16 June 2018

Top New England mobsters targeted

On this date in 1989:
In the late morning of Friday, June 16, 1989, "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, a rising star in the Patriarca Crime Family, was walking through a House of Pancakes parking lot off Route 1 in the Boston suburb of Saugus, Massachusetts, when two gunmen opened fire on him from a passing automobile. 
 
Salemme
Salemme scrambled for cover and rushed inside a Papa Gino's pizza shop about thirty yards away. As he did so, the gunmen's car turned and made a second pass, firing more shots at the fleeing Mafioso.

"Cadillac Frank," wounded and bleeding, ran to the rear of the pizza shop, yelled out, "Call the police!" and collapsed near the door to the men's room. He regained his composure and his footing. Returning to the front of the shop, he sat down at the first table. He had been struck twice by the slugs fired at him - once in his chest and once in his left leg. As he waited for police and paramedics to arrive, he calmly pressed his windbreaker jacket against the chest wound to slow the flow of blood.

The authorities found the gunshot victim uncooperative. He refused even to identify himself. When asked who shot him, Salemme answered, "No one." Salemme was taken to AtlantiCare Hospital in Lynn, Massachusetts. Later in the day, doctors graded his condition as "guarded but stable." Investigators knew of Salemme's connections to organized crime, but they weren't sure what to make of the murder attempt. Things became somewhat clearer that afternoon.

End of the Wild Guy
Shortly after three o'clock, two fishermen discovered a dead body partly submerged in the Connecticut River at Wethersfield, just south of Hartford, Connecticut. Police arriving at the scene found that the male corpse was fully clothed and still in possession of a wallet. Cards inside the wallet belonged to William P. "Wild Guy" Grasso of New Haven.

Grasso
Further investigation positively identified the dead man as Grasso, considered the number-two man in the Patriarca organization, behind only Rhode Island-based boss Raymond "Junior" Patriarca in importance.

An autopsy revealed that Grasso had been killed by a single gunshot to the base of his skull. The medical examiner concluded that the gunshot had been fired at least twenty-four hours before the body was found.

 When the news of Grasso's murder was released, Connecticut's United States Attorney Stanley A. Twardy, Jr., noted that the "Wild Guy" was "the single most influential organized crime figure in Connecticut." Twardy also commented that he could not rule out a connection between the murder of Grasso and the attack on Salemme.

Detectives kept watch for familiar underworld figures at Grasso's funeral on Tuesday, June 20. Hundreds of people filled St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in New Haven for a Mass of Christian Burial, but no known Mafiosi were seen. The funeral cortege included fifty cars. Grasso was buried at All Saints Cemetery in his hometown, sharing a grave with his wife, who died a year earlier. He was survived by a son, three brothers and two sisters.

'Best thing that ever happened'
Grasso, a New Haven native and once a member of the New York-based Colombo Crime Family, became a member of the New England organization after serving time in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for creating a garbage hauling monopoly in southern Connecticut. His cellmate at Atlanta was "Junior" Patriarca's father, notorious New England crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. Grasso emerged from prison as a trusted aide of the elder Patriarca.

Grasso later referred to his Atlanta sentence as the "best thing that ever happened to me."

When Raymond L.S. Patriarca died in 1984, "Junior" Patriarca became boss and Grasso became underboss, directly overseeing New England Crime Family rackets in Connecticut. Grasso aggressively expanded his territory from New Haven, across the southern portion of the state into Fairfield County, up into Hartford and beyond into the Springfield, Massachusetts, area, stepping on many mobsters' toes along the way. New York Mafiosi had long dominated in Fairfield County, several crime families had interests in Hartford, and Springfield was known to be the territory of a faction of the powerful New York-based Genovese clan.

'Kill or be killed'
Authorities quickly understood that the moves against Grasso and Salemme were designed to weaken the administration of "Junior" Patriarca. But it took some time before they could piece together just what was going on.

