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Born to StealWhen the Mafia Hit Wall Street
By Gary Weiss
Warner BooksCopyright © 2003 Gary Weiss
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSANTA CLAUS
Louis always knew that Santa Claus was a crock of shit. As far back as he could remember, he didn't buy into the Santa thing. Back when he wasn't big enough to stand up, maybe then he believed all that garbage. But by the time he was five he knew where the presents came from. He saw them in the upstairs closet. When they brought out Uncle Sal on Christmas Eve he could see through the glued-on white beard. What did they think he was, an idiot? He knew there was no Santa Claus and no Tooth Fairy and no Easter Bunny and no God.
Jesus walked on water? A snake told Eve not to eat the apple? Kiss my ass, he'd say. It was all a fable, to give people faith. A good thing, for sure. Louis would go to church with his grandmother when he was a little kid. And after she died he would go there to light candles for her. But it was respect for his grandmother. It wasn't as if he were looking up in the sky and talking to her. When you're dead, you're dead. You live for the present, the here-and-now.
Louis knew better than to buy into all that horseshit about the soul and afterlife. He knew very early there were no eternal consequences for what one does in this life, and no code of conduct that was dictated to everybody from God. Sure there were Ten Commandments. Somebody sat down one day and wrote them out. Moses never came down some mountain holding on to them like two bags of groceries from Food Emporium. Where is this Heaven and Hell? He couldn't see them. What Louis could believe in were the things he could hold in his hands, the things other people had, the things he wanted, and the things that money could buy.
His parents tried hard to teach him otherwise. Years later, Louis exonerated his parents. They were honest. They tried to teach him right from wrong. Not just knowing right from wrong, but doing right when it was easier to do wrong. Louis always knew what was right. But he didn't care. His parents would set an example, the way parents are supposed to according to the self-help books, and he didn't care.
Take the time when he was a little kid, with his mother at a neighborhood bowling alley in Staten Island. He found a pay envelope with $500 in cash. He picked it up and brought it to his mother.
"I would have put it in my pocket when I was ten. I must have been eight," Louis recalls. "So I went to my mother and I said, 'Ma, I found this on the floor outside,' and she brought it to the lost and found. And I remember I was thinking like, 'This is stupid.' I was old enough to know this would get me a lot of baseball cards. But she made me give it back. She says, 'This is somebody's paycheck. This is what they make in a week.' I said, 'I hear you. But they dropped it. Finders keepers.'" Maybe it was an Oedipal thing, or Jupiter misaligned with Mars. Maybe his mother had bumped into a doorknob or drank too much coffee while she was pregnant with Louis.
Maybe it was all these things or none. Maybe there was no reason. All he knows, all anyone ever knew, was that Louis was a thief all his life. It began as a realization early in his life that money was something he was supposed to have. Giving back money someone else had lost made no sense at all. It followed, when he started to think this way, that he really didn't care about the guy who lost the money. The guy would get another paycheck. He could spare it. Or maybe not. "I might get a little feeling, like, 'Ehh, poor guy.' That's all I'd get," said Louis. "That's all I've ever gotten on Wall Street. Sometimes I'd feel real bad. But it wouldn't last long. I'd say to myself, 'Ehh, poor guy. What are you going to do?' Then I'd think of the money I was getting, and I'm thinking, 'Fuck him.'" Louis wanted to be his own Santa Claus. He couldn't see Heaven or Hell. But he could see numbers. He believed in numbers.
Louis was fascinated with numbers. He saw numbers recur, and he saw patterns in the numbers in his life. Phone numbers repeating house numbers repeating phone numbers. He was born on the twentieth, his grandmother died on the twentieth, he got arrested on the twentieth; he was married on the twenty-seventh, his son was born on the twenty-seventh. Also Tuesdays: He was born on a Tuesday, and he would get money on Tuesdays. It was uncanny. It would always happen. On Tuesdays, when he was on the Street, they'd come with the cash. Maybe not always on Tuesday, but enough that he noticed. The bills would come in paper bags, and he would put them in neat stacks. He would count them fast, with his thumb, like a teller.
