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Mafia Son: The Scarpa Mob Family, the FBI, and a Story of Betrayal

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The Scarpas were a Mafia dynasty led by Greg Scarpa Sr., a man so addicted to killing that he was nicknamed “The Grim Reaper.” His son, Gregory Jr., was slowly drawn into his father’s dark world. What only father and son knew was that for thirty years, starting in the 1960s, Scarpa Sr. was an informant for the FBI. Then, faced with arrest  two decades later, Greg dropped the time on his own

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The Scarpas were a Mafia dynasty led by Greg Scarpa Sr., a man so addicted to killing that he was nicknamed “The Grim Reaper.” His son, Gregory Jr., was slowly drawn into his father’s dark world. What only father and son knew was that for thirty years, starting in the 1960s, Scarpa Sr. was an informant for the FBI. Then, faced with arrest  two decades later, Greg dropped the time on his own son.                                                             

Gregory Jr. was imprisoned alongside terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He offered to trade information on Yousef with the government in exchange for leniency, providing detailed intelligence on what would eventually result in the September 11attacks. His warnings were ignored, and he was sentenced to forty years to life in prison, where he remains. A story that gained national notoriety, this is an “enthralling look at ties between the Mafia and the FBI” (Booklist).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A disturbing, jagged true-crime thriller worthy of prime Hammett, Chandler or Puzo." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“It’s hard enough to write without risking your life. Sandra Harmon did both in her tense, penetrating psychological portrait of the wiseguy who went right and paid the price. A true thriller in the tradition of Donnie Brasco and Goodfellas.” —Robert Graysmith, author of Zodiac and Auto Focus

“An absorbing and intriguing look at a Mafia family whose violence and treachery knew no limits.” —Vincent Bugliosi, author of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder

“Harmon writes well and swiftly about one of this century’s most feared, duplicitous Mafiosos—Greg Scarpa, a war captain in the Colombo crime family, a man who had his eye shot out in a gun battle, a man who was so fond of shooting people that he regularly said, ‘I love the smell of gunpowder,’ a man who played both sides of the fence—dedicated Mafioso, and informer for the FBI. Hell of a read.” —Phil Carlo, author of The Ice Man

“A vivid and accurate account of one of the most notorious and ruthless families in the history of organized crime. Sandra Harmon has captured…the very essence of the Scarpa family in all its savage, corrupt, and murderous glory. A great read!” —Michael Vecchione, chief of the Rackets Division, Kings County District Attorney’s Office

“The implications drawn in this book about the FBI's fitness as a law enforcement agency—as well as its capabilities in protecting our nation from terrorism—are staggering.… A can’t-put-it-down read.” —Michael Levine, former DEA agent, trial consultant, and author of Deep Cover

Publishers Weekly

Stressing the elements of irony and malice, Harmon (coauthor, Elvis and Me) sidesteps the usual Mob yarn to tell the somber, dark story of a coldhearted Mafia chieftain and his obedient son, who takes the fall for his father out of familial love and respect. Wily mob head Gregory Scarpa Sr., with a 50-man crew in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, scammed, stole and killed under FBI protection starting in the 1960s, informing against hundreds of gangsters and crooked lawyers for decades. But when faced with arrest for his crimes, the elder Scarpa betrays his adoring son, Gregory Jr., whom he'd groomed to take his place. Convicted for racketeering, the young Scarpa does a long stretch in a federal maximum security prison, where in 1998 he overhears terrorist schemes to attack America from a prisoner named Ramzi Yousef. But his words are discounted until the September 11 attacks. Harmon, a very capable writer, gets inside the heads of the diabolical father and the submissive son (who is still in prison) in this sinister tale of bullets and betrayal. A disturbing, jagged true-crime thriller worthy of prime Hammett, Chandler or Puzo. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
By-the-numbers account of a lowlife mobster and his kin, whose claims, the author allows, "stretch the boundaries of credibility."Harmon opens with a telling admission: "This story is so remarkable-and my participation in it so unlikely-that it still feels somewhat surreal to me." Hitherto the co-author of a celebrity memoir (Elvis and Me, with Priscilla Presley) and books of advice for the lovelorn, the author brings no particular reportorial skills to the tale of Gregory Scarpa Jr., a resident of a maximum-security federal prison by virtue of a long and nasty list of crimes. That acorn, by Harmon's account, fell close to the oak. Scarpa Sr. was dubbed the "Grim Reaper" for his penchant for killing, and Dad-an FBI informant on the side-thought nothing of ratting out his kid in order to save his own hide. Thus far, no surprises. For all the gravitas of Don Corleone and family loyalty of Tony Soprano, mobsters are not known for their ethical sensibilities or contributions to society. The humdrum story gets a little more interesting at a couple of points. There's the story of an FBI agent accused of committing four murders at the Mafia's behest, and one involving Scarpa Jr.'s alleged relationship with a Muslim terrorist inside prison, through which, Harmon ventures, Scarpa was able to glean critical information several years before the 9/11 attacks and pass it on to the authorities. The feds ignored his warnings, however. Harmon writes, in soap-operatic tones, "In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, Gregory was nearly consumed by rage and resentment. Why, he wondered, had the FBI so completely ignored his warnings?" Why, indeed? We'll never know, but the author fails to provide compellingcorroboration for the jailbird's claims. Harmon's no Breslin. Merely serviceable, this slim tale would have benefited from more skepticism and evidence.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312547011
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2011
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Harmon is an Emmy Award–winning television writer and producer, and the author of several bestselling books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Elvis and Me, which she coauthored with Priscilla Presley. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Mafia Son

