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

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Life -- From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset


Jon Roberts was a made man, a drug smuggler, a killer. He hobnobbed with OJ Simpson and Ed Sullivan, rubbed shoulders with Pablo Escobar and Carlo Gambino, and made enemies out of John Gotti and Ronald Reagan.
He tortured college students for fun, helped snuff-out “mob accountant” Meyer Lansky’s stepson and admits to brutalizing his ex-girlfriend with a belt when she tried to leave him. He flooded the country with cocaine in the 1980s.
Regrets? He has none.
“So would you call yourself a psychopath?” The Post asked him on Friday.
“Well, that depends on how you define psychopath,” Roberts said.
“A lack of empathy or remorse.”
“Well, then, yes I am,” he said. “I enjoyed my life. How many other people lived the life I did? Maybe that Bernie guy, but who else?”
A new disturbing but intensely enthralling as-told-to memoir, “American Desperado,” co-written and vetted by “Generation Kill” author Evan Wright, gets deep inside the head of a lifelong criminal.
While the book is littered with famous names -- a testament to what Wright refers to as his place as the “Forrest Gump of crime and depravity” -- there are also passages so dark and violent that you wonder how a man this sinister can sleep at night.
One example is his blithe advice about how to dispose of a body: “Smash the teeth in with a hammer, and sprinkle these in the water. Then take a sharp knife -- like a fillet for fish -- and cut the body from a--hole up to the solar plexus. The guts will pop out like Jiffy Pop.”
“In a lot of other books, they take these monstrous people and they edit down and shave off the rough edges,” Wright said. “I tried to render him as accurately as possible, as the frightening, monstrous person he is.”
To be fair, Roberts didn’t have much of a shot at normalcy.
In 1955, when Roberts (who was born John Riccobono in The Bronx) was 7 years old, his father, a made man in the Gambino crime family, took him to New Jersey. A car blocked their passageway on a bridge.
“I’ll take care of this,” his father said, pulling out a gun.
“I saw him take it out of his waistband and say something to the man in the car. Then he pushed his gun into the window.”
Bam, bam, bam.
The scene instilled in him his father’s philosophy: “The evil path is the strong path because evil is stronger than good.”
He lived a large portion of his life upholding his father’s credo.
Two years later, his illegal-alien father was deported to Italy, leaving him with an abused mother and an abusive stepfather.
In his early teens, he joined a gang of kids called the Outsiders who mainly robbed wealthy college students, focusing on the amateur campus drug dealers.
“We’d strip the guy naked, tie him to a chair, gag him and beat him. I didn’t say a word. Just beat, beat, beat,” he writes.
He likened the feeling of robbing to sex. “You get an orgasm. You get a high,” he said.
“They were weaker, and I was above them. I got off on that.”
In 1965, at 17, he was arrested and charged with attempted murder and kidnapping. He was taken to Manhattan’s Detention Center, called “The Tombs,” and claims that military recruiters offered him an out. “If you join the Army, we’ll erase your criminal history.”
And it was during his two tours in Vietnam that he really became sadistic.
“The first time I killed someone, I was paid by the government,” he said. “That’s a kick, right?”
He aligned himself with a fellow soldier who was even more of a psychopath than himself and “called dibs on who got to kill which guy.”
They cut Vietnamese soldier’s tongues and genitalia and even skinned them alive, describing the process in grotesque detail: “Eventually the whole body slides out from the skin.”
He was injured in an explosion in 1968 and returned to New York at the age of 20 with a metal plate in his head. By the second day back, he was already helping his uncle with his loansharking business. His idea to run the city’s wildly popular nightclubs captured the attention of boss Carlo Gambino.
Under the Gambino auspices, Roberts helped open and run clubs Salvation and Hippopotamus, where Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and even Ted Kennedy were regulars.
One night at Salvation, TV legend Ed Sullivan arrived and took a sip of LSD-laden punch. Roberts and friends gleefully watched Sullivan, who was virulently anti-drugs, to see how he would react.
“His face got this wild look and he grabbed at something in the air that didn’t exist and began holding the walls with his hands,” Roberts writes.
Roberts sent a prostitute over to the high-as-a-kite TV host to take pictures of him and blackmail him. But the plan went awry when Sullivan freaked out as the prostitute tried to remove his pants.
“He went into the corner and started crying,” Roberts said. Sullivan later didn’t leave his apartment for three days.
