"We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking."
- Henry Hill (Goodfellas - 1990)
Behind every successful gangster is a legion of corrupt policemen and politicians. After all, would Vigil Sollozzo have been as interested in Don Corleone if it was not for “those politicians that you carry in your pocket, like so many nickels and dimes.”? Could Jimmy ‘The Gent’ have been any good at being a Goodfella if he didn’t make "the whole army of cops assigned to stop him, partners"?
Officials are corrupted by money, some are blackmailed and others have spent so much time surrounded by racketeering they actually think they can do it too. This list counts down gangster movies' top thirteen most corrupt officials detailing their level of dodgy dealings and the consequences of their shady shenanigans.
13 of Gangster Movies Most
7. David Kleinfeld – Carlito's Way
“You tell me how it feels with the fuckin' eels and the fuckin' crabs comin' outta your fuckin' eyes!
Now, drown, you guinea bastard!”
David Kleinfeld was a mob lawyer. He began clerking for a mob lawyer when he was fresh out of law school and all his clients thereafter were wiseguys. His top client was his best friend and heroin kingpin of Spanish Harlem Carlito Brigante. To be fair Kleinfeld could have made this list just for the ginger Jewfro and accompanying sideburns; alas he is here for far more corrupt activities. He sprung his star client Carlito Brigante from prison, on a technicality, from a thirty year stretch after only serving five and used this as leverage to help him out of a spot of bother with a mob boss he’d doubled crossed. The lawyer took sleaze to a whole new level and to accompany his criminal activities he also indulged in the criminal lifestyle abusing heroin, and hanging out in the nightclubs until stupid o’clock in the morning. He even pulled his gun on a known gangster Benny Blanco from the Bronx.
Level of corruption: Money laundering; jury tampering and bribery is how it started. He became big time when he stole $1 million from an Italian mob boss Tony Taglialucci; and as penance when he was made to help break Tony T out of Rykers Island prison he killed him instead and slit the throat of Tony’s son.
How did it end: Tony T’s second son Vincent was determined to avenge the death of his father and brother, but an initial attempt to knife him failed. While Kleinfeld was recovering from the near fatal knife attack in hospital, Carlito learned that the lawyer had double-crossed him and had cut a deal with the District Attorney to put him back in prison. Carlito visited him in hospital and discretely removed the bullets from the lawyer’s gun that he kept to defend himself from a further attack. When Vincent turned up at the hospital, Kleinfeld was left exposed and this time the Italian made no mistake.
Pat Geary was a United States Senator for the state of Nevada. As an upstanding representative of the state he attended Michael Corleone’s exclusive lakeside soirée in honour of his son Anthony’s First Communion and accepted a ‘magnificent contribution’ from the Corleone’s on behalf of the local university. Geary however was Michael’s guest at the swanky shindig for business purposes. Known as a senator who was happy to have his palm greased, Michael wanted his support in obtaining a gaming license for the Tropicalla casino in Las Vegas. Geary however let his dislike of oily-haired Italians be known and requested an extortionate bribe of $250k for granting the $20k license, while also insulting Michael, his family and Italian Americans in general at the same time.
Level of corruption: As far as we know Geary’s corruption extended only as far cash for favours and a taste for rough sex with prostitutes. However, as payback for insulting Michael Corleone, the Don exploited Geary’s penchant for frequenting whorehouses and made Geary believe that he killed the dead hooker he woke up next to. Tom Hagan cleaned up the mess leaving behind only ‘friendship’. The senator then became much more agreeable to working with the Corleone’s. He provided support to Michael at a Senate committee investigating organised crime; and shared confidential information such as the name of the witness who was set to testify against Michael at the hearing i.e. Frankie ‘Five Angels’ Pentangli.
How did it end: Senator Geary’s fate was never expound upon, however, in the officially authorised sequal novels to Mario Puzo’s The Godfather he is stated to have remained in Michael Corleone’s pocket.
“Let's cut out the bullshit. ... You can have the license, the price is 250,000 dollars. Plus a monthly payment of 5% of the gross - of all four hotels”
8. Senator Pat Geary - The Godfather Part 2
9. Detective Mel Bernstein - Scarface (1984)
“The word on the street is you're bringing in a lot of yeyo.
That means you're not a small-time punk anymore you're public property now.”
Melvin Bernstein was a detective in the Miami Police Department who shook-down the local drug dealers on his patch - of which there are many. He was on the payroll of the drug lord and boss of the Miami cartel, Frank Lopez. He acted as Lopez’s man on the inside, but also gave him information on others attempting to move against him or push dope on his patch.
