I hear you paint houses: Hoffa, Marcello, Ferrie, and E. Howard Hunt

I used to drive to Hollywood, Florida, with Russell for meetings at Joe Sonken’s Gold Coast Lounge quite a bit. Once in a while we’d fly if there was some emergency, but most of the time I drove us down. Joe Sonken was with Russell’s family. Everybody went to the Gold Coast for meetings. All the different people from all over the country met at the Gold Coast. They had the best stone crabs in Florida. Russell would meet there with Santo Trafficante from Florida and Carlos Marcello from New Orleans many times over the course of a year.

I met Trafficante’s lawyer there, Frank Ragano. They loaned Frank Ragano to Jimmy to help him out with the trials he ended up having on account of Bobby and the Get Hoffa Squad. I met Carlos Marcello’s pilot there, too, a guy named Dave Ferrie. They later said he was gay, but if he was he didn’t make a pass at me. He still had his hair when I met him. They say he went a little nutty later on and carried a makeup kit around with him. You could tell he hated Castro with a passion, and he was very close to the anti-Castro Cubans in Florida. One morning a couple of weeks after the meeting at the Gold Coast where I met Dave Ferrie, I was back in Philly at the local and I got a call from Jimmy Hoffa, who told me to go check on that thing we talked about. That meant I should go to the pay phone I used to use and to wait for a phone call.

I got over to the pay phone and when it rang I heard Jimmy’s voice, say “Is that you?” I told him, “Yeah.” He said: “I talked to your friend and he told me to tell you. Get your hands on a safe rig tomorrow and go down to the Harry C. Campbell concrete plant on Eastern Avenue outside of Baltimore. You can’t miss it. Bring somebody to help you drive. You’re going over the road. And don’t forget to call your friend.” I hung up and called Russell from the pay phone and I said to Russell that I had heard from that guy, and Russell said that was good and we hung up.

I drove up to Philly to see Phil Milestone at Milestone Hauling. He owed some big money that he couldn’t pay, so he was doing favors instead, like he had me on the payroll but I didn’t have to work. He was an old time bootlegger. Good people. He was safe to get a truck from; he was no rat. Phil ended up doing time for trying to bribe an IRS agent. Phil gave me a truck and I got ahold of a young guy named Jack Flynn to drive with me. (Jack died young sitting in his car of a heart attack when I was back in school on a parole violation in 1995. I made a call and got his girlfriend a union death benefit.)

We drove the Milestone Hauling truck to Baltimore and pulled into the Campbell plant. I’ve been down there lately to find it and it’s got a new name, Bonsal. It’s more built up, with a few more buildings, but the old stone buildings are still there. In 1961 when we drove in it had a little landing strip. The landing strip had a small plane on it, and Carlos Marcello’s pilot who I had just met at the Gold Coast, Dave Ferrie, got out of the plane and came over to my rig and directed us to back up next to some army trucks. We backed up and all of a sudden this gang of soldiers came out of a building and began unloading military uniforms and weapons and ammunition from their army trucks and loading it all onto our truck. Dave Ferrie told me that the war materiel being loaded was from the Maryland National Guard. He gave me paperwork on the load in case we got stopped. He told me to take it to the dog track in Orange Grove, Florida, outside of Jacksonville. He said I’d be met there by a guy with big ears named Hunt.

We drove straight down old Route 13. I used to drive coffee down to Florida for Food Fair and haul back oranges. I used to like to stop for those Lums chili dogs. You didn’t get them in the North. It took us about twenty-one hours to get there, and we turned the load over to Hunt and some anti-Castro Cubans. Jack Flynn stayed down in Florida to drive the rig back and I flew back to Philly. Hunt later turned up on TV as the one in charge of the Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt, but at that time he was connected to the CIA somehow. Hunt also got some kind of operation on his ears, because the next time I saw him his ears were closer to his head. I drove up to Kingston to give Russell a report on the matter, and he told me that something was going to be happening in Cuba and that’s why Jimmy called me to drive the truck down to Florida. He told me that Jimmy Hoffa was keeping an open mind about the Kennedys.

Jimmy was cooperating in this out of respect for Sam Giancana and out of respect for Russell, and because it would be good for everybody’s sake to take back Cuba from the Communists. Even if it would turn out to be good for the Kennedys. Then the next thing I heard on television that April was that President Kennedy had loused up the Bay of Pigs invasion against Castro. At the last minute Kennedy decided not to send American air cover for the infantry in the amphibious landing. I would have thought John F. Kennedy would have known better than that from having been in the war. You cannot have a landing invasion force without air support. The anti-Castro Cubans who invaded didn’t even have ships offshore to shell the land above the beachhead. The invasion forces were sitting ducks on that beach. The ones that weren’t killed outright were captured by the Communists, and who knows what happened to a lot of those guys. These Kennedys could louse up a one-car funeral, I thought.