The money would come from people, not from God. Thus it was strict biology, pure chemical interaction, that placed Louis Anthony Pasciuto on this planet on November 20, 1973. Louis's parents were from Bensonhurst, a largely Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn just to the north of Coney Island. Nicholas Pasciuto, Jr., was a handsome, bright kid, a good street athlete, and not wildly ambitious. He worked in a printing shop. He met Fran Surrobbo, a petite brunette, at a club in Manhattan. They were married five months before Louis was born. It meant Nick couldn't go to Baruch College, where he had just registered. It meant he would still be a printer when he was past fifty. Tough. He had to do the right thing.
FRAN PASCIUTO: "My grandmother, mother, mother-in-law- when they saw Louis their eyes used to sparkle. He never did any wrong in their eyes. Always gave him a lot of attention. Oh, he was tough. Louis was tough, even when small. A lot of energy, very headstrong. When he has his mind made up you couldn't talk him out of it. He was the type of child when he wanted something, he had to get what he wanted. As a young kid he was like that. Very high energy. Smart."
NICK PASCIUTO: "He got a lot of attention, no question about it. He was like the Number One, the Messiah. He always wanted one hundred percent attention. He didn't demand it but his actions required attention. He was a handful, no doubt about it ... I guess he had a normal life, as far as I was concerned. He was always mannerable. We raised him up to be mannerable and respectful and all that." Years later, Louis thought back to his earliest memory- getting his head stuck in the bars of the iron fence outside their building in Brooklyn. He did it once and then he did it again-and each time his parents would have to call for the fire department. He remembered his head stuck in the bars and the big red fire truck. All the commotion. All the attention. He also remembered the yelling. Screaming. Cursing. The yelling started as far back as he can remember, when he was a little kid, and continued when Louis was five and the Pasciutos moved to a semidetached two-family house in the Great Kills section of Staten Island. A sister, Nicole, was born two years after they moved to Great Kills. Despite the seven-year age difference, Nicole and Louis bonded early.
LOUIS: "We spent most of the time by ourselves, not wanting to be around them. They argued every morning, every night. My father was sort of like me. He used to like to go out and not come back. Couldn't sit still. Had ants in his pants. I don't think if there was no child involved they would have got married because they were always fighting. My aunt says they were fighting when they were dating. My father would wander off. It's just like the same traits as me because that's the way I am. That's the way I was with my marriage, or even dating Stefanie. I was always lying to her about something.... My mother always used to say that. 'You're just like your fucking father!'
"Something would always happen. The bus was stuck. Cab crashed. He fell in the Hudson River, he had to swim home. Some stupid shit. So he would leave on a Friday, say he was working late, not go home until, like, Sunday. So he would say he was coming home at five o'clock from work and he'd be home at nine o'clock."
NICK: "I was never home, working fourteen, sixteen hours a day.... After work when I got the time I would get the chance to maybe hang out with the guys, something like that. So either way I was coming home late, whether I got done early at work or I got done late at work. Then I would go basically straight home. If I was done early I would go out with the salespeople, we go have a couple drinks, dinner, just hang out, then go home. Never got home early enough. The kids were just asleep. That went on for years.
"There was always tension and a lot of arguing with his mother. You drink, you do this. Drugs, this, that, whatever. That went on a majority of many years. Arguments and stuff like that. So I would figure not to come home the next day.... [Laughing.] If you're damned if you do and damned if you don't-when I do I don't want to be damned. That's what made me want to hang out. During the week, I'll be honest with you, I never looked to go home."
Louis emerged from the pressure cooker of the Pasciuto household as what might be known today as a "difficult child." But on Staten Island in those days he was known as a "brat"-at least, outside of the Pasciuto household. He was also known as a "monster."
Louis would not dispute those characterizations. No matter what Nick and Fran wanted, Louis was not going to do it. They disagreed with each other on just about everything. So why should he be any different?
LOUIS: "I didn't listen because I had my own opinion about things. My dad used to tell me you could go out from five o'clock at night and you have to be back at twelve. I used to say, 'Dad, that's seven hours. What's the difference if I leave at eleven and come back at six in the morning? It's still the same seven hours!' I used to try to make them believe it. I used to sell him into fucking believing that. Or I'll even come home at four, so I'm only going to be out five hours. I'm out two hours less. You got two hours on me, I used to tell him. What's better than that? It didn't work. But I would leave anyway."
