Mafia Spies and the Plot to Kill Fidel Castro


Thomas Maier an investigative journalist is our guide to the shadowy world of organized crime and espionage where shares insights from his extensive research and writing, including his latest book and drama documentary “Mafia Spies,” which explores the unlikely alliance between the CIA and the mafia in their attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.

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We dive into the lives of two central figures in “Mafia Spies”: Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. Giancana, the head of the Chicago mob in the early 1960s, and Roselli, the Mafia’s fixer in Hollywood, had a complex relationship that intertwined with the glamorous world of celebrities and the dark underworld of organized crime. Thomas elaborates on Giancana’s personal turmoil following the sudden death of his wife and his increasing involvement with Roselli in Las Vegas.

We explore the intriguing character of Judy Campbell, who was introduced to Frank Sinatra and eventually to John F. Kennedy, becoming a key player in this intricate web of relationships.

The episode uncovers the CIA’s covert operations to eliminate Castro, detailing the various assassination attempts and the involvement of Mafia figures like Giancana and Roselli. Thomas  provides a fascinating look at the historical context and the extensive espionage network set up by Castro with the help of the Soviets.

We also examine the ethical implications of the CIA’s collaboration with the Mafia, the internal conflicts within the U.S. government, and the ultimate fates of Giancana and Roselli. The Paramount Showtime series based on “Mafia Spies,” is  released on July 16, and promises to bring this captivating story to a wider audience.

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Thomas Maier: I have spent my entire, writing career as an investigative reporter. I’ve written a number of mafia stories, my day job, is an investigative reporter. Reporter supplemented by my nighttime job and weekend job as a book author, mafia spies, is, both a book and now going to be a paramount Showtime series. Uh, that is my 7th book. And, um, that kind of grows out of some of the other books that I’ve done, Um, So I was aware of this character, Sam Giancana, who was the head of the mafia in the early sixties in Chicago. and the Chicago mob was the most powerful mafia in New York. There’s five different families. So a lot of the power and money is, divided up among those five families. But in Chicago, it’s just one big organization that goes all the way back to Al Capone. and Giancana was the head of that organization in 1960, when really the mafia was at its height and most powerful, in the United States. so I was aware of that. and yet it didn’t really all come together for me until I was aware of Giancana’s, friendship and, involvement with another gangster by the name of Johnny Roselli. Roselli was the mafia’s fixer, if you will, in Hollywood. He was part of the original Al Capone gang. He was very young, and he, was sent out because he had tuberculosis. He was sent out to Hollywood, to essentially be the fixer, working with Hollywood, um, studio heads, also dealing with, the unions out there. And so Roselli, was, kind of a very different man than Sam Giancana. Roselli was known as handsome Johnny. He was a man who, dated a lot of actresses out there. Lana Turner, Donna Reid. That was particularly one that caught my eye, Donna reed from it’s a wonderful life. and yet all of these women seem to be attracted to this bad boy Casanova that Johnny Roselli was. and there’s one particular woman that Johnny gets involved with who becomes a major part of this story. Her name is Judy Campbell. And he introduces, Judy Campbell, to Frank Sinatra, particularly in Las Vegas, where Roselli migrates his activities from Hollywood into the Las Vegas area. And, also she meets Giancana and eventually a young senator named John, f. Kennedy. the two men of Giancana and Roselli, Giancana kind of being the, almost like the Tony soprano, suburban, mobster. and they think he’s gonna keep a low profile. He’s not going to attract the attention of the authorities like Al Capone disastrously did. Capone loved being in the newspapers. They told Ginkhana, keep a very low profile. But something happened in his life. He was a married man with three teenage daughters, and he, he loved his wife. He had girlfriends on the side, but he, he loved his wife. His wife, though, went down on a trip with the, the daughters to Florida. And he, the oldest one, Antoinette Giancana, who happens to be now at 88, age 88 in our documentary. And this is actually arguably the best interview of the whole show. But she was quite a character, as a young person. so, Gene Khanna’s wife was screaming at her. and when she did, she dropped dead of a heart attack. And so Sam suddenly finds himself as a widower with three teenage daughters and his beloved wife has died, and he’s kind of, unmoored, if you will, his personal life. He winds up going out to Las Vegas, increasingly hanging out with his old friend Johnny Roselli, ostensibly looking at the things that are going, the mob interest in Las Vegas, but, particularly their outlaw friendship, if you will, really solidifies there. And Gene Khanna gets more and more involved with celebrities. Frank Sinatra, as I mentioned, but also a, woman named Phyllis McGuire. So for me, the idea of doing, kind of a buddy friendship, a buddy movie here, as they call it, in Hollywood, but more of this outlaw friendship of these two very diverse men, as the window into this extraordinary time in which they are ultimately recruited by


