A Mob Tale
A tale of friendship and family...
Guys like Louis Pasciuto (on the left) are still out there, stealing from you for their families.
And Guys like Charlie Ricottone (on the right) are still out there, taking from guys like Louis Pasciuto--for their Families.
Born to Steal tells the story of how a teenage kid from Staten Island became a Master of the Universe on Wall Street.
His corner of Wall Street.
The Mafia's Wall Street.
This book describes how Guys (aka gangsters, wiseguys, Mafioso) turned Wall Street into a fixed roulette wheel, ripping off thousands of investors--right under the eyes of regulators, law enforcement and the financial press.
None of them noticed. But they sure are noticing now. And not all of them appreciate it.
This website will tell you about the book and myself. I'll have a lot more to say in the coming days and weeks. Something new is in the works. Watch this space.
One recent bit of news has gotten quite a bit of attention in the media:
The U.S. Government doesn't like this book.
Which is putting it mildly. The story of how the feds expressed their displeasure is described further down on this page.
But first a few words about why the U.S. Government doesn't like this book. In a nutshell, it is this: The feds wanted the story of Louis Pasciuto all to themselves. They didn't want you to know about it.
Louis went to work for the government from the moment his career in the Wall Street Mafia ended with his arrest in December 1999.
In the words of his FBI case officer, Kevin Barrows, Louis was a "top flight informant" who provided information that "led to the indictment of countless gangsters and corrupt brokers. Said Barrows:
"In Born to Steal, Gary Weiss tells the story of Louis Pasciuto and his gangster milieu with accuracy and fidelity to truth, but in a manner that captures the imagination. It is the inside story that only I, my partner John Brosnan, and Louis would have been able to tell. It is a compelling inside look at modern organized crime and stock fraud."
When a New York Times review disclosed that Louis's story was being told in Born to Steal, Federal prosecutors in Manhattan were furious, and they immediately sought to strike back.
Their frustration was understandable. Louis was not precluded, by his cooperation agreement or anything else, from telling me his story. They had to concoct an excuse to punish Louis, and they came up with a doozy.
Prosecutors sought to throw Louis in jail -- to put him behind bars right alongside the people he put in prison. For his "safery."
It was a transparent pretext, a lie they did not believe themselves. In reality, of course, the feds wanted to punish Louis for telling his story.
The only problem was that, under the First Amendment, you're not supposed to punish anyone -- not even a criminal -- for talking to an author. Not even if the resulting book would harm the government (which the feds were not claiming as they sought to toss him in the clink).
The feds devised a clever way of circumventing that little technicality. After the Authors Guild intervened on First Amendment grounds, and a bruising and potentially embarassing fight loomed, the U.S. Attorney’s office dropped its effort to put Louis in jail. Instead a “compromise” was reached. Louis would be put in a “safe house” somewhere in the Northeast.
But when details of the “compromise” were provided to Louis and his lawyer, it was obvious that the government had simply devised a way of punishing Louis for telling his story without actually sending him to jail. He would be placed in an isolated location without any means of support or contact with his family or the outside world -- under conditions actually more restrictive than he would have faced in prison.
Louis signed the agreement—and then changed his mind. So on May 31, 2003, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Casey revoked his bail and ordered Louis immediately incarcerated.
Louis had fallen into the same trap as so many of his victims. He had been conned. And surely there are plenty of reasons to put Louis in prison. But telling his story? Nope—that’s not one of them.
Louis's sentencing was set for Aug. 29, 2003. But then it was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. Louis wanted to get it all over with, but prosecutors concocted one excuse after another to drag out the proceedings as long as possible.
While Louis was in prison, the feds showed just how much they cared about his safety. They locked him up at Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, where he saw some familiar faces. Among his prison-mates were more than a half-dozen ranking Mafia figures, including Phil Abramo, a DeCavalcante crime family capo, recently convicted for his role in several murders, who's mentioned prominently in the book.
Federal guidelines called for a four-year prison term. But ordinarily, a "top flight informant" like Louis would have received leniency, a sentence of time served. After all, he had already spent 14 months in jail. Major stock fraud bigwigs who had become informants, such as Jordan Belfort, head of the Stratton Oakmont penny-stock behemoth, had received nominal sentences, far less than they could have received under sentencing guidelines, after joining Team America.
But they hadn't told you their story. They weere talkative--but only when they were talking to prosecutors and judges.
