Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Actor Steven Seagal and the Mob

The Pharmacist

Super agent Michael Ovitz
Super agent Michael Ovitz

Jules Nasso was already a very successful businessman before he got into the entertainment business. A trained pharmacist with a doctorate from the University of Connecticut, Nasso founded Universal Marine Medical Supply, a company that provides medical supplies to ships in dock. The company started small in Queens, serving New York harbor, then expanded and eventually became a nationwide chain. The company proved to be lucrative, but for Brooklyn-born Nasso it wasn't exciting. He wanted to get involved with something more creative, something that had more cache and pizzazz than Band-aids and antacids. He wanted to make movies.

In 1983, at the age of 29, Nasso managed to land a job as a gofer on the Brooklyn set of Once Upon a Time in America, which starred James Woods and Robert DeNiro. Nasso had pitched himself as a neighborhood guy who knew the territory and was willing to do anything to break into the biz. The film's Italian director, Sergio Leone, who was famous for his "spaghetti Westerns," including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, couldn't understand why a pharmacist with a growing business would want to work for $35 a day, running errands on a movie set. But the director didn't understand. Nasso had stars in his eyes and the dogged determination to follow his dream. He was there to learn.

Jules Nasso
Jules Nasso

When Jules first met Steven Seagal in 1986 at an Italian deli in Beverly Hills, Seagal was attracted to Nasso's goombah style and the intimation that he was "connected." Seagal, a self-professed man of danger, was so taken with Nasso's man-of-honor panache, he started telling people that he and Nasso were related and that they'd grown up together on the mean streets of Brooklyn. (Seagal's mother set the world straight on that point, insisting that her son was brought up in Michigan and California.) Nasso saw in Seagal a potential star he could ride into the Hollywood firmament, especially given Seagal's access to super-agent Mike Ovitz. Seagal and Nasso became partners, forming Seagal/Nasso Productions, which later became Steamroller Entertainment. But when Seagal's career skyrocketed, the New York mobsters who had allegedly helped Nasso in the past came knocking. They wanted a piece of the movie action.

It remains unclear when and if the wiseguys were able to "wet their beaks" in Seagal's birdbath, but Seagal had already reached his peak as a box-office winner when the feds caught Sonny Ciccone and Jules Nasso on tape discussing the erratic star. Ciccone is heard dressing down the pharmacist, demanding that he get Seagal to fork over $150,000 per movie to the Gambino family. The extortion plan could have earned the mobsters over $3 million. On the tape Nasso balks, explaining that Seagal might be a hard nut to crack.

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