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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.
Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.
Tue, 14 May 2019 07:05
Twenty years after new federal laws were supposed to eradicate payola, it's back. Now a mysterious group of record promoters called the Network are using it to control access to Top 40 radio. And to enforce their monopoly on the airwaves, they've enlisted a dangerous new ally — the Mafia.
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In a broadcast studio at Miami Top 40 station W.I.N.Z, a camera crew from NBC News prepares to film an interview. They mount lights and cameras on tripods, tape cables down, carefully position boom mics. We're seeing the activity are NBC News Investigative Reporter Brian Ross and his producer, Ira Silverman. It's December 1985 and for months they've been trying to report a story on PAYOLA. The music industry supposedly snuffed out PAYOLA in the 60s, but Ross and Silverman got a tip that it's back, and now, according to their sources, the Mafia is involved. The alleged distributors of PAYOLA are a secretive group of independent record promoters called The Network. But so far they've declined all interview requests. No one at the radio stations or the record labels will talk to Ross or Silverman on the record either, and with no hard evidence and no eyewitness testimony, there's no story. But now Ross has found a DJ willing to go on the record, a goofy bear of a man named Don Cox with curly brown hair and a bushy mustache. He jokes with the NBC crews they set up. The Ross consents that underneath his wisecracking facade, Cox is nervous. He takes the DJ aside. You okay Don? No second thoughts I hope. No way man. I got nothing to hide. And Ross needn't worry. Once the camera start rolling, Cox is natural, funny and forthcoming. He even reenacts a typical conversation between a top 40 DJ and one of the networks indie promoters. They'll go, here, take this ounce of cocaine. Couple of thousand dollars. There you go, we can get you more. By the way, I got this record I want you to hear. They cozy up and they corrupt. It's their job. After the interview, Ross looks over at Silverman who gives him a thumbs up. It couldn't have gone better if they scripted it. After Cox leaves and the crew starts packing up, Ross loosens his tie and sits down with Silverman. At 37 Ross may look boyish with his head of carefully manicured hair and his lanky frame, but underneath the youthful exterior is a seasoned investigative journalist. And he and Silverman make a good team. In just a few years working together, they've won awards for their work tracking drug smugglers, mobsters and corrupt politicians. It takes a lot to intimidate them. Ross leans in towards his producer. I was thinking, what if we take Cox's story back to the network guys and try and get their common? They'll have to respond now. Silverman adjusts his large wire room glasses. Now, I say we don't tip our hand. Let's try to get some raw footage of them out and about, interacting with DJs or label executives. Show that their relationships are there. Well, how do we do that? Those meetings are behind closed doors. Well, not all of them. Take a look at this. Silverman hands Ross a copy of Billboard magazine, open to an article about a gala dinner for the new rock and roll hall of fame happening in New York next month. This could be perfect. Do we know who's going to be there? Every record label president in the country and Joe Isgro. Bingo. Isgro is the main target of their investigation, the flashiest member of the network and the one who is rumored to be working with the mob. If they can get footage of Isgro smoothing record execs at a fancy industry event, plus the Cox interview, it will at least be a good start. Ross knows it won't be enough to prove Isgro and the labels are breaking the law. They'll need to find a paper trail or physical evidence linking Isgro to the mob. Hard evidence that Payola is back. Now it's tied to organized crime. Ross has always followed his hunches and if his instincts are right, he could blow off from the biggest music industry scandal in decades. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Don't wonder, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Skin. In the 1980s, the American music industry is thriving. There's a new marketing tool called MTV, plus a highly profitable new product called the Compact Disc. Together, they've sent revenue from record sales to an all time high, topping $4 billion a year in the US alone. Label executives now fly in private jets and party like the rock stars who earn them their profits and the major labels are determined to keep the hits coming. The problem is they can't control what songs reach the top of the charts. In the 50s, they got around this uncertainty by paying DJs and station managers to play the artists on their labels. Now, there are pay olalaws against those practices. The solution, therefore, is independent record promoters, known in the business as Indies. Labels give the Indies large budgets to promote their latest singles and don't ask questions about how the money spent. Indie promoters have been part of the business since the 70s and for a long time, the relationship worked well. But lately, things have started to change. A small group of Indies, called the Network, have gained a virtual monopoly on radio promotion. They control access to nearly every top 40 radio station in the country and they're using their power and influence to demand bigger payments. Singles that used to cost labels a few thousand dollars to promote now run one hundred thousand dollars or more and the prices keep going up. The record labels are starting to realize they've created a monster, one they have no control over and a few of them are determined to change it. But they have no idea how far the promoters will go to keep their stranglehold on the industry. This is episode 4, The Network. On a February afternoon in 1980, in his Los Angeles office at CBS Records, Dick Asher flips between top 40 stations on his radio. Asher is the label's deputy president and their head of business affairs. He's waiting to hear one of his label's current hits, Pink Floyd's another brick in the wall, part 2, but no one's playing it. On the one hand, this is odd. A week ago, you couldn't go an hour without hearing it on LA Top 40 radio. But now, the song is vanished. Even though Pink Floyd is kicking off a major concert tour in LA tonight, today of all days, you'd think radio stations would be getting flooded with requests, but it's as if the song has been blacklisted. And Asher thinks maybe it has. Another brick in the wall, part 2, is an experiment. He wanted to see if it was possible to get a hit song on the radio without spending a fortune promoting it. So he told his promotions department, stop paying your indie guys for this one song in the Los Angeles market. If it gets airplay anyway, Asher will prove that they don't need the Indies and save CBS records upwards of $8 million a year. In the flashy world of music, Asher isn't anonymally. A no nonsense, cost cutting marine who's more interested in profits than parties. Everything about independent promotion wrinkles him. There's no accountability, no proof of any actual return on investment. And he suspects the Indies are just playing the major labels off each other, tricking them into an arms race over who can spend the most money to get their singles into top 40 rotation. So Asher knew his pink Floyd experiment was a gamble. He figured rotation in the single might go down to a few times a day, but he never dreamed the network could kill a song completely. After one last fruitless scan of the dial, Asher sits down at his glass top desk and puts his balding head in his hands. He knows what he has to do, but he doesn't want to do it. Finally, he calls his head of promotion and gives the word, yet the indie promoters in LA back on pink Floyd. Before he leaves the office that evening, Asher turns on his radio one last time after he's authorized paying the indie promoters. The very first song he hears is another brick in the wall, part two. A few months later on a warm, sunny morning in Hollywood, David Michael Smith arrives for work at his grow enterprises. The six foot two bearded Englishman ducks his head as he steps into the elevator and takes off his sunglasses. He wears them nearly everywhere because he likes how intimidating they make him look. Smith is a former boxer who moved to LA from London a few years ago, hoping to find work as an actor or stuntman. Instead, he got hired by Joe Iscro, who likes Smith's broad shouldered athletic build and permanently belligerent expression. Officially Smith's job title is Security Guard, but he's a jack of all trades for Iscro Enterprises, Driver, Courier, Bodyguard. Today, his main task is to pick up an important package and deliver it to one of Mr. Iscro's many VIP accounts. Smith steps off the elevator onto an upper floor of an office building overlooking the Hollywood hills and the sunset strip. Gold and platinum records line the walls. Former from Iscro's days and Motown records, the most recent gifts from record labels grateful for his role in helping them sell millions. Iscro's only been in business for two years, but somehow he's already one of the most powerful indie promoters in the business. Smith's not sure how Iscro got so successful so quickly, but in the months he's worked here, he's learned it's better not to ask. On his way past Iscro's office, he pokes his head in and waves to the boss. Iscro's wearing an open collar shirt with a gold chain. Brass elephant tusks hold up his massive bevel