By Thom L. Jones
The man who appeared to be always photographed with a perpetual sneer on his face, seemingly had a temperament to match. Like many short men, he made up for lost inches with a bombastic, in-your-face approach to life. He is best remembered by the media for the way he treated women, rather than for his prowess as a gangster, although he was skilled in that field for sure. He probably murdered his first wife and certainly drove the second one to suicide. Legend has it that because of this, the mob disowned him, leaving him to live out his life in exile, cultivating orchards at his home in Miami Beach.
Being short, fat, mean and ugly was less of a handicap to this man, more an inconvenience, something he would brush aside as he got on with the important things in his life, mostly to do with making money, and lots of it, which is the Holy Grail of men in the Mafia.
Michael Coppola was born on July 20th 1900, in Salerno, Italy according to some sources, including the government. Professor Alan Block claimed he was actually born in the Naples area, 30 miles to the north. In December, his parents immigrated to America, settling in New York, in East Harlem. He was one of nine children, one of whom could have been Frank “Three-Fingers” Coppola, a man destined to be a major player in the Sicilian Mafia.
Ed Reid, in his book “Mafia,” claims Coppola alias Frank LaMonde, was just that. He gets things wrong in this history on the mob, and this may be one of them. Frank Coppola was born in October 1899 in Partinico, Sicily to Francesco and Pietra Loicano. Michael was born a year later to father Giuseppe and mother Angelina.
In 1914, Michael already an unruly teenager, was sent to truant school as “an incorrigible delinquent.” By the time he was twenty-five, he had been jailed five times, including a thirty-month stretch in Sing-Sing. He seemingly did his master’s degree in criminality on the streets, his curriculum involving grand larceny, felonious assault, pick pocketing, disorderly conduct and homicide.
He claimed various fronts and occupations during his early years developing his crime profile: employment clerk, barber, restaurant owner and by the mid 1940s was referring to himself as a ‘betting commissioner.’
Details of his early mob career are hazy. There are reports of him working with Dutch Schultz, the Jewish mobster with attitude; others have him linked into the East Harlem mob known as the “107th. Street Gang,” and by the time he was thirty, he had established himself as a soldier in the Mafia crime family that with the settlement of the Castellammarese War of 1930/31, would become controlled by Charlie Luciano. It was during this period that he earned the nickname “Trigger Mike” which helped him establish an image as a tough-guy, a status somewhat restricted by the fact that he stood barely five feet, five inches tall.
It’s alleged that he joined the unit controlled by Ciro Terranova, (the half-brother of Giuseppe Morello who was probably the founder of the borgata,) referred to generally as the 116th Street mob or to-day “The Uptown Crew.” At some stage prior to 1935, Terranova was “shelved” by the family administration, and Mike Coppola became the capo controlling it.
In May, 1929, he had attended the gangland convention at the Breakers Hotel, Atlantic City. Some sources claim that he was “allocated” the numbers business in Harlem at this meeting, although like many things written about the mob, this is speculative at best. Crime historians now believe that the gangster convention held in Atlantic City was more to do with ironing out the gang warfare problems in Chicago than anything else.
Coppola may have been nominated by Charlie Luciano to watch over the family’s gambling and numbers interests, that were operating alongside those of the famous black gangster, Elsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, who had assumed control of another numbers business that had run successfully under the stewardship of Stephanie St. Clair, the woman who was known as “The Queen of Policy”. At this time, it was a very confused situation on the Upper East Side, with St. Clair, Johnson, Casper Holstein, James Warner and Dutch Schultz all vying for a share of the market that could generate well over $100,000 every day in bets.
On December 7th., 1929, at 1:30 A.M. it’s alleged Coppola led a gang of six gunmen into a dinner party held by The Tepecano Democratic Club in the Roman Gardens Restaurant at the junction of 187th Street and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx. The party was hosting a function for magistrate Albert Vitale. There were some seventy guests in attendance, including at least one armed New York police officer, Arthur Johnson.
The visitors were robbed of over $5000 and the cop lost his .38 service revolver, although he eventually, somehow, got this back due to the efforts of Vitale. There were some really tough New York gangsters in attendance that night including Ciro Terranova, the boss of the 116th. Street Gang, Joe “The Baker” Catania and Daniel Imascia who was a nephew of Terranova, and whose brother, Anthony, was an officer of the club. Daniel was also a bodyguard to the infamous ‘Dutch‘ Schultz. It’s an early link into the never ending relationship between the hoods and the politicians that seemed at times, to be the glue holding the New York underworld together. The raid by the gang may have been a setup, according to a subsequent police inquiry, although it is so convoluted and far-fetched it’s almost hard to believe. The only recorded account of this affair appeared in the 1940 book 'Gang Rule in New York,' and apparently emerged at the police department trial of officer Johnson.
