This piece was written with support from the Las Vegas Mob Museum.
There is no denying the mob’s considerable influence in the music industry. The Black Hand egregiously controlled acts and hoarded publishing rights. However, we do have the mob to thank for the development of rock and roll and all the different productions of Jersey Boys. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons would probably never make a record without Gyp DeCarlo.
Federal prosecutors detailed how the mob infiltrated the music business in Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, The Music Business, and the Mafia. Organized crime crept into all corners, known in the offices of even huge conglomerates like MCA Inc. MCA Records Group president Irving Azoff (ex-manager of the Eagles and Steely Dan) had a deal with Salvatore ”Sal the Swindler” Pisello, allowing the mobster to become a major player in the label’s business.
Pisello’s job was selling MCA ”cutouts” to budget outlets. The unsold and surplus discs were even part of those 10 CDs for $1 deals that were rampant for fraud back in the day. Remember those? Some of those funds went to the mob. Pisello cashed MCA checks for years.
There are many more stories of the music industry’s ties with the mob. Some artists got the bad reputation that comes with the connected association, one they were never able to shake. The rumors and claims about Motown being started with mob money abound. Motown’s Berry Gordy continues to deny the allegations.
For years, Frank Sinatra was accused of working for the mob. He never denied it nor did he confirm it. Why would he? Entertainers were taken for “rides” whenever they needed to discuss ending behaviors their mob backers deemed troublesome financially. That scene in The Godfather where Luca Brasi puts a gun to the head of a bandleader to get a singer out of a contract? That’s allegedly how Willie Moretti got Tommy Dorsey to let Sinatra out of his contract.
Then there’s the Anthony Pellicano wiretap. Los Angeles Times journalist Anita Busch got the mob’s attention by looking into the federal indictment of reputed Mafia captain Anthony (Sonny) Ciccone on charges of extortion and threatening to kill actor Steven Seagal.
Tommy Mottola, formerly head of Sony Music and ex-husband of singer Mariah Carey, had his ties to Vinny the Chin exposed in a Vanity Fair expose. Miami club king Chris Paciello, who dated Madonna, was indicted, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years for a Mafia-related murder. Paciello snitched and spent 7 years in prison.
The mob’s musical story must always include Morris “Moishe” Levy. The offices of Morris Levy and Roulette Records were a front for the Genovese family. Dubbed the Godfather of Rock and Roll, Moishe owned a network of record labels, presses, stores, and groups. He invented the blueprint for the boyband, and the scams they had to suffer.
Levy literally owned the acts. He owned Aaron Neville. The copyrights, publishing, and whatever else could bring in money. Moishe was later caught on some recordings owned by the FBI. Al Sharpton allegedly recorded conversations implicating Moishe, exposing his relationship with the Genovese family. Paul Mazursky played Levy in Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998) and was depicted as Herman “Hesh” Rabkin in The Sopranos. Levy died of cancer before the indictments caught up with him.
The mob put money on music back when it was analog, when they could press vinyl records cheap and cut out all the middlemen. Today’s revenue comes from digital sources so there is less opportunity for quick cash sourced from bootleg prints. In the music industry, the Mafia seems to have lost the tune.