Friday, June 14, 2013

The Westies return as police bust 'Irish-American gang boss' in drug smuggle

The boss of a notorious Irish-American New York gang has been arrested after allegedly using his private jet to smuggle cannabis across the US. John Bokun, the alleged head of the Westies, is said to have used his Dassault Falcon executive plane to fly high-grade marijuana from California to dozens of wealthy clients. The audacious plot meant he was able to ship a more profitable form of the drug than if he used trucks as a long transit causes it to lose potency. Arrest: John Bokun, head of The Westies, was arrested after police say he used his executive plane to fly marijuana from California to wealthy clients Arrest: John Bokun, head of The Westies, was arrested after police say he used his executive plane to fly marijuana from California to wealthy clients But now Bokun has been grounded after he was arrested near New York when US Immigration and Customs officials allegedly watched him unload $500,000 of marijuana from the aircraft. He has pleaded not guilty before Long Island federal prosecutors on marijuana-trafficking charges. More... Man busted for trying to smuggle marijuana into an airport in a Skippy peanut butter jar (which is banned, anyway) Jihad from jail: Islamic terrorists using network website MuslimPrisoner.com to preach hatred from behind bars Officials have been stunned at the financial clout that Bokun apparently has at his disposal to mount such a plot. It is not clear which particular aircraft Bokun is said to have been using, but the 14 passenger Dassault Falcon 7X, which is commonly used for long range business trips, costs $50 million new. Export: Bokun is accused of flying the drugs from California on his aircraft that's unidentified but may have been the 14 passenger Dassault Falcoln 7X that can get up to 593mph Export: Bokun is accused of flying the drugs from California on his aircraft that's unidentified but may have been the 14 passenger Dassault Falcoln 7X that can get up to 593mph It can go a speedy 593mph, which is fast enough to outrun many similar aircraft its size. Bokun’s arrest also marks the return of The Westies, also known as the ‘Irish Mafia’, who ruled the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan between the 1970s and the 1990s with a brutal loan-sharking and extortion racket. According to Immigration and Customs, Bokun was secretly monitored flying his Falcon out of an airport in the ‘Emerald Triangle’, a hub for cannabis growers in the Californian Coast Mountains north of San Francisco. Area: Bokun's arrest marks the return of The Westies, also known as the Irish Mafia, who ruled the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan between the 1970s and the 1990s Area: Bokun's arrest marks the return of The Westies, also known as the Irish Mafia, who ruled the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan between the 1970s and the 1990s Agents were waiting for him when he landed at Farmingdale in Long Island and pounced after he had unloaded the $500,000 of marijuana. A police source told the New York Post that by flying the drugs rather than going by road, Bokun was reducing his ‘exposure to law enforcement’. He said: ‘Every time you drive a tractor-trailer through the country, there are state troopers and local cops looking for a lane-change (violation), a busted tail light, speeding.’ Dangerous leader: James Coonan, the Westies' earlier leader, learned how to dismember his victims and dispose of them in the East River after training as a butcher Dangerous leader: James Coonan, the Westies' earlier leader, learned how to dismember his victims and dispose of them in the East River after training as a butcher Killer: Mickey Featherstone became Coonan's bodyguard and enforcer as an ever-ready killer Killer: Mickey Featherstone became Coonan's bodyguard and enforcer as an ever-ready killer Another source added that with such huge expenses it was ‘rare to run into an organization that’s wealthy enough and sophisticated enough to pull it off.’ Bokun’s arrest comes after dozens of his relatives made The Westies amongst the most feared gangs in New York history when they began terrorising Hell’s Kitchen more than 30 years ago. Reports from the time said that the family were responsible for up to 100 murders over the course of two decades. Deals: The Westies are believed to have made a deal with the Gambino crime family, their late leader John Gotti seen here, to allow them a cut of their profits in exchange for protection from the mob Deals: The Westies are believed to have made a deal with the Gambino crime family, their late leader John Gotti seen here, to allow them a cut of their profits in exchange for protection from the mob They supposedly made a deal with the Gambino crime family to allow them a cut of the profits from their kidnapping, loan-sharking, extortion, gambling and drug dealing in exchange for protection from the mob. Among the many myths about the gangsters was that they once rolled the head of a man who crossed them down the bar of the 596 Club. The fingers of others who had displeased them were also said to be kept by the drinks. Gang myths: Among the many myths about the New York gangsters was that they once rolled the head of a man who crossed them down the bar of the 596 Club and also kept fingers of others by their drinks Gang myths: Among the many myths about the New York gangsters was that they once rolled the head of a man who crossed them down the bar of the 596 Club and also kept fingers of others by their drinks The gang has been dubbed The Irish Sopranos and were featured in the 1990 drama ‘State of Grace’ starring Sean Penn and Gary Oldman about a man who reunites with a childhood friend who is now a gangster But for 20 years now they have been quiet as Hell’s Kitchen began gentrifying and its leaders were arrested and given long jail terms. Bokun’s lawyer, Joseph Conway, told the New York Post: ‘Mr Bokun has entered a not-guilty plea, and he looks forward to addressing all of the charges in court.’

