Episode 3: The Lake Tahoe Snitches Museum
by Cliff Gallant
In the previous installment of “Jake Sawyer’s Story: The Lost Episodes” [July 2018], Jake was eager to share a tale he heard in the late ’70s on the bocce court inside the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Among the mobsters imprisoned there at the time was infamous Genovese crime family capo Anthony Provenzano, a.k.a. Tony Pro. In the twelfth and final chapter of “Jake Sawyer’s Story” [April 2017], Jake revealed the “blockbuster” story of how Tony Pro told him the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body (an abandoned gold mine in Nederland, Colorado). This tale, he said, was even better.
“What you have to understand here, my friend,” Jake began, “is that Tony Pro didn’t stand out in the middle of the Lewisburg prison yard and tell loud, hair-raising stories that invariably had to do with his amazing valor and undying loyalty to his friends, the way other convicts did. No way. There was an aura around him that wouldn’t have allowed that. He was respected in the prison so much that no one in the chow hall took a bite of their food until Mr. Provenzano was seated and had started eating. And we’re talking a room full of criminally insane, pathological killers who’d never respected anyone or anything in their entire lives!
“No,” he continued, “Tony never opened up to anyone but his personal confidants, and I’m very proud to say that I became one of them — especially considering that I had started out as lower than bug shit in his eyes.” Jake explained his rise from “zero to hero” at Lewisburg in Chapter 10 of his story [February 2017], but in brief, after the feds planted a false rumor among the inmates that he’d ratted out his accomplices in a big Portland pot heist to get a lighter sentence, he fought off an attempted shanking, endured torture at the hands of the warden, and showed Tony Pro a newspaper article to prove he wasn’t a snitch. “From then on, the place was like a country club for me,” Jake said, then added, “Well, relatively speaking — you know what I mean.”
“OK, great, Jake,” I said. “Let’s get to the story.”
“Awwwww right,” he said, and laughed. “Here ya go:
“Once upon a time, Tony Pro was playing bocce on the prison yard of Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary when he began musing about some of the things he missed about the outside. He got to talking about the good times he had at Lake Tahoe, up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the largest high-altitude lake on the continent. I naturally thought he was missing Lake Tahoe’s great beauty and cooling breezes, but that wasn’t it at all. Tony said the Mafia capos and their trusted associates loved Lake Tahoe because of the privacy it afforded them when they were out in the middle of the lake on their big, showy yachts. It turns out that a lot of the storefront property around Lake Tahoe is owned by Mafia figures, and a good deal of the bonding that takes place within the organization happens there. A lot of the action that came down on the streets of New York and Chicago had its origins out in the middle of Lake Tahoe. Let’s say that logging some Lake Tahoe time looked very good on your resume.
“It wasn’t all work out there in the middle of the lake, though. The mobsters had certain ways of entertaining themselves, Tony told us. The whole line-up of the usual carnal pleasures was available to them, of course, but they were always looking for something new. So one of them came up with the idea of having some fun with some people they didn’t like very much. Here’s how it went: They’d invite some unsuspecting low-life snitch to come spend some time with them on the lake, all expenses paid to and fro, except the fro never happened. They’d even wire the guy some money to get new clothes for the occasion. It was right out of The Godfather, the scene where Michael Corleone has his brother-in-law strangled to death after promising him that he was going to spend the rest of his days enjoying the Las Vegas high life.
“Everyone on the yacht was wearing their classiest suit when the guest of honor arrived. He was given a first-rate meal of his choice, wined, feted and entertained to the point where he was certain he was in the best of graces with all concerned. Hey, he was even given the seat of honor: a beautifully designed, heavy oaken chair that was placed next to the senior capo’s place at the head of the table. The guy could hardly believe his good fortune, but everything suddenly changed when the capo gave the nod and two guys came up behind the honored guest, covered his mouth with duct tape, tied his body very securely to the chair, then lifted the whole nicely wrapped package to the side rail of the yacht, where heavy weights were added to the bottom of the chair before it and its occupant were slowly lowered into the chilly waters of Lake Tahoe.
“What you also have to understand here, my friend, is that Lake Tahoe is located some six thousand feet high in elevation and is more than sixteen hundred feet deep in some parts, so it’s extremely cold on the bottom — so cold that no living organism can survive down there, Tony said, so the deterioration process doesn’t take place.
“Tony said there was this one snitch they hated real bad because he’d taken to living large on the money he’d been paid by the feds to rat on his accomplices. Cruising around town in his new Cadillac convertible, things like that. After the unsuspecting gentleman had been invited to spend a fabulous weekend at Lake Tahoe, imagine his surprise when, as Tony described it, just as he was enjoying the aroma of a fine Sicilian wine and trying to ascertain its vintage, he saw his nice new Cadillac convertible floating into view on the deck of a barge. The picture came together for him when he was taped and tied like the others, transferred to the deck of the barge, sat up in the front seat and tied to the steering wheel of his Caddy, which was then popped into neutral and pushed off the end of the barge!
“‘Those snitches are still down there!’ Tony assured us, sitting in their oak chairs, wearing their best suits and ties, staring straight ahead with their eyes bulging out, just like they were when they were lowered down the side of the yacht. And down there with ’em is a Cadillac convertible with another guy tied to the steering wheel. Rats frozen in place for all time!
“The Mafia had a name for it,” Jake said with a grin. “The Lake Tahoe Snitches Museum.”