January 31, 2013

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Greek Mafia in Philadelphia - PART FOUR


Before Reading PART FOUR it would be wise to read PART One, PART TWO and then PART THREE.
The author of this story chose to create the blog phillymob215 in order to spread awareness about the Philadelphia mob scene. According to him/her this is a topic that he/she has researched for a number of years while attempting to get a book published. Although the author has yet to secure a publisher he/she felt it would be fit, to share some of his/hers stories via such blog posts. We here at HellasFrappe agree and have decided to re-publish PART FOUR of his/hers blog entry. This is the final part of a four part series.
Message from the author:
This was to be the final installment on my coverage of the Greek mafia in the city of brotherly love in a series consisting of four parts. Some of you may have noticed the piece is even late this month and with good reason, there’s been plenty of developments recently to report on and rumors swirling which needed to be corroborated before going to print. There’s also some good news I wanted to share with my readers; after a formal meeting with a literary agent and publisher, I can report with celebration that upon completion my work will be released as a book. Sadly, I will no longer be using this blog to publish my findings and stories on the subsequent mafia ethnicities I was prepared to cover. Rather, I will now have the fatuity of taking more time and conducting even more research and investigations into the inner workings of the Philadelphia underworld. Ironically I am grateful to the Greeks for peeking the interest of my agent and publisher who found Parts 1-3 very gripping. To show my appreciation to all who helped make this possible, I will go forward with Part 4 of the Greeks here today and ascertain that when the book is eventually released, there will be an agglomeration of added details to surprise you.

I came into contact with an investigative reporter in Las Vegas who covers that city’s underworld and he’s agreed to share with me a mint of information he’s gathered over the past decade on some of the major players who reside there. Satrically, the Karalis family along with one other (Eliadis) is very pronounced in Sin City, and Gianni Karalis who we’ve dived into already and will do so again shortly is currently the highest ranking captain serving his tour there.

The plan for the book is to start at the very beginning almost like I’ve done for this blog with the Greeks and outline the history of all the various mafias who control Philadelphia in 2013 and aren’t going away any time soon. I will paint a picture of how they got to where they are today and one of all of the colorful characters involved through the years. But the plan for Part 4 was to dig a bit deeper into the Greeks, most notably the family which has been able to elude the spotlight through it all and to this day, receives the least amount of scrutiny and publicity.

With prior material now the property of my new publisher, laws and ethics prohibit me from promoting this blog further and I will go ahead and take it down sometime this month. But before that happens, I’ve stripped away much of what was planned for Part 4 and will try to give you those facts which are most intriguing and gripping. To do this I’ll focus on the main captains of the Karalis family who are said to be quarreling and give you a taste of what makes them so fascinating.

By now you know Andreas “theo” Karalis is one of the few mafia bosses who’s been able to avoid attention throughout his entire tenure as soldier, lieutenant, captain, and don. His closest brother and partner who helped grow their influence, power, and wealth, Apostoli was killed in brutal fashion in 1988, in Greece. Few details have ever been reported and even with the help of some journalists in Greece I was unable to find a single article written about the details. What I can tell you is that all my research points to a gangland style killing by a rival faction while he was away on business in the fall of that year. I also know that his body was laid to rest back in Philadelphia and there’s even been documentation supporting he died of natural causes here in the U.S. In short, to this day an actual portrait of what exactly occurred has not been painted, and many of the higher ranking made members of today don’t exactly know. Those who do are most likely never asked and it’s something that my sources say is almost never discussed.

What that horrific murder did was change the structure of the Karalis family and also played a major role in the life of the man who many expect will be “theo” one day. Apostoli was the father of Gianni Karalis and it is said though he appeared destined for a life in the rackets from a very young age, it wasn’t guaranteed until the day his father was killed. Also, at that time the actual “theo” for the Karalis family had not been established and some still believe it would have been Apostoli who would be king. Here are some of my notes from that will be featured in my upcoming book.

My research uncovered Gianni was refered to as ”the genius” at times when he was younger but didn’t approve and even today he’s quick to dismiss that claim for some reason or other. People interviewed who grew up with him stated he was documented with having a genius level IQ and transcripts I’ve found show he skipped a grade and almost every class taken was an AP or “advanced placement” course through high school. He excelled in math and was taken to a nearby high school when only in 7th grade for math with juniors. He scored a 1410 on his SAT’s and the running joke amongst friends is he took them on a Saturday morning after being dropped off straight from a night in Atlantic City. Transcripts show it was at the start of his junior year in high school, and only a few months later everything changed forever.

One would assume if he wasn’t born a Karalis, Gianni would most likely be running a hedge fund or doing something along those lines. But his bloodline and loyalty to it would not allow for it and to this day he almost masks the fact he’s highly intelligent, opting to take people by surprise. When with his underworld cohorts he’ll speak and act as expected, yet when in the company of non-gangsters he’ll mix in well and come off polished and educated.

