Mobology scholar Andy Petepiece's review of
I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt
July 25, 2004
Andy Petepiece is an experienced and respected organized-crime researcher
A lot of excitement has been generated by the recent publication of the book, I Heard You Paint Houses by author Charles Brandt. For those interested in the mysterious July 30, 1975 disappearance of former Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa the author promises a solution to this long running “who done it?”
Hoffa had been making a long shot attempt to return to power in his beloved union when he went off to a meeting and never returned. It quickly became apparent that the mob powers who controlled many aspects of Teamster affairs had been opposed to Hoffa’s return. Some of these same hoods became the chief suspects in the Hoffa murder.
The authorities were never able to gather enough credible evidence to bring charges in the Hoffa case and it became a prime subject for speculation, some theories well researched and others less so. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that the Brandt book falls into the later category.
A careful read of the Brandt book reveals that the author appears to have very weak knowledge of mafia history and how that organization works.
Prologue page 5
The author states that Frank Sheeran, the focus of this book, was alleged to be a member of La Cosa Nostra’s ruling Commission in a civil RICO suit launched by the US government.
“…a man alleged by Rudy Giuliani in a Civil RICO suit to be a member of La Cosa Nostra’s ruling Commission-one of only two non-Italians…”
A copy of the indictment in the picture section supposedly supports the author’s statement. Although Brandt was once an experienced prosecutor, he has misread the legal document. The indictment was the United States against the Teamsters; the La Cosa Nostra Commission; and a whole host of individuals, some who were mafia members, some who were also Commission members, and some who weren't even in the mafia. This later group included Sheeran. Somehow Brandt interpreted the document to mean that this list of individuals was an enumeration of Commission members.
Sheeran’s Irish/Swedish heritage ruled out any chance he could ever become a formal member of La Cosa Nostra, which is restricted to males of Italian decent. Since all those sitting on the Commission have to be Cosa Nostra members it follows that it was impossible for Sheeran to have held this position. The author’s misreading of the indictment was compounded by his apparent lack of basic knowledge about La Cosa Nostra’s Commission.
Brandt writes that the police raided Joseph Barbara’s Apalachin, New York home during the famous November 14, 1957 event in which a national meeting of La Cosa Nostra was broken up.
The trouble with this account, and it has been made by many others previously, is that there never was a “raid” on Barbara’s home. State Police had accidentally come across the gathering while playing a hunch and quickly set up a one-car roadblock in order to identify those leaving the Barbara estate. The home of Joe Barbara was never entered and except for the initial few minutes when Croswell and his companions were in the Barbara driveway, no police entered the Barbara grounds. It was a public relations disaster for La Cosa Nostra but it was no “raid”.
Brandt wrote, “No major decision of the Commission of La Cosa Nostra was made without Russell Bufalino’s approval.”
This is a strange quote for we simply don’t know what all the major decisions of the Commission were and thus how can Brandt claim that Bufalino approved them. Furthermore, we do know who the Commission members were during Bufalino’s lifetime and he wasn't ever one of this exalted group. To say that a boss of a small Pennsylvania mafia family held veto power over the Commission is simply wrong and demonstrates a lack of knowledge and understanding of Cosa Nostra history.
The author describes the background of Bufalino as follows:
“In addition, his wife, Carolina Sciandra, known as Carrie, was related to the Sciandra line of La Cosa Nostra. Although no Sciandra ever rose to godfather status…”
Unfortunately this is incorrect. According to the 1990 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report John Sciandra was boss of what we now call the Bufalino family in the 1930s. Here's a direct quote from that report.
“Later in the 1930s, Volpe was succeeded as boss by John Sciandra."
What's more, the same Crime Commission document described Edward Sciandra as follows:
“After Russell Bufalino stepped down as boss of the Bufalino LCN Family, Edward Sciandra, consiglieri of the Family, assumed the position of acting boss.”
In writing about the famous September 22, 1966 gathering of thirteen mafia hoods at New York's La Stella restaurant the author makes two major errors and a minor one.
Brandt states that Crazy Joey Gallo was one of the diners.
“Included in the group that was taken in, harassed, and released without charges were Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Joe Colombo, his future killer Crazy Joey Gallo, and Carlo Gambino.”
He is confusing flamboyant Colombo soldier Joey Gallo with the powerful Gambino family consiglieri Joe N. Gallo. The latter served as consiglieri under Gambino bosses Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, and John Gotti before being incarcerated and demoted. Confusing these two characters is a serious mistake.
