What is the connection between the Stonewall riots and organized crime?
On Wednesday, 2 May at 7 pm, I’ll be delivering a presentation at Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts. My subject is the little known history of the Mafia’s involvement in the LGBT community in New York City, and how this culminated in the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, in 1969, where a new and powerful wave of LGBT activism was unleashed. Northampton’s own Pride Parade, which happens this year on the Saturday after my talk, has its roots, like all similar pride events worldwide, in the Stonewall riots.
This lecture is suitable for teens and adults. (I mention, but do not discuss, charged subjects including prostitution, drug use, and violence.) Admission is free.
Last summer, Mayor Domenic Sarno proclaimed June 2017 Immigrant Heritage Month in Springfield, Massachusetts. To kick off the event, Sarno was quoted on the city’s Facebook page:
“I’m a first generation Italian/American. My parents, Alfonso and Clara Sarno are Italian immigrants, who as children survived underground in Italy during the Nazi occupation of World War II. My dad, a barber, and my mom, a seamstress, legally immigrated to Springfield and became American citizens. They opened their own businesses. They made sure to make myself, my sister Giovanna and brother Alfonso Jr. proud to be American, but they never let our family lose touch of our Italian roots and foundation of family – “a familia,” [sic] – faith, education, traditions and of course our food. I continue to instill these values in my own family with my wife Carla and daughters Cassandra and Chiara.”
Although Mayor Sarno calls himself a first generation Italian-slash-American, the truth is more complicated. The mayor’s paternal great-grandparents lived in West Springfield as early as 1906. While they lived here, their son, Domenico, was born.
They returned to Italy sometime before 1920, taking their young family with them.
That year, Prohibition began in the United States, as did a period of ascendance for American fascism. The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 put a quota on Italian and other non-WASP immigrants, greatly reducing their numbers. The war in Europe slowed Italian immigration to the US to a trickle.
In the decades after WWII’s end, many families from Italy immigrated and settled in Springfield, including a young Al Bruno. The Sarno family moved back to Springfield in 1948. Domenico Sarno, who was born here in 1910, returned with his wife and their children, all of whom were born in Italy and yet, American citizens through Domenico’s status. Their son, Alfonso Sarno, the popular barber shop owner and father of the mayor, was twelve years old.
Today, Mayor Sarno uses his office to harass and intimidate South Congregational Church and the families they shelter from federal immigration. Advocates for refugee families criticize Sarno as “publicly inhospitable” to new immigrants. The mayor plays the respectability card when immigration comes up, such as when Trump called Haiti and African countries “shithole countries,” and Sarno pointed out that Dr. Harry Dumay, the president of Elms College, in Chicopee, where his oldest daughter is a student, is a native of Haiti. Sarno is quoted saying “No one is against legal immigration aspects, especially those who have played by the rules.” But he criticizes the legal activities of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, a resettlement agency, describing them as “using” Springfield as a ‘designated resettlement site.’
Springfield may not be a proclaimed sanctuary city, but that doesn’t mean Mayor Sarno can’t make different choices, ones that are more honest and less wasteful. He could prevent local law enforcement resources being diverted to assist a federal agency, refrain from launching a targeted investigation into one church’s status, and tell his family’s whole immigration story, not a version that make his political points.
Sarno’s personal and political base is an immigrant community that maintains close ties to its ancestral home, language, religion, and culture. He has many relatives on both sides of his family who have made Springfield their home. Not everyone who has sought refuge on these shores—from poverty, conscription, corruption, and war, as many southern Italians have—has been as lucky. Mayor Domenic Sarno, the son of immigrants, had the good fortune to be born the grandson of a native-born American citizen.
The Mayor did not respond to my requests for an interview.
Benedetto Madonia was killed for defending his brother-in-law from Giuseppe Morello. While he is known forever as the victim of “the Barrel Murder,” the story of what happened after his death is rarely told.
Benedetto Salvatore Madonia was born in Lercara Friddi, as were his parents, his wife and her parents, and all three of his children. (Lercara is also the hometown of a more famous mafioso, Salvatore Lucania, known as Charlie “Lucky” Luciano.) Benedetto married for the first time in 1891, when he was thirty years old, to Lucia di Primo. Lucia was a widow and her marriage record calls her a “civile,” which indicates she was from the upper class.