Nick tried hard not to be like his own father, who had been a stern taskmaster before leaving the family when Nick was ten. He tried to be Louis's friend even as Louis got worse and worse, more and more defiant. The family car stolen and wrecked when he was seventeen and not even licensed. He got a beating for that but it was no big deal. Boys will be boys. Besides, times were changing. Kids showed no respect. Nick's father had demanded respect. "Lots of times he'd smack you around just in case you did something wrong," said Nick. "That means, if I do something wrong, he already hit me for it. I didn't want to be that way with Louis." Nick tried not to hit. It was tough.
NICK: "Having no respect for authority. That's basically what it turned out to be. There was no rules but Louis's rules. I had rules too. 'But those are your rules, Dad. This is what I do.' Okay. That's it. But I can tell you one thing, when you do it your way, those rules-they're not going to work. It's going to come back and bite you in the ass. He comes back with, I'm old, I'm this. I'm a man. Okay. Very nice. [Laughing.] It was so many years of not being like my father did with me, where I had like no opinion. I gave you the chance to give your opinion and I gave my opinion and you shit on it. So you know what? I'm not going to waste my breath on it. Just don't break my balls, don't break your mother's balls. Go kill yourself." Since Louis was a rebellious kid, Nick and Fran were glad that they didn't live in Bensonhurst. In Staten Island, they could keep an eye on him and keep him off the streets, and away from the people nobody liked to talk about.
Everybody knew them. They were in the family. They were cousins and uncles. Friends. People down the block. Nick used to shine shoes at the Club 62 on Fort Hamilton Parkway, where the men in the tailored suits would give him $30 tips- at a time when his father took home $50 a week. It was hard to grow up in Bensonhurst and not know Guys.
Fran and Nick had friends, relatives, in that life. They weren't proud of them, didn't boast about them. They were just there. Friends like Gerard and Butchie. Relatives like Fran's Uncle Joe. And it wasn't an Italian phenomenon, really. Jewish people of the over-sixty generation have similar memories- of Uncle Morris the bookie, of gangsters on street corners of neighborhoods like Brownsville. But the old working-class, second-generation Eastern European Jewish neighborhoods were dying or gone by the 1960s, while Italian neighborhoods, and their Guys, were growing and thriving through the twenty-first century. Plenty of street kids were still hoping to become Guys. The glamour, the perks, the advantages of being a Guy have never gone away in places like Bensonhurst. Guys broke the law and got away with it. That was a powerful thing in Brooklyn in the 1960s. It appealed to a lot of neighborhood kids who didn't have much else to admire.
NICK: "All the biggest gangsters came from that neighborhood. You knew what they were. You knew how they got their money. And you knew what you were. You were a nine-to-fiver and they were a gangster. I disagreed with their philosophy. I don't believe in people shaking down their own kind. I never respected them for that. I had friends that were big people. I never really hung out with them. I would say hello and goodbye. I disagreed with them.... You want to rip off a corporation, you want to rip off big gamblers. Whatever else they want to get into, it's a different story. Never ever do you ever get involved with drugs or shaking down your own people. I just totally disrespected those people for that."
LOUIS: "All my father's friends were somewhat connected. But my father was never into that. He just used to say, 'Fuck that.' My father's like a very straight-up guy. He's one of the most honest people I've ever met. If he tells you 'X,' it's 'X.' If he tells you 'Y,' it's 'Y.' That's it. When he does business there's no manipulating. He's totally not like the way I am. So he just never wanted to be involved in that. But he had friends. His friend Butchie was a Persico. I started seeing Butchie when I was young, like maybe sixteen. But I used to not like Butchie because my mother used to say, 'Fucking Butchie'-she thought he was a bad influence on my father. They'd go out and he wouldn't come home."
But Nick had friends Fran liked. Gerard was one of them. As a kid, Louis would stare, goggle-eyed, as Gerard would drive up in the newest Benz and emerge in a long mink jacket, dangling gold jewelry like a rig of a pint-sized Clydesdale. Gerard had a way of talking, with his hands. He had attitude, self-confidence. Gerard owned a printing company and spent time in prison when Louis was ten. It was no major shame, but not discussed.
Louis had no aspirations to be a Guy. But he wanted everything that the Guys had. He found a way.
Excerpted from Born to Steal by Gary Weiss Copyright © 2003 by Gary Weiss
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.