Willis's world changed in his early teens when his mom suddenly died from diabetes.
"He was left on his own and became an angry young man," said Halloran.
Willis started lifting weights, used steroids and because a bodybuilder, and so he got himself a job as a bouncer at a bar. That job in a Chinatown bar changed his life forever.
One night a Chinese mob boss got roughed up. Not knowing who he was, Willis came to his aid.
"And then, you know, after that he gave me a number to call him if I ever needed anything," said Willis.
A few weeks later, Willis, cold, starving and desperate called the number.
"From that day on I was pretty much, you know, hanging out with these guys, and they took me in, and I learned Chinese," said Willis.
His bosses sent him to New York City to learn the business.
"So while he was living in New York he watched how others were extorting money, taking care of the gambling houses, going into the brothels, and just understanding the business aspect of an organized gang," said Halloran.
After his "apprenticeship" in NYC, Willis blew into Boston like a Nor'easter with a knife and a bad attitude. He became the right hand of the big boss, collecting protection money.
"So now John is the bodyguard, the enforcer for the top guy in the gang, and so with that John received that level of respect and stood that high in the gang," said Halloran.
In some of the restaurants that line the narrow streets of Boston's Chinatown, the backrooms are makeshift gambling dens where thousands of dollars exchange hands. Willis ran the rackets there.
"The Chinese guy that was in there kind of mocked him, 'This big white kid, who does he think he is coming in here to take my money?'" said Halloran. "And John understood what he was saying in Chinese, and then spoke back to him in Chinese, and after pretty much destroying the gambling house, I think that earned him respect within the community."
But one racket was off-limits.
"They did not sell drugs in Chinatown, so by the time John had been to jail a couple of times for assault and various things like that, that's where he made his drug connections, was in jail," said Halloran.
Willis saw an opportunity and formed a new syndicate pushing super-addictive Oxycodone, like heroin in a pill.
"I never want to see people get hurt, over, you know, because of an addiction," said Willis. "I was looking at the money side of things, you know."
Willis bought the Oxy for $9 a pill, and sold it on the street for $15, a 60-percent return.
Willis plowed the profits into adult toys, a midnight-blue Bentley, a waterfront Florida house with a boat, and prime real estate in Dorchester, Mass.
The FBI eventually conducted simultaneous raids at his homes in Massachusetts and Florida. He was arrested and charged with multiple counts including conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone, and money-laundering.
They also indicted the mother of his daughter, Anh Nguyen, charging her with witness-tampering. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of probation.
"John Willis almost never touched the pills himself," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Moran. "He hired other people to do that. He was selling thousands of pills at a time."
Rather than take a chance with a jury, Willis copped a plea and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 20 years in the federal penitentiary. His projected release date is in 2028.
The sentencing memorandum says "the details of this case would sound like a Hollywood cliché if they were not true." Hollywood loves mobster movies, and now a film is in development based on Bob Halloran's book.