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Inside Hollywood Mike’s Crew : It Took Two Years to Nail This Mafia Strong-Arm Gang. Here’s How They ‘Worked’ Southern California Before They Were Stopped. (The Movie’s Already Been Done, Thank You.)

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Times Staff Writer Paul Lieberman has covered organized crime for more than two decades. His last story for the magazine was on the New England mob's bid to enter Hollywood

In the parlance of their trade, the Beverly Hills robbers were “professionals.” They had staked out the 21-room mansion for weeks, even conducting dress rehearsals during which they crept along the service alley and climbed the 7-foot-high wrought-iron fence--masks, gloves and radios at the ready. They knew there was a staff of two--the butler and his wife--and that, each night, the butler headed toward North Elm Drive to walk the dog, a Belgian Schipperke. This night, Jan. 9, 1989, a steel revolver pointed at his head greeted the butler as he returned. Then the dog began barking.

“They wanted to kill the dog, but I told them it was my dog. He sleeps with me,” the butler said later, recalling how he pleaded with the intruders inside the house until one dragged off the 12-pound pet, only to return with it cuddled in his arms to report that it had “met all the boys.”

Their softheartedness vanished the moment the owner of the estate, a TV producer, drove up in his black Jaguar. As he opened the front door, he was grabbed by the hair and pulled inside, his head pounded onto the kitchen floor, the stairs and the upstairs bedroom closets--until he showed them where to find the jewelry and cash.

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During their hours in the mansion, the intruders talked among themselves using the fake names “Louie,” “Joe” and “Bubba.” They told their victims, “If you have any problems, see Fat Tom at the track,” more nonsense to throw off investigators.

The man who seemed to be the leader was about six feet tall and incredibly strong, the sort who made clear, quickly, that you dare not mess with him. He was furious to learn that the best jewelry--worth $800,000--had been stashed in a bank vault. The art? “The leader came down to kick me in the groin and told me our paintings were s- - -,” the TV executive later told authorities.

The next day, reports of the brazen robbery led local TV newscasts. And soon after, an FBI informant picked up hints that it might have been the work of a “crew” answering to the Mafia. For a year, federal authorities had been surreptitiously taping conversations among L.A.’s organized-crime figures and hangers-on. Befitting the Mickey Mouse image of the Mafia in Los Angeles--a city the mob has never penetrated to the extent it has, say, New York or Chicago--they seemed comically ineffectual as they bungled cocaine sales and wasted away evenings getting drunk, plotting get-rich-quick schemes and cozying up to the movie crowd.

But now the FBI picked up talk of crimes they still could pull off--the old-fashioned strong-arm variety. Indeed, the Beverly Hills home invasion would prove to be only one in a series of Mafia-directed robberies and kidnappings that would continue for two years until authorities finally closed in on the leader of the strong-arm crew committing them: a blond, tattooed tanning-shop operator known as “Hollywood Mike.”

At a time when the Mafia’s influence in America was receding, many of its leaders jailed even in its Eastern strongholds, here, at the lowest end of the mob totem pole, the myth was far from dead. For men like Michael Anthony (Hollywood Mike) Divicino, the mob’s anonymous working stiffs, still wanted nothing more than to be part of an organization that stretched straight to John Gotti.

Even after it all started to unravel, when one of his crew tripped up and began to talk, the only thing Hollywood Mike would ask for--desperate and on the run--was some safe place to be with “our people.”

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“I don’t know anything else,” he said, totally unaware that his words would cost him life in prison. “I really f- - - - - - don’t.”

