John Costello's Executive Hoodlum
By Carin Chea
For quite a while now I have been wracking my mind attempting to draft an introduction worthy of a life story that is far more compelling and thrilling than fiction. How does one introduce John Costello, whose roots were steeped in Mob relations, but rose to success to become the Vice President of Business Development for a $6 billion semiconductor corporation?
With a life narrative that will captivate any and every audience, Mr. Costello's life would not only be a biopic. It would be The biopic. While that has not actually come to fruition (yet), we are fortunate: The Chicago north side native has penned Executive Hoodlum, which chronicles Mr. Costello's evolution from organized crime, to successful business savant and politician.
With a truthfulness and intensity that rivals classics like The Godfather or Goodfellas, Executive Hoodlum is pure excitement, and pure reality.
How did you first get involved in the Mob? Subsequently, how did you get out of it?
I had just graduated from college, and I thought all the violence in my life was behind me. By the time I got to college, I had been an arm's distance from my family. I was working for a semiconductor industry. I started in the white-collar world, which was an adjustment for me because I grew up in a blue-collar family. I like to say that I was accustomed to taking a shower after work, and not before.
People say you can take the boy out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the boy. I'd be in the midst of my cousins, and also my father. He was up to no good; he'd call me and tell me what he was up to. I'd been to Vegas to see him in a few shows, but I didn't know he had a scam going on all that time. He asked me to come back and help him manage his career. I thought he was taking me seriously because now I had a college degree.
So, I go back there, and things started to get really seedy. I was helping him promote his shows, handling the corporate work. But, I come to find out that a lot of the venues were mob venues. I started to feel uncomfortable because he'd say,"Hey Johnny, go to this corner and pick up this." And, it's be an envelope full of thousands of dollars.
Let's talk about The Sit Down, which was one of the excerpts I read from your book. It was such a compelling read and really kept me at the edge of my seat! What was going through your mind during The Sit Down of 1986?
I'm in there in a meeting, late night, well after closing hours, and I'm summoned because a news reel came out with John Drummond. He's a famous organized crime reporter. He and Bill Kurtis did a couple of exposes on how my father was stealing this money on the pretense of producing a movie. Since it was on TV, the mob guys saw it. The reporters mistakenly thought my father was working with the mob on this. Turns out, my father was stealing from them. At this point, my father left because he was about to be indicted.
I was about 24 years old. I'm thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm so stupid for believing my father." I knew how he was, growing up, and yet I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I was on the hook for it because they thought I was in on it.
I was in the sit down with Eddie Caruso, and with Tony Centracchio. I'm in this restaurant, thinking I'm not gonna walk out of there. I'm a stand-up guy and I said, I'm going to tell them what I know. But, I didn't know what they were going to do to me. Were they going to break my legs, or put a bullet through my head?
It was like a scene straight out of the movies. I'm wearing a tie and suit and trying to come across as professional, and the first words out of his [Eddie's] mouth are: "Where's my fucking money?"
There are 2 other guys around and I said, "Look, you see how my father spends money. You see his habits. You knew what was going on. I didn't take your money. You have the records."
ut, now my instincts are kicking in. These guys know that when you're under duress, you're going to say one thing, but your body's going to say something else. I use this in my business a lot. Finally, I realize: They were in the office once when I was arguing with my father about how to spend his investment money. They saw what happened.
All of a sudden, my body language takes over, and the words start to match what they perceive is the truth. I start reacting and getting really agitated. I'm pointing my finger and saying, "What a minute, you know this, because of that time you were at the office!" Once I did that, they knew I was telling the truth.
I stop, and Eddie goes to talk to Tony. He comes back and puts his hand on my shoulder and says, "Okay kid, you're off the hook. But, I can't guarantee the same for your father."
Afterwards Eddie approached me. He knew I was a fighter. He offered me a job to go on his route. Eddie would collect protection money from all these businesses, I think on the North side. Later, I had a guy from California call me (Tim Mansur) who owned a small produce business. I went out to California to check it out. When I got back home, to my apartment, the first message I got on my machine was from Tim. The next message was the Hollywood stuntman, Pete Antico, who set me up with Tim, who said, "Tim's dead. He died of a suspected drug overdose while being transported by police to the station," and, the next message was a death threat. I called Eddie the next day, and said it just wasn't for me.
What life lessons has the Mob taught you?
What they taught me was all about the body language. The way I approach risk in the work place is: I never get intimidated. The techniques they taught me were useful. When you're under that type of duress and someone's asking questions, and they can tell when your words don't match your body language. I would take those lessons into the board room. I would use those primal instincts to make my decisions.
I meet with senators, congressman, people from the Pentagon. I'm not intimidated. I would put myself in their shoes and think, "I could do what they do." But, if you put them in my shoes, I don't think they'd be able to survive what I have. I can say that they've never withstand the amount of stress I have. They've never entered a meeting not knowing if they'd be shot in the head.
