Showing posts with label Mafia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mafia. Show all posts

18 February 2017

92 years ago: Explosion in Pittsburgh

On this date in 1925: A massive explosion destroyed two buildings and severely damaged several others in the Produce District of Pittsburgh.

The 5 a.m. blast seemed to originate inside the office safe of the Landolina Bros. & Co. wholesale produce firm at 2028 Penn Avenue. The safe itself was obliterated, turned into shrapnel by the detonation within. Investigators wondered if the bomb was placed by a "Black Hand" extortion gang or personal enemies of the East End-based Landolina family.



Fires broke out following the explosion, and it took firefighters until 10 a.m. to get the blazes under control. Though an estimated $110,000 worth of damage was caused, authorities said no one was killed or injured.

In addition to the Landolina building, an adjacent building at 2026 Penn Avenue, owned by produce merchant William J. Joyce, was destroyed. Another Joyce-owned building at 2024 Penn was thrown sideways by the force of the blast and was described in the press as sagging "crazily over the wrecked street." Two bank buildings - the William Penn Trust Co. at Penn Avenue and 21st Street and the Franklin Savings and Trust Co. across the street - were damaged. Warehouses in the district were forced to dispose of large quantities of produce, as shards of shattered window-glass became embedded in the foodstuffs.


Police immediately arrested Angelo Valeti of 2028 Spring Way in Pittsburgh, a partner in the Landolina firm. A witness saw him in the area just before the explosion. Authorities were searching for other roomers at the same Spring Way address who disappeared after the explosion. According to reports, Valeti and others had been arrested and fined just weeks earlier for their roles in a suspicious fire.

At the time of the explosion, no one suspected that it was triggered by an underworld rivalry. By the fall of 1928, however, the Landolina family - originally from the Trabia-Caccamo-Termini Imerese area of Sicily and related to western Pennsylvania Mafia chieftain Salvatore Calderone - was known to be embroiled in a regional bootlegging feud.

In July of that year, 75-year-old Nicaso Landolina was shot to death at his home, 203 Mayflower Street, while he was watering flowers in his front yard. Police noted that Nicaso was carrying a revolver in his pocket as he tended to the garden. An investigation showed that the Landolinas had received a number of threatening letters from Italian gangsters. Two months later, Nicaso's nephew, Anthony, was shot to death in front of 1619 Penn Avenue. Rumors suggested that Anthony had learned the identities of the men and had sworn to kill them. They got him first.

10 February 2017

40 years ago: Mafia executes SoCal informant

Bompensiero
On this date in 1977: Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero, a longtime leader of the southern California underworld, is shot to death near his apartment in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego.

At about 8:30 p.m., police found Bompensiero in a pool of blood on the sidewalk in front of an alley. Nearby were four spent .22-caliber cartridges and cigar stub Bomp was chewing on when he was shot. The Mafioso had four bullet wounds in his head. One slug hit him in the neck near the spine. One entered through his right ear. Two cracked through his skull closely together, creating a large hole behind the ear. Bompensiero was declared dead on arrival at Mission Bay General Hospital.

Detectives found no witnesses. No one had even heard the shots fired. The authorities concluded that a silencer was used by the killer.

Some cash and a notebook were found in Bompensiero's pockets. The notebook held coded loansharking figures and telephone numbers for phone booths around the United States. Bompensiero was convinced that law enforcement agencies had tapped into his own home phone and the phones of other Mafiosi and only communicated with underworld associates through pay telephones. He was said to have been returning home from a nightly visit to a phone booth when he was shot.

Bompensiero was well known to the police as a leading figure in the Los Angeles-based Dragna Crime Family. He was said to occupy the position of consigliere in the organization and to oversee rackets in the San Diego area.

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 11, 1977.

As the story of Bompensiero's assassination hit local newspapers, rumors surfaced that the San Diego underworld chieftain had been supplying information to the FBI for more than a decade. Several years later, Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno testified in federal court that southern California Mafia bosses ordered the murder of Bompensiero because he betrayed the underworld code of silence.