The loss of Grasso was keenly felt within the New England Mafia. No one within Connecticut's branch of the organization had Grasso's combination of ability and loyalty. According to FBI sources, the Patriarca administration appointed a Rhode Islander, Matthew L. Guglielmetti, to oversee rackets in the Nutmeg State. Nicholas L. Bianco, another Rhode Island resident, was elevated to the position of underboss.

In 1990, federal prosecutors began dismantling the New England Mafia through successful prosecutions. In the process, they learned that brothers Louis and Frank Pugliano, Gaetano Milano and Milano's longtime friend Frank Colantoni, Jr., participated in the killing of Grasso. Believing that Grasso was planning to murder them, they set to the job of eliminating him first.

Grasso funeral (Courant, June 21, 1989)
They set up a phony underworld meeting in Massachusetts on June 13, 1989. With Louis Pugliano at the wheel of a van, they picked up Grasso to take him to the meeting. While driving along Interstate-91 in Connecticut, Milano fired a single shot into the back of Grasso's neck. The group deposited Grasso's body at the Connecticut River.

At his sentencing in 1991, Milano told U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas that he felt the killing of Grasso was necessary: "It was kill or be killed."

A like-minded group in Massachusetts was found to be behind the attempt on Salemme's life. Authorities learned that Enrico Ponzo and Vincent Michael Marino were the gunmen who attacked "Cadillac Frank."

U.S. prosecutors assembled convincing cases against the New England Mafia rebels (Ponzo was able to avoid capture until early in 2011) and much of the crime family leadership. But an important part of the story remained unknown to them and to the American public. It was unknown because agents of the FBI were keeping it secret.

FBI sparked rebellion
Years later, it was learned that some in the FBI had worked with informants within the New England underworld to create a destructive rivalry within the Patriarca Mafia organization. Seeds planted by the FBI convinced groups within the Connecticut and Massachusetts branches of the organization that the Patriarca administration was planning to eliminate them. That prompted them to act against Grasso and Salemme, and it also figured in several other murders.

Defense attorney Anthony Cardinale revealed in a 1997 affidavit that intentional FBI activities caused the plots against Grasso and Salemme and that the FBI knew of the plots but kept silent about them for a period of sixteen months. FBI improprieties were documented in the following years.

One of the mobsters involved in the FBI efforts was Angelo "Sonny" Mercurio. The FBI actively hid Mercurio's involvement in instigating the anti-Grasso plot while others were tried and convicted for it. Mercurio was never charged in connection with the killing. He died in Florida in late 2006 while in the witness protection program.

The revelations of FBI involvement and coverup led to revised sentences for a number of those convicted in the early 1990s.

Sources:
  • "Garbageman backs attempt to regain 'stolen' customer," Bridgeport CT Post, Nov. 7, 1968, p. 20.
  • "Police confirm reputed crime boss a homicide victim," Associated Press, June 17, 1989, apnews.com.
  • Cullen, Kevin, "Two men linked to mob shot in separate attacks," Boston Globe, June 17, 1989, bostonglobe.com.
  • Hays, Constance L., "A mob leader in New England is believed slain," New York Times, June 17, 1989.
  • Foderaro, Lisa W., "Mob leader's slaying may signal power struggle," New York Times, June 18, 1989, p. 31.
  • Mahony, Edmund, "Hundreds attend rite for Grasso," Hartford Courant, June 21, 1989, p. 1.
  • Gombossy, George, "Magistrate may free mob suspects on bond," Hartford Courant, March 31, 1990, p. C1.
  • Mahony, Edmund, "Two plead guilty to racketeering charges in surprise move," Hartford Courant, May 2, 1991, p. C1.
  • Barry, Stephanie, "Mob killer may get out early," Springfield MA Republican, Sept. 22, 2008, masslive.com.
  • Christoffersen, John, "Judge reduces mobster killer's sentence," Norwalk CT Hour, Oct. 9, 2008.
  • Marcus, Jon, "Attorney says FBI encouraged mob shootings," New Bedford MA SouthCoast Today, Jan. 10, 2011, southcoasttoday.com.
  • Guilfoil, John M., "Fugitive mobster found in Idaho," Boston Globe, Feb. 9, 2011, boston.com.
  • Mahony, Edmund H., "The Mob in Connecticut: Grasso's reign of terror," Hartford Courant, April 26, 2014, courant.com.

