November 5, 2012

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The Greek Mafia in Philadelphia PART TWO

Philadelphia (Photo credits:
The Philadelphia Greek mob first appeared on the grid back in the 1970′s when it was headed by Chelsais Bouras and stretched throughout the northeast. He was well versed in the old country traditions and was able to grow the family into a formidable force while staying well below the radar when compared to the Italians and Irish gangsters at that time.
That was until he was gunned down in May of 1981 inside a well known mafia hangout and Greek restaurant, Meletis, in South Philadelphia. Bouras was having dinner with the aunt of a made member of La Costa Nostra and other Scarfo associates, who we will cover when we get to the Italians. To this day there has not been an arrest made but many believe the hit was ordered to try and deter the Greek’s involvment in many of the Atlantic City projects that were taking place at that time.

What helped support that claim is the fact another made member of the Greek Mafia, Harry Peetros had been assassinated a day prior. Peetros, like many of today’s made guys was from Upper Darby, a suburb that connects to West Philadelphia. This is interesting because it’s the township that the Karalis brothers raised their families for the most part, and it’s also where Caesars Kafenion is located.

The establishment which is still there to this day was once owned and operated by Gianni Karalis prior to leaving for Greece in the early ’90s. The private social club was the center of Greek Mafia activity, holding nightly poker games, offering illegal slot machines, and the spot where many meetings were held. At least until the FBI along with other government agencies raided the coffee house expecting to turn up evidence leading to the conviction for racketeering, extortion, and even murder. Instead the only violation found was the illegal poker machines, a charge which was eventually droppped. Some believe Gianni had been tipped off, others credit the vow of silence taken, but whatever the reason, it put the wheels in motion for the Greeks to become even more low key in their dealings.

In the mid to late ’80′s the Greeks were depended upon as soilders for the Italians, who were at war amongst themselves. Fortunately for them they supported the winning side and the loyalty shown allowed for them to continue growing. The leader at this time was George Botsaris who was also from the Upper Darby area, and who also used pizzarias and diners as cover like they do today. His mistake was breaking the family rule on dealing narcotics and he was busted for organizing a massive cocaine triangle that stretched from New York City to Philadelphia to Boston, and named the “Greek pizza connection” by authorities. After fleeing to Greece in 1987 to avoid a lengthy sentence, he voluntarily returned to the U.S. after negotiating a plea through his attorney.

That takes us to the 1990′s when a couple of families decided a change was needed and that’s when the Karalis’ began to take control. Until then, the brothers had been involved in every facet of the businesses run by the Greek Mafia, but they were very old school and did everything they could to remain annonymous. From staying in the same neighborhoods and refusing to drive fancy cars, to being good family men not known for living the gangster lifestyle. This allowed them to grow in power without gaining attention and before long, together they were in control of gambling, loan sharking, and many other street rackets behind the scenes, and at the same time kept adding legitimate enterprises that remained at the forefront.

The death of Apostoli was hard on his siblings and the way in which he passed, something I will cover in the near future, also ended up playing a major role in the way the family is set up today. Though the youngest, like his son Gianni is from all his first cousins, Apostoli was the heart and soul of the family. And like his son, was the one who could be depended on to handle the most intimidating situations. There is no way to know if Gianni would have become a made member at such a young age if his father was still alive. I for one after conducting so many interviews and putting together so many pieces of this puzzle have to say yes. He’s shown to be cut from that same cloth and his street smarts together with fearlessness and acceptance of violence make him the perfect soilder and most likely leader before long. It’s said he’s now taken on most of the responsibilities in Las Vegas, and that his crew is currently making many of the decisions concerning the majority of legitimate businesses, not just the gambling and all that it involves.

Just like in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, there are members in many parts of the world. With most of the income stemming from the rackets, their ability to open and maintain so many other businesses is what’s kept them out of the public eye. From restaurants in the form of pizzarias and diners, to bars, strip clubs, and even escort services, it’s expected that each made member operate a business of some sort. It’s been one of the rules implemented by the new regime and each member is expected to kick up through the ranks until eventually it reaches the boss or Theo.

The hierarchy is said to go in this order ; soilder, made member, lieutenant, captain, underboss, and boss. The soilders do the grunt work in hopes of becoming made guys, and the made members want to become lieutenants and be in charge of a crew. Have enough success at that level and you become a captain, and are now able to actually speak to the boss. The captain is in charge of all the levels and men below him and reports directly to the boss and is also considered to be an extension of him, so they are shown that type of respect. The underboss is the right hand of the boss and also acts as an advisor like the Italian consigliere. The big difference is the underboss in the Greek Mafia is not guaranteed the top spot when the boss either retires, something he’s allowed to do unlike the Italians, or dies. This is why it’s expected that for the Karalis faction of the Greek mob, the next in line is a captain and as it sits, who better than the one that’s been groomed for this position since the young age of 17 when his father was killed. Today he’s a well known professional sports bettor and part owner of a gambling website that features him as a handicapper. But behind that facade, he’s one of the most respected and even feared men in the rackets. Don’t let that veneer smile and charm fool you, his story is one that I’ll document and one that he’s hid very well.

When you  factor in that Gianni’s godfather is none other than Spiros Velentzas who was in charge of the Greek Mafia in New York City, and is still said to be running things from prison, it makes perfect sense. The Lucchese crime family is one of the main sponsors of the Greeks, and their good standing relationship with the other Italian families throughout the U.S. means they aren’t going away anytime soon. Just the opposite,  since the return to the U.S. of Gianni who was in Greece for over 2 yrs, a story that reads straight from a movie script but is true and one I’ll cover next, the Greeks have now joined forces with Russians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Asians, and others. When you take into account the different Greek families spread out across the U.S, Canada, and other countries, you can see their reach and influence keeps growing. In Las Vegas, the Greeks are currently in control of much of the transportation like cabs, limos, and airport shuttles, and also pizza restaurants, strip club, escorts, gambling, loansharking, amongst others.

Andreas Karalis, known as “theo” has been the least talked about mafia leader I have ever researched. Like most of that family it is almost impossible to find anything other than rumor and heresay. Without proper knowledge, one would conclude they are like any other immigrant family that came to the U.S. to prosper and was able to do exactly that with hard work. Though much of that may be true, the underlying fact is that it’s through the underworld that they’ve been able to thrive and attain power. He too will be covered in the final “tell all” installment of the Greeks.

Believe it or not, they all work hand in hand and there’s been very little bloodshed and even less power struggles over the last decade. It looks as if the various Greek families have chosen to go back to the way the Italians ran their mafia in the 1960′s. Where each family has it’s own boss and runs it’s family the way they see fit, but is also a part of something much bigger. Instead of going to war over having control of the entire Greek Mafia, they are focused on running their own families and knowing they have the loyalty and support of the others. As of this writing it is believed that there are 16 Greek families that are represented by a boss in the U.S. alone, and not surprisingly 9 are in the northeast part of the country.

We covered some of the history of the Greek Mafia here in Philadelphia and touched on the families that laid the groundwork for their involvment in the current underworld. Next I will conclude on the Greek Mafia with some of the in depth details on many of the rumors that surround their reign, and many of the facts that they’ve fought hard to keep out of the media. They are one of the most powerful mafias and also one of the least talked about at this time. That is about to change when I bring you the last installment that will feature how power was gotten and the road today’s soiders like Gianni Karalis (captain), Caesar, and Alex had to take to be in their current positions. Also I will share with you the stories of some of the other main characters who run the different Greek families in the 2010′s Philly mob. phillymob215

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