glass desktop, and as usual, he's on the phone, chatting up some radio station program director. When he sees Smith, he cheerfully waves back. Smith likes his boss. Both men grew up in tough working class neighborhoods. Smith and East London iscro in South Philadelphia. They were surrounded by thugs and gangsters and did what they had to to survive. For Smith, that meant learning how to use his fists. For Iscro, it meant befriending some of the gangsters. At least that's what Smith has heard, and he doesn't doubt it. In his experience, any business that deals in stacks of hard cash has ties to organized crime, and at Iscro enterprises, stacks of cash are everywhere. Smith heads for the mail room where two of the many pretty young women Iscro employees are stuffing some of that cash into LP records leaves to mail out to stations across the country. Smith's delivery is local. He asked one of the mail room girls, got the crowd package. Without word, she opens a safe in the corner, takes out a thick envelope, and hands it to Smith. He checks to make sure the amount is correct. $3,000. It's all there. Now all he has to do is bring it to George Crow, the general manager of top 40 station, K IQQ. One hour later, Smith climbs the carpeted step to the Uppa Stairs lounge, a private dining room at Martonis, an Italian restaurant at the heart of Hollywood. It's a popular music industry hangout, with deep red leather booths that offer privacy to celebrity clientele. Crow is at his usual spot, at the end of the bar, already on his third martini. He's an older guy, about 50, with thick glasses and an alcoholic's puffy features. He sees Smith and Jerks his head in the direction of the men's bathroom. Smith thinks all the cloak and dagger stuff is a little mudge, but follows him in anyway and locks the door behind them. He hands Crow the envelope. It's all there, three grand for four ads. Four. No, I did six ads last week. It should be 4500. Well, I don't know anything about that. You'll have to take it up with Joe. Smith knows that Crow gets paid $750 for each ad. A new song placed into K IQQ's rotation. He also knows Crow has a gambling habit, and sometimes tries to talk his way into a little extra cash, even though he should know by now that Smith never carries any more than he needs. Crow opens the envelope and counts the $100 bills, hands shaking. Outside the bathroom, someone pounds on the door. Jesus, do your coat somewhere else. I gotta take a leak. We'll be out in a minute. We good, George? Yeah, we're good. Come on, let me buy a drink. I'm on duty. I'm gonna have to go to the time, okay? Smith leaves Crow at the bar and heads back downstairs and out into the hazy LA sunlight. He dislikes these deliveries to Crow and all the other DJs and station managers Isgro has on the tank. Isgro's assured him it's all legal, but Smith suspects it's not. If he's caught, he could get deported. Or worse. Then again, Isgro pays good money and it's only a temporary gig, just until he starts landing some acting and stunt work. Until then though, he's got more packages picked up for deliveries to make. At Isgro Enterprises, business is booming. It takes a whole year of lobbying, but in early 1981, Dick Asher finally gets CBS records to launch a boycott of all indie promoters, including the network. He even convinces another major label Warner Brothers to join in the effort. He's sure that once the other labels see how much money CBS and Warner are saving on promotion, they'll fall in line too. And at first, the boycott seems to be working. CBS records is still getting singles on the air and saving close to a million dollars on promotion each month. But by spring, things take a turn for the worse. People hit singles suddenly drop off the charts, including the who's you better bet. And the first single by one of Asher's favorite acts, a Canadian group called Love Reboy. It's no coincidence that these are CBS and Warner Brothers artists. It's another brick in the wall, part two, part two, but this time on a national scale. Asher is unsure what to do. On one hand, he wants to break the network's stranglehold on top 40 radio and stop supporting Peola. He's heard the stories about Joe Isgro's business practices that they slip DJ's album stuffed with $100 bills and cassette cases filled with cocaine. Asher wants nothing to do with it. But the boycott is risky. He could sink the careers of CBS recording artists. Is that a price he's really willing to pay? So Asher wants to hear an artist's perspective on the boycott. He sets up a meeting with one of his closest friends in the business, Morris White, from the R&B group, Earth Wind and Fire. White's a 20 year veteran in the record industry, a drummer from Memphis who got to start as a studio player for Chuck Berry and Add a James. His leadership and songwriting skills have made Earth Wind and Fire