Instead of college Gianni chose to follow in his first cousin Alex’s footsteps who at the time was older and already involved in the family rackets. Their other first cousin Ceasar had received a degree from Villanova University and was involved with the family by controlling some of the legit businesses they held. Within a few short years of officially joining the rackets, Gianni built a reputation in the streets as someone not to be taken lightly. Growing up it was well established he was a tough kid which says a lot considering the neighborhood he was raised in. He never backed down from a fight and even invited them at every opportunity. His father got him involved in boxing at a young age and throughout his adolescence and even late teens, was also into the different martial arts and relished combat.

That toughness, street and book smarts, when conjoined with a lack of fear allowed him to rise quickly in the ranks. He’d already been bookmaking since his youth and was surrounded by wiseguys and gangsters from birth so it all came very naturally and never appeared forced. Behind his back, friends and others called him “the consequence” and “the instigator” because of a lack of sympathy for anyone who wronged him or the people he cared for, and he was always willing to stir up trouble.

His acceptance to do the dirty work himself rather than use his influence, family name, or rank to have those below him get it done appears to be the primary reason his uncle has been grooming him for “theo” since being made. Andreas quickly noticed Gianni was going to make his mark as a gangster in the Karalis family and he already felt responsible for him since the death of Apostoli. The obvious next step was to take him under his wing and help guide him as he earned his way up through the different levels of the family structure. Details I’m saving for my book will show how this relationship blossomed to where it is today and help explain why Gianni is the obvious choice to eventually take over.

Ceasar is more on the “straight and narrow” and seems to enjoy being known as a gangster but not having to actually be one. He’s been married to his high school sweetheart and has two children who will certainly not follow in daddy’s footsteps. The elder (52) first cousin is only involved with the legit businesses held by the Karalis family and their associates. If you remember, the Greeks made it a rule that every made member must run a legit business and Ceasar is the one that makes certain they are kept that way. Not a very interesting character but his age makes him a possibility for “theo” after Andreas either retires and passes the torch, or passes. Except for his name, Ceasar could pass for an average American suburbanite with a prep school education and a safe, normal life. Like most of the family he is a very proud man and purposely gives off an air of arrogance. His ego would surely make for him to want the top spot but his deficiencies in the rackets would make the family a target for other Greek families and other mafias to take them over.

Alex is 47 and like Gianni has been involved in the lifestyle since he was a young man. It took a while for Alex to get his stripes and become a made member of the Greek mafia mainly due to a lack of effort. He’s got above average intelligence and is very handsome but those who know him say he possesses very little ambition and is almost lazy in a sense. Alex’s lieutenants seem to have the most responsibilities and put in the most work and he don’t appear to be very hands on. It’s rumored that the “theo” uses his underboss to oversee all of Alex’s operation, as if he doesn’t trust he’ll be able to run it alone. He too is currently married to the same woman for more than 10 yrs and has a young daughter, and the distinct reputation of being a womanizer who enjoys going out. Alex is known as the flashy dresser of the bunch and enjoys showing off things like nice jewelry, cars, and other possessions.  It’s no secret Alex believes he is next in line for the throne and he’s made it well-known of late that he feels deserving and even entitled.

Until recently it was almost a forgone conclusion that either Ceasar or Alex would be “theo” next for the Karalis family since Gianni had even refused to accept the role of captain, resisting his uncle’s persuasion. Rumors suggest his uncle still held out hope this would change and spent time teaching the inner workings of the family business. According to my Las Vegas source whose work supports the claim I made in prior blogs, Andreas’ objective came to light as Gianni recently became the highest ranking captain of the Greek mafia in Las Vegas.

More recent interviews suggest there’s a lot of inner feuding going on at this time and it’s even rumored to be on the verge of a full-scale war pitting Alex and Ceasar against Gianni. They contend their younger cousin’s growing popularity as the “Vegas Runner” is starting to bring unwanted attention to the Karalis family. To date, Gianni’s been able to separate the two career paths with precision and I doubt those who know of Vegas Runner have any idea he’s actually an alleged mafia captain.

I also doubt invites to do ESPN radio shows all over the country, being included in a CNBC documentary on gambling, and the different media outlets who have showcased Vegas Runner would all be as willing otherwise. The question becomes, will he be able to hide this forever or will he be forced to choose one career or the other.

Privacy has been the foundation for the way the Karalis family is run and both elder cousins are using this as a driving force to deter the promotion that may await Gianni.  Can you imagine an actual mafia boss being a well-known sports media personality ?

It’s could be construed as genius if you ask me. The thought of it is so absurd it would probably turn out to be the best cover in the history of the mafia. Maybe “the genius” has been planning this all along and being recognized as Vegas Runner will prove to be the most clever idea he’s had.