The Scarpa Mob Family, the FBI, and a Story of Betrayal
By Harmon, Sandra

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Harmon, Sandra
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312370244

Chapter One

Supermax Prison: The Last Worst Place

They call themselves "Cowboys." They love to threaten us, or deny us the simplest of requests. Some of them wake you up every hour throughout the night by shining a flashlight in your face, or throw flaming papers into your cell as a pretext for spraying you down with a fire extinguisher. Then there are the meals served with feces and urine in the food trays. And faces smashed into concrete walls; handcuffs clamped so tight that wrists and ankles are left lacerated and bruised; leg shackles that cut flesh to the bone when men are forced to run; and when we fall to the ground, we are kicked, hit, and slammed some more.

You learn to stay out of their way, except for the ones who just want to torture us, no matter what, the ones who get their kicks that way. And of course you have to watch out for the inmates, because most of them are totally nuts, because they have been locked up here for years, and this place is designed to drive you crazy.

—Anonymous inmate in ADMAX, Florence, Colorado

Welcome to the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum (ADMAX) facility in Florence, Colorado. The most secure federal prison in the country, Florence is specifically designed,and uniquely qualified, to keep every occupant in nearly total solitary confinement for his entire sentence. Gregory Scarpa Jr., fifty-eight, convicted of racketeering, will call this prison home until at least 2033, when he will be eighty-four years old.

Gregory has been a resident of ADMAX since l998. He lives alone in a steel-and-concrete box approximately the size of your bathroom. For twenty-three hours a day, day in and day out, year after year, Gregory is confined to this space. His meticulously soundproofed seven-by-nine-foot cell includes a concrete slab and a thin mattress for a bed; a shower with a timer (to conserve water and prevent flooding); a sink with no taps ( just buttons); a toilet with a valve that shuts off the water automatically; a light fixture; an immovable concrete desk and stool; a polished steel mirror riveted to the concrete wall; and a thirteen-inch black-and-white television encased in Plexiglas (to prevent tampering). The lights are controlled by the guards: Frequently they are left on throughout the night, leaving the prisoner disoriented and sleep-deprived, and thus keenly aware that he has forfeited his freedom, and that he is, in many respects, nothing more than an animal.

Motion detectors and cameras track his every move; fourteen hundred remote-controlled steel doors modulate his infrequent journeys throughout the facility; twelve-foot-high fences rimmed with concertina wire help ensure that he’ll never take an unapproved vacation. Three times a day, like clockwork, small, tasteless meals are slid into his cell through a slot in the wall.

"You eat because you need to keep up your strength, but at night you dream about a thick steak, or a plate of spaghetti, or even a box of cookies," says Gregory. "I remember when I got a picture someone took of my mother in front of a tray of cookies, and all I could think about were the cookies. You see pictures of food on the TV and you begin to drool. You see beautiful women or happy families on TV and you try not to cry, because although you fear you will never be able to hold a woman or child in your arms ever again in your life, you have to be tough to survive."

