How a mob enforcer turned into a mentor in prison

2022-08-12 23:30:18 By : Ms. Doris Wang

Michael DiVincino was able to rehabilitate himself from within the prison system while serving as “sort of an unofficial mentor” to many younger inmates

By Katelyn Newberg Las Vegas Review-Journal

LAS VEGAS - Michael DiVincino’s earliest memory is of waking up to the FBI bursting into his family’s Las Vegas home in the 1960s to take his father away in handcuffs.

“I carried that, where I had a problem with authority, from that young age all the way through,” he said. “And that kind of cemented how I was going to spend the majority of my life.”

While discussing his childhood during a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, DiVincino was careful not to use the term “Mafia.” Instead, he described the “heavy Italian influence” that surrounded his family growing up in Las Vegas in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

In the early 1990s, that influence followed DiVincino to Los Angeles, where he was convicted of a string of robberies and kidnappings in part because of taped conversations collected by an FBI mob informant. During his trial, prosecutors painted DiVincino as a low-level mob enforcer. DiVincino said he was given a harsher sentence of life in prison after he refused to testify against his co-defendants.

DiVincino was transferred to Nevada, where he was imprisoned for nearly 20 years before his sentence was commuted. He was released in 2019, and is now back living in Las Vegas.

UNLV criminology professor Randall Shelden, who has known DiVincino for nearly 20 years, said the man was able to rehabilitate himself from within the prison system while serving as “sort of an unofficial mentor” to many younger inmates.

“He was almost like a combination of an attorney and a therapist,” Shelden said.

DiVincino, who is 60, has lofty goals now that he’s out of prison. In between landscaping jobs, he self-published a collection of letters authored by himself and other prisoners he met in Nevada titled “Dear Joey: Letters from Prison,” named after his son. He talks about getting the books in classrooms so kids are deterred from the same bad choices DiVincino made in his youth.

DiVincino said his father was a “silent partner” who helped operate Whisky A Go Go, a topless bar off of Fremont Street. As DiVincino grew up, he started getting in trouble for fighting and stealing, and later started competing as a boxer.

He said he could have developed a boxing career, but he instead started doing more and more jobs with his “goombahs” associated with the Las Vegas mob.

After a stint in prison for robbery, DiVincino moved to Los Angeles, where he opened a tanning salon named “Tony’s Tanning” off of Hollywood Boulevard, and his moniker became “Hollywood Mike.” DiVincino said the business was a front for his illegal activities, which included a string of armed robberies and kidnappings.

DiVincino was never an official member, known as a “made man,” of the Los Angeles mob.

“I would simply just say I was around it …” DiVincino said. “I just happened to be around it from a young age.”

According to a Los Angeles Times magazine article published in 1996, DiVincino was arrested after an undercover drug deal turned into a car chase through the Los Angeles area.

By the time DiVincino got his life sentence in 1993, his son had been born following a conjugal visit in prison, he said.

Joseph “Joey” DiVincino’s earliest memory is of visiting his father in prison.

His first time hugging his father without a prison guard looking on was in 2019, when Michael DiVincino was transferred back to California from Nevada for his release. Because he grew up in Ohio, Joseph DiVincino said he was only able to visit his father a handful of times throughout his teenage years.

Instead, he knew his dad through thousands of handwritten letters.

“As far as I can tell he’s been writing me letters since I was in diapers,” said Joseph DiVincino, now 30.

Michael DiVincino said that having a young son when he was sentenced to life in prison was the wake-up call he needed to turn his life around.

“I want to leave a different legacy other than the one I had built up to that point and had been laid down before me,” he said. “I wanted my life to count for something more.”

While in prison, Michael DiVincino started various programs designed to help other prisoners. In his book, he wrote that he wanted himself and his fellow prisoners to learn how to channel their energy “into more productive areas” of their lives.

Michael DiVincino still has the larger-than-life persona he embodied in the early ‘90s. His book is filled with catchphrases about journeys beginning with a single step and feeding the wolf inside you that represents good instead of evil.

“He’s just completely honest,” Shelden said. “What you see is what you get.”

Joseph DiVincino said his father is genuinely passionate about his writing, and that the past few years have been proof that people can move beyond their crimes.

“He’s done the best he could to be a father the whole time, and now that he’s out he wants nothing more than for us to be together,” the younger DiVincino said. “People are redeemable. I don’t know who he was before he went away, but I know who he is now.”

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