Get me Central Casting!

Gold Club gangsters play to stereotype

Ah, the laid-back life of a Mob gofer: set your own schedule; forget about fooling with tedious paperwork; earn large, somewhat arbitrary, amounts of tariff-free cash for odd jobs that probably seem a little ill-defined even to you; and enjoy conducting business in the fresh air when you want to avoid FBI bugs.

Of course, if aging Bronx gangster Michael Sergio and the parade of wiseguys on display during the Gold Club trial had spent more time in the great outdoors instead of dialoguing into hidden microphones in their Scarsdale mansions, we wouldn't have been treated to such a rare nonfiction glimpse into Gambino Family values.

Sergio, 69, a former Mafia careerist brought in from witness-protection retirement last week to help prosecutors link Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan to the Mob, painted a vivid image of a subculture that has fascinated Americans ever since Rico suffered his existential dilemma amid a hail of bullets in Little Caesar.

It's a world in which being "right with John Jr." does not mean having befriended the late president's son; where grown men are called "Sally"; and where "protection" has nothing to do with condoms.

It's also a world where life imitates HBO. Let's face it: if Kaplan were trying to convince a jury that he isn't tight with the Mob, maybe he shouldn't have surrounded himself with guys who look like they were discovered by Martin Scorsese's casting director and talk like they received vocal coaching from Joe Pesci. With his small eyes sunk deep into dark sockets, Kaplan himself looks shiftier than a timeshare salesman in a Sun City highrise.

If the American Italian Defense Association were paying attention, it would drop its ethnic defamation suit against The Sopranos and go after Kaplan co-defendant Michael DiLeo-nardo, aka "Mikey Scars," the perpetually grinning gangster with the heavily shellacked courtroom coiffure.

Messrs. Scars and Kaplan spent much of last week listening to their names being dropped in FBI recordings of Sergio and father-and-son Mafia bigwigs Greg and Craig DePalma as the New Yorkers discussed the Atlanta duo's attempts to intervene in a Big Apple dispute.

According to prosecutors, Kaplan helped broker a deal in which his buddy Craig Carlino — who also took the stand last week — would drop a lawsuit against the Gambino-linked Scores nightclub that the mobsters feared would lay their lucrative operations bare to public scrutiny.

The transcript to a 1996 conversation recorded in the DePalma mansion reads like an excerpt from a David Mamet play:

Craig DePalma: What's up?

Greg DePalma: Nothing. Mikey [Sergio] was just telling me that, uh, what's-his-name called the place looking for you.

Craig: Who?

Greg: Steve Kaplan.

Craig: I don't know. Me?

Greg: He says, uh, Willie and, uh ... Willie and, uh, Steven told him. He asked Willie for your beeper number or something.

Craig: Fuck does he want?

Greg: Huh?

Craig: Fuck does he want?

Greg: Maybe Mikey Scars maybe wanted you, but I don't know. Well when? He said a couple of days ago.

Michael Sergio: Yeah, Willie. He gave Willie the message for you to call him.

Craig: I don't have his fucking number.

Sergio: But did you get the message from Willie?

Craig: No.

Sergio: Alright. What's the difference?

Greg: When did you see the guy last?

Craig: Who?

Greg: Steven Kaplan.

Craig: At the time I yelled when, uh ... when they wanted to, uh ... that situation.

Sergio: No, because even Steven says that Willie said ...

Greg: How long ago?

Sergio: What does that asshole want ...

Greg: How long ago was this?

Craig: Remember that time ... that night John and I, when I ... when, when I met with Mikey and John. Remember? They want Craig Carlino [unintelligible] about dropping the suit. Remember that time?

Sergio: It sounds to me ...

Craig: And then he dropped it, yes.

Sergio: ... Like there's too much skulduggery going on.

And it sounds like Sergio hit the nail on the head with that sudden insight. Whether the jury is able to make much of the dozens of hours of rambling, profane and often banal taped conversations has yet to be seen, but the typecasting effect is a lock.

During some tapes, violin music can be heard as Sergio discusses business over pasta at his favorite trattoria. Someone acknowledges that the litigious Carlino is part-owner of a restaurant with GoodFellas star Paul Sorvino. And in another tape, DePalma pere tells DePalma fils they're going to be late for the Three Tenors concert, for God's sake. You half-expect to hear a fight break out over the pejorative implications of the term "mook."

Jurors are undoubtedly bending the gag-order rules to debate which actors should play these wiseguys in the miniseries. Michael Imperioli as Craig Carlino? Could be. Joe Mantenga as Mikey Scars? Hmm, not really. James Gandolfini as Steve Kaplan? Fugheddaboudit!??