Playboy Magazine: Denny McLain, Star Pitcher or Mafia Traitor?

September 02, 2014, 1:15 AM by  Allan Lengel

Matt Birkbeck in the September issue of Playboy examines former Tigers ace Denny McLain's ventures in the pre-paid phone card business in the 1990s, and his alleged ties to the New York mob and John Gotti Jr.

He writes that people accused McLain of swindling customers and mobsters, as well,  who were associates in the phone card business. McLain was indicted in the late 1990s for his dealings with those cards, but the charges were eventually dropped.  

Today, McLain, 70,  insists he was a victim. 

“Like I told you before, it was all bullshit. I never knew John Gotti Jr., I didn’t steal any money, and I never should have been charged,” he tells Playboy.

McLain also recounts how unfair he thought the press was when it came to writing about his legal problems. He has particularly harsh words for Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom: “Mitch Albom is a motherfucking cunt!"

The article is titled: Denny McLain: Legendary Pitcher or Mafia Traitor?

I always had an interest in Denny McLain since I was a kid when he won 31 games in 1968 for the Tigers. Later, in the 1980s, he got in trouble with the law. In 1996, again he had big problems. He and his business partner Roger Smigiel were convicted on charges of looting $3 million from the pension fund at Peet Packing in Chesaning, Mich., in Saginaw County, which they had bought. McLain was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.

I wrote about the investigation for The Detroit News before the indictment. When I was on strike, I wrote about the case for the Detroit Sunday Journal, the strike paper, and for the Sunday New York Times. McLain struck me as a very bright, likeable and charming guy who had some self loathing issues -- beyond what the average person has at one time or another.  

At the onset of the trial, during a break, McLain walked up to me. I extended my hand and he refused to shake it. "You did a lousy job," he said of the Times story. The next day, he acted as if all was well. That was typical Denny from what I could see.

As the trial got underway, I got a call from someone who said they were from a Florida company that had an interest in getting into the pre-paid phone card business with McLain.  I was a little incredulous. Without saying too much, I advised the person to read the stories about Peet Packing. 

Which takes us to this latest story in September's Playboy.

Birkbeck writes: 

Ten months after the Peet Packing trial ended, McLain received a call from U.S. Secret Service agent Nino Perrotta.

In November 1997, agents from the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the New York Organized Crime Task Force and various federal prosecutors milled around with nervous anticipation. McLain had been transferred from the McKean federal prison in northwestern Pennsylvania to a holding cell at the Westchester County jail, just north of New York City. Now he was en route to the U.S. attorney’s office in White Plains.

Agent Perrotta stood among the officials. Just a month earlier, Perrotta had reached McLain by phone at McKean. After introducing himself, he explained his investigation into the New York Mafia and the millions it was reaping selling international phone cards. Perrotta explained that McLain’s small firm, Tel-Central Communications, had been identified in wiretaps as a major supplier of minutes for the Mob’s phone cards, including those owned by John Gotti Jr.

The article goes on to say how Perrotta told McLain that if he fessed up and implicated the mob, he could spring him from prison and get him in the witness protection program. But he only admitted to $6 million in fraud. The prosecutors wanted him to admit to at least $30 million, the article stated. Frustrated prosecutors ended up sending him back to prison. 

The article details how McLain got linked up to Gotti and the mob in the pre-paid phone card business and how McLain allegedly figured out a way to swindle customers and the mob as well. McLain was indicted in 1998 on charges of cooperating with Gotti and other mobsters in a pre-paid phone card scams.  

In July 1999, the Associated Press reported that the charges were dropped. 

The news service wrote that the prosecution concluded that proving the case would be ``very difficult'' and withdrew conspiracy and fraud charges against McLain and some other defendants. 

Birkbeck writes: 

Since his release from prison in 2003, Denny McLain has spent the past decade doing the things he’s always done, whether it be attending baseball card shows, starting a new business or getting flagged by law enforcement — in September 2011 he was detained at the Canadian border on a fugitive warrant issued in Louisiana involving nonpayment in a business deal. McLain was released, and no charges were filed.

Read more:  Playboy

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