In brief: Terranova may have organized the assassination of mob boss Frankie Uale (aka Yale) back in 1927. A goon squad brought in from Chicago had carried out the killing on a Brooklyn street, notable for the first recorded instance when a Tommy-gun was hefted in New York by the mob. The killers were promised $30 big ones for the hit, but only received $5000 as a deposit. Terranova, allegedly was reneging on the balance and had asked to see the written contract he had offered, just to check the figures. The killers fronted up at the club with the paper, and Coppola fronted up with his boys to remove it along with the holdup takings, which of course was just a smoke screen to cover the real purpose of the raid. I can just picture the document: “The party of the first part, hereafter referred to as the killer, hereby instructs the party of the second part, to be known as the killee…..” It seems about as solid as the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, but then, who knows?
It's possible the plan to rip-off the dinner party was discussed at either Celano's Garden Restaurant, 36 Kenmare Street in downtown Manhattan, or the garage across the street owned by Albert Marinelli, the crooked alderman representing the 2nd Assembly District. Both of these were, according to the New York Police, favourite meeting-places for Joe Masseria and Charlie Luciano and members of their gang, which at this time almost certainly included “Trigger Mike.”
One certain victim of the “hold-up” was the judge, Vitale. The New York judiciary decided after a lot of public indignation had been expressed, to remove him from the bench in March 1930.
On a hot steamy night, July 28th, 1931, an auto mobile filled with gunmen wheeled along East 107th Street in East Harlem, slowed outside the Helmar Social Club at number 208, and the men inside the car, levied a barrage of shots at a group of men standing outside the building. The targets threw themselves aside, but a number of children playing in the street were hit, one subsequently dying of his wounds. Two of the gunmen were allegedly Vincent Coll and Frank Giordano and they were looking for members of Dutch Schultz's gang.
In another convoluted scenario, a police informant, trying to avoid prison, claimed that in fact one of the killers that night was Mike Coppola (right) and that another was Joe Rao, who was also identified as one of the targets of the attack! To complicate matters even more, Anthony 'Big Tee' Buzzone a major Harlem bookmaker, claimed he was the intended target, as part of an ongoing mob dispute revolving around control of sports betting in the area. Ironically, it has been alleged that 'Trigger Mike' had tried to kill Rao the previous year as part of the war taking place in the New York underworld between two warring factions lead by Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano.
In 1933, Coppola made a trip to Europe and was seen on the Italian Riviera with some well-known New York criminals, including Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, another powerful Jewish gangster. A prize possession of crime author, Hank Messick, was an amateur movie showing these men relaxing by the waterfront, shot by Lepke himself. The trip was apparently financed by New York drug wholesalers, who might well have been Salvatore Santore or Dominick Petrelli, who were identified by FBN agents as being part of a major heroin trafficking ring that also included John Ormento, Tommy Luchese and Philip Mangano among others.
In June of this same year, Mike Coppola was arrested by the police, who were in fact, after his companion, Buchalter. The two men were found in an expensive apartment on East 68th street, in a very Tony area of upper Manhattan. The cops were after proof that Buchalter was in possession of guns, but a thorough search of the thirteenth floor apartment only disclosed closets full of expensive clothes, and a collection of premium golfing gear, but no weapons. It was believed the two men were working closely together in garment industry racketeering. Coppola was also managing other business schemes, including coin-operated vending and gaming machines spread across Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan.
From February to April 1937, Coppola rented a house on East 5th Street in Tuscon, Arizona, and along with Cleveland mobster Al Polizzi, Lepke Buchalter from New York, Pete Licavoli from Detroit and Joe Zucker, an aide to Frank Costello, spent time socialising with Jewish gangster Moe Dalitz, who went about purchasing a chain of laundries in the area, (Dalitz seemed to have a thing about laundries, owing a string of them in Detroit and Cleveland,) but just what these other gangsters were discussing as they went hunting and partying has never been disclosed, although it's fairly certain they had not travelled all this way just to get a tan.
It has been suggested that with the Nazi government disrupting traditional drug trafficking routes out of Europe, these men had gathered here, close to the Mexican border, to try to sort out alternate routes for their raw materials source. If in fact this is what they had assembled here for, they were probably dealing with Enrique Diarte, a Tijuana based Mexican narcotics trafficker, who in the late 1930s and early 1940s was probably the biggest drug dealer in Mexico.