There once was a kitchen in hell...

Well, more like a bar. But I assume that behind every bar there’s at least a prep kitchen. And we happen to live right on top of where it used to stand. History, history everywhere! Last night we saw our friend Michael Walker‘s play at the East Village Theater Festival. If you’re fond of the East Village, you still have a few dates to catch a performance. The 4 short plays in “Evening A” gave me a renewed appreciation of the place and its history: the early Jewish & Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, the poetic genius of Thompson Square Park, and how the neighborhood changed its character in the last couple of decades. Michael‘s play, Three Rooms, tells us about an East Village apartment, previously occupied by Allen Ginsberg, that gets rented by a food blogger whose cultural irreverence makes her a symbol of the neighborhood’s gentrification in the eyes of an aspiring journalist. Among the food blogger’s most insensitive offences against poetry is her decision to completely renovate the kitchen, installing state-of-the-art appliances and throwing out the old ones… I don’t know why Michael hates food bloggers but I still enjoyed his play that I thought was witty, smart, and overall terrific. The urban history lesson continued after the show, not in the kitchen but rather in the restroom of Dorian Gray, a bar across the street where we headed over after the show. The first thing that I saw on its wall, wallpapered in old newspaper and book pages, was this: The 596 Club, Jimmy Coonan's Saloon at 43rd Street and 10th Avenue This newspaper clipping instantly transported me from the East Village back to Hell’s Kitchen, the lovely neighborhood where we now live and that not so long ago was brewing with criminal activity. 43rd Street and 10th Avenue? That’s our intersection! No one could tell me who Jimmy Coonan was; therefore, I did some wikiing and googling and I found out that James “Jimmy C” Coonan is an Irish-American mobster and racketeer from Manhattan, who was a member of the gang the Westies and is currently serving a 75-year prison term. Curious to figure out the exact location of The 596 Bar, I came across the 2007 article, Turf of Gangs and Gangsters, in the New York Times. And learned that… …the Mr. Biggs Bar & Grill at 10th Avenue and West 43rd Street is on the site of a dive bar, the 596 Club, which Mr. Coonan owned in the 1970s. In 1977 he and his crew murdered and dismembered the loan shark Ruby Stein there. The torso was later retrieved from the East River. …[M]acabre stories about the 596 Club still float around Hell’s Kitchen. Old-timers remember jars behind the bar that held the severed fingers of guys who had crossed the Westies. There’s the one about gangsters rolling a severed head down the bar. “I’ve heard a lot of that kind of stuff,” T. J. English, author of “The Westies,” said in a recent interview. “Normally you’d dismiss it as absurd, but since it was the Westies, who knows? That place was certainly the proverbial bucket of blood.” Scott Rudnick, owner of Mr. Biggs, said the place had its share of ghosts when he first opened 13 years ago, but the introduction of karaoke nights “spooked the spooks out.” (full article) How Sweeney Todd!!! This bar’s menu would have been a real find for some die-hard food blogger, had they existed back then. Nowadays, however, I pass this place all the time, and have never even been curious to look inside. Between the name and the palm trees, I hope you see why. Mr. Biggs’ website disappointed me. No pickled fingers on the menu, no buckets of blood, and not even a mention of its gory history. Obviously, the place lost the charm of its predecessor… Nonetheless, I find my little discovery extremely fascinating. Now I can proudly say that we live in the very heart of the historic Hell’s Kitchen; moreover, right by the butcher block!

