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"The Iceman" cometh
« on: March 04, 2012, 05:18:43 PM »
New film to spotlight Hackensack native's key role in 'Iceman' mob hits case
Saturday, March 3, 2012    Last updated: Sunday March 4, 2012, 10:30 AM
The Record

"The Iceman" cometh.

'Iceman' Richard Kuklinski claimed he killed some 100 people.

Former ATF agent Dominick Polifrone went undercover to catch 'The Iceman.'

Maybe even a pair of them.

Twenty-five years after Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski was arrested outside his Dumont home and six years after he died in the prison wing of a Trenton hospital Hollywood is suddenly fascinated by the notorious mob hit man (and murderer for profit and revenge) who seemingly lived a typical suburban life with his wife and three children before an ATF agent from Hackensack exposed him.

Director Ariel Vromen recently finished shooting scenes for "The Iceman," a big-screen movie in which Michael Shannon, best known as creepy agent Nelson Van Alden in HBOs "Boardwalk Empire," portrays Kuklinski. Shot in Shreveport, La., the film is now in the editing phase of post-production. The screenplay, by Vromen and Morgan Land, was inspired by Anthony Brunos "The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer" and Jim Thebauts HBO documentary "The Iceman Tapes: Conversations With a Killer."

This project is not to be confused with "The Ice Man" (note the space), a movie in which Mickey Rourke would play Kuklinski, based on the late Philip Carlos book "The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer." That movies producer, Matty Beckerman, reportedly acquired the life-story rights for Kuklinskis wife, Barbara, and Pat Kane, the cases lead detective in its early days. In January, a spokesman for Beckerman said only that the project, rumored to be stalled, is still in development.

The cast of the Shannon movie includes Winona Ryder as Kuklinskis wife, Ray Liotta as mobster Roy Demeo and Jay Giannone as Dominick Polifrone, the undercover ATF agent who took Kuklinski down.

Polifrone a Hackensack native who at the time lived in Hillsdale, just a few miles from Kuklinskis home has no ties to that movie, but says Giannone called him to discuss the role. "We had a long conversation and our backgrounds are similar, so we hit it off really well, and hes tried his darndest to play me," says Polifrone.

Polifrone, 65, retired from the ATF in 1998 and is now director of a youth drop-in center at Hackensack High School. In his office there recently, he chatted about Kuklinski and Hollywoods current fascination with the man he calls "an evil person," adding, "I dealt with all the crime families. I dealt with made people. He was different."

In 1985, Polifrone was a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who had had great success infiltrating the New York mob.

The Bergen County Prosecutors Office, for which hed earlier done work, asked him to a meeting with Kane, a New Jersey State Police detective, about a joint investigation of Kuklinski. "For the last several years, he was meeting people and then they would disappear," Polifrone says.

With lots of circumstantial but no direct evidence, they asked Polifrone if he would hang out at a Paterson store, a known Kuklinski haunt, in hopes hed reach out to buy pure cynanide, which he used to kill some of his victims. His previous supplier, a fellow hit man from North Bergen known as "Mister Softee," had been found dead a murder for which Kuklinski later claimed credit.

"I was working over a year before I met [Kuklinski] and then it took four months, working full time, to get the information, tape the conversations," says Polifrone, who presented himself as Dominick Provenzano, a guy with a Lincoln Continental, flashy jewelry, lots of cash and connections.

Kuklinski offered him chilling details of murders, including the one that gave him his nickname: a man whose body Kuklinski had kept frozen for two years, in an effort to mask the time of death. "I still have the original uncut tapes with all our conversations," says Polifrone, who soon learned that the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Kuklinski planned to kill him.

Its a thoroughly New Jersey story. So why was the Vromen movie filmed in the Pelican State? Was it because there are virtually no funds left in New Jerseys tax credit program for film and television productions while Louisiana has an aggressive program of incentives?

An "Iceman" spokesman declined to comment on that, though Polifrone has heard that there was a tax-related issue.

Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, says the "Iceman" production team approached the commission in November about potential prison-exterior locations. The commission made suggestions, but never heard anything more.

You might be thinking that the Iceman storys hero would make a better protagonist. In fact, veteran producer Bert Stratford, based in River Edge, is working with Polifrone on a scripted drama series about Polifrones life. Director Sanford Bookstaver and writer Bruce Graham are attached to the project, which Stratford is pitching to networks.

"Part of it would involve the Iceman, but mainly its his prior undercover work when he was a wiseguy in the five crime families," says Stratford. "I think they arrested 60 of the top Mafiosa guys mainly because of his undercover work."

Remarkably, during Polifrones dangerous undercover assignments, his family did not know exactly what he was doing. "His wife knew that he worked for the ATF, but in what capacity, she didnt know," says Stratford, adding that his kids were also in the dark. "So, he carried that with him for all those years."