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.

James "Jimmy" Coonan
James “Jimmy” Coonan

“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.

James Coonan Handwritten Appeal
James “Jimmy” Coonan made personal handwritten appeals from his cell in prison. Photo: Southern District of New York District Court

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.”

James Coonan with Larry Sessa Prison 2015
Jimmy Coonan (left) photographed with Colombo crime family mobster Larry Sessa in prison in 2015. Photographer unknown

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. 

“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.”

Westies TJ English
TJ English wrote The Westies: Inside New York’s Irish Mob. Photo: Steve Hill

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.” 

Join the Conversation


  1. Dear Mr. Pacheo,
    Are you serious? NO WAY, in any way, shape or form should Jimmy Coonan be granted early release. And I should know: not only did I meet him, my father (Anton “Tony” Lucich), was one of his best friends (my father was best man at his Wedding FYI), a loan shark in the Westies and one of the Central Witnesses in the Westies trial. In fact, Edna and Jimmy went on a weekend to Boston with my father and his wife. Featherstone’s testimony was of prime importance for sure, but as stated by the prosecution at the time, ONLY if it was backed up by Tony Lucich. Jimmy Coonan was a murderer, And as T.J. English said so well, cut up the bodies of his victims (including in my father’s bathtub); recorded testimony during the trial.
    There IS no ‘honor among thieves.’ Jimmy Coonan put out a hit on my father (at least one) because my father taught him how to loan shark and how to create rackets at the then newly constructed Javits Center, and then decided to kill my father in order to ‘eliminate the competition’ (my father). Shows you what a grateful and loyal guy Jimmy IS. In fact, THAT’S the reason, and the only reason my father turned States Witness. He figured, “if he’s going to kill me anyway I might as well try to save my life via government protection.” No one comprehends how my father escaped the attempts on his life. He even told ME (I am serious), not to get upset when Jimmy had someone (or himself) put a bullet in the back of his head; I should expect it. The only reason my father survived is a miracle, no exaggeration.
    Do not believe he has changed, no way in hell (do you really believe a leopard can change his spots?).
    He has cataracts? So did I, to the point of being legally blind. They CAN be removed (and in prison at the cost of the government). Toothless, get dentures; possible also. I have a complete set. Obese, been there too; you don’t need to get out of prison to clear THAT one up. And I also have high cholesterol! As for living in Hazelet and ‘being far from his previous criminal activities, are you kidding? He lived in Hazelet DURING THE TIME HE RAN THE WESTIES!!!
    Edna? Well besides life not being fair, she also needs to be held responsible for the consequences of her actions, even if she is out of prison. By the way, in the hallway of the courthouse during trial break, Edna told my father that had the situation been reversed, Jimmy and she would have done the exact same thing as my father.
    You are dealing with some very rough, and vicious people. To quote the FBI, “Jimmy Coonan is not the type of guy you’d argue with over a parking space; it’s life-threatening.”
    If ever there will be a miscarriage of justice, it will be if Jimmy Coonan receives early release.
    If you find out the name of the assigned judge and contact information, I would gratefully appreciate it if you’d pass it on to me. I will inform the court of my opinion if at all possible.
    Thank you for your time and hoping to hear from you soon, Mary E. Lucich

  2. I miss the old New York . He paid his debt to society, these people , the victims they all where players in the street . He’s no way a danger anymore . Write a book make a movie shoot create a platform on YouTube .

  3. My uncle Jimmy definitely is sorry for what he did in the past. TJ English is talking out of his ass he knows nothing about my uncle, except the words from his lieing murdering snich friend Micky Featherstone. He is loved by my famiy and he loves us. And I hope, pray and ask the powers that be can you please let him have the last few years of his life with his family.

    1. Hello John, I don’t know if you’ll be able to read this but my father knew uncle. Said he was a real stand up guy. If you’re in the city I’d like to talk if that interests you at all?

  4. Hell’s Kitchen back then was different. It was survival of the fittest. Everyone knew what was going on. All of the people involved in this situation knew exactly what it meant to be involved with this situation. With that being said, bail reform has let much more dangerous people out of prison than Jimmy Coonan. This man has made bad choices and served his time. It’s time to let him live out the last years of his life with his family. I am far much more fearful of the pedophiles and rapists let out of prison daily than I am of Jimmy Coonan.

  5. When a man asks to be with his family after time who are you to deny or depreciate or profit will only see a mirror go on with yourselves. man should go home way more has passed through hells kitchen ny earth etc get a mirror man should home to his family

    1. When the Irish first came to NY, we were treated horribly, almost inhuman. We settled in busted up tenement housing in Hell’s Kitchen. We had no choice! Horrible things were done to our families until some of us lucky Irishmen (my father and uncles) became the police department. I was a baby then and my parents moved to Jersey. I won’t even go into NYC right now, it’s too dangerous. Not every Irishman was as lucky. They had to learn how to survive in an area that hated them. The Italians hated them and used them. It’s about time we let the old school Irish men live out the last moments of their life with their families. They are no threat to the general public. Rather, an asset to safety in the community.

  6. This man paid his dues. Bail reform has shown us the way. He is a perfect example of someone that should be given another chance. Let the man tell America that the life he chose was not the way. Let him give back to society what years he has left.

  7. I cannot justify the accusations that are brought against him but Jesus Christ. What is this man honestly going to do against society now? He paid his price along with his family. Let them all have what precious little time is left. Let his children know what it is to have their father around. There are worse people out there now & you let criminals out that are capable of doing more heinous crimes because you say the correction system is over populated. Instead of letting the people out that WILL do harm let someone out that you KNOW WILL NOT…

  8. I’m terribly sorry John (Coonan), but unfortunately I understand your viewpoint vis-a-vis Jimmy being colored.
    As for T.J. English, he is a journalist of impeccable morals and accuracy. His journalistic work, *The Westies,*.is considered THE reference book about the Westies, including by the NYPD. If Jimmy Coonan is so righteous, w-h-y has he refused an interview with English? English knows a number of skeletons in Hell’s Kitchen closets (that **I** personally know) that he had the charity NOT to put in the book. He has not lied about Coonan.
    I have met English, and he is nothing but decent.
    Don’t listen to me, but you can listen to a reputable journalist. T.J. English knows what he’s talking about; Jimmy Coonan should not be paroled.

  9. I vote for Coonan’s release, he not only has spent over three decades in prison but had the time to think about his past actions. I sincerely hope he lives till his mandatory release so he can spend the rest of his days with his family. My vote is punched

  10. 35 years is a life sentence. Think about how many Scumbags get let out or never prosecuted for their crimes in the past 35 years . The people killed by The Westies played the game and lost. No alter boy’s here they were all ruthless. All of a sudden family and friends are crying foul. Bullcrap. Let Coonan out. Stop the Bullshit !

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