The Vatican Connection: The True Story of a Billion-Dollar Conspiracy Between the Catholic Church and the Mafia

The Vatican Connection: The True Story of a Billion-Dollar Conspiracy Between the Catholic Church and the Mafia

by Richard Hammer


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Winner of the Edgar Award: The riveting account of an audacious fraud scheme that stretched from a Mafia hangout on the Lower East Side to the Vatican.
With a round, open face and a penchant for tall tales, Matteo de Lorenzo resembled everyone’s kindly uncle. But Uncle Marty, as he was known throughout the Genovese crime family, was one of the New York mob’s top earners throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the mastermind of a billion-dollar trade in stolen and counterfeit securities.
In the spring of 1972, de Lorenzo and his shrewd and ruthless business partner, Vincent Rizzo, traveled to Europe to discuss a plan to launder millions of dollars worth of phony securities. Shockingly, the plot involved Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the scandal-plagued president of the Vatican Bank. Unbeknownst to de Lorenzo and Rizzo, however, the NYPD was already on the case—thanks to the crusading work of Det. Joseph Coffey.
Coffey, the legendary New York policeman who investigated the Lufthansa heist and took the Son of Sam’s confession, first learned of the scheme in a wiretap related to the attempted mob takeover of the Playboy Club in Manhattan. From those unlikely beginnings, Detective Coffey worked tirelessly to trace the fraudulent stocks and bonds around the world and deep into the corridors of power in Washington, DC, and Rome.
Meticulously researched and relentlessly gripping, The Vatican Connection is a true story of corruption and deceit, packed with “all the ingredients of a thriller” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504049382
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 380
Sales rank: 349,732
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Richard Hammer is the author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction books, as well as numerous short stories, articles, and essays for major publications worldwide. He has won two Edgar Awards for Best Fact Crime, for The Vatican Connection (1982) and The CBS Murders (1987), and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley (1971). Both the New York Times and the Washington Post named One Morning in the War (1970) and The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley one of the ten best books of the respective years in which they were published. Hammer’s first book, Between Life and Death (1969), explored the case that led to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland and its repercussions. He wrote and narrated the Academy Award–winning documentary Interviews with My-Lai Veterans (1970), and has been involved in many TV films and motion pictures. Before becoming a full-time freelance writer, he wrote for the New York Times and its Week in Review section, where he covered the war in Vietnam, the civil rights struggle, and most other major stories of the times. A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Hammer attended Mount Hermon School, earned degrees from Syracuse University and Trinity College, and did postgraduate work at Columbia University. He and his wife currently reside in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

The Vatican Connection

By Richard Hammer


Copyright © 1982 Richard Hammer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3908-6


Christmas Eve, New York, 1970. By the middle of that cold, bleak afternoon, what little remained of the holiday spirit had begun to dissipate in the angry heat rising from the shoving crowds of frantic shoppers filling the stores and sidewalks, among the staggering drunks spilling out of office buildings after a little too much partying, even in the scowls that had replaced the broad smiles of the street-corner Santa Clauses whose ringing bells and loud "ho-ho's" had begun to take on a threatening timbre, demanding that passersby drop something into the pot.

That afternoon there were not many detectives in the offices of District Attorney Frank Hogan's rackets bureau on Leonard Street in downtown Manhattan. Some of the sixty-odd investigators assigned there were on vacation and many more had somehow managed to break away early. The few who straggled back after lunch scratched away at paperwork, one eye fastened on the clock, wishing the hours away until it was time to quit work, go home to the kids, maybe finish trimming the tree and putting out the presents and have a couple of days to forget about work. In that nearly empty office, about the last thing anybody wanted as dusk settled over the city was to see somebody walk in with a problem he wanted solved right away.

So there were inward groans when Assistant District Attorney Gerard Hinckley strode through the door. Just behind him was a man who had the look and the smell of an expensive lawyer, the kind who doesn't show up at the district attorney's office bearing holiday largess, or even season's greetings; the kind who appears only when there is trouble. That he was the bearer of bad tidings was apparent from the look on his face, from the purposeful, tight way he walked. Hinckley and the attorney headed directly for the private office of Inspector Paul Vitrano, the commanding officer of the detectives in the rackets bureau, and disappeared inside, closing the door behind them.