one of the most successful bands in the world. But the minute White walks in the door, Asher can see how upset he is. Earth Wind and Fire have a new album out, and it's not doing well. White thinks he knows why. His dick Asher has stopped paying the indie promoters. He wants Asher to stop the boycott. Asher pleads his case, you're one of the greatest artists in the world, he says, isn't it demeaning to you that these two bit hustlers have to pay someone off to get your record on the air? White leans over Asher's desk and looks him in the eye. Look man, I only have one career, so don't make me your crusade. After White storms out of his office, Asher calls his head with promotion. The boycott is off. Dick Asher has now tried twice to beat the network, both times he's lost. But now there are consequences. In the coming months, the promotional costs for new singles start climbing, first for CBS and Warner Brothers, then for every label in the business. The labels are told a top priority single now costs $150,000 to promote, then $200, then $300,000. Before long, it's clear to everyone in the industry that as far as the network is concerned, the new system of Peola is not only firmly entrenched, it's more lucrative than ever. But it's also unsustainable. By 1984, independent promotion is costing the major labels upwards of $80 million a year, more than double what they were spending just four years earlier. Afraid to attempt another boycott, some record executives instead turned to the media. Giving off the record interviews, detailing the network's illegal Peola activities. One anonymous executive tips off NBC News investigative reporter Brian Ross, telling him to pay particular attention to a promoter named Joe Isgro. The exec tells Ross that Isgro's the dirtiest of them all, applying top 40 DJs with cash, as well as cocaine, and using his connections in the mafia to launder money and enforce the rules. For the anonymous record executive, it's a risky move. If Ross digs too deeply, he might learn that until recently, labels were happy to pay the network what it asked if it meant getting a single in the top 40. But what used to feel like promotion now feels like extortion. The network has become too powerful, too hard to control, and the best way to put an end to it is to expose it. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion, or you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening, asks our listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus, and if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. On a Wondry evening in November of 1984, an unmarked van sits parked on a residential street in the seaside town of Long Branch, New Jersey. Inside, Detective Sergeant Bobby Jones takes another sip of his lukewarm coffee, trying to keep his eyes open. He's running a wire tap on a low level mafia guy, the associate of a very high level crime lord named Clorky Bestola, also known as the Galut. For the third day in a row, Jones sits in the back of the van waiting to hear anything. At 37 Jones is one of the younger detectives at the Union County Police Department. Older colleagues call him the rock guy and tease him about his hippie past. He still maintains a huge collection of rock and roll vinyl and goes to concerts whenever he can. Hippie tendencies are not though, he loves police work, and he's proud to be in charge of this listening post. He figures any mafia related case could be a big one. Finally, a call comes in, Jones snaps his fingers at his partner and gestures at the tape before. The call is from another associate of the Galut's. Usually the monsters discuss a gambling ring. That's the operation this wire tap is targeting. But Jones can tell right away that this call is different. He hears one of them say, black Sabbath, the name of one of his favorite bands. They're talking rock records. He says he needs another hundred thousand pieces but he only wants the cream. Black Sabbath, the who, Elton John. Well, tell him the Galut is trying to expect the MCA deal, but it's going to take time, and him not paying for the pieces he's already got in helping. Well, he thinks he's getting screwed. But he's not screwed. He's impatient. Levy. The name jumps out of Jones. It's got to be Morris Levy, the head of Roulette Records. He's long been rumored to have ties to the Genovese crime family. The same family the Galut works for. As soon as the call ends, Jones turns to the cop on the recorder duty. Did you get all that? Yep. One of these mob guys want with a bunch of black Sabbath records. They hit peace like you, Bobby. I don't think it's funny. I think this is a big deal. If Morris Levy is involved, we've got to follow up on this. Jones mind races. Why were the mobsters talking about MCA? They must mean MCA records, but MCA is a major label owned by a mega corporation. Why would a company