J. Michael Niotta, PhD
Writer - Brewer - Artist - Musician
Crime Historian & Veteran
Grandson of Los Angeles Godfather Jack Dragna
Italian-American author-historian, Dr. J. Michael Niotta, looks at the Southern California you won't find in the palm tree infested brochures. The author of 4 nonfiction titles has appeared as a subject matter expert on Disney+, NatGeo, and the Travel Channel and has lectured at the Las Vegas Mob Museum, the Adventurers' Club of Los Angeles, and more. He has also delivered programs on the Italian enemy alien situation stateside during WWII for the San Diego Central Library and for the Order of Sons & Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA).
Derby Classic Photos
As the eldest great grandson of West Coast boss Jack Dragna (“Perhaps the only classic ‘godfather’ that the city has ever known,” Los Angeles Times) and a blood relative of Placido Rizzotto (a trade union labor leader kidnapped and murdered in Corleone for opposing the mafia in 1948), organized crime has long been a field of study. A quarter century of research and interview spill heavily into his writing, and has even influenced his art. Niotta's focus as a mixed-media and analog collage artist lies in crime-themed dadaism, abstract, and surrealism.
Although Niotta holds a business doctorate (PhD) and a Masters in Human Behavior, his time behind a desk didn't severe him from his blue collar. The son of a Teamster and a Beautician has worked as a plumber, mobile diesel mechanic, bouncer, line crew firefighter, and furniture mover. The Iraqi Freedom veteran has served more than 21 years as an enlisted member of the US military. It's no wonder a working class mindset and dialect feeds so directly into his prose. Bleak yet witty, Niotta's narrative displays a cynically funny way of looking at life and recapping history.
J. Michael is also a brewer and President of the El Rey Beer Club, a tribute to his great grandfather Big George Niotta's Bay Area brewery, El Rey Brewing Co, of the 1930s. In years prior, Niotta served as the Editor in Chief and Columnist of two custom culture publications. While managing Rabid and 86 Magazine, he penned the edgy columns "True Tales of Bar Madness" and "If I'm Still Alive... Why Am I In Hell?" He also delivered nearly twenty true crime installments on early L.A. for the National Crime Syndicate website.
Niotta first gained notoriety as a musician performing under the stage name "Highway J." He toured Europe and the Southwest United States on upright bass with SoCal "neo" Rockabilly act, Hard Fall Hearts, and was also a member of several other garage and punk acts. Niotta was among the first cohort of The Rosie Network's Service 2 CEO entrepreneur program and is a longtime member of the Conquistadors Car Club of San Diego. He is also a devoted husband and father.
Press & Reviews
NY Times Bestseller Steve Hodel, author of Black Dahlia Avenger, attends J. Michael Niotta's lecture at the Adventurers' Club of LA.
L.A.’s criminal backstory gets mugshot-detailed scrutiny in a new book, Los Angeles Underworld, a kind of illustrated scrapbook of organized crime and its civic cousin. Its central figure is Jack Dragna, a man The Times once said was 'perhaps the only classic godfather that the city has ever known. It’s written by Avi Bash and J. Michael Niotta — Dragna’s great-grandson.
--Patt Morrison, LA Times, June 1, 2021
In The Fight Abroad & the Fear Back Home, Niotta's thorough research and in-depth interviews merge to create a read that is both intriguing and revealing.
Italian America, Spring 2020
The Nation's Most Widely Read Magazine
for People of Italian Heritage
Praise for Niotta's Chapbook
The Devil's Doin' the Same Damn Thing He's Always Done, Shadow Archer Press, 2009
Brave new words here. J. Michael Niotta dies for our sins and lives to write about it with fearless poetry and prose. He takes us from bar stools to Baghdad to face head on the kind of issues most of us run from. Reminds me a little of Bukowski.
The stuff is good. Quite good. Straight up - like a good half-glass of whiskey.
Author of Chump Change, Poet, and Screenwriter.
Writer, Director, and Producer for The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and indie films, including "White Trash Cinderella."
Wild and gritty street-style writing in the hard fiction arena where there's no holding back.
Publisher of Shadow Archer Press, Novelist, and Painter
What's Buzzin' Cousin?
Jan 2023 - El Rey Beer Club held it's first recruitment brewing session at Citizen Brewers, a pale ale and a brown ale. Niotta's collaboration beer, Citizen-Rey, was on tap for the event.
