As a result of the current investigation, police have found that the Mafia itself is reported to be asking Mancuso questions. The Gambino family lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on football games last year and is anxious to know whether Mancuso actually laid off the bets he was given or booked them himself. If the Gambino family finds that he booked the bets, it will deduce that Mancuso knew more about what was happening during the last football season than he was telling them.
Despite all the current conjecture concerning two 1968 Jet losses (to Buffalo 37-35 and to Denver 21-13), each of which New York was favored to win by 19 points, there is no evidence that Namath was making less than a maximum effort, although he did throw 10 interceptions in the two games. "Nothing has ever been said about Namath," says one well-known oddsmaker. "His adrenalin just doesn't seem to flow when he's got big points. Go back to college—same thing."
Lawmen presented NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle with some of their information in early March. It was very clear that every effort was being made to give Namath an opportunity to divest himself of Bachelors III and its underworld patrons. Rozelle is said to have shown Namath much of the information he, Rozelle, had been given by the police, including photographs of known gamblers and Mafia hoods who were frequenting the place. Rozelle told Namath that police knew about the bookmaker operating in the place and suggested that Joe give up his interest in the bar.
"I'll think about it," Namath said.
Robert Vannuchi, the 31-year-old manager of Bachelors III, who also lives in the Newport East and calls himself Bobby Van, has been running East Side nightclubs since 1960, and many of them, according to police, have been patronized by known gamblers and racketeers. "He is never on the corporation papers of these bars," one police source explained, "but he'll frequently turn up as a manager or director of places we believe are mob joints."
While managing the Table Talk on Second Avenue in 1964, Van was arrested and charged with assaulting a patron with a baseball bat. The case was later dismissed. From the Table Talk, Van ran the Dudes 'n Dolls on Third Avenue, where New York Yankee First Baseman Joe Pepitone and Namath were both customers. After briefly running the Ginza Hideaway on East 58th Street, Van took over the Jet Set on First Avenue and, knowing Namath was interested in buying a bar, offered the Jet quarterback a partnership. Authorities say Sonny Werblin, who at the time owned a piece of the Jets, vetoed the arrangement after he was informed that police were investigating to determine whether the bar was actually owned by Tramunti. Van then went to The Margin Call, a bar on the site of the present Bachelors III, in which a stockbroker and a doctor had interests. Van claims he looked at more than 100 bars for Namath, but none was suitable until he hit upon The Margin Call.
Besides using these establishments as hangouts and contact points with legitimate society, mobsters have gone into nightclubs, bars and restaurants because such businesses enable them to justify some of the vast amounts of cash they accumulate illegally.
"One of the Mafia guys' biggest problems," one police expert explained, "is how to show that they earn a 'legitimate' salary for income-tax purposes. Therefore, what they often do is create fake jobs in nightclubs, bars and restaurants and pay themselves weekly salaries. It doesn't matter whether the place makes enough money or not, they just pump their own cash through the register as though it were from the outside. Since the cigarette vending machine, linen service, vegetables, meat, garbage removal, knife grinding, jukebox, hatcheck concession and liquor distribution—almost everything that has to do with the place—are also mob connected, it is next to impossible to trace where all the money comes from and where it goes.
"Persico, for instance," the police expert continued, "handles many of the cigarette, whiskey, produce, linen and hatcheck concessions in East Side bars. Persico is not involved with gambling on the East Side. The Luchese family handles all of that."
Since Namath bought Bachelors III, his conduct, to many people, has been inexplicable. "The guy's a football genius," says one informant, "but take off his cleats and he's just a jerk. What did he need these guys for? He has the Sinatra sickness. Frank's the same way with the muscle and smart money guys. It's like I say, a sickness with him. Namath ain't careless. He's stupid. It's crazy. Nobody trusts anybody, but Joe Namath's an angel. You figure it."