I’m sure you can see why I’ve spent more time on the youngest nephew of Andreas for my coverage of the Greek mafia in Philadelphia, and most notably the Karalis family. All of my research has brought to light the fact Gianni is one of the more colorful made mafia member I’ve studied in a long time. It’s not surprising my agent and publisher were most interested in hearing more about him than any other character I spoke of. It’s only fitting that I close out Part 4 and my blog as a whole by delivering some of the information I have on Gianni that will be better disseminated in my book. Here is a little taste of some of the facts.

The name on his original birth certificate is said to be Gioannis. He’s known as Gianni, Ace, John, and now VR (Vegas Runner). I’ve found his middle name is Ceasar but he had a legal name change and some documents show his middle name is that of his father. The almost “jail tattoo” on his calf that says “Wizzard of Oddz” is rumored to contain two “z’s” on purpose and along with the surrounding symbols has something to do with the lifestyle. There’s no mistaken he’s of Greek/Italian decent and good-looking women seem to find him profoundly attractive like Alex and almost seem to covet him. Unlike Alex, Gianni has followed more in the footsteps of his father and uncles by being more family oriented and doesn’t give off the air of a playboy.

He comes off as a very confident man and the typical alpha-male. He let’s you know immediately who’s in charge and without a word gives the impression you should watch your step. If you get close enough you’ll notice some scars on his forehead and it’s said his nose has been broken half a dozen times. He was stabbed in his side when he was 20 and had surgery to cover a rather large scar, which is now barely noticable.

He is said to be 40, but even that can not be 100% substantiated with all the changes. Add he skipped at least one grade and I’ll conclude he’s anywhere between 38 and 41. I’m sure you’re starting to see a trend here.

After becoming a full pledged member of the Karalis faction of the Greek mafia his main business was gambling. Known mostly as a bookmaker, Gianni operated Ceasars Kafeneon, the private social club I touched on in previous blogs that was raided by the FBI and other government agencies. During those years it’s believed he was well-connected with major betting syndicates and top bookmakers across the U.S. that needed him to move money and bet on games they had winning information on.

Later it would be for this purpose that he eventually made his way to Las Vegas and as you’ll read about in the book, it is believed he was a participant in the Tim Donaghy NBA betting scandal by getting money down on those fixed games.

In Philadelphia Gianni was very close to La Cosa Nostra or the Italian mafia, then controlled by both “Skinny” Joe Merlino and John Stanfa. You’ll see when we cover the Italians that in the early 90′s those two men were at war over who will control the city. Gianni was seen in the company of “Skinny” Joey plenty and was one of only a number of non-Italians who worked so closely with the “Young Turks”. More on that in the book. So much happened during that span of 3-5 years that would forever shape the city’s underworld.

Abruptly in the winter of 1993 Gianni picked up and left for Greece. I haven’t yet been able to accurately pinpoint the exact reason but I’ve been able to limit them to one of three choices :

1.) His Godfather (Spiros Velentzas) who was leader of the Greek mafia in New York and worked hand in hand with the Lucchese faction of the Italian mafia wanted to protect Gianni from possible prosecution by having him leave the U.S.

2.) There was a mafia war going on at the time which the Greeks were involved in and it is rumored there was even a contract out on Gianni who had just been made and unquestionably had a lot of soldiers at his disposal. The social club charges hadn’t been dismissed at that time so leaving would have been a viable option.

3.) My favorite; he took on the responsibility of retribution for his father’s slaying by going to Greece for the purpose of revenge. It sounds like something out of a Hollywood script but it’s also coincidental that during the two years he resided in Greece, there were 9 gangland murders reported. They were all known associates who worked for the family rumored to have been at war with the Karalis’ at the time Apostoli was murdered.

If I had to take a guess, I would choose #1 or #3 because they not only make the most sense, but also seem to fit the profile of the man I’ve been trying to investigate for the past 12 months.

Gianni’s Godfather, Spiros Velentzas who is currently serving a life sentence in prison did and still plays a major role in his Godson’s life. It’s a well-known fact they’ve remained very close through the years and with all of my work suggesting Spiro is still just as powerful now as he was when he was a free man, we’d be foolish to think Gianni is not an extension of him. As far as #3, it may appear far-fetched at first but when you put some real thought into it and factor in his famous temper and acceptance of violence, it’s surely a possibility. He’s cut from that same cloth the most notorious gangsters in history were cut from, making one just as likely as the other.

Either way, his stay in Greece allowed for Gianni to work with his uncles that control the family’s interest abroad and he too got involved in a few businesses that are operating and bringing in money to this day. While in Greece he spent a lot of time training Muay Thai under Mike Drosos who is a renowned trainer and former champion of the sport. His student even had three professional fights in his final year in Greece, one taking place in Varna, Bulgaria, the others in Athens.