By the early 1940s Coppola had consolidated his position in the Luciano family, growing rich on the proceeds of his gambling activities. His place in the mob was obviously a mystery to law enforcement officials at city and government level.
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN,) who were probably the most active agency tacking the Mafia at this time, wrongly perceived him as a lieutenant in the 107th. Street Mob, which is known today as the Luchese family.The agency had created a file in 1936 showing the group was led by Tommy Luchese assisted by Coppola and Dominck Petrelli. They believed the overall boss of the 107th Street Mob to be Ciro Terranova.
Petrelli, Coppola and Terranova were part of the Mafia clan that was controlled by Charlie Luciano. The FBN did however, get Luchese’s place in the 107th correctly identified, just not his position. The family at this time was controlled by Tommaso Gagliano. The FBI would never “officially” recognize the existence of the Mafia for almost another twenty years, which no doubt suited Coppola and his mob friends down to the ground.
Mike Coppola was part of a crew operating in East Harlem that would become famous for at least four of its other members in the years to come:
Joseph 'Socks' Lanza, who became the czar of the Fulton Fish Market for the mob, making it for many years a major cash-cow for the Luciano crime family. Lanza probably worked for Coppola as a “muscle” man in the early stages of his mob career, but became a man of such standing, when he married in 1941, his best man was Frank Costello, then the head of the family.
Phil Lombardo, a small, bald, and cross-eyed gangster, who at one time was driver/bodyguard for big boss Charlie Luciano and would become the family boss himself one day.
Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, one of three brothers in the mob, the others being Alfred and Angelo, who would also rise in ranking to be the big cheese in the Genovese crime family, at least the 'front' big cheese.
And Barney Bellomo who may or may not have reached that exalted position in the 21st century.
According to informant Joseph Valachi, “Trigger Mike’s” crew was the biggest in the family, which if true, would have made him one if not the most powerful capo in what was perhaps the biggest Mafia unit in New York, at the time.
In 1943, Coppola married Doris Lehman, a twenty-three year old dancer and hat-check girl at the Copacabana Club in Manhattan. She was tall, with dark hair, flashing eyes and great legs. In 1944 she gave birth to their first child, a boy they called Michael David. Three years later, Doris was pregnant again, but would never live to see her baby grow up.
Mike Coppola and Doris Lehman
A major part of Coppola’s strength and power base in this part of New York, rested on the support he and other mobsters received from the congressman for East Harlem, Vito Marcantonio. They helped get him the votes for re-election, and he made sure things worked smoothly in their favour. He was fighting a primary in 1946, but his position was being jeopardized by the actions of a Republic party captain called John Scottorigio who was a district captain for Marcantonio's Republican opponent, Frederick Van Pelt Bryan. It was believed Scottoriggio had in his possession a record of voter names he intended to challenge the morning of the elections. Coppola and his group decided that it would be a good thing if Scottoriggio's intention was to be nullified.
In a meeting held in his apartment at 347 East 1116th. Street (right), Coppola decided that Scottorigio had to be put out of action. He was waylaid early in the morning of election day, November 6th, 1946, as he left his apartment, by four men, who beat him so badly, he died six days later in hospital. Present that night at the meeting in the apartment, apart from the conspirators, were Doris and her father David Lehman.
The police had arrested an ex-con named Emilio Tizol, who had been pinched for physically menacing three of Republican candidate Van Pelt Bryan's 18th Congressional District workers on Election Day. Hoping to mitigate his forthcoming sentence he asked to see District Attorney Frank Hogan, offering him information on the men who were behind the attack on the Republican captain.
Based on Tizol's revelations, Hogan's detectives on Saturday the 16th of November, five days after Scottoriggio died, picked up Harlem's two most feared racket bosses, Trigger Mike Coppola and Joey Rao.
They were subsequently released on bail of $250,000 an enormous amount for this time, which was quickly knocked down by a friendly judge, Aaron Levy to $25,000 following their arrest as material witnesses. The police went after other suspects (over 800 witnesses would subsequently be interviewed in the Scottorigio case,) including Doris and her father. But they disappeared, just after Mike was arrested.
Along with the little boy, they first went to stay with relatives in Queens. Then, they headed south and stayed on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay, near Miami until the spring of 1947. From there, they made their way north, staying for a time with Anthony Del Guidice, an ex NYPD officer, and close associate of Mike Coppola, before finishing up at the palatial residence at 315 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence, Rhode Island, of Frank 'Butsey' Morelli, allegedly head of the New England Mafia family.
Eventually the pressure grew too great, and Doris and her father surrendered themselves to the authorities. They both were indicted, facing perjury charges for their lack of co-operation in the investigation, and facing up to ten years in prison after District Attorney, Frank Hogan, had succeeded in having an indictment brought down in November 1947.