Kevin Kelley

Kevin Kelley took over operations of the Irish mob in Hell's Kitchen when Jimmy Coonan was sent up the river. He'd been a made man under Coonan for years, so he was ready to move in. Kelley expanded the Irish mob's influence well beyond the West Side of NYC by selling illegal drugs, mainly cocaine. Kelley's reign was a short one - he was immediately fingered by the FBI and he and his associate, Kenny Shannon, eventually turned themselves in to authorities in 1988.

Edward 'Eddie the Butcher' Cummiskey

A fixture in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in the 1960s, Eddie Cummiskey gained attention first as an associate of Mickey Spillane. A brutal man who had gained knowledge of butchery while in prison in Upstate New York, Cummiskey became an integral part of Spillane's operation. (He's credited with developing the practice of butchering murder victims and disposing of their remains in the Hudson River, an iconic image of New York gangster-dom.) Cummiskey and Spillane split in the 1970s after Cummiskey took a young James Coonan under his wing. Nonetheless, Cummiskey was killed in 1976 by Joseph "Mad Dog" Sullivan during a purge of Spillane's close associates ordered by Anthony "Fat Tony"

James 'Big Jim' O'Leary

Big Jim O'Leary was a powerful Irish mob boss in Chicago for over a decade, controlling gambling on the city's South Side with an iron fist. His criminal career started as a teenager, when O'Leary worked for bookies in Long Beach, Indiana. He later began operating his own illegal gambling ring on the steamship The City of Traverse on Lake Michigan. Both of these early operations failed to gain traction, largely because of O'Leary's refusal to pay off local police. He only found financial success following the death of Chicago crime lord Michael Cassius MacDonald, which led to O'Leary's assuming control of gambling in Chicago's South Side. And yes, if the O'Leary/Chicago connection seems familiar, it should: Big Jim's parents, Patrick and Catherine O'Leary, owned the barn where the infamous Great Chicago Fire in 1871 is thought to have started. Though it's never been proven, their cow was supposedly the arsonist responsible.

John Patrick Looney

A surprisingly educated and sophisticated gangland figure, John Patrick Looney was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1889, was active in Democratic Party politics and had started his own newspaper - the Rock Island News of Rock Island, Illinois - in 1905. He would go on to use the publication to extort powerful local residents (threatening to publish unflattering stories unless he received a payoff) and to attack other personal enemies. Looney eventually sold his stake in the paper in 1908, though he continued to harass and threaten the purchaser - W.W. Wilmerton - who had hoped to dismantle it. (He even got into a gunfight with Wilmerton at one point during which Looney was wounded.) During and following his tenure at the Rock Island News, Looney got involved in gambling and prostitution as well as his extortion ring. Once Prohibition became the law of the land, he extended his enterprise into the protection racket as well, offering cover for law violators. In 1922, his fortunes changed after Looney allegedly killed William Gabel, a man who had provided evidence against Looney to Prohibition agents. In retaliation, Looney's son was murdered by rivals, and police raids shut down his speakeasies and brothels. Though he fled, first to Canada and then New Mexico, Looney was eventually apprehended, convicted of Gabel's murder as well as "conspiracy to protect gambling, prostitution and illicit liquor traffic" and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He died in 1947 in a tuberculosis sanitarium. Looney is the inspiration for Paul Newman's character, John Rooney, in the Oscar-winning 2002 movie "Road to Perdition." The character was originally named "John Looney" in Max Allan Collins' graphic novel of the same name

James 'Buddy' McLean

McLean is best-known as the founder and original leader of the "Winter Hill Gang" of Somerville, Massachusetts. The gang had started in 1955, when McLean attracted compatriots due to his infamy as a tough street fighter. Originally, Winter Hill members focused their efforts on the numbers racket, loansharking and hijacking trucks. McLean became embroiled in a rivalry with another group of mobsters from nearby Charlestown, particularly relating to the murder of George McLaughlin. In October of 1961, he shot and killed McLaughlin's brother, Bernie, in the streets of Charlestown in front of many witnesses, but was acquitted of all charges. (His alleged accomplice in the crime was a man named Alex Petricone, who became an actor and changed his name to Alex Rocco.) McLean was killed in 1966 outside the Tap Royal Social Club (a known hangout of the Winter Hill Gang) by Steve and Cornelius Hughes. He was succeeded by Howie Winter.