21 October 2019

NYC Barrel Murder suspect killed in Pennsylvania

On this date in 1905...


A recent arrival to the mining community of Browntown, in Pennsylvania's Pittston Township, Luciano Parrino quickly became a successful business owner. Immediately following his October 21, 1905, shooting death, authorities discovered that he was a well connected underworld figure and had been the prime suspect in the spring 1903 Barrel Murder in New York City...


15 October 2019

Wealthy Los Angeles-area Mafia leader vanishes

On this date in 1931...


L.A.Times, Oct. 18, 1931

Joseph E. Ardizzone, wealthy southern California ranch owner and Mafia chief, left his Sunland, Los Angeles, home about six-thirty in the morning of October 15, 1931, to visit relatives in Etiwanda. He was never seen again.

A day later, his brother Frank reported him missing. Police were informed that Ardizzone was making the trip from his Mount Gleason Avenue home to the Cuccia ranch at Etiwanda in order to pick up a cousin, Nick Borgia, who had recently arrived from Italy. Ardizzone was driving a dark blue Ford coupe.

Ardizzone was described as forty-five years old (he was almost forty-seven), five feet eleven inches tall, 220 pounds, with brown eyes and gray hair. When last seen he was wearing a brown suit, brown tie and brown felt hat.

After searching the approximately fifty-mile route for almost a week, authorities had not turned up a single clue relating to his disappearance. Local police theorized that Ardizzone had been "taken for a ride," murdered and buried in a remote section of desert.

The Los Angeles Times noted that Ardizzone was known "as a man who settled many of the differences which existed from time to time among local Italian residents."

Targeted earlier

The newspaper also recalled that he had been the apparent target of an assassination attempt earlier in the year. In March, when Ardizzone and companion Jimmy Basile were starting home to Los Angeles from a dinner at Rosario DeSimone's home in Downey, they were overtaken on the Downey-Vernon Road by a large sedan. Shotguns fired at them. Basile was killed, and Ardizzone was seriously wounded.

Ardizzone staggered back to the DeSimone home with seven wounds in his back. DeSimone's son Leon, a doctor, administered first aid and summoned an ambulance to take Ardizzone to Hollywood Hospital.

Authorities speculated that Ardizzone and Basile were targeted as the result of a vendetta stemming from the recent killing of Dominic DiCiolla, described as the "king" or "czar" of the Little Italy underworld at Los Angeles' North End.

Around the same time, a number of Italian Americans disappeared and were presumed murdered in a war over liquor rackets.

Underworld boss

Many today identify Ardizzone as one of the earlier Mafia bosses in southern California. Born in November 1884 in Piana dei Greci, Sicily, Ardizzone crossed the Atlantic in 1899, first settling in New Orleans. Within a few years, he relocated to the Los Angeles area.

Ardizzone emerged victorious in 1906 from a gang war with the forces of George Maisano, though the conflict took the life of Ardizzone cousin Joseph Cuccia. Ardizzone was suspected of the June 2, 1906, fatal shooting of Maisano. (Maisano died of his wounds at the county hospital on July 28.) Authorities could not locate him until spring 1914. At that time he was charged with the 1906 murder. However, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence, after witnesses refused to testify against him.

Later in the 1910s, the Ardizzone underworld faction warred with a Matranga faction. That conflict resulted in several killings in 1919.

Jack Dragna
Ardizzone may have been forced out of an underworld leadership position by the arrival of New Orleans Mafioso Vito DiGiorgio. DiGiorgio appears to have had the backing of powerful eastern Mafia leaders as he attempted to unite the Los Angeles area factions. His May 13, 1922, murder in a Chicago poolroom, may have permitted Ardizzone to return to a boss role.

In the mid-1920s, Ardizzone partnered with Ignatius "Jack" Dragna in an organization called the Italian Protection League. Dragna was president of the league, while Ardizzone was its treasurer. The league's purpose was uncertain, but may have related to bootlegging activities and to a defense of local racket territories from outside influences.

DiCiolla, killed early in 1931, may have been one of the outside influences. It appears that DiCiolla had been friendly with the Genna Mafia in Chicago before relocating to Los Angeles.

The disappearance of Ardizzone left Dragna in command of the Mafia of Los Angeles.

