The unglam­orous un­der­world of jewel thieves

THE PIERRE HO­TEL AF­FAIR: HOW EIGHT GENTLE­MEN THIEVES OR­CHES­TRATED THE LARGEST JEWEL HEIST IN HIS­TORY

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Paul Davis Paul Davis is a writer who cov­ers crime, es­pi­onage and ter­ror­ism

Pe­ga­sus Books, $27.95, 401 pages

In the predawn hours of Jan. 2, 1972, eight armed thieves dressed in tuxe­dos and trans­ported by limou­sine in­vaded the Pierre Ho­tel in New City. Wear­ing sun­glasses, fake noses, beards and mus­taches with their for­mal wear, the crooks tied up the se­cu­rity guards, the night shift staff and any res­i­dents and guests they came across. They even trapped two NYPD of­fi­cers in the base­ment af­ter the freez­ing cops came into the lux­ury ho­tel for cof­fee.

As the hostages were rounded up and de­tained in an al­cove, two mem­bers of the gang ripped through se­lected safety de­posit boxes in the ho­tel vault. The gang es­caped with re­port­edly $28 mil­lion dol­lars in cash, bearer bonds and jew­elry. To this day the case is con­sid­ered to be un­solved, al­though the two pri­mary crooks, Bobby Com­fort and Sammy ‘the Arab” Nalo, went to prison on re­lated charges.

But as David Si­mone tells us in ‘The Pierre Ho­tel Af­fair,” the or­ga­nized, pro­fes­sional and bold gang of thieves who com­mit­ted “the per­fect crime” did not thrive with their “swag.” The greedy and du­plic­i­tous gang mem­bers promptly dou­ble-crossed each other. The two lead­ers held out some of the jew­els from the rest of the gang while two other mem­bers of the gang es­caped to Europe with most of the stolen jew­els. Three of the thieves were later mur­dered by other gang mem­bers.

Nick “the Cat” Sacco, a for­mer jewel thief and the sole sur­vivor of the gang, wrote the book with David Si­mone. Writ­ten in a sen­sa­tional and lurid style, re­mind­ing me of an early Mickey Spil­lane crime thriller, the book re­counts the de­tailed plan­ning of the rob­bery, the rob­bery it­self and the bloody af­ter­math. The book also in­tro­duces us to the mot­ley crew of crooks, which in­cluded a stone cold hit­man for the mob, a de­gen­er­ate gam­bler and se­rial dou­ble-crosser, and pro­fes­sional jewel thieves like Com­fort and Sacco.

Sacco, then an as­so­ciate of Luc­ch­ese or­ga­nized crime fam­ily con­sigliere Christie “the Tick” Furnari, re­ceived the back­ing of the Cosa Nos­tra boss for the Pierre rob­bery.

The deadly se­ri­ous rob­bery had its com­i­cal mo­ments, such as when the crooks had to call the cops. Dur­ing the rob­bery one of the hostages ap­peared to be hav­ing a heart at­tack. Fear­ing that his death would bring on a mur­der charge against them, Com­fort called 911. They herded the hostages into the vault and out of sight. An am­bu­lance ar­rived along with three po­lice of­fi­cers who did not sus­pect that a rob­bery was tak­ing place. Once the EMS work­ers and of­fi­cers left with the ail­ing man, the crooks moved the hostages back into the al­cove and the crooks went back to loot­ing the safety de­posit boxes in the vault.

An­other com­i­cal event oc­curred when a wealthy South Amer­i­can busi­ness­man on his honey­moon with his bride and the bride’s mother, called down for an el­e­va­tor so he could visit his girl­friend on an­other floor. The busi­ness­man, his bride and mother-in-law were all brought down and held with the other hostages, which in­cluded the girl­friend. The bride and girl­friend hurled in­sults at each other as the crooks at­tempted to calm down all of the hostages.

When they were done loot­ing the se­lected safety de­posit boxes, Com­fort asked the hostages if any of them had a safety de­posit box. None did, and Com­fort then de­liv­ered a pre­pared speech to the hostages. Not­ing that there was no law com­pelling them to be wit­nesses, he asked that they not iden­tify them. As a to­ken of grat­i­tude, Com­fort gave each of the hostages a crisp $20 bill. He de­clined to “tip” the four se­cu­rity guards, stat­ing they had a “cop men­tal­ity.”

The crooks then piled into the limou­sine and took off to two parked get­away cars. Dis­cov­er­ing that one of the cars had a dead bat­tery, they had to at­tach jumper ca­bles from one get­away car to the other get­away car.

Com­fort and Nalo, who were sus­pected of an ear­lier ho­tel rob­bery in which Italian movie star Sophia Loren was robbed of her ex­pen­sive jew­elry by gun­point, were im­me­di­ately sus­pected by the NYPD and FBI of com­mit­ting the Pierre rob­bery. Com­fort and Nalo were later ar­rested on other charges and re­ceived a light sen­tence of four years in prison, thanks to a judge who had taken a hefty bribe from Furnari the mob boss.

Sacco was also later sent to prison for an­other crime. He was even­tu­ally re­leased and en­tered the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram af­ter he tes­ti­fied against two vi­cious killers.

“The Pierre Ho­tel Af­fair” is a tale of men­dac­ity, greed and vi­o­lence. The book takes the reader into the unglam­orous un­der­world of jewel thieves, mur­der­ers, mob­sters, crooked cops and bent judges.

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