Madonia, on the other hand, was a sulfur miner, the lowest class of workers, who worked in often brutal conditions. A word that is synonymous with the sulfur miners of Lercara Friddi is “caruso,” which literally translates as “boy,” because young boys were sold by their destitute families to the owners of these mines, nearly always for life.
Benedetto’s family situation was not so dire. In 1900, Madonia immigrated, joining a brother in New York City. Two years later, his wife and three children, plus two older children from Lucia’s first marriage, joined him in Buffalo, New York, more than 300 miles from Manhattan, on the coast of Lake Erie. The Madonia family told their doubtful neighbors that Benedetto was a stonemason. In fact, the recent immigrant was already a high ranking member of Giuseppe Morello’s counterfeiting gang.
Madonia’s brother-in-law was also in Morello’s gang. Lucia’s brother, Giuseppe di Primo, had been in New York since 1891. His position was as a “queer pusher,” the low ranking men in the counterfeiting organization who circulated Morello’s bad bills. Di Primo also owned a grocery store, and was married with four children.
When Morello’s queer pushers were arrested passing the gang’s money in Pittsburgh, Madonia was sent to intervene, leading him to argue with Morello over the leader’s apparent lack of concern for his men. When their pushers were arrested again, this time in Yonkers, Giuseppe di Primo was one of the men who went to prison. Although he didn’t talk, his associate, Isadore Crocevera, may have fallen for the detective’s ploy, and told Morello that Di Primo talked to the police. In this version of events, Morello killed Madonia to send a message to Di Primo. But Madonia and Morello had their own quarrel, which was now coming to a head.
Madonia sent money to New York City for his brother-in-law’s defense, but Morello pocketed the cash—a thousand dollars, a great sum in 1903—and did nothing for the imprisoned man. So the weekend of Easter, Benedetto Madonia left Buffalo and went to New York. He told Morello he was coming, and demanded the return of his money. Madonia must have felt quite confident to talk to Morello this way, and not to sense the danger that lie waiting for him in New York.
When he got to the city, Benedetto went first to Sing Sing, to see his wife’s brother, Giuseppe. The next time the imprisoned man saw his brother-in-law, it was in a photograph, brought by a detective, so Di Primo could identify the man whose body had been discovered in an old sugar barrel, on East Eleventh Street, in the East Village.
There was a trial. Madonia’s oldest stepchild, Salvatore Sagliabene, identified a pawned watch as his stepfather’s. The pawn ticket was found in the possession of Tommaso Petto, a criminal associate of Morello’s who was called “the Ox.” Twelve men were arrested, but none were convicted of Madonia’s murder. Di Primo, once the criminal accomplice of the defendants, swore he would avenge his brother-in-law’s death.
The Ox, whose real name was Luciano Perino, was the first to be killed. He’d gone into hiding in a mining town in Pennsylvania, and was shot to death in October 1906. The next month, Girolamo Mondini was lured to an East Harlem address with a letter, and shot in the street. A year later, at Christmas, another of the gangsters, Nicola Nera, was killed in Palermo. Vito Laduca, Morello’s most prominent lieutenant at the time of Madonia’s killing, met his end in Carini a few months later.
It’s not certain that Di Primo was in Sicily when Nera and Laduca were killed, though the timing of his children’s births—John in February 1906, in Pennsylvania, and Mary, in May 1908 in New York—allows for the possibility. Just four months after Mary’s birth, Giuseppe was deported. His parting words to the officers who put him on a ship back to Lercara, were a warning that if Petrosino or his men came to Italy, they would not return. The following March, New York police detective Joseph Petrosino was shot to death in Palermo.
The story of Di Primo’s revenge killings appears in an uncredited 1909 story called “‘Getting’ Them One By One,” published in newspapers across the country. According to this article, of eight men suspected of involvement in Madonia’s murder, six were killed, the last being Giuseppe Farano, in Brooklyn, in 1913. Two men survived Di Primo’s vengeance, Vito Loboido and Ignazio Lupo.
