Questions Linger On Mob Links To Music World

Posted: November 08, 1988

Early in 1984, John LaMonte, a Darby record wholesaler, went to New York to negotiate the purchase of 4.1 million discount record albums and tapes offered by MCA Records Inc. of Los Angeles.

Four years later, that $1.25 million deal, described recently by a federal prosecutor as "an organized-crime concept from day one," remains a central issue in an investigation into the mob's infiltration of the multimillion- dollar record industry.

The deal and an extortion plot that followed involved alleged representatives of at least three mob families. The federal prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Repetto, said, "All (were) going to get a piece of this transaction."

Two of the men who met with LaMonte that day, Roulette Records mogul Morris Levy and reputed Gambino family soldier Salvatore Pisello, have been convicted on charges linked to the transaction.

So has reputed Genovese crime family capo Dominick Canterino, who was not at the meeting. A third participant, Gaetano Vastola, reputed leader of the New Jersey DeCavalcante mob, goes on trial in federal court in Camden this week. Jury selection began yesterday, but opening statements are not expected to begin until Nov. 28.

Law enforcement sources on both coasts concede that, even after four years of fruitful investigation, the record deal still raises more questions than it answers.

These include:

* How was Pisello, a drug-dealing suspect who apparently had no experience in the record business, able to act as an agent for MCA Records, one of the largest labels in the country?

* To what extent, if any, was Levy, described in a recent Rolling Stone magazine article as the "godfather of rock and roll," a representative for the Genovese crime family within the recording industry?

* Is Levy a figure in the music and recording drug underworld?

Over the last four years, court documents, testimony and investigative files have painted a picture of music, the mob, money and drugs that stretches

from the nondescript organized-crime clubhouses of Manhattan's Little Italy to the glamor and glitter of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, the mecca of the entertainment industry.

A central figure in that portrait is Pisello, 65, an alleged mobster working on both coasts who began brokering deals for MCA in 1983.

Pisello, who is now serving a four-year prison sentence for income-tax evasion, arranged several deals for MCA between 1983 and 1985 for which he earned an estimated $600,000. That income, largely unreported, was the basis for the federal case in which he was convicted in April.

"There are many unanswered questions in this case," said federal prosecutor Bruce Repetto during a sentencing hearing in Camden for Levy and Canterino late last month, "one of which is how Sal Pisello got into MCA in the first place."

Repetto, who has doggedly pursued the New Jersey end of the record-industry investigation, was echoing the comments of Los Angeles Organized Crime Strike Force attorney Marvin Rudnick, who successfully prosecuted Pisello on tax- evasion charges in 1985 and again this year.

Rudnick, however, is no longer involved with the case. In a highly publicized dispute with MCA, the record company alleged that Rudnick had made untrue and irresponsible statements about company officials during the Pisello prosecution.

MCA has contended that Pisello brought several business deals to the company but was never an employee. Once company officials learned of his background, those business ties were severed, MCA contends.

That has been the company position for more than two years.

Rudnick, who faces internal disciplinary action stemming from the MCA complaint, declined to comment last week on the situation.

Supporters of the veteran prosecutor, however, point to MCA's strong ties to the Reagan administration and question whether the industry giant used its influence in Washington to rein in Rudnick. MCA officials have denied that allegation.

MANY TWISTS

MCA Inc., the parent of MCA Records, was the talent agent for President Reagan during his acting career, and top company officials have maintained strong ties to the administration in Washington during the Reagan years.

Edward S.G. Dennis Jr., the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania who is now chief of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, said last week that he could not comment on any internal departmental issue or on the status of any existing investigation. Dennis said, however, that "I cannot imagine any attorney being pulled off a case

because of the direction his investigation was going."

The MCA-Rudnick dispute is just one twist in the labyrinth surrounding the record deal and the various players involved in it. Another is the narcotics issue that surfaced at Levy's Oct. 28 sentencing hearing in Camden.

At that hearing, which resulted in a 10-year prison sentence for Levy and a 12-year sentence for Canterino, prosecutors provided details of previously secret allegations by convicted Philadelphia drug kingpin Roland Bartlett, who has identified the 61-year-old record-industry executive as a major heroin trafficker.

Bartlett, according to federal authorities, used part of his drug profits to establish Domino Records, an independent label that operated out of Levy's Roulette Records Co. office in Manhattan in the mid-1980s.

HEROIN PURCHASES

Once that business relationship was established, Bartlett told investigators, Levy arranged a series of heroin purchases for him.

Bartlett, whose drug organization was known as "the Family," said he paid for his heroin purchases - three or four kilograms per month at a cost of between $210,000 and $250,000 per kilogram - by bringing suitcases of cash to Levy's office.

While the drug-trafficking allegation, which has never been part of any

criminal case, was vehemently denied by Levy and his defense attorney, it added to investigative speculation about the links between Levy and Pisello, the reputed Gambino family soldier.

Federal documents made public in Pisello's first tax-evasion case in 1985 identify him as the focus of a major Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into an international heroin-smuggling ring dating to the mid- 1970s and linked to then-Gambino family underboss Aniello Dellacroce. Pisello has never been charged in a drug case.

"The first time we heard about Pisello," said one West Coast federal investigative source, "was in connection with drug deals."

It was several years later, with no apparent background or experience in the industry, that Pisello showed up as a deal-maker for MCA Records.

Despite the explanations offered by MCA officials over the last two years, Repetto said in court last month that "it's never been satisfactorily explained how Sal Pisello ended up in MCA. . . . How did he get there in the first place?"

Pisello's role in the LaMonte-MCA deal has not been an issue raised in the past by New Jersey investigators, leading some law enforcement sources to speculate that Repetto may investigate areas that the Los Angeles Organized Crime Strike Force has been unwilling or unable to penetrate.

Documents that surfaced throughout the investigation and in numerous pretrial motions show a pattern of organized-crime involvement and links between Levy and reputed New York Genovese crime family boss Vincent Gigante.

Repetto described Gigante as the "hidden partner" in the record deal and labeled the Genovese organization Levy's "favorite charity."

Levy has admitted longtime associations with suspected mob figures, but he has vehemently denied the oft-repeated federal assertion that he is under the control of Gigante and has funneled millions of dollars to Gigante's organization.

Levy and Canterino were charged with being part of a plot to take over LaMonte's business after the $1.25 million record deal negotiated at that 1984 meeting soured.

According to the government's case, Levy's Roulette Records and another company, Consultants for World Records Inc., were intermediaries in the deal. Consultants for World Records was owned by Pisello and New York mob figure Frederico Giovanelli and reputed mob associate Rocco Mussachia.

The LaMonte-MCA deal began to crumble, according to investigators, when LaMonte refused to pay, complaining that the better records and tapes that he had contracted to buy were not included in the shipments he received from MCA.

Federal authorities allege that Levy and Pisello "creamed the load," taking the better records and tapes from the MCA shipment and selling them to another distributor before LaMonte received his order.

LaMonte, himself a convicted record counterfeiter, became a cooperating government witness after a dispute in May 1985 with Vastola, the reputed leader of the DeCavalcante mob family. The government has charged that Vastola punched LaMonte, fracturing his eye socket, during a meeting called to discuss LaMonte's failure to pay for the MCA records.

The racketeering case against Vastola includes the alleged beating and extortion of LaMonte and a series of unrelated drug and fraud charges.

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