CNN’s Elie Honig Goes Up Against The Mob In New Podcast
Mafia Stories
By Jayne Jacova Feld

Growing up in Cherry Hill, Elie Honig didn’t think much of rumors that his hometown was a bedroom community for members of the Gambino crime family. He actually mocked his mother for bringing it up when he landed a coveted job as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York specializing in organized crime. Honig ended up apologizing to his mom – and discovering that truth is stranger than fiction, especially when it came to prosecuting members of La Cosa Nostra.

Honig, who lives in Metuchen now, is producing the podcast “Up Against the Mob,” based on his real-life, inside-the-mafia adventures. He interviews some of the notorious mobsters he flipped and tried, undercover agents who worked the cases and even defense lawyers he came up against in court. Now a senior legal analyst for CNN and Rutgers University law professor, Honig says the series was a great excuse to revisit some of the most intriguing cases he was involved with in both New York and New Jersey. The 6-part series dropped late last year to rave reviews, and he’s now working on a second season.

Q: What’s your favorite South Jersey-based mob story?

One case involved a cooperating witness named John Alite who lived here and would drive up to New York City to do his crime business. Alite was having construction done on his house while he was away for weeks or months. When he got back, his neighbor told him he had noticed the contractor having sex with someone in his bedroom one day. Alite did not appreciate that. He tied the contractor up in his garage, tied up his own attack dog within almost reaching distance and left them alone in the garage for some crazy amount of time. He comes back, walks the contractor out at gunpoint to a pond in the backyard, strips him naked and then starts shooting to scare him. Then lets him out and says “Don’t ever do that again.”

Q: What was it like to interview mobsters you prosecuted?

The first episode focuses on Michael Visconti, a rising star in the Genovese crime family who I prosecuted and flipped. Years later, I got to ask questions I would never have asked him at the time, like why he got involved in the mob in the first place. A lot of guys I’ve prosecuted became mobsters because their fathers were made men. Michael was from a good family and grew up in the suburbs. He said that even though he was always a big strong guy, he was dyslexic and felt deeply insecure. I’m paraphrasing but he said being overly aggressive was a way to compensate. He’s probably the most self aware, introspective mobster I’ve met.

Q: Which of the mob TV shows/movies do you consider most true to life?

“The Sopranos” presents the most realistic, least glorified version of what it means to be in the mob. You see the totally non-glamorous part of that life and the stressors these guys live with: Am I doing well enough, am I producing enough? It’s the same anxieties most people have with their jobs.

Q: And the fact that they live in New Jersey must resonate too.

Michael Visconti and I discuss Angelo Prisco, a captain in the Genovese family who was on probation and wasn’t allowed to leave the state. So they put together a bowling team to discuss business while bowling. One of the guys, not Michael, was wired, but the tapes made us crazy. You couldn’t hear every other word over the crashing pins. I asked Michael if the guys purposely picked a bowling alley just in case they were being recorded. He said that they weren’t that smart; they just liked to bowl. There’s something very Jersey about that.

Q: Have any Atlantic City stories?

One of the clearest, most audible tapes we ever got was Angelo Prisco again. With his driver wired, he spent 2-and-a-half hours driving from Bergen County to Atlantic City going off on the different crime families. He actually says at one point that the Gambinos are stupid because they’re always getting caught talking on tape.

I had another case where a guy set up a string of home invasions and robberies in New York, but he didn’t want to be physically around when they happened. His cover was going down to Atlantic City for the weekend even though he was monitoring what was happening.

Q: What other projects are you working on?

I recently did my first documentary for CNN on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, an infamous Nazi war criminal. Through a series of connections, I ended up interviewing the prosecutor and the investigator of the case who are now 94 and 96 years old. Two of my grandparents were concentration camp survivors so we blended in some of my family history for the piece.

I also just signed to do a second book with HarperCollins, and I’m working on the second season of “Up Against the Mob.”

Q: Did you ever worry about your own safety while prosecuting the mob?

No, I really didn’t.They have a rule against messing with, threatening or harming prosecutors or judges. Basically, it doesn’t get them anywhere, and there are a lot of downsides. Like, if they did something to me, it wouldn’t mean the case would go away, and they wouldn’t want attention from the court system and law enforcement. I guess the thought had crossed my head but I always put it out of my head and nothing ever happened.

February 2022
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