"Look at me when I talk to you."
It could have been a scene from The Sopranos except that it was for real. It took place on February 2, 2001, and the feds caught it all on audio tape. Two made members of the Mafia and an associate had met to discuss the shakedown of a Hollywood movie star. The actor was a martial artist who specialized in playing tough-guy heroes on the big screen. Throughout his career, the star had made several claims of real-life heroics, including black-ops jobs for the CIA and encounters with organized crime figures around the world. The actor also apparently had a fixation with urban Italian-Americans, claiming at one time to be half-Italian when in reality his mother was Irish and his father Jewish. In one of his films, he played an Italian-American detective with close ties to the old neighborhood and the hoods who infested it. In one scene, the hero sits down for espresso with the local boss, showing him the same respect that any of his soldiers would.
Perhaps this is why the real mobsters at the wiretapped meeting were having a good chuckle as they recounted a visit that a couple of them had paid on action-star Steven Seagal. On the FBI tape, they say that the tough-guy actor was "petrified." At this meeting Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone, an alleged capo in New York's Gambino organized-crime family, and his "right-hand man," Primo Cassarino, joked with Vincent Nasso about Seagal's less than heroic reactions to their shakedown attempts. The whole situation brought out the "Paulie Walnuts" in Cassarino. "I wish we had a gun on us," he says on the tape, "that would have been funny."
Exit Wounds video cover
He was referring to a January 2001 meeting between Seagal and the mobsters. Vincent Nasso and his brother Jules, a film producer who had been Seagal's partner for ten years, met Seagal at a restaurant in Brooklyn. They left that restaurant and reconvened at the landmark steakhouse Gage and Tollner's, where they were joined by Ciccone and Cassarino.
Richard "The Lump" Bondi
It wasn't Seagal's first meeting with these men. In December 2000, the same group had showed up in Toronto on the set of Seagal's film, Exit Wounds. This time they brought along 350-pound Richard "the Lump" Bondi, an enforcer for the family, hoping to get their point across to the actor. Seagal had severed his relationship with Jules Nasso, having decided to stop making violent action films on the advice of his spiritual guru. But Ciccone and company weren't interested in Seagal's spiritual awakening. Nasso had already lined up four action-adventure projects for him—Genghis Khan, Blood on the Moon, Smash and Grab, and Prince of Central Park—all of them in the slam-bang style that had made Seagal famous. The Gambino family wanted him to keep making action films, and they also wanted him to pay them $150,000 for each of his futures projects.
But Jules Nasso on a previous occasion had warned Ciccone that Seagal wouldn't scare easily. As quoted by Jerry Capici on his Gangland website, FBI wiretaps overheard Nasso saying, "You really gotta get down on him. 'Cause I know this animal, I know this beast. You know, unless there's a fire under his ass."
Cassarino (left), Brancato, and Bondi
But Ciccone and his crew were prepared to set that fire under Seagal. At the Gage and Tollner's meeting, Ciccone said to Seagal, "Look at me when I talk to you. We're proud people ... Work with Jules and we'll split the pie." Primo Cassarino later took Seagal aside and told him, "If you would have said the wrong thing, they would have killed you."
When the feds eavesdropped on the mobsters' conversations about Seagal, the wiseguys and their associates seemed pretty confident that they had the tough-guy actor running scared, and they thought it was absolutely hilarious. Vincent Nasso was caught on tape saying, "It was like right out of the movies."
But what none of them realized was how Holly-weird it was going to get.