15 June 2018

Attorney cannot free himself from murder case

[Following is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution.]

Leibowitz
The first-degree murder trial of Charles Sberna and Salvatore Gati was set to begin before Manhattan General Sessions Judge James G. Wallace on the morning of Wednesday, June 15, 1938. They were charged with causing the death of Police Officer John H.A. Wilson during an attempted robbery of a precious metals refining business in September 1937. A key component of the case was missing, however. Gati’s defense attorney, the celebrated Samuel Leibowitz who had never lost a client to the electric chair, was not in court.

Leibowitz was, in fact, in a different court in a different New York borough, representing a Brooklyn client accused of extortion. A clerk from Leibowitz’s office appeared before Judge Wallace to apologize and to explain that Leibowitz's partner Vincent Impellitteri would handle the Gati defense as soon as he was finished with the racketeering trial of Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro in federal court.

Assistant District Attorney Jacob Rosenblum, lead prosecutor in the Sberna-Gati case, protested that the involved attorneys were given plenty of notice of the trial date and that Leibowitz had only two days earlier committed himself to the Brooklyn extortion case.

Rosenblum
Judge Wallace understood that Leibowitz was trying to wriggle free of his obligation to represent Gati. When assured by the clerk that Impellitteri should be available by early July, if not sooner, Wallace responded, “As I understand, [Leibowitz] was the one that was retained... He cannot divorce himself of responsibility by assigning somebody else.”

“I would like to see Mr. Leibowitz when he concludes his case this afternoon,” Wallace told the clerk. “You will instruct him to come here. I would like to talk to him about his case.”

At twenty-five minutes after four that afternoon, Leibowitz showed up in Wallace’s courtroom. The defendants and the prosecutor also were present. Assistant District Attorney Rosenblum kicked off the discussion by saying he had received word that both prosecution and defense in the Brooklyn extortion case had delivered their summations, and a jury verdict could be expected the next day. Rosenblum saw no reason that the Sberna-Gati trial could not begin on the seventeenth.

Wallace turned to the truant defense attorney: “What about that, Mr. Leibowitz?”

Leibowitz attempted to sidestep the question. He spoke of Impellitteri’s work on trial preparation and asked that the case be put over at least until the middle of the following week. Rosenblum countered that Impellitteri was not the attorney of record for Gati and was not even associated with Leibowitz’s office at the time Gati acquired his defense counsel.


(Rosenblum’s own interest in the matter is uncertain. There was no obvious benefit to tangling with the far more experienced Leibowitz rather than Impellitteri. Rosenblum may have looked forward to the new challenge. Leibowitz had not defended a first-degree murder case in New York since District Attorney Thomas Dewey appointed Rosenblum to lead the Homicide Bureau. In recent months, Rosenblum had compiled a perfect record of convictions in eight first-degree murder trials. Or, possibly, Rosenblum knew his case against Gati was airtight and would surely ruin Leibowitz’s spotless trial record.)

Salvatore Gati

Judge Wallace asked Gati who was hired as his defense attorney. Gati said Leibowitz was hired and was paid a retainer for his services. That resolved the matter as far as the judge was concerned, but not Leibowitz. The defense attorney produced the written agreement signed by Gati and showed it to the judge. Leibowitz composed the agreement when he first heard rumors that Gati's fingerprint was perfectly preserved in molten wax that had fallen onto Officer Wilson's handgun at the time of his murder. The document granted Leibowitz the permission to withdraw from the case if the rumors turned out to be true.