like that be mixed up with Morris Levy and some mobsters from New Jersey? Jones squins through the windshield into the night. Do you remember? Wasn't Levy involved in some perilous gambac in the 60s? That rings a bell, but I think all the charges against him were dropped. Jones considers. Maybe it was a case of not having the proof. Maybe Levy is still doing business the same way. Suddenly what seemed like a small time case might be the biggest break of Jones career. A few months later, in January 1985, a white van pulls up outside a warehouse in Darby, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. Five large men climb out, all wearing heavy winter coats and solemn expressions. One of them is Morris Levy, the owner of Roulette Records. Levy is now in his 50s, but still an imposing figure with bare like hands in a gravely voice. The other four mobsters are equally as imposing, especially Korki, the Galut, Vastula. Vastula got his name for good reason. He's one of the most physically intimidating mob leaders in the country, middle age with a jally face and thick glasses when he looks like he could break a man in half. They're at the Pennsylvania warehouse to collect on a deal. Inside are more than four million discounted LPs and cassettes known as cutouts, bold inventory that didn't sell at full price, marked by cutting the corner or punching a hole in the sleeve. These are all the time. Labels dump cutouts and bulk at rock bottom prices to make room at their warehouses for fresh product. To make sure they get the best price, they'll bundle a few titles by well known artists in with all the junk. And sometimes it helps to use a middle man. And that's what's happening here. Vastula and Levy got these records on the cheap from MTA. Then they agreed to sell them to the man who owns this warehouse, a wholesaler named John Lamont. Lamont now owes them more than a million dollars. But incredibly, even though he knows their mobsters, he's refused to pay. Levy is the only one who knows why. Because before delivering the cutouts to Lamont, Levy skimmed 400,000 of the best titles the cream from the shipment. Then he resold them to another wholesaler at a much higher profit, which he kept for himself. That left Lamont with the discount bin drags out of print titles by no name acts and won hit wonders, barely worth more than he paid for them. Levy did it to settle an old score with Lamont. Lamont's a convicted counterfeiter who wants tried to pirate several roulette records releases. So Levy figured this was a win win. He gets cutting out a great mafia deal and he screws over an old enemy. Of course, Vastula doesn't know any of this and neither does anyone at MCA. These days, Levy is tired. More than a little fed up. Just to be working with mobsters, things were fair. Everyone knew the rules. But most of his old mob friends were now in jail or dead. The ones who are left have been leaning on him more and more. Every new business deal Levy makes requires cutting half a dozen wise guys in on the action. Its classic mafia protection racket stuff, nice business he got there, be a shame if anything happened to it. And the price of all that protection keeps rising. This cutout scheme is a perfect example. Levy's take his shrunk significantly as he's forced to pay ever more of the galutes associates to keep them happy. After this last score, he's out. In fact, he's already putting a deal in place to sell off roulette. The most interested buyer is MCA records and the irony pleases him. He just needs this one more hall. And this little surprise warehouse visit is a last digit effort to collect before things have to get ugly. As the five men approached the brick warehouse, a steel door swings open. It's Lamont himself. He's in his late 30s with tassel brown hair and a cheerful demeanor of a used car salesman, which in record industry terms is basically what he is. Lamont offers the show Levy and the others around, insisting that the records he ordered aren't there. Not the best ones anyway. He complains that without the cream, he's losing his shirt on the steel. He couldn't pay the original price even if he wanted to. Levy can't believe the nerve of this guy or the charm. Within minutes, he's befriended form officers who came here to break his legs. By the time they leave, everyone's convinced Lamont is telling the truth and that someone else, maybe MCA, maybe one of their own, is ripping them off. On the long drive back to New York, Levy tries to bring Vastalo around. The kid's lying, he says, those records could be anywhere. Maybe he has another warehouse. Maybe he's already sold them. But Vastalo isn't so sure. I don't know, Morris. Something about this doesn't feel right to me. Well, that's the understatement of the year, Levy thinks. This was supposed to be an easy score, what the mobsters like to call, a whack up. Now