In ads and personal appearances, Brecksville auto dealer Tom Ganley likes to say his 1980s run-in with organized crime is one of the top reasons why voters should support his GOP campaign for Congress over incumbent Copley Township Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton.
Ganley’s campaign broadcast its first television ad on Sept. 16, which began: "An organized crime syndicate was extorting money from his business, threatening his family. But he fought back and won the FBI’s highest civilian award. Tom Ganley for Congress. Tom Ganley will take that same courage and business experience to Washington and stop reckless spending."
Earlier that week, Ganley told The Plain Dealer’s editorial board that he took down the mob in Northeast Ohio.
In the Sept. 13 interview, Ganley described how he spent two years helping the FBI catch organized crime figures who tried to extort money from his car dealership, how he wore a bulletproof vest, how his personal and business phones were monitored, his children were threatened, and how the Mafia put out a $1 million contract on his life. The FBI subsequently gave him its "Louis E. Peters Memorial Service Award."
"I’m someone who has taken on the Mafia and won," Ganley told the editorial board.
PolitiFact Ohio decided to take a look at his claim.
Articles from The Plain Dealer’s archives show two organized crime figures -- former Teamsters Union leader John J. (Skip) Felice and Joseph C. Ilaqua -- were sent to prison by U.S. District Judge Alvin I. Krenzler in July 1983 after pleading guilty to conspiring to extort $10,000 and a car from Ganley in 1981 and 1982..
The indictment against Felice said he approached Ganley in April 1981, and told him that high ranking organized crime figures wanted him killed. Felice said he could get the contract on Ganley’s life canceled in exchange for money. Ganley paid Felice $10,000 in two, $5,000 payments on or about May 4, 1981, and Feb. 10, 1982. As part of the deal, Ganley gave Ilaqua a leased 1981 Oldsmobile 98 Regency.
"During this investigation, it became evident to these organized crime members that Mr. Ganley was cooperating with the FBI and that he would be testifying against them at trial," says a 2007 press release the FBI issued when Ganley got its Louis E. Peters award. "This realization resulted in additional death threats directed at Mr. Ganley and his family. Mr. Ganley refused to be intimidated by these criminals and consented to having FBI agents live at his residence to provide security for himself and his family."
Former FBI agents interviewed by The Plain Dealer said that Ganley wore a wire when he met with the extortionists and asked questions at the FBI’s request that were designed to help it crack other cases. Former FBI agent Carmen LoParo said Felice helped implicate other criminals by answering Ganley’s questions about who ultimately got the extortion money he paid. LoParo described Ilaqua as "a mob strongarm person who would break legs and things."
"Skippy Felice was boasting about all the mob connections and how there was money coming in from different organizations in Las Vegas," recalled another retired FBI agent, James Kennedy. "That was eventually used to develop cooperating witnesses within the organized crime family."
None of the FBI agents or former federal prosecutors contacted by The Plain Dealer could provide the names of crime figures apart from Felice and Ilaqua who were convicted solely on the basis of Ganley’s evidence. They said the FBI used information from many sources to build cases against organized crime figures.
"Every single case was connected to other cases because of this larger structure," says retired FBI agent David Drab.
And while he described Ganley’s actions as courageous and important to the FBI’s investigative strategy, he said: "I don’t think anybody would think one person and one case could take out the mob."
So where does that leave us?
Ganley’s claim to the editorial board does have some element of truth.
He did help put several dangerous criminals behind bars.
- FBI agents who worked with him uniformly praise his actions.
But it’s overkill for Ganley to state that his work "took down the mob" in Northeast Ohio. For this reason, PolitiFact rates his claim as Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.