*

Not surprisingly, the FBI’S first glimmer of Divicino’s crew came through a tiny tape recorder hidden in a wad of bills in the pocket of Robert Franchi, a bull-necked Bostonian, who had worked at the fringes of the mob in New England. He had come west to flee loan sharks, and then, when he heard they might be headed this way, volunteered his services to the FBI. Soon, the feds were paying Franchi $5,000 a month to eavesdrop on local mob figures, and he paid them back by generating some 10,000 pages of tape transcripts from 1988 to 1991. His splashiest case was Dramex, the sting to ferret out mob influence in the Teamsters’ movie unions, but the bulk were drug stings in which he simply made himself a regular at the restaurants favored by the “legitimate guys,” advertising that he had cash to buy kilos of cocaine. He was so effective that his scalps included six owners of the hangouts. And it was one of these restaurateurs, a sub shop owner in the San Fernando Valley, who fumed to Franchi one day about how he had been stiffed after passing a valuable tip to a certain young ass-kicker.

“I told ‘em how to get in there,” the sub guy groused. “You see, they grabbed the butler . . . .”

“They actually did not give you a dime?” Franchi asked.

“Not a penny. . . . Why should they pay you? . . . Hollywood Mike is a maniac, see; he’ll kill you.”

The FBI hardly needed an introduction to Divicino. Agents had seen him ride his Harley to the spots they watched, no helmet over his head of blond hair, a T-shirt revealing arms sculpted by hours in the gym, his left shoulder tattooed with a grim reaper. At 27, Divicino had already served time in Nevada for robbery--nailed “simply collecting money for someone as a favor,” he complained. Now he had a tanning salon in Hollywood, a succession of stunning girlfriends and a Rainbow Coalition of associates: a pair of Westside bodybuilders, one white and one black; a couple of Latinos in the Valley who liked guns, and a few others, if needed, including an older guy--a fellow Italian from New York City. As Franchi later described their role in testimony, “Divicino and his crew were Lorenzo’s muscle.”

Ronald (Ronnie) Lorenzo was a balding New Yorker who came to Los Angeles in 1982 and opened a restaurant called Splash on Malibu’s Point Dume. It was a place with a reservation book of A-list names and unmarked police cars out front, because authorities insisted that Lorenzo was a “made member” of the Bonanno crime family who was becoming “the man to see” in L.A.

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Lorenzo himself put it this way: “I’m not an angel. . . . I grew up with a lot of people you read about.” But, he swore, “I came out here to change my life.”

Unfortunately for Lorenzo, Los Angeles is a place where law enforcement has been paranoid about the Mafia since the days of Bugsy Siegel--and where anyone with a hint of “affiliation” had better not expect privacy. Lorenzo thus was acutely aware of the surveillance outside his joint. He did not suspect, however, that watching inside was a burly regular who once scored him a case of “hot” Don Perignon champagne. Lorenzo gradually took the regular, Franchi, into his trust, and agreed to buy cocaine with him. I’m f- - - - - - - struggling,” Lorenzo seethed, running on about how Splash was going down the tubes due to bills, taxes and liquor license proceedings caused by those “dirty mother- - - - - - - cops.”

“You know what it is out here?” Franchi sympathized, his tape recording whirring, as always. “They got no--nobody to pick on.”

“Make these f- - - - - - people leave me the f- - - alone,” Lorenzo pleaded.

He couldn’t even get a credit card. “You know how you get the things in the mail? . . . ‘Your name has been selected?’ Everything that comes in, I fill out--and I never get one.”

Of course, poor-mouthing is the counterpoint to the most common rhetorical flourish in mob circles, puffing. So even as Lorenzo portrayed himself as a persecuted businessman and “a f- - - - - - very mellow, easygoing guy,” the next moment he’d add, “but then I got a f- - - - - - other side of me.” He got specific once with Franchi: “I’m a f- - - - - - thief.

Lorenzo had once floated in the same crowd as Murf the Surf, the famous jewel thief. But now, in his 40s, he was like most of Franchi’s targets--years removed from the days he earned stripes on the street. These days, the guys mostly sat around reminiscing about the big scores of their youth and boasting of the pathetically minor ones they pulled off now, like getting a handicapped-parking sticker.

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First hood: I got it. I’m a handicapped person.

Second hood: You’re handicapped?

Third hood: He’s been shot 500 times.

So they looked to the younger guys, the wannabes, to do the dirty work. Like when Lorenzo became enraged over a cappuccino machine.

