Jon D’Amore thought his cousin was giving him a great 22nd birthday when he sent him to Las Vegas back in 1975 and told him to open a $25,000 credit line.
D’Amore was in Los Angeles at the time, and hung up the phone wearing a big grin.
“I thought it was a big party,” he said, not realizing until later that he was being drawn into the underworld, something straight out of The Godfather and something from which his closest family members had been shielding him.
“I was a musician before, during, and after that,” he recalled during a recent interview prior to his return to Hudson County for his second book tour, highlighting his book, “The Boss Always Sits in the Back,” which recounts what has become the adventure of a lifetime. It is a tale in which he learned the meaning of “family,” not merely in the mobster sense, but also what it means to be loyal and true to those people who share his blood and genes.
A family adventure
D’Amore grew up in Hudson County and lived in Union City, until he moved to Secaucus when he was 12.
His father, Carmine “Rocky” D’Amore, served as president of the textile union for two decades, in a county and time where unions often equated to mob-connected. Union City was the place where the murder of Jimmy Hoffa – a national union leader – was allegedly plotted.
But D’Amore’s father and others wanted their children to escape the scourge of a life of crime.
D’Amore, who had a number of talents, pursued music, and became a member of the Union City Beatles – following in the footsteps of the Fab Four, who he still adores.
This led him to a career as a session musician, and while he was in Los Angeles, his cousin’s call steered him back into the world his father hoped he would escape.
“When we got caught, they drove me out to the desert.” – Jon D’Amore
“When we got caught, they drove me out to the desert,” he recalled. Although nothing happened, it could have.
Much of the money that came from the operation in Las Vegas flowed back through Hudson County, feeding the mob operations here. Although at first D’Amore’s cousin handled the cash deliveries, at the end, D’Amore did so himself, dropping off cash in Secaucus that eventually made its way to operators in Bayonne.
While the tale has a more or less happy ending for D’Amore, some of the people involved in the scam did not fare so well, including one Bayonne mobster whose body was later found floating near a marina in Carlstadt.
“The scam ended in October, 1977,” D’Amore said.
Part of this had to do with his being caught and part of it had to do with legalization of gambling in New Jersey. The passage of a referendum in 1976 was promoted by then-state Senator and Union City Mayor Bill Musto and the establishment of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
By June 1977, new regulations curtailed schemes like the one D’Amore was involved in and led directly to the end of the scam in Las Vegas.
But for D’Amore, there was a larger lesson in all of this that involved his relationship and his trust in his family, and how he learned to respect these people despite their chosen profession. His book is largely about the process of learning this lesson and his special relationship with his cousin and godfather. He calls it a story of love, honor, respect, and a young man’s loss of innocence.
D’Amore is returning to Hudson County for a second book tour and has been invited to several private functions as well as book signings in towns were he lived or grew up. On Nov. 7, due to popular demand, D’Amore will speak at the Bayonne UNICO chapter. A day later, he will hold a public event as the Secaucus Public Library, 1379 Paterson Plank Road at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, Nov. 13, he will appear at The Dante Alighieri Society in for another private function, and then he will be at the Bayonne Public Library, located at 697 Avenue C, on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.
On Nov. 15, he will be appearing at a public event at the William V. Musto Cultural Center, located at 420 15th Street in Union City at 7 p.m., and then on Nov. 16 he will do a book signing at the Tachair Bookshoppe, located at 260 Newark Avenue in Jersey City, at 7:30 p.m.
On Nov. 18, D’Amore will return to Weehawken to the Nutrition Center, located at 201 Highwood Avenue, at 2 p.m.
“I went to school in Weehawken for four years,” he said. “It’ll be like going home again.”
But with screenplay on the horizon and a possibility that the book could be picked up by a major publisher, D’Amore will also be making other appearances in the area as well as visit to publisher and radio shows.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.