Level of corruption: He attempted to extort Tony Montana of $25k a month; he taxed drug dealers for protection and information; and controlled a team of eight corrupt cops who carried out assassinations.
How did it end: When the hit on Tony Montana failed, Tony suspected Frank Lopez sanctioned it. When he went to confront Frank he was with Detective Bernstein. Frank admitted to ordering the hit and Tony's lieutenant, Manny Ribera killed him for it. Bernstein sat and watched this all play out, content in the belief that Tony would not shoot a cop... he was wrong. He was still pissed that the Detective tried to shake him down earlier and he also knew about the attempted assassination. Tony shot him in the gut before taunting him and finally put a second bullet into his chest, killing him.
10. Secretary of Commerce Chris Bailey
- Once upon a Time in America
“I took your whole life away from you; I've been living in your place. I took everything - your money, your girl...”
This one is a little weird although make no mistake Secretary Chris Bailey was definitely corrupt – he was even facing a senate committee investigating the “Bailey Scandal”. The weirdness stems from the fact that Christopher Bailey was an assumed identity. Bailey started out life as Max Bercovicz who was a prohibition bootlegger. He later faked his own death during an attempt to rob the New York Federal Reserve Bank. While his partners in crime Patsy and Cockeye were both killed, Max took the loot and created a new life for himself. He invested the significant sum of cash in successful business enterprises and used his wealth to back a presidential campaign; landing himself the role of Secretary of Commerce for helping to put the president in the White House.
Level of corruption: First of all Max Bercoviciz was a major player in the bootlegging industry, he strong-armed union officials, robbed banks and was a bona fide gangster. As Secretary Bailey we don’t get to know exactly what he had done but the Bailey Scandal according to news reports was rumoured to have involved rigged contracts, bribery and the international Mafia – especially those dealing with the illegal use of the Transport Union pension funds. Knowing Max the way we do, the reports are likely true.
How did it end: Bailey asked Noodles – his one-time friend and partner in crime to kill him. This way out was thought to be preferable to prison and national disgrace or being murdered to prevent him implicating others involved in the scandal. Noodles, however, refused and the movie’s end was intentionally enigmatic. One interpretation is that Secretary Bailey killed himself by throwing himself in the back of a garbage truck another is that hitmen got to him and disposed of him in a garbage truck and yet another theory is that he faked his death (again) or even Noodles dreamed it all – who knows…
11. Police Chief Mike Dorsett - The Untouchables
“Who the hell do ya think ya are? l'll have your ass hangin' from the flagpole in the morning”
Mike Dorsett began life on the force as a tough street cop alongside his equally formidable colleague and friend Jimmy Malone. The pair were on crusade to rid the streets of each and every law breaker, no matter how small their crime. Dorsett, however, began to accept bribes (no doubt as a result of small remuneration for a hard job). He was then promoted quickly up the chain of command - eventually making Police Chief. The ever untouchable Jimmy Malone was continually overlooked by successive corrupt chiefs who did not approve of his unimpeachable principles. As Chief of Police during the height of Al Capone’s reign Dorsett enjoyed fat payouts from the mob boss to look the other way.
Level of corruption: Dorsett tipped off Al Capone about Eliot Ness’s raid on a liquor warehouse (and Ness instead found only umbrellas). He sold out Oscar Wallace (one of The Untouchables) to Capone’s top enforcer Frank Nitti who shot and killed Wallace and also Capone’s bookkeeper who was going to testify against the racketeer.
How did it end: It’s unknown what happened to Dorsett after the end of the movie and Al Capone was sent down, but what we do know is that he got his ass handed to him by a 57 year old Sean Connery in a back-alley brawl. It’s yet to be confirmed whether the fight was over who had the worst Irish accent.
12. Happy Jack Mulraney - Gangs of New York
“You boys settle with me before you settle each other. I've come for my due and proper.”
‘Happy Jack’ Mulraney was so named due to an unfortunate facial paralysis which left him with a grotesque grin. He was originally part of the Dead Rabbits a gang of Irish imigrants led by Priest Vallon. However, the Dead Rabbits were defeated in a turf war with their fiece rivals The Natives led by Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting. When Cutting killed Vallon he declared the Dead Rabbits gang outlawed. Following the dissolving of the gang Happy Jack became a policeman in the ‘Five Points’ area and was loyal to Bill Cutting.
Level of corruption: Happy Jack enforced the law in the Five Points area of New York through force and brutality, comfortable brandishing his nightstick to beat down young boys. He also used his position to shake down local thieves and pickpockets, making sure he took his share of the spoils and got the choicest pieces of jewellery.
