As head of the notorious Westies, he terrorized Hell’s Kitchen and beyond – now an ailing James “Jimmy” Coonan, 76, wants to be released… and to live in New Jersey. At a hearing on Friday in the Southern District of New York District Court, Coonan’s lawyers asked for his remaining term of imprisonment to be modified to home confinement.
“Mr. Coonan’s release plan is to move in with and care for his elderly wife, who is in declining physical and neurological health, in Hazlet, New Jersey – far away from the environment in which he was raised and committed his offenses,” his lawyers wrote. Edna “Julia” Coonan, is 80 and served time in prison for her involvement with the Westies. Coonan has been offered a job working with the B&R Rebar Company in Brooklyn if he were to be released. Currently, Coonan has full term date of November 17, 2061 and a mandatory release date of June 1, 2030.
In a separate note to his lawyer, handwritten from his cell in Unit 2A at FCI Schuylkill prison in Pennsylvania, Coonan said, “I can say I’m not that person anymore. I hope my actions in the past 36 years shows that I have changed.”
in 1988, Coonan was convicted of racketeering extortion; racketeering enterprise; racketeering conspiracy; violent crime in the aid of racketeering enterprise; conspiracy to make extortion extensions of credit; financing extortion extensions of credit; conspiracy to use extortion means to collect extensions of credit; conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats of violence; and conspiracy to evade income tax. Coonan — who pocketed most of the gang’s criminal proceeds — received a 75-year sentence.
According to The Messenger, Coonan’s case was formerly assigned to Judge Whitman Knapp, who died in 2004, and it is unclear who will eventually decide on his latest bid for freedom.
In a parole hearing in February of this year, Coonan cited his mentorship to other inmates, his old age, time served, near-perfect disciplinary record and his current medical state as reasons the parole board should consider his release. His lawyers cited medical issues which include “cataracts in both eyes and grade 2 retinopathy.” Court papers also said that Coonan has lost all his teeth while imprisoned, is partially deaf, suffers from obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and has a form of skin cancer.
Coonan told the parole hearing, “I take full responsibility for my criminal behavior. I made many, many serious mistakes in my past which I sincerely regret and today am ashamed of. Of course, it cannot be erased what is done.”
He added: “That life doesn’t even exist. If I wanted to go back, it doesn’t even exist — but I don’t want to go back. It’s a different world out there today. My neighborhood, especially Hell’s Kitchen, turned into Times Square. I mean it’s not the same. And you know, I was a rough character when I was a kid. I didn’t deny it.”
Coonan’s two daughters and son submitted their own individual pleas for his release. Coonan’s son, also called James, said: “I have always had a good relationship with him but never got to live with him. I believe this is a hole that I have tried to fill for some time… I believe that my father has paid for his convictions and is a man just trying to get to know his family with the years he has left.”
At that hearing, Examiner Oscar Vela heard all the evidence and concluded, “I believe release prior to that mandatory release date would promote disrespect for the law and depreciate the seriousness of your crimes. So I’m going to recommend that we deny parole and you are continued to expiration.”
The Westies served as hitmen for the mob, sold drugs, extorted local labor unions and businesses, and were responsible for numerous ruthless murders in Hell’s Kitchen. Their story and heinous crimes are explored in the book The Westies: Inside New York’s Irish Mob written by TJ English. TJ told W42ST yesterday that he is “surprised” parole is even a possibility for Coonan who was “a hands-on leader for sure.”
TJ describes the Westies as a “loose collection of criminals from the neighborhood who oftentimes worked together on things but sometimes worked on their own on things.” The gang never called themselves the Westies — that name came from law enforcement and the media.
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“He killed people, cut them up, and disposed of their bodies. Many of these crimes were predatory in nature, just terrible acts committed by one human being against another human being,” said TJ.
“I don’t think there’s any danger that Jimmy is going to get out and become the leader of an organization like the Westies ever again, that’s not the issue. The issue is whether or not he acknowledges what he did, admits to what he did, has remorse for what he did, and that he’s not the type of person that might lapse into anger or thoughts of revenge.”
The Westies are a thing of the past. Several prominent members of the gang were convicted alongside Coonan in 1988 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, with Francis “Mickey” Featherstone — an important Westie member — testifying against Coonan. Featherstone went into the federal witness protection program in 1988 and received a reduced sentence for racketeering, drug dealing, loan sharking and four murders.
“In the 1980s the neighborhood had begun to gentrify,” said TJ. “The transformation has long since been completed and they no longer exist except in the imaginations of people who know the history.”