A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

After about forty minutes last night, I felt too physically ill to watch any more of the Republican debate. Those people have that effect on me. So, I turned on Netflix and started watching episodes of Inside the American Mob. I already know this history backwards and forwards, but it’s always interesting to see new interviews and first-hand accounts. One of the episodes was devoted to the opening of casino gambling in Atlantic City in 1976 and how that played out with the Philadelphia and New York City mafias. I won’t get into the details here, but it reminded me of the fact the Republican frontrunner has been doing massive construction in Atlantic City for decades now, and all of it has always been completely dependent on working with La Cosa Nostra.

Here’s just a taste of how that worked.

After gambling was legalized in Atlantic City in 1976, Philadelphia mobster Nicky Scarfo formed Scarf Inc., a concrete subcontractor. Scarf Inc. did work on five of the first nine casinos that were built. The companies that employed Scarf Inc. had to pay non-existent employees but were assured of labor peace at their construction sites, police investigators said.

Scarfo is serving a 55-year federal prison sentence following his conviction in 1988 of being involved in a racketeering conspiracy that included nine slayings.

John McCullough, Philadelphia Roofers Union boss, tried to organize bartenders, waiters, waitresses, bellhops, maids and others in Atlantic City’s service industries, who up to then belonged to Local 54 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union. Local 54 was controlled by a longtime Scarfo friend and associate.

In December 1980, McCullough was murdered in his home by a contract killer.

Scarfo’s influence even extended to the mayor’s office. Atlantic City Mayor Michael Matthews met often with Scarfo family mobsters after his election in 1982 and was later convicted of receiving $10,000 from an undercover FBI agent he thought was an associate of Scarfo in return for arranging the sale of a city-owned plot of land zoned for casino development.

Back in October, the Washington Post did a piece on Trump’s history with the mob both in Atlantic City and in New York City. I don’t suppose it was possible or even his responsibility to figure out how to do construction on a big scale in those two cities without finding accommodation with Sicilian gangsters, but it’s a highly unusual history for a presidential candidate.

On the other hand, Marco Rubio’s brother-in-law was one of the biggest drug dealers this country has ever seen and when he went to prison he left $15 million unaccounted for.

And some people see Goldman Sachs, which employs Ted Cruz’s wife and loaned him the money he needed to run for Senate, as a legalized syndicate that makes the Five Families of New York and the Colombian drug traffickers look like pikers by comparison.

Rick Perry is dealing with a felony indictment and Chris Christie is, of course, implicated in the criminal closing of the George Washington Bridge. Then there is Mike Huckabee, who I mentioned just yesterday is a con man extraordinaire, and Ben Carson is just as much of a huckster.

By comparison, Bill O’Reilly stand-in John Kasich and failed-CEO Carly Fiorina look positively clean and upstanding.

We’ve been told often that the Republicans are providing us with a historically strong list of candidates, but this field reminds me of something else. It reminds me of when Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi explained to a young Luke Skywalker what they were walking into when they went in search of a spacecraft to take them to the planet Alderaan:

“Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.