“Those papers are just for the eyes of the Court,” Leibowitz said. “I do not want to have them made public in the newspapers.”

Wallace looked over the document and told the defense attorney, “I direct the trial to proceed on Friday and that you represent this defendant.”

For Leibowitz, the matter still was not closed. He requested a conference with the judge and the assistant district attorney, out of the hearing of the press. He then explained his concerns:


I told Mr. Rosenblum two months ago that if [Gati’s] fingerprints were on the gun I will absolutely not try the case, and under no circumstances did I want to defend him... I will under no circumstances defend a man, with his fingerprints on the gun, who is guilty of murder. Mr. Rosenblum said that two days before trial, he would make an appointment, so that we could have an inspection of the gun and our expert could look at it and examine whether it has his fingerprint. Now, we have been trying to get a look at this gun for a long while. On Monday of this week, Mr. Rosenblum made an arrangement with Mr. Impellitteri to have the gun examined, and why that was not done I don’t know. ... Now, Your Honor, if this man’s fingerprint is on this gun, I have not got the kind of energy, or the kind of interest in the man’s case. I am willing to return the fee...

The judge noted that Leibowitz was retained before the fingerprint became an issue. “[Gati] has been locked up for ten months charged with a serious offense. The case ought to be tried… I think you have a moral and a legal obligation to defend this man.”

Fingerprint just forward of cylinder

Rosenblum acknowledged that his office had conversations with defense counsel about viewing Police Officer Wilson’s handgun and the fingerprint on it. He noted that, while he was not required to do so (under the "discovery" rules of that era), he would make the “voluntary contribution” of allowing defense access to that evidence once the trial date was established.

Leibowitz, apparently already convinced that the fingerprint was genuine, abandoned discussion of evidence accessibility but continued to protest: “I do not find that I can give this man the kind of zeal, the kind of energy, the kind of devotion that a lawyer should give to a man who is on trial for murder.”

Gati fingerprint

“Is it your theory that you never represented anybody except a man who was innocent?” Wallace asked.

“I have never had a case yet where it was claimed by the prosecution that the fingerprint of my client was on the incriminating instrument… Witnesses may be mistaken. But I don’t know of a case yet where there has been a mistake on the part of fingerprints…,” Leibowitz argued. “I do not feel that the Court should ask a lawyer to represent a man, especially where his life is at stake, where the lawyer’s heart is not in the case… If convicted, he is going to the electric chair, and I do not think he should be represented by counsel who at least has not got the interest of the client at heart.”

Wallace would not budge:

You are an able and experienced trial counsel having defended a great number of persons for murder in the first degree. Moreover, I do not think that in all of the cases in which you went to the jury that your defendant was innocent, but that you felt merely that he was entitled to a trial to the best of your ability, and I feel that you can give this man an adequate and proper defense. Therefore, I direct, inasmuch as he has expressed an opinion that you were to try the case, that you proceed with this trial on Friday.

The conversation was over, but Leibowitz’s frustrations related to this trial were just beginning.

Read more:

Wrongly Executed?


11 June 2018

Informer issue scheduled for fall 2018

The next issue of  

Informer: 
The History of American Crime 
and Law Enforcement 

is scheduled for release in the fall of 2018. Information for crime history writers, advertisers and readers is available on the Informer website.

05 June 2018

Buckshot finishes Tampa big shot

On this date in 1950:



James Lumia, businessman, gambling rackets boss and Tampa Mafia leader, was in his car, double-parked on 19th Street near Harper Street(*) in the Palmetto Beach neighborhood south of Ybor City. The headquarters of his gasoline and oil distributing company was close by. It was about 10 o'clock Monday morning, June 5, 1950, and he had stopped to give some instructions to employees Fernando Gil and Gaspar Montes, parked in a Chevrolet pickup used for oil company maintenance work.

James Lumia
As he spoke to the men through the passenger side window of his new, green, Chrysler sedan, a blue Ford pulled alongside and slightly in front of him. The driver of the Ford tapped his horn, causing Lumia to turn to his left and look out his window. A man rose from the Ford's back seat and fired a shotgun into Lumia's face.