The problem with the story, aside from being unable to confirm any of these reported deaths in vital records, is that the names of those arrested and the shorter list Di Primo was “getting” only partially overlap. The Schuylerville Standard reported on 13 April 1903 that nine men were arrested in connection with Madonia’s murder:
Joseph Fanaro, 24 (b. 1879), married, merchant
Antonio Genova, 38 (b. 1865), single, importer, aka Messina Genova
Three days later, The New York World reported twelve men being arrested, splashing their photos across the front page, and adding Testa, Lalamia, and Vito Lodma to the list. David Critchley reports their full names in The Origin of Organized Crime in America. The Christmas victim who the author of “‘Getting’ Them One By One” calls Nicola Nera might be Nicola Testa. “One by One” mentions Vito Loboido, but not his relative, Lorenzo.
When I searched for coverage of Girolamo Mondini’s arrest, I found Thomas Hunt’s timeline which cites the same 1909 article I had found, but in a different newspaper. A similar account of Di Primo’s revenge killings also appears in a 1925 article in the Buffalo Courier.
Months before Madonia’s death in April 1903, Salvatore Clemente, a known Morello counterfeiter, told Secret Service that two of the arrestees, Domenico Pecoraro and Giuseppe Morello, were responsible for the murder of Giuseppe Catania, a Brooklyn grocer whose body was found the previous summer. Pecoraro, the oldest of the men, does not appear in the article about Di Primo’s revenge. Morello, Pecoraro, and a third man, Antonio Genova, are called leaders of the counterfeiting gang by New York papers.
After Madonia’s murder, his family remained in the Buffalo area. Peter Benjamin Madonia, the youngest child of the late Benedetto, worked as an electrician. In 1920, he lived in Buffalo with his older stepbrother, Salvatore Sagliabene, a dry goods dealer, and his wife and children. As for the man who reportedly carried out six murders to avenge his death, in the same year’s census, Madonia’s brother-in-law Giuseppe, called Joseph Di Primo, appears with his wife, Angelina, and five of their children in Niagara, New York, twenty miles from Buffalo. He works as a sweeper in a carbide factory.
See the Wikitree profiles of Benedetto Madonia and his family members and associates, at the above links, for vital records and other sources used in this story.
The drawings of Laduca and Di Primo were published with William J. Flynn’s report for the New York Herald on 30 June 1912: “Lupo the Wolf, Caged, Still Fights the Secret Service.”
Was the Sylvan guard’s murder falsely attributed to the father of detective Flynn’s private stenographer? Correspondence sheds new light on the murder of Giovanni Vella.
In a letter dated 7 February 1911, James V. Ortelero asks for a favor from the superintendent of the federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia: obtain a murder confession from Giuseppe Morello.
According to his letter, Ortolero holds a confidential position in the office of the second deputy commissioner of police, William J. Flynn. But he’s not asking for his boss: the murder for which Ortolero hopes to obtain Morello’s confession is not under American jurisdiction. Neither can the crime be prosecuted by the Italian government, since it has passed the statute of limitations. Ortolero’s request is of a more personal nature, a matter of honor.
Ortolero and Morello are both from Corleone, where a Sylvan guard, Giovanni Vella, was killed in December 1889. If Morello confessed, it could do the imprisoned counterfeiter no harm, but it would be an honorable deed, clearing the name of an innocent man whom Ortolero says was framed for the murder, and is now on his deathbed in prison. The wrongly accused man is Ortolero’s father, Don Francesco Ortoleva.
According to Ortolero, his father was a highly respected man of means who was running for the position of chief of the Sylvan guard, in opposition to Vella. Ortolero describes Vella in the most positive terms, as a brave enemy of the Mafia in Sicily. Despite his excellent qualities, the two men disagreed politically, and argued publicly on a number of occasions. When a more highly placed figure in the Mafia ordered Vella’s murder, Morello and an accomplice carried out the assassination. Through a combination of public corruption and circumstantial evidence, Ortolero claims his father was found guilty and sentenced to prison for the crime. In one letter, Ortolero offers the warden a cash reward for the confession. Although it will not free his dying father from prison, it will clear his name.
James Ortolero was born Vincenzo Ortoleva on 3 November 1880 in Corleone, Sicily. The Americanization of his given name follows a familiar pattern for Sicilian immigrants: “Chenzo,” as he was probably called back home, sounds something like “James” to the English speaker. The modification of his surname is probably not significant. It may have been a deliberate move to obscure his identity from his countrymen, but this seems unlikely to have been effective. He was surely known to Morello and his associates, not only because they came from the same small town and lived in New York City at the same time, but because their families moved in the same circles in Corleone, and most of all, because of his father’s circumstances.