Early in March, 1948, while awaiting trial for perjury, Doris was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital at 153 West Eleventh Street, Manhattan, to await the birth of her second child. On March 17th., 1948, at 10:30 pm, a baby girl, Doris Patricia arrived. On March 18th., a little after nine, the mother died, very conveniently in hospital, of complications from childbirth. No autopsy was ever held to determine the cause of death, and Coppola, contrary to his religious beliefs, had his wife’s body cremated. The case against “Trigger Mike” died along with his wife. Charges against her elderly father were dropped. No loose threads; end of story.
Doris was waked out of the Ferncliffe Mausoleum and Cemetery facility at 207 East 11th., Street, and it seemed as though half the New York underworld came along to say goodbye. Over 5000 people attended the service or funeral. Among the crowds of sombre men in black were Augie Cafarno, Gerardo Catena, Vito Genovese, Big John Ormento, Frank Morelli and Albert Anastasia, who simply signed the register of condolences as “Albert.”
There was only one Albert of any consequence among these guys after all. The money pledged by the visitors covered the cost of the funeral, leaving the bereaved husband a profit of $1500. Anastasia dropped off a measly $50.
In 1947, while his wife was hiding out in Florida, and he was no doubt visiting her, he did one of the many deals that helped make him a very rich man. He invested in the Manhattan Cigarette Company a firm founded in 1936 by Joe 'Doc' Stacher, a close aide of Meyer Lansky, and Mike Lascari, a relative of Luciano’s. The business, originally called the Public Service Tobacco Company, was the largest cigarette-vending machine business on the East coast. Other investors in this booming business included Joe Adonis, Gerry Catena and the New Jersey, Jewish gangster, Abner Zwillman.
The Mason Tenders Union of New York had long been a fertile breeding ground for Mafia control and manipulation. A unit of the LIUNA, Laborers International Union of North America, itself one of the most corrupt labour organizations in America. There are ten locals in the Mason Tenderts District Council of New York, and the Luciano/Costello/Genovese family had a lock on local 13 of Queens and 47 of Brooklyn for years. Mike Coppola seemingly had a turn controlling these union slush funds for the Mafia at some period prior to moving to Florida on a permanent basis.
By November 1950, Coppola was the owner of a house at 4431 Alton Road, on the Miami Beach peninsular for which he paid $30,000. He had spent much of the war years here, on the Beach, living at 5138 Cherokee Avenue, just south of La Gorce Golf course in the Lake View neighbourhood.
He purchased the Alton Road property from John “King” Angersola a one-time member of Cleveland's Mayfield Road Mob, a man with many interests in Florida including the Carib, Wofford and Grand Hotels in the Miami area. Angersola and his brother had migrated south to Florida in 1939 to avoid the heat being brought down on the mob in Cleveland by the crusading director of safety for the city, Elliot Ness.
Mike was soon investing in local opportunities and quickly became a partner with bookmaker Jack Friedlander in a casino called Club Collins.
He bankrolled at least two of the South Florida on-track bookmaking heavies, Frank Ritter and Max Courtney In December 1955, his activities in this area had him ejected and bAnnd from the famous Tropical Park raceway in Coral Gables and all associated tracks.
He also cemented relationships with Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky, also domicile in Florida and Lansky’s friend and partner, real-estate developer Loris Chesler a 300lb obese Canadian multi-millionaire and former prohibition rum-runner. Through him, he linked into gambling ventures via a Grand Bahamas company called Mary Carter Paints which morphed into Resorts International in 1968. Along with Wallace Groves and Chesler, Coppola became a director of the General Development Corporation whose functions was to purchase available land, including complete islands in the Bahamas chain, as potential sites for future casinos. It also became the largest real estate developer in Florida, creating among other interests, three entire small cities.
Although he had essentially removed himself physically from the North East Coast, he still maintained ties there.
A 1952 probe by the New York State Crime Commission into waterfront racketeering in New Jersey, named him as a major target for investigation
Along with Joey Rao and Tony Bender, (the right hand man of Vito Genovese,) he was deeply involved in controlling the waterfront across the Hudson River.
He was often observed by New York Police investigators, in the company of Tony Bender, meeting up with Frank Costello for meetings at New York’s many racetracks. Costello loved to gamble, and public courses were perfect venues to discuss Mafia business.
Mike Copolla was also allegedly operating the largest floating crap game in New York which was busted by the police who raided a deserted loft in Harlem on the afternoon of February 5th, 1952, arresting 46 gamblers and seizing over $10000 in cash.
