In the fine tradition of Wiseguy antihero Henry Hill, Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano may be the latest mobster to dignify himself by taking the First.
On Jan. 5, attorney Edward Hayes, representing family members of some of Mr. Gravano’s victims, submitted an order before Justice Leland DeGrasse of State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking to halt the payment to Mr. Gravano of any proceeds from Underboss , Peter Maas’ best-selling book about Mr. Gravano’s work for the Gambino crime family.
Although there is some dispute as to whether Justice DeGrasse actually issued a temporary restraining order cutting off Mr. Gravano’s royalties until he rules on the motion in February, at least one of the defendants, the International Creative Management Inc. talent agency, is proceeding as if a restraining order is in effect.
Mr. Hayes’ motion was part of a wrongful death civil suit that was filed in November by the surviving family members of Michael DeBatt, Nicholas Mormando and Joseph Colucci. According to Mr. Hayes’ court papers, Mr. Gravano admitted to playing a direct or indirect role in their deaths in the plea agreement that he made with the Federal Government.
The interesting part is that Mr. Hayes’ clients are not just suing Mr. Gravano. Included as co-defendants in the case, which seeks millions of dollars in monetary and punitive damages, are Mr. Maas; his literary agency, I.C.M.; the publisher of Underboss , Harper Collins; and the studio alleged to be readying a film adaptation of Underboss , 20th Century Fox. According to the complaint, the plaintiffs are seeking “monetary and punitive damages from all defendants for their intentional failure to comply with New York’s Son of Sam Law … and their deliberate scheme to circumvent same.” (In the spring of 1997, the State Crime Victims Board and State Attorney General Dennis Vacco launched a similar lawsuit against Mr. Gravano and many of the same co-defendants.)
In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the original Son of Sam Law in a case that centered around whether or not Mr. Hill could profit from his participation in Nick Pileggi’s Wiseguy , which went on to become the basis of Martin Scorsese’s film, Goodfellas . But in 1992, a new version became law. A memorandum filed by I.C.M.’s attorney, Victor Kovner, challenges the constitutionality of the new Son of Sam Law. It argues that the statute “does not provide [for the] … compensatory and punitive damages” sought by the plaintiffs and “applies only to payments to a person who has been convicted of crime” under New York law. Mr. Gravano was convicted only under Federal law. For those and other reasons, Mr. Kovner argues that the suit should be dismissed.
Peter Maas’ attorney Michael Dowd called both Edward Hayes’ and Attorney General Vacco’s suits “offensive in every sense of the word legally.” Mr. Dowd added that lawsuits such as this one have “a chilling impact on the storytellers of the world” and likened it to the 90’s version of “book burning.”
Mr. Dowd also denied the allegation in Mr. Hayes’ motion that the “Defendants … made elaborate attempts to secrete the payments and assets generated by that relationship in violation of the [Son of Sam Law].”
In the past, Mr. Maas and Harper Collins have denied paying Mr. Gravano for his involvement in Underboss . Mr. Gravano’s testimony last summer in the murder-and-racketeering trial of Vincent (the Chin) Gigante revealed otherwise, however, and Mr. Hayes used that testimony to bolster his point. In it, Mr. Gravano admitted to splitting an $850,000 advance with Mr. Maas and said that he stood to make money off a film version of the book: He confirmed that the royalty rates for Underboss included 15 percent for hard-cover sales, 7 1/2 percent for trade paperback and 10 percent for audio, although he didn’t make it clear how he and Mr. Maas divvied up that take.
Documents that were uncovered by Mr. Gigante’s trial and by the State Attorney General show that the deal to produce Underboss was a complex affair. In a letter from then Harper Collins executive editor Rick Horgan to I.C.M. agent Sam Cohn and the agency’s executive vice president, Wayne Kabak, Mr. Horgan mentioned that Harper Collins’ general counsel “confirmed that we can route the agreement through the U.K.” (Harper Collins U.K. published the book.) And in a redacted copy of a “Dear Sammy” letter that Mr. Maas wrote to Mr. Gravano outlining their deal together, he indicated “in contracting with the book publisher and motion picture and/or TV producer, I shall use a new company owned by Peter Maas which shall be used for no other purposes.”
Another letter to Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. in London from David Schmerler, I.C.M.’s vice president of business affairs, denoted that the aforementioned company of Mr. Maas’, T.J.M. Productions, had an unusual arrangement with I.C.M. Most publishers pay writers’ advances and royalties to their literary agencies, where the agents’ commission is deducted and the balance sent on to the writers. Mr. Schmerler pointed out, however, that “any and all commissions to be paid to I.C.M.” in connection with Underboss “will be paid directly to I.C.M. by T.J.M. Productions.” At the very least, all of these contractual contortions could give the appearance that Harper Collins, Mr. Maas and company were trying to slip under the radar of the Attorney General. Indeed, Mr. Hayes told The Transom that if the defendants “really felt the First Amendment issue was defensible, they should have notified the Attorney General ahead of time and then defended [the deal] on First Amendment grounds. Instead they evaded the law.”
Mr. Dowd contended that, “like a lot of authors, Mr. Maas “does separate companies to protect himself against libel. And that’s the case with this. Did people in this case try to structure this so they didn’t have to be potentially under the thumb of some wild person like Dennis Vacco?” he said. “The answer is Yes. And who can blame them in light of what happened?”