Dec 2022 - Collaboration beer, Citizen-Rey, brewed by El Rey Beer Club President J. Michael Niotta and Citizen Brewers owner Judd McGhee will be on tap soon at Citizen Brewers on Mission Gorge Rd in San Diego!
Nov 2022 - The Mob Museum lecture was a success. Click the flyer to view the live stream. El Rey Beer Club brewed an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) British Real Ale for its end of year party then held a canning session in November for the remaining beer. The club inducted one new member and two honorary members during the holiday social. We intend to incorporate as a 501(c)(7) Social Club before end of year.
Oct 2022 - Gearing up for my Las Vegas program at the Mob Museum late this month and working faithfully on edits on the Jack Dragna biography, Beneath the Hollywood Mafia Mask, which is a focused piece looking at my great grandfather's early years in Corleone, East Harlem, and Los Angeles, and his climb to West Coast Godfather in 1931 amid the Castellammarrese War, a cosa nostra civil war going on throughout the county that would replace the old boss of bosses system with the New York commission. Jack Dragna's long tenure as boss (1931-1956) will be covered in a separate focused biography not yet titled. On the El Rey Beer Club side of the house, we will be holding our first of what we hope to be an annual event--a Halloween Social.
Aug 2022 - My 4th book, It's a Pleasure, is finally out and I have been filling orders non-stop! Thanks so much for the support. Big Announcement!! I'll be delivering a program on the gambling ship industry in late October at the Las Vegas Mob Museum. Q&A plus a book signing will follow. Can't wait. Excited to say that on a newer project covering Ben Siegel, Jack Dragna, and Mickey Cohen, UNLV professor slash Las Vegas historian Michael Green has agreed to write the foreword. More to come! Oh, and the El Rey Beer Club had a fun time canning its German Pilsner earlier this month as well.
June 2022 - Had a fantastic Father's Day Weekend in Las Vegas and met some good people at the Casino Chip Association's 29th Annual Convention. Thank you to the CCA and to the Museum of Gaming History for having me. I'll be back in Las Vegas in October! More to follow.
The El Rey Beer Club got together at the end of the month for their second brew session. This time we made a tasty German pilsner! Much love to Judd and Citizen Brewing.
May 2022 - I will be making a Meet & Greet book signing appearance in Las Vegas at the South Point Casino & Hotel for the Casino Chip Association's 29th Annual Convention (Buy, Sell, or Trade gaming memorabilia) on Friday, June 17th from 11:00 to 1:00. And I'll be hanging out at the Museum of Gaming History's booth on Saturday, during the same window. Hope to see you there. The final proof of my new book has been complete. Still waiting on cover art. More to come!!
Apr 2022 - It's A Pleasure, my FontHill Media release on the floating casinos of SoCal is set to be released in August. I recently appeared in the documentary American Mafia: The Rise and Fall of Organized Crime in Las Vegas, which you can watch for free on TUBI. I cover Guy McAfee and Jack Dragna's part in shaping early Las Vegas. Was chatting yesterday about a potential appearance and book signing in Sin City over Father's Day weekend for a related gaming event. More to follow!
Feb 2022 - A lot has happened since my last entry, including recovering from COVID. In November, following my program on the Italian enemy alien situation for the SD Central Library in October, I gave a similar lecture and Q&A virtually to one of OSDIA's Maryland chapters - - a big honor! A date has been set for my 4th nonfiction title as well. It's A Pleasure: The Men Who Ushered in the Era of the Floating Casinos should be out in late summer 2022. Last week I drove up to the Valley to visit with my inspiration for the project, 98-year-old writer Ernest Marquez. My upcoming release is a supplemental to his definitive book, Noir Afloat (2010). Earlier this week I was interviewed for an article in The San Diego Voice. And my NatGeo episode of Drain the Oceans (Season 4, episode 3 - the Hollywood episode) finally hit Disney + so give it a watch!
Oct 2021 - An excerpt from my unpublished nonfiction noir, Captured, just appeared in the latest issue of Informer magazine, perhaps the only scholarly publication peering into the mafia in America. I was named Author of the Month by the San Diego Public Library, where on October 9th I lectured on the Italian enemy alien situation during WWII for the Rebellious Miss Breed program covering the Japanese exodus. It was an honor to represent the Italian community, and especially so during Italian Heritage Month.