Thomas Maier: the CIA to get rid of Castro. and just what I knew coming into it was just so appealing that I thought it, particularly with this structure of the two men as the window, would be a fascinating look at a very complicated subject.

Ian: And I love the way that you have filmed the, documentary, because you’ve used those sixties split screen styles, and it’s got a very sixties, feel about it, which I think really, really works well

Thomas Maier: Yeah, that’s deliberately so, by the showrunners. The, ah, executive producer is a guy named Danny Strong, who has done a number of different top caliber television productions, and the showrunners, Tom Donahue, ah, and Ilan, Arbolita, they definitely wanted to get that sixties retro feel. and so, the music is part of that. Also the relationship of Giancana, and Roselli, particularly Giancana, to Frank Sinatra. I have to say I’m a big fan of Sinatra’s music. I think he’s, despite his personal problems, or complications, shall we say. he was a great artist and a wonderful singer. And it’s interesting to see how Giancana influences that kind of rat pack, gangster type of quality to Sinatra’s music. and how it really changes from Sinatra is kind of almost like the sweet sounding voice, after World War two, but by the fifties, with more and more involvement with Giancana out in Vegas, you can actually hear it, that gangster sound in Sinatra’s music. So I played with that a little bit in the book.

Documents about CIA efforts to kill Castro provided valuable information

Ian: And how easy was it to get information on, the CIA and the mafia? It can’t be an easy task to actually get hard evidence.

Thomas Maier: Well, I definitely benefited from two things. One is the fact that it’s 50 years later. So I’m looking, well after the fact. And as a result, there had been a number of different hearings, that are all part of the story in the senate. There were hearings about the functioning of the CIA that took place in the middle 1970s after the Watergate scandals and such, in which Nixon, President Nixon, had been accused of manipulating, the various different intelligence services, including the FBI, domestically. And so the Senate looked at that. And so there was a lot of testimony about that. In fact, it very much involves, this story and the outcome for both Giancana and for Roselli. But also later on in the eighties, there was a big push to get more documents out, particularly about the JFK assassination. And about five years ago, then President Trump, followed through on the mandate by Congress after a certain period, after more than 50 years, for papers that were part, of the JFK assassination investigation, both FBI files and CIA files, that those papers should be made public. And indeed, they released thousands of documents. This was around 2017, 2018. And it’s those documents that were really a goldmine for me. there wasn’t any smoking gun about who killed JFK, per se, but what it did show was a couple of things. One is that it showed the extent of the effort to kill Castro. Just to pull back a little bit, after, JFK’s assassination, the Warren Commission, President Johnson put together a panel to investigate who killed JFK. And so this was, this took place in 1964. One of the members of that panel was the former CIA director Alan Dulles. And Alan Dulles was the same man who had authorized this attempt to kill Castro. And it was a very extensive, attempt to kill Castro. and just before JFK died, Castro gave interviews with various different press members. But essentially his message was, I know you’re trying to kill me, and you better cut it out, because two can play this game at the same time. And so, despite the fact that Castro said these type of things, the Warren Commission never really thoroughly looked at the possibility that somehow Castro and or the Soviets, the Russians, might be somehow involved, if not directly, with Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of JFK. But perhaps if there was a plot,