Read more about Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero.

07 February 2017

108 years ago: Future mob boss arrives in NYC

On this date in 1909: Seventeen-year-old Stefano Magaddino of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. San Giorgio

Magaddino's immediate destination was the home of his brother Gaspare, on Brooklyn's North Fifth Street near Roebling Street. The area was already a fair-sized colony of immigrants from Castellammare del Golfo. (It would later become the base of power of the Bonanno Crime Family.)

Magaddino frequently traveled around the U.S. His 1913 marriage in Brooklyn did not settle him down. Within a few years, he moved his family to South Philadelphia but continued to spend considerable time in New York City. He also traveled to Buffalo, Chicago and possibly Detroit.

Shortly after the start of Prohibition, Magaddino relocated to the Buffalo area. Almost immediately, he was selected boss of the western New York Mafia (previous boss Giuseppe DiCarlo died July 9, 1922). Magaddino remained the chief of the underworld in western New York and nearby Canada for more than fifty years.

Stefano Magaddino appears on Line 15 of this page
of the S.S. San Giorgio passenger manifest.

Read more about Magaddino and the Mafia of Western New York in 
DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

21 January 2017

Tried to 'take the money and run'

Early Pittsburgh Mafia boss Gregorio Conti assembled a fortune through fraud and double-dealing. In September 1919, he decided to take the money and run. He didn't run quite fast enough. 


On the eve of his planned departure from western Pennsylvania, he was shot to death within his parked automobile. Three associates were in the automobile with him at the time. They claimed to be innocent of the killing. All three said a small, slight-built man jumped up on the car's runningboard, fired the fatal shots and escaped so quickly that they could not act to prevent or to capture him. Police didn't believe the story. They figured it would have taken a giant to reach far enough into the car to fire the shots through the back of Conti's driver's seat, and that giant would have been virtually in the lap of a passenger as he fired. Further, the murder weapon was recovered and turned out to be a pistol that required time-consuming manual cocking between shots.

Read more about Conti and his untimely end in:
The American Mafia history website's Conti biography. 

13 January 2017

$5000 awarded to family of lynch victim

On this date in 1894, a federal jury returned a sealed verdict in a lawsuit related to an alleged New Orleans Mafia leader who was killed by a lynch mob three years earlier.

Rocco Geraci was one of the eleven victims of the Crescent City lynchings at Orleans Parish Prison in March 1891. He was one of a total of eighteen men arrested and held for trial as principals and accessories in the assassination of local Police Chief David Hennessy. The lynchings occurred after a jury failed to convict a number of the accused assassins.

As a mob swarmed the prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, the warden opened the cells of the Italian prisoners and advised them to hide themselves as best they could within the institution. Seven prisoners, including Geraci, Pietro Monastero, Antonio Bagnetto, James Caruso, Loreto Comitis, Frank Romero and Charles Traina rushed toward the women's side of the prison. A well-armed group of New Orleans citizens soon arrived at the women's courtyard, and the seven Italians emerged from their hiding places and assembled in a group in the corner of the courtyard. Some crouched and others knelt, begging for mercy. At close range, the gunmen opened fire. A second volley was then fired into the group.

Geraci was among the prisoners shot in the courtyard.

All but Bagnetto were killed by the gunshots. The gunmen dragged Bagnetto outside the prison and hanged him from a tree. Three other prisoners were located and killed on an upper floor of the prison. One other prisoner was hanged from a lamppost outside the building.

Suit was filed in the spring of 1892 against the City of New Orleans on behalf of Geraci's widow and their children. The city was charged with failing to adequately protect Geraci, a foreign national, while he was in government custody. Damages amounting to $30,000 were sought. The case was the sixth suit stemming from the lynching deaths to be heard in United States Circuit Court. Each of the previous plaintiffs had been awarded cash compensation from the municipality.

