How A Petty Feud Resulted In The Mafia Going After Action Star Steven Seagal

In the 1990s, actor Steven Seagal was on top of his game, pumping out action movies with producer Julius R. Nasso. Their partnership didn’t last, though.

A petty feud between the two turned into Seagal getting strong-armed by the mafia, allegedly at the order of Nasso, in a Hollywood-worthy tale of friendship, betrayal, and greed.

The Action Star Of The ’90s

1995 ShoWest
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Steve Seagal began his Hollywood career in 1988 with the film Above The Law. But his career really took off once the ’90s hit. During that decade, Seagal was pumping out action movie after action movie.

While not all of them were critically acclaimed, he was still making a name for himself as one of the best action stars in the business.

He Went Into Music And TV

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Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Unfortunately, at the turn of the century, something happened, and Steven Seagal was losing traction. He was no longer relevant in the public eye, becoming one of those has-been actors who already peaked.

So, he moved on in the entertainment industry, trying his hand at music and television. It didn’t really stick and was a far cry from his ’90s fame.

Seagal And Nasso Were A Dream Team

SGranitz/WireImage
SGranitz/WireImage

In the ’90s, he was starring in action-packed films like The Glimmer Man, Marked For Death, and Under Siege. No, he wasn’t winning any Oscars for his performances, but audiences couldn’t get enough.

It helped that he was working alongside producer Julius R. Nasso. Together, they were pretty much the King Bees of Warner Brothers.

Together, They Were Beyond Successful

Steven Seagal at Academy Awards Show 1996
Getty Images/Bob Riha, Jr.
Getty Images/Bob Riha, Jr.

Throughout the ’90s, Steven Seagal and Julius R. Nasso worked together on numerous movies. They were successful business partners and best friends who actually lived next door to one another on Staten Island.

The best part about their relationship, aside from their utter success, was there was no interference from the mafia.

Nasso And Seagal Were Great Friends And Business Partners

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Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Golden Foot
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Golden Foot

According to a TruTV article written by Anthony Bruno, it’s important to remember that Steven Seagal and Julius R. Nasso were initially great friends before everything went downhill at the turn of the century.

They were even in business together, creating Seagal/Nasso Productions and pumping out action movie after action movie.

Their Deal With Warner Bros. Was Up

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While everything really hit the fan in 2000, the reality is that the dynamic between Seagal and Nasso began to shift in 1997 when their deal with Warner Bros. came to an end. Their production deal was up, but Nasso still had four films lined up with Seagal.

He’d even sold the rights to foreign markets. He couldn’t just toss the projects aside.

Seagal Began Practicing Buddhism

Steven Seagal
Francis Apesteguy/Getty Images
Francis Apesteguy/Getty Images

It didn’t matter that Nasso didn’t want to pass on the projects, though, since Seagal had no intention of making violent action films anymore. This threw a whole monkey wrench into Nasso’s plans and income.

The actor didn’t want to throw fists onscreen anymore because he was practicing Buddhism.

He Was Considered A “Tulku”

Steven Seagal
Francis Apesteguy/Getty Images
Francis Apesteguy/Getty Images

According to Tibetan Buddhist throne holder Penor Rinpoche, Steven Seagal was a “tulku,” meaning he had the spirit of 17th-century Buddhist master Chungdrag Dorje inside him. Seagal took this to heart and decided he wouldn’t perform in violent projects, much to Nasso’s dismay.

This was when things began to turn ugly for the former friends.

Nasso Sued His Former Friend For Breach Of Contract

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Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Even though Seagal went on record saying, “It is possible to be both a popular movie star and a tulku,” Nasso wasn’t pleased with his friend’s religious beliefs. He even went as far as suing Seagal in 2002 for $60 million!

The lawsuit stated that Seagal breached his contract, stating that he’d star and help produce four action films.

Plan B: Strong-Arm Seagal

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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

When Seagal denied any such agreement had happened, things turned even uglier. Nasso went with Plan B, strong-arming his former friend into their four-movie agreement. The enforcement didn’t exactly go as planned, and both parties eventually landed in a courtroom.

And things were about to get very, very interesting.

Nasso Was Charged Alongside The Gambino Crime Family

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In 2003, Seagal and Nasso found themselves in court but on the opposite sides of the law.

While the former action star was there as a government witness, Nasso was part of a racketeering charge against the Gambino crime family, namely Peter Gotti and 16 other alleged associates of the family.

The FBI Had Nasso On Extortion

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The FBI had arrested Nasso for conspiring with mafia members, something they accidentally stumbled upon. Talking to the local New York mob in an Italian restaurant, no one knew that the FBI had bugged the place and heard everything coming out of Nasso’s mouth.

He was allegedly asking the mafia to intimidate Seagal.

Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone Showed Up On Set

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

During his testimony, Seagal said that a few years before the racketeering charge, he had been strong-armed by the Gambino family. His first encounter with the mafia family was in 2000 when Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone decided to pay Seagal a visit on the set of Exit Wounds.

He said that he and the rest of the crime family would very much like it if Seagal worked with Nasso.

Seagal Bought Himself Time

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Sonny told Seagal that he’d better think long and hard about working with Nasso again on the four movies. According to Seagal, he agreed to the deal just to buy himself a little bit of time.

“These were people who were not going to let it go,” Seagal said during his testimony.

Next, They Took Seagal On A Ride

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gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

A few months after his “meeting” with Sonny, Seagal found himself in another sticky situation — the mob had picked him up and told him to get into a car.

They then drove him to a nearby restaurant, once again explaining to the actor that he’d better work with Nasso or pay the producer $150,000 per movie.

