Nice work if you can get it
By the Editorial Board
Published June 24, 2014
As it turns out, “The Quiet Don” has a
quieted author — at least in terms of the Lackawanna County Library System
Matt Birkbeck, a former reporter for The
Morning Call of Allentown and the author of “The Quiet Don,” had been booked by
the library system and paid $1,500 to appear Monday night. But after sending the
check to Mr. Birkbeck, the library suddenly canceled his appearance. So Mr.
Birkbeck was, in effect, paid not to appear — nice work if you can get it. (The
series is funded by private and public funds.)
The book contends that the late Russell Bufaliino of Kingston quietly built an organized crime empire in Northeast Pennsylvania from the 1930s into the 1960s while much of the national media and
law enforcement were focused on mob activity in major cities. And, as in an
earlier book by Charles Brandt, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” Mr. Birkbeck
contends that Mr. Bufalino was involved in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa in a
war over control of the Teamsters union. And the book mirrors some of Mr.
Birkbeck’s earlier reporting, dealing with the state’s creation of the
Pennsylvania casino industry and the award of a license to Dunmore businessman
The NEPA subject matter naturally has created a great deal of local interest in the book. Yet Mary Garm, administrator of the Lackawannaq County Library System, said Monday that she canceled Mr.
Birkbeck’s appearance for fear that he would draw a small crowd. Mr. Birkbeck
had made some other local appearances, including at Marywood University, she
said. Canceling the appearance, she said, saved the expense of renting the venue
According to Ms. Garm, she made the decision and the library board approved it, and there was no pressure for
cancellation from the board or other parties. Lack of public interest isn’t reflected
in the library’s own experience. According to Ms. Garm and Jack Finnerty,
director of the Scranton Public Library, the book has been among the most
heavily circulated in the system for some time. The library must have recognized
the level of interest when it booked Mr. Birkbeck. And multiple appearances by
an author rarely have been taken to indicate a lack of public interest.
In recent years the lecture series has been an invaluable asset to the area, bringing such luminaries as David
McCullough and presidential historian Michael Beschloss, among many others, to
the Scranton Cultural Center.
Here’s hoping that in the future, the library trusts its own circulation numbers when gauging public interest in an invited speaker, and pays authors to appear.
The Quiet Don has been the number one mob book in the U.S. since its release...also the number one non-fiction book in various library systems across the country, including this one:
From Times-Tribune (May 2014)
Here are the most requested adult nonfiction books in
the Lackawanna County Library System.
1. “The Quiet Don,” by Matt Birkbeck: A look at the life of Russell Bufalino.
2. “Killing Jesus,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard: Author of “Killing Kennedy”
takes a look at the execution of Jesus.
3. “Proof of Heaven,” by Eben Alexander: Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, tells of
his near-death experience after being in a coma for seven days.
4. “Zealot,” by Reza Aslan: A historical look at Jesus and first century Palestine.
Not sure how to explain this one.
Just got word that the Lackawanna County Library System cancelled my appearance at the Scranton Cultural Center that was scheduled for June 23.
A curt email was sent to my assistant Donna informing her, without explanation, that I was not welcome. When she asked for a reason, she was given a somewhat bizarre excuse complaining that I made a few other stops in the region.
This wasn't the first time a local appearance in the Scranton-area was mysteriously cancelled. The first was back in October when WVIA TV cancelled a scheduled one hour live program just a week after receiving the book (that sorry story is explained a few posts down). The West Pittston library was excited when I agreed to a fundraiser in December at a local Catholic Church only to get the word that some other unplanned event had taken precedence (Bingo?). But I have to say the recent cancellation by the folks at the Lackawanna County Library System was the most surprising, and disappointing.
Interest in The Quiet Don in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre area has been overwhelming. Its been the Number One non-fiction book within the entire library system since it was published Oct. 1, besting authors including Bill O'Reilly and John Grisham (I've never been able to say that before). We've since received more requests for speaking/book signings than I can count (including schools, colleges, book clubs and local companies).
