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Steven Seagal is known for his tough-guy roles in action films, such as Marked for Death and Under Siege, where he battles bad guys. A sullied business partnership with a producer led the action star to a real-life run-in with the mob in a scenario that seemed plucked from a B-movie.
In 2002, reputed mafia members Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone and Primo Cassarino were in court on a litany of charges which included trying to extort Seagal. As per The New York Times, the men allegedly coerced the actor into a car and led him to the Gage & Tollner restaurant in Brooklyn, where they reportedly threatened the movie star to cough up hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Gambino family members had reportedly been recruited by Julius Nasso, a film producer who had worked on 10 movies with the actor. Seagal and Nasso had collaborated for years and were once close friends, but they had a falling out when the Out for Justice star wanted to end their business relationship.
Authorities had wiretaps on Ciccone and Cassarino, and happened to catch them savoring the moment they intimated Seagal. "They were laughing about it, saying it was right out of the movies and 'if we only had guns in our belts, it would be really good,'" a lawyer who heard the tapes told The New York Times in 2002.
Keep reading to see what Seagal claimed the mobsters said to him.
Steven Seagal says his life was in danger
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Steven Seagal alleged that members of the mob demanded he forked over $150,000 for each film he collaborated with Julius Nasso on, per the Chicago Tribune. "Look at me when I talk to you," the actor said in court quoting Anthony Ciccone. "Work with Jules and we'll split the pie." The action star was so terrified during the meeting that he agreed to their terms, but only to buy himself time. "If you would have said the wrong thing, they would have killed you," Seagal said an associate told him as he left the meeting.
According to the Tribune, defense attorneys claimed it was not a shakedown, and that Nasso only wanted $500,000 back from Seagal which he had lent the actor to help pay taxes. As reported by The New York Times, Seagal told the court that he gave Nasso $700,000 to appease Ciccone.
Nasso claimed that he never tried to extort cash from his former partner, but that members of his Buddhist community were siphoning money from him, as per the Times. The producer said that he and Seagal fell out after Buddhist advisors warned him against appearing in violent movies as it would interfere with his possibility of reincarnation. Here's what Seagal was accused of doing to thwart the mob.
Steven Seagal visits a prisoner for help
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Steven Seagal did not go straight to the authorities after he was strong-armed into handing over hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of the mob. According to the Los Angeles Times, while the Above the Law star was on the stand he was asked why he did not contact the FBI. "They can't help me. They can't protect me," Seagal said.
After Seagal was confronted by Anthony Ciccone and Primo Cassarino, he sought out another mobster who would hopefully mediate the situation. The New York Times reported that the actor visited Angelo Prisco, "a reputed Genovese captain," in a New Jersey prison. Following their discussion, Seagal gave a lawyer $10,000 to pay for Prisco's time, per the LA Times. Nasso's lawyer claimed that contacting Prisco was a move made by Seagal to intimidate his former partner.
Seagal lost his composure while a lawyer questioned him on the stand. Per the LA Times, the attorney asked if the Exit Wounds star had ever attempted to hire an ex-CIA agent to put a hit on someone. "This is insane ... I'm not on trial here," Seagal blurted out in frustration.
Speaking to the press after the hearing, Seagal said he only appeared in court because authorities made him. "In the movies, I play a tough action hero, but I have feelings. I have been a victim twice," he told the media (via the LA Times).
Steven Seagal was depressed after that meeting
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Steven Seagal's former assistant, Neil Prashad, took the stand in the trial as well and corroborated much of what the actor said. Prashad told the jury that he accompanied Seagal when he met up with members of the mob in a restaurant, according to the New York Post. The assistant was forced to wait outside the room while Seagal had his sit down, and said, "I felt scared." Prashad claimed that Seagal was despondent afterward. "Steven was very depressed, very quiet, very tense," the one-time assistant told the court.
In 2004, Julius Nasso pled guilty to charges of extortion conspiracy, and his lawyer described it as "an aberrant incident that is unlikely to happen again," per The Guardian. The former partners finally settled their long-running legal dispute in 2008. As reported by The Morning Call, after Nasso served a year in prison for the extortion charges, he and Seagal came to a legal understanding. The film producer dropped his $60 million lawsuit against Seagal for breach of contract, and the action star agreed to repay $500,000 he had borrowed.
One interesting addendum to Seagal and Nasso's legal agreement was that the Hard to Kill actor agreed to sign a letter supporting Nasso's bid for a presidential pardon, as per The Morning Call.