Inmates have almost no physical contact with anyone: Corrections officers, for example, approach inmates’ cells through a vestibule; bars separate the vestibule from the solid steel doors of the cell, providing a second barrier and allowing the COs to handcuff inmates safely before removing them from their cells for transport or exercise. As with food, mail and laundry are delivered through a slot in the steel bars. Meals are either typical American diner fare—casseroles, hamburgers, and blue-plate specials—or foods conforming to almost all religious restrictions: no pork; an abundance of beans and vegetables. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are afforded certain courtesies, such as taking their meals in the evening hours. But these are the rare exceptions.

From the prison nerve center, officers and other staff maintain control through the use of a wide array of sophisticated electronic and surveillance equipment. Doors are opened and closed by remote control, and almost always from a safe distance. Corridors are lined with cameras and microphones, making it almost impossible for an inmate to escape the watchful eye of prison administrators. The goal here is not rehabilitation; the goal is confinement—punishment. The safety of staff and officers is paramount at all times.

Gregory Scarpa Jr. is five-feet-six-inches tall, with a thick, muscular build, gray beard, and an assortment of tattoos. Though short in stature, he is a physically impressive man (prematurely bald, he no longer sports the rather conspicuous and obvious toupee he wore in his youth); and yet, there is an undeniable sadness in his eyes, something in his demeanor that suggests nothing so much as regret. He passes the endless hours exercising in his cell, watching TV, and writing long letters to his four children: Kori, Diane, Gregory III, and Maria (the last, at twenty, his youngest). He says that he attempts to be a father to them through daily letters; to date, however, he has rebuffed their overtures to visit. He says he would love to hold his children, to feel their touch and to hear their voices, to feel their breath against his cheek. But even if they were permitted to visit, there is no assurance they would be allowed any sort of intimacy, and the longing he feels—the sadness that comes with isolation—is offset by the pain he imagines they would feel if they saw him in this cell, chained and shackled, their encounter mitigated by a Plexiglas barrier.

Five days a week, for one hour a day, Gregory is removed from his cell and transported to a small indoor steel-mesh cage about half the size of his cell. Inmates call it the "kennel" or "dog run," because that is precisely what it resembles. Leaving his cell for even this brief interlude involves an extraordinary ordeal for Gregory. Two guards enter his cell and order him to strip. After a cavity search, including a pointedly humiliating anal examination, he dresses again, and his hands are cuffed through a slot in the steel bars. Then the guards—with steel-tipped batons at the ready—accompany him down a long, narrow corridor. At all times, their movements are tracked by video monitors. Nothing is left to chance.

Exercise hour is exactly that—one hour. Afterward, the moving process begins again, including a second degrading cavity search. He then sits in his tiny cell for the next twenty-three hours, waiting for the next meal, for mail, for anything that will help interrupt the crushing monotony and sameness that typify his life. Gregory Scarpa has been incarcerated at several different federal penitentiaries over the course of the past seventeen years; he is no stranger to the boredom and indignity of prison life. Florence ADMAX, he readily acknowledges, is easily the worst. Guards wield authority and power to a degree not known at most prisons. It is a completely controlled environment, and nothing is allowed to put that control at risk. An inmate who is unhappy with his situation is well advised to keep his mouth closed. Corrections officers will meet force with force—tenfold—and as long as no one is killed or maimed, the muscular tactics are generally approved and encouraged. ADMAX is not supposed to be a warm and welcoming place. It is prison. In every sense of the word. And the inmates at ADMAX are never allowed to forget this fact. So long as an officer brings no unwelcome attention on the institution and its administration, his methodology is unlikely to be questioned.

The maximum security facility at Marion, Illinois, the model for Florence ADMAX, has been denounced by Amnesty International, a human rights organization, for violating the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. But few people care, because "supermax" facilities such as Marion and Florence ADMAX are considered little more than repositories for society’s scum. Garden-variety drug addicts and petty thieves do not find their way to Florence; one’s criminal oeuvre must be decidedly more violent, and persistently high profile. Florence ADMAX is the end of the line for drug kingpins, gang leaders, hit men, snipers, and, more recently, international terrorists (for example, Al-Qaeda shoe bomber Richard Reid and four men convicted of involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies are all residents of ADMAX).

