Matt Birkbeck doesn’t simply drop names for effect in his new book about the late mob boss Russell Bufalino of Kingston. The heavyweights he writes about detonate upon impact when they hit the page.
• Dunmore businessman Louis DeNaples, who was the focus of a grand jury investigating allegations he lied to the board issuing casino licenses about his ties to organized crime, including Bufalino.
• Jimmy Hoffa, the former Teamsters union president who was murdered on orders from Bufalino to prevent his confidant from testifying about a Mafia/CIA plot to kill Fidel Castro.
“I knew who Bufalino was. I didn’t know how powerful he was,” Birkbeck, 52, said in a recent interview about the Oct. 1 release of “The Quiet Don: The Untold Story of Mafia Kingpin Russell Bufalino.”
The Pocono-based writer and former reporter for The Morning Call in Allentown was reporting on the licensing of Mount Airy Casino Resort near Mount Pocono and said he drew a parallel to DeNaples and Bufalino on how they had the protection from people in high places in politics and law enforcement.
He relied on documents and files and contacts and sources, including remnants of the Russell Bufalino Crime Family, to piece together the story.
Pocono casino license
DeNaples, whom Birkbeck said he did not speak to for the book, received a $50 million license in 2006 for Mount Airy in Monroe County and was later indicted along with his friend Roman Catholic priest Joseph Sica by a grand jury on perjury charges for allegedly lying to the state gaming board about their connections to organized-crime figures.
For DeNaples, it was reputed area mobster William D’Elia, who took over the Russell Bufalino crime family after his death in 1994. For Sica, it was Bufalino.
The charges were later dropped against DeNaples in return for him transferring casino ownership to his daughter. The charges against Sica were withdrawn.
“I use the DeNaples’ investigation as an entrée to tell the Russell Bufalino story,” Birkbeck said.
One of the links between the two men, he said, was DeNaples’ trial in federal court in 1977 for allegedly defrauding the government during the cleanup after Tropical Storm Agnes. The trial ended in a hung jury with one juror refusing to convict DeNaples and three others.
DeNaples and the others later pleaded no contest to conspiracy, were fined and given suspended sentences. A grand jury probe into alleged jury tampering resulted in charges filed against James Osticco, an underboss of Bufalino. Osticco was later convicted.
“Bufalino would not allow his underboss to fix a trial for someone unless that was someone important,” Birkbeck said.
The heart of the book deals with Bufalino and covers his life from when he came to the U.S. as an infant from Sicily to his rise through the ranks of organized crime.
Birkbeck details Bufalino’s arranging the meeting of mob bosses in Apalachin, N.Y., his ownership in casinos and other businesses in Cuba before Castro took over and his close association with Hoffa.
The Cuba connection is ultimately what led to the hit on Hoffa, Birkbeck said.
Bufalino had developed a close relationship with Fulgencio Batista, who was dictator of Cuba, to the point at which the leader would send his children to vacation in the Poconos under the protection of Bufalino, Birkbeck said. Bufalino had supplied Batista with guns when rebels led by Castro tried to topple him, according to Birkbeck.
But, Birkbeck added, when it became clear Castro was going to be in charge, Bufalino supplied him with guns.
Bufalino came out a loser in the end, having to flee Cuba by boat and leaving behind nearly $1 million that was buried on the island, Birkbeck said.
As Birkbeck related: The CIA heard the story and, figuring Bufalino would want to get back his money, recruited him in a plot to assassinate Castro. A Time magazine story in 1975 identified Bufalino as one of the participants in the plot and Hoffa was scheduled to testify before a government committee about it. However, Bufalino, who had maintained his allegiance to Hoffa after he was ousted as Teamster president, saw his friend as a liability and ordered him killed to prevent him from testifying.
“Russell wanted to close ranks, and he eliminated everybody that was part of it,” Birkbeck said.
The hit was carried out by Frank Sheeran and the subject of the book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” by Charles Brandt.
“I was told that that was true,” Birkbeck said, adding sources he developed vouched for Sheeran’s story and told him Hoffa’s remains were incinerated.
Birkbeck acknowledged that he was unsure what the reaction will be to the book.
“At the end of the day, I reported out a story as faithfully as I could,” he said.