Coppola like all the men of the Mafia, networked liked crazy. His business, his social life, his very existence, depended upon and was driven by his connections. Joseph Valachi, a mere soldier in the same crime family, had literally hundreds of friends, social links and access to fellow mobsters across the five Mafia crime families of New York, and he was hardly in the same league as Mike Coppola, whose contacts stretched across America-criminals, politicians, cops, grifters, a whole smorgasbord above and below the radar that he used to grease the cogs and ratchets of his life-style engine.
One of the lesser known, but fascinating in his own right, was Pasquale “Patsy” Erra (right).
Born in 1915 in Harlem, at the age of twenty, Erra became a professional fighter at the bantamweight level. He fought eight times in New York with a seven win one loss record between 1935 and 1936 until his life turned to custard when he was arrested, tried and convicted of larceny, for which he did time in prison.
In 1945, Coppola commissioned him to carry out a hit on one Louis Cirello who had robbed one of Mike’s gambling joints. Erra and a partner who may have been one of his brothers, either Mike or Rocco, tracked down their prey and shot him four times as he stood at the back of the Cosmo movie theatre at 176 East 116th Street in Harlem, on Friday evening, June 1st although they did not do that good a job, and Cirello lived to steal another day.
As a reward for at least trying. Coppola proposed Erra into the Luciano crime family and he became a member in 1949. He became the bodyguard and driver for Coppola until he also decided to move south to Florida.
Erra was a man who developed some significant contacts himself. FBI “airtels” or summaries of an electronic bugging device, confirmed that he had been in contact with Raymond Patriarca, the Rhode Island based head of the New England Mafia at some time in the early 1960s indicating that he had progressed up the ladder from being just a hit man and bodyguard.
In Florida, he more than likely kept on working for Trigger Mike, and along the way ended up in ownership along with Vincent Teriaca of the well-known nightspot, the Dream Bar, located in the Johnina Hotel on the beachfront at Collins and 71street in Miami Beach. He died, May 1973, age fifty-eight.
Teriaca’s son, Craig, a golf professional was shot and killed in a barroom scuffle by Richie Schwartz, the step-son of Meyer Lansky. Schwartz lasted a few weeks until he was also killed, shot-gunned to death as he sat in his car behind his restaurant. Mob vengeance is almost always quick and certain.
Another mobster Mike Coppola was linked into was Joseph “Pip the Blind” Gagliano a cousin of Vincent Rao, and one of the major drug traffickers on the upper East Side.
Starting as a street thug and working with petty hoods like Joe Valachi, stealing fabric out of warehouses in the garment district, he soon worked his way up the ladder into a position of authority in the early mob structures following the New York underworld war of 1930-31.
He and Coppola had shared business and social agendas. On one occasion, in the early 1930s, they made a trip to Colorado, and were photographed on horseback. Spiffily dressed in matching sweaters and knickers, their hair greased back, they sit uneasily on two large horses, holding on for grim death as the photographer freezes them for all eternity. One, the king of the Harlem numbers, the other a drug dealer par excellence, the world was waiting for them, its arms outstretched.
Gagliano operated as the narcotics manager for the 107th Street Mob, organizing the smuggling of opium from Mexico up into the New York area where it was processed into heroin by clandestine laboratories, according to the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who tracked him through the 1930s before pinning him down and getting him indicted in December 1946 along with Charles Albero, a.k.a. “Charlie Bullets” and others. Facing up to 10 years in prison, “Pip the Blind” hung himself in his cell in the Bronx on April 10th 1947.
In 1955, “Trigger Mike” flew from Miami to New York to watch a boxing match and find a new wife.
The boxers were Archie Moore, grossly outmatched by Rocky Marciano. The woman was Ann Drahmann. She was thirty-four, five feet four (about the same height as Coppola,) dark haired, pretty and a solo mother. She had been born of Italian parents in Cincinnati, her father‘s name being Augustine. She had a seventeen year old daughter called Joan. Ann lived in Newport, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and had been married to Charley Drahmann who managed the Lookout House casino for the mob. In August 1952, he was killed in a plane crash near Atlanta.
Friends of Coppola’s arranged an introduction between him and Ann at an Italian restaurant in East Harlem. Mike was ready for another woman to share his life, and Ann was looking for a way out of the poverty trap her husband’s death had created for her. She thought at first that the fat, little man, who spent the night watching her table from across the room was the maître d’ and thanked him for a wonderful evening. Coppola was obviously gob-smacked by her presence, and was soon courting her with a fervour that matched his thirst for making money.
