Jon D’Amore is a California-based screenwriter who will debut his first self-published novel, “The Boss Always Sits in the Back,” at the Secaucus Public Library in a free reading on May 16 at 7 p.m. The author says the story is based on true events that take readers inside organized crime in Hudson County as they pull off a scam in Las Vegas that changed gaming laws in the late seventies just as casino gambling arrived in Atlantic City.
D’Amore, a former Secaucus resident, says he drew from his relationship to his cousin and godfather Jerry D’Amore as the basis for two of the main characters in the book. He described the novel as a love story between a young man and his godfather.
“Because for your godfather you’ll do anything,” said D’Amore.
Drawing from family ties
The novel taps D’Amore’s experiences growing up in Hudson County during the 1960s and ‘70s, surrounded by relatives and friends he says were involved in La Cosa Nostra, the Italian Mafia. While D’Amore says he observed the action from the sidelines, he had an inside look at the dealings of the underworld.
“The book is based on some guys I knew, things I saw happen, [and] things I heard about,” said D’Amore.
The book’s cast of characters includes both real and fictionalized names. Actors James Dean and John Travolta and singer Frank Sinatra make appearances, among less celebrated personalities like the protagonist Jon D’Amore; his cousin and godfather Jerry D’Amore; Rocco “The Boss” Casiano, a former boxer from Bayonne; Al “The Tailor” Nucci, another former boxer and tailor from Secaucus; Tommy “The Irishman” Dolan from Bayonne, an ‘underboss’; his right hand man Louie Calderon; and “Big Mike” Caruso, Jerry’s right hand man.
‘During Prohibition, several Italian entrepreneurs built distilleries in the swamps of Secaucus. The local police weren’t worried about the liquor because they knew it was headed out-of-state...besides, they were well paid to look the other way.’ – John D’Amore, in “The Boss Always Sits in the Back”
In the book he writes, “You can say and think what you want about people connected with the Mafia, but above all, they’re simply men doing business just like those who make their way to the train station and eventually to the office.”
Early age of creativity
D’Amore grew up in Hudson County and lived in Union City until the age of twelve before he moved to Secaucus in 1966.
“That qualified us to move to the country because it had trees,” said D’Amore about his move from city to residential living. His father, Carmine “Rocky” D’Amore, was president of a textile union for 20 years and was married to his mother Ann.
Even though D’Amore was surrounded by family members that were in organized crime, including his godfather Jerry, he said that his father had other aspirations for him.
“The fathers, like my father, they didn’t want to see their kids to be a part of that,” said D’Amore.
He caught on to his creative talents early on as a child in both writing and music.
He first discovered he had a knack for writing in the fifth grade after he returned from a summer family vacation to Gettysburg. He was so moved by the trip and bothered by the loss of American life at the hands of other Americans during the Civil War that he wrote a long essay on it when he returned to school in the fall. His teacher, impressed with his writing, distributed mimeographed copies throughout the fifth and sixth grades in the county.
“I was always doing things that put me in front of people,” said D’Amore. At the age of ten, after several years of guitar lessons, he joined up with a friend Anthony Dregona along with others, and played guitar from classroom to classroom. D’Amore said that they were referred to as the “Union City Beatles.”
“It was an exciting time because of all that was going on [in music] with the British Invasion, [and] all the great groups coming out of America at the time.”
D’Amore couldn’t resist the draw of music. He performed in several bands such as the Mixed Expressions, Caribdus, and Diamond Jym, until he eventually became a session musician for thirteen years.
“‘Cause the girls liked the guy with the guitar a lot more than the guy sitting in front of the typewriter,” said D’Amore about why he pursued music instead of writing.
Despite the fact that D’Amore didn’t initially focus on writing as a career he couldn’t suppress the urge to tell the story at the heart of his novel.
“I’ve always written, but I never decided to write a book until the very late 90s until I knew I wanted to write this story,” said D’Amore. “I decided to get in my car and drive west until I hit the ocean.” He was burnt out from working as a corporate executive in an insurance company, something he pursued after music, and didn’t want to spend any more days in hotel conference rooms.
What happens in Las Vegas, stays in a novel
Around the time D’Amore began performing as a session musician he was invited to Las Vegas by his godfather for his 22nd birthday. The events that transpired during that trip and over the following year create the basis for the novel.
In the book, the main character, Jon D’Amore, gets pulled into a major scam run on the Las Vegas casinos led by New Jersey mob “boss” Rocco Casiano, a ‘made’ member of the Genovese crime family. What Jon expects to be a special birthday celebration and his first experience gambling turns into a high flying moment of sex, drugs, and the exchange of a lot of money. He is asked by his own godfather to open a credit line at MGM Grand casino and lose $25,000 playing craps while another member of the “crew” makes the same amount and then that money was taken and “invested” back in New Jersey for an even greater profit.
“This scam ended October of 1977,” said D’Amore. “It changed gambling laws regarding credit lines so this could never take place again.”
Voters approved the constitutional amendment to legalize gaming in New Jersey in November, 1976. The legislature passed the Casino Control Act, signed into law in June 1977, and set forth the toughest gaming control measures ever enacted, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. It mandated the close supervision of all gaming and strict regulatory oversight of all taxes, fees, and penalties generated by casinos. Individuals could not take out credit lines without the backing of certified checks.
The novel takes a few twists and turns as the events play out and the relationship between godson and godfather evolves.
While D’Amore draws on true events and on people that lived and did business in Hudson County he had no qualms about exposing anyone while writing the novel. He consulted with individuals that some of the characters are based on before publishing the novel.
“I told them early on, [and] asked if they had a problem with that. They wanted to see how it was going to turn out,” said D’Amore. “After they read the book nobody had a problem with it.”
D’Amore has written a screenplay for the novel, which he says has garnered some interest. After the book tour he returns to his work as a screenwriter in California. He is currently working on a project with Disney.
D’Amore will conduct a book tour in May and appear at local libraries on the following dates and locations: May 16, Secaucus Library 7 p.m.; May 17, North Bergen Library 6 p.m.; May 21, Jersey City Library Five Corners Branch 6 p.m.; May 22, Sons of Italy at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City at 5 p.m.
To register for the Secaucus event, contact: (201) 330-2083.
For more information, visit: http://jondamore.com/boss/
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.