Thomas Maier: did it possibly involve some influence by Castro? Was it at all related to Castro? When you investigate a murder, if you look at the basic textbooks, it usually says you have to solve murder within 72 hours. Otherwise it’s going to be much more complicated. And they did have the suspect. They had Lee Harvey Oswald and of course, he was killed by Ruby all within 72 hours. But the Warren commission never examined anything having to do, with the CIA’s, attempts to kill Castro because Alan Dulles was on that commission and actually helped steer it away from this top secret attempts to kill Castro. and so these documents that became available only five years ago provided a lot of information about that. It provided a lot of information about the undeclared war that took place in the early sixties in Florida, in which the CIA had all these various different facilities. They had front companies with names like Zenith, enterprises, they were phony names. They were, front companies for the actual CIA operation that was going on. And that involved literally hundreds of people down in southern Florida in which the CIA was training cuban exiles who had fled from Castro’s takeover of Cuba. And they were down in Florida and they were determined to take back their homeland. And the CIA was only too happy to help train them to get rid of Castro at the urging of the, Kennedy administration. And so there was a lot of documents about that. The other thing that I realized is that as you look at the, these documents there was ah, some conversation about, well, we’ve tried all these attempts to kill Castro. Why are we failing here? In many ways the attempts to kill Castro were pretty vast. they involved exploding cigars, poisons, attempts with bazookas and long distance shootings, and all different attempts to, to get rid of them. So it’s almost like that arcade game, or in amusement parks. It’s called, whack a mole where you have the giant mallet and you try to hit the mole that pops up and it’s kind of like, what happened with Castro. They tried several times and they couldn’t get them. And so by around, 62, 63 they brought in another, guy within the CIA, a guy named William Harvey who was known as the James Bond of the CIA. And he began to smell a rat. and he felt that there were some people who were informants within the cuban exile community who were providing information to Castro’s government. Certainly, he had a lot of suspicions about another gangster who presented himself, his name was Santo trafficanti, and he was the top gangster in Tampa, Florida. and, trafficante, was involved with my two major characters, Giancana and Roselli, in running the mob controlled casinos in Havana that were operating and making millions for the mafia until they were thrown out in 1959 by Castro. When Castro came to power, and so both the Mafia and the CIA wanted to get rid of Castro. And, trafficanti looked like he was an ally. He was brought in by Giancana. He was involved with the meetings. And yet Harvey, the fellow that I mentioned, the James bond of the CIA, after several failed attempts, and he’s brought in, Harvey’s brought in to try to deal with this, he’s beginning to realize that I think maybe trafficanti is a mole, that he’s a double agent, that he’s somehow the, this information is getting to Castro’s spies, and this is one of the reasons why we’re not able to assassinate Castro. So this was, you know, that old phrase about, oh, what tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive? Well, it becomes more and more complicated. I’d like to think that both mafia spies, my book, but also mafia spies, the paramount tv, show makes this very complicated story understandable, because we always use the window of the two gangsters,

Ian: why did the CIA think it was a good idea to work with the mafia? Because there’s obviously ethical implications about working with the Mafia, and they’re also not letting the FBI know that this is going on as well.

Thomas Maier: Well, they certainly learned that lesson,


Thomas Maier: but not at that time. right now, when we look at the CIA, we think, well, the CIA is all powerful and has always been a part of the international scene. That’s not true. actually, the United States kind of reflecting its isolationist view, around world war one and in world war two, even through up to World War two, the United States didn’t have an intelligence, a foreign intelligence agency at all. the United States was very slow, to do this. And so, there was an agency that was created, by President Roosevelt during World War two. But at the end of World War two, that was dismantled, and we went without. The United States went without an intelligence service, for about two or three years, until Truman. President Truman realized towards the end of the 1940s that we really do need this, agency. and so, the United States went slowly from collecting intelligence. By the time we get to this point in 1960, the decision was made that we had to also not only be involved in the collecting of information about foreign entities, but we should also be, when necessary, involved in covert operations. And so the CIA, which was created again in the late 1940s, slowly evolves from intelligence to covert operations with, a couple of attempts, to influence elections and some dirty tricks that occurred in the 1950s. But in the late fifties, in the last days of the president Eisenhower administration, the decision was made that Castro presented such a threat to the United States, the fact that he was only 90 miles away from Florida, and that Castro, who initially was portrayed as a reformer, but actually proved himself to be a despot, who became, a surrogate of the Soviet Union, and that the Soviets were teaching Castro literally how to set up a spy network, but also that Castro was a allowing, the Soviet Union to put nuclear missiles into Cuba. It led to an extraordinary, confrontation in 1962 that became known as the cuban missile crisis. and so Castro was seen as somebody that we had to get rid of. and bear in mind the head of the, as I mentioned before, the head of the CIA at that point was Alan Dulles. Dulles was actually an excellent spy in world War two. They sent him to Switzerland. He was working with the Brits, actually, to some extent, initially. And, then he worked for the United States intelligence agency, in Bern, and he did some terrific things in the way of spying. And a lot of the people who came out of world War two and what I’m talking about, even in 1960, a lot of those people that were in decision making process, world War two was there, was the preeminent, reference point in their lives. they realized that they all came away saying, well, if we had assassinated Hitler, if we had somehow intervened and tried to take them out, as they say, could millions of lives have been saved? Would the world have been spared all of the agony and torture that had happened because of Hitler’s reign with the Nazis and such. and so, that was the, I think, part of the whole impetus of why it was perceived that it was really necessary, surreptitiously, to get rid of Castro. And, of course, the question became, well, how do we do this? And there was a lot of debate back and forth.