I've read the excerpts from your book Executive Hoodlum. You have friends from all walks of life. Is there one niche you feel most comfortable in?
I was at a big electronic show once in Munich. At that time, Rusty Coones, the president of the OC Hells' Angels, just got out of prison and I met up with him and his wife. The president of the San Fernando Hell's Angels threw a party for him. I go to the clubhouse and I meet a bunch of the original Hell's Angels, from the Chapter in Munich, Germany (not associated with the founder Sonny Barger).
So, six, seven months later, I'm in Munich at that electronic show, and I get out of a cab, and my briefcase is still in the trunk of the cab. So, I call all my legal friends but nobody can help me. Now, it's the night before my connecting flight to Frankfurt to get back to LA. So, I call Pete Piccione from the Hell's Angels. I say, "Pete, I'm taking a shot. You know those [Hell's Angels] guys from Munich." I told him the situation, and no joking, within an hour, the cab guy calls me, apologizing profusely.
You are a champion of overcoming odds. How was the process of climbing the corporate ladder like?
I was forced to think about this. Larry asked me about this when we were having lunch. I started tearing up and my voice cracked because I never dealt with a lot of the traumatic things. Larry told me I was an underdog, and I didn't really believe it. I thought about it, and I came to the realization that I was. I thought: "Maybe my story can help somebody, this story about overcoming the odds." I never, ever considered myself an underdog. Ever.
There was no one telling me I was underprivileged. I always had high expectations of myself. To be honest, I turned the resentment and hate I had for my own family into will and determination. I hated my family so much at one point that I just wanted to do something to show them up. My family never told me I couldn't succeed. It was the mistreatment that made me so angry. But, I was never the type to feel sorry for myself.
I understand you are also involved with politics? How did that come about?
I had always been involved with politics. I was friends with my congressman. As my company grew, and we kept making acquisitions, it was very apparent that government policy was very important. I proposed: "Why are we waiting for the government? Why don't we influence policy in order to influence the roadmap?" I knew that, with all the military stuff I work on, this was important.
I would make sure we had good relationships with people on committees so that I'd get support from leaders. A lot of it was communication between the state department, the Pentagon, and Capitol Hill. I can walk away with a clean conscience. I'm educating lawmakers saying, "Here's the problem, and here's how we approach it, from a technology standpoint." I have several initiatives going on as well.
Tell us about your book Executive Hoodlum. What was the impetus to write this memoir?
When my wife threw me my 50th birthday party, and all my worlds collided. That's when I decided to write this book.
I'd known Larry Elder for a while. I used to see him at different social events. Over the years, we'd talk and I'd tell him stories about my family. Unbeknownst to me, he thought I was telling a bunch of crap and bullshit stories. So, all of a sudden, at my 50th party, when he actually met all the people I'd talk about, he realized I was telling the truth! He asked me to go to lunch. That's when he proposed the book deal.
Every Saturday, we'd go to his house and he'd interview people from my life. He wrote the first few chapters, but I realized, "Larry, you're not familiar with the Chicago vernacular and street slang." He agreed, so I ended up doing it but it took me 5 years to do it because of my executive responsibilities. Larry wrote the afterword, but he wrote less than 2% of the book. It had to be in my words. He said, "People who read it have to hear your voice."
Do you have any other projects your fans can look forward to?
Fans. That's funny.
I signed a film deal with Bleibert Entertainment. I signed with them to do a mini-series. I like the fact that they stuck close to the book. They're changing all the names, which is fine by me.
For anyone looking to make a major transition like you did, what is the key piece of advice you'd give them?
I've always been very disciplined. If I have a goal, I'm going to strive to reach that goal. It boils down to this: I never thought I couldn't do what I wanted to do. I knew that this was the land of opportunity. I would watch Olympians and professional athletes and see them overcome odds. I never made it in boxing and rowing because it just wasn't there. I think if you have an ounce of determination in you, and you don't give up easily, you can do just about anything.
Even if you don't get to where you want to go, you'll be at a higher place than where you were before. I want to do things with integrity and with honesty. I believe in karma. I've always had that moral base. I believe if you go through life with integrity and you work hard, things will work out for you. It did for me, and I got thrown down a lot of times. If you set your sights on something, if you get up every time you get knocked down, sooner or later, things will fall into place. There's a saying, "Tough times don't last. Tough people do."
Who would play you in your Lifetime Move of the Week biopic? Who would play your father?
People ask me that all the time. I have no idea who would play me.
You know who my father looks like? Joe Pesci.
To learn more about John Costello's past, present, and future endeavors, please visit www.ExecutiveHoodlum.com. Executive Hoodlum is available for purchase on Amazon.
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