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Tag: hoffa

Book Excerpt: ‘Hollywood Confidential: A True Story of Wiretapping, Friendship, and Betrayal’

A specialist on organized-crime investigations since 1974, best-selling author and independent investigative journalist Dan E. Moldea has published seven nonfiction books including, “The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians and the Mob.” This excerpt is being published with permission.

CHAPTER ONE

“Forget it, Dan. It’s Chinatown”

By Dan E. Moldea

I didn’t see the minefield ahead.

On April 12, 2002, Anita Busch sent an email, asking me for a favor. She wanted me to collect three articles that Bernard Weinraub of the New York Times had written about one-time Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz, two from 1996 and the third from 1999. She provided no explanation, and I didn’t need any. I just did what she asked. Later that day, I sent Anita two of the three articles that she had requested, along with six other stories in which Weinraub had discussed Ovitz. At the time of her email to me, Anita was freelancing for the New York Times. She and Weinraub were in the midst of what would become a seven-part series which began on March 22 about Ovitz and his latest business venture, the Artists Management Group, a broadly based management company for those involved in film and television productions. The two reporters alleged that Ovitz had engaged in financial mismanagement, based on a recent audit of the company’s records.

The final part of their series appeared in the newspaper on May 7.1 The day before that final installation, Anita and Weinraub published a story about Ovitz, “A Faded Hollywood Power Broker Relinquishes His Talent Business,” which seemingly added insult to injury: Even by the turbulent and often cruel standards of Hollywood, Mr. Ovitz’s downfall has been startling. As a founder of the Creative Artists Agency, he emerged as a strong-willed and intimidating figure who sought to inspire fear, and succeeded. But Mr. Ovitz, who is 55, has seen his career fall into a downward spiral since 1997 when he was fired as president of the Walt Disney Company.

Today, Mr. Ovitz reached one of the lowest points in his career. He agreed for a company called The Firm to acquire the major units of his current company, the Artists Management Group. . . . For Mr. Ovitz, the deal is a serious financial and personal blow. 2 In lieu of continuing to freelance for the New York Times and other publications upon the completion of her work on Ovitz, Anita accepted a job on or about May 21, working under contract for the Los Angeles Times. On June 3, her first day with the newspaper, Hollywood legend Lew Wasserman, the retired chairman of MCA, died. As part of her research, she called me to discuss my third book, Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob, in which Wasserman was a major character. In that 1986 work, I concentrated on MCA, a powerful Hollywood corporation, and its fiftyyear relationship with President Reagan who was in the midst of his second term in office.

During the next two years, I watched the Reagan Justice Department, specifically the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, kill a federal investigation of MCA, as well as another broader probe of the Mafia’s penetration of the motion-picture industry. With life imitating art, these cases were embodiments of the dramatic conclusion of the 1974 film, Chinatown, in which wealthy powerbrokers used their influence with the law-enforcement community to evade responsibility for their roles in major crimes. In fact, one federal prosecutor placed a fine point on this analogy when—after hearing of my frustrations with reporting on the aborted MCA case—he told me, “Forget it, Dan. It’s Chinatown.” The newspaper’s obituary of Wasserman the following day referred to my work.

Dan Moldea (Photo credit: E. Ethelbert Miller)

On June 4, federal prosecutors indicted Julius “Jules” Nasso, along with sixteen reputed members of New York’s Carlo Gambino crime family as part of a major 68-count conspiracy case.

Nasso had been the business partner of motion-picture star Steven Seagal, whose popular action-adventure films included Above the Law, Out for Justice, and Under Siege. In effect, Anita, who usually covered show business, was now investigating the Mafia. Her partner for this investigation was Paul Lieberman, a respected veteran investigative reporter who worked in the New York bureau of the Los Angeles Times. The first Busch-Lieberman story appeared on June 5, stating: Nasso, 49, of Staten Island, was charged with two counts, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion of a figure in the motion picture industry.

Although prosecutors did not identify the extortion target in the indictment, Nasso’s lawyer said after court that Seagal is the film figure. “It’s definitely Steven Seagal,” said Nasso’s lead attorney, Barry Levin. “Steven Seagal has been seen talking to the grand jury.” Nasso had a 15-year business relationship with Seagal until a bitter falling-out. In March, Nasso filed a $60-million lawsuit against the actor, alleging the star of such films as Under Siege had backed out of a contract to perform in four movies. The two have not spoken in more than a year.”

In her follow-up article the next day, Anita, without the participation of Lieberman, wrote: “The alleged extortion attempt was caught on FBI wiretaps. The wiretaps recorded a conversation between Nasso and Gambino associate Anthony ‘Sonny’ Ciccone in which Ciccone 3 allegedly chastised Nasso for trying to share some of the extorted money with others without ‘prior approval.’”

Anita and Lieberman co-authored a third story on June 12, adding: “The Mafia captain who rules the Staten Island waterfront threatened to kill an entertainment figure, identified previously as actor Steven Seagal, as part of a multimillion-dollar extortion scene. . . . “Anthony ‘Sonny’ Ciccone ‘demanded millions of dollars from this individual and threatened his life,’ Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Genser said at a court hearing for the accused Gambino family docks boss.”6 However, Anita did not appear to trust her partner. In her personal notes, she wrote: I am sharing information with the reporter I’m working with, Paul Lieberman. But something doesn’t smell right. Lieberman is too close to these guys, I believe. He’s going out drinking with them.

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Weekend Series on Crime History: Bobby vs. Hoff

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