He pursued her, bombarding her with flowers and gifts of jewellery, chaperoned by big Fat Tony Salerno, one of his soldiers, who towered over the diminutive mob boss with the face of a dimpled doughnut. On December 28th., 1955, Ann and Coppola were married, with their wedding reception being held at the Beverly Hills Club, outside Newport, Kentucky. They moved straight into the Alton Road house, which sat on a 100 by 120 feet corner section with three bathrooms, four bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen and a full-sized pool in the backyard. Managed by a housekeeper, a cook and a gardener, thing should have been perfect, but for Ann, it was all downhill from then on. Ironically, because of their wedding location, she found herself locked into a relationship with her own Joe Btfsplk.
Three weeks after the wedding, Coppola, in a screaming rage with his wife, calling her “a flat-nosed, frog-eyed bastard,” pulled out a revolver and wildly fired a shot at her, fortunately missing his target by a mile. She slept that night in the maid’s room, and was packing a bag to leave, the next day, when Coppola smacked her repeatedly in the face, knocking her to the kitchen floor. It was just the first of many beatings
Three months into the marriage, Ann found herself pregnant. One afternoon, lying on the kitchen table, an underworld doctor known only as “Doctor D,” a house surgeon for one of the swanky beach-side hotels in Miami performed an abortion on her, at Coppola’s insistence. Trigger Mike even assisted in the operation, smiling with glee as the doctor cut away the foetus. Three more times, over the following months, Ann subjected herself to the pain and humiliation of these unsavoury operations. She came to believe that her husband wanted sex with her, only so that he could indulge himself in these sickening sequels. The doctor walked away each time with a tax-free fee of $1000 for his services.
Throughout the 1950s, Coppola operated a loan-sharking business from his home, topping up his bank through regular visits to New York, always returning with at least $200,000 in cash. His wife in her testimony to the IRS, claimed her husband stashed at least $350,000 at any one time in five different secret locations throughout their house.
Following its opening in 1954, Coppola made the Fontainebleau Hotel on Collins Avenue his operating base, not unlike the way Frank Costello in New York used the Waldorf Astoria as a mob headquarters. Coppola went by the name of Michael Kaplan to confuse any law enforcement investigators as he operated from a luxurious cabana, one of 250 that sat alongside the hotel’s 6500 square foot pool. He became a close friend to Ben Novack the flamboyant hotelier who had created the mammoth establishment that re-opened in November 2008 after a one billion dollar refurbishment!
The domestic beatings and abuse continued, and on one occasion Ann was immobilized for three weeks after her husband kicked her so hard, he damaged tissue at the base of her spine.
As much as he continually abused his wife, Ann confirmed that through her marriage, Coppola had showered her with jewellery, furs and presents worth at least $250,000, not so much because he loved her, but to show off and prove to people just how big and successful he was. And he was doing all this on a declared annual income of $15000!
Late in 1956, Ann was searching through her husband’s possessions, and came across some papers. Although she never disclosed the full nature of them, she later told a federal agent that they confirmed her husband had arranged the murder of his first wife.
By the end of 1957, Mike Coppola had decided to withdraw from New York street activities for good. He would leave his huge, profitable numbers business in the capable hands of Tony “Fats” Salerno (right), who would also take over the running of his crew. They settled the details when “Fats” came down for the winter break, to catch some sun in south Florida.
Tony would courier Coppola’s share of the profits each month, and he would concentrate his efforts on his other business efforts in the sunshine state and the Caribbean, where along with Meyer Lansky and Vincent Alo (no relation to Joey), he had interests in Bahamian casinos, and his directorship in General Development Corporation which by now had bought up half of the Grand Bahamas Island for casino and gambling developments, and Nevada, that generated him substantial income from the points he had in various casinos. The money that came in brown paper parcels from New York was supplemented by bundles of money from these ventures as well. Ann estimated that his income from these sources was at least $1 million every year.
In October, he and Ann visited Las Vegas, and one night at the Riviera casino, Coppola got into a marathon crap game that went on for twenty-eight hours, and cost him $140,000. On October 13th., he was arrested at the Stardust casino. Although no charges were brought against him, as a result of this brush with the law and the authorities, he was essentially bAnnd from the casinos of Vegas. In 1960, he found himself sharing top billing with eleven other men who had also been barred from any and all casinos and places of gambling in Nevada.
His name was listed in what became to be known as “The Black Book,” created by the Nevada Gaming Board at the instigation of the governor of Nevada, Grant Sawyer on 13th June, 1960. It stayed there until he died.
