That one time when I pissed off the mafia in New Jersey

Cartoon from the collection of Janet Sittler

Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, April 1991
The offices of The Leader Newspaper was located in a large office on the second floor above a volunteer fire department. Some fire departments have banquet halls and the like to help pay for expenses. Banquets and weddings aren’t a full time source of a reliable income, an office is.

One draw back: the large air-raid style “emergency whistle” that was used to summon the volunteers from around town was directly outside of the editor’s office window. Sometimes, three or four times each day, the entire office screeched to a halt, phones were put on hold and staff plugged their ears. After the siren wound down and three profanities uttered by my editor Al Applegate, we would just continue with our conversation.

Al was a great guy. He was retired high school teacher and everyone knew him. He even taught my two older brothers. He gave me great freedom to express my views. I would repay him by with siding on topics important to him. I took sides in a local school board issue that I had no real interest in. The cartoon was turned into a t-shirt by faction and they all showed up to an important meeting wearing bright orange t-shirts that read “SCHOOLBOARD DICK.”

I would do a weekly hand drawn editorial cartoon for the newspaper on their op-ed page. Payment was $30 per cartoon, I remember, which was a week’s worth of gas in 1991. Each week I would do either local, state, national or international commentaries. We tried to keep it local but there are only so many cartoons that you can draw of local zoning regulations. We met on Monday, I submitted my work on Tuesday and the paper came out on Thursday.

One Monday after the siren silenced, Al and I talked about upcoming cartoons. Here’s how the exchange went:

“So what do you want to cover this week?”
“I have an idea about the trial and Storino testifying…”
“Absolutely not. Next idea?”
“Aw come on Al. It’s the biggest story in the news. TV and papers from New York to Philly are leading with it. Storino being called to testify drops it right in our own backyard. Aren’t we writing about it?”
“Nope. It’s been covered to death. People are tired of hearing about it.”
“Yea right. Let me do a cartoon about it, at least we can say we covered it somehow. It’s a cartoon who ever takes them seriously? I won’t even mention his name.”
“I guess you’re right, we should at least make a mention of it. Don’t use his name or likeness, OK?”

A little background from Wikipedia:
In 1984, the Jersey leadership murdered James “Jimmy Sinatra” Craporatta, a contractor and Lucchese associate. When Craporatta refused to share the proceeds of a video gaming operation he controlled, the Jersey mobsters beat him to death with metal head golf clubs.

The Lucchese family wanted to take over SMS Inc., a company that made video poker machines. SMS Inc. was owned by Craporatta’s nephews, Vincent and Pasquale “Pat” Storino, reputed associates of the Bruno/Scarfo crime family.

This turned into one of the longest organized crime trials in U.S. history. Everyone whose name ended in a vowel got called in to testify at some point. It was on the local New York City news every night. One person that was brought in to testify was Pat Storino, a leader in our local business community. He and his family owned four out of five businesses on our local boardwalk and had a role in the entire Jersey Shore network of like-minded individuals.

I think the most he was ever nailed on was having slot machines in an apartment above one of his arcades on the boardwalk. I thought I would do a parody of the mob films that were hot at the time. Who could get pissed over a cartoon?

The following Monday I went in to meet with Al and he asked me to close the door and sit down. He never said that before.

“We lost three quarters of our ads this week,” Al said. “Everyone that’s even remotely associated to Pat Storino pulled their ads.”

A local paper depends on local advertisers and the bars and restaurants depend on the paper to pull in locals during the slow season.

Al had just gotten off of the phone with the newspaper’s owner, Mark Goodson. Yea, the TV game show producer owned our paper. I had the same boss as the Price is Right models. Goodson was none too happy, but was going to wait it out to see if they came back.

I asked if I still had the gig, Al’s response was: “We’ll see.” I submitted a safe cartoon for the next week about parking meter rates going up that summer and hoped for the best.

The next Monday my editor was in better spirits. Most of the advertisers had returned and he had a visitor. During the previous week a guy came in sharply dressed in a suit and asked to speak with him personally. I got the impression it had been a nerve-racking week for everyone at the tiny newspaper and this guy made everyone jump.

The visitor lived in the next town over and was the chief prosecutor of organized crime in New Jersey. A busy man for sure. He had seen the cartoon and laughed so hard he wanted to know if he could have the original art to frame and hang on his office wall in Trenton.

Al was more than happy to hand it over and may have thought that it offered some protection from both Storino and Goodson, which it evidently did. Me and Al continued to work there for a few more years.

Advertisers are the Achilles heel of media. Control the advertisers, you control the media. In the late 1980s, conservative Christian groups would boycott the sponsors of TV sitcoms that showed too much cleavage. Today, Marxists do it to anyone who dares to contradict their narratives. State-funded outlets like PBS and NPR? Same thing, the state controls the purse strings, they control the message.

This was my first red pill moment when I got to peer behind the curtain of free press.

A special thanks to Janet Sittler for sharing my old work that I don’t even have anymore.