Forget about Bachelors III, Joe Namath's New York bar, where he said how was he to know who came in off the street—gamblers, bookmakers, Mafia types? Go 14 blocks north and three blocks east to 370 East 76th Street, a luxury apartment building known as the Newport East. Take the automatic elevator to Penthouse B and head for apartment B-2005—Joe Namath's llama-rugged pad. Who came in off the street to B-2005?
Months of observation by various law-enforcement agents not only have revealed that top Mafiosi often enjoyed the hospitality of Joe Namath's bar, but that some of them joined sportsmen, high rollers, business executives, athletes, bookmakers and loan sharks in crap games in Namath's apartment. Whether Namath knew it or not, the games in B-2005 were under the protective muscle of Thomas (Tea Balls) Mancuso, a capo in the Carlo Gambino Mafia family of Brooklyn.
Mancuso, a 47-year-old thug with narcotics and gambling convictions, is believed to serve as an information filter and layoff man for the mob. Information concerning athletes—from unreported injuries to hangovers—has always been of more than casual interest to a multimillion-dollar illegal betting operation.
Mancuso has lurked on the fringes of the sporting world for many years. He has been particularly interested in nurturing friendships with fighters and basketball players and was questioned by police during the investigations that resulted in the jailing of Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo.
"The dice games at Namath's were made to appear like spontaneous little get-togethers," one source said, "but all the racket guys wanted was a chance to casually ingratiate themselves, show they were regular guys and that they knew how to relax. What most people don't know is that racket guys never relax. Like movie stars, they're always on."
The crap games in Namath's apartment, which he shares with his partner in Bachelors III, former Jet Defensive Back Ray Abruzzese, began at the end of last January and continued through February. In addition to the local clientele, the games were patronized by racketeers from New England, New Jersey and Philadelphia, and lawmen are convinced that the out-of-towners could not have known of the games if they ,had not been tipped off by New York hoods.
A Mafia source explained that a percentage of crap game pots usually goes to whoever sets the action up, but not in the case of the games up at Namath's. The standard cut is 5% of each pot. Among other things, it pays the mob carpenters who come early and tack soundproof sheeting on the floor and ceiling. Soundproofing is not generally installed in the apartments or hotel suites chosen for big crap games because adjoining rooms are used by gamblers who want to relax and have a drink or a bite to eat between rolls.
"Forget about cutting that game," the Mafia source said.' 'This was done strictly for one thing—just to get to know them [professional athletes who might be drawn to Namath's apartment]. The racket guys would try like bastards to get close. If they could nail one of them it would be great."
Police were first attracted to Bachelors III early last December when a routine tail of Carmine (Snake) Persico, 36, a South Brooklyn Mafia lieutenant who is free on $15,000 bail while appealing a 14-year federal sentence for hijacking, led them there. Repeated visits by Persico and other Mafiosi such as Mancuso and Carmine (Mr. Gribs) Tramunti. a potential heir to the entire Luchese Mafia family of East Harlem, persuaded federal agents and local police to keep the bar under constant surveillance.
The lawmen spent four months observing Mafiosi in Bachelors III, where they were throwing around $50 and $100 tips. Besides infiltrating the bar, lawmen with Mafia photo albums hiding in trucks carrying one-way mirrors "made" at least eight well-known bookmakers as regular bar patrons, including one man, Harry Bernow, who is known as the oddsmaker for the Luchese family, another who was chummy enough to borrow Namath's car and still another who was found to be placing bets on one of the bar's telephones, which was tapped, as was a phone in Namath's apartment.