Whether or not Mr. Gravano’s royalty checks-if there are any-will be halted as of Mr. Hayes’ Jan. 5 motion is a matter of some dispute. While I.C.M. is proceeding as if a restraining order is in effect, Mr. Dowd said: “Under no circumstances would I or my client do anything that could be construed as a violation of a judge’s order,” Harper Collins’ and Fox’s attorney, Slade Metcalf, said only: “The way I read the order is that the court has not restrained the defendants from doing anything, but has merely allowed for service of the order and set a return date for Jan. 30.” Mr. Metcalf declined to comment further on the case. Calls to Mr. Vacco and Justice De Grasse also went unreturned.
As for the larger First Amendment issue, Mr. Dowd said: “Most of us that have looked at this believe that this statute remains unconstitutional whether it’s Salvatore Gravano or Sal down the block. You have to not confuse the heinousness of his acts with the issue.… Gravano is literally no more than a fly on an elephant’s behind. But the elephant is the First Amendment. It really is important. Gravano’s got to come along for the ride the same way that Henry Hill did.”
Blondes in short tight dresses and their dates in suits poured into the Seventh Regiment Armory for the Winter Antique Show’s “Young Collectors” Night. Jill Kopelman, a 23-year-old committee member dressed expensively funky in a white Chanel shirt and black pants, looked upbeat but not thrilled. “Well, actually my dad [Arie Kopelman, the president of Chanel Inc.] is the chairman of the show,” she said. “So, initially, it was sort of peer pressure, like, ‘You have to do it’. But you know, I’m not really a collector yet.”
Ms. Kopelman said she was a writer who would never be able to fork over $4 million for a Chippendale table like the one she’d eyed before it sold in 12 minutes.
“Literally, I can’t really afford anything here,” she said. “A lot of the people on the committee are trust fund babies. For me, it’s sort of like, if I’m on a diet I go to Dean & DeLuca and I stare at all the prepared foods that I’m not going to buy. Maybe down the road,” she said. “I don’t know, maybe I’ll sell out and be the next Danielle Steel and write this killer beach novel.”
Ms. Kopelman surveyed the room. “There’s like an air-kissing thing going on over there. There’s a lot of, like, blond black-velvet-headbands-pushing-forward-the-little-poof types.”
The scene left Ms. Kopelman feeling, as she said, “inside and out. I feel inside because my parents were like ‘You have to be on this committee’ and I like it, but I feel outside because half my friends would be like, ‘Oh, your fancy antique show bullshit.'” Then again, she added, “Half my friends are here.”
Though Ms. Kopelman lives on Park Avenue, she categorized herself more as a downtowner. “There are a lot of girls here who have not left 10021 and all of a sudden, in college, they’re like ‘We’re going down to the Village!’ And they feel really badass. And it’s like so condescending because they feel it’s a big experience to plummet below 14th Street. Woo-hoo! Like you’re so cool, you went to … Moomba, which has been written up a thousand times. Like, why don’t you go try to discover something on your own instead of being a slave to Gael Greene.”
Ms. Kopelman recalled a more authentic downtown experience. “It bothers me so much because my dad worked hard and a lot of these people are like third, fourth generation Upper East Side types. I came back from New York Hospital when I was born, to a crap , rat-infested studio apartment in Tudor City. So I was raised that this was not the way it always was. So when my parents were living in this romantic little hole-in-the-wall, they would go to SoHo, to weird little Chinese things, discover all these little nooks and crannies in the West Village before it was like Prada-lined streets.”
Ms. Kopelman paused: “Do you think I’m annoying because I ranted for like 20 minutes?”
Ron Smokes an Old One
“Most people come into East Hampton and have no idea of how old some of these houses are,” said Averill D. Geus, chairman of the Landmarks Committee of the Ladies Village Improvement Society. Billionaire Ronald O. Perelman is one of those people. Mr. Perelman recently gave permission to the East Hampton Fire Department to perform a fire drill on an old house that sat on his 58-acre East Hampton estate, the Creeks. Nevertheless, Mr. Perelman had plans to demolish the house-which dates back to 1707-and so on Jan. 8, East Hampton’s Bravest commenced filling the abode with smoke and then bashing through its windows, doors and roof with axes.
But the problem was, the house was once home to Capt. John Dayton, a local hero of the American Revolution, who according to The East Hampton Star singlehandedly foiled a nighttime British raid on the Creeks with “his own musket and a pitchfork,” among other heroic feats. When Ms. Geus, who is a descendant of Captain Dayton, learned of the drill, she protested, and the building’s demolition was halted.
Instead of muskets and pitchforks, lawyers and publicists are now involved. Mr. Perelman’s spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, said that as soon as his client “learned the house had historic significance, he stopped the demolition process. It’s not listed in any Federal, state or local historic listing. It has no listing. He bought the house from the Nature Conservancy and they didn’t know, either. He has now agreed to leave the house intact.”
Mr. Perelman, who had used the Dayton house as a guest dwelling was apparently planning to erect another building on its site. Ms. Geus told The Transom that the main structure of the house remained relatively unscathed. The question is who will pay for the house’s restoration. Mr. Rubenstein did not have that answer. Neither did Ms. Geus, who only said of Mr. Perelman, the sudden curator of her family’s 18th-century heritage, “He doesn’t invite me up there to play tennis.”