The Ortoleva family were landowners, descended from the Sicilian nobility through Don Francesco. One of his twice-great grandfathers had been a baron, and Francesco’s father was once mayor of Corleone. On his mother’s side, James was closely related to an aristocracy of Mafia families. One of his first cousins, once removed, is Paolino Streva, with whom Giuseppe Morello rustled cattle in the late 1880s. At the time of his death, Vella was investigating precisely this sort of activity.
The Sylvan guard, which Francesco Ortoleva and Giovanni Vella vied to run, were typically on friendly terms with local organized bands of thieves like Streva and Morello, with whom guards negotiated on behalf of the large landowners for whom they worked. Paolino Streva, Francesco Ortoleva, and Giovanni Vella were all from the landowning class.
According to Mike Dash’s account in his book, The First Family, Paolino Streva put Don Francesco Ortoleva up for election against Vella. Ortoleva was, in Streva’s view, a more pleasant and malleable chief than the honest and probing guard, and unseating Vella was preferable to killing him. Francesco was married to Paolino’s cousin, Laura Streva. Through intermediaries, Paolino had friends suggest to his cousin’s husband that he run. The day Ortoleva announced his candidacy, Vella got drunk and went to his apartment, and told his new opponent who was behind his run. The next day, Ortoleva withdrew from the election. That was when Streva told Morello to kill Vella.
James was just nine years old when his father’s political opponent was shot in the street on his way home from work. Morello fled the country three years later, in 1892, and moved to the American South with his family the following year. It’s not known when James Ortolero immigrated, or who may have joined him. James’ brother, Giuseppe, and sister, Emilia, both married in New York City, in 1903 and 1905, respectively. James married a woman from New Jersey, the former Eliza Mary Wright, in 1909.
In 1897, William J. Flynn, newly married, and until recently a plumber in Manhattan, embarked upon his government career. His first position was as an agent in the Secret Service. It was through the investigative work of Flynn and his operatives, working in collaboration with New York police detective Joe Petrosino, that Giuseppe Morello and his associates were charged with counterfeiting in New York in 1910. It is widely believed, and was the conviction of Flynn, that Morello was behind the assassination of Petrosino in Sicily in 1909.
Mike Dash’s account of James’ involvement in the United States begins in the summer of 1910, when he says that James went to New York with the hopes of convincing Flynn to help get his mother into the penitentiary in Atlanta, to visit Morello. Laura Streva hoped to extract Morello’s confession, herself, but Flynn suggested that he was not likely to confess to another crime while engaged in an appeal. According to Dash, Flynn liked the young man and offered him a job as his private secretary.
The warden in Atlanta, William H. Moyer, and James Ortolero exchanged several letters early in 1911. By degrees, the secret stenographer—his very position with Flynn was considered sensitive information—revealed his personal stake in Morello’s confession. In his letters, he never mentions any retaliatory murders of witnesses, following Vella’s shooting, though he claims that two women were “terrorized” into silence. Flynn, who would write about these events in his book, The Barrel Mystery, attributes as many as four more murder victims to Morello: Anna di Puma is named as a witness and subsequent victim in multiple accounts; Pietro Milone is identified by Mike Dash as another guard and “honest,” like Vella; and Michele Guarino Zangara is said to have been thrown from a bridge to his death after overhearing a conversation between Bernardo Terranova and his mother. No death records for any of these three, or for any other murders following Vella’s, appear in the Church records for Corleone, in the years between Vella’s murder and the debut of Flynn’s book in 1919.
Through the late winter and early spring of 1911, Ortolero followed up with the warden at intervals, eager for a report on Moyer’s efforts, but the warden’s replies amounted to excuses: in February there was no one he trusted to do the job, and then in March, he told Ortolero there was no qualified Italian interpreter available. In April, the stenographer wrote again to share what he had recently learned from a Secret Service agent (most likely Flynn): that Morello would confess as soon as he heard the result of his pending appeal. Their correspondence ends with a note from the warden’s secretary, acknowledging receipt of Ortolero’s last letter.
Dash tells us that Francesco Ortoleva, having served 21 years of a life sentence, was released from prison late in 1913, though it’s not clear how or why. Francesco appears in a ship manifest early in 1914, where it’s noted that he suffered from senility. He was 65. Don Francesco spent his remaining years in the United States with his family.