When it came to Louis, the feds had a problem when it came to punishing him. They were contractually obliged to recommend clemency. In return for his cooperation, prosecutors had promised to describe all his good work in a letter to the sentencing judge. Prosecutors serious considered reneging, as they later told Casey. Instead, they did the next best thing.
They wrote the letter. But they made sure that it read like an indictment, lambasting Louis for his "criminal exploitation of the American public" -- a trashing that, lawyers tell me, is pretty much unheard-of in a letter that's sent to a judge seeking a reduced sentence for a cooperator.
In a lengthy discussion of Born to Steal, prosecutors accused Pasciuto of concealing from the government his cooperation with me -- which was probably true, for the simple fact that he had absolutely no obligation to reveal it (because of that inconvenient little document I mentioned earlier, the First Amendment).
Neither did I, though apparently the government felt that I had been sorely lacking in that regard, specifically by not bringing my book to the FBI's attention.
That's right -- I neglected to tell the FBI. Shame on me. Here's how that came up. Louis's lawyer, in an effort to show that writing about the Wall Street Mob can be a public service, had told the judge about a letter that had been sent to BusinessWeek by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, praising my articles exposing the Mob. Prosecutors zeroed in on that. "At the time," their letter to the judge said, "Pasciuto and Weiss were successfully scheming to keep Born to Steal a secret from Director Freeh and everyone else at the FBI."
Yeah, right. Born to Steal was a deep, dark secret, apparently, to everybody but the U.S. Government. Freeh wrote his letter praising my work in November, 2000, three months after the book received coverage from coast to coast, in Publishers Weekly, the front page of Variety, and the New York newspapers.
The letter had its intended effect. It was so vitriolic that the judge expressed wonderment that it was written at all, given the "gross fraud" so helpfully outlined by the government in its letter. Federal guidelines called for a 48-month sentence and Louis received a 30-month sentence, over three-quarters of the time he would have received if he hadn't helped the government prosecute dozens of mobsters and crooked brokers.
The U.S. Attorney's office wouldn't talk to me, to explain why they did what they did, when I wrote an essay on the subject for Business Week Online. In fact, they also didn't talk to me before they wrote their letter to the judge, which might be why it contains so many lies and distortions.
As said it in my BW Online essay, and I'll say it again: The public needs cooperating witnesses as much as the government does, if we're to learn about the inner workings of sophisticated criminal enterprises, stock fraud, and organized crime. In the future, cooperators who want to tell their stories will have to wait until they're out of the clutches of the government, lest they be punished for speaking out as Louis was.
That can take years. Four and a half years elapsed between Louis's guilty plea in December 1999 and his sentence in May 2004. So, in the future, cooperators who want to tell you their story will wait and wait until they're safe from government retribution, their information growing cold and stale, slowly but surely becoming devoid of any public interest.
Sentences are supposed to send a message to the community, and the message of Louis's sentence was loud and clear: If you are a federal witness, keep your mouth shut.
Fortunately, Louis was able to tell his story before the feds tried to suppress it. If they had learned Louis was talking to me when I started working on Born to Steal in 2000, there's no doubt whatsoever that they would have silenced him. And this story could never have been told.
A Family Album
The subject of all this fuss was born on November 20, 1973, in Brooklyn, New York. Here are some pictures from his album. Well, it wasn't his album exactly. Some of the pictures came from his wedding. Others were snapshots.
Still others were provided by the United States government, when they finally became aware that there were thousands of young men just like Louis--guys who were Born to Steal.
"We raised him up to be mannerable and respectful and all that.” An infant Louis, pictured here with his father Nick. It was 1974, and Louis Pasciuto was just eighteen summers away from the start of his career on Wall Street. Nick and Fran Pasciuto tried hard, but their efforts to instill morality in their offspring did not meet with success. Childcare experts might debate how this happened. All Louis knows is that he was always a crook.
Fortunately for Louis (if not for the investors of America), Louis caught the eye of Roy Ageloff, boss of the brokers of Hanover Sterling. Roy had much in common with Louis. He was born in Brooklyn, he had loving parents, and he was a great believer in the virtues of aggressive stock salesmanship. He is pictured here as a guest of the U.S. government, which felt he was a bit too aggressive.
At Hanover, the money flowed in a geyser that ultimately splashed into the pockets of this man. He is Alphonse "Allie Shades" Malangone, a capo in the Genovese crime family. To Allie Shades, Hanover Sterling was just one component in a diversified portfolio that included the Fulton Fish Market and the garbage-hauling industry.
