The Mafia Comes to Asia, Santo Trafficante Visited Saigon in ’68

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In 1965 these seven sergeants started showing up in Vietnam as mess custodians and club managers at the First Infantry Division, the Americal Division, and U.S. army headquarters at Long Binh. (208) Most important of all, the group’s ringleader, Sgt William 0. Wooldridge, was appointed sergeant major of the army in July 1966. As the army’s highest-ranking enlisted man, he served directly under the army chief of staff at the Pentagon, where he was in an ideal position to manipulate personnel transfers and cover up the group’s activities
At the top of the system were the civilian entrepreneurs-Frank Furci and his competitor, William J. Crum-who worked as agents for a host of American companies and paid the sergeants lavish kickbacks on huge Army purchase orders for kitchen equipment, snacks, liquor, etc.
Furci was also heavily involved in the currency black market. A U.S. Senate investigation of illegal currency manipulations in Vietnam later showed that he had exchanged $99,200 through a single unauthorized money changer at the black market rate of 300 or 400 piasters to the dollar, considerably more than the official rate of 118 piasters.
Unfortunately for Furci, his competitor, William J. Crum, was also aware of these illegal transactions, and he decided to use this knowledge to force Furci out of business. Frank Furci was simply outclassed by the crippled, half-blind William Crum, an old China hand who has made a profit on almost every war in Asia since 1941. Attracted by the economic potential of the growing Southeast Asia conflict, Crum came out of his million dollar retirement in Hong Kong and moved to Saigon in 1962.

While the massive U.S. military buildup in 1965 had attracted other commercial agents as well, Crum seemed particularly resentful of Furci, whose competing line of liquor brands, slot machines, and kitchen equipment had”stolen” $2.5 million worth of his business. Crum passed on information about Furci’s illegal currency transactions to the Fraud Repression Division of the Vietnamese customs service through a U.S. army general whom Crum was paying $1,000 a month for protection.

Vietnamese customs raided Furci’s offices in July 1967, found evidence to support the accusations, and later fined him $45,000. Unable to pay such a large fine, Furci left Saigon. Crum later bragged that he had “paid for” the raid that had eliminated his competitor.

Furci moved to Hong Kong and in August opened a restaurant named the San Francisco Steak House with nominal capital of $100,000. More importantly, Furci was instrumental in the formation of Maradern Ltd., a company that the Augsburg sergeants who managed NCO clubs in Vietnam used to increase illegal profits from the military clubs.Although Furci’s name does not appear on any of the incorporation papers, it seems that he was the “silent partner” in the classic Mafia sense of the term.

Maradem Ltd, was not a wholesale supplier or retail outlet, but a broker that used its control over NCO clubs and base mess halls to force legitimate wholesalers to pay a fixed percentage of their profits in order to do business. Maradem’s competitors were gradually “squeezed out” of business, and in its first year of operation the company did $1,210,000 worth of business with NCO clubs in Vietnam.
By 1968 Frank Furci had gained three years of valuable experience in the shadow world of Hong Kong and Indochina;he was friendly with powerful Corsican syndicate leaders in Saigon and had the opportunity to form similar relationships with chiu chau bosses in Hong Kong. Thus, perhaps it is not too surprising that the boss himself, Santo Trafficante, Jr., did Furci the honor of visiting him in Hong Kong in 1968. Accompanied by Frank’s father,Dominick Furci, Trafficante was questioned by Hong Kong authorities regarding the purpose of his visit, and according to a U.S. Senate investigation, he explained that “They were traveling around the world together at the time.They stopped to visit Furci, Frank Furci in Hong Kong and to visit his restaurant ….

After a leisurely stopover, Trafficante proceeded to Saigon, where, according to U.S. Embassy sources, he met with some prominent Corsican gangsters. Trafficante was not the first of Lansky’s chief lieutenants to visit Hong Kong. In April 1965 John Pullman, Lansky’s courier and financial expert, paid an extended visit to Hong Kong, where he reportedly investigated the narcotics and gambling rackets.