His Malibu restaurant had closed, and he was struggling to make a go of a new one in Santa Monica. The feds may have viewed him as a potential godfather, but the guy who sold him the coffee maker apparently hadn’t gotten the message. He was bugging Lorenzo for more money after a $1,000 down payment. Lorenzo asked Franchi to help by telling the guy “to take [back] the machine. . . . [It’s] a piece of s- - -.”

When Franchi put him off, Lorenzo left a message: “This grease-ball mother- - - - - -, I sent Mike Divicino to find him. If he catches up to him, I told him to crack his f- - - - - - head and take whatever money he’s got.”

Later, Hollywood Mike joined Franchi and Lorenzo and reported: “I got his address.”

Franchi apologized for not having taken care of the fellow.

Divicino said, “I don’t want you to grab him. . . . I need to do it.”

Franchi called the salesman and told him to get lost. Quick.

*

Yes, Hollywood Mike was a “producer”--maybe “a little hyper,” the older guys said, but “the strongest thing around.” They guessed he’d do anything to become a “made member” like Ronnie Lorenzo.

Months after the job at the mansion in Beverly Hills, the FBI decided to flesh out Divicino by having Franchi dangle some bait--the prospect of another lucrative robbery. Franchi told Divicino that he knew drug dealers who kept $250,000 in Hollywood Hills homes.

The two lunched at Ciro’s Pizza Pomodoro, since closed, across from the Beverly Center. Franchi ordered Evian water, fretting how he was pushing 280 pounds. Hollywood Mike, always in shape, ordered boiled chicken salad.

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He was deferential with Franchi, who knew members of Raymond Patriarca’s organized-crime family in New England. But Divicino’s tone changed when Franchi suggested tactics, such as when to “cock the gun” and who to use on the job.

Hollywood Mike: I do this thing every f- - - - - - week.

Franchi: OK, so you know what you’re doing.

Hollywood Mike: . . . I’m not goin’ in there with somebody I don’t know.

Franchi: Yeah, OK, fine, fine, yeah.

Hollywood Mike: I got my own f- - - - - - crew. . . . I’ve been doing my own s- - - since I was 15.

What Divicino wanted were details: How many drug dealers in the house? Where was the cash? Would Franchi be inside, setting things up?

Franchi said yes, he’d open the door for Divicino’s crew.

That was important to know, Hollywood Mike said. So “if anything goes on, I know I’m not poppin’ you.”

*

An inside investigation of violent crimes is trickier than one involving drugs. After an undercover cocaine buy, the drugs are merely taken out of circulation. But after learning that a holdup may take place, investigators can hardly sit back while it’s carried out--and someone gets killed.

Several times, FBI agents surreptitiously foiled robbery plans picked up by Franchi’s tape recorder. One targeted an elderly Arizona couple who owned dry-cleaning stores. A visiting Boston mob soldier wanted to borrow the crew for the score. So agents stopped Divicino near his home for “routine questioning” as an ex-con on parole. They couldn’t ask about the impending job--and alert him to the inside tipster--so they questioned him about a recent crime then unsolved: the shotgun slayings of Jose and Kitty Menendez. Worried that he was being watched, Divicino called off the Arizona job.

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Still, Hollywood Mike and his crew were largely an afterthought for the feds, who were focusing on those up the ladder, like Lorenzo, and on the drug stings. What’s more, robberies are classic state offenses, to be handled by local police. And although a Beverly Hills detective was on an FBI task force on organized crime, the feds were not ready to share Franchi with others. So Franchi kept taping and getting whiffs of strong-arm crimes--sometimes too late.

*

Irv Donosky had $2,500 cash on him the morning of May 8, 1990, when he set out to get some Egg McMuffins. Donosky was a professional gambler, and his wallet that morning also held checks for $9,000 and $4,000, winnings from a poker game at a hotel off the 405 Freeway.