How did it end: When Amsterdam Vallon left a dead rabbit hanging from the railings in the centre of Paradise Square as a sign of disobedience to Cutting, Cutting instructed Happy Jack to go and get him. Amsterdam though strangled Happy Jack and strungs up his dead body in the square.
13. Sgt Detective Vin Makazian - The Sopranos
“You got an amazing ability to sum up a man's whole life in a single sentence. "Degenerate gambler with a badge," huh? You're a pisser. You're a real pisser.”
Vin Makazian was a self-loathing degenerate gambler who had debts to Tony Soprano, Big Pussy and who knows who else. Twice divorced, he was also saddled with alimony payments, he was a wreck of a man and his only solace was frequent visits to a bordello – not for sex, just for companionship (yeah right...). Tony Soprano treated him with total distain, but used him for information in exchange for paying off his gambling debts.
Level of corruption: As a favour for Tony Soprano he followed Tony’s therapist Dr Melfi which led to him beating up her date and taking explicit photos of her; he provided Tony with confidential information about FBI informants, which led inevitably to more murders.
How did it end: The self-loathing, the large gambling debts and his general failure at life were all contributing factors, but the final straw that led to his suicide was being busted at the bordello. The only two things in his life he had left to cling to: his police badge; and the bordello were about to be taken from him. To end it he parked his car on the Donald Goodkind Bridge, climbed over the railings and put on his detective badge one last time before plummeting to his death.
How corrupt were they and what were the consequences
McCluskey was a Police captain in the NYPD, a respected figure with 20 years’ service. He had four sons, the support and education of which made him susceptible to bribes to supplement his meagre cop salary. Fast forward a couple of years and the corruption deepened as he rose in the Department and his contacts reached deeper into the underworld. Virgil ‘The Turk’ Sollozzo with his plan to dominate the narcotics business paid Captain McCluskey big money to be his bodyguard. As Tom Hagen pointed out, “while Sollozzo is guarded like this, he's invulnerable. Nobody has ever gunned down a New York Police Captain”.
Level of Corruption: He used his power and influence to allow Sollozzo to attempt to flood the streets of New York (and beyond) with narcotics. He removed the men assigned to protect Don Vito Corleone, while in hospital recovering from an earlier assassination attempt, to give Sollozzo a second chance at killing The Godfather.
How did it End: Michael Corleone, while having dinner with Captain McCluskey and Sollozzo in a restaurant in the Bronx (under the guise of "straighten everything out”) gunned them both down. It took two shots to put McCluskey down; one in the throat and one in the head. Tom Hagen then conveniently furnished his contacts in the media with stories of McCluskey’s corruption to lessen the heat that the Police Department would bring to bear for the slaying of one of their own.
“I thought I got all you Guinea hoods locked up. What the hell are you doing here?”
6. Police Captain Mark McCluskey – The Godfather
Despite American Gangster being about a drug lord who poisons Harlem with cheap narcotics, the true bad guy of the flick was corrupt cop Detective Reno Trupo. Trupo is a manifestation of the worst bent coppers of the 1970s. As a detective in the Special Investigation Unit the independent branch of NYPD, Trupo handled big time cases, but was more corrupt than the criminals he brought down. In fact his true goal was to keep the criminals on the street so he could blackmail them; he even referred to Frank Lucas as a “Cash Cow”.
Level of Corruption: He removed the seized French Connection dope from the evidence lockers and sold it back to the mob; he stopped Frank Lucas on his wedding day to shake him down for $10k a month; he discovered a trunk full of heroin in Lucas’s Lincoln Continental, but instead of arresting him (which could have been the bust of his career) he instead stole the drugs; and he broke into Lucas’s mansion to steal his ‘getaway money’ terrorising his wife and elderly mother and shot his German Sheperd – yeah that’s right - the bastard killed the dog.
How did it end: When Frank Lucas gave up names of corrupt cops in return for a reduced sentence, Trupo’s name was at the top of the list. He was unable to face the consequences of his actions and so Trupo took the coward’s way out. He used his Smith & Wesson Model 19 Snub Nose to blow his own brains out.
“We need to keep this cash cow alive. You actually going to arrest Frank Lucas? What's the matter with you?”
5. Detective Reno Trupo – American Gangster
Has there ever been a more corrupt lawyer then this Kraut-Mick smooth-talking son of a bitch? Hagan had a special practice; he handled one client Don Vito Corleone and later Michael Corleone. As a child he lived rough on the street after his mother died of STDs and his father drank himself to death. Vito Corleone’s oldest son Sonny brought him home one day and although he was never formally adopted, Hagen became another son to the Godfather and brother to Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Connie. When he graduated law school he became an advisor to the Corleone crime family and without even being Italian and was therefore not a made-man he became Consigliere to the Don.
