Robert Jesenik-The Quiet Don

Author of Book: Matt Birbeck
Date Read: February 15, 2024

Book Report

Title: The Quiet Don
Untold story of Mafia Kingpin
Russell Bufalino

Date: 2-15-24

Author: Matt Birbeck

I chose this book because I wanted something lighter to read than another “self-improvement” book. I’m not sure that ended up being the case, but this book was very educational and interesting. For example, I learned things about the Mafia, politicians like President Kennedy and his brother Robert, and how corrupt things were, even in the 50’s and 60’s.

The author is an investigative reporter and started the story back in the late 1800s with the first immigrants arriving from either Sicily or Italy who later went on to be the first generation of the Mafia. By the early 1900’s they had kids who became Generation 2 and took the mafia to a whole new level. This generation included Jimmy Hoffa, the famed Teamster boss, who personally solicited members, fought politicians in Congress, and made the Teamster’s union as powerful as it was in the 1960’s thru today.

I hadn’t realized the degree of involvement in Cuba from the 40’s and 50’s, but apparently, the mafia partnered with their President, Ruben Batista. He was first elected in 1934, was very friendly with the US government and the mafia, in part to attract capital and favor to Cuba. He lost power in the 40’s, and was re elected in 1952, and promised the mafia Cuba would co-invest with them in real estate and casinos. In return he personally kept 10-30% of all casino revenues, took bribes, all part of bringing capital and an economic boom to Cuba.

Russell Bufalino was apparently the quiet kingpin behind not just Cuba, but the mafia’s success in the US, including helping Hoffa and the Teamsters Union. But when Castro overthrew Batista in 1960/61, Castro’s government took over the entire economy and real estate, including the casino’s. He also kicked the US government and the mafia out of Cuba. This really impacted the mafia financially, and apparently took them 7 years to fully recover. When Kennedy became President in 1961, with Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General, they ordered the CIA to team with the mafia in overthrowing Castro, the infamous Bay of Pigs. Apparently, the CIA left the mafia hanging, it all backfired on Kennedy with Cuba rushing to Russia’s ” arms” literally. And that was that.

During both the 1950’s and 1970’s, the Senate formed separate Special committees to investigate the mafia and have them prosecuted. Very similar to todays version investigating Trump or Hunter Biden. Nothing ever came of either investigation, each time the committees were stonewalled by witnesses and as always, the various US agencies- FBI, DOJ,CIA, etc.. Sound familiar?

Finally in 1962 Bobby Kennedy in his Attorney General role formed a massive FBI task force to go after the mafia and bring them to justice. The mafia was so obsessed with killing him, per this book, it makes the reader wonder if they were involved with his assassinations in 1967, especially after the CIA/Cuba disaster upsetting the mafia back then. The FBI, slowly but surely over the next 15 years, nailed one Mafioso after another including Jimmy Hoffa. Eventually, they got a couple of the very top insiders to cop a plea and testify against Russell Bufalino toward the end of his life in the last 1970’s. He was eventually convicted of numerous crimes and died in prison.

From my present perch sitting in prison, the book serves as a good reminder to not stretch the rules nor break the law. It may take a while, but sooner or later the law will catchup with you. As an attorney once told me, the justice system moves slowly, but it does move!