As Donosky reached the garage of his West Hollywood condo, he saw a white pickup parked near his yellow Corvette. Two masked gunman grabbed him, took his $13,000 Rolex, cuffed and blindfolded him and forced him to lie in the back of the truck. Half an hour later, still blindfolded, he was led into a small room and seated in a chair; two other men took over, one clearly the leader. Donosky later told authorities that the man smacked him in the ear, then pressed a knife against him and announced that “if I didn’t tell them where the money was, what part of my anatomy they would cut off.”

Over the next 19 hours, Donosky told them about the $4,000 atop the TV in his condo, got a Texas bookie friend to fly in with another $11,000 and had a woman who placed bets for him in Las Vegas withdraw $20,000 from two casino accounts. One of the men took a shuttle flight to pick up the money. Then they let Donosky go. The oldest of the group dropped him in Santa Monica at 5 a.m., cautioning him to look the other way. This guy was the “nothing personal” type. He gave Irv $100 for a cab home.

Irv washed up, took a nap and woke in time to make his Wednesday evening poker game. He was already thinking he’d better move back to Las Vegas. But the next day he went first to the Federal Building on Wilshire, figuring you report kidnappings to the FBI.

An agent asked him: “Were you taken across state lines?”

“No”

“Then you need to go to the West Hollywood sheriff’s station.”

Off went Irv Donosky, the agent having no inkling that he had given the door to the man who would become the most determined witness of all against Hollywood Mike and his crew.

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*

The crime that became the crew’s undoing began the evening of June 1, 1990. The target was a large Iranian family, the Rads, who owned an electronics firm near Downtown. The crew, five-strong this night, began at the Reseda home of one wing of the family. They burst in--guns drawn--during dinner, tied up seven family members and trolled for jewelry and cash. Then four of the intruders took off for Woodland Hills, where the rest of the Rad family lived. The maid in the second home told a grand jury she was in bed when a gunman rousted her. “I asked him if he did not fear God,” she said. “And then one of them came up and kicked me. . . . He said, ‘Shut up.’ ”

In the master bedroom, the intruders thought they saw piles of clothes on the floor. The piles turned out to be John and Shalah Rad’s sleeping children, who were summarily tied up. The parents were marched to their car, a Mercedes. John Rad was stuffed in the trunk, his wife in the back seat. Two crew members piled in, the third took a white pickup, and both vehicles headed for the Rads’ business on 14th Street. Once there, John Rad said, the leader indicated they were going to open the safe, or else, and that, “You know, I never make mistake in my life.”

Here, he did.

After one of the crew punched in the alarm code--coerced earlier from one of the Rads--a buzzer sounded. He would later recall exclaiming, “I f- - - - - up on the alarm. Either that, or he gave me the wrong numbers.”

They fled in the Mercedes, leaving the pickup parked near the scene. Driving around the block, they saw two cars pull up to the business--security, they figured, but maybe cops. Then, one of the crew insisted on going back to get the truck.

From the Mercedes, Divicino could see his crew member, Eddie Johnson, approach the pickup. He also saw the LAPD descend.

In the truck, police found two guns, handcuffs and the wallets of Johnson and another man, with full IDs.

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The next morning, officers found the second man on his porch in North Hollywood, waiting. He was Mario Zapata, 32, 5-foot-11, 225. He had $4,101 on him. He said: “I’m just a hired gun.”

*

Eleven days later, Divicino beeped Franchi at home. Franchi was having a rare dinner with his wife and didn’t feel like meeting, but he’d heard scuttlebutt that some of Hollywood Mike’s crew had been picked up. So he thought it over for a moment, then made sure his recorder had fresh batteries.

Divicino was waiting at Hollywood and Franklin. They drove in Franchi’s Lincoln Town Car toward the Bel-Air Hotel to see Frank Salemme Jr., the son of New England’s new Mafia boss, whom Franchi had been schmoozing--and whom Hollywood Mike now hoped would hide him, what with all he’d done for Ronnie Lorenzo and the mob. Divicino had escaped the bungled Downtown robbery scene and released the Rads but was on the lam.

“I wanna go somewhere where I could f- - - - - - ‘ be around our people . . . ,” he fretted to Franchi.