Geraci heirs began presenting their case on Jan. 12, 1894. Their first obstacle was proving that the Rocco Geraci killed at the parish prison was the same person as the Francesco Geraci noted in public records. Police Captain John Journee and local businessman Joseph Provenzano were called to the stand to establish his identity. Testimony resumed the following day with Geraci's brother Salvatore and businessman J. Salomoni. Closing arguments were delivered by the plaintiffs' attorneys Chiapella and Sambola and city attorney O'Sullivan.

Boarman
As in previous cases, the charge delivered by Judge Alexander Boarman to the jurors left them little choice but to find in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge apparently felt $5,000 was an appropriate reparation - he had already allowed for several retrials of cases in which lower amounts were awarded.

Jurors brought back their verdict just a bit late for the court session of Jan. 13. The verdict was therefore sealed. It was revealed as the court day opened on Jan. 14. The plaintiffs were victorious in the amount of $5,000.

As a number of the related lawsuits were brought up for retrial, the City of New Orleans found new grounds for its defense. It successfully argued that the articles of Civil Code protected the municipality against suits relating to loss of life (though it specifically allowed suits relating to property damage). A retrial of the suit filed on behalf of the widow and children of Pietro Monastero was found by Judge Parlange to have no merit. In a 20-page decision, Parlange supported the city's position that it was exempt from such lawsuits.

Read more about this topic in Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon.

03 January 2017

Joe Adonis deports himself

On this date in 1956:

Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto settled into a luxurious $740 suite aboard the ocean liner S.S. Conte Biancamano. At noon, the liner sailed from New York harbor bound for Genoa, Italy, and Doto's self-imposed exile from the United States began. 

U.S. authorities found that Doto had reentered the country illegally after a 1948 visit to Cuba, claiming a citizenship that was not rightfully his. In interviews and documents, Doto claimed that he had been born in the United States. Authorities learned that he was born at Montemarano, near Naples, Italy, and brought into the U.S. as a young boy.

In November of 1955, federal Judge Walter M. Bastian agreed to suspend a perjury sentence against Doto if he left the country. Doto also faced a two-year perjury sentence in New Jersey and owed the IRS back taxes for the years 1946 through 1951.

Doto left his wife and four children behind in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Before his departure, journalists clamored for interviews with the reputed Mafia bigshot. Doto eventually agreed to speak to one reporter. Asked how he felt about being forced to leave his family, the longtime rackets boss replied, "I don't feel too good and I don't feel too bad... I'm not bitter. I'm just sorry for them that they have to take this shock."

He repeated his belief that he had been born in America.

Adonis remained in Italy for the remainder of his life. He died Nov. 26, 1971, at the age of 69, days after suffering a massive heart attack. He was a resident of the village of Serra de Conti near Ancona at the time.
Arizona Republic, Jan. 4, 1956.

Sources
"Adonis arrives in Italy," New York Times, Jan. 16, 1956, p. 23.
"Adonis to pay $66,859," New York Times, Feb. 14, 1956.
"Gangdom chief Joe Adonis goes into voluntary exile," Arizona Republic, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 7.
"Il 'boss' Joe Adonis è morto in ospedale," La Stampa, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 8.
"Joe Adonis quits U.S. voluntarily," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 28.
"Joe Adonis, morto ad Ancona era il re di un impero mafioso," La Stampa, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 11.
"Joe Adonis, underworld gambling king, dies," New York Times, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 34.
"L'italiano Joe Adonis è sbarcato a Genova," La Stampa, Jan. 17, 1956, p. 5.
"Ritorno di Joe Adonis dall'America a Napoli," La Stampa, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 5.

21 December 2016

Death of the Mafia's "Buffalo Bill"

On this date in 1932:

A longtime leader in the Mafia of Western New York, Benedetto Angelo Palmeri died of natural causes at the age of 54. Widely known as Angelo and referred to by the Italian community as "Don Nitto," 

Palmeri had been ailing for months with symptoms of hypertension and kidney inflammation. At about one o'clock in the afternoon, Dec. 21, 2016, Palmeri stepped out of his home at 295 Jersey Street in Buffalo and climbed into his automobile. He was scheduled to meet a friend.

