Call it "The Godfather Part IV," with the stool pigeon played by a flame-broiled chicken.
Federal agents unleashed a bombshell Wednesday, announcing a crackdown on the country's biggest and perhaps most salacious securities scandal -- involving five major Mafia families, crooked stockbrokers and a rogue New York police officer who allegedly gave gangsters coveted city parking permits in exchange for a new swimming pool, trips to Las Vegas and a fur coat. Even the owners of Ranch 1, a fast-food chicken chain whose flame-broiled, all-white-meat sandwiches had been dubbed the "Best Fast Food" by New York magazine, were named in the scheme. All in all, 120 folks were charged after law enforcement officers staged a dramatic nationwide sweep.
What's fascinating about the story is its demonstration of how the mob has evolved. Of course, there is the usual stuff -- extortion, money laundering, bribery, kickbacks, witness tampering and murder solicitation. But apparently, mobsters also have gotten wired and want in on a little new-economy action. Their scheme involved boiler-room corruption and microcap-stock fraud, in which brokers were beaten bloody into swindling elderly investors out of $50 million. The hook? Using the Web to falsely tout companies as dot.coms to tempt gray-haired investors.
The media's likely to follow this story for days. But for those who want some inside information, check out Rick Porrello's Americanmafia.com, which comes complete with a Mafia chat room, a gift shop specializing in gangster books, a page of mob links and even photos of your favorite hit men. Those who want to join the mob can now fill out an online application. ("Joinna de club now while you still canna rite!") And if you still haven't had your goodfellas fix, there's always the mob game, in which players acquire control of the "rackets" -- bootlegging, diamond smuggling and betting scams. As the game's makers say, "Success means dollars, failure may mean a concrete jacket!"