Divicino’s mind was spinning. Even about a woman from his tanning salon. She looked like Julia Roberts, but he never knew this one cared. Now she was taking care of his place while he stayed away.

Hollywood Mike: It’s f- - - - - - - me up, man. . . . I snuck into my apartment last night, like 3 a.m. It blew my mind--everything’s marked in her handwriting, “the dishes are here, glasses are here, your coats are here.”

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Franchi: This girl fell in love with you. . . .

The ride should have taken 20 minutes. As Franchi heard the words pour from Divicino, he began taking side streets, stretching it out. Soon the talk turned to the captured crew members . . . and crimes. Later, Franchi would say, “I knew I had him.”

Hollywood Mike: The heat’s everywhere. . . . Those kids . . . were grabbed for kidnapping . . . after I took down the two houses full of people. . . .

Franchi: This is not the same guy with the Corvette?

Hollywood Mike: No that’s a different one. . . .

Franchi: Jesus Christ!

Hollywood Mike: Don’t you know what I do?

Franchi: . . . I didn’t know you took the f- - - - - - people. . . . You gotta get outa here.

Hollywood Mike: I threw the husband in the trunk. . . . I got armed robbery, breakin’ and enterin’ . . . extortion. . . .

Franchi: . . . facin’ life with no parole.

Of course, Divicino couldn’t be sure the cops were onto him. For even on the disastrous night of the Rad job, he’d done right by his crew. After Eddie Johnson was pinched, he met the guy’s wife on Coldwater Canyon, hugged her and promised, “I’ll take care of everything.” Later, she got an envelope with $1,900.

He also called Mario Zapata, who had stayed in the Reseda house during the robbery, guarding the hostages there. Zapata had made a clean getaway, as had a crew member stationed in the Woodland Hills house. But what does Zapata do after he was told his buddy Eddie Johnson was caught?

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Hollywood Mike: I say [to Mario], “Listen, I’m gonna have to send you back to New York . . . sit tight.” So I went and met with Ronnie, right? . . . He says, “You either gotta bury this f- - - - - - kid--he’s not going to stand up . . . you gotta bury him or send him.” So I’m contemplating what the f- - - I wanna do . . . . I call the kid’s girlfriend, and she says . . . “They got him.” . . . He was sittin’ on the f- - - - - - porch wearing the same clothes [with] all the f- - - - - - money.

Franchi: Jesus Christ!

Franchi reassured him again; with Frank Salemme Jr. looking to get into the movie biz here, the higher-ups would make sure Lorenzo’s people were taken care of.

Franchi: . . . Between us now, Frank’s father went to see Johnny Gotti. . . . He’s takin’ over New England, Frankie’s father.

Hollywood Mike: Is he?

Franchi: . . . Frank has heard about you. . . . When Frank came out here, [he asked] “Who’s this Hollywood Mike?” . . . You’re worth your weight in gold.

*

Franchi had discussed Hollywood Mike with the New England boys. They did know he was a “producer.” But one said: “I wouldn’t take him for all the tea in China. You know why? . . . I don’t need him. . . . I got 50 guys like him in Boston.”

It was hardly the best times for the New England mob. That year, a 113-count racketeering indictment was handed down against 21 leaders of the Patriarca Family. As Franchi carted his recorder around Los Angeles, the FBI had bugs all over his old stomping ground, one capturing, for the first time, the Mafia’s blood-oath induction ceremony.

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It was a bad year in New York as well. John Gotti himself was hit with new charges. This time, prosecutors had the cooperation of Sammy (The Bull) Gravano to back up tapes made in his social club, and “the Teflon Don” got life without parole. Even in the old bastion of Al Capone, Chicago Crime Commission investigator Jerry Gladden said: “It’s very quiet now. . . . All our big guys are in jail. They will die in jail.”

Franchi rarely ventured to these centers of the Mafia’s solar system. During his years as an FBI mole, he orbited near the Jupiters and Saturns. Yet here he found not only darkness but also light. For the lowliest of gunmen and burglars still clung to the vision of the mob as an omnipotent society governed by honor and respect, where the little guys passed their take up the ladder and the big guys returned the favor with protection and a pat on the back.

