After a childhood in upstate New York, Ori Spado embarked on a criminal career that took him from Manhattan to Hollywood to prison.
Spado’s life in and out of crime is chronicled in his 2020 memoir The Accidental Gangster: From Insurance Salesman to Hollywood Fixer. The book delves into Spado’s many ventures over the years and his acquaintances with high-ranking mobsters such as Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky.
Spado, 78, is active on podcasts and social media sites, but his story is expected to receive wider recognition in the coming months. Hollywood veterans George Gallo and Nick Vallelonga are producing a feature film based on the Rome, New York, native’s life. The movie is set to go into production this year. A theatrical release date has not been scheduled.
“The movie is going to happen,” Gallo said in a telephone interview. “We’re going full speed ahead.”
Among other film credits, Gallo wrote the script for the 1988 Mob movie Midnight Run, a Golden Globe Best Picture nominee starring Robert De Niro.
Vallelonga won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for 2018’s Green Book, a popular movie that also won a Best Picture Oscar.
Film producer Sean Robins (Mortal Kombat) also is involved in bringing the Accidental Gangster project to completion, Spado said.
FBI shadows Spado
According to Gallo, Spado’s book is not typical of most gangster stories. “How he became a Hollywood fixer is fascinating,” Gallo said. “It’s a great journey.”
From attempting to shake down a Hawaiian brothel operator while in the Army to later assisting celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Spado became involved throughout the years in one scheme after another. In assisting Campbell, he helped locate a stalker and encouraged him to leave her alone. The stalker did not bother Campbell again, Spado said.
Spado counts acclaimed screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi and the late Hollywood producers Dino De Laurentiis and John Daly among close friends who have worked in the film industry.
Other friends made their living in the underworld.
Shadowed for years by the FBI, Spado associated with Los Angeles crime family capo Jimmy Caci and London gangster Joey Pyle.
Spado’s involvement with Caci included trips to Las Vegas on “garbage business” and more. According to the Buffalo News, Caci, who died in 2011 at age 86, had been “a feared Mob leader in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Las Vegas.”
“Jimmy and I were like brothers,” Spado said over the telephone.
Spado said he twice was given a chance to become a Mafia made member but turned down the opportunity both times, not wanting to answer to anyone but himself.
Along the way, Spado was imprisoned on a federal racketeering conviction targeting 12 defendants connected to the Columbo crime family. Among those named with Spado in the 17-count indictment was Columbo underboss John “Sonny” Franzese. When indicted, Spado was 63 years old.
As a father, Spado said he used the experiences that landed him in prison to steer his three children away from the lifestyle that caused him more than a few legal problems. One son, Anthony, co-wrote the script with David Steenhoek for the upcoming movie.
Gallo said Spado’s life has been a “trial by fire” that led to better outcomes for his children.
“It’s a father-son story,” Gallo said. “It’s a story of family, a story of selflessness.”
Spado’s memoir includes reprints of encouraging notes he wrote to his children, including one to son Anthony saying that having a dad in prison for five years contributed to the young man becoming more independent.
“I’m extremely proud of what and who you’ve become,” Spado wrote. “If me doing five years did that, then it was well worth it.”
Interest in Mob remains strong
The film based on Spado’s life is one of several projects Gallo has in the works that focus on organized crime. He is moving forward on a movie about Tony Spilotro, the Chicago Outfit’s overseer in Las Vegas during the 1970s and early ’80s. That project is in its early stages.
Gallo and Vallelonga also are putting together a film on New York Mob boss Carlo Gambino, who died in 1976 of natural causes at age 74. Gambino’s last name still is used for one of the Five Families operating in the city. At one time, high-profile mobster John Gotti led the Gambino crime family.
In addition, Gallo is working with Spado on a television series about former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Frank Panessa, who infiltrated the Mafia to help crack the “Pizza Connection” heroin distribution case, resulting in criminal convictions during the 1980s.
With these projects underway, Gallo noted that organized crime stories continue to be popular. One reason is that Mob stories allow viewers to live vicariously in an “extremely dangerous” world inhabited by those who don’t follow normal rules, he said.
“It’s cops and robbers,” Gallo said. “It lends itself to great cinema.”
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. Today, he is a senior reporter for Gambling.com. The Mob in Pop Culture blog appears monthly.
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