His misidentification is accompanied by another factual error about that gathering. Brandt writes that after the police rousted the thirteen mobsters:
“A month later, the same group defiantly held another meeting at La Stella.”
The problem is that this second gathering took place on September 30, 1966 not a month later. Furthermore only five (Carlos Marcello, Joe Marcello, Anthony Carolla, Frank Gagliano, and Santos Trafficante) of the original thirteen mafia members were present.
Brandt correctly states that attorney Frank Ragano accompanied the returning mobsters but he forgot or didn't know that lawyer Jack Wasserman was also part of the group. The media took pictures of the seven diners without any protest from their subjects.
The author writes:
“As late as 1986, Commission member and Genovese family boss, Anthony Salerno, was convicted of rigging the election of Teamster president Roy Williams.”
Sorry, wrong again. On May 4, 1988 Salerno was convicted of 28 counts of bid rigging in the construction industry but was found not guilty of fraud in the elections of Teamster presidents Roy Williams and Jackie Presser.
Brandt appears to be confusing Salerno’s conviction in the 1986 Commission case with his later trial that involved, among other things, the alleged Teamster presidential voting fraud.
Brandt claims that:
“In 1975, at the time of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance Fat Tony (Salerno) was the boss of the very crime family (Genovese) for which Russell Bufalino had been acting head prior to Fat Tony.”
First of all Russell Bufalino wasn't even a member of the Genovese family and thus couldn't have been considered for the position of their acting boss. Secondly, by the time the author wrote this book most mob watchers were well aware that Tony Salerno had never been the real boss of the Genovese family. On April 29, 1988, Genovese soldier and Salerno confidant, Vincent “Fish” Cafaro, had testified before a Senate hearing that Philip Lombardo had been the real, hidden boss of the Genovese family ever since Vito Genovese died in prison in 1969. Salerno was among a series of front boss who stood in for Lombardo in an attempt to shield him from government scrutiny. Brandt’s research should have revealed this prior to publication of such a potentially important work.
All in all the author might have had the best of intentions in attempting to set the Sheeran story in context but the multiple errors have seriously injured his effort. Brandt’s apparent lack of careful research in mafia matters makes me wonder if he was any more diligent in investigating Sheeran’s many stories.
Evaluating the validity of Sheeran’s tales is more difficult than dissecting Brandt’s background material. The author deliberately tried to shield Sheeran from legal problems and thus we get inferences to killings rather than outright admissions. Furthermore, Sheeran consistently provides few or vague details to support his various claims. Nevertheless, I’ll make an effort to give you my thoughts and opinions on them.
After reading the book I came away thinking that Sheeran must have been the Forrest Gump of organized crime. For those of you not familiar with Forrest Gump he was a lovable character played by Tom Hanks in the movie of the same name. Gump managed to be present and active in many major events of the 1960s and 1970s if I recall the movie correctly. It was a brilliant combination of history and character.
The same can't be said of my opinion of Sheeran. This guy claims to have: transported guns for the ill fated invasion of Cuba; transported the murder rifle for the 1963 Kennedy assassination; transported $500,000 to President Nixon’s Attorney General/Election Leader John Mitchell; transported Bufalino to the famous Apalachin gathering; killed Jimmy Hoffa; killed famous gangster Joey Gallo; killed Salvatore Briguglio, a chief suspect in the Hoffa murder; killed two guys in Puerto Rico another in Chicago, then flew to San Francisco to have a drink and meet Hoffa—all this on the same day!; sat down with Jack Ruby, the killer of Lee Harvey Oswald; met with key Watergate figure Howard Hunt; met with Kennedy conspiracy character David Ferrie; and on and on.
Lets take a look at some of these stories in more detail.
“When Albert Anastasia got shot in the barber's chair in New York (October 25, 1957), they made Russell (Bufalino) the acting head of that (Gambino) family.”
All the evidence that I am aware of clearing indicates that Carlo Gambino succeeded Anastasia as leader of that family. Bufalino wasn't even a member of the Gambino organization and thus would have no legitimacy in that role. What's more, he wasn't even boss of his own family till the death of Joseph Barbara on June 17, 1959.
To be fair, Sheeran may have thought this statement was true back in 1957 and later but surely, in the ten years or so that he lived beyond his mentor Bufalino, he could have read some mafia history and learned the true facts and thus left this ridiculous claim out of Brandt’s book.
