December 9, 2020 – Like many songwriters and recording artists of his era, John Lennon bumped heads with music mogul Morris (Mo) Levy, a New York mob associate and confidant of legendary Genovese crime family boss Vincent (The Chin) Gigante. Levy and the former king Beatle went toe-to-toe in the courtroom multiple times over licensing infractions.

Levy’s trademark strongarm tactics didn’t work this time. Lennon was too big of a star to be muscled and he survived his tussle with the mafia in the Big Apple. Tragically, he wouldn’t survive a run-in with a deranged fan in the years that followed though.

Lennon was slain 40 years ago this week in Manhattan, gunned down outside his residence at The Dakota by Mark David Chapman on the night of December 8, 1980. His feud with Levy, famous for fleecing musical talent out of publishing rights in the early days of rock-and-roll and birth of contemporary pop and jazz, yielded him a judgment of near $150,000, the equivalent to almost a million bucks in today’s economy.

Levy died of cancer in 1990, two weeks before he was scheduled to report to federal prison to begin serving a ten-year sentence for extorting more than $1,000,000 from a Philadelphia record-distribution wholesaler. Genovese mob captain Dominick (Baldy Dom) Canterino was Levy’s co-defendant in the case.

Canterino was one of the go-betweens for Levy and the feigning crazy “Chin” Gigante. The FBI speculated that Levy’s Roulette Records was a laundry for Gigante and the Genovese organization’s dirty money. and that Levy himself dealt drugs and gave out juice loans.

Gigante died behind bars in 2005 after years of pretending to be mentally unfit in an attempt to veil the fact that he was the most powerful Godfather in the country. According to FBI informants, Levy “kicked up” to Gigante and benefited greatly from his protection. The Chin was allegedly a silent partner in Levy’s chain of Strawberries record stores that dotted a half-dozen major cities up and down the east coast.

The courtroom saga between Levy and Lennon spawns from The Beatles 1969 song Come Together from the groundbreaking group’s Abbey Road album. Levy filed a law suit against Lennon for appropriating a line from Chuck Berry song he held the copyright to (You Can’t Catch Me) in the lyrics for Come Together. The case was settled in exchange for Lennon agreeing to record three Levy-owned songs from his publishing catalog for his 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll LP, a passion project of Lennon where he covered his favorite rock, blues and soul hits of his youth.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll sessions were overseen by eccentric mega producer Phil Spector and a total mess, failing to bring Levy the financial return he expected. So he decided to rob Lennon of his work.

Getting his hands on the masters for the Rock ‘n Roll recordings, Levy used a series of demo songs sung and played on by Lennon and released in on Roulette Records as an exclusive mail-order only album called Roots. In the end, Lennon and Levy sued each other for ownership rights of the Rock ‘n’ Roll session tapes. The judge in the case ordered Levy to pay $145,300 to Lennon for infringement and unlawful enrichment and Lennon to pay Levy just $7,000.

At the time of his courtroom battle with the mob, Lennon was fighting efforts by the U.S. Government to deport him back home to Great Britain because of an old drug charge. Lennon was viewed as a subversive by the FBI and when he decided to move to New York full time, he found himself, much like Levy and his friends, hounded by the feds.

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