The image burned strongly in the crew of Hollywood Mike.

*

Divicino had been right to worry.

On April 25, 1991, three LAPD detectives and two deputy district attorneys gathered at County Jail to hear Eddie Johnson re-create his career as a crew member, starting when he befriended his neighbor in a North Hollywood apartment building, “Hollywood Mike . . . he’s a wiseguy.”

Though a Latino, Johnson, 5-foot-10, 160, with a thin mustache, went by the name “Louie Carbone” on jobs with the crew. He had gone to aviation trade school in New York and worked at Lockheed, earning $15 a hour, before he quit to sign on with his muscular neighbor, whom he sensed was “pulling moves” a bit more exciting. Johnson’s machinist skills came in handy. When police searched a safe in his home, they found a handmade silencer, Uzis and a pistol-grip shotgun, brass knuckles and handcuffs, ski masks and fake beards.

He told the LAPD about the dozens of shakedowns and home invasions by the crew, often targeting drug dealers but also going after anyone hoarding cash. Their rationale was that such folks deserved to be hit. “I only took money that people can’t complain about,” Johnson insisted. “People who have a legitimate $100,000 don’t leave it in a s- - - - - little safe.”

But they also hit such public places as the Comedy Store and Palace Theatre. They hijacked a shrimp truck and a Snap-On Tools truck and knocked over a bowling alley in Mission Hills. Sometimes their crimes made the news, like when they stormed a bachelorette party in Westminster. This time the dog, a white husky, didn’t stop barking. So they slit its throat.

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Most always, they came armed with “inside information” picked up by Lorenzo or one of his associates, Johnson said. Though often it was screwy, like when they hit Vegas for a daring robbery of a sports book, only to find that “Eddie from Jersey”--a friend of a wiseguy in the vending-machine trade--had given them the wrong combination to the safe.

And the Beverly Hills mansion job--the news reports may have said half a million, but “we got stuck with the bum jewels . . . trinkets,” Johnson said. After they fenced the stuff back East, they cleared maybe $40,000.

Johnson had brought Zapata into the crew. They were the mainstays--the ones who snatched the gambler, Donosky, for instance. Hollywood Mike’s bodybuilder friends and others helped as needed, among them the hulking Andreas Kelly, who ran a gym in Hollywood and went out on the Rad job.

Helping on the Donosky job was 50-something Vinnie Leone, who learned calligraphy in prison and crafted menus for Lorenzo. Leone picked up the $20,000 in Vegas--and gave the gambler $100 cab fare when Hollywood Mike was done sweating him.

Johnson said that Divicino took care of the higher-ups. “He told me that one-third to one-half of the proceeds from any crime activity was going to ‘The Family.’ ” As Johnson rambled, he seemed worried that his audience of law-enforcement officials wasn’t getting the picture. “This is not a joke,” he said. “I had indications of affiliation.”

“Affiliation with whom?” asked Deputy Dist. Atty. John Monaghan.

“His people go back to Gotti, OK?”

From Johnson’s perch, even Ronnie Lorenzo, “the local capo” inspired awe. “Ronnie calls the shots, you know, this is his locality,” Johnson said. “He’s at the head of the table and then, you know, it tiers down. . . . [He says] who sits at the table and who doesn’t sit at the table.”

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And Johnson’s place at the table? “I have to answer to Mike. Mike has to answer to him.”

Johnson said Hollywood Mike once had brought him to see Lorenzo on the Pacific Coast Highway, “sitting in his gold Continental.” Johnson and Zapata were in trouble for pocketing Donosky’s Rolex after snatching the gambler--until they decided that was not wise.

