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

19 January 2020

St. Louis's Pillow Gang gets their quirky name

Ninety-two years ago tonight, a triple shooting in St. Louis's Dogtown neighborhood gave one of the city's three Mafia factions one of the more quirky nicknames in American criminal history. The main target of the attack, a powerful mafiùsu named Charlie Fresina, was struck by a .45 caliber submachine gun bullet in his lower hip. In the preceding weeks as he recovered, Fresina used a pillow to cushion his rear end when he sat down, leading sarcastic St. Louis police to dub his crew "The Pillow Gang."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Mafia dicìna (crew) that would eventually be known as the "Pillow Gang" got its start in the early 1910s as a small-time Black Hand extortion ring run by Pasquale Santino, a Sicilian immigrant who used threatening letters to separate wealthy Italian businessmen from their money. After a series of arrests, Santino left St. Louis briefly and worked as a railroad foreman in eastern Ohio. After returning to town around the start of Prohibition, Santino began putting a crew of tough Sicilian mobsters together; like Pasquale himself, most of them were from the southern province of Girgenti (modern-day Agrigento). The one exception was Charlie Fresina.

Born Carmelo Frisina in 1892 in Castiglione di Sicilia, a small town located in the shadow of northeastern Sicily's Mount Etna, he immigrated to America at the age of sixteen. Frisina worked his way up from a vegetable peddler to a steamship agent and from there into the local Mafia. As he and the Santino crew began making big money in the illegal alcohol business, Frisina anglicized his name to Charles Fresina in order to shield his wife and children from his criminality. He would also later use the alias of "Freese" (pronounced Free-zee). Fresina was brilliant and industrious, quickly working his way into the number-two position in Santino's dicìna. By the early 1920s, the Santino crew had joined forces with the so-called "Green Ones," a crew of ex-Black Handers from western Palermo province led by Vito Giannola and Alfonse Palazzolo, to wrench control of St. Louis's Mafia family away from incumbent boss Dominick Giambrone.

In the aftermath of their victory, the Green Ones appropriated leadership of the family for themselves, with Giannola becoming càpu (boss) and Palazzolo suttacàpu (underboss). Their actions immediately created tension with the Santino crew. Also now added to the mix was a bootlegging gang headed by the Russo brothers, who were known as the "American Boys" because they were all native-born. While the St. Louis mob family had a traditional pyramidal leadership structure, the three different factions operated with a degree of autonomy not seen in other American Mafia groups of the era. Indeed, this peculiar arrangement led to constant bickering amongst the crew's leaders. Their organization as a whole suffered a big black eye in the view of other Mafia bosses around the country after losing a violent gang war to the South City-based Cuckoo Gang in 1926; Vito Giannola and the rest of the family's leaders were forced to give humiliating reparations to the Cuckoos as a condition of peace.

Their gangland defeat resulted in increased inter-family squabbling, as blame was shoved from faction to faction. The St. Louis Mafia inevitably devolved into civil war in the late summer of 1927 after two key members of the Russo Gang, Anthony "Shorty" Russo and Vincent Spicuzza, were lured to Chicago and killed by a Green Ones hit squad led by Alfonse Palazzolo. The Santino crew joined forces with the Russos to fight the Green Ones. Pasquale Santino was instrumental in luring Palazzolo to his demise at the hands of the Russos on Tenth Street, but he himself would die on November 17 after being shot in a grocery company office at Seventh and Carr streets. Police believed that he was killed by a Mafia assassin brought in from Chicago by the Green Ones specifically to do the deed.

Pasquale Santino (NARA)

The murders, nearly a dozen in all, continued throughout the fall. Three days after Christmas, two members of the Russo Gang caught Vito Giannola at his girlfriend's North City house, chased him into an attic crawlspace, and proceeded to empty a Thompson submachine gun into St. Louis's Mafia boss. Giannola's dramatic assassination momentarily put leadership of the family up for grabs. What follows is an excerpt from my 2010 book Gangs of St. Louis;


At the beginning of 1928, the Sicilian underworld was in a state of flux. The Russo Gang and its allies were waxing victorious after their decisive strike against the Greens. Fully aware that the war wasn't over yet, they stayed vigilant but were puzzled as the days rolled by with no retaliatory strikes from the opposition.

The Green Ones held a conference soon after Vito Giannola's funeral. John Giannola stepped down from his position in the crew, either by choice or with some persuasion. At this meeting, twenty-six-year-old Frank Agrusa was dubbed the new boss. Having spent many years under Vito's tutelage, Agrusa was a perfect choice. Learning from his predecessor's mistakes, Frankie knew that low profile was the way to go. While Vito liked to swagger down the street and let everyone know he was a gangster, Agrusa was the exact opposite. Frankie's new right-hand man was his longtime friend and partner Vito Impastato. Advising the new boss would be Tony Fasulo, who had taken Ben Amato's place as consigliere after Pasquale Santino's murder. Dominick Italiano replaced John Giannola as the Green Ones' East Side liquor distributor.

Despite these leadership changes, the Green Ones were depleted and demoralized. Most observers were unsure if they could prevail in a protracted shooting war, especially now that the deadly Tommy gun had been added to the mix. For the time being, they seemed to be out of the fight. Machiavellian twists and turns are at the core of any Mafia war, and the St. Louis strife was no different. The deception and double-crossing is limitless. While Charlie Fresina was ostensibly allied with the Russo Gang, he was going behind its back and extorting wealthy merchants connected to the Russos. When Jimmy Russo got word of Fresina's shenanigans, he promptly began planning his murder.

St. Louis gangster Jimmy Russo.


On the night of January 19, 1928, Fresina visited the Dogtown home of Charles Spicuzza at 6129 Clayton Avenue to exact a heavy tribute. The gang boss was backed up by Dominick Cataldo and Tony DiTrapani; the latter packed a sawed-off .12 gauge autoloader. A cousin of the late Vincent Spicuzza, Charles worked as the manager of the M. Longo Fruit Company on Commission Row, the store formerly owned by Charles Palmisano. While his wife and four children waited quietly in other parts of the house, Spicuzza talked with his visitors in the parlor and eventually gave Fresina over $1,000 cash.

Charles Spicuzza's home at 6129 Clayton Avenue as pictured in the St. Louis Star

A little after 10:00 p.m., the three men exited the front door and were just starting down the stairs when they noticed a strange Studebaker sedan at the curb. Even stranger was the fact that two men appeared to be sitting in their Chrysler sedan. One of the Santinos blurted, "Someone's in our car." Since the house sat high above the street, Fresina and his men couldn't clearly see the faces of the strangers. The mob boss immediately grabbed Spicuzza and forced him to walk down to the street to find out just who these fellows were.

The fruit merchant slowly walked down his steep steps with the Santinos trailing far behind him. When Spicuzza got close enough to recognize the familiar faces inside the Chrysler, he immediately broke right and ran for cover. As soon as he was clear, a fusillade of shotgun and submachine-gun fire erupted from the Chrysler. Fresina instantly turned to go back inside the house, only to be shot through the lower hip by a machine-gun round. DiTrapani was struck in the abdomen by the same stream of bullets (a slug chipped away the handle of a .38 revolver stuck in his belt). Tony spun around, stumbled inside the foyer and fell facedown on top of his unfired shotgun. Cataldo tried to follow Spicuzza but was hit by a .45 caliber bullet in his stomach.

The machine-gunner then exited the Chrysler and dashed up the stairs onto the porch. After strafing the fallen DiTrapani with a quick burst, he briefly scanned the house for any sign of Fresina. The mob boss suddenly popped around the corner of the living room wall and turned loose with a pistol. The machine-gunner briefly returned Fresina's fire and then, with his weapon either empty or jammed, quickly retreated down the steps. Charlie hobbled onto the porch and emptied his gun at his fleeing assailants, scoring a few hits on the parked Chrysler. Nevertheless, the killers made a successful getaway.

Police found Tony DiTrapani dead at the scene and Dominick Cataldo groaning in pain from a wound that soon proved fatal. Charlie Fresina was talking on the telephone in Sicilian when the cops arrived. The gangster stopped in mid-sentence and hung up, proclaiming that he didn't know who shot him. Charlie then went to the bathroom to wash him wound. Charles Spicuzza denied that he was being extorted, saying that he and Fresina had met to discuss the sale of some apples. Police initially suspected that the Green Ones were responsible; it wasn't until much later that they discovered that the true culprits were the Russo Gang. Now, all three Mafia factions were at war with one another.

Carmelo Frisina in a formal portrait taken not long after the shooting. Visible on the lower right side of the photo is the corner of the pillow in question. 

Postscript

Charlie Fresina eventually recovered from his wound and resumed his place at the head of the "Pillow Gang." Fresina often held court with his men at a Central West End restaurant at 8 South Sarah Street run by Armando Pacini. The mob boss would make headlines in August 1929 after firing a shotgun at federal agents who were in the process of raiding his Semple Avenue home. A year later, Fresina would be convicted of assault with intent to kill and sentenced to prison time. Just before he was due to head to jail, on May 8, 1931, Fresina was found shot to death behind the wheel of his car in an isolated forested area outside of Edwardsville, Illinois.

Dominick Cataldo and Tony DiTrapani were buried side-by-side in St. Louis's Calvary Cemetery.

Jimmy Russo continued his attempts to avenge the murder of his younger brother Shorty. Six months after the Dogtown ambush, Russo was lured to a meeting with the ostensibly neutral Cuckoo Gang in a disused chicken yard at Plymouth and Sutter avenues in what is now Wellston, Missouri. The Cuckoos sprung a ferocious trap and shot Russo and Mike Longo to death. Their companion, Jack Griffin, was wounded six times but managed to survive the attack.

Charles Spicuzza was reportedly inducted into the St. Louis family and worked as a bail bondsman for a number of years. Police questioned him after the May 1946 murder of Alma Ahlheim, who was reportedly Spicuzza's girlfriend; the mobster was apparently upset that she was seeing other men behind his back. No charges were filed. Spicuzza died of natural causes on January 19, 1978, the fiftieth anniversary of the shooting which gave the Pillow Gang its name.

Sources 

Waugh, Daniel. Gangs of St. Louis: Men of Respect. The History Press. 2010.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 20, 1928, May 17, 1946, January 22, 1978.

St. Louis Star, January 20, 1928.


13 January 2020

Crime bosses receive hundred-year sentences

Judge hands out 740 years in prison terms, $1.75 million in fines

On this date in 1987...

Rockland County NY Journal-News

Seven leaders of New York-area organized crime families were sentenced January 13, 1987, to hundred-year prison terms. The Manhattan federal court sentencing concluded the Commission Case.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Owen recommended that none of the defendants ever be paroled. "These defendants deserve permanent incarceration," the judge stated. "Their crimes cry out for extraordinary punishment. The defendants occupied the highest ranks of the Mafia, and their offenses were of the utmost magnitude." Without that recommendation, parole could have been considered after ten years had been served.

Three of those sentenced to a century behind bars were believed at the time to be bosses of Mafia organizations:
  • Lucchese Crime Family - Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, 73, of Oyster Bay Cove, New York.
  • Colombo Crime Family - Carmine "Junior" Persico, 53, from Brooklyn.
  • Genovese Crime Family - Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, 76, of Rhinebeck, New York. (Salerno was later found to be acting as a screen for the actual Genovese boss, Vincent "the Chin" Gigante.)

Corallo was also fined $250,000. Persico and Salerno were fined $240,000.

Corallo, Persico, Salerno
 Also sentenced to hundred-year prison terms:
  • Salvatore "Tom Mix" Santoro, 72, of Bronx, underboss of Lucchese Family. Fined $250,000.
  • Gennaro "Jerry Lang" Langella, 48, of Staten Island, underboss of Colombo Family. Fined $240,000. (Langella's attorney asked for a leniency, as Langella was already serving sentences of ten years and sixty-fine years from other cases and, according to the attorney, did not have "much left to give to his country." Judge Owen made the hundred-year term concurrent with the other sentences.)
  • Christopher "Christy Tick" Furnari, 62, of Rockville Centre, New York, consigliere (counselor) of Lucchese Family. Fined $240,000.
  • Ralph Scopo, 58, of Howard Beach, Queens, former labor leader and soldier of Colombo Family. Fined $240,000.

An eighth defendant, Anthony "Bruno" Indelicato, 38, of Manhattan, member of the Bonanno Crime Family, was sentenced to a lesser term. Convicted on two racketeering counts, including participation in the Commission-ordered killing of Bonanno big shot Carmine Galante, but not of holding a leadership position in the underworld, he received the maximum sentence of forty years. He was also fined $50,000.

Courtroom scene at sentencing. New York Daily News.

All the defendants were present in court for the sentencing. Judge Owen addressed them one at a time.

Salerno, believed at the time to be the wealthiest and most powerful underworld leader, was the first to be sentenced. Judge Owen remarked, "You sir, in my opinion, essentially spent all your lifetime terrorizing this community to your financial advantage."

Most of the defendants remained silent at sentencing. But Persico, who had acted as his own attorney at trial, charged that "this case was prejudiced from the very first day." He said the convictions and sentences were the result of "Mafia mania." Persico was already serving a thirty-nine-year sentence from a different case.

After four defendants had been sentenced and Judge Owen called the name of Salvatore Santoro, Santoro remarked, "Give me my hundred years and we'll get it over with."

Judge Owen explained that the sentences were intended as "a statement to those out there ... who are undoubtedly thinking about taking over the reins" of organized crime.

Rudolph Giuliani, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told the press that the sentences would be "devastating to the mob."

Thomas L. Sheer, head of the FBI's New York office, was cautious in his assessment: "The worst mistake we can make is to declare a final victory."

The Commission Case began with the unsealing of a fifteen-count indictment on February 26, 1985. The original defendants, nine in number, did not include Persico or Indelicato but did include Bonanno Crime Family boss Philip "Rusty" Rastelli and Gambino Crime Family boss Paul "Big Paul" Castellano and his underboss Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce. In June prosecutors added Carmine Persico and Stefano Cannone to the list of defendants.

That list was reduced over time. Dellacroce and Cannone died of natural causes. Castellano was murdered. Rastelli was severed from the case because he was being tried on a separate matter in Brooklyn. Indelicato was added.

Trial began with jury selection on September 8, 1986. The court proceedings lasted for a month and a half.

An anonymous jury of five men and seven women returned guilty verdicts against the defendants on November 19, 1986, following five days of deliberations. All eight defendants were convicted of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. All except Indelicato were convicted of extortion, extortion conspiracy and extorting and accepting labor payoffs. Corallo and Santoro were also convicted of loansharking conspiracy.

Maximum possible sentences were 326 years for Corallo and Santoro; 306 years for Persico, Salerno, Langella, Furnari and Scopo; and forty years for Indelicato.

See also:


Sources:

  • Doyle, John M., "Commission bosses get 100 years," Poughkeepsie Journal (AP), Jan. 14, 1987, p. B5.
  • Doyle, John M., "Eight mobsters convicted of all counts in Mafia Commission trial," AP News Archive, Nov. 19, 1986.
  • Jacobs, James B., with Christopher Panarella and Jay Worthington, Busting the Mob: United States v. Cosa Nostra, New York: New York University Press, 1994, p. 86-87.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "Judge sentences 8 Mafia leaders to prison terms," New York Times, Jan. 14, 1987.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "U.S. jury convicts eight as members of mob Commission," New York Times, Nov. 20, 1986.
  • O'Shaughnessy, Patrice, "100-year terms for 7 mobsters," New York Daily News, Jan. 14, 1987, p. 7.
  • "In brief: Mafia bosses are sentenced to centuries," New York Times, Jan. 18, 1987.
  • "Lawyer for Mafia boss shows lighter side of sentencing," Rockland County NY Journal-News, Jan. 14, 1987, p. B6.
  • "Mafia bosses get 100 years each," Rockland County NY Journal-News (AP), Jan. 14, 1987, p. B6.

11 January 2020

Mysterious St. Louis mob figure brutally murdered in Detroit

One hundred years ago tonight, a mysterious St. Louis underworld figure was found brutalized and near-death just outside of the southwestern edge of Detroit. The man was able to speak briefly with police and claimed that his name was Angelo Russo and that he had recently come to the Motor City. A century later, the man's true identity and the reasons for his violent death are uncertain. The following is an excerpt from my 2019 book Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia.


Sometime around 1:30 on the morning of January 12, 1920, an anonymous Detroit police patrolman was walking his beat along Michigan Avenue just west of downtown. On this cold winter’s night, the streets were nearly empty, so the officer’s duty mostly consisted of staying warm and keeping his eyes and ears open. The officer noticed a westbound sedan headed towards him and in the direction of the Southwest Side. The vehicle caught his attention because of a burnt out headlight and the loud bursts of singing emanating from its interior. The words were in Sicilian, which the officer did not understand, but he thought it sounded nice as he idly watched the car pass by and disappear down the avenue. It was only later that this officer learned that the loud singing he had heard in the car was drowning out the strained sounds of a man being murdered within. 

Almost an hour later, John Stricki (or Striettzki) and his wife were awakened inside their home on Southern Avenue by a loud banging on their front door. As Stricki listened in, a Sicilian man pled in broken English for him to open the door. When Stricki refused, the caller swayed to the right (knocking over an oil lamp as he did so) and broke one of the front windows. The noise fully roused Stricki’s wife and five children, but a look through the broken window showed that the caller was no threat. The man was covered in blood and now lying on the front lawn, moaning in pain. As his ill wife cared for the wounded man, Stricki left to summon the police.

At Receiving Hospital, doctors took stock of the victim’s gruesome condition. Defensive wounds on the arms and wrists indicted that the dying man had fought fiercely for his life, and had received over forty stab wounds all over his torso in the process. During this frenzied attack, the victim had also been beaten about the head with a hammer hard enough to fracture his skull. The man had then been shot in the abdomen, neck, and a third time straight through his mouth. As if all that wasn’t enough, the victim was found to have an older, partially healed bullet wound in his back. Despite his tremendous injuries, the still-unidentified victim was not only still alive but willing to talk. Black Hand Squad head Inspector William Good and Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Speed quickly got to his bedside to take a statement.

Although his mouth wound made speech difficult, the wounded man managed to say that his name was Angelo Russo, that he was thirty-two years old, and had recently arrived in town from St. Louis. Russo said he was currently rooming at 51 Trumbull Avenue. The wounded man claimed he had been shot in the back by three men in front of 460 E. Fort Street on New Year’s Eve night. The wound was minor enough for him to leave the hospital just a few hours after it was inflicted.

Earlier on this particular evening, Russo was at Salvatore Randazzo’s poolroom at 152 St. Aubin Street in the company of five men, all of whom he apparently named to Inspector Good and Prosecutor Speed. They eventually left in a sedan with a burnt-out headlight to grab a bite to eat at an all-night restaurant downtown. The party then headed west on Michigan Avenue; it was at this point that the horrific attack began. Russo was dumped out of the car on Southern Avenue between Cabot and Miller roads; about 180 feet outside of what were then Detroit’s southwestern city limits. Somehow able to keep his feet despite his wounds, the bloodied Russo staggered over a block away until he stumbled up to John Stricki’s front door. Roughly two hours after giving this statement to police, the victim died from his injuries. 

Santo Pirrone was questioned in the murder of Angelo Russo.
Acting on information gleaned from the dying man, police arrested twenty-five year old mafiùsu Santo Pirrone at his home at 779 McDougall Avenue.  Also taken into custody was a young woman that Pirrone identified as his wife. Russo’s statement was bolstered by the recovery of Pirrone’s blood-stained automobile on West Jefferson Avenue around the same time. A key member of Peter Mirabile’s Alcamesi dicìna, Pirrone was noted as a longtime friend (and eventual brother-in-law) of Salvatore Catalanotti, who had taken on a much bigger role in the affairs of the burgàta upon the ascension of John Vitale to càpu. Pirrone admitted being with the victim on the night of the murder and even conceded to driving him to the Southwest Side, but only to drop off his “wife” at the home of her father on Cabot Road, not far where Russo was dumped from the car. Pirrone claimed to have absolutely no idea that the brutal attack was taking place right behind him in the back seat.

Despite his implausible claims and the fact that he admitted driving the murder vehicle, Santo Pirrone managed to beat the rap. Angelo Russo’s body lay unclaimed for nearly two weeks until it was interred in a pauper’s grave at Woodmere Cemetery at city government expense. The ferocity of the attack earned Pirrone the underworld nickname of U Bistìnu (The Shark). Just who Russo really was, as well as what he was doing in Detroit and why he would be killed in such a grisly manner are questions that have never been satisfactorily answered. It is possible that new càpu Vitale, hypervigilant against threats, came to believe that Russo was a hired gunman brought in from St. Louis to kill him. Whether this was true or not, it is a likely motive behind the killing.

Postscript

The author was unable to find any solid record in St. Louis or elsewhere of Angelo Russo and has doubts that this was the man's true name. Just who he was and why he was killed are mysteries that may never be solved.

Angelo Russo's death certificate

Santo Pirrone eventually anglicized his name to Sam Perrone and made a fortune in the bootlegging business while a member of the Detroit Mafia. In later years, Perrone would move into the scrap business and become a noted union buster. Perrone was later charged with leading an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate UAW President Walter Reuther in the spring of 1948. By the early 1960s, Sam Perrone had begun feuding with mobster Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone, who got permission from the family's bosses to kill his rival. Perrone survived a subsequent car bombing, though he lost his left leg to the blast. After this incident, the contract on Perrone's life was cancelled with his retirement. Perrone died of natural causes on Christmas Day, 1973, his seventy-eighth birthday.

Sources

Waugh, Daniel. Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia. Lulu Publication Services, 2019.

Detroit Free Press, January 12, 1920.

Detroit News, January 12, 1920.

Michigan Department of Heath, Certificate of Death, No. 1126, 1920.

Sam Perrone article on gangsterreport.com

05 January 2020

New Orleans killing linked to Mafia feud

On this date in 1888...

A single pistol shot echoed along New Orleans' St. Philip Street at about ten o'clock in the evening of Thursday, January 5, 1888.

Times-Democrat
Private watchman Jacob Seither, stationed at the Old French Market at the foot of St. Philip, called for police assistance and then moved up the dark street toward the sound. Midway up the block, in front of a lodging house, Seither found twenty-eight-year-old Antonio Bonora, clutching a wounded abdomen and murmuring in Italian.

Police Officer Frank Santanio soon arrived and summoned an ambulance. He determined that Bonora was calling for his mother and asking for her blessing. Santanio asked Bonora who shot him, but the victim gave no answer. Bonora died before the ambulance arrived.

A stretcher was assembled from available materials, and it was used to take Bonora's body to the Third Precinct Station for examination. Police found a gaping wound in the upper abdomen and severe powder burns on the surrounding clothing and flesh. That indicated that the pistol had been placed quite close to the body when it was fired.

Investigators gained little helpful information from questioning residents of the Italian neighborhood where the killing occurred. In the front room of Salvatore Buffa's saloon, which looked out onto the street where Bonora was killed, police found several men gathered. Those men claimed they had been singing together and neither saw nor heard the nearby shooting.

Daily Picayune
Police learned that Bonora had been in the Buffa saloon earlier that night, sharing wine with local residents Sam Caruso, Vincent Pellegrini and Frank Demar. Caruso and friends reportedly tried to convince Bonora to take a drive with them uptown, but he refused. They parted a short time before the shooting.

Caruso, Pellegrini and Demar were rounded up by the police and brought to the police station. They viewed Bonora's body, but provided no useful information to investigators.

Deputy Coroner Stanhope Jones performed an autopsy on Bonora's remains on Friday morning. He found that death resulted from hemorrhage caused by a bullet that entered the body four inches above the navel and cut through the liver, spleen and right lung. The bullet traveled upward inside the body and lodged beneath the right armpit.

The local press reported that Bonora was a member of the Tiro al Bersaglio organization and the Fruit Laborers Union. Tiro al Bersaglio was an Italian-American benevolent society that hosted marksmanship events and had a paramilitary quality. Some of its more influential members, including Joseph Macheca and Frank Romero, were later linked with the local Mafia.

Related to Mafia conflict?

Bonora's murder was unsolved. But historians have pointed to Mafia enforcer Rocco Geraci as his killer. In the 1880s, the Sicilian underworld of New Orleans was divided into warring factions built around the rival Provenzano and Matranga families. It appears likely that Bonora's murder was related to this conflict. Geraci is also believed responsible for the earlier murder of Vincent Raffo in the same neighborhood.

The Provenzano group, known as the Giardinieri (or Gardeners) included Bonora's drinking buddies Pellegrini and Demar (a Provenzano brother-in-law) and, for a time at least, members of the Caruso family. Geraci was aligned with the Matrangas, known as the Stuppagghieri (or Stoppers). The Carusos appear to have abruptly abandoned the Provenzanos to side with the Matrangas, but they may have been secretly allied with the Matrangas all along.

The Provenzanos for years held a virtual monopoly over Sicilian dockworkers in New Orleans, controlling the Fruit Laborers Union. (In the later 1880s, Provenzanos held the posts of union vice president and financial secretary, while Victor Pellegrini served as union grand marshal.) A Provenzano-aligned stevedore firm held contracts to unload produce ships reaching the city docks.

In this period, a rival Matranga-Locascio firm sprang up and quickly seized control of the docks. A local newspaper report from summer 1888 indicated that the new company's "quick work and careful handling of the fruit" earned it high marks from importers and ship owners. At that moment, the Matranga business was said to include Charles Matranga, Antonio Locascio, James Caruso, Vincent Caruso and Rocco Geraci.

The Provenzanos did not accept the setback gracefully. More violence resulted, and local police, courts and political organizations were pulled into the gangland war.

See also:

Sources:
  • "From Spanish Honduras with fruit," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Aug. 26, 1888, p. 11.
  • "Fruit Laborers' Union," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 29, 1888, p. 6.
  • "Rocco Geraci," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 27, 1890, p. 6.
  • "Slain," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 6, 1888, p. 2.
  • "The Benora autopsy," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 7, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The fruit laborers," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 29, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The Italian murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 7, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 6, 1888, p 3.
  • "Trial of Garaci," New Orleans Times-Democrat, July 27, 1890, p. 10.

26 December 2019

Flamingo opens with three-day gala

On this date in 1946...


The Flamingo casino, financed in large part by underworld investments funneled through racketeer Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, opened its doors for the first time on December 26, 1946.

Cugat and Durante
A three-day opening event, December 26-28, featured entertainment by orchestra leader Xavier Cugat, singer and comedian Jimmy Durante, Broadway performer Tommy Wonder (a veteran of some Our Gang films) and singer Rose Marie.

At the time of the opening, the Flamingo's hotel section was still under construction, and management hoped it would be completed by March 1, 1947. Advertisements for the three-day opening urged southern California visitors to "fly up any day and come back the same night." Chartered planes departed for Las Vegas at 5:30 in the afternoon and returned guests by 1 a.m.

The Flamingo was billed as the "most luxurious night club in the world." Its advertisements vaguely (and somewhat conservatively) placed its construction cost at "better than $5,000,000."

That figure had risen dramatically in the months leading up to the opening, and it would continue to rise. Back in early October, the final cost had been estimated at between $2.5 million and $4 million.

The exterior of the casino was beige and brown. It was lined with bushes illuminated with red and blue lights. Numerous potted palm trees were placed around the establishment. An artificial green lake stood at one side. The large bar had green leather walls with many mirrors, a black ceiling and "tomato-red furniture."

Not the first

Flamingo may have been the "most luxurious night club" at that moment, but it was not the first Las Vegas hotel-casino to cater to wealthy gamblers.

El Rancho Vegas (opened on The Strip in 1941), El Cortez (1941), Nevada Biltmore (1942) and Hotel Last Frontier (1942) were already in operation and reportedly doing good business. Columnist Erskine Johnson noted in June 1946 that those ventures, set in motion before U.S. entry into World War II, remained "jammed" with visitors:

Movie stars, millionaires, socialites and plain John Does are standing two deep at the roulette and dice tables. Every gambling casino in town - and there's one on almost every corner - is grossing from $3000 to $5000 a night. And every night is like New Year's Eve.

Johnson reported rumors that the funding for Flamingo construction was coming from Barbara Hutton, heiress to portions of the Woolworth retail and Hutton financial services fortunes. According to Johnson, Hutton was "sinking a small fortune" into the project, "which will be a gilt casino with hotel attached."

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1946

Priorities

Flamingo construction was repeatedly delayed for various reasons. At least twice in the summer and fall of 1946, the project was halted for a review by the federal government's Civilian Production Administration (CPA).

The year-old CPA, a postwar version of the War Production Board, was tasked with prioritizing the use of construction resources. In spring 1946, CPA had put a temporary stop on all non-essential commercial building not already started in order to concentrate resources on the housing needs of returning U.S. servicemen.

Columnist Hedda Hopper called attention to the Flamingo construction and a wider building boom in the Las Vegas area in a September 10 column. She also mentioned financial backer Siegel by name:

A huge night club, backed by Bugsy Siegel and called the Flamingo, was started only a few months ago. It features four swimming pools, and reservations are already being taken for a November opening. Yet our returned soldiers can't even find a shed for shelter.

The "only a few months ago" remark was a problem, as it suggested the building effort began after the March 26 effective date of CPA's Veterans Housing Project No. 1 regulation. A federal compliance commissioner reviewed the project in mid-September and announced that work on the night club had started before March 26 and that the planned hotel and connecting shops of the horseshoe-shaped complex were merely phases of the project already underway and not separate projects.

That decision was pushed aside in early October, as the CPA ordered a halt to the project and conducted a further review. At that moment, reports indicated that just $400,000 - about one-tenth of what was then the expected project cost - had been spent on construction.

Focus on casino

Resources appear to have been channeled into the completion of the casino before year-end. The casino was mentioned regularly in the press during the month of December.

  • Columnist Leonard Lyons wrote on December 19 that the movie and radio comedy team of Abbott and Costello had committed to work at the Flamingo for pay of $15,000 a week.
  • Columnist Louella O. Parsons commented a few days later: "Quite a lot of people are goig to Las Vegas the 26th and 27th for the opening of the Flaming." Parsons mentioned that Cugat and Durante had been booked as entertainers.
  • Columnist Hedda Hopper immediately expressed surprise: "I can't believe Jimmy Durante will give a two-week guest shot to the new Flaming gambling casino in Las Vegas."
Benjamin Siegel and George Raft
Opulent playground

One of those covering Flamingo's opening was journalist Bob Thomas. He reported that "a covery of movie names flew over for the opening, including Lon McAllister, George Sanders, Sonny Tufts, Charles Coburn, Vivian Blaine, George Raft, Eleanor Parker and George Jessel."

Thomas said the older hotel-casinos in the area responded to the big-name talent booked at the Flamingo by providing their own entertainment. El Rancho Vegas, he reported, hired comedians the Ritz Brothers and singer Peggy Lee.

He noted that Las Vegas at that moment had "more big-time entertainment than one could find in a week of touring Hollywood night spots."

While the entertainment brought publicity to the Vegas establishments, Thomas reminded his readers that the casinos' wealth was generated through constant gambling. He noted that in the Flamingo casino, patrons at roulette, crap, 21 and chuckaluck tables were busily helping "to defray the $5,000,000 cost of the place." And he confessed, "I made my contribution at a nickel slot machine."

In a United Press report of the opening, the financial backers of the casino were named as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel; Harry Rothberg, vice president of American Distillers; Billy Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter; and Joe Ross, Hollywood attorney.

Problems ahead

The enthusiastic contributions made by gamblers were not sufficient to please Flamingo's investors. In the weeks following the opening, there were reports that the casino's income was not close to covering its expenses and there was evidence that Siegel was scrambling to keep the business afloat. Newspapers said he took out a $1 million loan in order to pay off a contractor.

Siegel's underworld friends expressed their unhappiness with his management of the casino on June 20, 1947. On that evening, less than six months after the Flamingo's opening gala, Siegel was shot to death.


Sources:

  • "An evening in Las Vegas," Los Angeles Times, advertisement, Dec. 24, 1946, p. 4.
  • "Flamingo hotel permit allowed," Nevada State Journal, Sept. 15, 1946, p. 21.
  • "Las Vegas club building halted," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1, 1946, p. 6;
  • "Nevada politics," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 20, 1946, p. 19.
  • "New colossus on the desert," Des Moines IA Register, Jan. 1, 1947, p. 5.
  • "State boss of bookmaking slain in south," San Mateo CA Times, June 21, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Work halted on Las Vegas club pending probe," Santa Cruz CA Sentinel, Oct. 3, 1946, p. 8.
  • "Work is halted on Vegas club," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 3, 1946, p. 4;
  • Hopper, Hedda, "Hedda Hopper in Hollywood," Miami News, Dec. 23, 1946, p. 11.
  • Hopper, Hedda, "Looking at Hollywood," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 10, 1946, p. 11.
  • Johnson, Erskine, "In Hollywood," Visalia CA Times-Delta, June 14, 1946, p. 10.
  • Lyons, Leonard, "Broadway Medley," San Mateo CA Times, Dec. 19, 1946, p. 12.
  • Lyons, Leonard, "The Lyons den," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 22, 1946, p. Mag. 5.
  • Parsons, Louella O., "Deborah Kerr and Gable cast in another picture," San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 23, 1946, p. 9.
  • Thomas, Bob, "Las Vegas is called new Barbary Coast," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 30, 1946, p. 6.

23 December 2019

Calamia caught, called killing conspirator

Despite D.A. claims, DeJohn murder remains unsolved

On this date in 1948...

San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948.
A fugitive, indicted for conspiring in the May 1947 San Francisco gangland murder of Nick DeJohn, was captured in New Mexico on December 23, 1948.

The FBI and Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies arrested Leonard Calamia, aged thirty-two, on a federal warrant. Acting on a tip received from San Francisco, authorities sought Calamia at his new place of employment, the driver's license department of the New Mexico State Revenue Bureau in Albuquerque, but he was not there. They found him next door in the State Highway Department building adjoining the offices of the New Mexico State Police. They learned that Calamia, under the assumed name of Len Tallone, had held two government jobs in the year and a half he lived in New Mexico.

Calamia admitted his identity and his criminal history - he was an ex-convict, former narcotics peddler and Chicago hoodlum. Police determined that Calamia returned to Chicago briefly after the DeJohn murder and then relocated to Albuquerque, adopting his wife's maiden name of Tallone as his own surname.

He was placed in the Bernalillo County sheriff's office lockup. Bail was set at $50,000. Calamia waived a removal hearing and was turned over to San Francisco police on December 29.

Nick DeJohn
The plot against DeJohn

Calamia was one of five men indicted one month earlier for conspiring in the DeJohn murder. Two of his codefendants, Sicilian immigrants Sebastiano Nani and Michele Abati, were arrested in November. Two others, Frank Scappatura and Tony Lima, remained at large. (There were rumors that Lima was prepared to surrender to authorities at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but that did not occur. Scappatura and Lima were never arrested in connection with this case.)

According to prosecutors, Nick DeJohn, a former member of the Capone Outfit in Chicago, had been trying to take over underworld rackets in the San Francisco area and was killed by rivals. DeJohn's body was found stuffed into the trunk of his Chrysler Town & Country convertible on May 9, 1947. Evidence indicated he had been strangled to death two days earlier.

Prosecutors believed that Calamia, known to be a close friend of DeJohn, was called upon to serve as the "finger man" in the murder, leading DeJohn to his killers. Calamia reportedly spent much of May 7, 1947, with DeJohn. The Calamia and DeJohn families had dinner together at the Calamia residence. Leonard Calamia and Nick DeJohn went out for drinks to the Poodle Dog restaurant and bar at 1125 Polk Street and then to LaRocca's Corner at 957 Columbus Avenue in the North Beach section. They parted at LaRocca's Corner. DeJohn was last seen alive as he was walking from the tavern.

Reports, later disputed, claimed that at the time of DeJohn's murder, Calamia was home having coffee and cake with DeJohn's son.

Calamia had been arrested almost immediately after the discovery of DeJohn's body. But he had been released May 31, 1947, due to insufficient evidence.

Authorities insisted for some time that the DeJohn murder was essentially solved. They claimed to know where DeJohn was killed, why he was killed and who was responsible. But assembling a convincing case proved to be a problem.

Trial

Prosecutors thought they had a winning case when Calamia, Nani and Abati were brought to trial. But they found that some of their important witnesses were unreliable and could not withstand cross examination.

Leonard Calamia
As jury deliberations started in early March 1949, the district attorney admitted that he did not believe the testimony of some of his own witnesses. Judge Preston Devine denounced witnesses from both sides for giving obviously false testimony.

After thirty hours of deliberations, the jury stood deadlocked and Judge Devine declared a mistrial.

No retrial

The most inconsistent prosecution witness also was the key witness in the grand jury proceedings that resulted in the original indictments.

Mrs. Anita Rocchia Venza claimed that she had overheard the five men plotting to kill DeJohn. She was in a basement apartment near La Rocca's Corner at the time and heard the conversation from an adjoining room. She claimed that the plotters learned of her presence and offered her $500 to forget what she heard and leave the state.

When her statements were determined to be unreliable, the original indictments were quashed, any chance of a retrial was lost and the fugitive warrants against the two at-large defendants, Scappatura and Lima, were voided.

The murder of Nick DeJohn remained officially unsolved.

See also:
Valin, Edmond, "Former San Francisco boss supplied info to federal agents," Rat Trap, mafiahistory.us.

Sources:
  • "Calamia arraigned here with two other suspects in De John slaying," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 1, 1949, p. 5.
  • "Calamia ask high court for freedom," San Mateo Times, Jan. 20, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Calamia faces further quiz," San Francisco Examiner, June 1, 1947, p. 3.
  • "Calamia loses plea," San Mateo Times, Jan. 21, 1949, p. 5.
  • "Calamia silent in S.F. prison," San Mateo Times, Dec. 31, 1948, p. 4.
  • "DeJohn case jury dismissed; stood 7 to 5 for acquittal," San Francisco Examiner, March 9, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Delay asked in trial of Nani," San Mateo Times, Dec. 28, 1948, p. 5.
  • "Delay granted in DeJohn trial," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 30, 1948, p. 17.
  • "FBI nabs Calamia, accused as 'finger man' in DeJohn case," San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Five indicted for De John murder; woman testifies that she overheard plot," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 30, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Hunt pushed for trio in DeJohn case," San Mateo Times, Dec. 1, 1948.
  • "New evidence in Nick DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 2, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Police hunt 4 suspects in De John case," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 24, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Police move to wind up De John case as 'solved,'" Oakland Tribune, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 7.
  • "S.M. man held brains of Nick DeJohn murder," San Mateo Times, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 1.
  • "State to use Calamia story to police at gangland trial," San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 7, 1949, p. 17.
  • "Third DeJohn fugitive caught," San Mateo Times, Dec. 23, 1948, p. 1.
  • "U.S. warrants issued for 2 in DeJohn hunt," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 23, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Warrants voided in DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 20, 1949, p. 5.
  • Pearce, Dick, "Calamia dislosures key to De John trial," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 29, 1949, p. 1.

22 December 2019

Jury convicts six Outfit leaders, associate

Found guilty of extorting money from movie executives

On this date in 1943...


Six members of the Chicago Outfit and one associate were convicted December 22, 1943, of conspiring to extort more than a million dollars from the movie industry.

Concluding ten hours of deliberations, a federal jury in New York City returned guilty verdicts against Chicago racketeers Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (Felice DeLucia), Johnny Rosselli (Filippo Sacco), Philip D'Andrea, Charles Gioe and Francis Maritote, and Newark, New Jersey, union business agent Louis Kaufman. Judge John Bright scheduled a sentencing hearing for December 30.

The trial, which began October 5, established that the defendants were behind the extortion activities of Willie Bioff and George Browne. Bioff and Browne, convicted in 1941 of using their influence over the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) to force payments from movie studios, were prosecution witnesses in the 1943 case. (Bioff's betrayal of the Outfit apparently resulted in his car-bombing murder in 1955.) The witness list also included Hollywood executives.

Nine men were originally indicted in March 1943, including Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti and Ralph Pierce. Nitti, the Outfit leader believed to have been Bioff's strongest supporter, committed suicide upon learning of the indictments. Nitti is believed to have given assurances to other underworld bosses when they feared Bioff would betray them. Pierce was acquitted during the trial due to insufficient evidence against him.

On December 30, Judge Bright sentenced Campagna, DeLucia, Rosselli, D'Andrea, Gioe and Maritote to ten years in prison and sentenced Kaufman to seven years in prison. He fined each of the defendants $10,000.

See also:

18 December 2019

Gunman in green car decimates Matrangas

On this date in 1917...

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20, 1917.
A southern California underworld feud and the continued effectiveness of a traveling gunman in a green car resulted in the December 18, 1917, death of a leading figure in the Matranga Mafia faction.

That evening, fruit merchant Pietro Matranga was walking on Eastlake Avenue, heading to his home at 1520 Biggy Street in the northern portion of Los Angeles's Boyle Heights neighborhood (since taken over by county office and court buildings and USC science and medical facilities), when a large, green automobile with a black convertible top pulled up behind him, near the intersection of Eastlake Avenue and Henry Street.

Witnesses said only one man, the driver, was visible in the automobile at that time. Matranga went to the car and conversed with the driver for several minutes. The meeting seemed friendly. Matranga adopted a leisurely posture, placing a foot on the vehicle's runningboard. When the conversation was over, Matranga turned from the car and continued on his way home.

He had taken just a few steps, when a second man, previously concealed, rose up in the back seat of the auto, pointed a shotgun at Matranga's back and fired twice. Matranga had already fallen to the ground, mortally wounded, as the second shot was fired. Slugs from that discharge tore through two fences and shattered a window at 808 Eastlake Avenue. The green vehicle then sped away, turning down Biggy Street toward downtown Los Angeles.

A resident of Biggy Street watched as a green, six-cylinder automobile roared by. The witness later told police there were two men in the car, a driver and a passenger in the rear seat.


Eastlake Avenue and Henry Street
Matranga, hit in the back and shoulders by ten slugs, remained alive for a short time. He was taken to County Hospital and questioned by police. Authorities were convinced that he knew who shot him, but he would not divulge the name. Before he succumbed to his wounds, Matranga was visited by a cousin. Detectives guessed that the cousin obtained the name of the killer and would be seeking revenge.

The Matranga name was known around the city and particularly well known in the northeastern section around Lincoln Park, where a number of Matrangas and their relatives lived, worked and engaged in criminal enterprises.

Family members had recently been targeted by gunmen of a rival underworld faction. Six weeks earlier, on November 5, Pietro Matranga's brother (or cousin) Rosario "Sam" Matranga was murdered. He returned home, 1837 Darwin Avenue, at an early morning hour, and was driving his automobile toward the garage behind his residence, when he was hit in the back by a load of buckshot fired at close range. According to one press account, the blast nearly took his head off his body. His wife found him dead behind the wheel of his still running vehicle. A year before that, Matranga cousin Tony Pariese was shot in the back by a gunman firing from the rear seat of a large green automobile.

Authorities speculated that the Matrangas were targeted because they had provided information to police on the activities of their underworld foes, a violation of the Mafia's code of silence. It was said that Pariese gave information about a Mafia enforcer named Mike Marino. Police said Marino was working for Mafia interests back East. Pariese's murder occurred one month after he talked with detectives. Rosario Matranga reportedly gave police information about Pariese's killers just days before he became the next murder victim. (One source reported that Rosario informed on a group of arsonists back in 1914-1915, causing three men to be sentenced to prison terms.) Pietro Matranga, a former Black Hand extortion racketeer, supposedly provided information on extortion rackets to police just before he was eliminated by the gunman in the green car.

Police attempted to locate Mike Marino, hoping to charge him with the killings of both Matrangas and Pariese. They said Marino also was wanted in New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego and other cities in connection with other gangland murders.

About a year later, authorities learned that the Matrangas had been engaged in a violent feud with a Mafia faction led by Joseph Ardizzone. That became apparent when one Tony Matranga, sixty-five years of age, was accused of taking shots at Ardizzone's brother Stefano with a high-powered rifle in an effort to avenge the earlier killings.

Sources:
  • "International gunman sought in Mafia case," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20, 1917, p. II-1.
  • "Last Matranga arrested," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1918, p. II-1.
  • "Mafia gunman being sought," Long Beach CA Daily Telegram, Dec. 20, 1917, p. 6.
  • "Murdered by Black Hand?" Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1917, p. II-1.
  • "Police seeking Mafia as alleged slayers," Los Angeles Evening Express, Nov. 5, 1917, p. 1.
  • "Second in one family victim of Black Hand," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 1917, p. II-1.
  • "Slayer suspects silent," Los Angeles Evening Express, Nov. 6, 1917, p. 10.
  • "Still hunt gunman," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 21, 1917, p. II-2.
  • "Unknown thug kills Los Angeles Italian," Long Beach CA Press, Nov. 5, 1917, p. 4.
  • California Death Index, 1905-1929, State of California Department of Public Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics and Data Processing, p. 6903.

12 December 2019

Exit of Hoffa foe, 'Tony Pro' Provenzano

On this date in 1988...

Courier-Post, Dec. 13, 1988

Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, a longtime New Jersey labor racketeer and suspect in the 1975 disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, died December 12, 1988, while in federal custody in California.

Provenzano was moved from the Federal Correctional Institution at Lompoc, California, to Lompoc District Hospital for treatment of congestive heart failure. He died at the hospital following a heart attack. His remains were transported back to his family in New Jersey for burial.

Breaking with its own recent policy, the Roman Catholic Church permitted a Funeral Mass for the longtime crime figure. A church official explained that Provenzano requested Catholic Last Rites while he was in the hospital, made his Confession and obtained Absolution at that time. Those actions, the official argued, restored him as a member of the church.

At the Provenzano family's request, Father George Rutler was brought in from Manhattan to celebrate the mid-morning December 27 Mass at St. Andrew's Church in Clifton, New Jersey. Less than a mile from Provenzano's longtime home, 47 Lockwood Place in Clifton, St. Andrew's had also been the site of Provenzano's 1961 Catholic wedding ceremony with second-wife Marie-Paul Migneron (they were officially married earlier in a civil ceremony). Father Rutler's funeral homily focused on religious themes and did not discuss the details of Provenzano's life.

"May God give him merciful judgment and forgive all his sins," the priest said. "May he gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven and be happy forever in the presence of the eternal king."

The service was attended by less than one hundred people. Provenzano's widow was conspicuous in the small crowd. She wore a fur coat, walked stiffly and was supported between two men as she entered the church. Provenzano's first-wife, Eunice Butts Provenzano, was not noted at the service.

After a one-hour Mass, Provenzano's bronze-colored casket was loaded into a hearse, which led a procession of black limousines on a dozen-mile journey to Saint Joseph Cemetery in Hackensack. The casket was placed at the family burial plot, where Provenzano's Sicilian immigrant parents had been interred. Just before noon, after the last of the mourners had left, the casket was lowered into the ground.

Early life

Provenzano was born May 24, 1917, in New York City, to Rosario, a subway construction laborer, and Giuseppa Dispenza Provenzano. The family home was located at 27-29 Monroe Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Tony Pro attended Public School 114 but did not finish grade school. At age fifteen, he went to work as a driver's helper. He became a truck driver at age eighteen.

About five years later, he moved from Manhattan to Valley Stream, Nassau County, Long Island. He soon married Eunice Butts. During the 1940s, the Anthony Provenzano family grew to include two children - years later, Eunice told authorities that these were children of her cousin and were informally adopted by her and her husband. The family relocated to Huntington Station, Suffolk County, in 1945.

Anthony separated from Eunice about 1950, moving to 70 Catalpa Avenue in Hackensack, New Jersey. She filed for divorce in April 1961, charging desertion, and was awarded a final divorce decree at the end of May. The divorce seemed timed to permit Provenzano's second marriage. The FBI noted that a couple who testified for Eunice in the May 1961 divorce seemed to be the same people who witnessed Tony Pro's application for a marriage license in June 1961.

Records indicate that Provenzano was living with Marie-Paule Migneron in a seven-room home on Clifton's Lockwood Place for several years before their marriage.

He began working as a full-time organizer for Local 560, based in Union City, New Jersey. Around 1956-1957, he began living with Marie-Paule Migneron at 47 Lockwood Place, a seven-room house, in Clifton, New Jersey.

Labor racketeer

Provenzano
A soldier in the Genovese Crime Family and pal of Jimmy Hoffa, Tony Pro began working as a full-time organizer for Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey, about 1950. During that decade, he gained control of the powerful local. He became its president in 1958, following the resignation of William Madison for "reasons of health."

His rise to the position of local president was quickly followed by an arrest for bribery and increase scrutiny from law enforcement. In 1959, he was called to testify before the U.S. Senate's McClellan Committee and pleaded the Fifth Amendment forty-four times. He was indicted in 1961 for taking a $5,000 bribe from a Hoboken trucking company to ensure labor peace. The cases against him were unsuccessful.

Though repeatedly charged with criminal offenses related to his union role, including bribery, extortion and the murder of a rival, he continued to win reelection and to gain power over time. At a Teamsters convention at Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1960, Hoffa named Provenzano as one of 13 vice presidents of the Teamsters International. Provenzano also became leader of regional Teamster Council 73. He was widely considered the second most powerful leader of the Teamsters.

Provenzano was convicted June 11, 1963, of extortion. He was sentenced the following month to seven years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He remained free during his legal appeals, which continued to May 1966. He entered the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on May 6.

The conviction legally barred Provenzano from participating in union business for the length of his sentence plus five years. But, during that time, his brother Salvatore became president of Local 560 and Council 73, and his brother Nunzio became secretary-treasurer of Local 560, allowing Tony Pro to maintain control over the region's Teamsters.

Falling out with Hoffa

Hoffa
Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa was incarcerated at Lewisburg beginning in 1967, following his unsuccessful appeals of 1964 convictions for jury tampering and fraud. While Hoffa and Provenzano were both at that institution, the old friends had a serious falling out. Some sources say they argued over Provenzano's desire to have Hoffa use influence to secure him a Teamsters pension. One report indicates that the conflict became physical and that Hoffa broke a bottle over Provenzano's head.

Provenzano was paroled from Lewisburg in November 1970. He immediately became close with Frank Fitzsimmons, who Hoffa had selected to succeed him as Teamsters International president. Fitzsimmons made Tony Pro's brother Salvatore Provenzano a vice president and general organizer for the International the following year.

At the end of 1971, Hoffa was released from prison through a commutation from President Nixon. The former Teamsters president began to maneuver to regain control of the union. Mending fences with the powerful and well connected Tony Pro was necessary.

When last seen on July 30, 1975, Hoffa was reportedly on his way to a meeting with Provenzano at a restaurant outside of Detroit. Hoffa's wife told authorities that she was aware of threats made by Provenzano against her husband and against their grandchildren.

The investigation of Hoffa's disappearance focused on Provenzano and his aides within Local 560. An informant indicated that Salvatore and Gabriel Briguglio and Thomas and Stephen Andretta, all connected to Local 560, knew what happened to Hoffa. A grand jury in Detroit was unable to resolve the matter.

End of the road

In December of 1975, the five-year ban on Provenzano union activity ended. Salvatore Provenzano resigned as Local 560 president. Nunzio Provenzano moved from secretary-treasurer to president and immediately appointed Tony Pro as the new secretary-treasurer.

Almost immediately, Tony Pro was indicted for conspiring to arrange a financial kickback from a Teamsters pension fund loan. About half a year later, he was charged, along with Salvatore Briguglio and others, with conspiring in the 1961 kidnapping and murder of union rival Anthony "Three-Finger" Castellito. Castellito had been a leader of a dissident faction within the Teamsters local. He vanished on July 5, 1961. Investigators with an Organized Crime Task Force later learned that Castellito had been severely beaten by Provenzano underlings and garroted to death.

Provenzano's career was quickly coming to a close. Two cases for racketeering conspiracy went against him in 1978 and 1979. The first, tried in New York's Southern District, resulted in four-year prison sentence. The second, tried in Newark, New Jersey, federal court, resulted in a twenty-year sentence.

Tony Pro managed to remain free during his legal appeals until late in 1980. His prison terms and the final stage of his life began on November 18, 1980.

Sources:

  • "Anthony Provenzano," Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 100-12-5957, birth May 23, 1917, death December 1988.
  • "Anthony Provenzano, mobster, suspect in Hoffa disappearance," Camden NJ Courier-Post, Dec. 13, 1988, p. 18.
  • "Anthony Provenzano, New Jersey crime figure," Morristown NJ Daily Record, Dec. 13, 1988, p. 13.
  • "Tony Pro's name appears on tape," Passaic NJ Herald-News, Jan. 7, 1970, p. 2.
  • California Death Index, 100-12-9557, death Dec. 12, 1988.
  • Donnelly, Frank H., "Anthony Provenzano aka Tony Pro," FBI Report, file no. 92-7195-2, NARA no. 124-10221-10186, Dec. 20, 1963.
  • Edelman, Susan, "100 attend 'low-keyed' funeral for 'Tony Pro,'" Hackensack NJ Record, Dec. 18, 1988, p. 1.
  • Kelly, Mike, "The legacy of Tony Pro," Hackensack NJ Record, Dec. 13, 1988, p. B1.
  • New York City Birth Index, certificate no. 26086, May 24, 1917.
  • Pienciak, Richard T., "Tony Pro indicted" 'I'm just a truck driver,'" Bridgewater NJ Courier-News, Dec. 11, 1975, p. 1.
  • Social Security Death Index, 100-12-5957, death December 1988.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, New York County, Assembly District 1, Enumeration District 31-22.
  • United States Census of 1940, New York State, New York County, Enumeration District 31-74.
  • Windrem, Robert, "Two sides of 'Tony Pro,'" New Brunswick NJ Home News, June 24, 1976, p. 1.
  • Yost, Pete, "Stephen Andretta faces grand jury in Detroit," Bridgewater NJ Courier-News, Dec. 11, 1975, p. 1.

08 December 2019

Vitale dinner holdup sparks investigations

Incident leads to city magistrate's removal,
mayor's resignation, Tammany Hall's defeat

New York Times
On this date in 1929...
 
Seven gunmen entered a Bronx, New York, testimonial dinner for city Magistrate Albert H. Vitale early in the morning of December 8, 1929, and robbed the guests, including political leaders, well known hoodlums and one off-duty NYPD detective.

The testimonial, begun Saturday night, December 7, was drawing to a close at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, when Vitale rose to make some remarks. At that moment, the seven men, who had quietly entered and positioned themselves at the rear of the second floor banquet room of Roman Gardens, 2401 Southern Boulevard near 187th Street, drew handguns and politely instructed the fifty attendees to turn over their valuables. One of the seven had a handkerchief wrapped around the lower half of his face. The others were not masked. Some accounts indicated that the partly masked gunman was the leader of the group. Working at a leisurely pace, they gathered several thousand dollars' worth of cash and jewelry and departed the restaurant at one o'clock.

Vitale
Little is known of what occurred at the restaurant immediately after the robbery. The incident was not officially reported to police until about 2 a.m. The delay in reporting raised numerous questions and eventually cost Detective Johnson his job.

Hours later, the service revolver taken by the robbers from Johnson was returned through Vitale at Vitale's office in the Tepecano Democratic Club, 187th Street, in the Bronx. Published reports indicated that much of the rest of the loot taken in the robbery also was returned. Rumors suggested that the influence of organized criminals, in league with Vitale, forced the robbers to send back the stolen items.

The robbery occurred just a month and a half after the Black Tuesday stock market collapse, when the U.S. was beginning to sink into the Great Depression and Americans were beginning to blame rampant lawlessness and official corruption for their economic woes.

After the robbery and related oddities were reported in the press, investigations were launched into Vitale's associations with crime figures. Special attention was given to the testimonial dinner and to reports that underworld boss Ciro Terranova and several of his men were in attendance. The situation also sparked a New York State Senate investigation (known as the Hofstadter Committee and as the Seabury Investigation) into corruption within the Tammany Hall-aligned administration of Mayor James Walker.

Suggestions of Vitale wrongdoing in connection with that event were unproven. Vitale's explanations for the presence of gangsters in the Roman Gardens restaurant hosting his dinner and for the return of the service revolver were accepted as plausible. But other examples of faulty judgment came to light.

Roman Gardens
The Bar Association found that Magistrate Vitale had acted improperly in accepting a large 1928 loan from underworld financier Arnold Rothstein (a charge first leveled by mayoral candidate Fiorello La Guardia late in his unsuccessful 1929 campaign) and in discharging a thief represented by a Rothstein-retained attorney. It recommended Vitale's removal from the bench.

In March 1930, the five justices of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division agreed that the Rothstein loan brought "the court into public disrepute and suspicion." The justices made Vitale an ex-magistrate but stopped short of disbarring him.

Vitale returned to a private law practice, while investigations led to the removal of a number of corrupt officials, to a reform of the city courts and to an end of Tammany Hall's domination of city government. Mayor Walker resigned in late summer 1932. He was immediately succeeded by Tammany nominee John P. O'Brien. After a year, La Guardia and a reform administration was brought in through the 1933 municipal election.

02 December 2019

KC's Gurera gave info to federal agents

In his latest contribution to the Mafiahistory.us website's "Rat Trap" section, researcher Edmond Valin identifies Mafioso Joseph Gurera as the confidential FBI informant referred to in government reports as "KC-586."

Read:

Joseph Gurera
Gurera possessed a great deal of information on the Kansas City and Milwaukee crime families, as he was well connected to leaders in both organizations. Coming of age within the rackets of Kansas City, there is evidence that Gurera was involved in the 1950 murders of underworld-political leaders Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta.

When Milwaukee boss Frank Balistrieri sought new revenue streams for his organization, he brought in Gurera to help shake down operators of illicit enterprises in southeastern Wisconsin. While Gurera's activities generated income, they also brought a lot of "heat" on Balistrieri's crime family. The boss soon ordered Gurera to return to the Kansas City area.

The FBI became aware of goings-on in both criminal organizations through data revealed by informant KC-586. Comparing evidence found in FBI documents with the details of Gurera's life, Valin proves that Gurera served as an informant over a period of a few months before he died of a heart attack in 1967.