21 May 2022

Agents arrest woman counterfeiter in 1902

'Pretty Italian woman' was 'genius'
of Mafia-linked phony coin ring


On this date in 1902...

Paterson NJ Morning Call
U.S. Secret Service agents on Wednesday evening, May 21, 1902, arrested Stella Franto (also often written "Frauto" and occasionally "Fraute") and her teenage son Antonio at their Manhattan apartment, 949 First Avenue. Agents regarded Franto as leader of a determined gang of Mafia-linked Sicilian coin counterfeiters operating in New York, New Jersey and Canada.

Salvatore and Maddalena Clemente, husband and wife, also were arrested in the apartment, and agents led by William Flynn seized a quantity of phony 10-cent and 25-cent coins. Early Thursday morning, the Secret Service agents arrested Giuseppe Romano and Vito Cascio Ferro at Romano's barbershop, 969 First Avenue. (They did not realize it at the time, but Cascio Ferro was a visiting Sicilian Mafia leader and an organizer of left-wing radicals.) The accused counterfeiters, all Sicilian immigrants, were locked up in Ludlow Street Jail until they could be processed on Thursday.

The arrests followed a raid by Flynn's men on a cottage at Pyatt Place (possibly Dyatt Place) and Hackensack Avenue in the Little Italy section of Hackensack, New Jersey. The cottage was being used as a counterfeiting plant and was found to contain tools, molds, machinery and counterfeit coins valued at several hundred dollars.

Franto and her son were arraigned May 22 before United States Commissioner John A. Shields in Manhattan's Federal Building. The commissioner had the two held in $5,000 bail each for further examination. The other four suspects were taken before Commissioner Linsley Rowe in Jersey City, New Jersey, who held them under bond for examination.

As the story of the arrests hit the New York press, Agent Flynn commented that Franto was one of the most persistent counterfeiters in the country and one of the cleverest passers of bad money. He noted that Franto had been arrested and convicted of counterfeiting in 1895, arrested but not convicted in 1898 and watched and warned by the Secret Service several times after that.

While Flynn did not discuss the oddity of a Sicilian gang apparently under the command of a woman, the New York Press newspaper made it a point to describe Franto as "matronly looking."

Stella Franto's background


New York Sun
Stella Franto was thirty-six at the time of her 1902 arrest. Born in Palermo, Sicily, in March 1866, she reached the U.S., along with four children, in 1892. (Her fifth child was later born in the U.S.) She and her husband Salvatore soon joined the Clementes in a closely knit counterfeiting operation.

Their little ring began circulating phony dimes and quarters around January of 1895. Stella Franto was the primary passer of the counterfeit, brazenly using them in Manhattan shops for a month. The Secret Service caught up with her and walked in on an active counterfeiting operation in a top floor apartment at 307 East Seventieth Street. The suspects in that case included Franto's husband Salvatore and son Benjamin, as well as both Clementes and several others. In April 1895, Stella Franto, Salvatore Franto, Salvatore Clemente and several codefendants were convicted of counterfeiting offenses. Stella Franto was sentenced to two years in Erie County Penitentiary in Buffalo, New York. Other defendants, including Clemente and Salvatore Franto were sentenced to eight years.

Salvatore Franto had become seriously ill and a physician estimated he had just three months to live. The physician's estimate was off by a couple of months. Salvatore Franto died in Erie County Penitentiary on May 29, 1895.

Stella Franto was back on the streets and back to work counterfeiting coins in the spring of 1898. She and an accomplice referred to as Antonio Franko (possibly son Antonio Franto) were arrested by the Secret Service for passing phony coins. In this case, the government could not make the charges stick.

The 1902 case

The Secret Service had better luck with the 1902 case against Stella Franto. On June 27, U.S. Judge Thomas sentenced Franto to three years and six months in Auburn Prison. Franto, thirty-six, entered the prison the following day. The prison admission register recorded that she stood just five-foot-one, weighed 126 pounds and previously worked as a housekeeper.

New York Tribune

Some of the names of defendants in the 1902 counterfeiting case are difficult to track, but it appears little effort was made to prosecute either Antonio Franto or Vito Cascio Ferro. Cascio Ferro would linger in New York City until police began arresting suspects connected to the April 1903 Barrel Murder. Cascio Ferro was believed to be involved in that killing, but he could not be located. Months later, it was learned that he escaped to New Orleans and then crossed the Atlantic back to his native Sicily.

A great deal more attention was paid to Salvatore Clemente and one Andrea Romano (possibly the same as the Giuseppe Romano mentioned in the initial arrests), who fled before they could be brought to trial. Clemente traveled north across the border into Canada but was captured by police in Toronto and was tried for circulating counterfeit in that country. He was convicted and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. Law enforcement finally caught up with Romano in Niagara Falls, New York, in November 1902.