“Mike . . . hands me an envelope”--his share of the job--”[and] I said, ‘Mike you forgot about the watch.’ And he’s like, ‘Man, I’m glad you told me that because . . . Ronnie thought you might be trying to hold out.’ ”

Johnson said Lorenzo then took him for a walk. “He said, ‘You know, you have to do things right.’ Then he looked me in the face and he said, ‘ ‘Cause bad things happen to people.’ ”

*

Franchi mixed with the mob guys through 1991, then disappeared with help from the feds. By then, the LAPD’s organized crime unit had discovered his ruse--by subpoenaing him before a grand jury and forcing his FBI handlers to explain it all.

The indictments started coming down the next spring, including a 17-count indictment in state court that stemmed from the crew’s strong-arm crimes and named Lorenzo, Divicino, Kelly and Leone. Johnson and Zapata had already agreed to plea bargains that called for sentences of up to life in prison but leaving them eligible for parole in 12 and 17 years. Not until the indictments did the crew learn that Franchi had been wearing a wire.

Lorenzo’s arrest caused a stir, especially when James Caan, who played Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” popped up to support him. “I love ‘im,” Caan said. The actor also knew another defendant, Divicino, as “one of the motorcycle guys. . . . Every once in a while there would be a group like 10 guys, and we would ride out by the beach, and so I knew him that way.”

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Divicino, though, was already in custody when the indictments came down. After the New Englanders wouldn’t take him in, he had laid low around town, then decided he was in the clear--only to be caught, months later, in an undercover sting by the Palm Springs police that ended in the purchase of three kilos of cocaine stored in an L.A. tanning salon. With an undercover officer waiting for the delivery on Santa Monica Boulevard, a black Ferrari drove up--Divicino at the wheel. When the cops moved in, he fled in the Ferrari, setting off a wild chase up Laurel Canyon, over Mulholland Drive, that finally ended near Universal Studios. Hollywood Mike to the end.

He and Lorenzo were kept on “Million Dollar Row” in County Jail until Lorenzo was shuttled to federal court for his separate trial, unrelated to the crew, for helping Franchi buy cocaine. In October, 1992, Franchi took the stand and heard defense attorneys portray him as a snitch, mercenary, entrapper and liar. Franchi also saw the look in jurors’ eyes. “They hate me,” he said.

But they also heard his tapes. Lorenzo got 11 years.

The state case--the case against Lorenzo, Divicino and the crew--threatened life without parole. It would consume virtually all of 1993 with motions, testimony and courtroom theatrics.

*

From the beginning, Ronnie Lorenzo’s attorney mocked any suggestion that Divicino and his crew were a big-time “family” operation requiring directions from--and tithing to--the “capo.” Big-time Mafia outfit? How could the prosecution’s star rollover witness, Eddie Johnson, explain the job he and Mario Zapata free-lanced when they ran into an elderly man on the street near the first Rad house the night of the kidnapping--and promptly robbed him of $4.

“Did you share the proceeds?” smirked defense attorney Kevin McDermott. “Did Mr. Zapata keep $1 for himself? How about the other $2--did he send that to Mr. Lorenzo?”

The fact was, Lorenzo had done a good job insulating himself from Hollywood Mike and the crew. McDermott duly noted that you never heard Lorenzo “masterminding anybody” to do the crimes that were the guts of the indictment--the Donosky kidnapping and Rad home invasions. From all the crew’s mayhem, those had been picked because of the damning references on the strongest evidence--Franchi’s tape of Divicino. So this really wasn’t Lorenzo’s trial; it was the Hollywood Mike trial.

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No one knew that better than Dist. Atty. Monaghan. He’d fool you, Monaghan would, looking so square and in his gray suit and wire rims--then coming on pure rock ‘n’ roll in court, letting things get personal, prodding the weak points in the crooks.

When Johnson talked about planning jobs, Monaghan walked up behind Hollywood Mike and pointed at his head: “So, you knew Mr. Divicino was a man who had nooooooo problem in doing a robbery?”

Later, one of the Rads testified tearfully how “we come to America for a better life . . . but these people, they took it away.”

Monoghan again moved behind Divicino and asked, “Who was the meanest of all the people?”

“The blond.”

On Oct. 21, 1993, the jury nailed Divicino on all counts.