So we decided to make just six select appearances throughout the entire region over a four month period. One was in Hazleton in March at Penn State University, another in the Poconos, two in Wilkes Barre and two in Scranton. The first Scranton appearance was in April at Marywood University. Aside from being very well attended, it was notable for the sudden appearance of fire trucks responding to an anonymous call about a fire inside the building where I was to speak (turns out the room with the supposed fire didn't even exist).
The second Scranton discussion/signing (and final appearance) was to be June 23 at the Cultural Center. Mary Garm, the library administrator, traded numerous emails with my assistant Donna scheduling the appearance, which was the only one scheduled for June. Aside from a Powerpoint presentation, we were planning on promoting it in tandem with the upcoming "Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa?" program that PBS is scheduled to air July 22 on its popular History Detectives series. I consulted on the program as well as interviewed for it at a local restuarant last summer.
But Garm sent a terse email last week suddenlty cancelling the event, no explanation given. And this was a day after we received our check.
So, in a first for me, I'm getting paid not to speak.
I was mildly amused when told of the email. But I learned later that the library staff was telling its patrons that I had cancelled due to a prior committment.
And that's when I got angry.
It's bad enough that a library of all places allowed some arm twisting from an unhappy sponsor, board member, politician or others (take your pick) to stifle a free form discussion about a subject so close to so many in that region. But to blame it on me? Shame on you.
I emailed Garm demanding an apology. All I got was a response saying it was a mixup.
I'm sure there's more to this and the real reasons will eventually surface.
That said, if clearer heads at the Lackawanna County Library System decide to reverse course and right this wrong, feel free to give me a call. I'd be more than happy to come to Scranton to discuss this remarkable story. After all, you did pay me.
Will be visiting the Marian Kirby library in Mountain Top , PA on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Will also be in the Poconos on Sunday at the Eastern Monroe Public Library in Stroudsburg at 1:30 p.m.
Thanks to the folks at Penn State University and Marywood University for hosting me last month.
I’ve heard a number of first person stories about Russell Bufalino since The Quiet Don was published Oct 1. but perhaps none more interesting than Bufalino’s ties to Whitey Bulger.
Bulger, as many know, was sentenced in Boston to two life sentences for the mayham he caused while leading the Winter Hill Gang from the 1970s through 190s. And that includes multiple murders.
A former law enforcement official filled me in on the details of how Bulger and Bufalino traded profits from a horse-race fixing venture at Bufalino’s Pocono Downs track near Wilkes Barre.
Beginning in 1974 Anthony “Big Tony” Ciulla began fixing races for the Winter Hill Gang. Ciulla, who later became an FBI informant, had paid jockeys, trainers and owners at tracks up and down the east coast, including Pocono Downs near Wilkes Barre. When Bufalino got wind of it he sent two of his men to talk to Ciulla, who eventually told them it was Bulger who was behind the scam. Buflino knew Bulger, and they eventually agreed to split the profits. See the story below from 1981.
Mobster testifies on plot to fix horse races
HARRISBURG (AP) — Alleged organized crime boss Russell Bufalino's
bookmakers took a financial beating in the early stages of a plot to fix
thoroughbred horse races at Pocono Downs, an admitted mobster testified
That situation, said Anthony "Big Tony" Ciulla, a convicted race fixer
from Massachusetts, led to meetings with local people who claimed they had
links to Bufalino. Ciulla , now under a federal witness
protection program, previously testified he participated in a vast scheme to fix
races in several states. The scheme allegedly netted $1.5 million in winnings.
The witness said it was agreed at the meetings that he would continue to fix
races at the track, located near Wilkes Barre, but would share the profits with
the local people.
Some of those local people are among 13 men on trial in federal court on
charges they fixed more than two dozen races at Pocono Downs.
Ciulla said he had come from Massachusetts in June 1974, and had
started fixing races at the track when he was contacted by Nicholas Occhipinti.
Occhipinti, killed in a 1975 Car crash, allegedly was part of the Pocono Downs
scheme. Ciulla said there were later meetings with Angelo Son of Wyoming, Pa.,
Angelo Bufalino of Pittston, Joseph Sciandra of West Pittston, and others to
discuss race-fixing. Sciandra and Angelo Bufalino are defendants; Angelo Son
was on trial until his case was separated due to illness.