A pedestrian happened to observe Palmeri slump behind the steering wheel and summoned assistance from the firehouse across the street. Firemen took the unconscious and dying Palmeri out of his car and attempted without luck to revive him. Though no autopsy was performed, officials decided the cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage.

Palmeri was well known for his tendency to wear cowboy hats and holstered sidearms. This fashion statement, combined with his Western New York hometown, caused the press to refer to him as "Buffalo Bill."

Born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Palmeri reached the United States in 1906. His brother Paolo, who also became an important U.S. Mafioso, crossed the Atlantic to join him in New York City a few years later. Angelo Palmeri moved on to Buffalo in 1911 and became a top lieutenant, business partner and valued friend of regional Mafia boss Giuseppe DiCarlo. He helped to establish a Mafia foothold in Niagara Falls, New York, and paved the way for Stefano Magaddino's arrival in Western New York in 1922.

News of Palmeri's death elicited great sorrow and grief within the Italian colony of Buffalo's West Side. The Buffalo Evening News wrote:

His death Wednesday brought sincere expressions of sorrow from hundreds of American citizens of Italian ancestry whom he had befriended in times of need... To the police he was known as a man who had close contact with many illicit enterprises, who had such power that he was able to bring peace between warring liquor runners – but to the citizens of the lower West Side he was their individual welfare department, a man who could and would aid them when pride kept them from appealing to the organized charities... Especially sad were the members of upwards of a score of families whose only source of food each Christmas for years had been Angelo B. Palmeri.

Click here to read a brief biography of Bendetto Angelo Palmeri on the book website of DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.


26 November 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' book now available

Sing Sing Warden Lewis Lawes had no doubt on the evening of January 5, 1939: He had just presided over the electric-chair-execution of an innocent man. The prison chaplain and many guards also felt that convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna had been sent to his death unjustly.

Lawes made his feelings known in a published book a short time later. Syndicated Broadway columnist Walter Winchell also called attention to the flawed case against Sberna in the summer of 1939 and again early in 1942. According to Winchell, the government knew that District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office had sent an innocent man to the chair and was providing "hush money" payments to Sberna relatives. Since then, opponents of capital punishment have included Sberna's name in collections of those deemed "wrongly executed" and have used the case as a somewhat vague example of the possibility of death penalty error. Still, little is known about Sberna or the circumstances that led him to the electric chair.

The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, Mafia bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.

Dust jacket for 'Wrongly Executed?' hardcover

I first became aware of Charles Sberna's story during research into U.S. capital punishment errors. Archived newspaper columns by Winchell revealed a tale worthy of retelling. Sberna and Gati both were convicted and executed for the 1937 murder of Patrolman John H.A. Wilson. Gati admitted his role but insisted that Sberna was not present for the crime. Names of other possible Gati accomplices were revealed, but prosecutors made little effort to check into them.

Email conversations with publisher Rick Mattix relating to the startup of the On the Spot Journal of "gangster era" crime history led me to assemble an article on the Sberna case for the journal's December 2006 issue.

That first article noted the relation by marriage of Charles Sberna and the Morello-Lupo-Terranova clan, which had been a major influence in early New York organized crime. Sberna took as his bride Carmela Morello, daughter of former Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and niece of New York City rackets leaders Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo and Ciro "Artichoke King" Terranova.

Sberna's own family background remained a mystery until later research into Amedeo Polignani of the NYPD shed light on the involvement by Charles Sberna's father Giuseppe in the anarchist-terrorist bombings of the 1910s. Giuseppe Sberna was a vocal leader in the East Harlem-based Bresci Circle, the nation's largest anarchist organization. Local, state and federal authorities hunted Giuseppe Sberna, but he escaped to his native Italy, leaving his wife and children behind in New York. Learning this, I began to wonder whether Charles Sberna, so closely connected to so many fearsome public enemies, possibly could have received a fair trial. My decision to fully explore the Sberna case soon followed.

