Showing posts with label Morello. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morello. Show all posts

23 July 2017

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (4 of 4)

Investigation by Brooklyn police stalls,
Secret Service links killing to Mafia

(Return to Part 3)

Just a few days into the investigation, Detective Sergeant Vachris decided that there was no workable case against Troia or the four men who lived behind Catania’s shop. He began to explore other possibilities. One of those was provided by Catania’s son-in-law Dominick Tutrone, who spoke about it with a reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper on Saturday morning.

“He was a good man,” said Tutrone. “When my wife [Catania’s oldest daughter] died, he was very kind to me. And, as if he did not have children enough of his own, took my two little ones home too.”

“What is your opinion of this murder?” the reporter asked.

“I do not know what to think. It seems too horrible to contemplate. I cannot think that this man Troia had anything to do with it. It seems impossible to believe that for such a trivial thing as fourteen dollars such a murder would be committed... Italians do not kill their friends for so slight a cause. There is something else behind this. Vengeance, I believe.”

Tutrone indicated that Catania had lived a peaceful life for all of his two decades in Brooklyn. He said, however, that a vendetta could have arisen from some earlier incident in Catania’s home city of Palermo, Sicily.

“These people cherish a wrong a long, long time, years and years,” Tutrone explained. “Of course there is talk, lots of it. But I do not know of anything that he ever did in Sicily that would result in his murder. He was not killed for his money. That is certain, for he had no money. He was not killed by any enemy he had made in this country. I am sure of that. Then the only thing that is left for us to believe is that this thing was done to settle up some old score.”

According to the Eagle, the “lots of talk” to which Tutrone referred was gossip relating to a Palermo offense allegedly committed by Catania against one or two men. One wild rumor specifically charged that he murdered two fellow Sicilians. The Italian quarter of Brooklyn, the newspaper said, was convinced that the families of the injured parties had tracked Catania to Brooklyn and avenged their relatives.

Vincenzo Troia was discharged from custody on July 29. The police admitted that, while there was evidence of some bad blood between Catania and Troia, they had no evidence linking Troia to the Catania killing.

William Flynn
Detective Sergeant Vachris gradually came to support a version of the vendetta theory. Unlike the Palermo murder rumor, the detective’s version left Catania innocent of any wrongdoing. The grocer merely testified against men charged of murder in Palermo. As a result of the testimony, the defendants were convicted and sentenced to twenty-year prison terms. They swore revenge. Fearing for his life, Catania fled to Brooklyn. Over the years, he became comfortable and forgot about the murderers he helped convict. When the two men were released from prison, they learned of Catania’s whereabouts, traveled to Brooklyn and fulfilled their vendetta.

Months later, part of that theory was supported by the arrest on Brooklyn's Washington Street of recent Sicilian immigrant Liborio Laveri. Investigators learned that Giuseppe Catania had been a government witness two decades earlier when Laveri was charged with the kidnapping of a merchant in Termini Imerese, Sicily. Laveri served a long prison sentence. Upon his release, he traveled to the U.S. and reached New York just one month before Catania's murder, becoming a resident of Main and Front Streets in Brooklyn. There was no evidence tying Laveri to the murder, but he was held at the Adams Street Police Station while authorities worked to have him deported as an undesirable alien.

Police interest in the Catania murder diminished over time. The case remained officially unsolved.

However, the murder became a matter of intense interest to Agent William J. Flynn and his fellow Secret Service men of the New York bureau. The Secret Service had been trailing suspected members of a gang of Brooklyn and Manhattan counterfeiters for more than a decade. That gang of immigrant Sicilian Mafiosi was believed to be importing counterfeit currency within shipments of produce and olive oil from Mafia contacts in Sicily. While the Secret Service had managed to shut down some of the smaller operators in the counterfeiting ring, men who had been caught passing phony bills, it had little evidence against the suspected leaders.

Ignazio Lupo
As the police attributed the slaying of Catania to an unknowable team of old-world assassins, Flynn developed a contrary opinion. Believing the Columbia Street shop to be one of a number of New York area groceries used to distribute phony bills, Flynn was certain that Catania was killed because of his habit of drinking and chatting socially with his Brooklyn neighbors. The grocer occasionally drank a bit too much and chatted about things others wished to keep secret, Flynn concluded. Catania’s near-beheading was an act of savage discipline administered by ruthless higher ups in the counterfeiting ring.

When the corpse of a nearly beheaded murder victim turned up in a barrel on a Manhattan street the following spring, Flynn's agents recognized the victim as a man recently in the company of the Mafia counterfeiters they were trailing. Flynn announced that the same gang, led by Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo, was responsible for both the "Barrel murder" and the killing of "Joe the Grocer" Catania.

Flynn's suspicions were confirmed by underworld informants, and New York police noted the Catania murder in Lupo's file. However, neither Mafia boss was ever brought to trial for the killing.

(Return to Part 3)

Sources:
  • Critchley, David, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2009, p. 42.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Reports of April 14, 19, 20, May 1, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Ignazio Lupo criminal record, New York Police Department, Ignazio Lupo Prison File, #2883, Atlanta Federal Prison, NARA.
  • United States Census of 1880, New York, New York County, Enumeration District 42
  • United States Census of 1900, New York, Kings County, Ward 8, Enumeration District 100.
  • "Police board's big detective shake-up," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1900, p. 1.
  • "Patrolmen offer protests," New York Times, Feb. 6, 1900, p. 9.
  • "Band of assassins murdered Catania," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 24, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Boys find a man's body sewn in a sack," New York Times, July 24, 1902.
  • "Brooklyn police suspect an Italian of concealing murdered victim in a sack," New York World, July 24, 1902, p. 3.
  • "No clew to the slayers of the man in the sack," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 25, 1902, p. 2.
  • "Murder due to vengeance it is believed," New York Press, July 25, 1902, p. 3.
  • "Body found sewed in a sack identified," New York Times, July 25, 1902, p. 14.
  • "Arrest in sack murder," New York Tribune, July 25, 1902, p. 2.
  • "Old vendetta in Sicily behind Catania killing," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 26, 1902, p. 18.
  • "Bay Ridge murder mystery," New York Times, July 26, 1902.
  • "No proof that Troyia murdered Catania," New York Times, July 27, 1902. 
  • "May be a victim of a vendetta," New York Tribune, July 27, 1902, p. 3.
  • "No clew to sack murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 29, 1902, p. 16.
  • "Catania fled from vendetta," New York Herald, July 31, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Clew for sack murder found," New York Tribune, July 31, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Trica returned to Sicily," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Palermo police trying to solve Catania mystery," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Catania's slayer may yet be caught," Brooklyn Standard Union, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Unlucky Catania a witness," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 5, 1902, p. 3.
  • "Former brigand caught here," New York Press, Dec. 6, 1902.
  • "May have been killed for spite," New York Tribune, Dec. 6, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Slain man in a barrel; may be a Brooklyn crime," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Coiners' gang killed him," New York Sun, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Counterfeiters cut throat of the man whose body was packed in barrel of sawdust," New York Press, April 16, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Eight Sicilians held for barrel murder," New York Times, April 16, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Like the Catania murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 17, 1903, p. 15.
  • "Desperate gang held in murder mystery," New York Times, April 17, 1903, p. 3.
  • “Barrel murder mystery deepens,” New York Times, April 20, 1903, p. 3.
  • "Anthony F. Vachris dies; retired peer of detectives," Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 6, 1944, p. 11.

09 July 2017

Garvan battled radicals and Mafiosi

In Wrongly Executed? I outlined connections between the anarchist movement and the early Mafia in the United States. I drew special attention to government officials - like William Flynn of the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Investigation - who worked against both organizations. Francis P. Garvan was mentioned for his work against political radicals, but I neglected to note the full impact of Garvan's campaign against "enemies" of the U.S. and his encounter with the fledgling Mafia of New York. Here is a more complete telling of Garvan's story.

Francis P. Garvan
Francis Patrick Garvan was from a well-connected and wealthy Connecticut family. He was born June 13, 1875, in East Hartford to Patrick and Mary Carroll Garvan. He graduated from Yale University and received his training in the law at New York University Law School. As a young man, he earned a reputation as a fine lawyer in New York City. He was hired as an assistant district attorney of New York County by interim D.A. Eugene Philbin and continued in the office during the term of D.A. William T. Jerome.

Garvan's field of legal expertise was homicide prosecution, and in that role he came in contact with New York Mafia leader Giuseppe Morello.

Following the "Barrel Murder" of 1903, Garvan presented evidence at a coroner's inquest. Secret Service agents testified that they had been watching the Morello organization, hoping to gain evidence of its counterfeiting activity, and saw barrel murder victim Benedetto Madonia with the Mafia leaders on the evening before his bloody corpse was found crammed into a roadside barrel. NYPD Detective Joseph Petrosino helped to identify the victim by testifying about a Sing Sing Prison interview with Madonia's brother-in-law, convicted Morello gang counterfeiter Giuseppe DePrima. The result of the inquest was the best Garvan could have hoped for. The jury decided that, while the killer of Madonia was not specifically known, seven Mafia suspects acted as accessories in the murder:

We find that [Madonia] came to his death on April 14, 1903, when he was found in a barrel at Avenue D and Eleventh-st., by incised wounds of the throat inflicted on the day aforesaid by some person or persons unknown to the jury. We also find as accessories thereto the following named persons: Tommasso Petto, Guiseppe Fanaro, Giuseppe Morello, Pietro Inzarillo, John Zacconni, Antonio Messina Genova and Vito Laduca.

Eventually, the prosecution focused on Petto, as he was found in possession of a pawn ticket for the victim's gold watch. After some time, Petto was freed because of a lack of evidence that he killed Madonia.

Garvan was highly regarded for his work as a prosecutor of homicide cases, and that field continued to be his focus through the first decade of the Twentieth Century. However, he actually proved far more adept at abusing the rights of those categorized by the U.S. as "enemies."

A. Mitchell Palmer, Francis Garvan, William Flynn (left to right).

Near the conclusion of the Great War, Garvan was appointed to the position of alien property custodian, succeeding A. Mitchel Palmer. In that federal role, he far surpassed Palmer's activities. (The office was intended merely to hold and maintain U.S.-based assets of the nationals of enemy countries. Palmer expanded the scope of his office by seizing U.S.-based properties and trust funds of American women who had married Germans and Austrians.)

Garvan seized thousands of lucrative drug and dye patents and hundreds of trademarks and copyrights held by German companies and distributed them to U.S. companies through the Chemical Foundation he created and personally led. The action broke longstanding German monopolies and launched the American chemical industry. Postwar lawsuits - one was brought by the U.S. Harding Administration - against the Chemical Foundation and federal officials, including Garvan (who was accused of using his position as a public trustee to sell the valuable patents to himself), were largely unsuccessful.

Germany, financially crippled by the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, noted that just one group of the seized and sold patents relating to nitrogen would have been worth approximately $17 million (more than $200 million today). Garvan had set aside only about $250,000 as compensation for all of the patents.

During the postwar "Red Scare," Garvan was installed as the U.S. assistant attorney general for investigations (under Palmer), personally in charge of the Justice Department's war against political radicals. The effort appeared to be the result of a series of bombings directed by anarchists against government figures and leading capitalists. There is some evidence that a war on radicals was in the planning stages before the bombings occurred.

NY Evening World, June 12, 1919.

Garvan oversaw (pre-FBI) Bureau of Investigation head William Flynn and a young John Edgar Hoover (selected to lead the Anti-Radical Division) as they rounded up and quickly deported to Russia hundreds of foreign-born American residents suspected of anarchist or communist beliefs. Behind the scenes, the Bureau conducted an extensive search for an anarchist leader named Giuseppe Sberna, believed to be a mastermind of the bombings. It appeared that Sberna had left the country.

In early November, 1919, agents of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Immigration teamed with local law enforcement to raid offices of the IWW-aligned Union of Russian Workers in cities across the Northeast and Midwest. The raids resulted in many hundreds of arrests. The total was found to include a large number taken by mistake, and the final official tally for the November raids was 211. That was just the beginning of a Garvan campaign to "stamp out the Red menace." Under his guidance, the Justice Department was said to have assembled a list of 60,000 targeted radicals.

Over the following month, additional "undesirable" aliens were added to the group held in custody. Longtime anarchist editors Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman were arrested. In December, the number of detained radicals reached 249. On Dec. 22, the transport ship Buford left New York harbor bound for Russia with the 249 on board. The Buford was nicknamed "the Soviet Ark," and the Justice Department announced plans for additional arks.

New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920.

More extensive raids against political radicals occurred in the opening days of 1920. These targeted members of the Communist Party and Communist Labor Party in thirty-three U.S. cities.

By spring, the Justice Department's persecution of political dissenters was being compared with the secret police of czarist Russia. A group of prominent U.S. legal minds publicly opposed the "lawlessness, cruelty and persecution on a wholesale scale by the government agents." The group found evidence that undercover agents in the Justice Department's employ were infiltrating radical organizations and inciting members toward criminal acts; that searches, arrests and imprisonments were being conducted without warrant; that prisoners were being forced to confess and that detainees were prevented from communicating with friends or attorneys. Additional groups condemned the unconstitutional actions of the Palmer-Garvan Justice Department, and Congressional inquiries were launched.

On Sept. 16, 1920, an anarchist bomb exploded in the center of New York's financial district. Dozens of people were killed, many were injured, and buildings were torn apart by the blast. Garvan was by District Attorney Palmer's side as he began an investigation. Once again, federal agents searched in vain for anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna.

1920 Wall Street bombing.

Even in the wake of the Wall Street bombing, the anti-radical campaign of the Justice Department continued to lose public support. Warren Harding's election as President in November was its end. Palmer and Garvan were pushed out of their government jobs upon Harding's 1921 inauguration, and Flynn was removed from the Bureau of Investigation several months later. (Hoover was moved up to the position of assistant BOI chief and later became director of the renamed Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

Garvan continued his work with the Chemical Foundation, headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York City. He died at his Park Avenue home on Nov. 7, 1937, at the age of 62. He had lived just long enough to spot the familiar name of "Sberna" in the news.

Charles Sberna, son of the fugitive anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna and son-in-law of New York Mafia boss Giuseppe Morello, was charged with the murder of a New York City police officer one month earlier.

Partial list of sources:
  • "Seven Italians held," New York Tribune, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • “Another arrest in barrel murder case,” New York Times, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • "Palmer takes over American trusts," New York Times, Nov. 5, 1918, p. 20.
  • "Restore Ehret property," New York Times, Dec. 20, 1918, p. 8.
  • "Francis P. Garvan promoted to assistant attorney general," New York Times, June 3, 1919, p. 15.
  • "Will deport Reds as alien plotters," New York Times, Nov. 9, 1919, p. 3.
  • "249 Reds sail, exiled to Soviet Russia," New York Times, Dec. 22, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Reds raided in scores of cities," New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Sue Palmer and Garvan," New York Times, Jan. 16, 1920, p. 13.
  • "Palmer promises more Soviet Arks," New York Times, Feb. 29, 1920, p. 25.
  • "Lawyers denounce raids on radicals," New York Times, May 28, 1920, p. 6.
  • "Seek owner of truck that carried bomb to Wall Street," New York Times, Sept. 18, 1920, p. 1.
  • "12 lawyers renew attack on Palmer," New York Times, Jan. 19, 1921, p. 28.
  • "President orders return of patents," New York Times, July 2, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Joins German plea and Harding order," New York Times, July 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Says Garvan called Metz a 'traitor,'" New York Times, June 28, 1923, p. 19.
  • "Denies politics in patent sales," New York Times, July 4, 1923, p. 15.
  • "Court upholds sale of German patents seized during war," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Dye sales stand; government loses," New York Times, Oct. 12, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Francis P. Garvan, lawyer, dies here," New York Times, Nov. 8, 1937, p. 23.

Read more:


Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

13 May 2017

95 years ago: End of DiGiorgio

Feared California Mafia leader killed in Chicago barber chair

Chicago Tribune
May 14, 1922

May 13, 1922: Vito DiGiorgio, the leader of southern California's Mafia, was shot to death in a barbershop at Oak and Larrabee Streets in Chicago.

DiGiorgio, forty-three, was returning from a Mafia meeting in Buffalo, New York, and stopped off in Chicago for a couple of days. He, thirty-five-year-old James Cascio and an unidentified third man visited the barbershop of Salvatore DiBella and John Loiacono, 956 Larrabee Street. The location was in the center of a Sicilian neighborhood in Chicago's Near North End. DiGiorgio sat down in a barber's chair, while Cascio and the third man busied themselves at a pool table in a rear room.

Just a few minutes later, two gunmen burst into the shop and, without saying a word, shot DiGiorgio in the side of his head and put three bullets into Cascio. Both victims died of their wounds. The gunmen, accompanied by the man who entered the shop with DiGiorgio and Cascio, fled through a rear door.

Police found papers in DiGiorgio's pockets that linked him to an address on Dauphine Street in New Orleans. DiGiorgio had lived in New Orleans for years, managed a grocery business and earned his underworld reputation there before relocating to southern California. He may have returned to his home in the Crescent City after being wounded in an attempt on his life at Los Angeles in the summer of 1921.

New Orleans Daily
Picayune, June 12, 1908

Cascio was said to have Buffalo and New Orleans addresses.

DiGiorgio (image at left) appears to have been closely aligned with New York-based Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila and may have secured his position as southern California boss through D'Aquila's insistence. (D'Aquila inserted his personal representatives into crime family leadership positions in a number of U.S. cities, including Boston and Philadelphia.)

At the time, D'Aquila was attempting to consolidate power by moving against supporters of the former Giuseppe Morello regime in New York and elsewhere. A Los Angeles-area Mafia faction led by Jack Dragna and Salvatore Streva had connections with Morello.

Sources:
  • "The Serio explosion a Black Hand deed," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 12, 1908, p. 1.
  • "Shot down by mystery assailants," Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1921, p. 13.
  • "Two men killed in Black Hand feud," Logansport IN Pharos-Tribune, May 13, 1922, p. 8.
  • "Double murder in 'Little Italy' baffles police," Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1922, p. 18.
  • Gentile, Nick, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963.
  • Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Death Records Index, Ancestry.com.
  • United States Census of 1920, Louisiana, Orleans County, Precinct 2, Ward 8, Enumeration District 130.
  • Vito DiGiorgio World War I draft registration card, serial no. 1117, order no. A1450, Div. no. 7, New Orleans, Louisiana, Sept. 12, 1918.
See also:
http://amzn.to/2q08aOg

14 April 2017

114 years ago: The Barrel Murder

New York Evening World, April 14, 1903.
On this date in 1903 - Agents of the United States Secret Service are called upon to help New York City police identify a corpse found in a barrel at Manhattan's 11th Street and Avenue D. 

The victim.
NY Evening World, April 15, 1903.
The agents recognize the deceased man as the stranger they observed with the Morello Mafia members the previous night. Police arrest known members of Morello's organization, including boss Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo. They are unable to locate Morello adviser Vito Cascio Ferro. They later learn that Cascio Ferro has fled back to his native Sicily through New Orleans.

The Morello Mob
NY Evening World, April 16, 1903.
The victim is soon identified as Buffalo resident Benedetto Madonia, brother-in-law of Giuseppe DePrima, a Morello gangster recently imprisoned for counterfeiting. Authorities believe the New York City Mafiosi lured Madonia to his death because DePrima was judged a traitor.

Police are able to trace the barrel to a Morello gang hangout. They find that a Mafia suspect known as Petto the Ox is in possession of a pawn ticket for a watch that belonged to the victim. Authorities are certain of the gang's responsibility for Madonia's killing but cannot assemble a convincing case. 

Read more about the Barrel Murder on the American Mafia history website:



12 March 2017

108 years ago: Petrosino is slain

On this date in 1909, Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino is assassinated while on assignment for the New York Police Department in Palermo, Sicily. He is the only NYPD officer to be killed in the line of duty while on foreign soil.



Though he was traveling under an assumed identity, New York newspapers and the Sicilian-Italian underworld learned of his trip across the Atlantic before he reached Europe. For years, Petrosino had hounded organized criminals in New York's Little Italy neighborhoods. Many were imprisoned or deported due to his efforts. A network of Mafiosi, apparently linked with the Morello Crime Family of New York, is believed to have arranged the shooting death of Petrosino at Palermo's Piazza Marina on the evening of March 12. Police officials in Italy were certain of the identities of the plotters and participants in the assassination, but none were successfully prosecuted.

Officially, Petrosino's mission was to gather Italian criminal records of outlaws who had made their way to New York. The records would allow recently arrived outlaws to be deported from the U.S. Petrosino's actions suggested that he also intended to establish NYPD informants within the criminal societies of southern Italy and Sicily. The first leader of the NYPD Italian Squad (which also spawned the NYPD Bomb Squad), Petrosino had recently been named to command a privately financed, undercover service within the police department. The transatlantic trip, which took him from his wife and young daughter, was his first major task in that new role.

Known for employing tenacity and toughness in numerous successful battles with lawbreakers and underworld organizations, Petrosino became a hero, as well as an important role model, for the quickly growing Italian-American community.

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.)

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
For more about Giuseppe Morello:

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