Morello’s appeal was denied. He remained in prison until 1920. Following his release, he spent some time in Italy to avoid a hit from a rival in New York. He returned to the city and enjoyed some prosperity during Prohibition, though he never rose to his former heights. He was killed in 1930. There is no evidence he ever confessed to Vella’s murder.
Feature image: William J. Flynn (1867 – 1928), the director of the Bureau of Investigation, by Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1909. Public Domain.
Critchley, David. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. 2008: Routledge.
Dash, Mike. The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. 2011: Simon and Schuster.
Flynn, William James. The Barrel Mystery. 1919: James A. McCann Company.
Thomas Hunt has generously shared with me documents obtained from NARA including the following original correspondence between James V. Ortolero and William M. Moyer, the Warden of the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, GA:
Ortolero, James V. Letter to Superintendent of the Federal Prison in Atlanta GA. 7 February 1911.
—–. Letter to William M. Moyer. “In re Guiseppe Morello, Register #2882.” 15 February 1911.
—–. Letter to William H. Moyer, Esq., Warden, United States Penitentiary, Atlanta, Ga. Dated 23 March 1911, stamped received 25 March 1911.
—–. Letter to William H. Moyer. 17 April 1911.
Warden, United States Penitentiary, Atlanta. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “In re Guiseppe Morello, Register #2882.” 9 February 1911.
—–. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “Desired confession of Guiseppe Morello, #2882.” 18 February 1911.
—–. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “Confession from Morello, register #2882.” 25 March 1911.
—–. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “In re Guiseppe Morello, register #2882.” 19 April 1911.
Mafia genealogy, the blog, is now also on Patreon. What does that mean for you?
More content. In addition to longer articles and essays here on WordPress, I’m going to be making shorter, more frequent posts on Patreon. They will also be free, like this blog.
More media. As well as making short, text and a link type posts on Patreon, I’m going to be making more videos. The introduction video on my Patreon page is my first attempt at video editing, and I’m so excited to be using this medium, you know I’m going to be making more of these. Look for a video next month on Ciro “the Artichoke King” Terranova on my Patreon page. I plan to make short, informative videos that are fun to watch and easy to share.
More engagement. I’m building a network of engaged readers so I can take my work to new levels. I’ll be listening closely to what my supporters want to see more of from me. Want to learn more? Watch the video:
Organized crime in Springfield, Massachusetts has long been controlled by a faction of the Genovese family, based in New Jersey and originally led by Willie Moretti. Rackets in Hartford, and elsewhere in Connecticut, are controlled by the local crew in Springfield. In other parts of the state, organized crime is dominated by the Patriarca Family, also known as the New England Crime Family.
The Patriarca and the Genovese use the Connecticut River as a line of demarcation, with exceptions for the big cities. Springfield and New Haven have always belonged to the Genovese, along with the rest of Massachusetts on the west side of the Connecticut. But these old boundaries have sometimes been contested, such as when William Grasso encroached on Springfield in the late 1980s. Further complicating relations between the neighboring families, there is a pool of seasoned gangsters who have long histories of affiliation with both the Patriarca and Genovese.
Despite being led by a New Jersey Family, most of the crew’s members and leadership have been Springfield locals who trace their roots to the same two villages in the region of Naples, Italy, as Pasqualina Albano and Carlo Siniscalchi. Pasqualina’s family was important in Springfield, even before Prohibition. Her uncle, John Albano, who like her was born in Bracigliano, is heralded as one of the founding fathers of Springfield’s Italian-American community, in a 1976 history that calls John’s son, Felix, the King of Little Italy. Felix is the father of labor leader John “Jack” Albano, and grandfather of the former mayor of Springfield, Michael Albano.
In the decade before Prohibition, the elder John Albano and his son, Felix, were already in the alcohol distribution business. But John was dead before the start of Prohibition, and his two oldest sons died young. The eldest daughter of his brother, Louis, and her husband, Carlo Siniscalchi, took over the liquor distribution business from Pasqualina’s late uncle and cousins. Carlo was killed within a year, and Pasqualina, before Prohibition’s end in 1933. One of their orphaned sons, named after his father, lived with Louis’ son, his uncle Antonio Albano, as a young man, in 1940. Antonio, a grocer like his father, opened a store in 1942 that remained in the family until 2015.
