A snippet from the upcoming new addition to : The Magic of Jimmy Grippo

It was easy to connect the dots between Jimmy Grippo and Adonis, Moretti, Lansky, Costello, Hoffa, Fat Tony Salerno and others. Some of these characters were dubbed Mob or Syndicate members, La Cosa Nostra members or members of the “mythical” Mafia by name, yet they really did not have a secret ceremony for initiation. In fact, of all of the real players who were connected, or in the so-called Mafia, I never ever heard the secret initiation ritual ever even brought up as a mythical story. My mentor at the Dunes, who was a “button man” in Brooklyn, never mentioned this mythical initiation rite, yet he taught me all the rest.

There are direct links between Duke’s, from the past up until the 1980s, to a legitimate casino operation in Nevada. This association was, in Jimmy’s words: “Joe Adonis, the Mobster, a long story.”

There were frequent card games at Duke’s, and this was not a very big place but intimate and cozy. Adonis was considered to be an “expert” gin rummy player.

Jimmy said, “In this one game with Joe Adonis and some other Mob guys playing, Adonis asked me to beat two Mob guys out of about $60,000 and then return it, just to prove a point.”

This certainly put Jimmy in a good position with Adonis, the real godfather of the times.

Gambling was Adonis’ specialty, and he especially loved Grippo’s card handling. Jimmy made his own “juice” and was a lifelong friend of Adonis. It was discovered that Adonis had secret compartments built in his travelling luggage or trunks to hide his personal belongings and valuables.

The senators conducting the Kefauver Hearings tried to portray Adonis as a bad guy. Although indicted on charges of kidnapping, extortion and assault, which were later dismissed, he was actually a soft-spoken, conservatively dressed family man who lived in a respectable neighborhood and only had an occasional drink. His family and children worshiped him. According to Adonis, his idea of a big evening was ”gin rummy with friends.” He built up a lucrative haul-away business that he ran efficiently. Adonis, however, was an ex-bootlegger (who wasn’t?), a big time gambler, a notorious underworld figure and according to the Kefauver Committee, one of the most important figures in the U.S. crime network. He also was had enormous behind-the-scenes political power.

Over the years Adonis engaged in many legitimate businesses. He said that he “does not object to profits just because they are legitimate.” But along with those enterprises, according to an indictment pending against him in New Jersey, he ran a “carpet joint” as opposed to a less opulent and less swanky “sawdust joint.” In doing so, he was developing the “flagship” model casino that later would be operated in Las Vegas.

He did not mind the indictments, being called a big gambler, or even being hauled before the Kefauver Committee, which could have resulted in his going to prison for the first time. (He went to prison in May 1951.) He did, however, bitterly resent the fact that as a result of the Kefauver grandstand fiasco he did lose his car hauling business and a big contract with Ford Motor Company. The committee sent a letter to Ford, suggesting that they cease doing business with Adonis. Adonis called it persecution. He was 100 percent correct, and I believe local law enforcement felt the same. Talk about the McCarthy hearings and justice — Kefauver intentionally ruined a legitimate business.

The godfather of Las Vegas-style gambling, Adonis operated a floating craps game at 8th Avenue and 15th Street in New York City, which was frequented by everyone until Mayor Fiorello La Guardia turned on the heat.

In 1937 three Italian hoods thought they could rob Joey A’s floating craps game. The trio came in, grabbed all of the money on the layout and emptied the customers’ pockets of cash and jewelry. They got away with it for the time being, but within two months all three were found murdered.

In a 15-minute long interview by the police, Adonis said that he could not imagine who had done in the three boys. He was a reputable businessman, and such bloody incidents were completely foreign to him. He was truly sorry he couldn’t help and didn’t understand why the police thought he could.” The lesson to the hoods on the streets was this: “You don’t cross the Mob!” You can bet this didn’t happen again.

Frank Costello made a solid connect with the legendary Mills Novelty Company of Chicago, the largest manufacturer of slot machines in the country. He and Phil Kastel placed over 5,100 machines in New York City and the surrounding communities. They grossed about $100,000 per day in the mid-1930s. In today’s dollars that would be about $1.8 million a day. They probably netted anywhere between $500,000 and $700,000 after paying the winners and splitting the profits with the local operators. 

Adonis and Moretti couldn’t have machines in the “floating” craps games because they weren’t mobile and couldn’t be easily hidden or moved when there was a bust. But you can bet that the two had a piece of the action.

In the mid-1930s La Guardia literally busted up the many of the machines in the New York City area. So they looked for other places to operate like New Jersey, Florida and Cuba.

Jimmy wrote in his notes to me: “Floating crap games in Lodi, New Jersey with Moretti and Adonis.” Lodi, New Jersey  was home of the fabulous Barn, which became a Las Vegas style casino night. What was an ordinary garage during daytime hours was transformed into a big craps game at night.

The garage owner and operator, John Garrantano, was arrested and brought before a grand jury along with seven employees of the gambling operation. Seven others, who were described by the attorney general as “stick” or “dice” men in Lodi, were slated to appear at the hearing. One of the “inside men” who talked with jurors was James Grippo, a nephew of Willie Moretti. But like a magic trick where doubles are used, this particular James Grippo was not Jimmy Grippo, which is what I have ascertained through my research.

What is even stranger, though, is that not a word of this “coincidence” was ever mentioned by Jimmy Grippo, nor was it picked up in any of the stories that appeared in newspapers across the country.  Jimmy had previously received many write-ups and garnered lots of publicity by the nation’s top sports writers, yet there was NOT ONE mention of this incident. Was this a cover-up? There is NO question that the real Jimmy Grippo, magician, was aware of this incident, as were Moretti and the rest of the crew in and around Duke’s restaurant.

In another note from Jimmy to me, he wrote, “The police arrested the bookmakers at Duke’s restaurant, ‘Piggy’ Lynch saved me from the rap.” This statement said a lot, as Jimmy was involved with the New Jersey and New York Mobs in bookmaking and gambling. Jimmy had to keep his name clean and to appear above reproach in the boxing world, so undoubtedly he had to be very careful in his daily activities.

The incident to which Jimmy referred is this. The rampant gambling and over-the-top political corruption in Saratoga County, N.Y., which virtually allowed the Mob to operate there carte blanche, came to a crashing halt with the arrest of Meyer Lansky. In the 21-count indictment against him, Lansky was charged with forgery in the third degree, being a common gambler and participating in a conspiracy to gamble. Lynch was one of the other people named with Lansky. Jimmy was very close to being indicted and arrested as well.     A snippet from the new edition of the Magic of Jimmy Grippo by Geno Munari