New Orleans-born Matthew Randazzo has thrice served as a personal ghostwriter to criminal gangsters. Call him the gangster whisperer.
Or, these days, call him an environmental lobbyist — the occupation he fell into after the third gangster in his book trilogy dramatically derailed his literary career. Randazzo’s experiences extracting the truth from gangsters has made him especially well-suited for this career finessing egomaniacal politicians.
The gangster whisperer is the fifth Matthew Randazzo in his Sicilian Catholic Cajun family. Matthew the First and his wife rolled with the now-extinct French Quarter mafia. Randazzo has researched his namesake and found that, “His wife was arrested for bootlegging. And he seemed to be the most prominent Sicilian in that part of the state, winning election after election for the Italian fraternal organizations and such. It’s hard to pin down the hierarchy of gangsters at the turn of the 20th century — it’s hard to even call him a gangster or criminal, since he was never arrested and charged with anything.” But Matthew the First did die in the same 1917 mafia war in which many other Randazzo family members were wounded. “That’s the beginning of my family history,” Randazzo said. “So, even as a young kid, I was always fascinated, because I carried the name of that guy.”
Matthew did not, however, set out to collude with criminals himself.
As Randazzo filled our conversation with twice the facts your average person might try and fit in, it became easy to believe he could talk his way into anything. I believed him that, at 18, he’d flipped through a publisher’s guide for a phone number, then proceeded in that one phonecall to convince a publisher in New York to put out his as-yet-unwritten first book. Though he didn’t yet posses the writing chops to actually pen a good book, the ease of it all gave him even more confidence; he was meant to do this. With that in mind, he kept alert, looking for the perfect subject to document.
After Hurricane Katrina, Randazzo felt on a mission. “I felt a real sense of wanting to memorialize my hometown,” he said, “because it wasn’t going to be the same place I grew up in.” As soon as the floodwaters receded, he began searching through the wreckage for a subject that would do justice to the wounded city of his birth.
“So when I met Frenchy,” he says, “it was just obvious.”
Randazzo first met up with the former French Quarter pimp, Frenchy Brouillette in a flooded-out office building in Metairie. On this soggy hellscape, Frenchy blended in well. “He was this elderly man, still powerfully built, ponytail, eyes watery like he’d been shitfaced for six decades — which happened to be the case,” Randazzo remembered. Frenchy claimed to have been the rare Cajun in the French Quarter Italian mafia, and the wingman of the original New Orleans “Godfather,” Carlos Marcello. “In this thick Cajun accent, he made all these extravagant claims about his connections, and how he’d made tens of millions of dollars and partied it all away. He seemed like a true French Quarter bullshit artist.” But in his meticulous research, Randazzo uncovered no bullshit. “I found record of him being surveilled with Carlos Marcello,” he said, still sounding surprised 13 years later. “Lee Harvey Oswald had really been Frenchy’s associate, and Oswald’s attorney had been his roommate, and his cousin really was Edwin Edwards, the four-time governor of Louisiana.”
Not unlike Randazzo, Frenchy was charming and eloquent in that particular New Orleans way. New Orleans natives are quick to give you TMI up front, so getting them to open up isn’t the problem. Getting the truth is sometimes trickier. “Frenchy could be hard to interview, mostly depending on how long he’d been out the night before,” Randazzo said. “Sometimes he would meld stories that I would have to disentangle. He’d be drinking cocktails and would start a story, then remember another story, which would soon bring up this other great story…” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at Medium.