According to information supplied by Ann, some of it later confirmed by mob informer, Joseph Valachi, “Trigger Mike” was connected not only to men who would later become notorious as members of what is now known as the Genovese family, men such as Phil “Ben Turpin” Lombardo, Frank Livorsi, Tony Salerno, Joe Stacci and Vincent Alo, but also other such mob luminaries as Charlie Luciano, now residing at 464 Via Lasso, Naples, Italy, Moe Dalitz, Al Polizzi, Vito Genovese, Tom Dragna and Meyer Lansky, to name only a few.
His address book was thick with names as was his Xmas card list-Angersola, Bommarito, Scalish, Epstein, Polizi, a list of various Dragnas, an endless cavalcade of criminals and shady politicians who moved in and out of his business and social templates.
Although Coppola had stepped back from his daily street crime involvement, he kept pursuing other money-making activities.
In 1959, he came under the scrutiny of New York D.A. Frank Hogan who was investigating corruption in the professional boxing area. Hogan's office were scrutinizing the activities of a number of well-known hoodlums and shady businessmen such as Anthony Salerno, Frank Ericson, Gil Beckley, one of the biggest bookie-handicappers in Florida and the man who had orchestrated the meeting between Coppola and Ann Drahmann, Coppola himself and the arch-manipulator of the sport, New Jersey based Frankie Carbo, the most venal operator in the crooked world of boxing, and in particular their devious control of the famous June 25th 1959 fight between Ingemar Johansson of Sweden and American heavyweight Floyd Patterson. In a sport where it was often said 'only the ring was square' the mob's stranglehold was stifling to the point that nine months after his bout, Johansson had still not received his $300,000 prize money.
The D.A.'s investigation led nowhere however, and Coppola and his associates were never indicted.
As 1959 drew to a close, things were coming to a head in the Coppola household. Not only was Mike beating his wife on a regular basis, her twenty-one year old daughter was now, also a victim. Coppola was supplying her with drugs, and possibly even worse than that, sexually abusing her. Ann and her daughter finally gave in, and both left the house for good. On February 17th., 1960, Coppola sued for divorce, charging Ann with “extreme cruelty.” She cross-claimed, citing the same reason, and on March 25th., a final decree was signed off. She was at last free from the monster she had married almost five years earlier, but wasn’t just satisfied with a divorce and the cash settlement that was granted along with it.
She wanted revenge, some kind of justice against the brute who had tormented her for so long. The Internal Revenue Service was after Mike, and she agreed to co-operate, working closely with one of their agents Joe Wanderscheid, to help build up a case. The IRS investigation carried on from May 2nd. throughout the rest of the year.
On the evening of October 20th., Ann was kidnapped from the car park of her apartment building, Blair House on Bay Harbor Island, by two men. They drove her to a lonely beach on Easter Shores and gave her a solid beating. The men told her she was “a stoolie,” and “you got to leave Mikey alone, if you don’t, we’ll kill you.”
She survived the beating, and later called a press-conference, accusing her husband of arranging the abduction. The IRS’s case against Coppola mounted over the months, and largely on information supplied by Anne, a grand jury indicted him on four counts of tax-evasion, involving $385,000.
On May 25th., 1961, she and her daughter sailed on the S.S. United States to France to start a tour of Europe. It has been alleged that she took with her $250,000 of Coppola's cash. Over the next few months, she flew back and forward between Rome and New York as Coppola’s trial date neared. While in Florida she was secluded at the Homestead Air Force Base, forty miles south of Miami where agents of the IRS mounted what became known as “Operation Babysit” to ensure her safety and carry out their de-briefing of her.
On one occasion, Coppola flew over his attorney who offered Ann $200,000 to stay in Europe. She turned him down. His first trial which began on November 27th was postponed because of an irregularity with the jury and at the second trial due to start on Feb 12th., 1962 when over two hundred witnesses had been subpoenaed to give evidence, Mike Coppola, literally minutes before the court convened, suddenly changed his plea to guilty. He had been indicted on charges of tax evasion this time to the amount of $966,193.00, but the government settled for 400K.
The judged fined him $40,000 and sentenced him to serve a period behind bars. It was his first prison sentence in over 20 years.
It was rumoured that the mob had held a ‘mini’Commission’ meeting somewhere in West Palm Beach and word had been handed down to Coppola to roll over and not cause any more waves.
Frustrated at not being able to stand up in court and tell the world what a real slime ball Michael Coppola was, Ann eventually returned once more to Europe. Six months later she was dead.
She and her daughter had settled in Rome. Ann (left) stayed in hotels although Joan had moved into her own apartment. Ann, fearful of reprisals because she had informed on such an important mobster as her husband, refused to live with her daughter in case of potential risk to her, and filled her days shopping and visiting Eve’s, a famous and expensive beauty salon on the Via Veneto.