Accused cop-killers Charles Sberna (left)
and Salvatore Gati (right) in court.

I examined court documents, the careers of prosecutors and elected officials, the history of law enforcement efforts against the early Mafia and the American anarchist movement, the questionable philosophies and courtroom tactics of D.A. Thomas Dewey and his assistants, and the known and suspected crimes of the men who might have committed the murder attributed to Sberna. Much of what I found was deeply troubling.

A fair trial may have been denied to Charles Sberna. Given the mood of the time, the background of the defendant and the circumstances of the case, a truly fair trial may have been impossible.

Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution is now available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats. For more information and purchase options, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

(I wish to express my appreciation to Christian Cipollini, C. Joseph Greaves, Ellen Poulsen and Robert Sberna for their support and assistance on this project.)

23 November 2016

Magaddino's wrath

On this date in 1961:

Thanksgiving Day hunters in Penfield, New York (just outside Rochester), discovered the beaten, mutilated and burned remains of a male murder victim. 

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 26, 1961.

Days later, the FBI laboratory - using fingerprints from the remains - identified the victim as Albert George Agueci. Agueci, 39, a resident of Toronto, Canada, had been a narcotics racketeer working with the Magaddino Crime Family based in western New York.

Albert Agueci, his brother Vito and 18 other people were charged in the summer with participating in a large narcotics operation. The arrests strongly suggested that regional crime boss Stefano Magaddino was engaged in narcotics trafficking in violation of a Mafia Commission policy.

Albert Agueci
Albert Agueci and a number of co-defendants were released on bail. One co-defendant, William "Shorty" Holmes, was soon found shot to death in the Bronx.

As the date of trial approached, Albert Agueci disappeared. Vito and ten other defendants in the narcotics case were on trial in U.S. federal court in New York City when Albert's charred remains turned up.

The brutal gangland slaying was viewed both as a Magaddino disciplinary effort and as the boss's attempt to distance himself from the narcotics ring.

For more about Agueci, Magaddino and the Mafia of western New York, see DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II.

15 November 2016

Bad-bills bust

On this date in 1909, agents of the United States Secret Service and detectives of the New York Police Department Italian Squad arrested Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and a dozen of his aides.

Morello and the others were charged with participating in a counterfeiting ring. Authorities initially suspected that they were importing counterfeit U.S. currency printed by associates in Italy. It was later determined that the phony bills were generated at small printing plant on a farm in Highland, New York.

The arrests concluded a Secret Service investigation of more than half a year. Morello had been watched by the Secret Service for years.

New York Tribune, Nov. 16, 2016

14 November 2016

Party-crashers

Syracuse Herald-Journal, Nov. 15, 1957
On this date in 1957, the American Mafia's convention at Apalachin, New York, was revealed by New York State Police. 

As officers, assisted by agents of the federal Treasury Department, set up a roadblock and began taking a close look at the luxury automobiles parked at the secluded Joseph Barbara estate in Apalachin, dozens of Mafiosi darted out of the Barbara home and attempted to drive or run away from the scene. That suspicious activity permitted police to gather up the fleeing gangsters and take them in for questioning. Leading underworld figures from around the country were identified. It has been speculated that a number of other Mafia conventioneers escaped the notice of authorities merely by remaining within the house until police had departed.

The incident became a media sensation and prompted state and federal investigations. It ultimately compelled federal authorities - including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who long resisted the idea of an vast criminal conspiracy - to recognize the existence of a nationwide Mafia network.


See DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II, for a detailed discussion of the Apalachin convention and its aftermath.

01 November 2016

Organized crime's 'strategic logic'

I recently received a complimentary review copy of James Cockayne's book, Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime (Oxford University Press). 