The CIA wanted to assassinate Fidel Castro, but they needed an intermediary

The people, that ran the CIA, these were all people from Ivy League schools. Allen Dulles had gone to Princeton. The number two, Richard Bissell, he had gone to Yale. They didn’t want to be involved in getting blood on their hands, even though they wanted to assassinate Fidel Castro. And so they looked for intermediaries, and so they set up a fellow who had dealt with the CIA, a former FBI agent, a guy named Robert Mayu. And he became the intermediary. He was familiar with Johnny Roselli. And it was Mayhew who sets up, a meeting, by. I believe it was in March of 1960, at the Fountain blue hotel in Miami beach between the CIA, Sam, Giancana, Roselli. and,


that’s where they had the first meeting about, how are we going to kill Castro? Together.

Ian: Yeah, at that meeting, Mayhew is trying to hide the fact that he’s CIA, but Roselli, I think, sees straight through him and just says, look, and I know where you’re from. What do you want?

Thomas Maier: Yeah, he sure does. you know, May was one of these guys. He worked. He’s. He’s a book in and of himself. He worked for Howard Hughes at that time, as I mentioned, May, who had been a former FBI agent, had a lot of friends with CIA. and, he would also entertain. He had his own business in Washington. And so he would have outdoor barbecues, where he would invite politicians and CIA people. And, you know, it’s a friendly. It’s an outdoor barbecue in his backyard. Big, affair. And Johnny Roselli had done a favor for Mayu. There, was a lawyer in Washington who got a place for Howard Hughes in Las Vegas. At the last minute, the lawyer said to Mayu, he said, you know, I know a guy who could do this for you, who could get a room for you, for Howard Hughes, a suite or whatever it was, a guy named Johnny Roselli. And that’s the first. So Johnny Roselli, does, a favor from Mayu, and Mayu realizes, oh, my God, this Roselli guy, he runs, Las Vegas. Everybody knows Johnny Roselli, you know, all the powers, he makes things move. He’s like the hidden hand, in Las Vegas. And so that’s. And so Johnny Roselli calls, Mayu one weekend, the weekend that he’s having a, this barbecue, you know, in his backyard, and says, I’m in town. And Mayu m says, why didn’t you come over to the barbecue? And so, at this barbecue, Mayu, also has some of his CIA pals who are trying to see whether or not, you know, they’ve decided they’re looking for somebody like Johnny Roselli. And to some extent, they kind of feel him out there. It’s not a formal type of event meeting. The actual formal meeting is at the fountain blue hotel later on. But they get a sense of Johnny, and they all come away saying he’s a guy who will, keep his mouth shut. He’s the guy who has enough power in the mob to get this thing done. and so there’s kind of an audition, at Mayu’s backyard that, kind of sets the ball rolling here.

Ian: And, you know, what they’re looking for here is plausible deniability as well, in case, it goes wrong.

Do JFK and Robert Kennedy know about Mafia plot to overthrow Castro government?

how much does JFK and Robert Kennedy know about this plot? Do they know that the mafia is involved?