Sources:
  • "Another gang killing hinted," Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1931, p. 3.
  • "Arrest clears old mystery," Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1914, p. 10.
  • "Black Hand in new slaying," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Bootleg gangs open new war," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Domenico 'Dominic' DiCiolla," Findagrave.com, Feb. 8, 2011, accessed Jan. 1, 2016.
  • "Federal agents strike hard blow at racketeering by sweeping rum raids in North End," Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Fruit peddler shoots another," Los Angeles Herald, June 3, 1906, p. 5.
  • "Gang war killers known," Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1931, p. 8.
  • "Gang war stirs police crusade," Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Injuries are fatal after three months," Los Angeles Herald, July 29, 1906, p. 3.
  • "Italian surprises surgeons," Los Angeles Herald, June 28, 1906, p. 7.
  • "L.A. rounds up 21 men for deportation as criminals," Oakland Tribune, March 29, 1931, p. 9.
  • "Liquor-racket murder solution likely as Italian underworld 'boss' aide talks," Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1931, p. 2.
  • "More racket violence feared as asserted gangster vanishes," Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Police trail the murderer," Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 26, 1906, p. 8.
  • "Search futile for Ardizzone," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 1931, p. II-8.
  • "Seek for assailant," Los Angeles Herald, June 9, 1906, p. 7.
  • "Slain boss of racketeers buried in costly coffin carried by pallbearers in tuxedos," Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Three fined as shooting sequel," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1931, p. II-3.
  • Giuseppe Ardizzone Declaration of Intention, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, No. 13512, July 14, 1920.
  • Giuseppe Ardizzone Petition for Naturalization, District Court for the Southern District of California, No. 9738, Aug. 9, 1922.
  • Joseph Ernest Ardizzone World War I Draft Registration Card, Los Angeles County, Sept. 12, 1918.
  • Reid Ed, The Grim Reapers: The Anatomy of Organized Crime in America, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1969.
  • Tiernan, M.L., He Never Came Home: The Mysterious Disappearance that Devastated a Family, The Early History of Sunland, California, Vol. 5., Amazon Digital, 2014.
See also:

14 October 2019

SoCal rackets bosses tried in federal court

Long-awaited trial reveals Mafia informants

On this date in 1980...

Shocking revelations from turncoat witnesses were widely expected as five southern California Mafia leaders were brought to trial at Los Angeles federal court on October 14, 1980. It had taken three years and three different sets of indictments to bring the case into court.

Charged with racketeering and other offenses were Dominic Phillip Brooklier, 66, of Anaheim; Samuel Orlando Sciortino, 61, of Rancho Mirage; Louis Tom Dragna, 59, of Covina; Michael Rizzitello, 62, of Los Angeles; Jack LoCicero, 68, of Los Angeles. Brooklier, also known as Dominic Brucceleri and as Jimmy Regace, had been regional Mafia boss since the 1974 death of Nick Licata.

Charges specifically related to conspiracy in the murder of San Diego Mafioso Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero - Bompensiero's role as an informant allowed his murder to be viewed as interference in a federal criminal investigation - and to attempts to extort money from regional gamblers and pornographers.

Brooklier, Dragna, Sciortino, Rizzitello

Turncoats
The trial featured testimony from Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno and Harry Coloduros, former underworld figures who sought government protection. Both admitted to participating in underworld plotting to kill Bompensiero after it was learned that Bompensiero was assisting federal investigators.

Coloduros also revealed that he worked with Los Angeles boss Brooklier and underboss Sciortino to plan the extortion of sports bookmakers. He recalled conversations with the crime family leaders at a city alley and at an underworld "picnic." They decided in summer 1973 to demand an up-front payment from bookmakers of $5,000 and a weekly payment of $300 a week until the beginning of football season, when the amounts would increase to $10,000 and $500. The income was to be evenly split between Coloduros and the crime family leadership.

The attempt to extort pornographers in the region brought Mafiosi in contact with an FBI undercover "sting" operation - a phony company known as Forex, which was said to be making a great fortune selling pornography to South America. Crime family leaders felt that Bompensiero had pushed them toward Forex and became suspicious of Bompensiero.



Fratianno revealed that he had been supplying information to the FBI since about 1970 but began fully cooperating late in 1977, when he faced multiple charges and learned that his underworld associates were planning his murder. He said he testified in exchange for immunity from the death penalty.

Fratianno recounted some local Mafia history and described his own induction into the Los Angeles-based crime family. He had been endorsed for membership in the late 1940s by the influential and well-traveled mobster Johnny Rosselli (often spelled "Roselli"). The crime family boss at that time was Ignatius "Jack" Dragna.