The buckshot blast tore off the top front of Lumia's head, leaving a five-inch wound that stretched from "an inch or so below his eyes to some distance above the hair line." Blood, flesh and brain tissue were splattered about the inside of the vehicle. The gunman's car then drove off. In a futile effort to save his boss, Gil climbed into the driver's side of Lumia's car, pushing Lumia just enough to the right to allow him space on the seat, and raced off toward the hospital. Montes got the attention of off-duty Hillsborough County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff George Penegar, who was driving by, and told him to follow the gunman.

The speeding Chrysler caught Penegar's eye, and the deputy sheriff pursued it rather than the Ford. He stopped Gil at the busy intersection of 19th Street and Adamo Drive. Penegar seized a pistol found in the vehicle and called for an ambulance.

It took Lumia's forty-seven-year-old body nearly a half hour from the time of the shooting to acknowledge what was obvious to everyone else: Lumia was dead. His breathing reportedly continued for about fifteen minutes after he reached the hospital.

Lumia's funeral was held on Wednesday afternoon, June 7. He was entombed in the family mausoleum at L'Unione Italiana Cemetery.

Traffic is directed around the Lumia automobile.

Police investigators were quickly frustrated. Gil and Montes said they could not recall any helpful details about the gunman's car or its occupants. Their instincts for self-preservation may have clouded their memories.

There was reason to believe that the brothers of crime figure Jimmy Velasco, shot to death in 1948, had set up the killing of Lumia to avenge Jimmy. When Jimmy Velasco's accused killer, Joseph Provenzano, was brought to trial in 1949 (he was acquitted), Velasco's widow testified that Lumia was a leader of a regional gambling syndicate and an enemy of her husband.

Detectives questioned Roy and Arthur Velasco about the shooting of Lumia. Though neither was at all upset at learning of Lumia's demise, each provided alibis. The possibility that Lumia had a falling out with underworld figure Salvatore "Red" Italiano could not be pursued, as Italiano was known to be away in Italy, arranging wine deals for his Tampa business.

Lumia's name had been mentioned in the press recently in connection with the trial of several - including Roy and Arthur Velasco - who were accused of plotting to kill Hillsborough County Sheriff Hugh Culbreath. Defense attorneys suggested that the plot against Culbreath was fabricated by Lumia, Italiano and Primo Lazzara, working with Culbreath, in order to halt the Velasco brothers' investigation into Jimmy Velasco's murder. The defense wanted to call Lumia, Italiano and Lazzara as witnesses, but they could not be located. The trial was paused on May 11 at the request of the defense. At the time Lumia was murdered, he was scheduled to appear as a witness when the trial resumed in mid-June.

Lumia was known to be well connected politically and was found to have close acquaintances in the Mafia across the U.S. Within the Tampa area, Lumia had kinship ties to the Diecidue and Antinori clans. It was later revealed that the godfather of Lumia's son was Pittsburgh Mafia leader John LaRocca and that LaRocca attended the wedding of Lumia's daughter. (Pittsburgh area Mafia leader Gabriel Kelly Mannarino later served as godfather to a Lumia grandchild.) Upon the arrest of southern California crime boss Jack Dragna, Lumia's telephone number was found to be in Dragna's possession.

The interior of Lumia's Chrysler is examined.

Local police Chief J.L. Eddings told the press of rumors that Lumia worked in the background of the regional gambling syndicate. He noted, however, that Lumia had never been arrested.

A week and a half after the Lumia murder, with the investigation going nowhere, Chief Eddings announced his resignation. The fifty-year-old Eddings indicated that his doctor required him to take a long rest. In the same period, Hillsborough County Sheriff Culbreath and State's Attorney J. Rex Farrior were criticized for underworld links and failure to resolve a series of gangland killings.

