Genovese family boss Matthew Ianniello, aka “Matt The Horse”, shuffled off this mortal coil some eleven days ago at the age of 92. It took the New York Times’ Paul Vitello an entire week to note the passing of one of the more crucial figures in U.S. porn history. Conversely, I’m only 4 days later in cutting and pasting portions of Vitello’s obit.
Mr. Ianniello — whose mob name derived from his powerful physique and his early career as an enforcer — served only two significant prison terms during his life: a nine-year term for racketeering and tax evasion involving Midtown topless bars that he owned, which he served from 1986 to 1995; and an 18-month sentence for his role in illegally controlling garbage-hauling companies in Connecticut, which he completed in 2009, at 89.
Yet federal prosecutors considered him the mastermind of one of organized crime’s most lucrative profit centers in New York — the topless bar scene and pornography shops of Manhattan.
Some establishments were owned outright by Mr. Ianniello’s organization. In most cases, though, the profit came in the form of payments for “protection,” which establishment owners paid as supposed insurance against police raids, union demands for higher wages or, explicitly or not, visits from goons with tire irons.
Similar protection incentives made Mr. Ianniello, in effect, one of the biggest operators of Manhattan’s discos and gay bars during the ’70s. Among them were several that were considered landmarks of gay night life, like the Gilded Grape and the Hay Market.
Mr. Ianniello was involved in more than 80 restaurants and bars at the peak of his operation, which prosecutors described as a “smut cartel,” with a network of holding companies offering an array of services for his bar and disco clients: money lending, interior decorating, garbage collection and vending-machine leasing; one was the talent agency providing topless dancers for the bars. By laundering protection payments through the various service providers, Mr. Ianniello protected himself for many years from the notice of law enforcement.