January 25, 2020 – The mob-infused Beverly Hills Friars Club fixed card-game scandal rocked the L.A. entertainment scene as well as certain major sectors of the Midwest mob when it broke in the late 1960s. Storied mafia figure John (Handsome Johnny) Roselli and Las Vegas mob front man Maurice (Fat Maury) Friedman were busted in December 1967, along with three others, for ripping off millions of dollars from Friars Club members in rigged gin-rummy games. 

The original New York Friars Club made the mob ticker this week when the Dean of American crime writing, Jerry Capeci, reported that the historic private club on East 55th Street in Manhattan made up mostly of comedians, actors and showbiz industry types, has been attracting a buzzy gangland element the past two years – prominent wiseguys from different New York mafia families making appearances at club events as guests of member Rinaldo (Ronnie Shoes) Nistico, a reputed mob soldier and sports memorabilia dealer. According to Capeci, the influx of a Goodfella presence has turned some club members off, while others credit Nistico for bringing the club back from the brink of non-relevance and possibly shuttering like its L.A. counterpart did in the 2000s, with his celebrity connections.

Nistico, 62, allegedly once acted as a driver and bodyguard for powerful Genovese crime family capo Danny Pagano and has pumped new life into the club with his networking. His weekly Thursday Cabaret Nights at the club’s “Monastery” headquarters draws Pagano, Genovese elder statesman Albert (Kid Blast) Gallo and Gambino captain Danny Marino, and cast of other shady characters, as regular attendees, per Capeci’s Gangland News column.

The club was founded in 1904 and became an elite gathering spot for a who’s who of industry tastemakers and influencers in the Big Apple. Legendary entertainer Milton Berle opened the Beverly Hills offshoot of the club in 1947.

Chicago gangster Handsome Johnny Roselli, who represented the Windy City “Outfit’s” interests on the west coast, and Fat Maury Friedman, a Vegas casino land developer connected to the Detroit mafia, were both members of the Friars Club. They conspired together from 1962 through 1966 to fleece the club’s high-rollers at its weekly gin-rummy night by using “peek holes” in the ceiling and an electronic device to alert their men at the tables of what cards their opponents were holding.

Comedian Zeppo Marx (The Marx Brothers), singer-actor Tony Martin and television star Phil Silvers (Sgt. Bilko) each testified at a 1968 trial of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the rigged card games. Roselli, Friedman and a dozen other members of the Friars Club were booted from the premises for life.

Years earlier, Roselli had done prison time for a highly-publicized extortion of Hollywood movie studios. His name appeared as a producer on a slate of early-era gangster flicks and he made a name for himself in L.A. and Las Vegas for hobnobbing with actors, actresses, professional athletes and politicians.

Friedman eventually flipped on his bosses in Detroit’s Tocco-Zerilli crime family and helped jail acting boss Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli and capo and “CFO” Michael (Big Mike) Polizzi for hidden ownership in and skimming $6,000,000 from the Frontier casino. St. Louis mob don Anthony (Tony G) Giordano was also sent to prison as a result of the case.

Roselli was killed gangland style in the summer of 1975 over an unrelated matter. Roselli’s body was found sealed in a drum floating in Miami’s Biscayne Bay four months following his testimony in a U.S. Senate hearing probing mob and CIA links.

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