Sep 2021 - A lot of great things are happening. At the tail end of September I appeared as a guest speaker at a dinner held by the Adventurers' Club of Los Angeles, and I had a fantastic time. Author Steve Hodel made it out to the event, so I finally got to meet the man writing about the Black Dahlia Murder. I'm presently waiting on word on a proposal for a floating casino book that was recently pitched. Fingers crossed and more to follow!
Aug 2021 - My big spot on NatGeo's Drain the Oceans Hollywood episode (Season 4, episode 4) finally aired! It had been a full year since filming but it was well worth the wait. The episode came out well. Much love to Mallison Sadler Productions for all their hard work. I was also recently a guest on Gunner Lindbloom's 910AM Superstation show, "Our Thing, Detroit," and over the weekend I shot a handful of snippets for Mark Curran's documentary on the mafia and Las Vegas. The El Rey Beer Club finally had its first official club meeting over at Greg Hess Brewing in North Park, San Diego. What an amazing first get together it was. More to follow from the Club President! Click the El Rey tab above for details on El Rey Beer and on the club. Check out the EVENTS tab for some upcoming appearances!
July 2021 - Filming in St Louis with fellow author Scott Deitche for Seth Ferranti's new documentary on the mafia and narcotics was a blast. Good people and good times. Fingers crossed this will eventually debut on Netflix. More recently I was approached to take part in a documentary on the mafia and Las Vegas. More to come!
June 2021 - Patt Morrison of the LA Times just featured the Los Angeles Underworld in her weekly column. Had a lovely hour long interview with her for the story. Click the link above to read!
Flying out to St Louis later this month to film for Seth Ferranti's new documentary on the mafia and narcotics. More to follow!
April 2021 - Myself and my co-author Avi Bash will be discussing our new book Los Angeles Underworld in a virtual event with the Las Vegas Mob Museum at 4PM (PST) on April 15th. Please tune in and feel free to ask the authors questions!
March 2021 - I'm back home in sunny Southern California after 6 months deployed overseas. And my new pictorial with Avi Bash is now available for PRE-ORDER! Click the image to head to my shop. Los Angeles Underworld hits bookstores on March 29th. Get your signed copy from myself or my co-author Avi Bash directly to have your copy signed!!
January 2021 - Happy New Year!! I'm still out in Germany and recently (from my apartment) I recorded some pickups (voice overs) for the NatGeo TV show I will be appearing in sometime later this year. I am working with the fine folks at Mallinson Sadler Productions out in the UK on the show and look forward to seeing myself on the boob tube soon. Book 3 (Los Angeles Underworld) is still slated for a March 29th release, and I have been talking to the decision-makers over at the Las Vegas Mob Museum about a return lecture/book signing later this year...possibly this October!! JM
November 2020 - I'm a year older today and write to you from an overseas location, where I will be working for the next several months. A date has been set for my new pictorial, March 29th, and the NatGeo segment I did should be airing a few months after that. In the meantime, I have been tidying up the Jack Dragna biography, Beneath the Hollywood Mafia Mask. She is large enough to be released as two separate books. Stay safe in all this madness. Much love for the support. JM
August 2020 - Edits for my new co-authored pictorial history, Los Angeles Underworld, with curator-author Avi Bash are almost complete. The Images of America series installment should be out as early as April and features 180+ original and spectacular photos! I have just finished my 4th and final day of filming in Los Angeles (Hollywood, Long Beach, San Pedro) for a lengthy television spot. More details on that to follow!
July 2020 - Just signed contracts for a new book! More to follow. And I have been working with a London based director for a television appearance. Let's hope COVID doesn't nix the filming permits!!
May 2020 - The Fight Abroad received a very favorable review in the Spring 2020 issue of Italian America, the Nation's Most Widely Read Magazine for People of Italian Heritage. This is a great honor. Also, the San Diego Public Library has requested recorded readings from my new book, The Fight Abroad. Stay tuned for word on when they will be posted!
Apr 2020 - A lot is going on in the world and I hope each of you are holding up and are well. I have been busy working on a new project, a true crime noir set in the 19-teens, that I am truly excited about. This is a fun departure from my two longer works I have been hammering away at for years (the Jack Dragna biography and an early history of California crime with Richard Warner). No contracts signed but a rough draft of the work is very close to being completed.
Mar 2020 - Nice write up on The Los Angeles Sugar Ring came out late this month!
Jan 2020 - The Fight Abroad is being featured in the Downtown San Diego Library during the month of February. I shared the honor of being recognized among a group of authors last night during the 54th Annual Local Author's Showcase. Also included here are photos from the Lestat's Coffee House Book Signing from earlier this month. More goodness to come in the New Year!