She had booked into a hotel room in Rome, on September 18th., and started drinking whiskey and gulping down Nembutal tablets. She wrote a letter of farewell thanking her friends in the IRS, extorting the attorney general, Robert Kennedy to keep up his fight on organized crime, sending farewell wishes to her daughter Joan, asking that she be cremated and her ashes strewn over Coppola’s house. And a final message for the man who had ruined her life:
“Mike Coppola, someday, somehow, a person or God or the Law shall catch up with you, you yellow-bellied bastard. You are the lowest and biggest coward I have had the misfortune to meet.”
Then, she lay down on the bed and died.
Interestingly, only a few days before she killed herself, she had signed an agreement to lease an apartment in the city.
Coppola served his time in the Federal prison at Atlanta. He found himself with plenty of mob company, including John Diougardi, a capo, and Joe Palermo, a soldier in the Luchese family, and the big boss himself, Vito Genovese serving 15 years for drug trafficking. He would have also, no doubt, mingled with a soldier from his own crime family, a small, inconspicuous man, Joe 'Cago' Valachi, who would soon turn organized crime on its head when he became an informant for the government.
Mike Coppola returned to his home in Florida in December 1962 after serving nine months of his sentence. It seemed that the problems he had allowed to develop, and the resulting bad publicity surrounding the stormy marriage he had endured with Ann, were enough to convince his superiors in the Genovese crime family that he had served out his usefulness, and they basically put him out to pasture. He spent his remaining years looking after his ivory collection, and raising orchids in the big, empty house on Alton Road.
Authorities did track him, travelling to Europe, Mexico and Central and South America during this period, but were never able to connect him to any obvious criminal activity.
In September, 1966, he was taken ill, and was admitted into Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He died there from kidney disease on October 1st. His body was shipped to New York where he was buried at the Ferncliffe Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York. It was so quick and quiet, the Federal agents who had been checking on him since his release from prison, didn’t learn of his funeral until it was over and done with.
Ferncliffe is the only registered cemetery in the north New York area that is allowed to carry out cremations. John Lennon and Nelson Rockefeller were cremated here, and the cemetery holds the remains of such luminaries as Jim Henson, the creator of “The Muppets,” Oscar Hammerstein III, actors Basil Rathbone, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland and Ed Sullivan.
Michael Coppola is buried in a crypt under that of his first wife Doris.
Ann Drahmann was one of many mob connected women who found their lives locked on an unstoppable course leading only to despair. She no doubt loved the riches her marriage brought her, but could never have imaged the despair those riches would generate.
Renate Siebert in her elegant and arresting book on women and the Mafia, ‘Secret’s of Life and Death,’ recalls German poet Bertolt Brech’s ballad:
Oh! Moon of Alabama
We must now say goodbye,
We’ve lost our good old mamma,
And must have dollars
Oh! You know why
Powerful ambition for social climbing coupled with the urge to acquire wealth even though it was all being subsidised by a demeaning lifestyle at the hands of a chronic and psychopathic bully made the options of Mrs. Mike Coppola very limited.
A repulsive, obnoxious megalomaniac, a wife beater and worse, there were few redeeming features about this man. His second wife claimed he loved beautiful things and at times could be very gentle, yet she thought of him essentially as egotistical and cruel. His passing would have been mourned by few.
Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno certainly would no doubt have been grateful for no longer having to cough up a share of the huge numbers business he controlled from his dingy social club on East 115th Street in Harlem, which is alleged to have generated up to and beyond $50 million a year. It’s highly feasible that he was a strong advocator that Mike Coppola be “shelved” so that he could no longer be obligated to keep sending a share of his profits to his former boss. If there is no honour among thieves, there is certainly none among Mafioso. Salerno had another twenty years to enjoy his wealth and station in the family before he went down to the government on the famous 1985 RICO case which sent him away to prison where he died as a result of a stroke in 1992.
Coppola was without doubt evil by any definition. Alain Badion the French political activist and philosopher believes that abusing the power of truth enables the control of others or the amassing of power. “Trigger Mike” was undoubtedly a master in both arts.
William Shakespeare claimed “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” The Mafia supplied many of them.
Mike Coppola was ugly by looks and ugly by nature. Perhaps Friedrich Nietzsch had the true handle on it:
“Man is the cruelest animal.”
©Thom L. Jones 2011
Thanks to Ed from The Real Deal Forum for his help on some of the research.
Read more of Thom's articles at his Mob Corner.