A few minutes later, the door opened, and Vitrano stepped outside. His eyes moved slowly around the room, searching. Nobody wanted to meet that gaze. "Carey," he called. "Montello. Come in here. I want to see you. Now."

Detectives John Carey and Lou Montello looked at each other and sighed, rose slowly from their desks and crossed the room to Vitrano's office, followed him inside. "We've got a little problem," he said. "I want you guys to get on it."

He introduced them to a very disturbed and angry lawyer who wanted action and who wanted it immediately. He represented the Playboy Club on East Fifty-ninth Street in Manhattan. Some tough punks, he said, had been making a lot of trouble and they had to be stopped. Though he had just learned about it, and, of course, had immediately brought the news to the district attorney's office, the hoodlums had appeared at the club a few months before, had forced their way in and, through threats and violence, had been trying to take it over and had come very close to doing just that. They had the club management so terrified that they were able to do just about anything they pleased. Their friends had been named to positions of trust and control. Anytime they walked in, they demanded, and got, free meals and booze. With no interference from the frightened management, they sold marijuana, cocaine and pills right out in the open and operated a flourishing loansharking business at the bar and from a center table. Anyone who tried to interfere, who even voiced a mild complaint, was bullied, threatened and beaten. This open and arrogant display had been enough to drive some customers away.

Even the bunnies were not immune. They were, in fact, special targets. The hoodlums had been supplying them with drugs and pills, had been forcing narcotics on them, turning some of them into users. And they had been pressuring some of the bunnies into becoming high-priced hookers, part of a stable for which they pimped, this despite a rigid club policy against any bunny even dating a customer. A few of the girls had objected and threatened to carry their complaints to the authorities if they weren't left alone. The result had been beatings so severe that the girls had been unable to work for days afterward, and warnings that this was only a sample.

The situation had become so serious that unless something was done immediately, the future of the Playboy Club itself could be placed in jeopardy.

It was not a new story to Carey or Montello, or to anyone in the rackets bureau. They had been hearing numerous tales for years of young toughs loose in the city shaking down nightclubs, restaurants and bars, extorting protection money, taking clandestine control, building stables of expensive prostitutes from among the girls who worked or hung out in those places. For some of the young hoodlums, this seemed a good way to make a reputation, to impress the bosses of the city's Mafia families and so win themselves entrance into the organized crime syndicate. Though essentially a free-lance operation, it was carried out with at least the tacit approval of the syndicate rulers, who, naturally enough, expected a share of the take. It was lucrative, but it was also more than a little dangerous for those who tried it, especially for those who figured they didn't have to cut the bosses in, who thought if nobody knew they were scoring or how much they were scoring, they could pocket the take. A few who had tried had ended up in the trunks of abandoned cars.

Putting their holiday plans aside, Carey and Montello went up to the Playboy Club to see what they might learn. It wasn't much. Most employees wouldn't talk to them. Those who did merely denied that anything out of the ordinary had been going on. The club, they said, was operating just as it always had. The idea of anyone trying to step in and take over was ridiculous. But the bunnies, nearly all of them, were terrified, some so frightened they refused even to talk to any cop. Most of those who agreed to be interviewed insisted, like the others who worked the club, that there was no trouble; nobody had been offering them drugs or pills, nobody had been trying to force them to use narcotics, and, certainly, the idea that anybody had been trying to turn them into prostitutes or call girls was too absurd even to discuss. The bruises that were evident on some? They hadn't come from fists or blackjacks or any weapon; they were the result of easily explained accidents — a fall down a flight of stairs, a stumble on some uneven pavement, something like that.

But there were a couple of bunnies who were angry and upset enough so that their fear receded just a little, far enough so they talked in private and off-the-record. Though they would not name any names and refused to look at mug shots in the police files, they did confirm what the Playboy attorney had said.