Hanover was staffed by scores of eager young cold-callers, who learned their craft from some of the best brokers in the business. Some of these brokers were so skilled that they became legends. During his apprenticeship at Hanover, Louis apprenticed under the wise and loving tutelage of Chris Wolf and Rocco Basile. They were Louis's role models.
Their sales technique did not depend on scripts. Instead they used a soft sell that tore through the resistance people commonly have to buying stocks over the phone. Chris later introduced Louis to the wonderful world of "cash deals"—under-the-table payments for selling stock.
Like Roy Ageloff they eventually faced the blast furnace of the criminal justice system, as is indicated by the distinctive style of these photographs.
After Hanover self-destructed, Rocco and Chris brought their magic to a succession of other crummy little brokerage firms -- and their Mob partners followed.
Enrico Locascio was as a Colombo family associate whose lack of formal finance training did not prevent him from exerting his own brand of influence over Wall Street. He was particularly close to Chris Wolf, who did not have much choice in the matter.
Hanover could not contain Louis’s lofty ambitions, so he moved to the midtown offices of a little boiler room called Robert Todd. Soon Louis was able to afford a BMW, which was the favorite vehicle of his girlfriend Stefanie, pictured here with Louis. It was the first of many vehicles that Louis purchased with his earnings as a budding Wall Street star.
One of the more notable mobsters to cross Louis's path during this time was Bonanno capo Frank Coppa.
Frank favored mink jackets, and did not take much kidding on the subject. A veteran of stock scams and once a dabbler in school-bus companies, he pushed a chicken-restaurant private placement that did not set Wall Street on fire. He had a close relationship with Louis's partner Benny Salmonese, but was less in-your-face than Rico was with Chris Wolf.
After Born to Steal was published, word emerged in the media that Frank, indicted and facing immense jail time, had tossed in his chips and become a government informant.
"Stuttering John" Melendez, a regular on the Howard Stern show, was Louis's pal and a favored client. He was a “Celebrity” who unwittingly profited from trades that ripped off the Middle American “Nobodies.”
Melendez became friends with Louis and his friends, and is pictured here at Louis’ wedding. His rendition of “Louie Louie” was the highlight of the Louis-Stefanie nuptials. Other Howard Stern Show cast members also became clients, as did players for the New York Jets, but Stern kept his distance.
John later cut his hair and shed his chop-house pals, and is now Jay Leno's sidekick on the Tonight Show.
Here we have Louis on his yacht CREAM, named for the Wu Tang Clan rap song, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” At this point Louis was at the height of his wealth, just before it all came crashing down.
Louis's wealth attracted the attention of an array of gangsters, ranging from old-timers like John "Sonny" Franzese to rising hoods of all stripes. He paid protetion money to Brooklyn gangster Charlie Ricottone, but Charlie was more interested in taking Louis's money than keeping his cash cow safe from other hoods.
It didn't help that Louis was a degenerate gambler and cocaine user.
The yacht was soon gone as gambling debts, and incessant demands from Charlie and other Guys, took their toll on Louis’s cash flow. By the end of 1997 he was still earning large sums of money, but much of it went to pay off his indebtedness to various parties. He had to keep a ledger to keep track of where it was all going.
By 1999, long-delayed pressure from law enforcement had made it harder for Louis's kind of broker to make a dishonest buck. He was reduced to running an imaginary company that sold nonexistent stocks. United Capital served its customers well, except when they wanted to take money out of their accounts..
Louis had no opportunity to repeat his success at United Capital. The FBI arrested him in October 1999, and Louis became a cooperating witness. By mid-2000 Louis was no longer available for chastisement, so the Mob firebombed Fran Pasciuto’s car. That’ll teach him! The era of horse’s heads in beds was clearly over, if it ever existed in the first place.
Louis in 2002. A few weeks after this photograph was taken, Louis was offered a job at a crooked brokerage firm -- "chop house" -- in Brooklyn.
Some things never change. But not Wall Street's worship of greed. Louis never followed the financial news very much when he was on Wall Street. Over the past three years, as he has awaited sentencing, Louis has read about lying analysts, indicted accounting firms, dot.com frauds and companies like Enron and Worldcom. During his time on Wall Street he always felt that he wasn't good enough, not polished enough, to leave the Chop House Wall Street where he made his fortune and join the Real Wall Street. But in recent months he has realized that he was on the Real Wall Street all along.