"Mr. Occhipinti said they had previously fixed a few races (at Pocono
Downs) ," Ciulla testified. "Mr. Sciandra mentioned some
names. He kept dropping the name of Russell Bufalino," he said.
Russell Bufalino has been identified by federal and state law enforcement officials
in Pennsylvania and New York as the head of an organized crime family in
northeastern Pennsylvania. He is now in a Danbury, Conn., federal prison.
"Mr. Sciandra said there was a problem with Mr. Bufalino . .. Russell
Bufalino . . . .He said some of Mr. Bufalino's bookmakers were getting
hit," Ciulla said.
The term "getting hit" means a winning bet is placed with a bookie.
"He (Sciandra ) didn't feel it was right that they were getting hit in their own
back yard," Ciulla said. *Ciulla said he explained his own:
"connections" in New England, and an; interstate understanding was latete
reached between the two groups.
Ciulla was not permitted to name the New England figures, except for
Howard Winter, who was convicted in a related race-fixing trial last summer in.
Boston. The Bufalino's didn't know him. But then Ciulla told them the real head of the scam was Bulger. They knew who he was.
Bookstores across the U.S. are reporting heavy demand for The Quiet Don.
Major chains such as BooksAmillion sold out their inventory within two weeks, prompting Penguing to quickly order a second printing. Stores in and around Philadelphia are telling customers to expect a backlog of two weeks while in other cities the wait could be longer. One chain, Barnes & Noble, appears to have supply to meet their demand though some stores are running low on copies. One store in Wilkes Barre has sold over 1,500 copies in just three weeks.
Ten people were selected as winners of the Goodreads.com "The Quiet Don" giveaway from more than 1,000 entries.
Each winner, listed below, will receive a copy of the book. The contest ran from Sept. 23 to Oct. 23.
Linda Johns Fellsmere, Fla
Allison Ross Olive Branch, Ms
Ginny Nilson Milford, Ne
Sabrina Heinz Shorewood, Ill
Barbara Titus Dayton, Pa
Lynn Hobbs Karnack, Tx
David Patterson Hoover, Al
Mark Dodds Salt Lake City, Ut
Olga Cabral Vineland, NJ
Gabriel Peizner Sammamish, Wa
This was published on www.pennlive.com on Oct. 22
Chief Justice Castille still has some explaining
to do: Matt Birkbeck
On Oct. 9, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a rare statement calling into question claims made in my book, The Quiet Don.
Released by Penguin on Oct. 1, the book reported, among other things, that the court intentionally interfered in the prosecution of businessman Louis DeNaples and his priest, Rev. Joseph Sica, for lying to a grand jury about their alleged ties to Mafia leader Russell Bufalino.
The grand jury had been impaneled to determine if DeNaples lied to the state gaming board about his alleged mob ties to obtain a gaming license for his Mount Airy Casino.
The court’s interference, which delayed the prosecution for a year, frustrated law enforcement officials to the point where Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico finally agreed to drop the charges in return for Mr. DeNaples giving up ownership of the casino.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille took issue with that narrative, saying the book contained a “misleading and incomplete portrayal” of the courts actions.
“The book in question provides a well-known account of a northeast Pennsylvania crime syndicate, but also attempts to weave assertions of impropriety on the part of this court that are not remotely supported by facts,” Chief Justice Castille said. “There is no doubt that Mr. Birkbeck failed to fully research and understand the legal process about which he writes. Consequently, his narrative falls so far short of a complete story as to merit comment.”
But Castille did comment further, writing that the court intervened on behalf of DeNaples to address accusations by DeNaples’ attorneys of so-called “grand jury leaks” to the press that covered the prosecution.
“There was nothing extraordinary in the Supreme Court’s actions in agreeing to consider the petition,” wrote Castille. “Staying a lower court’s orders is a normal procedure when the Court considers a petition and the Court has exclusive direct review responsibility over Grand Jury issues.”