“I felt bad about that,” Roberts, now 63, told The Post from his home in Hollywood, Fla. “I didn’t know he was going to take the punch. I didn’t intend for him to.”
“Bull---t,” his current wife, Noemi, an exotic dancer 30 years his junior, yelled in the background.
“Yeah, my wife says it’s bull---t. It is. We knew what we were doing.”
Roberts ran the nightclubs for five years until he got into trouble with the law and was implicated in the murder of a dirty New York cop. He was then ordered by his uncle to flee NYC.
But before leaving, he did one last terrible thing. When his girlfriend at the time threatened to leave him, he tied her up and beat her with a belt for hours, leaving her black and blue and terrified.
In Miami, his good criminal luck continued to follow him. “I have a light shining on me,” he told The Post. He worked for a brief time as a gardener but began selling cocaine almost immediately.
“Cocaine was the drug of upward social mobility. It was his access point into the upper echelons of society,” explained co-author Evan Wright.
In 1976, he hired stewardesses to fly drugs from Miami to San Francisco. That same year, he had a run-in with the most famous running back of all time, OJ Simpson.
When the Buffalo Bills were playing Miami, “The Juice” came over to Roberts’ house for a pick-me-up.
“Even though all of us were doing coke, OJ went beyond. He was a coke fiend. He was crazed,” the book says.
But one night wasn’t enough. OJ kept coming back unannounced and would stay for days.
“Suddenly I’m his babysitter. The easiest thing was to put him in the guest room and bring in a bunch of hookers,” Roberts said.
This went on for days, until Roberts realized that OJ had a game the next day. “Look, man, don’t you got to practice with your team? Isn’t there a curfew?” asked Roberts.
“Curfew?” Simpson said. “I’m OJ. I do anything I want.”
Nothing was off-limits; the Pittsburgh Stealers in 1980 partied with Roberts the night before winning the Super Bowl. During that time, “Anything was possible in my world,” Roberts said. “I went from being the coke guy to the rich coke guy to just the rich guy.”
He formed a relationship with Fabio Ochoa, whose family founded the Columbian Medellin cocaine cartel, and soon after began moving the drugs via airplanes and boats. He then met Max Mermelstein, a New York hustler who put him in direct contact with Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Meanwhile, he partnered up with Mickey Munday, a skilled pilot, who oversaw the missions back and forth from Columbia.
At the height of his trafficking business, Roberts brought in 4,000 kilos of cocaine a month. The feds say that Roberts smuggled in $2 billion worth of cocaine -- other estimates put this figure at $16 billion.
Roberts couldn’t tell you exactly how much. But he did say, “I had built an empire. And that was the most defining thing I’ve ever done. That’s what gave me the greatest feeling.”
“I went from robbing people to making $3 [million] to $5 million a trip,” he added.
But the “good times” had to end eventually.
By September 1986 -- after 10 years in the cocaine business -- the feds took him down at his home in a raid involving 200 agents. His cohort Mermelstein had snitched on him.
By some stroke of luck, the feds allowed Roberts to post $10 million bail, enabling him to skip town to Mexico. He ended up in a Mexican jail shortly after a woman (who he says was jealous that he was sleeping with her sister) saw him on Mexico’s version of “America’s Most Wanted.”
Roberts claims he was a fugitive for less than a year before getting picked up by agents in Florida (which means he spent eight years in jail). But Wright, who vetted Roberts’ story, says that he spent five years on the lam and only three years in jail because of his cooperation that helped convict other people in the drug world.
But just because he got off, that doesn’t mean he’s off the hook. Two years ago, Roberts was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer that has metastasized to other organs. He says that he knows he will die soon.
“A lot of bad guys die of cancer, Gotti died of throat cancer,” he said.
He claims that he doesn’t worry about suffering; instead his focus is on his 11-year-old son, who is, coincidentally, around the same age as Roberts was when his father left the country.
“I couldn’t imagine a more horrible thing than my son not having his father,” Roberts said. “I worry he’s going to want to bring drugs into the country like his daddy did.”
Does this caring, even in a small degree, nullify his previous actions?
“My portrait of a sociopath through Jon shows that people aren’t all one way or another,” Wright said. “He has a grain of humanity.”
And that ability to transform into a charming guy is “what is most scary about him.”


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