The “Don”, the Mafia boss, immediately brings to mind The Godfather’s Don Vito Corleone, John “Dapper Don” Gotti, Salvatore “Sammy, The Bull” Gravano, Robert “Bobby Ha-Ha” Attanasio, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, Sam “Momo” Giancanna and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno. All Italian-American gangsters. But this stereotype has it wrong. Think of Otto “Abbadabba” Berman [German American who coined “Nothing personal. It’s just business”], Alex “Allie Boy” Rudaj [Albanian], Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein [Jewish American], Nick “Nicky Nails” Dedaj [Albanian], Arthur “Dutch Schultz” Flegenheimer [German American], Jack “Legs” Diamond [100% American] and Irving “Waxey Gordon” Wexler [Jewish Russian American]. In reality “Dons” come in all shapes and sizes, ethnic origins and religious and non religious persuasions.
Which bring us to Bosko “The Yugo” Radonjich who died at age 68 in Belgrade, Serbia last month. Now as I write this piece, this Requiem in Pace plea to the Almighty to go easy on old Bosko, to grant him a pass. Oh Lord, show him compassion and mercy for surely he has sinned. But after all, he was a friend; he saved my life and kept me out of harm’s way. The very least I can do is to humbly seek intercession on his behalf.
Now the question is how does the life path of a fancy Madison Avenue lawyer intersect with that of a rather rough brawler from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen? It’s all a matter of chance, a roll of the dice, and easy, real easy, believes you me.
The Serbian-American immigrant community in New York in the 60’s was small, no more that an a thousand souls. I was a rising star, a lawyer. You all met on important holidays in church, exchanged greetings, and had a drink or two in the social club next door. When I waltzed in with my two young daughters for the very first time Bosko and others welcomed their arrival with small gold coins, as was the custom.
Bosko’s father, a Royalist Mihailovich Chetnik, had been executed by Tito’s communist Partisans. Never straying from his political heritage he fled Yugoslavia smuggled on a bus carrying a soccer team to Austria. He washed up in Hell’s Kitchen where he ran parking lots and garages, and dabbled in crime.
From there he would send me the occasional referral, an assault here and alleged rape there, even the defense of a young man accused of murder. But the referrals were common garden variety miscreants, no organized crime, no Mafia. He could well have referred those potential clients my way, easy money, and God knows I needed it. He did not; he kept that potential danger well away from me.
Then in November, 1978, the shit the fan. Bosko, Nikola Kavaja [to get the whole story, Google the names] and four others were arrested for conspiracy to bomb Communist Yugoslav consulates. On a Sunday night there I was representing them at arraignment in Federal court, and soon to be trying the case in Chicago.
Now this is a blog and needs to be short and to the point. Again, if you want the whole story, google away. The trial was a disaster. Kavaja, sorely disappointed by the verdict, decided to hijack an American Airlines plane, together with all the passengers and crew on board. That’s where I came in. By then I was representing Kavaja and I swapped myself for the passengers, becoming a hostage.
Now I truly believe that Bosko didn’t graduate from high school, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t smart. During a crucial point in the hijacking he persuaded the FBI snipers not to shoot, saving my life.
That event and the prison sentence he served in Allenwood, that country club of a federal prison, changed his life. There he roomed with Gerald Bull, the inventor of Operation Babylon “super gun” and consorted with the Mafia elite also serving time. He went in a brash, street smart thug and came out a polished man of the world. He went in driving a loud white Cadillac convertible and drove out in a dark blue Mercedes sedan, wearing a Brooks Brother suit.
He was now in business, including the cement business. See The Mystery of the Rolls Royce Convertible Revealed, The Litchfield County Times http://www.countytimes.com/articles/2010/04/15/opinion/op-ed/doc4bc746e47ab89424814136.txt. Along with Bull he brokered arms deals with China and Cuba until Bull was assassinated by Israel’s Mossad in Brussels. His home base in Hell’s Kitchen put him in place to take over the Westies, the nefarious Irish gang that ran the West Side of Manhattan. His John Gotti, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and Gambino family connections allowed him forge a profitable partnership exploiting the dirty world of New York’s trade unions.
He always eschewed violence. His shtick was the art of gentle menacing persuasion and the occasional necessary bribe, the white envelope in the right pocket. Throughout, even though I was with him on at least a weekly basis, he kept me at arm’s length, away from his other life. To tempt me he never would allow.
He had to leave the United States in a hurried manner, something to do with an indictment and alleged jury tampering. Finding refuge in a Yugoslavia was that soon to be no more, he lent his resources, his contacts and his talents to the cause that he believed in, that of the Serbs and Serbia. You may not approve of his views and political persuasion, just as some disapprove of Zionists and Israel, but to his own heart he remained true.
When I agreed to represent clients before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a UN institution sitting at The Hague, The Netherlands, it was he who lent support, who had his contacts locate witnesses, documents, and recordings in support of the defense. The beleaguered poorly funded and outmanned defense was given at least a chance to properly perform its function.
I thoroughly enjoyed sitting with him in his Lotus Club on Zmaj Jovina Street in Belgrade and the Godfather Casino in Zlatibor. I am thankful for my life, for his saving it, and for the times I spent with him. I am thankful for the care that he took to keep me, his friend away from harm’s way. I just wish there were more of those days. But in retrospect, Bosko, “The Yugo”, “The “Don”, lived a full life, a life well spent.