This is key since he met his trainer’s niece who was in Greece vacationing from the U.S. and they began a relationship. The girl visiting lived in Laguna Beach, California and may have been a deciding reason for choosing Las Vegas upon his return since they did continue to see each other and remain close to this day.

As far as women in his life, Gianni first married at the age of 25. His young wife Irena who was 21 had been a volleyball player for the Russian National Team. Her father is a known “Vor” and currently one of the leaders in the Russian mafia in Los Angeles.

Some believe it was a marriage of convenience that brought with it peace between the Greeks and Russians who were fighting for control of different underworld businesses at the time. They didn’t stay married long but the relationship built between the Karalis family and the Russians has been harmonious since. She too has been seen with him over the years and visits Las Vegas regularly according to my newest source.

Gianni’s next marriage came when he was 30 and this time it was to a girl of his heritage. Her name is Sofia like his sister but is known mostly as April. At the time she was 22 and an aspiring model who was shown in ads for Maxim, Esquire and Men’s Fitness. She came from a very affluent family making modeling more of a hobby than a means to survive and declined a contract with Victoria Secret during the marriage. This marriage did not last long either and like the others, they remain close even today and have been seen together a lot more recently.

The pattern appears to be a fondness for beautiful women and when single, Gianni’s proverbial for keeping that type of company. Strangely, being in the strip club, escort service, and bar business, one would think he’d mainly surround himself with the type of women associated with those places, instead he’s prefered the complete opposite.

As mentioned above, unlike Alex none of the women he’s either been friends with or dated that were interviewed by myself or my friend in Vegas consider him a womanizer. It seems his gangster virtues of honor and loyalty have carried over to his personal life. Not surprising, the ones he’s been closest with have refused to comment.

While in Vegas his responsibility was mainly to oversee all of the gambling interests at first. He immediately put a crew together that included some of his closest friends from Philadelphia and it wasn’t long before they made it obvious they were in town.

One night while at the Hard Rock Casino with his girlfriend and crew member, a group of gang-bangers tried to start trouble with one even lifting his shirt to reveal a gun. According to a reliable sources, Gianni grabbed his girlfriend and pal and walked away, leaving the casino. He then proceeded to drive his girlfriend home where he changed out of his suit, loaded up a government issued Tech-9 semi-automatic machine gun, a Nato-classified Glock-17 sidearm, and along with his friend made their way back to the Hard Rock.

Rather than call his crew Gianni chose to go it alone and had his friend wait in the car while he walked inside to where the incident had just taken place. After a few choice words he calmly invited the entire group of gang-bangers outside to settle their differences but as they made their way towards the exit, security had caught wind of what was happening, saw what they thought was a gun bulging from Gianni’s back and intervened. Metro police had already been called and as they made their way outside, the officers had their guns drawn and arrested many of the participants including Gianni.

Without anyone getting hurt and the Hard Rock being private property, Gianni used his family’s connections in the city, and what was probably a lot of money to get every charge dropped. It’s been like that throughout his life where he’s gotten himself involved in situations he could easily have avoided if not for his temper and refusal to back down. So far he’s been able to avoid run-ins with the law and in recent years most of the problems have been nothing more than being asked to come in for questioning on this or that.

That type of attitude made him one of the more respected and feared members of the Karalis family and it’s been his ability to earn and organize that’s helped him rise to this position so quickly.

Estimates figure Andreas is in charge of an empire worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million, with legitimate and illegitimate businesses the Karalis family owns or have an interest in. For that reason alone the chance for the top seat has to be very appealing to all the nephews even though they’ve all prospered under this regime.

To go deeper into these characters is something I’m looking forward to and I can say with confidence what you’ve read above is barely a start. There are stories that will amaze you and details on these men that will shock you. I plan on stripping back the curtain on all the main members of the Greek mafia in Philadelphia for my book.

I attempted to contact some of the members and even considered writing a biography on one or two of the men who I found most interesting. By the time my book is released we may have some changes on how the Greek mafia, notably the Karalis family’s structure. Being old-school my bet is Gianni accepts the “theo’s” decision either way and remains loyal if he’s bypassed.

Then again this gentleman has been full of surprises and can be very unpredictable. With each passing day his power grows and his presence in the sports betting world does too. Will he remain in Las Vegas, move back to Philadelphia, or leave one of his two lives behind ?

Both Alex and Ceasar do not appear to be backing down one bit. Both continue to blame their younger cousin for most of the attention drawn, which eluded them for decades. At this time, together they have more soldiers than Gianni but his are without question more prepared for this type of conflict. All that and more is coming your way, along with some horrific stories and entertaining tales.
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