Tag Archives: Mafia

Clarity Of Purpose

Regardless of who you are today, you had dreams and goals in mind when you were young. Maybe you dreamed of playing professional baseball or maybe you aspired to be an astronaut.  

Life happens.  As a result, those dreams may have fallen by the wayside. Why is that?  A lot of times we settle for jobs we don’t love just for the paycheck, so we can live.  The cash starts rolling in and now you have a lifestyle that you have become accustomed to.  You cannot change and do what you really want because you have so many obligations. Does this sound familiar?

I understand this situation very well because that is how my life played out.  I was on that treadmill for almost forty years.  I did things I did not like, only because of what I could put into my pockets as a result.  Many times, I tried to convince myself that I liked what I was doing. Even though I detest gambling and alcohol, both played a role in my livelihood.

I learned how to “take action,” or bookmaking, from an older gambler named Mark. Mark had been a bookie for at least twenty-five years when I met him.  In fact, I am sure he is still taking action to this day – well into his eighties.

I had expressed interest in making money through bookmaking and loansharking (also known as shylocking) to a number of men associated with the Los Angeles cosa nostra family.  They all knew me as a kid who worked hard and brought in cash, so they put me in touch with Mark.  I began to work for him, and during that time I mastered the art of running a sportsbook.  This was in a time before either cell phones or the internet.  We used a series of payphones, hardlines and answering machines to run the business.  We got our updates on odds and point spreads from what was known as the “Island Line.”  We also had Las Vegas contacts who helped with lines and laying off some of the action.   Mark pulled in a great living from sports gambling and he also ran some after hours card games.

I took to this “job” because I liked the attention, and most importantly, I liked the cash that came with it. I used to tell myself that the money I brought in gave me the freedom to do what I really wanted to do in life.  Looking back that is funny because I can tell you this: I never did much of anything else.  I spent all of my time running the business and living it.

It’s important, to be honest with yourself about your gifts, your goals, and your dreams.  You must decide if what you are doing or will be doing is right for you.  Does it align with your values? Is it what you were created to do?

You will most likely spend years working at something to get it working well enough to put dollars in your pocket.  This where your own personal values come into play.  When I was young I had some vague, at best, personal values – and it showed in how I conducted myself.  Once you have a good personal value system in place, the decisions you make will help guide you toward lasting success.

Clarity of purpose is key to living a successful happy life. Once we find our purpose in life, it will help guide and shape our decisions.  In the end, being successful looks different for every single person.

I was lost for so many years until I came back to living a life that wasn’t about my desires but about God’s purpose for my life.  I was lost and broken, but I could never understand why I  was feeling the way I did.  When I found my faith I realized that life was not all about me, it was much bigger than that.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

2 Timothy 1:9

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

 

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The Challenge

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At 20 years old I believed I had life figured out. I knew how to put cash into my pocket and a roof over my head. I was able to do what I wanted whenever and wherever I wished.There was nothing I wanted from church, so in my mind, I didn’t need it. Same with God.

I determined to think positive, work hard and keep moving forward with my ultimate goals always in mind.

The formula was simple: get cash in whatever way possible, and keep it coming.

Why would I need God? I had science.  I knew why the sky was blue and the sun came up every morning. I didn’t need to read a book that was thousands of years old and had no relevance to my modern life.

If you were to ask me how the world was created, I would have said the big bang. If you asked me what caused the big bang, I would have answered, “It just happened.”

That was my limited way of thinking because my world was so small.  I had become a criminal at a young age.  Organized crime is not just about committing crimes, it is a way of life that takes over.  Everyone in the life looks at every situation through tinted glass: how can we benefit on a large scale.  Everyone around me did the same.  I cut my hair, shaved and dressed like I was told. Every person I was around was part of the life, or I didn’t consider them a friend.

I wanted to expand and become more successful which means I wanted more cash each week. I asked my capo, Jimmy, to put me with Mark – an older gambler who ran a sports book.  In other words, Mark was a bookie.  I had sold parlay cards and other sports gambling products so I knew the world.  Mark showed me how to set up my book and balance it.  I learned the lingo and the kind of bets gamblers would place.

The next year I was ready to go out on my own.  My first year I did well because I had older guys like Mark helping me along.  The next year I did even better and I expanded.  Everyone gambles and it does not hurt anyone – this is what I told myself over and over again.  This was a big lie because a person who is addicted to gambling will do anything to feel the thrill. Even when faced with ruin, these people kept gambling.

I soon swallowed up smaller bookies and they began working for me.  The money came easily because I was the house and the house always makes 10% on any bet.  I used the extra cash to loan out and gain more cash through loans.  Gambling is unlike any other business because you are not out any real product, only figures on a sheet of paper.

After twelve years I couldn’t stand my life at all. I wanted out of the life, but I was not willing to go through the uncomfortable period it would take to change.  The criminal’s dream is to find something that will bring in the same amount of cash that they are making except the profit becomes legal.  Until I realized that my way of thinking was broken and had to change, I would go no place fast. It wasn’t until my dream became getting out of the life altogether, profit or not, that I would find the answer.