Six others had already--or would soon--go down. Taking plea deals in addition to Johnson and Zapata were Jose Gutierrez (for guarding the second house during the Rad robbery) and ponytailed weightlifter Scott Harrison (for joining a nightclub holdup). The jury trial, meanwhile, did not go well for Leone, who got 14-to-life after he was ID’d as picking up the gambler’s money in Vegas, while Kelly, the imposing bodybuilder, eventually got a pair of life sentences.

Hollywood Mike alone got life without because of a finding, affirmed by the judge, that the kidnapped Donosky had been subject to a “likelihood of death.”

Divicino was shackled for his sentencing on March 4, 1994. Two guards stood behind him as he read from a yellow legal pad, lambasting his attorneys, the prosecutor and judge for allowing the portrayal of “what a maniac I am.” He did not actually deny the crimes; his gripe was that their seriousness had been trumped up. Like with the gambler, kidnapped and bound for 19 hours, “as to cruelty and viciousness . . . there was none.” It had all been exaggerated, he summed up, “to convict me at any cost . . . simply on the notion that I was an enforcer for the mob, a member of organized crime, a soldier for the Mafia.”

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Among those listening in court was Irv Donosky. Many victims in such cases want nothing to do with their assailants, but the poker player kept coming back to look them in the eye. His strength as a witness had been his understatement: He didn’t claim he could identify anyone. And he acknowledged his assailants at times seemed friendly. But had he expected to die? Are you kidding?

Now, as he heard Hollywood Mike complain of persecution, Donosky turned and whispered: “I’d like to change my testimony. My new testimony is, ‘F- - - you.’ ”

That left only Lorenzo. The jury hung on “the capo.” They’d have to try him all over--or reach a deal. Last year, the prosecution offered a juicy one: He’d get no extra jail time after completing his federal drug term. He’d just have to plead guilty to two of the charges alleging he masterminded the crew--meaning any new offense would then trigger California’s infamous Three Strikes law.

“They want to encourage me,” Lorenzo explained to his wife at a hearing before Christmas, “to leave California.”

“It stinks.” she cried.

But on Jan. 11, 1996, almost seven years to the day after the butler walked the Belgian Schipperke in Beverly Hills, Lorenzo took the deal that will free him no later than 2002 . . . the year Hollywood Mike turns 40, still very much still behind bars.

*

Even after he was sent to Folsom, Divicino might have gotten a break--by rolling over and helping the government nail Lorenzo. But if anyone had a notion he might turn and testify, his response was, in the paraphrase of one insider: “Go piss up a rope.”

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Sure, he’d seen the “legitimate guys” snub him when he was on the run, seen his best gunman fink on him, seen his co-defendants decide that their best chance was “dumping everything on me.” But turn? “All my life,” he said, “I have been stand up.”

So it was that the true believer--the one who played by the rules from start to finish, who had kicked butt for the so-called bosses and looked out for his crew--paid the price.

Divicino says he keeps in shape at Folsom “doing “push-ups, back-arms, water-bag curls, some sit-ups and maybe some jumpin’ jacks.” He is big on mottos: “Keep your mind clear and your heart strong.” “Head up, chest out, back to the wall.” “Soul’s strong, you can’t go wrong.” He goes to mass every Sunday.

He married the woman who looked after his apartment, tattoed her name right on the back of his neck. During one of their first conjugal visits, she got pregnant. They had a son. “He is my world,” Divicino says.

Hollywood Mike will not talk about the child’s godfather, but others confirm it is John Scotto, who came to L.A. to go law school, only to become Monoghan’s first organized crime prosecution, for the extortion of two Hollywood nightclub owners. Scotto later gained notice when he opened the Beverly Center restaurant where Heidi’s girls hung out. In this city’s odd society of mob refugees and poseurs, Scotto represented an anomoly--a bona fide pedigree. His father ran the Brooklyn docks and his grandfather was no less than Albert Anastasia, legendary boss of Murder Inc., who was shot dead in a barber’s chair, waiting for a shave.

Hollywood Mike Divicino had found family at last.

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