Sheeran writes that, “Jack Ruby was part of Momo’s (Sam Giancana’s) outfit.
This is a touchy subject because it will bring out all those who believe in a Kennedy assassination conspiracy.
Let's simply address whether Ruby was part of the Chicago mob and leave out his possible role in a Kennedy conspiracy. Here's a quote from the late Bill Roemer, the famous FBI agent who spent the bulk of his career stalking the leaders of the Chicago Outfit.
“Ruby was absolutely nothing in terms of the Chicago mob. We had thousands and thousands of hours of tape recordings of the top mobsters in Chicago, including Sam Giancana, and Ruby just didn't exist as far as they were concerned. We talked to every hoodlum in Chicago after the assassination, and some of the top guys in the mob, my informants, I had close relationships with them—they didn't even know who Ruby was. He was not a front for them in Dallas.” (This is from an interview by author Gerald Posner with Roemer on January 23, 1992)
My research on the Chicago Outfit has led me to the same conclusions as Roemer. Remember now, we aren't taking about whether Ruby was involved in the Kennedy killing, that's another story.
Sheeran claims that former Chicago Outfit boss Sam Giancana was shot six times under the chin, “…to signify he was careless with his mouth.”
We know that Giancana was shot to death on June 19, 1975 in the basement apartment of his Chicago home and we know there were seven shots from a .22 caliber pistol fired into his head. Prime suspect Dominic “Butch” Blasi never told me anything but I figured he (or someone else) fired those seven rounds to make sure Giancana was dead and if there was a message being sent it came from the fact Giancana was murdered and not where or how many times he was shot.
Sheeran wrote that he drove Bufalino to the famous Apalachin meeting in November of 1957.
“He (Bufalino) asked me (Sheeran) to drive him to a small town across the border in upstate New York called Apalachin.”
“…The next day (November 14, 1957) this meeting at Apalachin is the biggest thing to even happen to Italian gangsters…”
The problem with this Sheeran story is that it is false. On November 13, the day Sheeran claimed he drove Bufalino to Apalachin Bufalino was registered at the Hotel Casey in Scranton Pennsylvania. He was driving a car belonging to a mob connected Pennsylvania businessman named William Medico. Also registered at the hotel were; Los Angeles Boss Frank Desimone, Los Angles underboss Simone Scozzari, San Francisco boss James Lanza, San Jose underboss Joe Cerrito, and Dallas boss Joe Civello.
The next day, November 14, 1957, Bufalino drove to the Barbara estate in Medico's 1957 Chrysler and the best evidence is that his passengers were Desimone, Civello, and Scozzari
State Troopers stopped Bufalino in this vehicle as he was driving away from the Barbara property after the gathered hoodlums noticed the presence of State Troopers in the area. (Also in the departing Bufalino car were: Vito Genovese, Jerry Catena, Joseph Ida, and Dominic Olivetto)
Sheeran claims that Philadelphia boss Angelo Bruno directly ordered him to murder someone even though Bruno used vague language. The following quote is Bruno speaking to Sheeran.
“It's your responsibility to take care of this matter by tomorrow morning. That's the chance you get Capish?” (Bruno was angry with Sheeran and was telling him the only way to save his own life was to kill the victim)
To accept this Sheeran story you have to accept that wily mob veteran Angelo Bruno would be stupid enough to directly order a murder in front of a man who wasn't even a member of any mafia family. While it is possible that Bruno would take this great gamble it flies in the face of what we know of his history and common sense. Bruno had a host of made members who could have passed this message on to Sheeran while at the same time protecting Bruno. It doesn't make sense but there is no way to prove it isn't true.
Sheeran states that Joey Gallo had Jerome Johnson shoot mafia leader Joe Colombo in 1971.
“ Like years later when Crazy Joey Gallo used that black nut to whack Joe Colombo…”
While this is a widely held belief and a reasonable one considering the animosity between Gallo and Colombo there is no credible evidence to support this claim. Sheeran may very well believe this theory but he provides no information to support it.
Sheeran says that he was a lone gunman who killed mafia member Joey Gallo on April 7, 1972 in Umberto’s Clam House in New York's Little Italy.
Sheeran stated that his mob masters were so sure that Gallo would end up at Umberto’s that night that they gave Sheeran’s accomplice a diagram of the place and even told him where Gallo was most likely to sit.
