Westies

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This article is about an Irish American gang. For other uses, see Westies (disambiguation).
The Westies
Ninth-north.jpg
Hell's Kitchen between 48th and 49th street on Ninth Avenue looking northeast toward Time Warner Center and Hearst Tower
Founder James Coonan
Founding location Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, New York City
Years active 1960s–present
Territory Hell's Kitchen and other neighborhoods in NYC, some parts of New Jersey
Ethnicity Irish American
Membership Fewer than 20 members
Criminal activities Racketeering, loan sharking, drug trafficking, murder
Allies Gambino crime family

The Westies are an Irish American gang operating from Hell's Kitchen on Manhattan's West Side.[1] According to crime author T. J. English, "Although never more than twelve to twenty members—depending on who was in or out of jail at any given time—the Westies became synonymous with the last generation of Irish in the birthplace of the Irish Mob...."[2] According to the NYPD Organized Crime Squad and the FBI, the Westies were responsible for 60–100 murders between 1968 and 1986.[citation needed]

History[edit]

Spillane years[edit]

In the early 1960s Mickey Spillane stepped into a power vacuum that had existed in Hell's Kitchen since gang leaders fled the area in the early 1950s to avoid prosecution. A mobster from Queens named Hughie Mulligan had been running Hell's Kitchen; Spillane, a native, was his apprentice until inheriting the throne.

Spillane sent flowers to neighbors in the hospital and provided turkeys to needy families during Thanksgiving, in addition to running gambling enterprises such as bookmaking and policy, accompanied inevitably by loansharking. Loansharking led to assault, and Spillane had burglary arrests as well. However, among all his criminal activities, the most audacious was his "snatch" racket (kidnapping and holding local businessmen and members of other crime organizations for ransom).

He was able to add to his neighborhood prominence by marrying Maureen McManus, a daughter of the prestigious McManus family which had run the Midtown Democratic Club since 1905. The union of political power with criminal activity enhanced the gang's ability to control union jobs and labor racketeering, moving away from the declining waterfront and more strongly into construction jobs and service work at the New York Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, and later the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Great Irish/Italian war of the 1970s[edit]

Irish/Italian Mob War of the 1970s: In the 1970s, the Irish mob saw an increased threat from the Italian Mafia as the Genovese crime family sought control over the soon to be built Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Since the convention center was located in Spillane's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, Spillane refused to allow any involvement by the Italians. Although the Italian gangsters greatly outnumbered the members of the Irish mob, Spillane was successful in keeping control of the convention center and Hell's Kitchen. The Italians, frustrated and embarrassed by their defeat to Spillane, responded by hiring a rogue Irish-American hitman named Joseph "Mad Dog" Sullivan to assassinate Tom Devaney, Eddie "the Butcher" Cummiskey, and Tom "the Greek" Kapatos, three of Spillane's top lieutenants. In 1977 Spillane was assassinated in a hail of bullets by Genovese hit men.

Spillane-Coonan wars[edit]

The war began when James Coonan, an 18-year-old Irish hood, swore revenge against Spillane, following the Spillane-initiated kidnapping and pistol whipping of Coonan's father. In 1966, Coonan fired a machine gun at Spillane and his associates from atop a Hell's Kitchen tenement building. Although Coonan wounded no one, Spillane understood that the younger hoodlum was not to be taken lightly. Coonan was imprisoned for a short period for murder and kidnapping charges that were pleaded down to Class C Manslaughter. He was released in late 1971 and continued his war with the Westside Gang.

Trouble with the Genovese Family[edit]

Hell's Kitchen was no longer safe for Spillane and his family, and he moved to the Irish working-class neighborhood of Woodside, Queens. With Spillane gone, his control of the rackets in Hell's Kitchen began to deteriorate; Coonan became the neighborhood's boss, although some still viewed Spillane as boss. On the New York Commission, Spillane was still viewed as the Irish Mob boss on the Westside, putting the Javits Convention Center construction site under his control. Anthony Salerno, a high-ranking member of the Genovese crime family, wanted the center for himself and reached an agreement with Jimmy Coonan. If Coonan became boss, Salerno would run the construction site and give Coonan a taste of the proceeds.

Salerno then reached out to Buffalo Crime Family associate and freelance hitman, Joseph Sullivan, to eliminate the three main Spillane supporters in Hell's Kitchen, Tom Devaney, Tom Kapatos, and Edward Cummiskey. Cummiskey had apparently switched sides to the Coonan camp, but Salerno and Sullivan were not aware of the switch. Devaney and Cummiskey were murdered in late 1976, and Kapatos was killed in January 1977. Spillane was now out of the picture, and Coonan was the undisputed boss of Hell's Kitchen. It was felt that Spillane still had to die. Roy DeMeo, a Gambino crime family soldier, murdered Spillane as a favor to Coonan. Mickey Featherstone stood trial for the murder and was found not guilty.