In New Haven, Connecticut, Colombo Crime Family member Ralph “Whitey” Tropiano shared turf with Salvatore Annunziato, a boxer and the son of a bootlegger, for decades, despite their mutual hatred. (Rumor was that Tropiano had been given New Haven for his part in killing Moretti, who was compromised by advanced syphilis, and about to testify before the US Senate in 1951.) Tropiano’s protege was William Grasso, who became underboss to Ray Patriarca, Jr, when the new boss’ first choice went to prison.
The first boss of Springfield’s Genovese crew that I know of, after Prohibition, was “Big Nose Sam” Cufari, born Salvatore Cufari in 1901 in Bianco, Reggio di Calabria. Calabria, the region south of Naples, is home to the Ndrangheta, an organization similar to the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camorra. Cufari lived in Springfield by the 1920 census and can be seen returning from Cuba with his wife in 1932. Another Springfield associate with ties to pre-Castro Cuba is Carlo Mastrototaro, who occupied positions in both the Patriarca and Genovese families.
Sam Cufari was arrested in 1943 for bookmaking. By 1948, he was the acknowledged boss of Springfield, running his family from his newly opened restaurant, Ciro’s. One of Cufari’s soldiers was Al Bruno. Other Cufari associates who would be active gangsters in Springfield for decades were Felix Tranghese and Felix’s first cousins, once removed, Frankie “Skyball” Scibelli and his brothers, Albert (called “Baba”) and Anthony. Frankie Skyball was first arrested at age twenty, in 1932.
The Scibelli and Tranghese families both trace their roots back to Quindici, the same place Carlo Siniscalchi was born. Quindici is in Avellino, on the provincial border with Salerno. Its neighbor on the other side of the border is Bracigliano, where Pasqualina Albano, his wife and successor in bootlegging, was born. The nearest large city is Naples.
The vast majority of Italian immigration to the US occurred between 1900-1915, and their descendants have few ties to the old country. But in many of the families from Bracigliano and Quindici who live in the Springfield area, movement between the two places has never ceased.
After WWII, a number of immigrants from Bracigliano and Quindici arrived in Springfield, which had hosted an “Italian colony” since around 1878. Many of these new immigrants had ties to the city, in some cases, for generations: their ancestors worked here before the Great War, or they had family members still living in the area. Immigrants from Bracigliano include the late boss, “Big Al” Bruno, and Amedeo Santaniello, a long-time second in command of the Springfield crew. Grasso’s killer, Gaetano Milano, came from Naples as a young child with his parents, not long after WWII.
In 1961 Frankie Skyball was turned in to police by a nun, for running a gambling ring from the phone booths at Providence Hospital, a crime for which he served nineteen months in jail. He had a son-in-law, Victor C. DeCaro, who disappeared in 1972 after Skyball dropped him off at work. (Rumor was that Victor was cheating on his wife, Skyball’s daughter.) DeCaro’s body was pulled from the Connecticut River two months later. Sometime during the 70s, when Frankie was still in his fifties, he had a cancerous lung removed. Scibelli served a federal prison sentence in 1976. In the next few years, he lost both his parents. Cufari died a natural death in 1983 and Frankie succeeded him.
Mastrototaro was Patriarca’s second in command in 1984 when he was arrested with future Springfield boss Al Bruno on gaming charges. Bruno was convicted of racketeering and gambling in 1987. In 1988, he was arrested again for gambling operations. This time his co-conspirators included two brothers and their wives: his long-time second in command, Amedeo Santaniello; Amedeo’s wife, Anna; his brother Italo; and Italo’s wife, Josephine.
Anthony Delevo followed Scibelli in 1998, passing over Al Bruno, who moved his family to Florida. Meanwhile William Grasso of New Haven, known for his ruthlessness, was becoming the head of the Patriarca Family in all but name.
Carlo Mastrototaro had a reputation among his peers as an honest man. The same source that ties him to Lansky and Cuba, the published memoir of Patriarca associate Vincent Teresa, says of Mastrototaro that if he owed you money and you disappeared for six months, when you returned, he would still have that money for you, down to the penny. According to testimony from his killers, Grasso thought he going to the arbitration of a dispute about vending machine territories in Springfield—Genovese territory—with Mastrototaro, who was seventy years old at the time. Grasso was 62.