Thomas Maier: I think you have to say yes. I, think there is no clear cut, document. However, there is testimony by William Harvey, for instance, of the CIA. And there’s another person that he worked with in the CIA who later testified saying that they absolutely did know. and I, the onus, the urging by the Kennedys to get rid of Castro, particularly, after the bay of pigs. The Bay of Pigs was this fiasco for the United States government, which we essentially helped train the cuban exiles to attack and overthrow the Castro government. and this was very early on in the Kennedy administration. It was a plan that JFK had inherited, but it was a fiasco because, the CIA thought they could essentially force Kennedy to provide air cover as part of this land invasion. Castro was already tipped off. He was waiting for these exiles at, this attack at the bay of pigs. So he was just all set. And Kennedy, said he was not going to put air cover. he was not going to have us planes involved in this because he felt that it would, trigger world War III with the Soviets. The Soviets would be forced to act, and, he was not going to do that. And he stayed true to that. The CIA thought he would have to capitulate. Kennedy was incredibly angry, after this fiasco in which he took responsibility for it, even though he inherited this plan from the Eisenhower administration. Uh, but the Kennedys were dead set, about getting rid of Castro. They definitely saw him as a huge threat. And it was actually Bobby Kennedy who was the attorney general


Thomas Maier: who personally would go down to Florida, and checking out. He was overseeing this operation by the CIA to overthrow Castro’s government. It’s really extraordinary the way in which, particularly by today’s lights, that an attorney general would be involved in, actually, in essence, like the acting CIA director, at the same time overseeing an undeclared war in Florida, attempting to overthrow Castro. So, the Kennedys, in short, were very anti communists, and, very determined to get rid of Castro.

Ian: I think what’s strange with Robert Kennedy is he had been very involved in suppressing the mafia, yet here he is utilizing them to overthrow or to assassinate Fidel Castro. And I think it sort of, underlines your point is that they saw Castro as very much a massive threat to the United States and the United States interests in, South America as well.

Thomas Maier: I think Robert Kennedy is one of the most fascinating characters in american history, particularly in terms of the journey that he travels, because he was part of. He was very friendly with Senator Joseph McCarthy. He was very much a virulent anti communist. and he was so throughout, his, brother’s administration, after the assassination, there’s almost like a very different Bobby, Kennedy, and he becomes a different character in a way. and so a lot of the people that have written histories of Bobby Kennedy really knew him and admired him, myself included, that latter day Bobby Kennedy. But I think some of his activities, particularly the activities that I talk about in mafia spies, you realize that, um, uh, that Kennedy, traveled a very long and very different journey. There’s a long arc and a very different arc. There’s an early Bobby and a later Bobby. and so I think he’s a really interesting character in this book. And I think that there’s more to be said about, Bobby’s, activities on behalf of the CIA.

Ian: indeed.

Mafia wanted something out of carrying out JFK assassination for CIA

I think one of the things that most surprises me in the story is the mafia, don’t want a payment for doing this. They. They feel it’s their patriotic duty, to help here, but obviously they want something out of this. What are their expectations How they were going to benefit from carrying this assassination out?

Thomas Maier: Well, event for those of us who’ve played Monopoly, the board game. there’s a card in monopoly, the game of Monopoly called get out of jail free card. and that’s what they thought. They thought, well, if we. Two things, if we help try to kill Castro for the CIA. And also Giancana was convinced by Frank Sinatra, that, JFK would be. Would go easy on them, which I think was always a little, odd thinking, because most mobsters in the country supported, Nixon in the 1960 election, but Gene Khanna was convinced by Sinatra that, they would have a friend in the White House. Well, that wasn’t really true. And Bobby Kennedy, he had all the fervor of an avenging archangel, going after the mafia when he became the attorney general. So Johnny Roselli and Sam Jean kind of thought, well, if we do a solid, for the CIA, we’ll be patriots, especially Johnny, who was an italian immigrant. He had, that all american fervor about the United States. you know, he was in Hollywood for many, many years as well. I think he had some of that type, of. That type of aura. well, I’m a patriot. Of course my country wants me to do that, but it’s also, just a line of baloney. on another level, what they were hoping for was a get out of jail free card, and it turned out just the opposite. yes, they were helping the CIA, and yes, the CIA was trying to help them, but the FBI, at the urging of Bobby Kennedy, was running after them. And so there was this constant tension, in both Johnny Roselli’s life and in Sam Giancana’s life. That’s a big part of the mafia spy story where they’re, you know, one part, one arm of the government is very grateful to them. The other arm is trying


Thomas Maier: to punish them and try to, prosecute them.

Ian: As we mentioned before, the other arm, the FBI didn’t know that the mafia was. Was helping the CIA, but they gradually become aware through their surveillance of the mafia.

