Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Mafia and Auto Theft: 1930s to 1950s -- Gabriel Vigorito, "Blah Blah"


Taken FromWill Oursler, "Hot Car King, The American Weekly, January 9, 1955, 7ff.



Underworld intimates called him Blah Blah because he liked to brag about his home, his wife, his kid. And his income, said to be 800,000 a year.
Behind this international hot car network -- according to the story ultimately pieced together -- was the twisted genius of the man called Blah Blah. Product of Brooklyn street gangs, an associate of Joe Adonis in prohibition rackets, Blah Blah began his automotive career by providing cars for robberies. Later he developed the use of hearses as getaway cars.
Accepted in Mafia councils as its automotive representative, he decided in the early 1930s to expand. Mafia leaders spread the word across America: play ball with Blah Blah. Dozens of garages, parking lots, even automotive agencies in several American cities were made available to Vigorito and his aides. But the main reason for Blah Blah's success was his anonymity within the gang itself. His role was only known to a few top lieutenants. They in turn knew only a handful of underlings to whom they transmitted orders. All the way down to the punk kids hired to steal the cars, this secrecy was maintained.
In 1948, European, South American and Central American markets were hungry for cars from the States. Blah Blah and his network set out to meet the international demand.
Already delivering a hundred cars a week on a national scale, he added a hundred a month for export, to be sold at fantastically high prices and through seemingly legitimate "fronts" to reputable shipping agents for resale abroad.
The ring was now a huge, invisible industry. Youths were brought in and trained in stealing cars. They were told what models to steal and in what neighborhoods. They were given the exact location of "drops."
Each operation was specialized. A payoff man gave the kid his $50 at some pre-designated place. Another man switched license plates on the car that "drop point." Still another drove the car to a die-out garage. Here more experts went to work, using specially developed techniques to change serial and engine numbers. The car was given a complete spray-gun paint job -- by an expert.
Locks were removed and replaced by new locks and keys. The interior was vacuumed, pockets and trunks emptied, tires changed or shifted around, every possible identification changed or eliminated.
Other experts provided "paper" -- proper certifications and registration, obtained from licensing bureaus in a number of states by ring operatives providing false dates, names, and addresses.
Changed and unrecognizable, bearing legitimate ownership certificates, the stolen cars poured out of this underworld assembly line in a steady low. They were sold through underworld car lots, black markets, and even legitimate outlets, both in the U.S. and abroad. For a $5000 model, the ring got 16,000 overseas. For a $2000 car, Blah Blah asked and received $7,500.
The FBI ultimately assigned one of its top undercover men to find the boss of the Mafia syndicates car ring. Calling himself Eddie Jones, this man visited four American cities. He talked with hundreds of auto salesmen, garage men, mechanics. His story was that he wanted some particular, hard to get model -- at a good price.
There was no trace of the thieves -- or their boss. AT last the man called Eddie played a long shot -- parking lots. Some of these might be outlets. His hunch paid off. One afternoon in a parking lot in New York City he observed a well-known hoodlum talking with a man Eddie recognized as a top salesmen in a Manhattan auto agency. The following day he called the saelmen with a proposition. He had clients in California, he stated, who wanted three Caddys.
The next day Eddie met the salesmen in an outlying part of the city. He found there Cadillacs lined up at the curb. Eddie said the cars weren’t quite right. The salesmen said he could get the others. There were several additional meetings.
G-men followed these cars and found out where they were kept. They learned that most of the cars had been parked near suburban railroad stations by commuters.
Three weeks later Eddie spotted the Manhattan salesmen talking to a man he recognized as a former Murder, Inc. hoodlum. This time he followed the hood, who ultimately led him to the hole-in-the-wall bar and grill on a backwash Brooklyn street.
Inside, Eddie recognized the bartender as a former strong arm man for "lucky" Luciano. He recognized another mafia mobster at one of the tables. The undercover man made the place a hangout. He talked in his interest in cars. He made friends with the hoodlum lieutenants of the "Big I am ."
Eventually he met Vigorito himself. Blah Blah joked and laughed and showed Eddie pictures of his wife and kids.
Other undercover men worked their way into the confidence of the ring's underlings nad in the fall of 1953 the agents began setting up a big deal. It would involve hundreds of cars for shipment overseas. The agents insisted on closing the deal with the top man. And one afternoon Blah Blah, his aides and these new-found customers met in the back room.
Balh Balh arrested and charged, but the syndicate would take care of everything. When the Mafia bosses saw that 43 witnesses were ready to testify against Blah Blah, they realized that too much would be disclosed if the case went to court. So Blah Blah walked humbly into the court, pleaded guilty and begged the court's mercy.
On February 19, 1954, he was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5000, hardly an afternoon's pay for a big man like Blah Blah,

1 comment:

  1. Proud to say I am Blah Blah's great grandson... thank you for posting this

    ReplyDelete