What Castille failed to say is that the court rarely ever intervenes in a grand jury investigation. In the DeNaples case, his court intervened not once, but twice. And that intervention had a profound effect on the DeNaples’ prosecution, freezing the investigation for over a year. And for good reason: Mr. Marsico planned to have William D’Elia testify at DeNaples’ preliminary hearing.
As I report in the book, D’Elia assumed the leadership of the Bufalino crime family after Bufalino died in 1994 and had agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors after he was charged in 2006 with conspiring to kill a witness and launder drug money.
D’Elia subsequently testified before the state grand jury investigating DeNaples and he told me later, through his attorney, what he told the grand jury: That he had a 30-year business and personal relationship with Mr. DeNaples.
D’Elia was prepared to testify to that relationship in open court, testimony that would have been devastating to Mr. DeNaples and to his many supporters, which included several state legislators and former Gov. Ed Rendell. (“I happen to know Mr. DeNaples, and know him well,” said Rendell after the charges against DeNaples were dropped).
Perhaps most interesting, Castille’s narrow explanation didn’t in any way refute the thrust of the narrative, which had been culled from interviews with, among others, senior law enforcement officials involved in the DeNaples prosecution: The Supreme Court participated in a conspiracy with Rendell, several state legislators and the state gaming board to get DeNaples’ his gaming license.
Castille ended his letter, which is posted on the courts website, by writing that, “Facts matter and misinterpretation of facts can be damaging to the trust that is necessary to sustain our court system. As the response details, this court’s handling of cases in question was nothing but straight forward.”
I would suggest that the court’s actions in DeNaples case and the entire gaming fiasco was anything but “straight forward,” and that Justice Castille has a lot more explaining to do to earn the trust that he correctly says is necessary to sustain our court system.
Matt Birkbeck is an author and journalist.
Near the end of The Quiet Don I relay a story about my secret meeting with a businessman in 2010. The story details how the meeting was facilitated by another individual, who forwarded the request to meet with me to discuss Bufalino, DeNaples and D'Elia. We had the meeting, I met the businessman (this was the fellow who told me about the "sleepers"), and we spoke a couple of times after that.
This past summer I was invited by Bill Kelly, who recently stepped down as CEO of PBS station WVIA, to appear live on WVIA to discuss the book. Bill and I exchanged several emails in which Bill was eager to have me on as a guest, or so he said, after which I received a subsequent email from a producer there (see below) confirming my Oct. 3 appearance. Following that Sept. 10 email, WVIA (specifically Kelly) received a copy the book, after which i my appearance was cancelled, no reason given.
Going back to that "secret" meeting I had in 2010? It was at WVIA. The person who invited me was then-CEO Bill Kelly. I won't disclose who I met with other than he is someone with ties to the station.
I relayed that story during a radio interview with Corbet on WILK, after which WVIA's current CEO, Tom Curra, went on the air to dispute my account. Listen to my interview with Corbet, then Corbet's interview with Curra, and then read the email below. Also take a look at a recent photo with Kelly pictured with some local people of interest, including Pat Solano and Dominick DeNaples. You can make up your own mind as to what happened with WVIA.
Matt's interview with Corbet:
Tom Curra's interview with Corbet:
----- Original Message -----
From: "Kathryn Davies" <KathrynDavies@wvia.org> To: <mbirkbeck@.........net
Sent: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 1:07 PM
Subject: Your Interview on WVIA
Hi Mr. Birkbeck,
> I am the Senior Producer here at WVIA and the one that will be setting up
> your show on October 3rd.
> If you would, please supply me with Jessica's email address. Once I have
> it I will send you both an email requesting your bio and information on
> your book. If possible, I would also like to have a copy of it here at the
> studios so we can take a shot of the front cover, etc. to be used during
> the show.
> My information is below and if you would like our FedEx number to get the
> book here, I can give that to you.
> Thank you, and I am looking forward to meeting you. K
> Kathryn K. Davies, Senior Producer
> 100 WVIA Way
> Pittston PA 18640-6197
> WVIA: 570-602-1150
> Cell: 570-905-4984
> Fax: 570-655-1180
> Email: email@example.com
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