criminal sense."
But Campanella had already made up his mind—and for what he says were different reasons: "To me, it was a no-brainer," he says. "What's the sense of going into the program if you can't visit your family, if you can't get a phone call, send a letter—you know what I'm saying? It really came down to: I wasn't ready to go to Utah."
Big mistake, say non-gangster experts. "Quite frankly, what this guy's doing is crazy," says Abadinsky.
Mark Feldman, former chief of the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office's Organized Crime Bureau, warns that "even though the organized-crime landscape has changed considerably, I would urge him to be extremely careful and to avail himself of all protective mechanisms that the government recommends. I think all the factors that could lead to his being hurt are still in place, with probably a lot less control."
Campy's decision has caused his two former FBI handlers nonstop agita because a cooperating witness getting bumped off dissuades future Joe Campys from flipping.
Campanella sees it as a calculated risk: Those who really want him dead and have the balls to do it are all behind bars, and that leaves only a pack of wannabes and weaklings who couldn't make it on the street when he and the other real gangsters were running things.
Nevertheless, three years out of prison, Campanella says he probably should have gone into witness protection—but not for the reasons it was set up. At the time Campanella turned down the program, he was still a part of both his families' lives. "But as I was doing my time, they found their own lives. They found a life without me, and I gotta respect that, you know," he says. "I thought I was gonna come home to somebody and live with somebody, but I wind up living alone, and I don't have anybody."
If he entered the witness-protection program, at least the government would have paid for his college or job training, he says, and "maybe I woulda became something more than just what I am now."
The very thought of Joe Campy living like a regular Joe makes Jeffrey Lichtman, the defense attorney for "John the Barber," laugh. "Joey Campanella is a complete bloodsucker on society," says Lichtman. "He never worked a day in his life. All he did was sit around and try to think up new crimes. Trust me when I tell you he's still taking bets, he's still busting heads, taking protection money—something. He's still breaking the law. After 40 years, you just don't stop."
Campy shrugs off Lichtman's assertions with a laugh and says he has the calluses on his hands, and aches and pain in his joints to prove otherwise. On the other hand, he's looking for a way out of his trucking gig. Knowing nothing about computers (he didn't have an e-mail account until just recently), Campanella dreamed up a website called OutOfTheLife.com aimed at other mob turncoats. He got the idea for the website when inmates who'd heard about his deal kept coming to him, asking how he did it—not just wise guys but gangbangers and drug dealers. It struck him that the site could be a real "earner." He envisioned a pay-per-call number by which he could give live advice on how to flip.
But it wasn't easy finding a computer geek willing to take on a client who is a former Mafia skull-buster and scam artist turned mob snitch. Several Web designers were contacted by Campanella or on his behalf. Four didn't return e-mails and two others declined before he finally found someone.
One reluctant Web designer first cited Campanella's lack of computer knowledge as the reason for rejecting the project. Then the designer, who asked not to be identified, noted that his wife had just had a baby and conceded: "But the real thing was just his past and his being part of the Mafia, not knowing how he solves problems."
PS: That's fuckin' comical.