God’s timing is perfect, but I didn’t know that at the time.  The FBI offered me a chance at a fresh start, and that was the turning point. I spent the next 8 years trying to undo what I spent my life before doing.  While I was still a part of the criminal world for the next eight years, I was no longer there as a criminal but as an informant for the FBI.

God gave me a fresh start, but it took me almost another ten years of trying to start over on my own before I turned to Him.

The challenge for me was to let God guide me instead of trying to find my own way.  It is a process that I am still going through and will be going through for the rest of my life. I know that everything I encounter is part of His plan, and I have to surrender my plans to His. When I look back at my life, I see a lot of mistakes.  I also see God’s hand at work. Success, I have learned, is all relative to what you consider successful.  The things our world considers success we learn in the Bible are very different from what early Christians, like Paul, considered most valuable – knowing Christ as our savior.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

I have learned some very hard lessons and all that I have learned about true success has helped me in two ways.  The hard work and positive thinking is still a part of my life.  I learned that I cannot be successful with doing what I feel is right, true success comes from knowing we are flawed and Christ bridged the gap between our flaws and God, offering himself as a sacrifice.  All the success you think you have or aim for will never be enough until you ask God into your life and make knowing and serving Him your definition of success.

 

Is There Grace For Me?

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The Farm

Years before I came back to God, I was under the impression that there would be no more church for me. I had these childhood thoughts in my mind that if I went to church again someday people would judge me. If they did ridicule me or look down at me, how could I blame them?

In 2003 I was still on the streets of Brooklyn as a connected guy to the Colombo family.To all those who knew me, I was just what I had always been: a mafia-connected thug.But I had a secret. I had been working for the FBI since 1996.  I was playing the role of a criminal at this point.  The operation was only supposed to last for six months to a year, and here I was in my seventh year.  It had taken it’s toll on me, both mentally and physically.  I was in the life, but not really – a kind of limbo.  I was constantly facing what all of my actions and decisions had done to people.

It had taken it’s toll on me, both mentally and physically.  I was in the life, but not really – a kind of limbo.  I was constantly facing what all of my actions and decisions had done to people.

One day stands out for me during this time. I was out with Uncle Manny driving around to construction sites.  Uncle Manny was giving me my daily lesson on mafia wisdom.  It was the  mafia’s form of indoctrination.  We were up in the Bronx when I received a call from Eddie G, a Colombo associate who ran a trucking business.  Eddie G wanted to know where I was at that moment.  I told him where I was at, and he told me I had to come see him at his truck yard on Staten Island. I must have looked upset because Manny asked me what was going on.  I told him Eddie G wanted me to go to his yard ASAP.  Manny asked me if I wanted him to come with me.

Eddie G was Manny’s nephew, so really what good would that do? I was scared right then and I had good reason to be afraid.  In the life, nobody wants to get sent for out of the blue.  So many thoughts were going through my mind, did they know the truth about me?

I got back to my place in Brooklyn and was soon in my car. I called the FBI and the New York office was closed, it was after business hours.  I called the Los Angeles office and got ahold of an agent I knew.  I told him where I would be going.  He told me I did not have to go, but in my mind, I had to, because if you did not come when sent for, it was over.

The drive was thirty minutes, which was mostly a blur.  I kept thinking, “This is it.” I hoped it would be quick. I thought about my family.  Would anyone ever know what happened to me?

I didn’t pray, but I thought I could just ask Jesus to forgive me before I died and I would be okay.

I pulled into the yard and Eddie was standing outside yelling at some guy.  He smiled when he saw me and motioned me over.  He told the guy to beat it and then he shook my hand.  He said, “Let’s walk and talk.”

He then told me he was putting together a fund to buy our capo a truck for Christmas.  Instant relief! You never saw anyone give up four grand faster than me that day.  That cash was out of my pocket and in his hand in seconds, and I would live another day.

Did I learn anything? I guess not, because I kept doing the same thing for years.

I felt almost as much dread the day I went to the church in San Marino after thirty plus years of walking away from the one I attended as a kid.  I thought that anyone there would know I was a fraud. I thought they would stare and speak under their breath about me. It had been almost ten years since I left New York and my life in the underworld.  I had gotten my life on a better track, but it was still empty, missing something.  I also carried around a lot of guilt from my former life, which made it hard for me to get close to others.

I felt that sharp intake of breath that I had felt on the street with a slight burning sensation in my stomach when I stepped into the church.  Once we started singing and then when the sermon started, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

I have never felt so welcome and so at peace as I did that day when the service was over.

I found my way to Jesus and I was then fulfilled.

I signed up for and began attending Bible study the next week. I read the Gospels, and if you read them you’ll see the people Jesus chose to minister too.  He did not pick out the rulers, priests, rabbis or wealthy merchants.  He often chose regular people and those looked down on in the society, like a fisherman and a tax collector.

I read about Saul Tarsus who would become Paul later in life.  He was not who you would think Jesus would pick to be his disciple, yet it was who he picked. Jesus appeared to him on the road.  Saul had been a persecutor of Christians, but after his encounter with Jesus, he would be one of his strongest missionaries.

I understand Saul.  I went from meeting in truck yards, planning ways to make more money for a criminal organization, to today studying and sharing the word with anyone who will listen and spending time with fellow believers. This is my second chance.