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There was a pretty fascinating story yesterday on the Village Voice site about the Daily Express owner Richard Desmond's conflict with the Gambino crime family of New York in the early 90's.
It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:
The story, as gleaned from sources and records, goes something like this:
It began in an unlikely place, for a mob tale anyway, at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in London, overlooking Hyde Park. The hotel is famous for its high teas. Diners sit on silk sofas; tea and scones are served on silver trays. In late September 1992, three men sat in the tea room conversing. One was a wealthy British press baron named Richard Desmond, whose holdings included several sex magazines, including the British edition of Penthouse magazine. He has since become the owner of the Daily Express and the Sunday Express, two of Britain's biggest tabloids. Across from him were a couple of Yanks: Norman Chanes, dapper and elegant, was the proprietor of a New York firm that placed ads in Desmond's publications; Richard Martino, a little rougher around the edges, owned companies that earned millions every month from dial-a-porn and other products.
Two years earlier, Martino had reportedly walked down a flight of stairs to the basement of a Top Tomato outlet in Manhattan and had his finger pricked by an old-timer, while another mumbled in Italian, making him a member of the Gambino crime family. He was "a monster earner," according to a government informant, so good at making money that he may have been one of the few admitted to the mob without having to commit the initiation rite of murder. "I want guys that done more than killing," John Gotti was heard saying on an FBI bug when Martino was signed up.
If Desmond knew his tea companion's background, he was apparently not impressed. Despite their genteel surroundings, the conversation got heated. Martino accused Desmond of cheating him and Chanes. They'd been charged high rates for ads in magazines that sold no copies, he said. The scam had cost them $1 million and Martino demanded his money back. "You're fucking us," Martino said. Desmond, in a pompous tone, called Martino "stupid" and "a commoner." He didn't need their business, Desmond said. Martino snarled back that Desmond had better not bring his magazines to the U.S. "This is not over," he added as Desmond walked out.
According to Chanes, who was indicted along with Martino in 2003, and later agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, his friend, usually the suave businessman, reverted back to his "other personality, acting like 'Richie from the Bronx,' " which is what the wiseguys called Martino before he became a millionaire. "He's a fucking asshole," Martino said as they left the hotel. "If he thinks he'll publish magazines in the States, he's wrong."
For those who are not familiar with the British press, Richard Desmond is the former soft-porn publisher who has been the subject of great controversy over the last couple of years, from the time he purchased the Daily and Sunday Express tabloids, then for his bizarre anti-German outburst and for his attempted purchase of the Telegraph newspaper stable (a battle that was ultimately won by the Barclay brothers).