Reporters who cover political campaigns get to meet all sorts of interesting candidates. Some are celebrities,
or former football stars, or even fighter pilots. But Tom Ganley
, the Republican nominee for Congress in Ohio's 13th
District, has a story that even the most hard-to-impress reporter might find interesting. He helped
take down the Mafia in Cleveland.
Aside from running for Congress (he's challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton
), Ganley is the largest car dealer in Ohio, and owns insurance agencies, real estate companies and the largest independently owned finance company in the state.
Ganley, who started out as a car salesman, became extremely wealthy, which made him a prime target of the mob.
Frankly, Ganley's amazing story
has all the ingredients of a Hollywood movie (starring, perhaps, Matt Damon?).
And this is how he tells it:
In the early 1980s, Carl LaCava -- who worked for a group that helped ex-servicemen find jobs -- met with Ganley in his Ohio office. He was hoping to persuade Ganley, who then owned one car dealership, to hire one of his clients. During the meeting, LaCava casually mentioned he had just met with the owner of A.D. Pelunis Oldsmobile in Lakewood, a Cleveland suburb, and that the dealership was for sale. He suggested that Ganley try to buy it. Ganley took his idea seriously, and six months later, he made the purchase. That's when things got weird. One day Ganley received an invoice from LaCava for a $500,000 "finder's fee."
Ganley thought it was a joke, but LaCava told him over the phone, "I expect to pick up a check today for $500,000, or you're going to have the biggest problem you ever had." Ganley laughed it off.
But a couple of weeks later, Ganley received a surprise visit (no knock on his office door) from a different man, holding a piece of paper with the name "Carl LaCava" on it. He said: "I'm just a messenger to tell you you're going to be killed within 24 hours. Have a good day."
The messenger was John J. Felice, Jr. (nicknamed "Skippy") -- a name Ganley had heard before. "He was rather notorious," Ganley told me. "He's been in the newspapers many times for activities that were clearly mob originated."
Shocked, Ganley immediately phoned the FBI. Ganley believed the death threat, but he said the FBI "reassured me and said that the Mafia is very greedy, [that] they would get nothing out of murdering me. [I was] not to worry about being murdered in the short term, that this was going to be about money."
"That's when I told them that they'd better be right, because it's called 'You bet your life,' " he recalled. The feds immediately installed cameras in Ganley's office and tapped his phones. The mob wanted $25,000 as a first payment, but Ganley negotiated that down to just $5,000.
That's not to say it was easy. The FBI provided Ganley with the money to pay off the thugs, but the FBI also required him to ask incriminating questions such as "What happens if I don't pay?" To cover his bases, Ganley sometimes had to refer to notes -- but the mob never noticed.
Interestingly, Ganley paid the bad guys real money "because if you use marked money," he informed me, law requires that you "arrest immediately." Ganley may have preferred that option, but the FBI "wanted to take down more than one guy."
After paying the first $5,000, Ganley naively thought the incident was over. The FBI, on the other hand, believed that Ganley was now marked as a patsy -- and they told him the mob would be back. "If you can't pay," Ganley told me, "they start taking part of your business."
Sure enough, a month or so later, Ganley received a second visit. They let him know that they knew where his daughter took music lessons, and they (eight of them) promised to rape her -- and cut off her arms and legs -- if Ganley didn't keep paying.
Later, another thug visited Ganley's youngest son at a playground, and even played kickball with him. They then called and told Ganley, "We want you to know that he has brown corduroy pants on and sort of a plaid shirt . . ."
"It was very horrible," Ganley said. "These characters had followed them, knew when they went to school -- these were stone-cold killers."
Two years after it started, federal officials indicted the crime family. "That's when they got very panicky, so they thought their only escape would be to have my entire family killed," Ganley said.
Once it became known that Ganley was cooperating with the police, the mob put out a $1 million contract on him and his family. FBI agents moved into Ganley's house "with very, very heavy military fire power," staying about a year. Agents took his wife to the supermarket , and Ganley traveled to work in a bulletproof, bomb-resistant car.
He became fast friends with the agents protecting his family, including Don Penny
, now a Ganley supporter. Another of the agents was Joseph Pistone, the subject of the 1997 Johnny Depp-Al Pacino film, "Donnie Brasco
." Pistone recently held a fundraising
event for Ganley.
Ganley's adventure led to more than 20 Mafia members going to prison. Not all of them were involved in this particular case, but information from it ultimately led to wiping out La Cosa Nostra in Cleveland. "There is no longer an organized crime mob in greater Cleveland, " said
former federal agent Bob Freedman. Ganley's efforts "resulted in the dismantling of an entire organized crime family."
"It started out with one person extorting Tom [and turned] into a whole entire organized crime family being involved," said Freedman, who recently appeared on Fox News' "Huckabee
" along with Ganley to tell the story.
For his work, Ganley was given the highest reward a civilian can get from the FBI, the Lewis E. Peters Award.
Ganley was originally running in the U.S. Senate
primary in Ohio against Republican favorite Rob Portman, but changed races to run for the House seat in northeastern Ohio. Ganley, who supports Arizona's controversial immigration law and believes government needs more business leaders who understand the economy, is a serious challenger
-- he has more money
than his opponent, Sutton -- and was recently named to the National Republican Campaign Committee's "Young Guns
" program. (In fact, I first interviewed him at a meet-and-greet the group sponsored.)
Compared to what Ganley has been through, campaigning for public office is hardly a challenge. As he told me, once you've gone up against organized crime, standing up to the special interests and lobbyists in Washington will be a piece of cake.