If the bunnies, out of that very real fear, would not cooperate, then perhaps something could be learned just by hanging around the Playboy Club at night and pretending to be customers. That was the next course Hinckley and Vitrano decided to follow. Carey and Montello were ordered, and it was an order they accepted without much reluctance, to go up to the club and eat, drink, take in the entertainment — and watch what went on. To give this the air of a party — a group of unattached men out for a good time on the town — a couple of other detectives would get a chance at the fun along with them.

One was Joseph Coffey. In his four years on the rackets bureau squad, he had emerged as one of the stars — a detective whose memory for people, events, dates and linkages was almost photographic, a detective who seemed always to find himself in the right place at the right time, a detective whose hunches seemed to pan out and who had that innate and essential ability to see through bland surfaces to the hidden core. He had already played major roles in several investigations into organized crime, had been instrumental in the investigations of Cuban terrorists and violence by the Black Panthers. At six feet four inches, with curling black hair and rugged Irish good looks, moving with a litheness and grace, he looked more the professional athlete than the cop. Coffey could act the part of a Playboy regular with ease, could probably pass undetected in that circle, and with his memory he might be able to spot, recognize and catalogue any of the hoodlums who showed up.

"Be our guests," the Playboy attorney offered. "Everything is on the house. If you can stop this thing and put those guys where they belong, it will be cheap no matter what it costs us."

"Go on up there," Hinckley said. "Pretend you're having a good time. See what's really going on and if anything happens while you're there, make a summary arrest, on the spot. But the Playboy Club pay the bill? Never. The district attorney's office will pay. Nobody picks up the tab for the men who work for Frank Hogan. He wouldn't stand for it."

"That's ridiculous," the detectives said. "A night at the Playboy Club could cost a small fortune, and if this thing lasts a while, it could cost the office a large fortune. Why not let the club pay the bill? Who's it going to hurt?"

"No way," Hinckley said. "That would be corruption, to let somebody else pay for our men during an investigation. This office will pay the bill no matter what it costs."

One night soon after Christmas, Carey, Montello, Coffey and a couple of other detectives had a little party at the Playboy Club. They ate, they drank, they enjoyed the entertainment and the ambience. And they learned nothing they hadn't known before. When the bill arrived at Leonard Street, it turned out that Hinckley's unbending attitude, his insistence that the rules in Hogan's office were unbreakable, had cost the district attorney more than $400. There was some grumbling, especially since the office was on a meager budget. Still, the office paid and, despite the continuing offers of the Playboy Club to pick up all the costs no matter how high, it continued to pay all during the month-long investigation, though after that initial party, only Carey and Montello enjoyed the club's food and booze on a regular basis.

Although those evenings at the Playboy Club were little more than watchful relaxation for the detectives, they were a welcome break from the office's complex and difficult investigation into racketeering in the city's meat industry. They got to know the bunnies well, though despite that increasing familiarity, the bunnies did not bend enough to offer any help. It hadn't taken more than a few minutes from their initial appearance for the word to spread that the cops were in the place, looking into the rumors and reports, looking for confirmation and evidence, ready to make an arrest at the first sign of trouble. So, whenever the detectives were at the club, the hoods were not, and on those nights when something kept them away, the hoods invariably turned up and the trouble erupted again. It was frustrating. It was a pattern the detectives could see no way of breaking. As long as they were there, everything would be peaceful. The moment they were gone, there was going to be trouble. But there was no way they could be there all the time. The office didn't have enough detectives to handle all the other work. What they needed was a break, perhaps somebody who would not be afraid to open his mouth before a grand jury and at a trial.

It was more than a month before the break finally came. Carey and Montello were off on another job. The toughs put in their appearance and Went into their usual act. A group of West Point cadets was having a little celebration in the club that night. The hoods decided the cadets deserved their special attention. There were some sarcastic comments about Boy Scouts. They were ignored. The remarks got rougher, more pointed, more personal until the cadets could no longer ignore them and began to respond. That was what the hoodlums had been waiting for. One of them went after a cadet with his fists, broke a whiskey bottle over the cadet's head and left him on the floor, bleeding and unconscious.