The Patriarca underboss was shot and killed in a moving van on Interstate 91, in June 1989. His body was found near the Connecticut River the same day another high ranking Patriarca member, “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, was wounded in an attempt on his life.
Grasso’s killer was Gaetano Milano, of East Longmeadow. Milano was born in Naples in 1951 and immigrated when he was three years old. He graduated from Longmeadow High School, married, and had two children. In the late Seventies, he was a boxing promoter. Later, he went into business with his childhood friend Frank Colantoni, Jr., as owners of a nightclub, Club 57, in Southwick. (Nightclub ownership in Springfield is a family business, one that deserves a separate post.)
William Grasso was asked to the meeting by Frank Pugliano. (Pugliano reportedly approached Jimmy Santaniello early in 2004 to set up a meeting with Mastrototaro, when several gangsters sought Santaniello’s tribute, following Al Bruno’s murder. Jimmy is of no known relation to Amedeo.) Brothers Frank and Louis Pugliano are both named as participants in Grasso’s killing. Frank is identified both as a “Patriarca associate” and as a made member of the Genovese Crime Family. The Pugliano brothers are a few years older than Carlo Mastrototaro. Frank Colantoni, Jr. was 35 at the time of the murder, and Milano, 37.
Before a suspect was named in Grasso’s killing, the following March, Milano was arrested along with Frank Pugliano on charges of conspiracy and racketeering. But he was free on bail in October 1989, four months after the murder, sponsoring the induction of Vincent Federico into the Patriarca crime family. Federico, 30, was on a 28 hour furlough from the Massachusetts Corrections Institute at Shirley on “family business.”
Milano owed his freedom to a number of friends and family members, both his own and of his friend, Frank Colantoni, Jr., who together raised Milano’s $1.6M bond with the equity in their homes. Milano and his wife mortgaged two houses, one of them a duplex. His parents put up their home, as did his uncle, his brother and sister-in-law, and on his wife’s side, another brother- and sister-in-law. Colantoni’s mother put up her house, despite the danger that her own son would need the equity; he was arrested a few months later.
Other people of no known kinship to Gaetano Milano, who put up equity from their homes for his freedom, include Claudio Cardaropoli, whose family immigrated from Bracigliano with a young Al Bruno, and owned Springfield real estate with Milano in 1978. Francesco and Rosa Ferrentino of Hampden also put up $75,000 equity from their newly constructed home. Francesco’s brother, Mario Ferrentino, was suspected with Gaetano Milano of intimidating Mario’s co-defendant and witness against him in a manslaughter trial, the month before Milano’s bail was raised.
Emilio Fusco, who arrived in 1989 or 1990 from Quindici, was a protegee of Baba Scibelli, Frankie Skyball’s brother. Baba sponsored Fusco’s membership in the Genovese family. In 2000, Emilio and his wife were arrested on gambling charges with other known members of the Springfield crew.
When Skyball got out of prison in 1998, he retired from the Mafia and passed on leadership to Al Bruno. Bruno, who had already survived one attempt on his life, in 1993, was assassinated in 2003 on orders from his protegee, Anthony Arillotta. Among those tried in Bruno’s murder was Emilio Fusco, who fled to Italy and was extradited. Felix Tranghese cooperated with the police investigation into Bruno’s murder, allowing prosecutors to convict Genovese acting boss Artie Nigro. Tranghese was sentenced to four years in prison, and has returned to the Springfield area.
Tranghese was made acting boss after Bruno’s death, but Arillotta was soon recognized as the leader of the Springfield Crew. Tranghese, who is 66 this year, later testified that he was “‘shelved’ by a group of young upstarts in 2006.” Arillotta was succeeded by Albert Calvanese, upon the latter’s release from prison, in 2011. Arillotta, imprisoned in 2009, returned to Springfield in 2017 after serving eight years for his part in two murders, of Bruno and another man, his brother-in-law Gary Westerman. Recently, it’s been reported that the Springfield Crew is led by Amedeo’s son, Ralph Santaniello, with his father’s backing. However Ralph, 50, charged last year in a federal extortion case, is expected to plead guilty on 6 November 2017.
