Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Actor Steven Seagal and the Mob

"Benign Buddha"

Primo Cassarino
Primo Cassarino

But Seagal was stuck on the hot seat. He was questioned about the visits Sonny Ciccone and Primo Cassarino had paid him on various occasions and the threats they had delivered. He was asked about the meeting at Gage and Tollner's restaurant and how he had felt sitting at a table with made members of the Mafia.

"I felt uncomfortable," he admitted, even though he said he had been carrying a concealed weapon.

He was asked if he was he worried about his safety.

"Yes," he said through gritted teeth.

Vincent Nasso
Vincent Nasso

Later, when George Santangelo got his crack at Seagal, the lawyer inquired if the actor had ever asked a man named Herb Saunders to kill someone.

Seagal lost it. "This is insane," he blurted angrily. "Insane!"

But later Seagal regained his composure and actually seemed to enjoy sparring with Santangelo. And for the jury, the actor always had a smile and a wave, "like a benign Buddha."

Seagal's testimony was the highlight of an otherwise standard organized-crime trial. Lawyers for Jules and Vincent Nasso succeeded in severing their clients from the case, reasoning that the charges against the Nasso brothers were minor compared to those levied against the other defendants whose criminal reputations would unfairly influence the jury's opinion of the Nassos. A separate trial for the brothers was put off to a later date.

Peter Gotti
Peter Gotti

On St. Patrick's Day, 2003, Sonny Ciccone was found guilty of various charges associated with his 20-year stranglehold on the New York waterfront. Peter Gotti, the acting head of the Gambino family, was convicted of money laundering, racketeering, and conspiracy. His brother, alleged capo Richard V. Gotti, and Richard's son, Richard G. Gotti, were also found guilty. (In August Jules Nasso agreed to a plea deal wherein he admitted to one count of extortion conspiracy for which he would serve one year in prison and pay a $75,000 fine.) In declaring victory, prosecutors said these convictions dealt the Gambino family yet another damaging blow that would put the family in "disarray."

But according to mob experts, the Gambinos were down but not out, and as they'd seen many times before, the Mafia hydra has the ability to sprout new heads when the old ones are lopped off. The convicted defendants were going to serve time, but criminal business would continue as usual. Old debts and long-established tribute would still have to be paid. And if Jules Nasso was as mobbed up as prosecutors contended, he still would be indebted – and the money Seagal owed Nasso would be earmarked by the Gambino family to satisfy Nasso's obligation. Perhaps Seagal realized this and that's why he visited an incarcerated mobster from a rival crime family in the spring of 2001 to see if another made man could intervene for him with the Gambinos.

As reported by Paul Lieberman in the Los Angeles Times, Seagal met with Angelo Prisco, a capo in the Genovese crime family, who is serving a 12-year sentence for arson and conspiracy at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. According to FBI documents, Seagal admitted to giving Prisco's lawyer $10,000 after the visit. But even assuming that Prisco did put in a good word for the actor, would the Gambinos be willing to forgive and forget when millions of dollars were at stake?

Not likely.

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