Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Once a bookie for the mob, now a man of God

Dana Antal placed his trembling hands on the desk as his bookie's enforcer instructed.
“He took out a cleaver and said, ‘For every week you don't pay me, I will cut one of your fingers off,'” Antal recalls.
He raised the $10,000 he owed and kept his fingers.
As a high-level bookie with mob ties, gambling was Antal's business and one of his addictions.
“Many times I owed money to the wrong people,” he said.
The bookie operation started in his childhood home, a Queens, N.Y., apartment. It grew to earn staggering profits.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown described it in 2005 as a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise controlled by the Bonanno organized crime family.
The operation handled illegal wagers on horse racing, professional baseball and football and other sporting events. In two years, the operation totaled $360 million.
Arrested in 2005 at his East Stroudsburg home, Antal had been involved in what was, at the time, the biggest bookmaking bust in the United States.
He had already left the crime world and started a family, but that did not matter.
Antal was about to understand some ugly truths about himself, and learn that out of the pain of shame, forgiveness comes through the grace of God.
Today, Antal, 41, is a pastor at Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church in Stroudsburg. He believes that through his faith, he has been redeemed.
This is the story of his salvation.

Gambling part of the fabric

One of four boys, Antal was raised by a deaf single mother.
“We grew up never knowing we were in need. But looking back, it is obvious we were struggling,” Antal said.
In fourth grade, he found a six-pack of beer hidden under a cellar door on the way to school and had his first taste of alcohol.
It became an addiction.
Sometimes he'd skip school and go to the Aqueduct race track. Gambling was in the fabric of the neighborhood.
“I took my first bet during the Olympics in fifth or sixth grade,” Antal said.
He won a dollar.
There was always a card game in the park, where players ranged from age 10 to 50.
“This was ingrained. Gambling was who we were. We gambled on Nintendo,” he said.
In 10th grade, Antal started working in sheet metal and worked in a catering hall on the weekends. He asked his teachers if he could come in just for the tests. By 11th grade he dropped out and got his GED.
Antal was using cocaine and frequenting the racetrack two or three times a week.
“I misdirected a lot of what God wanted to do with me,” Antal said.
The bookie joint he and his friends went to was far away, so Antal decided to open his own. He stole a “grand opening” sign from a Chinese restaurant, hung it in his apartment window and invited friends over to gamble.
“Booking was not something that needed to be hidden or ashamed of,” Antal said. “One Super Bowl Sunday the house took a bath. There was a line outside my door and outside the building. Those I couldn't pay, I told them to come back tomorrow, and that's when I learned to borrow money to continue the operation.”
He started taking bets over the phone, and the clientele grew. All the while, he continued to drink, use drugs and place bets with other bookies.
But by age 27, Antal wanted something more in his life.
“I felt dead inside. One night I got on knees and said, ‘God, there has to be something more than what I'm experiencing. Please show me.' The next day I experienced the overwhelming sense of peace and the embrace of His love. I called some friends and said I need to stop.”

Deepening faith

They took him to a drug rehabilitation center the next day. In rehab, Antal met a crack addict named LeeAnn.
“She wore red lipstick at 8 in the morning in rehab. She was beautiful, with a heart of love and compassion and a willingness to change.”
They later married.
He also met a preacher who encouraged him to read the Bible. Antal left rehab 21 days later, a partially changed man.
“I was delivered from alcohol and drugs, but I was not delivered from myself. I would read the Bible and then meet my friends at Wiggles,” an all-nude club in Queens.
Gamblers who owed money would sometimes get a Bible from Antal and were told if they read it and never gambled again, their debt would be forgiven.
His faith was noticed.
“Someone deeply connected with organized crime asked me to speak to some made men. They just wanted to talk to me about their issues with death, addiction and God. No made man is going to ask a pastor to come speak with them. Because I was a bookie, I was thought to be part of them, though I was never really one of them. They wanted to know, if there is a God, why does he allow bad things to happen,” Antal said.

