Showing posts with label May 21. Show all posts
Showing posts with label May 21. Show all posts

21 May 2022

Agents arrest woman counterfeiter in 1902

'Pretty Italian woman' was 'genius'
of Mafia-linked phony coin ring


On this date in 1902...

Paterson NJ Morning Call
U.S. Secret Service agents on Wednesday evening, May 21, 1902, arrested Stella Franto (also often written "Frauto" and occasionally "Fraute") and her teenage son Antonio at their Manhattan apartment, 949 First Avenue. Agents regarded Franto as leader of a determined gang of Mafia-linked Sicilian coin counterfeiters operating in New York, New Jersey and Canada.

Salvatore and Maddalena Clemente, husband and wife, also were arrested in the apartment, and agents led by William Flynn seized a quantity of phony 10-cent and 25-cent coins. Early Thursday morning, the Secret Service agents arrested Giuseppe Romano and Vito Cascio Ferro at Romano's barbershop, 969 First Avenue. (They did not realize it at the time, but Cascio Ferro was a visiting Sicilian Mafia leader and an organizer of left-wing radicals.) The accused counterfeiters, all Sicilian immigrants, were locked up in Ludlow Street Jail until they could be processed on Thursday.

The arrests followed a raid by Flynn's men on a cottage at Pyatt Place (possibly Dyatt Place) and Hackensack Avenue in the Little Italy section of Hackensack, New Jersey. The cottage was being used as a counterfeiting plant and was found to contain tools, molds, machinery and counterfeit coins valued at several hundred dollars.

Franto and her son were arraigned May 22 before United States Commissioner John A. Shields in Manhattan's Federal Building. The commissioner had the two held in $5,000 bail each for further examination. The other four suspects were taken before Commissioner Linsley Rowe in Jersey City, New Jersey, who held them under bond for examination.

As the story of the arrests hit the New York press, Agent Flynn commented that Franto was one of the most persistent counterfeiters in the country and one of the cleverest passers of bad money. He noted that Franto had been arrested and convicted of counterfeiting in 1895, arrested but not convicted in 1898 and watched and warned by the Secret Service several times after that.

While Flynn did not discuss the oddity of a Sicilian gang apparently under the command of a woman, the New York Press newspaper made it a point to describe Franto as "matronly looking."

Stella Franto's background


New York Sun
Stella Franto was thirty-six at the time of her 1902 arrest. Born in Palermo, Sicily, in March 1866, she reached the U.S., along with four children, in 1892. (Her fifth child was later born in the U.S.) She and her husband Salvatore soon joined the Clementes in a closely knit counterfeiting operation.

Their little ring began circulating phony dimes and quarters around January of 1895. Stella Franto was the primary passer of the counterfeit, brazenly using them in Manhattan shops for a month. The Secret Service caught up with her and walked in on an active counterfeiting operation in a top floor apartment at 307 East Seventieth Street. The suspects in that case included Franto's husband Salvatore and son Benjamin, as well as both Clementes and several others. In April 1895, Stella Franto, Salvatore Franto, Salvatore Clemente and several codefendants were convicted of counterfeiting offenses. Stella Franto was sentenced to two years in Erie County Penitentiary in Buffalo, New York. Other defendants, including Clemente and Salvatore Franto were sentenced to eight years.

Salvatore Franto had become seriously ill and a physician estimated he had just three months to live. The physician's estimate was off by a couple of months. Salvatore Franto died in Erie County Penitentiary on May 29, 1895.

Stella Franto was back on the streets and back to work counterfeiting coins in the spring of 1898. She and an accomplice referred to as Antonio Franko (possibly son Antonio Franto) were arrested by the Secret Service for passing phony coins. In this case, the government could not make the charges stick.

The 1902 case

The Secret Service had better luck with the 1902 case against Stella Franto. On June 27, U.S. Judge Thomas sentenced Franto to three years and six months in Auburn Prison. Franto, thirty-six, entered the prison the following day. The prison admission register recorded that she stood just five-foot-one, weighed 126 pounds and previously worked as a housekeeper.

New York Tribune

Some of the names of defendants in the 1902 counterfeiting case are difficult to track, but it appears little effort was made to prosecute either Antonio Franto or Vito Cascio Ferro. Cascio Ferro would linger in New York City until police began arresting suspects connected to the April 1903 Barrel Murder. Cascio Ferro was believed to be involved in that killing, but he could not be located. Months later, it was learned that he escaped to New Orleans and then crossed the Atlantic back to his native Sicily.

A great deal more attention was paid to Salvatore Clemente and one Andrea Romano (possibly the same as the Giuseppe Romano mentioned in the initial arrests), who fled before they could be brought to trial. Clemente traveled north across the border into Canada but was captured by police in Toronto and was tried for circulating counterfeit in that country. He was convicted and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. Law enforcement finally caught up with Romano in Niagara Falls, New York, in November 1902.

As Romano was returned to New York City for his trial, the press reflected on the history of the Franto organization that had just been dismantled: "A dozen years ago the Secret Service agents discovered the existence of the Frauto band. A pretty Italian woman of twenty appeared to be its genius." (She could not have been younger than twenty-six when the Secret Service first became aware of her.)

Later


Stella Franto was released from Auburn on February 27, 1905, and apparently began a less adversarial relationship with the U.S. Secret Service. March 10, 1910, Secret Service records indicate that she contacted the New York office and noted that her former accomplice Clemente would soon receive an early release from prison in Canada. She said she did not know Clemente's plans but promised, "if he started to make cft. coin she would advise this office of same."

(Within a short time, Clemente reportedly became a law enforcement informant, providing details of activities within a New York Mafia organization led by Giuseppe Morello, recently imprisoned for counterfeiting paper currency.)

Franto for decades lived with her children in Manhattan. In 1910, they resided at 406 West Eighteenth Street. In the mid-1910s, they moved a short distance away to 209 Tenth Avenue. That remained their home through the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, when sixty-four-year-old (the census recorded her age as sixty) Stella Franto made what seems to be her final appearance in government records.

Sources:

  • "A woman caused their arrest," New York Sun, Feb. 19, 1895, p. 4.
  • "Alleged counterfeiters caught," New York Times, April 14, 1898, p. 9.
  • "Bad coins made in Hackensack," Paterson NJ Morning Call, May 23, 1902, p. 11.
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