Sunday, December 7, 2008

Robert Bisaccia Dies in Prison

The New York Times reports on the death of Robert Bisaccia the underworld figure who inspired the character played by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

Anthony Margotta Jr., a horse trainer in New Jersey was the nephew of Bisaccia.

“He was one of the most loving uncles in the world — funny, charming, one of a kind — and his advice was always to do the right thing. Always. Don’t do anything shady. Don’t do anything wrong.”

Alas, that’s not the way Mr. Bisaccia is remembered by law enforcement officials in New Jersey who had stalked him since the 1960s. They say he began as a minor figure in the Gambino family who rose to become John J. Gotti’s powerful capo in New Jersey, and was admired and feared for his toughness, ferocity and willingness to do whatever was asked of him.

The thing that interests me in the article is the reference to his being a "traditionalist," meaning that he "would have taken a bullet rather than rat out a friend.” The idea of "honor among thieves" has always fascinated me. I wonder if the ones who were able to hold on to that so called honor are only the ones who weren't offered a sweet enough deal by the government. Ratting out his friends worked pretty well for John Martorano.

Perhaps the key word is "friends." If one stops being your friend, he's fair game for testifying against. Maybe that's how it works. What do you think?

I appreciate, perhaps more than most, the mystique of the North Jersey or Brooklyn tough guy who spits in the eye of Johnny Law like James Cagney in Angles With Dirty Faces. But, I'm afraid it's a total myth. What's your opinion?


  1. "The idea of "honor among thieves" has always fascinated me."

    Well its more than just some upstanding honor code, seeing as if you rat out the other crooks, you're dealing with a pile of pissed off crooks on your hands, and crooks to crooked things.

    So while you sit in your FBI safe house you may have to worry about your Wife or your Mom getting raped, or your relatives getting beat up or shot. Your family house being burned down.

    I think "Omertà" rarely stands on its own two feet.

    Much like I don't think the lawful nature of gunnies has as much to do with some upstanding character feature we all share, but more the risks (both physical and legal) that come with bringing guns into your life.

  2. i've heard some folks ramble on all sociologically about how crime syndicates --- and gangs --- are in some ways reversions to the idea of society as a clan, or family group. they claim (and i don't know enough about sociology to say otherwise) that this explains the extreme loyalty to other members, as well as the extreme illoyalty to outsiders.

    'course, to somebody like myself that makes such groupings all but incomprehensible. i'm somebody who likes to daydream about a planetary government, and a society that includes all humans. the extreme limits that gangsters and mafiosi choose to live with baffle me. but apparently there's precedent for it.

    weerd, the fact that there's consequences for breaking the omerta doesn't mean it isn't an honor code. traditionally, honor was in fact something your fellow society members hurt you for sullying, even killed you if you did it badly enough (or were female). but the word "honor" has undergone a meaning shift in modern western society, and i'm personally fascinated with just how that's happened.

  3. I'm wondering if the "honor" idea is pretty much as prevalent among thieves, meaning criminals, as among regular folks. Maybe it's a personality thing and has little to do with your profession. What do you think?