Still drawn to gambling

The gambling operation had grown. There were at least 25 runners, who each had some 30 customers. Runners worked directly with customers, paying off wins and collecting debts.
As the criminal operation grew, so did the change in his heart.
Antal started going to church. Then, a mission trip to Africa, where he met orphans who had been left to starve. He gave money to feed them.
He also started a ministry, Persecuted Christian Concern, to advocate for religious freedom in countries where Christians cannot safely practice their faith.
Still, he continued to gamble.
“And I'm saying to myself, ‘I think God's OK with this. What's the big deal if someone wants to make a bet on the Jets minus seven?' I was trying to live a life of Christ but was still attracted to what I could do with the money. The ends justified the means.”

A knock at the door

He tried to deny it, but gambling didn't make sense in his life anymore. Looking to distance himself from it, he moved to East Stroudsburg.
“In 2003 I officially said I am no longer part of the organization.”
He remained friends with two men who continued the operation. Antal didn't know the operation was being investigated before he left.
By 2005, Antal was a father of two. He worked in Pocono real estate flipping houses, attended Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church and hosted Bible studies in his home.
“I remember praying, ‘God, do with me what you need to do to make me into the image of your son Jesus Christ.'”
The morning after that prayer, Antal heard a knock on door. There were two state troopers. They had an extradition warrant to New York.
Charged with corruption enterprise, bail was set at $1 million. He couldn't raise it.
Antal got a call from his wife.
“She says, ‘Dana, this is bigger than you think. You just made the front page of the New York Daily News, and they are making a really big deal of this.'”

Overwhelmed with guilt

While waiting at Rikers Island, he learned his wife was pregnant with baby No. 3. Antal was desperate to get out of jail.
Then, without being asked, someone Antal barely knew from church put up their million-dollar property in lieu of bail and freed him until his court date. It was a turning point that left him humbled.
He pleaded guilty.
On the way to sentencing, Antal had an emotional breakdown. Facing eight to 25 years in prison, he collapsed. His sentence was set at one to three years with a recommendation for early release.
“I was a criminal who had started to change who I was. Prison was part of the story God wanted to write with my life,” Antal said.
In prison, Antal studied the Bible.
“I began to see myself for what I truly was: a criminal. I couldn't grasp how I could be a follower of God and be involved in the gambling world.”
He had convinced himself that gambling was the client's choice.
“I began to realize I had a part to play in the destruction of people's lives,” he said. “A man came to me after giving me the last of the inheritance he received after his father's death. He told me he would have to sell his house and move his family to an apartment because he had gambled all his money away and lost his job.”
He heard stories of people who would rob their families, embezzle from companies or sell themselves or drugs so they'd have more money to gamble with.
“God has shown me, through my kids missing me, the impact of a man spending every night watching a game and not connecting with family. Money you can get back, but time is lost forever. I stole time from them.”

Helping others

The guilt was overwhelming. He scratched his arms until they bled and found other ways to hurt himself.
For 23 nights, Antal didn't sleep. He was sent to Attica prison for a psychological evaluation.
“I was alone with myself for two days, and began to experience God's presence in a new way.”
He realized God did not want to condemn him, but to change him.
Antal was paroled in 2007 after 13 months in prison and offered a job as a utility person at the Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church.
“I began to really seek humility in a way that said I want to do whatever God wants me to do.”
He started a Gamblers Anonymous group and led a 12-step biblically based program for people struggling with anger, depression, co-dependency, abuse and addiction.
“I began to share my story without shame, guilt or fear. People reacted with love and acceptance. If we take the mask off and allow ourselves and others to see the real us, ... we experience God's and man's love beyond measure.”
Two years after prison Antal became licensed as a pastor in the Wesleyan Church, and this year he will be officially ordained as a reverend.
“Everyone who sits in the pew struggles with something. Not everyone is willing to share. You are free to be who you are. But God doesn't want to leave you there. He can't help you heal if you are not transparent.”



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