Level of corruption: Intimidation of movie producer Jack Woltz; planning the murders of Police Chief McCluskey and Virgil Sollozzo; collusion in the slaughter of the heads of the New York crime families; encouraging Frank Pentangeli to commit suicide. The list of corruption is pretty long, but let’s not forget as Consigliere he was privy to every crime instigated by the biggest crime family in the country, not to mention that in Part II Michael put Tom in charge of the whole criminal organisation while was he finding out who was behind the attempt on his life.
How did it end: Hagen’s demise is a little cloudy. In the movie trilogy he died before the events of the final movie which commenced in 1979. In the novel The Godfather’s Revenge an authorised sequel to the original, Hagen is drowned in the Florida Everglades by Nick Geraci who sent Michael Corleone a dead baby alligator with Hagen's wallet in its mouth– implying Hagen sleeps with the alligators – along the lines of Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
“You're gonna have some union problems; my client could make them disappear. Also, one of your top stars has just moved from marijuana to heroin”
4. Tom Hagen – The Godfather
From an early age a young, smart but naïve catholic boy, Colin Sullivan was taken under the wing and groomed by Irish mob boss Frank Costello. Costello put Sullivan through school and then the State Police Academy, playing the long-game to plant one of his own on the inside. Unlike many others on this list Sullivan was not a policeman who accepted bribes or had gambling debts to pay, he was working for the bad guys long before he ever put on a uniform.
Level of corruption: He protected Frank Costello by manipulating his fellow law enforcers; he fed Costello information to help elude the authorities; and he lied, cheated and murdered to protect his identity.
How did it end: Just when he thought he’d gotten away with his duplicity and everyone who knew his real identity was dead or no-longer a threat, Sergeant Dignam surprised him by waiting inside his apartment dressed in a forensic Tyvek suit and put a bullet into his head.
“Hey, it fucking involves lying and I'm pretty fucking good at that. Right?”
3. Sergeant Colin Sullivan – The Departed
2. Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson - Boardwalk Empire
“If you wanna be a gangster in my town, then you’ll pay me for the privilege”
Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson was the popular treasure of Atlantic County, loved by the Irish immigrant population and African American community but he inherited a system for running Atlantic City from his mentor, the Commodore - Louis Kaestner - which made him the boss of a political and criminal empire – he controlled both legal and illegal business. With the passing of the Volstead act, Nucky then became one the biggest bootleggers on the East coast and worked with the likes of Arnold Rothstein, Charlie Luciano and Al Capone.
Level of corruption: While holding public office, Nucky was the number one crime boss in the city and one of the most powerful on the eastern seaboard. Nothing happened in Atlantic City without the express permission of Nucky. He authorised hits including his future wife’s husband; he personally executed his surrogate son and protégé Jimmy Darmody; he rigged elections for senators and governors to ensure he had personal influence at the very highest level of government; in fact his level of corruption was such that he couldn’t be half a gangster anymore and he gave up his political position to become a full time mob boss and bootlegger.
How did it end: Nucky sold his soul for power when he chose to hand over a 13 year old Gillian Darmody to the paedophilic Commodore to earn his favour. For all his gangster activities and the company he kept with the countries top racketeers, it was this act in his mid twenties that haunted his life and eventually led to his death. Gillian's grandson Tommy, son of the child she concieved to the Commordor at the age of thirteen, shot Nucky on the boardwalk and killed him.
*Nucky only failed to make the top spot on a technicality - Boardwalk Empire is not movie
1. Police Captain Dudley Smith - LA Confidential
“I admire you as a policeman - particularly your adherence to violence as a necessary adjunct to the job.”
LA Confidential is set in the early 1950s at a time when the LAPD was riddled with corruption. Captain Dudley Smith encouraged his men to use strong arm tactics as a means to deal with the criminals running wild in the city. He was responsible for the high-profile arrest of the city’s top gangster Mickey Cohen, but the resulting power vacuum left by the gangster’s incarceration resulted in many of Cohen’s former top men being gunned down in the street.
Level of corruption: Smith had grand ambitions and sought to take over Mickey Cohen’s drug operations, becoming the de facto boss of the heroin empire and the most powerful crime boss in Los Angeles. It was he and his fellow corrupt minion police officers who were responsible for killing Cohen’s remaining men as he tied up the loose ends to take over the drug business. He ordered the assassination of businessman/pimp/porn movie director Pierce Patchett and murdered Detective Sgt Jack Vincennes when he got too close to the truth.
How did it end: Detective Lieutenant Edmund Exley, a policeman as straight as they come, put a bullet in his back following a tense shoot out.
Return to Home