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Olean to come alive as 'Little Chicago' on film City's native son recounts the whispered tales of organized crime he heard as a youngster

Carl Veno is bringing gang fights, mysterious murders and unexplained deaths back to Olean.

Veno, a writer and historian, has written a movie about organized crime in Western New York during Prohibition, and he plans to produce it on location in Olean, Bradford, Pa., and Niagara Falls.

The film, "Little Chicago," tells the story of mobster Al Ritchie's rise from small-time bootlegger to a famous gangster who ruled the streets of Olean.

"It's a full-blown feature with gangsters and love affairs," Veno said.

Veno left Olean years ago to work as a newspaper reporter and editor, but he never forgot the whispered tales of organized crime he heard when he was young.

When he wrote his memoir, Invisible Ink, he included a chapter on Olean's Prohibition history that garnered a big response; Veno said more than 200 people wrote to him asking for more information.

So he decided to make a movie about it.

He spent more than a year writing the script that borrows heavily from history, though Veno said he changed the names to protect Olean families of the long-dead mobsters.

Now, he is working to raise the $300,000 he needs to start production from local businessmen. He also has started casting, looking to hire some well-known actors such as Vincent Pastore and John Fiore of "The Sopranos." Pastore, who was "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero on "The Sopranos" and will play Ritchie, will attend today's St. John's Italian Festival in Olean to promote the movie with Veno.

Investor Louis Magnano remembers hearing stories from his father and uncles about Al Capone passing through the city. He said that is why he is investing in the film.

"Olean was a live spot back then [during Prohibition]," said Magnano, who owns Park Centre Development Inc.

In the Prohibition era, Olean was perfectly positioned to become a center of organized crime, said city historian Anne Walsh. Halfway between Canada and Pittsburgh, it served as an ideal resting spot if you were transporting illegal alcohol across the border to the big city.

That was how Ritchie got his start, moving from Buffalo to Olean to become a bootlegger with the help of Stephano and Antonio Maggadino.

He ran the Sunset Inn club off the Hinsdale highway just north of Olean, a speakeasy that was once visited by "Scarface" Al Capone, according to Veno.

And he knew how to keep local power brokers well-stocked with alcohol and out of his business. He was even given a badge and named an investigator by the Cattaraugus County district attorney.

Eventually, Ritchie was driven out of town by an attempt on his life, said Eileen Smith of the Olean Historical and Preservation Society. His luck ran out in Bradford, Pa., where he was shot in the face six times as he sat in his parked car.

According to Veno, there were more than 60 unsolved murders in Olean during Prohibition. There was also no shortage of killers -- one local hit man may have been responsible for more than seven killings, Veno said.

"There was a lot of violence," Walsh said. " 'Little Chicago' wasn't even a stretch."

But some say Olean's role in organized crime is overstated.

"Olean never was a major player [in organized crime], though people think it was," said Lee Coppola, dean of the St. Bonaventure University journalism school and a recognized expert on the mob in Western New York. "A movie dealing strictly with Olean would not be a very interesting movie."

But Olean Mayor David Carucci said the Mafia is a big part of the city's history, and he will help bring this part of its past to the screen in any way he can.

"It's pretty much a no-brainer," he said. "I think this will show people a different side of Olean."

Former Assemblyman Jim Snyder, another major backer of the film, agreed. He said he is confident the movie will be a boon for Olean.

"If 'The Sopranos' and 'The Godfather' are any indication . . . 'Little Chicago' could be very successful," he said.


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