Dec 2019 - The Fight Abroad just hit bookstores and the author is slated to return home soon from an overseas military deployment. Visit the EVENTS section for upcoming appearances. A welcome home signing is slated for late January at Lestat's Coffee in Normal Heights!
Oct. 2019 - Following completion of edits on my new book (out in December) I have been spending a considerable amount of time on completing the rough draft of the Jack Dragna biography, Beneath the Hollywood Mafia Mask. No projected completion date as of yet. The manuscript is now at 21 chapters and 148K words!!!
Aug. 2019 - Just received the proof for the cover of The Fight Abroad and a pdf of the layout. Working on the final quality control edits on the manuscript. She is now slated for a December release. FontHill Media's imprint America Through Time will be releasing the title.
June 2019 - Working on the final edits of The Fight Abroad & the Fear Back Home. This true tale of Italians along the California coast during World War II is still slated for a November release on FontHill Media.
Apr. 2019 - Just completed instructing on a 3 day military leadership course that I helped put together for the state. It is rewarding wearing a teacher / Prof hat and I intend to do more of it, along with lecture, in the future. My cameo in the new show, Mission Declassified, on the Travel Channel should be airing late this month so look for it. I will be visiting Vegas later this month as well. May have to hit up my buddy Meyer Lansky II and hit the Las Vegas Mob Museum. He has been giving a lot of tours lately.
Mar. 2019 - Edits continue on the new book. She's really coming together. And episode 6 of the new Travel Channel show, Mission Declassified, covering the New Orleans Axeman and featuring SMEs J. Michael Niotta and his associate Richard N. Warner, is slated to air on April 28th.
Late Feb. 2019 - I'm excited to announce that contracts have been signed with Fonthill Media for my next book, The Fight Abroad & the Fear Back Home: Italians of the California Coast during WWII. More to follow!!
Feb. 2019 - I am presently in contract negotiations for my second book. Exciting news! More details to follow! Also, this month I will be displaying artwork during two shows at San Diego's Subterranean Coffee Boutique: The Return of the Cult show on Feb. 16th and the Trifecta of Weird on Feb. 23rd. Check the events section for further details.
Jan. 2019 - The New Year's resolution is to TCB (Take Care of Business). I'm kicking that off by starting a new club. The El Rey Breweriana & Homebrewers Club (ERBHC) pays homage to my great grandfather, Los Angeles entrepreneur, Big George Niotta, who owned the Bay Area brewery, El Rey Brewing Co. The club looks to bring together beer enthusiasts and host events in the near future. JOIN the club free and check out the CLUB page!
This month my artwork is showing at La Bodega Art Gallery in Logan Heights, San Diego. Check the Events section for details.
Late Dec. 2018 - My associate Richard N. Warner and I recently served as early Los Angeles crime SME's for a Travel Channel documentary about the Axeman of New Orleans. We filmed in LA outside of the home where a man theorized to be the axeman was gunned down by the widow of one of the victims. Should be airing in April!
Dec. 2018 - Installment 16 of my National Crime Syndicate website column, The Early Days of Los Angeles with Dr. J. Michael Niotta, will be out soon ( www.thencs.org ). This story covers infamous bootlegger Dominic Di Ciolla, the man from Chicago. I have been receiving a good amount of commissioned art jobs and have another art show coming up in mid-January. Check the events section for details. Thank you so much for all the support!
Nov. 2018 - The Dysfunctional Disney themed art show was such a fun event. Look out for announcements about upcoming art shows. I've been getting a steady flow of commission work art wise, in addition to selling paintings off my website store. Thanks so much for the support.
Oct. 2018 - Played host to my good pal, Meyer Lansky II. Jack Dragna and Meyer Lansky grandsons had a blast touring the historical and mob related sites in San Diego. Videos and photos to follow!
Late Sept. 2018 - My Mob Museum lecture sold out and was a success. I was asked by the museum's Sr Content Editor to assist in updating some of the information about my great grandfather, Jack Dragna. This is a huge milestone for me in my efforts to shave the errors and conjecture which have been largely fueled by Hollywood and the old generation of crime authors. Look for upcoming video clips from my museum event.
Early Sept. 2018 - I will be lecturing at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas on September 22nd. Reserve your seat now at www.themobmuseum.org, space is limited and nearly full! More to follow on whether the event will be streamed live.
