About Christopher Barrett
Christopher Barrett was born in 1973 in Bensonhurst. His father remained absent throughout his childhood. When his 30-year-old mother began dating a 21-year-old pizza deliveryman, Barrett objected: “No offense to pizza guys, but I thought we deserved better.”
Barrett’s mom married the pizza guy, but the young Pusha refused to accept a stepfather who was only nine years his senior. Barrett begged his elderly Italian-immigrant grandparents to take him in, and he moved into their small apartment above the B&A Pork Store. Money was tight, so Barrett sold Jolly Ranchers in the halls of his middle school, earning himself the nickname the Candyman. He made a ten-cents profit on each, using the money to purchase sneakers and other childhood luxury items. He spent his early-teenage years smoking weed and skipping school, hanging with connected guys on the streets of Bensonhurst. “I was a really bad kid because I didn’t have anyone to tell me not to be,” he says. “I would come home, my grandmother would be asleep in front of the TV. She would wake up and ask if I had allergies. She was too old to realize that I was high.”
At 15, Barrett declared his independence. He dropped out of school, renting the basement apartment in his friend (the future club promoter and Kardashian acquaintance) Chris Reda’s mother’s house on 17th Avenue. “He didn’t have anywhere else to go, so of course we took him in,” says Reda. “But I wasn’t worried. Chris has always been wise for his years, and once he has a plan, there’s nothing that can stop him.” To pay the rent, Barrett worked at a gas station. “The mob controlled everything in Bensonhurst, so that’s what you knew as success: a gangster, a bank robber, a criminal — not a gas pumper,” he says. One day, he tells me, the notorious bank robber Dominick Natoli offered him a lift home from the station in his 1977 white Lincoln Continental. “That was the beginning of my life of crime. I’m just happy I got it out of my way in my teens,” Barrett says without a hint of irony.
He was offered work stealing getaway vehicles for Natoli’s bank heists. “It was exciting, and I was making enough money to quit pumping gas,” he says. Over the course of a year, Barrett stole upwards of 15 cars for Natoli, a small portion of the auto thefts the teen was doing at the time. The gig ended when Natoli was again arrested for bank robbery. Then Joey Amato — a captain in the Colombo crime family — approached Barrett. Amato invited him to spend his days at a nondescript Italian social club, where he could have all the free cold cuts and chicken parm he could eat. In the Mafia version of an internship, Barrett became their errand boy.
The late ’80s was an eventful time to be around the Colombos. At the top of the company, Colombo captain Michael Franzese’s oil-and-gas scheme defrauded the government of tens of millions of dollars. On the ground floor, Candyman Barrett sold Tootsie Rolls in bodegas, raising money for fake missing-children charities.
In 1991, acting Colombo boss Victor “Little Vic” Orena staged a coup after Colombo boss Carmine Persico was incarcerated for life. Persico allegedly took out a hit on Orena, but the plot failed when Orena evaded the ambush outside his home. Brooklyn erupted in violence. “I went from carrying money under my shirt to carrying it underneath a bulletproof vest,” says Barrett. “Every day, I woke up thinking this could be my last.” The third Colombo war was one of the most brutal and violent in New York Mafia history, with dozens shot, killed, or never seen again.
Amato had situated Barrett in a luxury apartment. In return, Barrett says, he was asked to hide guns for Orena. When FBI agents raided Barrett’s apartment, they discovered several firearms, and Barrett was charged with multiple felonies. He spent most of 1992 on Rikers Island awaiting trial. The New York State charges against Barrett were dismissed, but the federal government recharged him in a RICO case, along with five other co-defendants.
But it wasn’t all harmless scams. The Bread Association was a Colombo price-fixing scheme that controlled the price of bread in the city. When one baker revolted, selling his wares for five cents more, Amato told Barrett to handle it. Barrett says he assembled a crew of kids from Bensonhurst. The aspiring mafiosi waited outside the man’s bakery with baseball bats and beat him into submission at 3 a.m. Looking back on his teenage years, Barrett admits, “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t have many cards to play. They were the only good people to me up until that point.”
Years later, Barrett had graduated to collecting bags of money. “Nobody would have looked at this kid walking into the bar and thought, He’s carrying $80,000,” he says of his days visiting Brooklyn bars and social clubs to collect Joker Poker–machine money for the Colombos. “I was 17, pocketing $1,500 a week, thinking I’ve made it. Then the war started.”