it's spiraling out of control. Higher ranking mob bosses are expecting their cut of this deal and their patience is wearing thin. Levy realizes he made a mistake by skimming the best titles from the shipment. He underestimated Lamont's charm in his stubbornness, but it's too late to go back. He resold those 400,000 titles months ago. All he can do is hope that Lamont eventually caves and Vastalo doesn't figure out what really happened. Levy's known Vastalo for years and he knows Vastalo has a temper. But so far, Levy has never been on the wrong side of that temper. He doesn't want to start now. On January 23, 1986, NBC investigative reporter Brian Ross walks through the lobby of the opulent Helmfully Palace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. He's on a reconnaissance mission. He's looking for the best places to position cameramen who are on their way and the best angle from which to ambush an unwitting interview subject, Joe is grow. This is sure Isgro is the key to their pale story. He is the flashiest and most high profile member of the network, but so far they've been unable to get near him. The closest they've come is a shot of him driving around Los Angeles in a cream colored Rolls Royce. But it's not enough. Tonight, Isgro will be attending a gala dinner at the Waldorf Astoria for the launch of the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ross and his producer, Iris Silverman, learned Isgro is staying here at the Helmfully, two blocks from where the dinner would be held. Ross is hoping to catch him here in the lobby, maybe get him to say something on camera, then follow him to the dinner and get shots of him smoothing with record company executives. It still won't be anything incriminating, but it will be more than nothing. At least they'll be able to prove part of what those execs told Ross off the record that Isgro is powerful and well connected. And sources at the Los Angeles Police Department have told Ross that Isgro has been seen with at least one known Mafia member, a veteran drug trafficker named Joe Armone. Even so, Ross is stunned when he recognizes a familiar figure in the lobby's bustle of tourists and bell hops. It's Mafia Boss, John Gotti. Gotti is the stylish head of the Gambino Crime Family. New York's most powerful mobsters. The Gambinos run a slew of illegal operations from racketeering to extortion that bring in an estimated 500 million a year and they're ruthless. Gotti allegedly took over the gang just a few months earlier by assassinating the former boss. Since becoming its head, Gotti has gotten a nickname in the New York press, the Dapper Don, for the double breasted Italian suits and handpainted silk ties he wears in public. John Armone, Isgro's drug trafficker associate, is also a member of the Gambino Crime Family. The Ross is convinced that Gotti's presence here is not a coincidence. Walking is quickly as he can without causing a scene. Ross hurries to the lobby phone bank and calls his producer Silverman. Get down here quick, he says. You won't believe who just walked in. Silverman arrives moments later. The two men try their best to be subtle, but they're too excited by what they're seeing. Joe is grow, shaking hands with John Gotti, Joe Armone, and two other mobsters. For several minutes, the group stands around, casually chatting. Then they head up to the penthouse. Ross and Silverman are buzzing with excitement, but also frustrated they just missed their shot. The camera crew isn't there yet. Where the hell are they, Ira? No one's gonna believe us if we don't get this on film. They should be here any minute. Don't worry, his grown Gotti will have to leave again eventually. We'll catch them together then. Just then the camera crew arrives. Ross and Silverman tell the crew to set up just outside the main entrance and point their cameras at the penthouse elevator. Shoot through the glass. Do your best to keep out of sight. They see the cameras, they're gonna run the other way. Anything else, Ira? No? Not if you're good here. I'm gonna meet our other crew at the wall door for the hall of fame dinner. As Silverman leaves and Ross's camera crew setting up, a helmsley palace dormant tries to shoot them away. But Ross isn't about to let a scoop like this go. Do you know who you have in there? It's John Gotti. You really want us to say the helmsley staff is protecting a mafia Don? I have no problem doing that. We'll put it on NBC News tonight. Dorman backs down just as Isgro returns from the penthouse dressed in a tuxedo. He leaves the lobby and steps into a waiting limousine. Ross doesn't chase him down. He's less concerned now with getting a quote from Isgro and catching the mobsters on film. A few minutes later, he gets his wish. Gotti and the rest also come down from the penthouse. But unlike Isgro, Gotti and his henchmen notice Ross's camera crew