As Romano was returned to New York City for his trial, the press reflected on the history of the Franto organization that had just been dismantled: "A dozen years ago the Secret Service agents discovered the existence of the Frauto band. A pretty Italian woman of twenty appeared to be its genius." (She could not have been younger than twenty-six when the Secret Service first became aware of her.)

Later


Stella Franto was released from Auburn on February 27, 1905, and apparently began a less adversarial relationship with the U.S. Secret Service. March 10, 1910, Secret Service records indicate that she contacted the New York office and noted that her former accomplice Clemente would soon receive an early release from prison in Canada. She said she did not know Clemente's plans but promised, "if he started to make cft. coin she would advise this office of same."

(Within a short time, Clemente reportedly became a law enforcement informant, providing details of activities within a New York Mafia organization led by Giuseppe Morello, recently imprisoned for counterfeiting paper currency.)

Franto for decades lived with her children in Manhattan. In 1910, they resided at 406 West Eighteenth Street. In the mid-1910s, they moved a short distance away to 209 Tenth Avenue. That remained their home through the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, when sixty-four-year-old (the census recorded her age as sixty) Stella Franto made what seems to be her final appearance in government records.

Sources:

  • "A woman caused their arrest," New York Sun, Feb. 19, 1895, p. 4.
  • "Alleged counterfeiters caught," New York Times, April 14, 1898, p. 9.
  • "Bad coins made in Hackensack," Paterson NJ Morning Call, May 23, 1902, p. 11.
  • "Big counterfeiter caught," New York Tribune, Nov. 28, 1902, p. 10.
  • "Bogus silver pieces found in counterfeit raid," New York Times, May 23, 1902, p. 2.
  • "Catch six counterfeiters," New York Tribune, May 23, 1902, p. 6.
  • "Caught eight counterfeiters," New York Herald, Feb. 17, 1895, p. 12.
  • "Clever counterfeiters at last run to earth," Washington Evening Times, Nov. 28, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Coin makers captured," New York Times, Feb. 17, 1895, p. 8.
  • "Counterfeiter caught and brought here," Buffalo Evening News, Nov. 28, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Counterfeiters caught," New York Sun, Feb. 17, 1895, p. 5.
  • "Counterfeiters convicted," New York Evening Telegram, April 8, 1895.
  • "Counterfeiters in the toils," New York Evening Telegram, Feb. 18, 1895, p. 10.
  • "Counterfeiters sent to prison," New York Press, June 28, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Gang led by woman is now completely broken," St. Louis Republic, Nov. 28, 1902, p. 6.
  • "Have got them all now," Buffalo Morning Express, Nov. 28, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Last of coining gang caught," New York Sun, Nov. 28, 1902.
  • "Makers of bad money caught," New York Sun, May 23, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Motherly look belied record," New York Press, May 23, 1902.
  • "She shoved the queer," Auburn NY Bulletin, June 28, 1902, p. 6.
  • "Spurious coins made by woman," New York Evening World, June 27, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Two counterfeiters arrested," New York Sun, April 14, 1898, p. 5.
  • "U.S. prisoners sentenced," New York Sun, April 18, 1895, p. 9.
  • "Women coiners captured in raid on gang and plant," New York Evening World, May 22, 1902, p. 3.
  • Antonio Franto World War I Draft Registration Card, no. 56. Precinct 18, New York County, New York, June 5, 1917.
  • Bagg, G. Ray, Daily Report, March 4, April 8, April 9, April 17, June 29, 1895, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 16, Vol. 6, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 16, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, March 21, 1904, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 11, National Archives.
  • Henry, John J., Daily Report, March 10, 1910, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Vol. 29, National Archives.
  • Petacco, Arrigo, translated by Charles Lam Markmann, Joe Petrosino, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974, p. 94.
  • "Names, etc., of Convicts Pardoned or Discharged from the Women's State Prison during the Fiscal Year Ending September 30th, 1905," Auburn Prison Records, registered no. 459, February 27, 1905.
  • "Names, etc., of Convicts Received in the Women's State Prison," Auburn Prison Records, registered no. 459, June 1902.
  • New York State Death Index, Department of Health, City of Buffalo, 1895-1896, p. 129.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Letimbro, departed Naples, arrived New York on Sept. 2, 1890.
  • Trow's General Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, for the Year Ending August 1, 1911, New York: Trow Directory, 1910, p. 480.
  • United States Census of 1900, New York State, New York County, Manhattan Borough, Enumeration District 334.
  • United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Manhattan Borough, Ward 16, Enumeration District 860.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, New York County, Manhattan Borough, Enumeration District 31-284.