“Gallo was out on the town for his birthday, and somehow whoever wanted this done had a good idea that he (Gallo) was going to end up his night at Umberto’s, and they had a good idea where he was going to be sitting…”
“John (Sheeran’s accomplice) had a diagram of Umberto’s Clam House, including the corner door, the Mulberry Street door, and the men's room.”
The trouble with this part of his story is that it conflicts with that of Gallo’s bodyguard Peter Diapoulos who said in court testimony and in his book that the Gallo party only ended up at Umberto’s after trying two other places (Su Ling’s and Luna’s) that were closed. They then accidentally came upon the recently opened Umberto’s and decided to go in.
This “by chance” use of Umberto’s by the Gallos is supported by the testimony and book of Joseph Luparelli, who was standing outside Umberto’s when the Gallos arrived.
The then Chief of Detectives, Albert Seedman, also told a similar story of the Gallos arrival at Umberto’s. Thus I feel confident in rejecting at least the planning part of Sheeran’s Gallo tale.
Sheeran stated that he walked into Umberto’s and first shot Gallo bodyguard Pete Diapoulos but tried to avoid killing him.
“You had no reason to mortally wound him, so you'd look to shoot him in the back or the seat of his pants and avoid an artery in the neck or his heart. You just wanted to disable him.”
This trying to not kill the bodyguard seems a stretch. I can accept that the purpose is to disable the guy but to claim you are also trying not to hit a vital organ simply is laughable to me.
Sheeran claims he chased Gallo through Umberto’s and out onto Hester Street where he put “about” three bullets into Gallo, killing him.
“It was easy to cut him off by going straight down the bar to the door and getting right behind him. He (Gallo) made it through Umberto’s corner door to the outside. Crazy Joey got shot about three times outside of the restaurant not far from the corner door.”
Chief of Detectives Seedman said the gunman fired from Umbertos’ side door on Mulberry Street and stopped shooting once Gallo exited the corner door at the other end of the restaurant. I have not personally seen the police shooting diagrams or ballistics reports but I presume Seedman did before making this claim. In any case, I'm doubtful of Sheeran’s story of chasing Gallo outside and shooting him there.
Was the Gallo killer shot at as he fled?
Sheeran makes no mention of being shot at as he flees Umberto’s. Both the accounts of Gallo’s bodyguard and Joe Luparelli, who claims to have been involved in the shooting, say that Peter Diapoulos (the bodyguard) fired at the retreating killer(s). Chief Seedman also stated that Diapoulos fired six shots at the fleeing car from the Mulberry Street door of Umbertos. Diapoulos ended up being convicted of possessing an unloaded .25 automatic and did prison time for this offense. To me the evidence clearly shows that Diapoulos fired his gun. It's strange that Sheeran wouldn't mention this.
Identification of the shooter:
One eyewitness described the shooter as about five foot eight, balding, and stocky. Peter Diapoulos not only had a similar description but he knew and identified the shooter as Carmine “Sonny Pinto” DiBiase. Joseph Luparelli also testified that DiBiase was the Gallo killer. Even Chief of Detectives Seedman said police informants had told two of his detectives that DiBiase and Philip Gambino were involved in the shooting. Keep in mind this is prior to Luparelli turning himself in to the FBI and confessing. It was also before Peter Diapoulos publicly told his story. After personally hearing Luparelli’s account and doing an investigation, Chief Seedman said that Luparelli’s version checked out. Seedman was privy to all the physical evidence so it seems to me he was in the best position to evaluate the matter.
Note: Sheeran was six feet four and huge. It is hard to imagine someone mistaking him for a guy five eight.
The bottom line is that it is my personal opinion that Sheeran was not involved in the Gallo shooting. There is nothing in the book that convinces me even in the smallest way that he was. Unless more concrete evidence emerges I accept the Diapoulos and Luparelli versions of the Gallo hit and Sheeran isn't involved in the shooting in either account.
Page 246 onward
Sheeran says that he was involved in a complicated plot to murder former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa on July 30, 1975.
The following is my summary as I understand the Sheeran story.
Sheeran claims he was told of his participation only two days before the actual hit. His story is that the mob involved him personally because they wanted to make sure they had something on Sheeran so he could never go against them. Sheeran said he was flown in a private plane from a small airstrip in Ohio to Pontiac, a suburb of Detroit. From there he drove to a private residence to meet Hoffa’s stepson Chuckie O’Brien who was unaware of the plot. Accompanying Sheeran and O’Brien to pick up Hoffa at another location was Salvatore Briguglio, a New Jersey hood close to Tony Provenzano. He and two other New Jersey toughs had been flown to Pontiac in yet another private plane. All these comings and going had to be built around a 2:30 PM meeting time that had been arranged by Hoffa.