Nasso Incriminated Himself

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Joe Corrigan/Getty Images
Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

According to the FBI, Nasso can be heard on the hidden tape, telling the mafia that his former friend wouldn’t go down without a fight.

During the wiretap, Nasso said, “You really gotta get down on him. Because I know this animal, I know this beast. You know, unless there’s a fire under him.”

The Gambino Family Laughed At Seagal

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Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images

The mafia members can allegedly be heard laughing on the tape while telling Nasso that he should just go up to his former business partner and friend and shake him down for some money.

The Gambinos even told Nasso that Seagal was frightened during their initial “meetings” about resuming their partnership.

Seagal Began Carrying A Firearm

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Kristina Nikishina/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia

Apparently, Seagal was a bit nervous after his first encounter with Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone on the movie set. He actually started carrying a firearm and even had one on him when the crime family picked him up in the car.

During his testimony, the actor stated, “In New York, I always carry a gun.”

Nasso’s Defense: Seagal Was Over-Embellishing The Details

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Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

Things definitely escalated from the time Nasso and Seagal were best friends and business partners to their time in court. It’s amazing how something as petty as four action movies that never got made resulted in Nasso running for Mafia enforcers!

For his defense, though, Nasso’s attorney said Seagal was over-embellishing everything.

Allegedly, Seagal Owed Nasso $500,000

Steven Seagal
SGranitz/WireImage
SGranitz/WireImage

According to Nasso’s lawyer, George Santangelo, Seagal was “a pathological liar.” He also expressed that his client was nothing other than professional when speaking with the actor and in no way intimidating him.

In fact, Santangelo said that all Nasso wanted was to be reimbursed for the $500,000 Seagal borrowed for tax money.

The Defense Was Grasping At Straws

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Stories were getting completely jumbled up since there was no discussion regarding tax money until that point. Not only that but, during cross-examination, Santangelo also brought up something else in Seagal’s past.

The lawyer asked Seagal if he ever attempted to hire a CIA agent to kill someone! The question was so obscure that the judge struck it from the record.

Nasso’s Petty Grudge Got The Better Of Him

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Jason Merritt/FilmMagic
Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

With that little bit of information in the wind, Nasso’s defense crumbled. Not only that, but what started as nothing more than a petty argument and feud between friends led to the producer being thrown in jail and slapped with a hefty fine.

Even so, Seagal stated that he didn’t want to deal with the Gambino crime family ever again.

Seagal Was Slowly Getting Out Of The Woods

Steven Seagal in Benefit Concert for Global Nuclear Disarmament at Hibiya Kokaido - May 16, 2006
Nathan Shanahan/WireImage
Nathan Shanahan/WireImage

According to Seagal’s statement after court, “If you want to keep making movies, you don’t want to start a war with these people.” Now, he was probably enemy number one after testifying against the crime family.

But, at the end of the day, the former action star wasn’t the one who pled guilty.

The Sentence: A Year And One Day In Prison

Actor Steven Seagal
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Patrick Robert/Sygma/CORBIS/Sygma via Getty Images

In 2003, three years after the initial strong-arming on the set of Exit Wounds, Nasso pled guilty to the charge of extortion conspiracy.

Then, in February 2004, he was sentenced to a year and one day in an Ohio prison, fined $75,000 and was ordered to take mandatory mental health classes upon his release.

Nasso Was Let Off Easy

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Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Golden Foot
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Golden Foot

Needless to say, considering who Nasso was working with, his sentencing was more than lenient.

The lesser sentence was all thanks to the judge who thought of Nasso as less of a “mob associate” and more of someone who was in a sticky situation and wanted quick results with a good outcome. Obviously, it didn’t happen that way.

The $60 Million Lawsuit Was Dropped

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

So, Nasso did his full year and a day in prison while the lawsuit he threw on Seagal in 2002 stayed active, swirling around desks for six more years.

Finally, the two settled the lawsuit in 2008, with Nasso dropping the breach of contract charges and the $60 million fine.

Nasso Wanted It To Be Over

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

According to Nasso, dropping the lawsuit was no way in an attempt to reconcile his relationship with Seagal and all about getting his reputation as a professional producer back.

During an interview with The Advance, Nasso said, “This civil case was about vindication and getting my reputation back. I am relieved after six years of civil litigation that Steven and I have cleared up our misunderstandings, reached an amicable resolution, and settled our differences.”

In The End, Seagal Owed Nasso $500,000

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While the $60 million lawsuit was dropped, The Los Angeles Times stated that he still received a bit of compensation for Seagal’s breach of contract. In the end, Nasso supposedly walked away with $500,000.

According to the producer, “I got a lot more than I expected.” He was even able to persuade Seagal to do something for him, something huge.

Seagal Even Wrote Nasso A Presidential Pardon Letter

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Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images

Wanting nothing more than to clear his name of all charges, Nasso somehow persuaded Seagal to write and sign a letter advocating for his character in a presidential pardon.

The letter was sent to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Department of Justice, saying, “I am writing this letter to indicate that I have no objection to and would support the application, when it is timely, of Julius R. Nasso for a presidential pardon.”

Nasso Sued Seagal Again

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Donat SorokinTASS via Getty Images

Even though Seagal agreed to write, sign, and send the presidential pardon letter, things between the two former friends never really cleared up. In 2011, Nasso once again sued Seagal for not keeping up with his payments from their 2008 settlement.

He was now asking Seagal for the payments plus an extra 10%! Hopefully, he doesn’t take matters to the mafia this time!