Bompensiero
Fratianno testified that Brooklier and Sciortino, while serving sentences in prison in the mid-1970s, determined that Bompensiero needed to be killed and communicated that to acting boss Louis Tom Dragna (nephew of earlier boss Jack Dragna). Louis Tom Dragna told Fratianno, then serving as acting underboss, of the decision.

Dragna then arranged to elevate Bompensiero to the position of crime family consigliere, as a ruse to cause him to lower his guard. Fratianno scheduled daily phone communications about crime family business with Bompensiero and insisted that Bompensiero use a payphone near his San Diego home for the calls. The routine telephone calls provided a means for locating and isolating Bompensiero. Bompensiero was murdered at the payphone on February 10, 1977.

Bompensiero
Fratianno testified that the killing was performed by Thomas "Tommy Fingers" Ricciardi. Ricciardi, who reportedly described the killing as "beautiful," was an original codefendant in the case against the southern California Mafiosi but died during heart surgery before trial.


Trial surprises
The federal trial ran until the end of the month and included a number of revelations by and about informants within the Los Angeles Crime Family. FBI Special Agent John Barron testified that defendant and one-time acting boss Louis Tom Dragna revealed his own leadership of the organization and the membership of others during a three-hour meeting at Barron's home on October 14, 1976. The agent found the information shared in that session helpful but never heard from Dragna again.

The prosecution's final witness, FBI Special Agent John Armstrong, surprised the defense by stating that Bompensiero, long a leading figure in the California underworld, had been feeding information to the Bureau over a period of eleven years, from 1966 to 1977. The extent of Bompensiero's dealing with federal agents had been unknown to that time.

Attorneys delivered their final arguments on Friday, October 31, and Monday, November 3. Attorney Donald Marks, representing defendant Sciortino, convincingly argued that evidence in the case implicated a Tucson, Arizona, criminal organization led by former Brooklyn, New York, boss Joseph Bonanno in the murder of Bompensiero. Notes found in Bonanno's garbage indicated his knowledge of the San Diego killing.

Convicted and sentenced
U.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. turned the matter over to the jury of seven women and five men. The jurors struggled to reach verdicts. Through a ten-day period, they reviewed testimony, reheard the judge's charge and attempted to convince the judge they were deadlocked. Hatter repeatedly sent them back to their task.


On November 14, the jury returned convictions on racketeering counts against all five defendants, but acquitted on a federal obstruction of criminal investigation charges related to the slaying of informant Bompensiero. Despite acquittal on the murder-related counts, lead prosecutor James D. Henderson celebrated the verdict. Obstruction of criminal investigation was a relatively minor offense. It was punishable by no more than five years in prison, while the racketeering counts carried maximum penalties of twenty years apiece.

Jury foreman William Wasil told the press that the panel discounted the testimony of turncoat Fratianno, using it only when it was corroborated by other evidence, and had concerns about evidence linking Bonanno, rather than southern California leaders, to the Bompensiero murder.

Brooklier
Judge Hatter set sentencing for January 1981 and allowed all five defendants to remain free on bail. On January 20, 1981, he announced the following sentences:
  • Brooklier - four years in prison for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion. Hatter said he weighed Brooklier's age and health in calculating the sentence.
  • Sciortino - four years in prison and a $25,000 fine for racketeering. Hatter said he considered reports that Sciortino plotted to bribe a former judge in the case.
  • Dragna - two years in prison and a $50,000 fine for conspiracy and racketeering. The judge acknowledged that Dragna had made an effort to extract himself from involvement in the underworld and establish a successful dressmaking business.
  • Rizzitello - five years for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion.
  • LoCicero - two years for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion.

The defendants remained free on bail during the appeal process. The last appeal was exhausted in February 1983, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case. On April 25, 1983, Judge Hatter ordered the five to report to prison. Brooklier, Sciortino, Rizzitello and LoCicero were ordered to report by June 27. Dragna was allowed some additional time. The judge ordered him to report by June 11.

But that was not the end of the matter. In mid-October of 1983, three years after the trial, Judge Hatter reconsidered the Dragna sentence. The judge found the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' plans to send Dragna to a medium security prison in Texas incompatible with his recommendation that Dragna be kept in a low-security institution. Hatter remedied the matter by changing the sentence to the $50,000 fine and just one year in a local community treatment facility. Dragna was permitted to leave the facility during the daytime to tend to his business.