I flew down to the Gold Coast with Russell to meet with Santo Trafficante and some of the people. I never heard anything said by any of the people, including Russell, about any plot they had with the Kennedy government to assassinate Castro with poison or a bullet, but some of that came out about ten years later in the newspapers. They used to say the alleged mob only whacked their own. Maybe they figured Castro was a lot like them. In his way, he was a boss. Castro had a crew and he had a territory, and he violated his territory and he came into their territory and took over their valuable property and kicked them out. No boss is supposed to get away with that. I can tell you that some of the different people at Joe Sonken’s viewed old man Kennedy as one of their own. And in a way they no doubt viewed his sons Jack and Bobby as part of his crew.

Johnny Roselli was one of the IRS’s first targets. He lived the glamorous life in Hollywood and Las Vegas, yet he had no job nor any visible means of support. Under prior attorneys general it had never occurred to him that he was vulnerable to the government. Roselli told the brother of the former mayor of Los Angeles: “They are looking into me all the time — and threatening people and looking for enemies and looking for friends.” What made Roselli even angrier was that he suspected that Bobby Kennedy knew that Roselli was allied with the CIA in its operations against Castro. Roselli was later quoted as saying, “Here I am helping the government, helping the country, and that little son of a bitch is breaking my balls.” Around the same time, the IRS assessed Carlos Marcello $835,000 in back taxes and penalties. At that time Marcello was still fighting deportation and was under indictment for perjury and for falsifying his birth certificate. Russell Bufalino was also fighting deportation.

One morning, a few days to a week before November 22, 1963, I got a call from Jimmy to go to the pay phone. When I got there the only thing Jimmy said to me was, “Go see your friend.” I drove up to Russell’s and when he answered the door all he told me to do was, “Go see our friends in Brooklyn. They’ve got something for you to take to Baltimore.” That was not like Russell. He was setting the tone for whatever this was. I turned around and drove to Monte’s Restaurant in Brooklyn. It was a hangout for the Genovese people. It’s the oldest Italian restaurant in New York City. It’s in South Brooklyn, not far from the Gowanus Canal. Excellent food. To the left of the restaurant they have their own parking lot. I parked and went in and stood at the bar. Tony Pro got up from his table and went to the back and returned with a duffel bag. He handed it to me and told me, “Go down to Campbell’s Cement in Baltimore where you went that time with the truck. Our friend’s pilot will be there. He’s waiting for this.” You didn’t have to spend all that time in combat to know you had a duffel bag with three rifles in it. I knew it was rifles, but I had no idea what it was.

When I got there, Carlos’s pilot, Dave Ferrie, was there with another guy I knew from Monte’s who was with Genovese. He’s gone now, but he has a nice family. There’s no reason to bring his name into it. He said, “How’s your friend?” I said, “He’s doing good.” He said, “You got something for us?” With the tone Russell had set, I didn’t even get out of my car. I gave him the keys. He opened the trunk, took the bag, we said good-bye, and away I went home.

Two years after the Warren Commission released its 1964 report, Bobby Kennedy told his brother Jack’s former White House aide Richard Goodwin, “I never thought it was the Cubans. If anyone was involved it was organized crime. But there is nothing I can do about it. Not now.” At the time Bobby Kennedy made these statements to former White House officials who were his friends, he knew more about the inner game of organized crime than any “outsider” in the country. Bobby Kennedy certainly knew that, in the absence of a mob war, bosses did not ever eliminate another boss’s underboss. It would bring major retaliation. To effect a desired change in policy, mob bosses have traditionally eliminated — and still eliminate — bosses, not underbosses. On an international scale it is called regime change. To the Italian bosses it is merely a matter of following the old Sicilian maxim that to kill a dog you don’t cut off its tail, you cut off its head.

In school Jimmy talked a lot about Partin. Frank Ragano was supposed to be getting an affidavit from Partin that the government set Jimmy up. There was a D.A. in New Orleans who arrested Partin, and they were supposed to get that D.A. off Partin’s back in exchange for the affidavit. The same D.A. arrested Walter Sheridan for bribery, and that was supposed to help Jimmy by making Sheridan look bad in the papers. All that help came from Russell’s and Jimmy’s good friend, Carlos Marcello, the boss in New Orleans who had the D.A. That was the same D.A. that was arresting everybody for the JFK assassination. Sometimes a friendly D.A. acts like a bird dog to flush rats out of the weeds. When the rat surfaces to cooperate with the D.A., then the people know what to do. I don’t know about that D.A. I was never a party to any discussions about him. But he did arrest Partin and Sheridan during this time.

About a year after Jimmy went in, Bobby Kennedy announced that he was going to run for president. As far as I could tell that didn’t affect Jimmy at all because Jimmy was already supporting Nixon from jail, getting deliveries of cash down to Mitchell and the Nixon campaign. Jimmy was just glad that Bobby was no longer the attorney general. Everybody approved of Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general, Ramsey Clark. He was the opposite of Bobby Kennedy. He didn’t bother anybody. He was the one they used to call Pamsey Clark. He was against wiretaps. A couple of months later Bobby Kennedy got it from the terrorist. I know Jimmy lost no sleep over that, but Jimmy hardly mentioned it. I think all of Jimmy’s focus was on getting out. He kept up with events through all the papers that he always read, but he didn’t waste his breath on what was happening on the outside unless it had something to do with getting him out. I do believe Jimmy hated jail way more than he ever hated Bobby.

"I Heard You Paint Houses", Updated Edition: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa