Kennedy assassination, effort to kill Castro
On this date in 1994...
Rosario "Russell" Bufalino, longtime boss of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Mafia, departed this life on Friday afternoon, February 25, 1994, at the age of 90. He may have taken numerous underworld secrets with him. Bufalino was widely suspected of involvement in the disappearance of former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. He also was believed by many to hold information relating to the assassination of President John Kennedy and to the CIA's efforts to remove Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
A resident of Kingston for much of his life, Bufalino passed away at ten minutes after two in the borough's Nesbitt Memorial Hospital. The cause of death was not released. Relatives kept secret their plans for Bufalino's funeral, irritating state and federal investigators who wanted to document and film the individuals attending it.
Bufalino married Caroline Sciandra at Buffalo in the summer of 1928. The newlyweds subsequently moved to Endicott, New York, and Pittston, Pennsylvania, before settling in Kingston. They both had relatives in the region. Bufalino became involved in the garment industry and held financial interests in the Penn Drape & Curtain Company and the Alaimo Dress Company.
This was a departure from the pattern of earlier underworld-connected Montedoresi in the Luzerne County coal country, who had become leaders both in coal mining operations and in the coalminers' labor unions. Bufalino's early roles in the regional Mafia, known as the "Men of Montedoro" because of the dominance of the Montedoresi, are uncertain.
Bufalino likely succeeded to the leadership of the Men of Montedoro Mafia following the 1949 death of John Sciandra. But he was not really noticed by law enforcement until the Apalachin convention of 1957.
There were reports of a visit to Cuba by Bufalino in November 1951. Documented trips to the island nation in late 1955 and spring 1956 later caused serious legal problems for the crime boss because he improperly claimed U.S. citizenship upon his reentry.
Authorities were confused by crime family relationships following the 1957 Apalachin convention. Due to the proximity of convention host Joseph Barbara's Apalachin estate to Scranton, Pittston, Wilkes-Barre home territory of the Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia, state and federal investigators decided that Barbara was a regional crime boss and Bufalino was his underboss. (This was stated in the 1970 report of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission.) It now appears, however, that Barbara was a remote lieutenant for the Magaddino Crime Family based in Buffalo, New York, while Bufalino was boss of his own organization.
As federal investigators looked into Bufalino after Apalachin, they discovered documents relating to his earlier returns from Cuba. In April of 1958, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered him deported as an undesirable alien. Years of legal appeals followed.
(Some writers have insisted that Bufalino developed a close personal relationship with Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the late 1950s and worked to return Batista to power after Fidel Castro's revolution. Some connect these claims to incidents relating to Hoffa and the Kennedys. There even have been suggestions that Bufalino personally fled Cuba just ahead of Castro's advancing army at the start of 1959 and may have watched the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion from a ship off the Cuban coast. Given Bufalino's ongoing problems with the INS deportation order, these claims seem far-fetched. It would have been extremely unlikely that Bufalino would have risked setting foot outside the country in this period for any reason at all.)
Bufalino remained virtually untouched by law enforcement until his later years. Near the end of 1969, he was indicted in connection with the transport of stolen televisions across state lines. He was acquitted in 1970 and complained to the press about law enforcement harassment and wiretapping. He was then charged in spring 1973 with engaging in extortion in the cigarette vending machine business. A jury in Buffalo, New York, acquitted him.
At about that time, the U.S. was poised finally to deport him to his native Italy, but Italy halted the plan, refusing to issue the paperwork necessary for his return.
Another extortion case resulted in another acquittal in 1975. In the same period, Bufalino was mentioned but not charged in connection with the disappearance and likely murder of Hoffa, who was attempting to regain power in the Teamsters union. However, in the summer of 1977, Bufalino was convicted of extortion. His first documented experience inside a prison occurred in summer 1978, when his legal appeals concluded and he became an inmate at Danbury, Connecticut, Federal Correctional Institution. He served three years of the sentence before being paroled on May 8, 1981.
During his time in prison, the crime family of Northeastern Pennsylvania was reportedly managed by Edward Sciandra (nephew of former boss John Sciandra).
Less than half a year after his release from prison - at a time when his underworld organization was regarded as the most powerful in the State of Pennsylvania - he was charged with conspiring to kill a federal witness back in 1976. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He was released in May 1989, after serving six years and eight months of that term. The end of the sentence was served in the federal prison hospital at Springfield, Missouri, as Bufalino's health began to decline in 1987 and a transfer was deemed necessary.
Bufalino spent the final two years of his life in a Kingston nursing home. Following his death, management of the regional crime family fell to Edward Sciandra and former Bufalino driver and confidant William D'Elia.
- Corbett, Steve, "Moving up in the underworld," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 29, 1994, p. 3.
- Corbett, Steve, "The passing of a shadow," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 3.
- "Death of the Don: Bufalino ruled over a vast crime empire," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 6, 1994, p. 8.
- "Death of the Don: Direction of Bufalino Family now remains unclear," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 7, 1994, p. 6.
- "Feds want Bufalino mourners on film," Wilkes-Barre Citizens" Voice, March 1, 1994, p. 5.
- Houlihan, Frederick T., "Russell Alfred Bufalino, aka Russell Bufalino...," FBI report, file no. 92-2839-86, NARA no. 124-10290-10333, Sept. 12, 1960.
- Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. II - From 1938, 2013.
- Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, "Men of Montedoro," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2011.
- Lynott, Jerry, "Former Pocono Record writer's book reveals a boss's power," Pocono Record, Sept. 3, 2013.
- "Mob boss Bufalino dies," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 4.
- "Mob boss Russell Bufalino," Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 37.
- Moldea, Dan E., "The Hoffa Wars," Playboy, November 1978.
- Morrison, Mitch, "Mystery follows Bufalino to the grave," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 2.
- New York State Marriage Index, Buffalo, New York, certificate no. 23108, Aug. 9, 1928.
- "Organized crime may be meeting its Waterloo," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 17.
- Passenger manifest of S.S. Brasile, departed Naples on Dec. 31, 1905, arrived New York on Jan. 14, 1906.
- Passenger manifest of S.S. Citta di Milano, departed Naples on Dec. 2, 1903, arrived New York on Dec. 21, 1903.
- Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Report on Organized Crime, 1970.
- Russell A. Bufalino World War II draft registration card, Fox Hill PA, 1942.
- "Russell Bufalino," New York Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 25.
- "Russell Bufalino, 91, reputed Pa. mob boss," Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 28, 1994, p. C10.
- "Russell Bufalino, alleged mob boss, dies at age 90," Hazleton Standard Speaker, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 30.
- "Russell Bufalino, reputed Pennsylvania crime boss," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 16.
- SAC Philadelphia, "Russell A. Bufalino, aka, Neutrality Matter," FBI Airtel, file no. 2-1664-1, NARA no. 124-10293-10378, March 3, 1961.
- Scholz, Frank, "Reputed mob boss Bufalino, 91, dies," Scranton Sunday Times, Feb. 27, 1994, p. 3.
- Shurmaitis, Dawn, "Just a good fella?," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 1.
- Shurmaitis, Dawn, and Robert Sitten, "Russell Bufalino, 'don of dons,' dies," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 1.
- Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 168-12-7767, death date Feb. 25, 1994, claim date July 26, 1968.
- Social Security Death Index, 162-12-7767, Feb. 25, 1994, Ancestry.com.
- U.S. Department of Labor Immigration Service file on Cristina Bufalino, 1914.