"It's over. You'd have to be Ray Charles not to see it." —former New Jersey capo Ron Previte, on the mob today As a cop, Ron Previte was corrupt. As a mobster he was brutal. And in his final role, as a confidential informant to the FBI, Previte was deadly. The Last Gangster is his story—the story of the last days of the Philadelphia Mob, and of the clash of generations that brought it down once and for all. For 35 years Ron Previte roamed the underworld. A six–foot, 300–pound capo in the Philadelphia–South Jersey crime family, he ran every mob scam and gambit from drug trafficking and prostitution to the extortion of millions from Atlantic City. In his own words, "Every day was a different felony." By the 1990s, Previte, an old–school workhorse, found himself answering to younger mob bosses like "Skinny Joe" Merlino, who seemed increasingly spoiled, cocky, and careless. Convinced that the honor of the "business" was gone, he became the FBI's secret weapon in an intense and highly personalized war on the Philadelphia mob. Operating with the same guile, wit, and stone–cold bravado that had made him a force in the underworld—and armed with only a wiretap secured to his crotch—Previte recorded it all; the murder, the mayhem, and even the story of mob boss Ralph Natale's affair with his youngest daughter's best friend. Previte and his FBI cronies eventually prevailed, securing the convictions of his nemeses, "Skinny Joey" Merlino and Ralph Natale.
Covering much the same ground as his 1998 book, The Goodfella Tapes, which also dealt with the Philly mob's decline in the 1990s, true-crime journalist Anastasia here focuses on Ron Previte, a crooked cop who became a big moneymaker for the Philadelphia underworld before turning informant for the Feds. The author entertainingly chronicles Previte's long catalogue of brutal misdeeds, but offers little insight into the man's character. There are a few factual errors (e.g., Cleveland underboss Angelo Lonardo did not begin to cooperate with the government until the mid-1980s), but the larger flaw is the effort to inflate Previte's role in diminishing organized crime's influence not only in the City of Brotherly Love but also in the country as a whole, as the subtitle suggests. In addition, Anastasia fails to make a convincing case for the extent of Previte's local impact, undercutting his thesis several times by citing other factors the elevation of greed, an upsurge in violence, other informants leading to the demise of the syndicate built in large part by the late Angelo Bruno. The author knows how to enhance the basic story with the odd bit of background detail (like a defense lawyer's favorite sandwich), but the book's primary appeal will be to Mafia buffs eager to read everything written on the subject. FYI:Anastasia has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.