Thomas Maier: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Sam Giancana had an affair with Judy Campbell while JFK was running for president

Well, you know, the old saw in life, is life a tragedy, or is life a comedy? and mafia spies certainly has its fair share of comedy. one of the more amazing, amusing moments is that Sam Jean Khan, as I mentioned, he had met in Las Vegas this actress named Phyllis McGuire. She was a singer. she did do a little bit of acting, but she was fundamentally a well known singer, that he had met in Las Vegas. And she began to be courted by a comedian who later became pretty well known, named Dan Rowan. And, Gene Khanna was down in Florida working with the CIA, planning to kill Castro, when he hears that Phyllis McGuire is somehow being courted by this other guy, and he becomes intensely jealous, and so he wants to run back and kill this guy in Las Vegas. And the CIA says, no, no, no. Johnny Roselli comes in, kind of tries to pat down, Sam’s ruffled feathers and say, no, no, no, don’t just hang tighten. What we’ll do is we’ll send a private eye to check out this guy. And so they do. And so the, private eye, bugs, the telephone of Dan Rowan, the comedian, in Las Vegas, the one who was suspected of, trying to, court Phyllis McGuire. And a house detective in the hotel catches this detective, trying to tap the phones. And, they call the cops. They call the local sheriff, who indeed then calls the FBI. The FBI checks this out, who is these guys? And then they say who they’re working for. And it all comes back to Robert Mayhew. And it comes back, to Roselli and Giancana eventually. And as things unravel, eventually the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, they learn that, Gene Khanna is involved in some type of attempts to kill castro that they hear. But they also find out at the same time that, there’s this affair that’s going on with this woman, Judy Campbell, who had been introduced, introduced by Johnny Roselli to Frank Sinatra, who in turn introduces Judy Campbell to JFK, and that JFK and Campbell are having an affair that started in March of 1960 while Kennedy was running for president. And it carried on for about two years, even while Kennedy was president in the White House. There’s actually, a lot of blog of the phone calls that Judy Campbell made to the White House and such. So all of this is learned by J. Edgar Hoover. Now, Hoover, we have to, realize, was quite a character himself who kept a file on every politician in Washington, so he thought he might not make it. He thought he might be fired when the Kennedys came in, but they convinced the Kennedys to reappoint Hoover. But now Hoover had something on the Kennedys. They found out that JFK was having this affair with this woman, Campbell, Judy Campbell, who was also involved with, Sam, Giancana, the head of the mafia, in Chicago, and arguably the most powerful mobster in America. So this was something that led to a meeting first, with Bobby Kennedy, and then with JFK, with Hoover, and, subsequently, almost immediately, JFK broke off the affair with Campbell. in both mafia spies, my book, and the Paramount series. We do, develop, much more about the Judy campbell character in this plot, when this all came to light in the 1970s, was almost portrayed as like a floozy or whatever. She was really dismissed, in many ways. But I think what we try to do, I try to certainly do in my book is look at her as a young woman from a pretty substantial family in southern California, who just likes the Hollywood life, meets Roselli. And he introduces her to the most, well known entertainer in the country, Frank Sinatra, arguably, the most powerful mobster in the country, Sam, Giancana, and ultimately


to the president of the United States. So there’s an intoxicating brew of excitement for a young woman, woman who is kind of brought into these waters that are much deeper and swifter moving than I’m sure she ever imagined. and so there’s more about her relationship, and she becomes almost suicidal after the assassination of JFK. so I think I put more dimension to her story as part of Mafia spies in a way that hasn’t existed previous to this.

Ian: you’ve, you’ve given her a load more context and richness in, in detail there, and an understanding around how much of this exploitation was going on.

Johnson turns his attention to Vietnam and away from Cuba after JFK assassination

Ian: so, they’re trying to come up with these plots to kill Castro. Nothing’s working. When does the CIA think, we’re just not going to get anywhere with this? When does this sort of these options come to an end?

