Dave Copeland's Blood & Volume

Dave Copeland, a former Pittsburgh news reporter, has just come out with his first book, Blood & Volume: Inside New York’s Israeli Mafia. This past week, Copeland returned to
Pittsburgh to appear at book signings. The book follows Ron Gonen, an ex-member of the Israeli Mafia from the 1980s, while explaining the story of the gang’s run. It is a work of creative nonfiction, nonfiction that reads like a novel.

Copeland, as stated on his website, is a 2006 graduate of Goucher College’s creative nonfiction MFA program. Copeland has had a successful career as a writer and investigative reporter; he’s appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal Online in addition to local newspaper The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Now, Copeland is the first journalist to uncover the inside story of the Israeli Mafia.

Copeland spent two years piecing together the Mafia’s story. It all began when Copeland, while trying to find a freelance job on craigslist.org, found an ad from Gonen, who was looking for someone to write his story. Copeland’s original idea was to write about life inside the Witness Protection Program, which is why he first contacted Gonen. Eventually, Copeland said, he realized that life inside the program was uninteresting — and that it’s the “how you got there” part that is.

Gonen’s testimony against the gang helped cause the gang’s capture, prosecution, and downfall. Coerced into the gang by its leader Johnny Attias, Gonen wound up dealing cocaine, all the while wishing to care for his cocaine-addicted wife and infant daughter.

For Copeland, the process of writing creative nonfiction is much like piecing together a puzzle. He wants everything to be true and for the text to read like a novel, so even verifying the color of someone’s shirt can be important when it comes to creating scene. During the research process, Copeland and Gonen communicated via phone and e-mail, unable to ever meet in person. Copeland spent most of his time between Boston and New York, interviewing prosecutors and verifying the information he received. Anything that could not be verified had to be omitted from the book.

“[The] reason that I like my job [is that] whoever I’m writing about, they have an interesting life, and not one that I’m interested in leading,” Copeland said. “I don’t want to be a cocaine dealer.... It’s interesting to talk to them, and seeing what life as one is really like.”

As quoted on the Blood & Volume website, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Cutler stated in 1991, “Ron Gonen is a despicable person.... You don’t have to like Ron Gonen. But you do have to listen to him.”

According to Copeland, the Gonen of today is a different man. “Now he’s older and wiser,” he said. “He has not been arrested since he entered the Witness Protection Program, and by all accounts he’s a hard worker and a good father.”

Despite this change in behavior, Gonen was expelled from the Witness Protection Program on February 8. His collaboration with Copeland broke the program’s rule against contacting writers and made other members of the program feel endangered. According to Copeland, Gonen, a non-U.S. citizen, is now working with an immigration attorney to see if he can get his working papers renewed in order to remain in the country. There is some question as to whether or not he will be deported to to Israel, though right now it is too early to tell.

Deportation could place Gonen’s life in danger. As reported in The Jerusalem Post, Gonen’s former accomplice Ran “Freddy” Efrayim was gunned down on the sidewalk close to his Tel Aviv apartment on February 1, a few days before Gonen’s expulsion. Police believe the “hits” related to the gang’s breakup picked up again since 2003, more than likely due to regrouping. The three murders that have occurred since that time, including Efrayim’s, remain unsolved.

Copeland’s work with Blood & Volume remains unfinished. There is talk of adapting the book into a film, as some production companies are reading the novel. “Seeing this as a film is a long shot,” Copeland said. “I’m used to being told no and rejected. I’m ready to go forward with it and see what happens to it.” However, Copeland is still in the process of promoting his book. He is also considering new projects but has yet to decide on anything.

“My dream, per se, was to publish a book,” he said. “Everything else here on out is a bonus.”