‘Ozark’ and upcoming Sylvester Stallone series draw attention to Missouri mobsters

‘Ozark’ and upcoming Sylvester Stallone series draw attention to Missouri mobsters

Kansas City’s prominence in Mob world keeps Hollywood coming back

Wendy and Marty Byrde (Laura Linney and Jason Bateman) star in Ozark, which recently released the first half of its Season 4 episodes. The Kansas City Mob plays an important role in the narrative. Courtesy of Netflix

With a Mob history dating back decades, Kansas City’s influence in the underworld has long extended beyond its Midwestern borders.

Characters inspired by the city’s Mob figures have appeared in movies and television shows over the years, drawing attention to organized crime’s presence in Kansas City and the region.

That trend continues this year, as the Netflix series Ozark returned January 21 for its fourth and final season. The fourth season is broken into two parts of seven episodes each. The first seven episodes are available now on Netflix for subscribers to watch at any time. Netflix has not indicated when the second part will air, though it is expected to come out this year.

The series follows financial adviser Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and his family from Chicago moving to a lakeside community in the Missouri Ozarks, where, under threat of death, they must launder millions of dollars in drug cartel money.

The world the Byrdes have fallen into involves federal authorities, Mexican cartel assassins, local heroin growers and Kansas City mobsters. Against a backdrop that includes riverboat casinos and political intrigue, the Byrdes are confronted with constant violence and betrayal as they cope with their own family disputes and criminal activity.

Ozark sparks social media buzz

After the fourth season became available to Netflix subscribers, Ozark viewers went onto social media sites to express their enthusiasm. The third season ended almost two years ago, requiring fans to endure a prolonged wait for the show to return.

Julia Garner plays Ruth Langmore, one of the most popular characters in Ozark. Joseph Sikora, left, plays Frank Cosgrove Jr., son of the Kansas City Mob boss. Courtesy of Netflix

“Oh, happy day,” novelist and screenwriter Robert Ward wrote on his Facebook page, noting that the “sick, twisted” Byrde family is back on the air, along with their “sicko, greedy friends.”

Ward wrote that Ozark is the series that “makes most of us feel like we were good parents after all.”

“And if you are still a teen,” he wrote, “you can say, ‘Well, mom and dad aren’t that bad. At least they didn’t murder mom’s brother.’”

Ward, whose work in Hollywood includes writing for the 1980s television series Hill Street Blues, concluded that Ozark is “the show that makes the bourgeois feel like champions.”

Ben Fawkes of the Vegas Sports Information Network tweeted his support for the fourth season, which premiered on a Friday, one day before a Saturday sports schedule that included two televised NFL playoff games. Fawkes is VSiN’s vice president for digital content.

“A day of Ozark Season 4 and NFL playoffs,” Fawkes tweeted. “What more could you want on a Saturday?”

Even Imo’s Pizza, a regional chain based in St. Louis, tweeted about Ozark after one of its pizza boxes showed up in a scene. The thin-crust pizza from Imo’s, cut into coaster-sized squares, is recognizable to many in Missouri and neighboring states.

“Yes, it’s true,” the tweet reads. “You did see the Imo’s pizza box during Ozark Season 4, Episode 4. We appreciate them keeping it really authentically MO!”

New York to Kansas City

Another crime series, this one with Sylvester Stallone in the lead role, will feature an outsider who ventures into Missouri and encounters interesting local characters.

The veteran actor, remembered for his roles in the Rocky and Rambo series, will play a New York City “legendary mobster” named Sal, who moves to “modernized” Kansas City to reestablish his Mafia family in Missouri, according to the Deadline website.

“There, Sal encounters surprising and unsuspecting characters who follow him along his unconventional path to power,” the website state

The series is being developed for Paramount+ by Taylor Sheridan and Terence Winter. Sheridan created the shows Yellowstone, Mayor of Kingstown and 1883, while Winter had a direct hand in two popular Mob series, The Sopranos as writer and Boardwalk Empire as creator.

No date has been set for when the Stallone series will air.

Kansas City-Las Vegas connection 

The series with Stallone will not be the first on-screen instance of Kansas City mobsters involved in a power play.

The 1995 Las Vegas movie Casino is one example of how the Kansas City crime family has been portrayed. In the movie, Kansas City mobsters play an important role in the Las Vegas casino skimming scandals of the 1970s.

Sylvester Stallone will star as a mobster in an upcoming series set in Kansas City.

One memorable scene occurs when authorities listen in on a wiretapped conversation inside a Kansas City grocery store. With federal agents taking notes from a nearby hidden location, mobster Artie Piscano (Vinny Vella) expresses frustration about his role in the Las Vegas operation.

In this scene, director Martin Scorsese’s mother, Catherine Scorsese, portraying Piscano’s mom, becomes irritated by the mobster’s vulgar language as he voices his concerns.

The Artie Piscano character is based on Kansas City underboss Carl “Tuffy” DeLuna, whose detailed notes about the skim, which investigators discovered in his home, helped authorities unravel the criminal enterprise.

In federal skimming trials in Kansas City during the 1980s, DeLuna and other mobsters from the Midwest were convicted and sent to prison.

Unlike the scene in the movie, the actual wiretapped conversation took place in June 1978 in the Villa Capri, a pizza joint and cocktail lounge on Kansas City’s Independence Avenue.  Authorities tapping into a bug planted in the restaurant heard members of the Civella crime family discuss casinos in Las Vegas.

This conversation inside the Villa Capri “detailed for the first time in the Mob’s own voice the influence and power organized crime exerted in Las Vegas,” wrote Nicholas Pileggi in his book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. Pileggi and Scorsese cowrote the screenplay for the movie. The characters’ real names were used in the book but were changed in the movie for legal reasons.

Another bugged conversation that helped authorities foil the skim occurred five months later in a Kansas City neighborhood, Filumena Acres, where crime boss Nick Civella and other family members lived.

Inside the home of Civella relative Josephine Marlo, Las Vegas casino executive Carl Thomas was recorded on surveillance audio explaining to Kansas City mobsters how the skim works at Las Vegas casinos. In 1993, after serving a prison sentence, Thomas died at age 60 in a single-vehicle crash in Oregon.

According to Pileggi, these events in Kansas City had a lasting impact. It would not be an exaggeration, Pileggi wrote, “to say that the Marlo meeting and Carl DeLuna’s notes are responsible for knocking the Mob out of Las Vegas casinos.”

The Kansas City Mob’s “outsized” influence is one reason Hollywood keeps coming back, said Gary Jenkins, a retired Kansas City Police Department Intelligence Unit detective. Jenkins is named in Pileggi’s book as one of the authorities who discovered DeLuna’s notes during a search of the house. Jenkins now runs the Gangland Wire website and podcast.

 “Kansas City was right in the mix,” Jenkins said.

Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist. He served as press secretary for Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and was political editor at the Las Vegas Sun and managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. The Mob in Pop Culture blog appears monthly.