High-profile American terrorists have also called ADMAX home, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (who was executed in 2001) and his accomplice, Terry Nichols, as well as Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Together, for a time, this trio gave the prison’s highest-security section its nickname: Bombers Row.

Another notorious Florence ADMAX inmate is Ramzi Yousef, who is serving a life sentence with no chance for parole following a conviction in 1998 for his involvement in both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Bojinka bombing plot. In 1998, three years before 9/11, Gregory Scarpa Jr. risked his life to spy for the United States government, extracting from Yousef himself the incredible story of how Al-Qaeda was planning 9/11. Scarpa passed the information, in minute detail—including exact sketches of terrorist bombs— to then assistant U.S. attorney Valerie Caproni (now the FBI’s head counsel), and to then AUSA Patrick Fitzgerald (later a U.S. special prosecutor). In return, Scarpa had believed that his sentence would be reduced, or perhaps even commuted. Instead, he was called a liar, his intelligence was buried, and he was sentenced to forty years to life at Florence ADMAX, where he has been held essentially without any contact.

One might reasonably wonder why Gregory has been kept in this hellhole of a prison, unable to tell his story—unless, of course, the United States government has something to hide. Certainly he is no choirboy; he is, by his own admission, a killer. But is it possible that even a murderer can be both more and less than he appears?

"It is an absolute outrage that Gregory Scarpa Jr. should be doing four decades in the same jail as the man behind the trade center bombing and Bojinka," says Larry Silverman, Gregory’s former lawyer. "Especially when we only now have a full understanding of the quality of the intelligence he was furnishing to the feds."

Excerpted from Mafia Son by Sandra Harmon.
Copyright © 2009 by Sandra Harmon.
Published by St. Martin’s Press.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.


Excerpted from Mafia Son by Harmon, Sandra Copyright © 2009 by Harmon, Sandra. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 Supermax Prison: The Last Worst Place 1

2 Wiseguy 7

3 Top Echelon Informant 18

4 Blind Rage 26

5 The Education of a Wiseguy 33

6 The Princess of Bensonhurst 40

7 Scarpa's Mistress 49

8 Mississippi Burning 57

9 Married to Mob 65

10 Murder, Inc. 73

11 The Goodfella Life 78

12 Ménage à Trois 84

13 Fatherly Love 91

14 The Hitman and the G-Man 95

15 Dr. Scholnick and the Beauty Queen 102

16 Crazy Love 108

17 The Death of Donnie Somma 115

18 Bad Blood 119

19 Where Have You Gone, Joe Brewster? 124

20 Sins of the Father 128

21 RICO Act 135

22 Who Killed Patrick Porco? 141

23 The Colombo Crime Family War 145

24 The Bullet He Couldn't Duck 151

25 One-Eyed Greg 157

26 Dementia 164

27 The Last Days of the Grim Reaper 168

28 Internal Investigation 172

29 The Sins of the Son 176

30 The Mobster and the Terrorist 182

31 The Son Goes Down 192

32 The Tomb 197

33 The Scarpa Intelligence 203

34 Gregory Scarpa and the Oklahoma City Bomber 209

35 The People Against DeVecchio 220

36 Assault 224

37 Say Goodbye to ADMAX 229

38 DeVecchio On Trial 236

39 Dead Man Talking 248

Postscript 250

Acknowledgments 255

Index 257

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Customer Reviews

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( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 1, 2009

    bad mafia book

    This book is totally one sided. The author obviously fully believes what the Scarpas and the mistress told her even though numerous Justice Dept, FBI agents, etc don't. There is some historical stuff that is good but among mob books this one is not so good.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2014

    this book was not bad cheese you say one sided but the proof is

    this book was not bad cheese you say one sided but the proof is in the book the justice dept. buried Greg Scarpa jr in a super max prison because he told the truth..the Justice Dept. didnt want Greg Jr to talk about all his fathers drug deals with Sammy Gravano who was the star witness in another big mafia case.This book gives you a good look into top echelon informents and how they are handled and protected by the FBI

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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