By Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- My new favorite radio show is "The Moth Radio Hour." The Moth is a place where people gather to share personal stories with complete strangers. Sometimes the stories are funny; sometimes they are poignant. They are almost always interesting.
They usually follow a theme; they generally run around 10 minutes long.
The Moth got me to thinking about a story I would like to tell.
In the summer of 2003, I was writing a magazine profile about a Cleveland mobster named Anthony Delmonti. Delmonti had spent five years working as an undercover agent for the Cleveland FBI.
In five years' time, he had amassed more than 500 audio and videotapes with his criminal colleagues. These recordings contributed to the arrest of more than 50 people and the recovery of $250,000 in stolen vehicles, $80,000 in drug money and $100,000 in illicit gambling money.
Delmonti was in hiding, awaiting trials in which he would testify by corroborating the tapes he had made. A large number of the people he recorded were members of theBonanno crime family from New York.
At the time, he was living on Marco Island in Florida. He called me and asked me to come down there and visit with him. He wanted his story told in case something happened to him. He had also become suspicious, fearing that the FBI would not make good on the money they had offered to give him for his undercover work.
I flew down there with my trusty tape recorder to hear what he had to say.
He was staying in a small bungalow on the Intracoastal Waterway with his girlfriend. The back of the house led to a dock and a channel. We sat at his kitchen table, and I turned my tape recorder on. I asked about his safety.
"I'm in danger," he said. "These guys in New York are not children I'm playing with. There are a lot of guys going to jail, and they have family. They kill people. I believe if the Bonanno family found out where I was at, they would kill me."
We talked for hours about his upbringing in Collinwood. He said he was not predisposed to a life of crime other than that his father was a small-time bookmaker.
"I was a rich kid who went bad," he said. He said his mother thought he could do no wrong. She blamed everyone else for his misbehavior.
Then he went on to catalog his prodigious life of crime, including robbery, extortion, drug dealing, counterfeiting and other nefarious activities.
About two hours into our interview, there came a loud bang, bang, bang on his front door. Delmonti went white with fear.
"NOBODY knows I'm here," he said. "Not even the FBI."
With that, he leapt up from his chair and ran into an adjoining bedroom, where he stood with his back up against the wall.
It occurred to me, what with the Intracoastal out the back door, there was no way out. I quickly joined him in the bedroom. The more scared he looked, the more scared I got. In front us in the bedroom was an empty bed frame. Looking at it, he slapped his head and let out a loud F-word.
"What?" I asked.
"I forgot I ordered a mattress," he said.
Later that week, leaving a restaurant, I noticed a large gold cross Delmonti wore around his neck. I asked him what he thought Jesus might think of him wearing it.
"I think he'd understand," he said. "Jesus had a crew. He even had a rat in his crew."