02 May 2022

Early 1900s terrorism is focus of new book

  About a century ago, an anarchist terrorist organization, devoted to the anti-capitalist principles of Luigi Galleani, orchestrated a series of bombing attacks in the U.S. The bombings culminated in the devastating Wall Street bombing of 1920. Jeffrey D. Simon examines this Galleanist movement in his new book, America's Forgotten Terrorists: The Rise and Fall of the Galleanists (published by Potomac Books).

A one-minute video trailer for the book is shown below.




Jeffrey D. Simon, Ph.D., also author of The Alphabet Bomber and Lone Wolf Terrorism, is president of Political Risk Assessment Company, a security and terrorism research consulting firm based in Santa Monica, California. He is a visiting lecturer in the Department of Political Science at UCLA.


  To learn more about America's Forgotten Terrorists visit the book's page on the Amazon.com website or visit the author's website: futureterrorism.com


15 March 2022

Remote bomb shreds Philly boss Testa

On this date in 1981...

Just before three o'clock on Sunday morning, March 15, 1981, an explosion shook the Girard Estates neighborhood of South Philadelphia. Patrol cars sped to the home of regional crime boss Philip C. "Chicken Man" Testa, 2117 West Porter Street. Officers found that the blast had thrown bricks, mortar and concrete from the home's front porch into the roadway - some bits of brick reached the grounds of Stephen Girard Park across the street. The porch roof, torn apart, had collapsed. The force of the explosion forced the home's front door fifteen feet into the residence.

On the far side of a thirty-inch wide crater punched through the six-inch concrete porch floor, officers found fifty-six-year-old Testa, somehow still alive.[1]

The explosion left Testa's body burned and as badly torn as the clothes he wore. His lower body was mangled. One of the officers told the press, "[Testa] looked like he went through a giant paper shredder."[2] Testa, unconscious, was rushed to St. Agnes Hospital, about a mile away at 1900 South Broad Street. Doctors did what they could to bring the bleeding under control. At four-fifteen, Testa died of his wounds.[3]

Assistant Medical Examiner Halbert Filinger blandly reported that death had been caused by "multiple injuries" to Testa's "head, trunk, arms and legs."[4] Filinger could have added that a contributing factor was Testa's forty-year-old decision to pursue an underworld career.

Philip Testa was the second Philadelphia crime boss to be murdered within a single year. (See Philadelphia Mob leaders at mafiahistory.us.) His predecessor and close friend Angelo Bruno was fatally shot on March 21, 1980. Since the Bruno assassination, the dead bodies of Philly mobsters had been regularly turning up. Authorities wondered if the violence was the result of internal rivalries, frustration over crime family rules against narcotics trafficking or efforts by aggressive New York Mafia bosses to seize control of Philadelphia and southern New Jersey rackets.[5]

Angelo Bruno (l) and Philip Testa

Investigators at Testa's residence concluded that a powerful bomb packed with nails exploded behind a short brick wall that edged the two-story duplex's front porch.

Testa, who lived alone since the 1980 death of his wife, arrived there after finishing a night's work at his business, Virgilio's Restaurant, 5 Bank Street in the Old City District. He double-parked his black, Chevrolet Caprice Classic in the street, climbed the steps onto the porch, where the bomb was hidden in shadows. Testa opened the home's storm door and was beginning to put a key in the front door lock when the bomb was detonated.[6]

The bomb must have been set off by a sort of remote control, investigators determined, and the person responsible must have been within sight of the porch at that moment.[7]

Testa's son Salvatore (center)

Killings within the Philly Mob continued after Testa was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in the borough of Yeadon.[8] Some of the homicides were determined to be the result of a vendetta pursued by Testa's son Salvatore.

Salvatore reportedly concluded that his father's murder was planned by important rackets figure Frank "Chickie" Narducci possibly in conspiracy with Testa's underboss Peter Casella.[9]

When Casella attempted to take over the organization, Nicodemo Scarfo and his allies in New York forced Casella out of Philadelphia and into a Florida retirement.[10]

Marinucci

Narducci, forty-nine, was shot to death in front of his South Philadelphia home on January 7, 1982. Informer Thomas DelGiorno later told authorities that Salvatore Testa was personally involved in the Narducci murder and made sure Narducci saw who was taking his life.[11]