Lumia was discussed when the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee investigated the impact of interstate rackets on Florida. One witness brought before the committee, the ex-wife of Deputy Sheriff DiLorenzo, said her ex-husband appeared to know about the Lumia murder before it occurred. She said Anthony DiLorenzo was familiar with Santo Trafficante and Primo Lazzara and served as a messenger between law enforcement and organized crime. The deputy sheriff indicated beforehand that he had some role to perform in connection with the Lumia murder. He told his wife that he wished he could get out of it, but "he was in it so deep that he couldn't get out." DiLorenzo allegedly told his wife years earlier that Lumia was "getting too big and someone had to stop him."

(*) These Tampa streets, 19th and Harper, no longer intersect.

Sources:
  • Images from June 6, 1950, issue of Tampa Tribune.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 39-44.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 49.
  • Forsyth, Thomas G. III, "Gabriel Mannarino," FBI report, file no. 92-2914-351, NARA no. 124-10277-10007, June 26, 1969, p. 2.
  • Voege, Robert A., "Sebastian John La Rocca," FBI report, file no. 92-2940-33, NARA no. 124-90104-10151, July 9, 1958, p. 11-12.

  • "Golden wedding today," Tampa Tribune, Aug. 12, 1945, p. 29.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, April 25, 1947, p. 2.
  • "Defendants accuse sheriff of frame-up," Palm Beach FL Post, May 12, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Rodrigez charges 'frameup,'" Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa murder plot suspects charge sheriff with frame-up," Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 12.
  • "Tampa gambler murdered," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Lumia killed; described as gambling boss," Binghamton NY Press, June 5, 1950, p. 14.
  • "Gambler slain in gang-style," Franklin PA News-Herald, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 2.
  • Murray, J.A., "Two men in blue car...," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Warren silent on slaying of Luma; warning recalled," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • Abbott, Bill, "Lumia's slaying 15th spewed on Tampa by flaming gang guns," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "None of 15 gambling slayings here ever solved," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 6.
  • "Fla. gambler is killed by gun blast," Shreveport LA Times, June 6, 1950, p. 15.
  • "Lumia murder may again baffle Tampa police force," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 6, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Tampa gang style killing puzzles police," Fort Lauderdale FL News, June 6, 1950, p. 13.
  • "Slaying of Lumia baffling to police," Tallahassee FL Democrat, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa gaming czar is slain," Palm Beach FL Post, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa chief of police resigns," New York Times, June 16, 1950, p. 20.
  • "Crime probe of Miami underway," [Salem OR] Daily Capital Journal, Dec. 29, 1950, p. 2.
  • "Text of Rex Farrior's sworn statement to senators is released," Tampa Times, Feb. 22, 1951, p. 1.

02 June 2018

200,000 pageviews

The Writers of Wrongs blog recently notched its 200,000th pageview!

(Actually, as I composed this post, we went up over 201,000.)

When the blog began near the end of October, 2016, we did not imagine that it would be so well received. Frankly, it took awhile for us to get on a "roll." There were only about 200 pageviews in that first month. There was, of course, very little to read on the blog at that point. We had 10 times as many PVs in our second month, but that was still a modest total.

It took until about a year ago, May 2017, before we saw a month with a 10,000 PV total. We have had excellent visitor numbers since then, and we are now averaging more than 10,500 PVs per month overall. During the first five pages of the 2018 calendar, the blog has averaged more than 14,500 monthly PVs (over 480 per day).

There's plenty more to read on the site these days. By the end of May, there were 148 posts by seven different writers.

The Writers of Wrongs audience is global. While more than half of our visitors are United States residents, we also see large numbers of visitors from Ukraine, Russia, Israel, France, England, Poland, Brazil, Germany, Canada and other countries.

On behalf of all the contributors to the blog, I want to thank you readers for your interest in and support of our work. I also want to encourage you to keep returning to The Writers of Wrongs. We have many more interesting crime history stories to share with you.