Coonan and Featherstone[edit]

During the late 1970s, Coonan tightened the alliance between the Westies and the Gambinos, then run by Paul Castellano. Coonan's main contact was Roy DeMeo. In 1979 both Coonan and Featherstone were acquitted of the murder of a bartender, Harold Whitehead. Another Westie, Jimmy McElroy, was acquitted of the murder of a Teamster in 1980.

Even though both Westies leaders were imprisoned in 1980 — Coonan on gun possession charges, Featherstone on a federal counterfeiting rap — the gambling, loansharking, and union shakedowns continued on the West Side. After DeMeo himself was murdered, Coonan's Gambino connection became Danny Marino, a capo from Brooklyn. Coonan eventually interacted directly with John Gotti, who took over the Gambinos after Castellano's murder in December 1985. From time to time, the Westies worked for the Gambinos as a contract killer squad.

Featherstone was convicted of murder in early 1986 and began cooperating with the government in hopes of getting the conviction overturned. The information he and his wife Sissy provided, and the recordings they helped make, achieved this aim. In September 1986 the prosecutor who oversaw Featherstone's conviction told the presiding judge that post-conviction investigation had revealed Featherstone was innocent. The judge immediately overturned the verdict.

At that point the information provided by the Featherstones resulted in the arrest of Coonan and several other Westies on state charges of murder and other crimes. Shortly afterward, federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani announced a devastating RICO indictment against Coonan and others for criminal activities going back twenty years. Featherstone testified in open court for four weeks in the trial that began in September 1987 and concluded with major convictions in 1988. Coonan was sentenced to sixty years in prison on assorted charges. Other leading gang members were also sentenced to long prison terms, including James McElroy, a top enforcer who was sentenced to 60 years, and Richard "Mugsy" Ritter, a career criminal sentenced to 40 years on loan-sharking and drug related charges.

Kevin Kelly and Kenny Shannon[edit]

During the mid-to-late 1980s, while Jimmy Coonan lived in his luxurious suburban home and Mickey Featherstone futilely attempted to support his family by legitimate means, Kevin Kelly and his sidekick, Kenny Shannon, became the most active racketeers on the West Side. Sports, gambling, and dealing cocaine to young professionals on the East Side were their primary rackets. In 1988, after two years on the run for a failed murder attempt, Kelly and Shannon could no longer take the heat after being featured on Americas Most Wanted and decided to turn themselves in to the authorities. Giuliani claimed that they were the last ruling body of the Westies, but he was wrong.

The Yugo era[edit]

By the early 1990s, the old demographic of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood was disappearing. The blue-collar Irish-American community was being displaced by a more affluent and ethnically diverse group of residents. With this change came a decrease in street crime and a change in leadership. Bosko "The Yugo" Radonjich, a Serbian nationalist and onetime anti-communist started his Westies affiliation as a low-level associate of Jimmy Coonan in 1983.[3] He became the boss of the Westies when Kelly was sent to prison in 1988.

Around 1992, Radonjich fled the country to avoid jury tampering charges. He was eventually arrested by U.S. Customs officials during a stopover in Miami, Florida in 1999. However, Radonjich was released when the main witness in the case, Sammy Gravano, was deemed unreliable. Radonjich has since returned to his native Serbia.

The alleged return of the Westies[edit]

The New York Post reported that the Westies resurfaced under the leadership of John Bokun, who was caught, along with accomplices, smuggling marijuana into the United States.[4] However, the New York Times noted that aside from being the nephew of former Westies, Bokun had no connection to any group using that name.[5]

In late November 2012, the FBI indicted Daniel Hanley, an alleged member of the gang, on charges of extortionate extension of credit, extortionate collection of credit, and conspiracy of the aforementioned crimes. Hanley was charged along with James Ferrara, a member of the Gambino crime family and Peter Kanakis, a member of the Demon Knights Motorcycle Club, a support club tied to the Hells Angels. This marks a continuation of the cooperation between members of the Westies and the Gambino crime family.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ English, T. J. The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob. St. Martins Press. 1991.
  2. ^ English, T. J. (March 2, 2005). "13: Mickey's Monkey". Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster (Illustrated ed.). New York: HarperCollins. p. 385. ISBN 978-0-06-059002-4. Retrieved 2011-12-01. 
  3. ^ Bosko Radonjic, Gambino Family Ally, Dies at 67 By Dennis Hevesi (April 9, 2011) New York Times
  4. ^ Maddux, Mitchel (2012-02-20). "Westies fly high: gang re-emerges moving weed in jets". New York Post. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  5. ^ "Gang Said to Have Been Vanquished in ’80s Makes Cameo in Extortion Case" By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN. The New York Times.December 2, 2012http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/03/nyregion/westies-gang-said-to-not-exist-appear-in-extortion-case.html?_r=0
  6. ^ Eastern District of New York (2012-11-27). "Alleged Gambino Associate, Westies Member, and Demon Knights Motorcycle Gang Member Charged with Violent Extortion". U.S. Attorney’s Office. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 

Further reading[edit]