Witness Protection: 5 Not-so Wiseguys

The following is an article from Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader. When people enter the federal government's Witness Protection Program, they're supposed to hide, right?

1. WISEGUY: Henry Hill, a member of New York's Lucchese crime family and participant in the $5.8 million Lufthansa heist from New York's Kennedy Airport in 1978, the largest cash theft in U.S. history.

IN THE PROGRAM: The Witness Protection program relocated him to Redmond, Washington, in 1980, and Hill, who's changed his name to Martin Lewis, was supposed to keep a low profile and stay out of trouble. He wasn't very good at either -in 1985 he and writer Nicholas Pileggi turned his mob exploits into the bestselling book Wiseguy, which became the hit move Goodfellas.

WHAT HAPPENED: When the book became a bestseller, "Martin Lewis" couldn't resist telling friends and neighbors who he really was. Even worse, he reverted to his life of crime. Since 1980 Hill has racked up a string of arrests for crimes ranging from drunk driving to burglary and assault. In 1987 he tried to sell a pound of cocaine to two undercover Drug Enforcement officers, which got him thrown out of the Witness Protection Program for good. "Henry couldn't go straight," says Deputy Marshal Bud McPherson. "He loved being a wiseguy. He didn't want to be anything else."

2. WISEGUY: Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno, mafia hit man and acting head of the Los Angeles mob. When he entered the Witness Protection program in 1977, Fratianno was the highest-ranking mobster ever to turn informer.

IN THE PROGRAM: Fratianno had another claim to fame: he is also the highest-paid witness in the history of the program. Between 1977 and 1987, he managed to get the feds to pay for his auto insurance, gas, telephone bills, real-estate taxes, monthly check to his mother-in-law, and his wife's facelift and breast implants.

WHAT HAPPENED: The Justice Department feared the payments made the program look "like a pension fund for aging mobsters," so he was thrown out of the program in 1987. But by that time, Fratianno had already soaked U.S. taxpayers for an estimated $951,326. "He was an expert at manipulating the system," McPherson said. Fratianno died in 1993.

3. WISEGUY: James Cardinali, a five-time murderer who testified against Gambino crime boss John Gotti at his 1987 murder trial. Gotti, nicknamed the "Teflon Don," beat the rap, but Cardinali still got to enter the Witness Protection Program after serving a reduced sentence for his own crimes. After his release, federal marshals gave him a new identity and relocated him to Oklahoma.

IN THE PROGRAM: Witnesses who get new identities aren't supposed to tell anyone who they really are, and when Cardinali slipped up and told his girlfriend in 1989, the program put him on a bus to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and told him to get lost.

But Cardinali wouldn't leave quietly. When he got to Albuquerque, he made signs that said, "Mob Star Witness" and "Marked to Die by the Justice Department." Then wearing the signs as a sandwich board, he marched back and forth in front of the federal courthouse, telling reporters he would continue his protest until he was let back into the program or murdered by mobsters, whichever came first. "If I get killed," Cardinali told reporters, "I want everybody to see what they do to you."

WHAT HAPPENED: Cardinali flew to Washington, D.C. to appear on CNN's Larry King Live. But leaving the state violated his parole, so when he got back to New Mexico, he was arrested ...and released into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. Then he vanished. Did he embarrass the Witness Protection Program into letting him back in? The Marshals Service will "neither confirm nor deny" that he did.


(Image source: Historic LOLs)

4. WISEGUY: John Patrick Tully, convicted murderer and member of the Campisi crime family of Newark, New Jersey.

IN THE PROGRAM: Tully served a reduced sentence for murder and entered the Witness Protection Program in the mid 1970s. By the early 1980s, he was living in Austin, Texas, where, as "Jack Johnson," he worked as a hot dog and fajita vendor. (It was a "nostalgic" choice -years earlier, he'd robbed a bank and used the money to buy a hot dog cart.) Tully's business thrived, but he had repeated run-ins with the police and was arrested numerous times for public intoxication and drunk driving. At some point the police figured out who "Mr. Johnson" really was and then, Tully alleges, they started harassing him.

WHAT HAPPENED: Tully fought back by publicly revealing his true identity.He wrapped himself -literally- in the American flag, and, standing on the steps of city hall with his seven-page rap sheet in one hand and a beer in the other, announced his entry in the 1991 race for mayor. His reasons for running: 1) As a reformed criminal he was a better candidate than typical politicians who "get into office and then start crooking," and 2) "If the police are going to hit me, then they'll have to hit me in the limelight." Tully actually won 496 votes ...but lost the race.

5. WISEGUY: Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi, bookie, loan shark, and member of New York's Gambino crime family from 1974 to 1982.

IN THE PROGRAM: Joe Dogs had a reputation for being an excellent cook -even in the mob. After turning state's evidence in 1982, he supported himself by opening a bagel shop in Florida. Then in 1993 he wrote The Mafia Cookbook. How can someone in the Program promote a book? They can't -witnesses are forbidden contact with the media, and Joe Dogs had to pass on several offers to appear on TV. But he was a huge fan of David Letterman, so when he was asked t appear on The Late Show, he agreed, even though he risked being thrown out of the program. Why would he take the chance? "Dave was my idol," Iannuzzi explained.

WHAT HAPPENED: It finally dawned on somebody at The Late Show that that bringing a man marked for death by the mob into New York City and putting him on TV with Dave in front of a live studio audience might not be such a good idea. At the last minute, just as Joe Dogs was getting ready to cook Veal Marsala, show staffers told him his segment had been canceled. Iannuzzi was furious -according to some accounts he even threatened to "whack" Letterman. And although he never actually went on the show, the U.S. Marshals Service kicked him out of the Witness Protection program anyway. "What am I going to do now? Well," he told reporters, "I can always cook."


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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