filming them through the lobby glass. They quickly disperse. But not before Ross gets the footage he needs. Bingo. Now we've got a story. Ross dismisses the crew and runs the two blocks to the wall of her story, where Silverman and a second crew are already filming. At this high profile, heavily publicized industry event, every network has a camera crew shooting, so the NBC News cameras blend right in. They follow Isgro as he works the room. A man who just moments ago was shaking hands with some of New York's most powerful mafia bosses, is now pressing the flesh with the leaders of the music industry. It's the most powerful evidence Ross and Silverman have collected yet, and they got it all in a single night. At one point, Ross motions to his cameraman and approaches Isgro with a microphone, but a bearded bodyguard wearing a dark suit and belligerent expression immediately blocks his path. Once again, Joe Isgro won't be giving any comment to NBC News, but that's okay. The shots of him and Gotti and the lobby at the Helmsley will speak volumes. This knows what they have isn't ironclad, but for a TV expose, it's enough. Cutting from Isgro and John Gotti in the same hotel lobby to Isgro schmoozing with the presidents of Warner Brothers and CBS Records at the Gala dinner, well, it'll tell a powerful visual story about organized crimes ties to the music industry. Combined with Miami DJ Don Cox's on camera description of accepting Peola, all the pieces are there. The heads of NBC News are pleased with Ross and Silverman's work. They want follow up stories and they want them fast. Ross is hopeful that once the first report airs, more sources will come forward. And if they do, this could be another award winning series of stories for Ross and Silverman, the biggest scandal to rock the music industry in decades. Just after 7pm on February 24th, 1986, one month after the rock and roll hall of famed dinner, a group of executives at Polygram Records gathers in the office of their recently hired new president, former CBS Records executive Dick Asher. They're in Asher's office because he has a TV and everyone wants to see what's about to air. Over the past several months, half the executives at every major label have gotten phone calls from an NBC reporter named Brian Ross, asking questions about Peola and independent radio promotion. Most decline to comment, but that doesn't mean they don't want to see what Ross turned up. Asher, most of all. He's been six years since he tried and failed to break the network stranglehold on top 40 radio, but he hopes now he might finally be coming to an end. At 7pm, news anchor Tom Brokaw returns from commercials to introduce the story. On special segment tonight, the new Peola, a sour note that is painting the rock music business once again, NBC's investigative reporter Brian Ross has additional details. Asher leans in close, eyebrows furrowed, trying to hear the TV over his colleagues excited chatter. Then Joe Isgro appears on the screen, mingling with record executives at the rock and roll hall of fame dinner, and men in the room eat it up. And among the guests, two of the most powerful and feared men in the rock music business, Joseph Isgro, who authorities say has described Mafia Capo are moaned as his partner. One of Asher's fellow executives is startled, and asks Asher confidentially, Isgro has got Mafia ties. Did you know anything about that? No, Asher replies, but that sure would explain a lot. On screen, they watch Isgro and Mafia Don John Gotti leaving the same hotel just minutes apart. Almost everyone in the room shouts with excitement. It's not Asher's style to yell at the TV, but he does let his usually stern expression relax into a smile. With the NBC report, it can't be much longer before the major labels sever all ties with the network. But even Dick Asher, the network's most vocal opponent, will be caught off guard by how fast the music in his dream cast them aside. One day after the NBC News report airs, Bodyguard David Michael Smith escorts his boss, Joe Isgro, who posts awards celebration for the Grammys at a swanky Hollywood restaurant. CBS records as the host, and Isgro's on the guest list. He is determined to show his face, even though he's become the most hated man in the music industry overnight. The drive to the party is tense. Usually Isgro likes to drive himself in his cream colored Rolls Royce while making calls from his expensive state of the art car phone. Smith writes Shotgun, staring off into space from behind his signature sunglasses. And tonight, Isgro orders Smith to drive, and he's the one staring off into space. It was a rough day at Isgro Enterprises. Already two major labels have canceled their business with the company. In all day, Smith could hear Isgro working the phones, trying to salvage relationships with his other clients. But it didn't