Sources:

  • "Ex-hitman to testify against Mafia bosses," Lompoc CA Record, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 5.
  • "Informer tells Mafia life and death," Escondido CA Times-Advocate, Oct. 17, 1980, p. 20.
  • "Jurors in Mafia trial get weekend respite," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 1980, p. 31.
  • "Mafia chieftains' conspiracy case goes to jury in LA today," Napa CA Register, Nov. 3, 1980, p. 27.
  • Blake, Gene, "Agent claims Dragna admitted Mafia ties," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 1980, p. 14.
  • Blake, Gene, "Five convicted in Mafia case," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 15, 1980, p. 1.
  • Blake, Gene, "Five reputed Mafia figures sentenced," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 21, 1981, p. 3.
  • Blake, Gene, "Fratianno scoffs at L.A. Mafia's effectiveness," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 1980, p. 3.
  • Blake, Gene, "Hit man bares Mafia secrets," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1980, p. 1.
  • Blake, Gene, "Mafia figure's aid to FBI for 11 years told," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 30, 1980, p. 1.
  • Blake, Gene, "Mafia jury hears final arguments," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 1, 1980, p. 22.
  • Blake, Gene, "Racketeering trial jury reports snag," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 1980, p. 3.
  • Chrystal, Chris, "Feds say witnesses will tell story of Mafia crimes in California," Ukiah CA Daily Journal, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 9.
  • Deutsch, Linda, "Five guilty of racketeering, innocent of murder," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Nov. 15, 1980, p. 1.
  • Deutsch, Linda, "Informant takes stand, links 2 to mob actions," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 4.
  • Morain, Dan, "U.S. judge orders 5 convicted mobsters to report to begin serving prison terms," Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1983, p. II-3.
  • Welkos, Robert, "Judge tosses out racketeers' term," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 1983, p. II-1.

02 October 2019

The Assassination of Sam Giannola

Detroit Mafia boss Sam Giannola

One hundred years ago today, Detroit Mafia boss Salvatore (Sam) Giannola was assassinated as he stepped from the American State Bank branch at the corner of Monroe and Russell streets in Detroit, Michigan. Giannola and his two brothers, Vito and Antonino (Tony), were natives of Terrasini, Sicily and had led the city's Mafia family since the spring of 1914, when they seized control of the burgàta after winning a gang war against incumbent boss Pietro Mirabile. 

Based in the southern Detroit suburb of Ford City, the Giannolas had gained untold wealth and power from their newfound positions at the head of the city's Mafia family. Unfortunately, they had also accumulated a host of enemies both inside and outside of their organization. Sam's brother Tony had been murdered in January 1919 and Sam led his faction in a blood feud against his enemies, a faction headed by Giovanni (John) Vitale. After a peace treaty had been enacted in late May, things seemed to have calmed on the surface, but the bad blood between Giannola and Vitale seemed set to erupt at any time.

On October 2, 1919, Sam spent a good chunk of the day at his Little Sicily headquarters, the Viviano Macaroni Manufacturing Company, at 277 Monroe Street. Around 2 o'clock that afternoon. Giannola went to the American State Bank to cash a $200 check (Sam was looking to place a bet on the upcoming Game 2 of the ongoing baseball World Series). After finishing his business, Giannola was confronted by three assassins who shot him multiple times. Sam staggered back inside the bank and collapsed to the floor, quickly dying of his wounds. His three assassins ran in opposite directions on Russell Street. Sam's funeral in Wyandotte four days later was a elegant and well-attended affair. His widow Rosa swore an oath of vengeance against his killers at his gravesite.

Detroit Free Press


One of Sam Giannola's accused killers, Calogero Arena, was actually found guilty of the crime in March 1920 and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Arena's conviction was reversed on appeal, and he was acquitted at his second trial.

If you'd like to read more about Sam Giannola's life and career, I invite you to check out my book Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia


Sources:

The October 3-6, 1919 issues of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, and Detroit Times

Sam Giannola, Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death, No. 9756 (1919).

Recorder's Court of the City of Detroit, The People of the State of Michigan vs. Cologero Arena for murder, 1919, Case # 30216.

Daniel Waugh. Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia. Lulu Publishing Services, 2019. ISBN 9781483496276.