It is a fairly imposing book, weighing in at 324 pages of tight type, plus another 151 pages of source notes, bibliography and index. I have so far done little more than acquaint myself with the book's approach and read some random passages. So this is closer to a preview than a review.

Cockayne looks at organized crime in general - the American and Sicilian Mafia incarnations of organized crime in particular - in terms of strategic criminal exploitation of opportunities. He examines historic interactions between underworld and overworld, organized crime and government authority - conflict, corruption, cooperation. I cannot yet speak to how well he does all of this, but he seems to have done his homework and has a solid knowledge of the subject matter.

One of my random reading selections was disappointing. Looking over a discussion of prosecutor Thomas Dewey's mid-1930s assault on New York-based organized crime leaders, I immediately stumbled upon material pulled from the pages of The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, a book widely known to be unreliable. The passages, consisting of fraudulent quotes attributed by Last Testament to Luciano, define and rationalize U.S. Mafia policy against attacking government officials.

Cockayne actually discusses Last Testament in another location in his book, criticizing the work but also giving it more credit than it deserves. (He says the book was based upon notes taken during Last Testament coauthor Martin Gosch's interviews with Luciano, but there is no evidence that any Gosch-Luciano interviews actually occurred and no notes are known to exist.)

Recognizing his peril, Cockayne claims to have avoided using the source for "any point of analytical significance." Despite the author's insistence, the Mafia policy he draws from Last Testament seems to be not only a "point of analytical significance" but also important to his theme of strategic underworld-overworld relationships.

To be fair, Cockayne used a great many sources in his research. Most of those are very highly regarded. (I noticed that he even made use of some material by that eminent underworld historian Thomas Hunt.)

- James Cockayne website.
- James Cockayne on Twitter.
- Hidden Power on Amazon.com.

29 October 2016

On this date in 1921: President commutes Lupo sentence

On this date in 1921 - President Warren Harding granted paroled counterfeiter Ignazio Lupo a conditional commutation of a thirty-year sentence imposed in 1910. 

Ignazio Lupo
This turned out to be a significant moment in U.S. Mafia history, so let's take a closer look at what went on. Though Lupo was already out of prison (paroled on June 30, 1920), the Oct. 29, 1921, commutation lifted parole restrictions and allowed Lupo to leave the U.S. legally and return. Harding's decision followed months of pressure by Lupo and his allies.

In September of 1920, U.S. Pardon Attorney James A. Finch received requests to process an application for clemency that had been filed when Lupo was still an inmate at Atlanta Federal Prison. Finch's office found the requests improper, as Lupo was essentially a free man at that moment. The clemency application had become void upon Lupo's parole. In December, Lupo filed a new application for executive clemency, noting that other men imprisoned at the same time as Lupo and for the same offense were out of prison and unimpeded by parole restrictions at that time. The application went unnoticed.

Lupo made appeals to U.S. Senator William M. Calder, a resident of Brooklyn. In June of 1921, Calder wrote to Pardon Attorney Finch, saying that Lupo recently had received a telegram from Italy reporting his father's death. (Lupo's father appears to have died about 1916.) Calder argued that it was necessary for Lupo to return to Sicily to settled the family estate. Finch and acting Superintendent of Prisons Sewall Key reviewed the situation and found there was nothing they could do for Lupo. They reported back to Senator Calder in July, suggesting that only a Presidential pardon could lift the parole restrictions. A clemency petition bearing 60 signatures was submitted to Senator William M. Calder in August. Calder then received clemency requests in letters from Lupo and others, including a former assistant U.S. attorney and the editor of the Italian-language newspaper Il Giornale Italiano.

Early in October, Lupo parole officer Louis Miller of Brooklyn approached President Harding with a formal request for a temporary conditional pardon of six months. According to Miller, Lupo needed to travel to settle his father's estate.

Lupo elected not to reveal that he wished to travel abroad in order to escape a death sentence imposed by American Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila. Following the prison releases of Lupo and his brother-in-law Giuseppe Morello, D'Aquila apparently felt that his position was threatened. Morello was the previous boss of bosses and had been D'Aquila's underworld commander until heading to prison for counterfeiting. At a Mafia meeting in the summer of 1920, D'Aquila trumped up a conflict with Morello and his loyalists and condemned Morello, Lupo and ten other Mafiosi to death. Most of the targeted men traveled to Sicily in quest of a safe haven and some underworld support.

Miller managed to interest Harding in the case, and the President asked Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty to weigh in on the matter. On October 10, Daugherty responded that there was no precedent for a limited-time pardon. "Further," wrote the attorney general, "I am not entirely satisfied that [Lupo] goes to Europe for the purpose stated." Assistant Attorney General John W.H. Crim wrote to Harding with a similar opinion but suggested that the President could commute Lupo's sentence to expire fully, effectively causing parole also to expire, and that place "conditions subsequent" to the commutation.

The commutation issued by President Harding on October 29, 1921, was specifically conditional on Lupo remaining law-abiding, "of which fact the President himself shall be the sole judge."

The short-term impact of Harding's decision was to allow Lupo to escape D'Aquila's wrath in November 1921. While he was away, a new rival, Giuseppe Masseria, emerged to challenge the boss of bosses. By the time of Lupo's return on May 13, 1922, D'Aquila and Masseria were at war for control of the Mafia in New York. Masseria emerged victorious, and figures from the Morello faction became his trusted advisers.

The long-term impact of the decision was not as favorable for Lupo. In July of 1936, then-President Franklin Roosevelt determined that the 59-year-old Lupo had not lived up to the conditions imposed by Harding (Lupo had been arrested in connection with murder investigations, extortion and labor racketeering). Roosevelt ordered that Lupo's original counterfeiting sentence be restored and that Lupo be arrested and returned to Atlanta Federal Prison to serve the remaining 7,174 days (more than 19 and a half years) of that sentence. He remained in prison for about ten years. A generous "good time allowance" permitted the release of the ailing and senile Lupo just in time for Christmas 1946. Lupo died in mid-January, 1947.

Sources:

  •   Ciro Terranova passport application, submitted Oct. 14, 1921, approved Oct. 17, 1921.
  •   Flynn, William, Daily Report, Feb. 19, 1910, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Vol. 29, National Archives.
  •   Gentile, Nick, with Felice Chilante, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Crescenzi Allendorf, 1993, p. 71-72, 75, 86.
  •   Ignatio Lupo, appellant, v. Fred Zerbst, appellee, United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, No. 8471, Oct. 19, 1937.
  •   Ignazio Lupo Prison File, #2883, Atlanta Federal Prison, National Archives and Records Administration.
  •   New York City Death Index, certificate no. 524, Jan. 13, 1947. 
  •   Passenger manifest, S.S. Dante Alighieri, sailed from Naples on April 30, 1922, arrived in New York City on May 13, 1922.
  •   Passenger manifest of S.S. Presidente Wilson, arrived New York on Jan. 18, 1922.
  •   Santo Calamia, application for passport, 73710, New Orleans, LA, Aug. 5, 1921.
  •   "150 years in all for the Lupo gang," New York Times, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 1.
  •   "30 years for 'Wolf,'" Washington Post, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 1.
  •   "Bread racket violence traps Lupo 'the Wolf' at baker's door," New York Herald, July 17, 1935.
  •   "Contractor slain by Bath Beach gang," New York Times, Oct. 9, 1930, p. 29.
  •   "Gangland adds 2 more murders to its Brooklyn list," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 9, 1930, p. 23.
  •   "Girl, woman, 4 men shot in battle of two bootleg bands," New York Times, May 9, 1922, p. 1.
  •   "Gunmen kill cousin of 'Lupo the Wolf,'" New York Times, May 9, 1922, p. 3.
  •   "Law's limit given," Washington D.C. Evening Star, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 5.
  •   "Long jail terms," New York Tribune, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 1.
  •   "Lupo freed from Ellis Island," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 13, 1922, p. 2
  •   "Mulrooney orders harder crime fight by police officials," New York Times, Aug. 29, 1931, p. 1.
  •   "Only two crimes reported in 24 hours as police seize 84 suspects in city round-up," New York Times, Aug. 28, 1931, p. 1.
  •   "Police round up eight," New York Times, Dec. 3, 1923, p. 19
  •   "Prison shuts again on Lupo the Wolf," New York Times, July 16, 1936, p. 1.
  •   "U.S. bars 'Lupo the Wolf,'" Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 14, 1922, p. 6.
  •   "'Lupo the Wolf' notorious criminal, freed by Washington from Ellis Island," New York Times, June 13, 1922, p. 1.

- Thomas Hunt





28 October 2016

On this date in 1868 - New Orleans gangland murder

On April 2, 1869, the New Orleans
Crescent reflected upon the causes
of local Sicilian gang violence.
On this date in 1868 - Returning home from a meeting of the Joseph Macheca-run Innocenti paramilitary organization, Litero Barba is shot to death. 

Barba is reputed to be a leader of a New Orleans criminal organization with its roots in Messina, Sicily. African-American political organizers in the Crescent City are initially believed responsible for the killing (the Innocenti, aligned with the city Democratic political machine, have conducted a series of violent raids upon Reconstruction Era African-American Republican groups).

However, blame ultimately falls upon local Palermo-born Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello. The New Orleans Sicilian-American underworld fractures, as an alliance of Messinesi and Trapanesi opposes the Agnello Mafia.

Read more about these events in Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon.

- Thomas Hunt

22 October 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' You decide


I have been finishing up a manuscript relating to the 1939 electric-chair execution of convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna. Sberna's name is frequently mentioned by opponents of capital punishment as an example of a wrongful execution. 

I first wrote an article on the subject years back for the On the Spot Journal published by the late Rick "Mad Dog" Mattix, and I have been accumulating additional information since that time. 

My original article (a version can be found on my American Mafia history website) touched on the trial evidence and Sberna's criminal background. It argued that the evidence of Sberna's involvement with two other men in the killing of Officer John H.A. Wilson appeared inconclusive but that it would be a misuse of the word "innocent" ever to apply it to Sberna, who was a habitual wrongdoer. 

The data acquired since then - trial testimony and evidence, legal appeals, witness statements and tons of background material - has done little to clear up the questions. But it has produced an exciting story, involving domestic terrorism, organized crime, corrupt politicians and crusading prosecutors.

Sberna and codefendant Salvatore Gati were brought to trial before authorities arrested a third suspect in the killing. At trial, Gati took the witness stand to admit his own guilt and to insist that Sberna was not present at the time and place of the crime. He refused to provide identifications for his two accomplices, but stated that Sberna was not one of them. When Sberna testified on his own behalf, he provided names of known criminals Gati reportedly revealed as his accomplices. 

A jury decided that Sberna and Gati were both guilty and that neither should not be shown mercy. An appeals court upheld the verdict. A generally liberal-minded governor refused to commute or even to delay Sberna's trip to the electric chair. The warden and chaplain of Sing Sing Prison grew convinced that Sberna had no part in the killing of Officer Wilson, but they had no authority to interfere with the execution. 

Over time, prosecutors spoke of their suspicion that one or both of the men named by Sberna were, in fact, involved in the killing of officer Wilson, but neither man was ever charged. With Sberna and Gati already dead, it appears it did not suit the interests of justice to reveal that there still remained two suspects for a three-man crime. 

There are many reasons to be concerned about the Sberna case. And it is tempting, from our perspective almost eight decades later, to condemn involved groups or individuals. But each was a product of his era and his environment. And each deserves to be judged within his unique context. 

I have called the book, Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution. After completing the great fun of researching and writing the book, I will soon begin the laborious chore of trying to find a publisher for it.

- Thomas Hunt