Thomas Maier: There is a huge dividing line that occurs with the JFK assassination. there was a big effort, even after the cuban missile crisis to try to overthrow Castro. Bobby Kennedy, Washington hellbent on it. when JFK is assassinated, Johnson, pulls back and they definitely decide, things are just beginning to brew in Vietnam. And so Johnson really turns his attention to Vietnam and away from Cuba, which really was the main, obsession of the Kennedy administration. And so he definitely pulls that. It was also an antagonism between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy that’s been well documented and such. And Bobby Kennedy left the administration. He ran for senator, in New York. By 1964, he’s elected, in New York. So very rapidly, within a matter of a few months, things dramatically change. And so, the feeling is that, let’s see what happens with Castro, and maybe there will be a natural, if you will, overturning of his government, rather than one induced by assassination. but it never happens. And actually, Castro, largely because of what I said, he had a, remarkable espionage network that was set up not only in Cuba, with the help of the Russians, but also setting up a, network of informants around the Caribbean, including in southern Florida. And so it really helped him avoid any other further attempts, at assassination, and he wound up dying as a, as an old man, only a few years ago. It’s a remarkable story there.

Ian: And how do Giancana and, Roselli fare in the aftermath?

Thomas Maier: Not well. the, hoped for, get out of jail. Cardinal really never emerges for either one of them. rather than, hoping that the Kennedy administration would go easy, they don’t. They’re under constant surveillance, constant, attempts to prosecute them, because of Giancana’s disastrous embrace of celebrity, with his love affair with Phyllis McGuire wire and his friendship with Sinatra. He gets all this attention. And the elders back in Chicago, they hate that. That’s exactly what they told him not to do. They wanted him to mow his grass on his front lawn. There’s a married man with three teenage kids, and instead he becomes a playboy out in Las Vegas. And he attracts a lot of attention by the FBI, urged on by the Kennedy administration. So, in Giancana’s case, he winds up going down to Mexico, and for the next ten years or so, he’s involved in his own affairs. They’re trying to set up various different casino like operations around Latin America and such, and even in the middle east. Johnny Roselli, he goes his own way, in Las Vegas. He kind of loses power in Las Vegas, partly because of what has happened, but he he, at first, engineers, a sale of many of the casinos in Las Vegas, a sale away from, the mafia owned ownership. And, ah, he helps broker,


Thomas Maier: the sale of these casinos to Howard Hughes with the help of his CIA cutout buddy, Robert Mayu. And so Howard Hughes becomes the owner of the Sands hotel. the Sands hotel is kind of like the headquarters for Frank Sinatra, what he’s in entertaining there. And there’s an old gripe between Howard Hughes and Sinatra that, again, is, cherchez le femme. Here. look at Howard Hughes, had dated and apparently had a lot of regard for an actress, Ava Gardner, who was a tremendously attractive woman, very accomplished actress, but she also winds up having an affair fair with Frank Sinatra. And actually, one of the first jobs that Mayu had for Howard Hughes was to spy on Sinatra and Eva Gardner together. But, that’s in the early fifties. Cut to 15 years later, in the late sixties. Now, Howard Hughes has bought these casinos, and one of them is the headquarters for Sinatra when he’s in town. And now that it’s no longer owned by, the mob, but by Howard Hughes, Hughes throws out Sinatra, the Sands hotel. and there’s quite a fight that happens, that I mention, in my book. So, that happens with Johnny. He gets involved with a card game that the feds get wind of. Ah, high stakes card game, Jim rummy type of game, at the Friars club with all these celebrities in Beverly Hills, in the Hollywood community there. and they get wind of that, and he winds up being prosecuted there. But also the feds find out about Johnny’s real name. Johnny had spent his entire life with an alias, Johnny Roselli, a, name that he concocted from an Italian. You know, he didn’t use John Doe or Jack Smith as an alias. He used, the name of a painter of the Vatican that he happened to, like, I think it was like, 15th century painter, Cosimo Roselli. And actually, his real name was Filippo Sacco, When he came to America as an illegal immigrant from Italy, he and his mother and his siblings, his real name was Filippo Sacco. He had changed it to Roselli and spent his entire life in Hollywood known as Johnny Roselli. and the feds, by constant surveillance, found out his real name. And so Johnny is walking, there’s a scene in my book seen in the tv show as well, where Johnny is walking on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, when two agents come up to him and they have a picture of him, a young Johnny, young Filippo sacco. and they say, filippo sacco? They just go past him and just to unnerve him, which is really pretty amazing that the FBI is doing this type of thing. But, eventually they move to deport Johnny. And Johnny is now panicking because he gets prosecuted, involved with the card game. They’re moving to deport him. and so Johnny says, okay, by this point, it’s, the early 1970s, and the Senate is looking at the operations of the CIA. And basically Johnny says through his attorney that he’s willing to talk about not only, the CIA operation with Castro, which is what they really want, but he also dangles this idea that he knows something about who killed JFK. And by the mid 1970s, 15 years later, after Kennedy’s assassination, by that point, there was a lot of Americans who felt that there was somehow a conspiracy to kill JFK. And so the idea that Johnny may have known something, that he was so close to all these cuban exiles who were involved, some of whom were involved with Lee Harvey Oswald, as it turns out, Roselli dangles the idea that he’s willing to talk about that as well. And before he can testify, Johnny winds up murdered, cut up, and thrown into a 55 gallon barrel and tossed into the bay within a short distance of the fountain blue hotel in Miami beach, the place where the plot to kill Castro really takes root. The same thing happens with Sam Giancana. Giancana is called to testify before the senate, panel as well. In fact, investigators from the senate fly out to Chicago to kind of


