By Richard Gagnier

Op-Ed

If you were to suggest to acquaintances in your social circle even a few short years ago the possibility of sex islands used to compromise and blackmail politicians, it’s a safe bet you would have been called “conspiracy theorist,” a go-to term in phrasebooks designed for international students interested in speaking English smug. Once the Jeffrey Epstein story hit supermarket magazines and Netflix, even those friends of yours given to calling other people “conspiracy theorist” had to allow that the edges of the known moral universe might be changeable. The Eric Swalwell story—congressmen plied by a beautiful foreign agent with sex—similarly kicks at the seams of mainstream political reality. However, however…

Even though your hardened anti-conspiracy friends may now have to permit the possibility of sex islands, as well as Chinese honeypots operating domestically, do you imagine for a minute you’d be able to convince them of another plot, a different large scale plot they were entirely unfamiliar with? Such as that our FBI has also been implicated in an operation that used sex to criminally compromise U.S. politicians? You could try to educate them, but I imagine you’d revisit your days being called conspiracy theorist. You’ll likely have to wait for the story to hit Netflix to be believed, despite the case having been thoroughly documented in at least three books devoted to the subject as well as an unfinished but widely-available British documentary titled Conspiracy of Silence.

What I stumbled over recently during my lunch break reading was an incident completely new to me, yet another case of politicians undermined by sex. Still, I believe it is favorably different from all the cases mentioned above: it is comparatively small. It is an operation so meat-and-potatoes, as unadorned with intrigue as possible, that the word “conspiracy” seems almost too fey to apply to it. It’s so plausible an operation, I think, although it hasn’t made itself known to Netflix, that it might not land with a tinfoil-hatted thud in water-cooler conversation.

In 2016 an independently-published book appeared and went almost unnoticed, to even people such as myself interested in its subject matter, selling for all of $7.99. It was yet another addition to a slowly growing catalog of regional titles having to do with the mafia presence in Western New York. A book easy to overlook, it was a thin print-on-demand title, Crime, Greed & Lies: Why I Left the Rochester Mob by Chris Banson.

Within Banson’s autobiographical book is a single short chapter regarding politicians of the early 1970s co-opted by their sex acts. In another book, a different book, the chapter’s subject matter may have been a salacious selling point that the book’s marketing agent could fixate on if small labor-of-love print-on-demand titles had marketing agents. However, in Banson’s book, the chapter is not nearly as compelling or as sexually charged as many other chapters in the book. The incident described is, in fact, nearly a break in the book’s action and written in such a way that it reminds me of how earlier in the book Banson described the trade taking place in the open-air market where he first came to the attention of the local mafia.

These are the basics of the case presented by Banson:

The set-up took place during a formal dinner in which many Rochester political movers and shakers came to hear a speaker talk about business opportunities. The entertainment for the event Banson describes came in at least two flavors, though: the night’s featured speaker, presumably on the dry side, as well as professional female escorts who were hired to play the role of the wait staff, presumably not so dry.

It was Banson’s responsibility while employed by the Rochester mafia to contract with an out-of-state escort service for the event. The local mafia heads felt out-of-state girls would be needed to add an exotic element to the proceedings. Banson described the mafia’s required arrangements to the escort service’s management: fifty girls operating in teams of five, waitressing drink orders, rotating from table to table of gentlemen dinner guests, with special attention paid to two tables where sat the cream of Rochester’s political crop.

Following the speaker’s presentation, some of the attendees, most of them liquored-up, disappeared to waiting hotel rooms. It was there that they sampled the easy wares on display, and where they were covertly filmed. The operation was considered a success, nabbing fifty percent of the mob’s intended targets.

You can imagine the back-slapping chortling among the mobsters following the night’s wrap-up.

The success of the Rochester escort-heavy dinner put me in mind of something I’d read years before, about mafia control of the construction industry. The book that bit of information comes from is The Triangle Exit by former Buffalo-area mafia associate Ronald Fino. In that book Fino wrote:

“In cities such as New York, the control was deep and under the tutelage of John ‘Dio’ Dioguardi, a member of the Lucchese crime family and control of unions spread. Dioguardi ventured to many American cities and explained to the various crime Borgatas how to wrest control from the honest union officials and replace them with the mob’s chosen representatives.”

I was surprised and made a mental note when I first read those lines that a mafia operation successful in one city could become the basis for something like a traveling seminar, instruction to mob associates in other cities of the specific methods that’d ensure a winning result.

I wonder, was the Rochester escort operation repeated in other cities after its Rochester debut? Or was what had gone on in Rochester just a copycat of an operation run somewhere else?

Banson was amazed at the real power the mafia had over Rochester officials in the 1970s; officials compromised with bribes or blackmail. When Banson raced through the city center in mafia-owned vehicles, the police knew to turn their backs and ignore his speeding. Other more nefarious transgressions were also made possible by officials looking the other way. Of course, the Rochester mafia conducted monthly shakedowns of local businessmen, and in one such instance recounted by Banson, a merchant refused to play ball, refused to pay up. The merchant’s reluctance to roll over was quickly cured with a short car ride where the merchant was ominously shown surveillance photographs of his own children.

I expected at that point in the book, probably due to my having seen way too many Hollywood films featuring mobsters with hearts of gold beneath their cold exteriors, I expected at that point in the book that Banson would offer something along the lines of, “But, of course, the mob doesn’t hurt children. We might have used them for leverage occasionally, but it would go against our code to actually hurt them.” That line, however, or any variation suggesting the mafia wouldn’t put the hurt on the merchant’s children, of course, never came.

To get back to Swalwell:

There is, of course, a sexually titillating angle to a story like Swalwell’s, the dweeb congressmen seduced by an Asian agent who presented herself, with a Mona Lisa smile, dressed in fashionable clothing fit for a cocktail party, like a present waiting to be unwrapped. I read a Twitter comment from someone beneath a photo of the woman who had compromised Swalwell which read, “She would have got me … I’m not even going to lie.”   People on Twitter thought the comment was funny, and I do too, but any fixation on the sexual aspect of the Swalwell story willfully misses all the Swalwell story represents; Swalwell’s story isn’t limited to being a real-life variation of a Penthouse letter.

No politician, including Swalwell, is compromised for the price of a wedding to making possible only small moral infractions.

What Swalwell represents, in addition to perhaps being a “what if” sex fantasy, what Swalwell represents is the cost to sell out your neighbors, and leave your neighbors in the grip of people without hearts of gold beneath their cold exteriors. It’s a crime that demands payment. But we’ll see.

 

Rich Gagnier has been a public librarian for nearly 30 years. He has no particular interest in writing about politics, and will probably stop soon, so it would be a stupid waste of resources for any intelligence agency to “off him” for anything he might write. He also varies his route home from work daily and would not make things easy for you.