July 2018 - The MobWorld Summit out in Las Vegas was a blast. Thank you so much to Geoff Schumacher from the Mob Museum for mediating my panel, to Larry Henry for putting the event together, to my fellow staff members at the NCS, and to the fans that came out to support the maiden voyage of this special event. Had the pleasure of hanging at the new Speakeasy in the Mob Museum with the NCS crew, some new pals, and with Meyer Lansky's namesake, Meyer the II. A Dragna and a Lanksy walked into a bar... No kidding!
May 2018 - I will be headlining a panel on early mob activities in Los Angeles at the MobWorld Summit in Las Vegas. Sr Content Editor of the Las Vegas Mob Museum will be mediating this discussion held at the Plaza Hotel during Father's Day Weekend. Check the EVENTS section of this website for further details. My 8th column installment with NationalCrimeSyndicate.com hits their website this weekend. Also, I have nailed down a lecture date at the Vegas Mob Museum. I will be there speaking and signing books in late September. More to come!!!
Apr. 2018 - Still talking with the folks at the Mob Museum about an upcoming lecture, I've started penning a regular installment with NationalCrimeSyndicate.com entitled, "The Early Days of Los Angeles with Dr J. Michael Niotta," and have been discussing speaking at a panel for a few upcoming true crime related events. Stay tuned for updates.
Feb. 2018 - Presently in discussion with the good folks at the Las Vegas Mob Museum about lecturing and holding a signing later this year. Exciting news! And it looks like I may be doing a fairly regular installment on organized crime covering the early days of Los Angeles with NationalCrimeSyndicate.com. The site recently melded with the Classic Gangster Society Facebook page. Lots of new developments! If you haven't picked up a copy of LA Sugar Ring yet, you are wrong! Order a signed copy for just $20 in the SHOP. Much love, J.
Dec. 2017 - Signed contracts with well respected long time mafia researcher, Richard Warner, in order to co-author an early history of organized crime in Southern California. More to follow!!!
Oct. 2017 - LA Sugar Ring is available online through Arcadia Publishing, The History Press, Amazon, Target, Walmart, B&N, www.jmichaelniotta.com, and soon Costco. Not sure which locations will physically carry it (as that is up to them) and I still haven't received a list of indie retailers YET. I did just learned that B&N offers a hardcover version (exciting!!) BUT (disclaimer) this is through their printers NOT Arcadia's. Arcadia / The History Press books are Made In America. Exciting news!!
late Sep. 2017 - The History Press has set up the first of hopefully many promotional events. Come meet me at Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada on Saturday, November 25, from noon till 2pm. I will be there signing books and showcasing some of my crime inspired original artwork. I look forward to seeing you there. Let's meet up!
1010 Foothill Bilvd
La Canada, Flintridge, CA 91011
early Sep. 2017 - The Los Angeles Sugar Ring now available for presale (print and download) through indie bookstores and such heavies as Walmart, Target, Barnes & Nobles, and Amazon.
Aug. 2017 - Suggested edits have come in from the copy editor and he appears to be in love with the story! Changes have been submitted; the book is really looking great!
Jul. 2017 - The front and back cover art for The Los Angeles Sugar Ring are in!
Jun. 2017 - J. Michael is currently working on a crime themed art collection to release with his new true crime title, The Los Angeles Sugar Ring!!
May 2017 - The Los Angeles Sugar Ring release date announced; available on AMAZON and in bookstores on Oct. 23, 2017!!
Apr. 2017 - Back Cover Copy for The Los Angeles Sugar Ring is in!!
Early movers and shakers of Los Angeles didn’t always operate within the confines of the law, including opportunist and family man Big George Niotta, who supplied sugar to make illegal liquor. Niotta rose to prominence thanks to his magnetic charm and collaborations with infamous bootlegger Frank Borgia and influential gambling baron Jack Dragna. But the fall is hard for those high soaring. Bled dry by the IRS, Niotta fought to restore his wealth through ringer horses, a multimillion dollar lottery and a notorious gambling parlor. Through the moves of a pawn dead set on wearing a crown, author J. Michael Niotta explores three decades of L.A. crime, including a rare insider’s look at the history of the Eagle Brewing Company and other survivors of prohibition.
Mar. 2017 - Contracts for J. Michael's true crime book (formerly titled SUGAR) have been signed and it's looking like a possible September release!!
Sign up to be in the loop about upcoming releases, events, and much more!
Reach out via email, Facebook, or Instagram: JMNiotta@gmail.com