Thomas Maier: prepare him for the testimony, see what, you know, find out what he’s got to say informally before he formally testifies. That same night, Giancana has his, one of his daughters and some friends over for dinner. They go home after around 1011 o’clock at night, and Sam decides to make himself a little snack in his man cave. He had, like this little, office, this little apartment beneath his house in the suburbs of Chicago. And somehow somebody with a silencer, comes, manages to come into his apartment, there, and fires five, six shots into gene, kind of murdering him. and most of the shots are circled around his mouth, which is a mob way of saying to anybody else who’s thinking of talking that this is what happens to people who wind up, talking. Now, who killed them, is a big mystery, I think mafia spies. My book, when I looked particularly at these recent documents that have been disclosed, I think the roads to both murders lead to one particular person, a person who they thought initially was a friend, and was very much involved in this plot to kill, ah, Castro. and it turns out, that I think that this person actually was a double agent.

When researching this story, what was the most surprising

Ian: when you were researching this story, what was the most surprising thing that you found in the archives that made you go, wow?

Thomas Maier: Without doubt, the biggest surprise to me with things that we’ve already mentioned. One is that Bobby Kennedy’s involvement, the extent to which he was involved, in the attempts to kill Castro in that whole operation down in Florida, and how he could manage to do that as the attorney general, I think that’s an extraordinary part of american history there that I don’t think has been thoroughly, examined enough. but also just, the war down in Florida and the fact that, a lot of these folks, that somehow Castro was able to put together a network in Florida of informants and double agents, compromising people. in the case of Santo trafficanti, I think trafficanti, was a major drug trafficker. And so that’s what they realized later in the, people like William Harvey of the CIA, he said, whoa, this trafficante guy, he’s not helping us. I think he’s actually, It seems like he may be a double agent. and so these documents that were released five years ago really opened up my eyes to this undeclared war in Florida and all of the various spy drama that was taking place during that time period.

When is the series released on Paramount and Showtime

Ian: when is the series released on paramount?

Thomas Maier: Oh, I’m so glad you asked that question. July 16 is when it’s released on Paramount. Plus, it’ll be available throughout the UK, in a number of other countries. It’s also here in the United States. It’s released on July 16. And then, it’s also going to be on Showtime, which is also owned by Paramount. Showtime is the cable subscribing. And they, The paramount, release will be all six parts of the series. It’s a docuseries. and I’m in it, there’s a number of journalists and historians are in it. There are, portrayals. There are recreations of some of the key scenes that we’ve discussed in our conversation, with actors. In fact, the lead actor playing Johnny Rosselli, was actually in the Sopranos. and There are three clips from the Godfather that are also in mafia spies, the tv show. And so it drops all six parts on Paramount, plus on July 16. And then a week later, it’s shown episodically over six weeks episode at a time, starting on, July 23 on showtime. and so throughout the month of August here in the United States, it will be shown, and I presume, around the world. And, I’m hoping this summer becomes the summer of mafia spies, if you will.

Ian: Well, let’s see what we can do here. Thomas very kindly gave me some preview, links. So I’ve had. I’ve seen it. It is great fun. And, I definitely agree that Sam Giocana’s daughter is brilliant with, sharing her account of what was going on.

Thomas Maier: Yeah, it was hilarious. she’s really great in it. She’s 88


Thomas Maier: years old, and she talks about how she had the hearts for Johnny Roselli. And, she has all these different real emotional, responses to all the different scenes that involved her father.