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Perla didn't seem much like me. But I asked around about him, and the word was he was O.K. Most of all, he was Mazzei's best friend, and that counted for a lot with me. I could tell we had one thing in common: he was an honorable type of person. Honor is very big with me.
A few months later Mazzei and the Perlas and I decided we might go into a joint venture. Because the Pittsburgh people were the ones friendly with Kuhn, they wanted me to be the muscle guy, the tough guy, the one with the—shall we say—organizational strength.
I was to set everything up, arrange for all the money, then handle things if something happened and a bookie wouldn't pay or any other problem came up. So we discussed fixing the games, and I told them I'd have to get O.K.s from my bosses—Burke and the Varios, Peter and his father Paul. My bosses told me to arrange the appointment for Perla and Mazzei to fly in from Pittsburgh. I set it up for Roberts Lounge, a bar on Lefferts Boulevard in Queens near Aqueduct, in the late part of November 1978. I met there at 12 noon with Peter Vario, Burke, Tony Perla and Mazzei. Perry wasn't there, but Peter said he was over at the track doing whatever he does and that we could see him after the double. The Pittsburgh guys wanted to make sure I was going to pay the players. I told them I was. And we discussed how I would guarantee the money to Perla, who would turn it over to Kuhn, who would pay Sweeney and, as it turned out later, Cobb. Anyway, no problem. Then we set up an appointment in Boston to meet the kids.
It was early in December, and I flew to Boston for a meeting with Mazzei, the Perlas, Sweeney and Kuhn at the Logan Airport Hilton. It was just a short get-acquainted session in a room that looked out on the runways. The main thing is that the players struck me as over-ambitious. They couldn't wait. You talk about being ready. So I staked them—paid them $500 for coming and talking. Just a little thanks for the pleasure of their company. Then I flew right back to New York, feeling pretty good.
Now we're getting down to serious business. On Dec. 14, three days after the Lufthansa job at Kennedy Airport, I flew to Pittsburgh and stayed over at Mazzei's house. This is where I met a girl named Judy Wicks, who was introduced to me as a friend of Tony's. When I asked her if she wanted to take a ride to Boston with us, she said, "Why not?" The next afternoon Rocca, Tony, Mazzei, Judy and I went up there. After we arrived, we went right to the Sheraton at the Prudential Center and took three rooms—a suite and two others. Then Rocca or Tony called Rick and set up the appointment for 7 or 7:30 p.m. When I spoke to Kuhn, he said he would bring Sweeney with him. I said fine.
After the players showed up, we started off with general B.S. conversation. I asked how the team was doing, and they said they had a really good shot to make the NCAAs. or at least the NIT. They knew they had a damn good team, and they did. They finished 21-9 that year, so nobody can accuse me of lousing up their season. We talked about their careers, and they both felt they were either too small or not good enough to make the pros. I asked them questions because I wanted to know what was possessing them to go into this venture. The players ordered dinner from room service. Both of them had lobster at about $13 or $14 a throw, but what's a few dollars among new friends? And we ordered some wine and drank a bottle or two. I don't remember what kind, but I think that's understandable. Because of the Lufthansa job, I obviously had a lot on my mind. Look at it this way: I had just fried some very big fish, so it was hard for me to always keep my mind on the guppies. Know what I mean?
But the important thing is that Kuhn and Sweeney knew exactly what I was there for. They knew that basically I was the heavy money out of New York. They also knew I was the one with the connections. Everybody wanted to make sure that there would be no problem in getting the money down, and I promised I could guarantee $25,000—but that was all. Betting big money on college basketball is very hard because very few bookies get into it seriously. In fact, the bookies usually will handle it only as kind of a complimentary deal for someone betting a lot on football or baseball. And even then, all they'll get you down for is $500, maybe $1,000 tops.
So I needed a string of bookmakers, maybe 10 or 15. I even let a few of them know what was going on, so they'd always be there to help me spread the money around. Most books have a limit on how much action they'll take on one game. If the limit is $25,000, then anything above that, they call somebody else and get them to take it. It works out. I had one guy in Manhattan who would lay off in Connecticut who would lay off in Cleveland who would lay off in California. There's a whole network.
That sounded fine to everybody, and at this point I got into conversation with Sweeney. See, Sweeney was a businessman like me. Birds of a feather. First he and Rick wanted $3,500 a game, but I wound up chewin' 'em down to $2,500.
Because Tony Perla was going to be my contact with the players, I told them I would pass the word on the betting line through him before each game. Then they wanted to make damn sure they could bet their money, and I told them I'd get them down as best I could. As it turned out, I guess I bet for the players two or three times, but I could only get down about $2,000 or so, never the full $5,000. I don't remember which games. Later, when Cobb joined our little group. he didn't want his money bet, and that was fine with me.