sound like it was going well. Smith pulls the rolls up to the valet, and escorts his boss into the party. The crowd parts, like the Red Sea at their approach. No one talks to Isgro, or even makes eye contact with him. When they get to the back of the restaurant, where there's a small stage, the band abruptly stops playing and switch to a different song. It takes Smith a second to recognize it, but then it hits him. It's the theme music to the godfather. Somebody's idea of a joke, but Isgro isn't laughing. Smith finds his boss a table in the corner, where he hopes it will be less obvious that everyone is giving Isgro the cold shoulder. He hopes the whole thing blows over quickly, because if it doesn't, he might be out of a job, and on a plane back to England. Smith glances at his boss and wonders what his next move will be. It's not Joe Isgro's style to take this sort of thing lying down, and Smith has learned over the years that when someone hits Isgro, he hits back. On February 27, 1986, DJ Don Cox walks out of W.I.N.C. Studios Miami after his evening shift. Since the NBC Payola report aired three days ago, Cox's colleagues at the station have been jokingly asking him when he's going to enter the witness protection program. He's laughed it off, but deep down, he is nervous. He figured everything he said was common knowledge, and it's not like he named any names. But ever since he saw himself on TV, laughing about getting bribed with cash and cocaine, he's had a bad feeling. As he walks to his car on a quiet side street, he hears another set of footsteps behind him, and then another. He turns, and sees two big men approaching from the shadows. He starts to run, but then two other men cross the street to cut him off. Before he can react, they surround him. He feels something heavy hit the back of his legs, a baseball bat. He collapses to the sidewalk and crumbles up into a ball, trying to protect himself as the blows rain down. Cox begs the men, please don't hurt me, but it doesn't help. You shouldn't have had such a big mouth on TV, one of them says. When the attackers finally leave, Cox drags himself to his car. He's bruised and bleeding, but somehow manages to drive himself to the hospital. He's too scared to file a police report. When he finally calls the radio station a few days later to tell him where he's been, he says he was mugged. But he can tell the station manager doesn't believe him, and within 24 hours, the story's all over the news. DJ claims he was beaten after Payola talk, players one headline. That's exactly the kind of media attention Cox does not want. When he finally returns to the airwaves a week later, he tries to make his absence sound like a joke. He tells listeners, reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. He also tells W.I.N.Z. receptionist to head off any phone calls from a reporter named Brian Ross. I got nothing else to say to that guy, he says. Back at NBC News headquarters in New York, Brian Ross is appalled by the news of the Don Cox beating. Publicly he says he has no reason to think it was related to the Payola story, but privately he's worried. Not for his own safety, he's reported dozens of stories about organized crime and knows they rarely go after anyone as high profile as he is. But if Joe is grown and his mom associates are willing to strike back this brazenly against one of Ross's sources, it's going to make his reporting much harder. The public responds to Ross's February 24th report about the new Payola was sensational, but the story is changing fast. Within days of its airing, every major label announced they were dropping independent promotion. To Ross, it's an obvious attempt to make the Payola story go away, but he's not worried about that happening because already he's got leads on another music industry scandal. We're involving MCA records, some monsters from New Jersey and a music industry veteran named Morris Levy. Ross isn't entirely sure yet how the story will shake out or how it might be connected Payola, but he's determined to find out. From Wondry, this is episode four of six of Payola for American scandal. On the next episode, Joe is grown, strikes back against the record labels. Ryan Ross investigates the activities of Roulette Records owner Morris Levy, and New Jersey Detective Bobby Jones finds an unlikely ally in his investigation of the MCA records cutout scheme. If you'd like to learn more about Payola, we recommend a book Hitman by Frederick Danon. This episode contains reenactments and traumatized details, and while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited and executed produced by me Lindsay Graham for Airship, sound designed by Derek Barrett. This episode is written by Andy Herman, edited by Casey Meiner. American producers are Stephanie Jenns, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlow pass for Wondry.