On the one-year anniversary of the Testa bombing, Rocco "Rocky" Marinucci, thirty, owner of Pop's Pizza in South Philadelphia, was found dead in a pile of debris left at a parking lot, South Eighth Street and Tasker Street. Marinucci, previously a driver for Casella, had been questioned after the bombing at Testa's home, as some witnesses reported seeing a black van like one he used speeding away from the scene just after the explosion. Police discovered that Marinucci had been beaten as well as shot. They found three large firecrackers stuffed in the mouth of his corpse and interpreted that as a symbolic link to the 1981 bombing.[12]

In September 1983, Theodore DiPretoro, twenty-three, already serving a life prison sentence on another matter, confessed to participating in the Testa bombing with Marinucci.[13]

A year later, reportedly on orders from boss Scarfo, twenty-nine-year-old Salvatore Testa was shot to death, his body dumped beside a road in southern New Jersey.[14]

Notes

1- Sutton, William W. Jr., Ray Holton and Marc Schogol, "Bomb blast kills Testa at his S.Phila. home," Philadelphia Inquirer, March 16, 1981, p. 2; "Bomb kills mob boss Testa," Philadelphia Daily News, March 16, 1981, p. 3.

2- "Hint N.Y. mob killed crime boss in Philly," New York Daily News, March 16, 1981, p. 8.

3- Anastasia, George, Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob - the Mafia's Most Violent Family, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1991, p. 108; Sutton, et al; "Bomb kills mob boss Testa."

4- "Bomb kills mob boss Testa."

5- Sutton, et al; "Hint N.Y. mob killed crime boss in Philly"; Culnan, Dennis M., and Margaret A. Scott, "Testa killed by bomb blast," Camden NJ Courier-Post, March 16, 1981, p. 1; "House bombing kills mob suspect," Newsday, March 16, 1981, p. 3.

6- "Bomb kills mob boss Testa"; Sutton, et al; Lawlor, Julia, Jack McGuire and Joe O'Dowd, "Suspect in Testa slaying murdered," Philadelphia Daily News, March 16, 1982, p. 3. The Chevrolet was reportedly registered to his son. The restaurant was conducted in the name of his daughter. Testa and his son were the owners of the restaurant building, and Testa used a back room as his personal office.

7- Cooney, Tom, "The Mob Chronicles: Part 2: Indictments begin to break up the family," Philadelphia Daily News, April 24, 1987, p. 6; Daughen, Joseph R., "The bloody battle for control of the Phila. Mob," Philadelphia Daily News, April 24, 1987, p. 36; Pennsylvania Crime Commission 1984 Report, presented to Pennsylvania General Assembly, p. 40; Lawlor, Julia, Jack McGuire and Joe O'Dowd, "Suspect in Testa slaying murdered," Philadelphia Daily News, March 16, 1982, p. 3.

8- "Philip 'Chickenman' Testa," Memorial ID 18254, Find A Grave, findagrave.com, Nov. 2, 2000.

9- Cooney; Daughen.

10- Anastasia, p. 112.

11- Cooney; Daughen.

12- Cooney; Daughen; Lawlor, Julia, Jack McGuire and Joe O'Dowd, "Suspect in Testa slaying murdered," Philadelphia Daily News, March 16, 1982, p. 3; Shuttleworth, Ken, "Slaying may be tied to Testa killing," Camden NJ Courier-Post, March 16, 1982, p. 10.

13- "Philadelphia man pleads guilty in Testa slaying," New York Times, Sept. 21, 1983, p. 18.

14- Cooney; Daughen; Heneage, Bill, "Salvatore 'Salvy' Testa," Memorial ID 6529146, Find A Grave, findagrave.com, June 20, 2002.


15 December 2021

Some JFK documents to be released today

The Biden Administration is expected to release a small number of secret JFK Assassination-related documents today (December 15, 2021). 

Update: The just-released files can be accessed through this National Archives web page.

Thousands of partial and whole documents related to the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John Kennedy continue to be withheld from the public. A 1992 law (the JFK Act) called for all records to be released after twenty-five years unless the President decided that postponement was necessary on the grounds of "identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or foreign relations... [that] outweighs the public interest in disclosure."

The Trump Administration released a number of files and document redactions in the autumn of 2017. In spring 2018, it extended the wait for additional releases until autumn of 2021.

In October, the Biden Administration postponed until December 2022 the release of most of the files still held as official secrets. Government departments have indicated that releasing those documents could harm the national security or the foreign relations of the United States. With COVID-19-era processing backlogs, the National Archives and federal departments were said to be unable to fully evaluate the potential for harm in time to meet the October 2021 deadline.

President Joseph Biden set a December 15, 2022, deadline (one year from today) for completion of a security review and release of remaining files. He stated that any documents that have already passed their review should be released today.

See also: