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