This was not, of course, the first time something of the sort had happened. In the past, though, the battered patrons of the club had decided the best course was to tend to their bruises and stay away from the club rather than risk another confrontation with people who were obviously looking for just that. Indeed that was the cadet's first reaction. But, unlike most customers of the Playboy Club, he was vulnerable because of what he was — a cadet at the United States Military Academy and a future officer of the United States Army. A couple of days after the beating, Carey and Montello heard about it, passed the news to Vitrano and Hinckley. Hinckley made a call to officials at West Point. They called the cadet in, advised him strongly to cooperate with the Manhattan district attorney, ordered him to New York to tell his story and identify his assailant. With obvious reluctance, he obeyed his orders. The man he identified was Donald Viggiano — a small-time punk with a record of minor crimes, a Mafia hanger-on who was out to make an impression that would win him favor with the bosses.

On February 8, 1971, a grand jury handed down an indictment of Viggiano for criminal assault. But Viggiano was nowhere to be found. For about three weeks, the cops looked for him but he showed up in none of his usual hangouts. Then, early in March, on a miserable winter day, Viggiano was spotted. It was early in the evening and someone who recognized him called in to say that he was sitting alone in a car on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. Carey and Montello went out to get him. The car was still parked at the curb, Viggiano still behind the wheel when they arrived. They pulled open the door, told him he was under arrest, and read him his rights.

Joe Coffey looked up from his desk and spotted Carey and Montello as they brought Viggiano into the office. He and several other detectives had been working late, trying to decide whether it was time to venture out into the miserable night for the trip home or wait it out and pray that the rain would begin to taper off. The quiet of the office was broken by the appearance of Viggiano in custody. Coffey and a couple of others rose and wandered over to watch as he was booked, fingerprinted, photographed.

"About your car, Viggiano," Carey said.

"It's not my car," Viggiano said.

"No? Where did you get it?"

"Borrowed it from a friend."

"Yeah? What's the friend's name?"

"Crespino. Philip Crespino. It's his car."

Coffey nudged Carey. "What's with the car?"

"In the back," Carey said. "We found a blackjack, a bunch of credit cards and airline tickets. You know they're hot. Also a little junk." If the car had been Viggiano's, he would have been in serious trouble. That it belonged to somebody else meant he couldn't be touched because of what had been found in it, and neither could the owner.

But the name Crespino touched something in Joe Coffey's memory — a faint notion that he had heard that name before. A quick check of police department files turned up a yellow sheet, but it contained little of importance, only a record of a few minor offenses. Coffey was sure there had to be something more. He made a few phone calls, asked a few questions and a picture of Crespino began to take shape.

He was a tall, hulking man in his early forties, with a perpetual sneer. ("The kind of guy," Coffey would say a long time later, "who when you meet him you want to punch his lights out on first sight.") He was a mechanic for the New York City Transit Authority, taking care of the buses in a garage on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He also took care of a few other things: he ran a shylocking operation for transit workers out of that garage, and had a piece of another in Little Italy, where his swaggering presence was cause for fear and concern among his customers. He seemed to enjoy using his massive fists, sometimes with a club or blackjack in them, on people who were slow in their payments almost as much as he enjoyed collecting his vigorish. He was, the story went, a low-level soldier in good standing in the Genovese family, knew his place, split his take fairly with those in power above him, and carried out whatever strong-arm errands he was assigned.


Excerpted from The Vatican Connection by Richard Hammer. Copyright © 1982 Richard Hammer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Author's Note,
Munich, May 1972,
ONE: The Playboy Bunnies,
TWO: Operation Fraulein,
THREE: Taps and Bugs,
FOUR: Coca-Cola,
FIVE: To the Vatican,
SIX: Beyond the Vatican,
SEVEN: The Last Pieces,
EIGHT: Cover-up,
About the Author,

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