Mobs and the Media: A real look at organized crime

Pop culture glamorizes mobsters. This idea is far from the reality

Courtesy of wikimedia commons A MUGSHOT of James “Whitey” Bulger after he was captured by the FBI in 2011. Bulger spent 16 years on the run and 12 years on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ A MUGSHOT of James “Whitey” Bulger after he was captured by the FBI in 2011. Bulger spent 16 years on the run and 12 years on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.

Published: September 25, 2015

Updated: September 28, 2015


Organized crime may be glamorized in movies and film but the reality of organized crime syndicates is far from the way they are portrayed on screen.

Harry R. Dammer, Ph.D, a professor and the chair of sociology, criminal justice and criminology, said that the glorifying portrayal of mobsters and organized crime in the media and film is problematic.

He specifically notes that the Italian mobs are what most people think of when organized crime is mentioned.

“The Italians get the most bad press but they weren’t the first or the worst. They get the bad fortune of appearing at a time when TV and the movies sort of glorified organized crime. So a lot of people associate it with the Italians,” Dammer said.

Dammer said that while he does not believe the media have made things up or lied about organized crime through films and TV, he does feel they do glorify some aspects.

“A lot of those movies do have some factual basis to them but they do aggrandize certain things,” Dammer said.

Courtesy of wikimedia commons AN FBI surveillance photo of James “Whitey” Bulger, right, and Steven Flemmi, left, speaking. Bulger was the head of an organized crime syndicate that grew to take over Boston with the help of FBI agent John Connelly.

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / AN FBI surveillance photo of James “Whitey” Bulger, right, and Steven Flemmi, left, speaking. Bulger was the head of an organized crime syndicate that grew to take over Boston with the help of FBI agent John Connelly.

Dammer believes this may happen with film and media because of the close ethnic connection many Americans feel to the groups.

“These movies are interesting things. They are interesting stories. A lot of us are ethically similar to that, so it all sort of makes it interesting,” Dammer said.

James “Whitey” Bulger is a notorious mob boss who rose to power in Boston with the help of FBI agent John Connolly and his brother William Bulger, the president of the Massachusetts Senate for 18 years.

“Black Mass”, a film about Bulger’s life featuring Johnny Depp as the main character, came out in theaters last week. According to, the film has grossed $24 million domestically.

“Black Mass” is one of many films about organized crime that is bringing in big money at the box office. According to, “The Godfather” grossed $134.8 million, “The Departed” grossed $132.3 million and the “The Town” grossed $92.1 million.

William Bransfield, a resident of Boston during Bulger’s rise to power, found himself involved in Bulger’s operations.

Bransfield did not use the name of any of the people he worked and associated with who were still alive for this story.

Bransfield worked and sold cocaine from Walsh’s Tavern, a bar in South Boston owned by two firefighters. The tavern was one of his frequent hang outs. He knew that Bulger was selling out of the bar but kept it to himself. He saw it as none of his business.

Bransfield hung out at the bar for 28 years. Bransfield got into the business after the person selling in the bar before him wanted out. The men in charge of the operation, Joey J. and Jerry, approached him.

“They said ‘We been checking you out. You’re straight up. You don’t ask a lot of questions but you keep your eyes open your mouth shut. Do you want to sell the coke up here?,’” Bransfield said.

Branfield agreed and began selling. He said that he felt protected and secure because of his familiarity with and the setup of the bar.

“I didn’t worry about nothing. The bar was connected. There were two phones and the tavern, one on the wall behind the bar. I sat at the last table so I can see who is coming in the door. That way I had reaction time because I wasn’t sitting right by the door,” Bransfield said.

Bransfeild said that people who would talk to the police when they were caught using drugs were in serious danger.

“If you got caught and started squealing, Whitey would add you to his list of dead people. That’s the way it was,” Bransfeild said.

He said that for bar owners in the area there were only specific stores they could purchase liquor from.

“You can go buy your beer from the distributor but you had to buy your booze from Whitey. Go to the liquor down in South Boston. Those were his headquarters,” Bransfield said.

One of the owners of the tavern went a couple doors down and got a few bottles. Someone spotted him and made a phone call.

Men showed up to the bar later that same evening. One stood by the door and two twin brothers entered.

Bransfield did not know these men at the time and wondered what was going on.

The twins went to each end of the bar and then broke every single one of the liquor bottles behind it.

“They didn’t break TVs, didn’t bother nobody, didn’t break the trophies. They just broke all the booze bottles and walked out the door,” Bransfield said. “As years went on I got to know these guys real good.”