Sheeran writes that the plan was to anger Hoffa by deliberately being late for the 2:30 PM rendezvous. The thinking was that Hoffa would initially be angry then more cooperative when he calmed down. This, apparently, would make it more likely that he would get in the pickup vehicle. Basically, Sheeran is claiming the bad guys used a little psychological warfare against Hoffa.
Sheeran walks Hoffa into the private residence and shoots him twice in the head when Hoffa tries to leave. Sheeran then drops the gun and presumably the two New Jersey hoods still in the house disposed of the body in some permanent way.
I can't disprove anything about Sheeran’s Hoffa story. It may be true. It may be nonsense. It may be somewhere in between truth and fiction. All I know is that my common sense tells me this is a very complicated plot by mafia guys who are usually known to do it in a simple, fast manner.
Flying guys in from two separate places in America seems too James Bondish for me. Why not have Sheeran walk Hoffa into the joint and two Detroit guys plug him and two other Detroit guys dispose of the body. Let's have Sheeran in Detroit a day or so earlier too so we aren't counting on some plane trip that weather might scuttle.
Sheeran is caught trying to pass off a forged Hoffa letter as the real thing in an attempt to support his stories. Once the forgery was discovered Sheeran then claimed that the letter was a type of insurance. If the authorities ever convened legal action against him because of the book Sheeran could reveal the letter to be a forgery and then could also claim the rest of the material might be made up as well.
I don’t buy it. For his plan to work Sheeran has to believe that the author and the publisher won't check on the letter's authenticity. If they don’t he wins two ways. They believe this letter supports his stories AND he has a lifeline in that he can reveal the forgery if the authorities convene a grand jury against him. However, if the author and/or the publisher check out the letter they will quickly learn it's a fraud. The book deal goes down the tubes and hence no need for a lifeline. This is what happened. (Obviously the author eventually found another publisher)
In my opinion the forged letter was first and foremost an attempt by Sheeran to solidify his claims. It has to be thus for it has to pass through this stage in order to live long enough to be a lifeline. You simply can't get around this fact unless you accept that the author and the publisher would deliberately let a forgery get by. I don’t believe this for a second.
I commend Mr. Brandt for his efforts to unravel a very important part of our history. He had a difficult subject to tackle and a questionable source to deal with. Kindly keep in mind that all the mistakes I found and all the differences of opinion that I expressed do not rule out the possibility that one, or two, or many of the Sheeran stories may be true or partially true. Everyone should examine the evidence for and against each tale and draw their own conclusions as to their veracity.
I await the results from the forensic testing of the floor from the suspected Hoffa murder scene. Unfortunately, even if Hoffa’s blood is there, we still won't know if Sheeran is telling the truth that he actually was the one who pulled the trigger. The Hoffa mystery lives on.
From Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer: Adventures in the Jungles of Politics, Crime, and Journalism by Dan E. Moldea (2013):
On February 14, 2005, the Bloomfield Police Department issued a press release about the results of the DNA test of the blood residue found in the foyer of the home on Beaverland Street where Sheeran had supposedly killed Jimmy Hoffa. The release stated:
In late December 2004, the FBI contacted our department with an oral report on the findings. We were advised that blood was found in some of the wood floor samples but they did not believe that it matches Hoffa’s. They then indicated that the flooring submitted for examination, as well as a detailed written report would be forthcoming.
This morning, we received a written report submitted by the FBI that concludes that human blood was found on wood flooring but the blood was not Hoffa’s. As a result, the lead supplied by Fox News in New York has been determined to be unfounded.
Trying to give support to Brandt and Eric Shawn at Fox News, both of whom were extremely disappointed, I issued a statement, saying:
As I have been saying all along, Frank Sheeran was involved in Jimmy Hoffa's murder—and, despite today's news, the FBI believes this, as well. However, like the FBI, I have never believed Sheeran's story about his role at the crime scene. Nevertheless, I continue to insist that Sheeran's information about the events that preceded the actual murder—as reported in Charles Brandt's book, as well as by Fox News and the Detroit Free Press—are extremely important to understanding what really happened to Hoffa on July 30, 1975.