After the two firefighters sold the tavern, the new owner sought permission from Bolger to continue selling cocaine. All sales, however, went through Bransfield.

Other businesses were free to sell in other ways. Bransfield recalled a restaurant, Cheeseburgers, a couple doors down that would slip packages of cocaine underneath slices of pizza for buyers.

Bransfield remembered what sort of things happened to people who tried to defy Bulger.

“There were these two brothers, David and Eddie Perez, they’re always trying to sell Coke outside of Walsh’s Tavern. I told them multiple times, ‘You can’t sell here,’ and they had that attitude of ‘We can do whatever the f–k we want’. So instead of me just take him bat to them, I just made a phone call,” Bransfield said.

Bransfield was told over the phone that ‘It was taken care of,’ He knew that this meant there were men on their way.

“About 20 minutes later I heard some kicking outside. I step outside the bar in the Sullivan twins and Charlie are outside. The Sullivan twins have the Perez’s slamming them against the wall. So I just step back inside the bar because I didn’t want to be a witness,” Bransfield said.

Bransfield said that Charlie and the Sullivan Twins, two members of the crew, did not fear consequences of their violent actions.

When a new owner, Paul, bought the tavern he tried to tell Bransfield that he could no longer sell drugs in the tavern. Bransfield made a phone call and Charlie and the Sullivan Twins came down and informed Paul that sales would continue as usual or the bar would be sold to someone who was more willing to cooperate.

Bransfield, in his own words, refused to ‘do serious damage to someone’. He recalls one incident in particular.

“Joey J. and Jerry had this kid picked out. They said ‘Barney, you see that kid?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and they tossed me a piece. They said, ’10 grand, just go up behind him and pop him’,” Bransfield said.

Bransfield refused. He insisted he just could not do it. This did not affect the relationship with Joey J. and Jerry either.

When Bransfield made the decision to leave the business after eight years, he was torn. He wanted to get out of the racket but did not know the best way to do so.

He sat on the beach for three days, watching the sun go up and down. He sustaining himself with a large bottle of liquor and concession food.

Finally, he said that something compelled him to go to Pennsylvania.

“I went home and grabbed an overnight bag and I went to Pennsylvania. I choose Scranton. I only knew it existed because my brother Tommy was there,” Bransfield said.

When Bransfield arrived in Scranton he saw it as a new beginning. Once Bransfield was away he said he was finally able to truly relax. We was able to get clean, not worry whenever a cop rolled by and enjoy the simpler things in life.

In regards to his past, Bransfield says that he’s not proud of it but would not necessary take it all back.

“Would I do it again? I can’t honestly give you an answer to that. I don’t know. What I walked into, the door was wide open,” Bransfield said.

A source for this story, who chose to remain anonymous due to close family connections still within the organization, says that an often overlooked aspect of organized crime are biker gangs.

This sources father was a member of The Pagans, a local biker club, for years before his incarceration.

The source says that his father was involved in various criminal activities in the club such as the production and selling of meth amphetamine and heroin.

His father would often make “runs” with the club.

Runs where trips where a small group of bikers would deliver their product to other chapters along the East Coast. The bikers would often do this while high on drugs and only stopped for gas along the way.

He said that biker gangs did not tend to sell their own product in the areas they operated in.
“They tend not to s—t where they eat, yanno?,” He said.

The sources father went to jail after he stabbed a man in a bar more than 20 times during an altercation while high on several different drugs.

His father spent time in prison. During that time he got a GED and got himself out of the organization. Now, his father is working a full time job outside of organized crime.

Two of the sources brothers, however, have followed in their father’s footsteps and became involved with The Pagans.

Both of his brothers are heavily involved with weapons trafficking. This is the primary money making resource for biker gangs, making even more than the sales of multiple types of drugs.

The sources brothers have many different types of automatic weapons, all of which come from Eastern European connections. The serial numbers are filed off of the weapons. Many are customized to be more effective and deadly by the members of the gang.

Both of the sources brothers are very knowledgeable about weapons. They know what types of weapons are best to use in certain situations and even make their own ammunition to make sure that the rounds can do various things, like pierce bullet proof vests and vehicles.

The source says that real biker organizations are nothing like the ones portrayed in pop culture like “Sons of Anarchy,”

“Real organizations are nothing like them. They don’t always wear those vests around, for one,” The source said. “They are much, much more violent in real life. The reality, from what I’ve seen of these guys, is far more terrifying than anything TV can show.”

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