Two of Arillotta’s co-defendants, brothers Freddy and Ty Geas, are serving life sentences. Fusco, sentenced to 25 years for racketeering, will be in prison until 2032. Gaetano Milano was convicted of the murder of William Grasso and sentenced to 33 years. He is scheduled for release in 2033.
Sam Streva was the mentor of Jack Dragna, the first modern American Mafia boss of Los Angeles.
If you’ve seen one photo of Jack Dragna, the Los Angeles Mafia boss of the 1940s and ‘50s, it’s probably this one:
What you may not have seen is where this photo came from:
This is Jack Dragna’s booking photo, after being arrested for extortion. Local news at the time reported that a Black Hand organization led by Sam Streva and including Jack Rizzotto and Ben Streva, had extorted a wealthy rancher, Dominico Lauricella, and threatened to kill his family. Lauricella went to the police, who arrested Jack Dragna, operating under the alias of his mother’s surname, and Sam Streva, identified by police as the gang’s ringleader. A third extortionist, Ben Streva, is identified as Sam’s brother.
Jack Dragna was born Ignacio Dragna in 1891 in Corleone. He emigrated at least twice, first as a child with his parents and siblings. The family stayed in New York City with Jack’s mother’s cousin, Antonino Rizzotto, who was also Jack’s future father-in-law. (Jack and his wife, Francesca, were second cousins.) The family went back to Corleone, but Jack returned as young man, in the spring of 1914, joining his brother Tom, born Gaetano, who was already living in East Harlem. By the end of 1916, Jack was in San Quentin Prison, and Tom, Jack’s future consigliere, was getting married in New York. By 1920, Jack was out of prison, and his brother’s family was also living in Los Angeles.
Dragna goes down in Mafia history as the first boss of Los Angeles, because he was the one who made peace with the other Mafia families who were organized under Luciano’s Commission. But Dragna was not the first Sicilian organized criminal operating in Los Angeles. He inherited the interests of Joseph Ardizzone—and was suspected in the former boss’ disappearance. Even Ardizzone was not the first. Before Dragna, Bugsy Siegel, and Las Vegas, before the Commission and Prohibition, there were the Ardizzone and Matranga families of Los Angeles, fighting for dominance of the new market, in the port of San Pedro, south of LA. And even at this early point in the story, it’s not quite the beginning, because the Matrangas were already an established power in New Orleans, where it is currently believed, the first Mafia in America was at work within a decade of the Civil War’s end.
Some of the earliest Sicilian immigrants in New Orleans were not precisely from Sicily, but from a tiny island north of Palermo called Ustica. The musician Louis Prima traces his ancestry to Ustica: his mother was born there. Today, about 1,300 people live in Ustica, and are connected to Palermo by a daily ferry. But before 1763, no one lived there, due to the continuous threat from North African pirates.
Piracy had been an ongoing concern for centuries, dooming earlier attempts to settle the island. In the early 1700s, Austrians attempted to appease pirates and reduce raids on the slow moving grain ships leaving Sicily, by drawing up commercial treaties with the governments of the cities from which they hailed: Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers.
In 1734, Spain recaptured Sicily from Austria, and the new king, Ferdinand IV, colonized Ustica with people from Lipari, another island in the same sea north of Sicily, in another effort to deter piracy. One of those pioneering families were the Lauricella, who would venture forth once more to become some of the earliest Italian emigrants to New Orleans.
Dominick Lauricella was born in Ustica in 1858 and emigrated around 1871, when he was still a teenager. Some of his siblings settled in New Orleans, and had families there. One was his brother, Bartolo, a fruit dealer. Other members of the Lauricella family went west: one of his nieces died in San Francisco in 1918.
By 1900, Dominick was married and living in El Paso, Texas, where he owned a modest ranch with a few horses, one head of cattle, and a grocery. Ten years later, he was independently wealthy, and living in Long Beach, California, with his wife and children.
Beginning around 1905, the most prominent Italian gang in Los Angeles were the Matranga family, whose legitimate business was also in fruit vending. The Matrangas of Los Angeles, originally from Monreale, near Palermo, were related to the founder of the Mafia in New Orleans, Charles Matranga. In Los Angeles, the Matrangas were engaged in a protracted feud with the Ardizzone/Cuccia gang, whose members were originally from Piana dei Greci (today, Piana degli Albanesi), near Corleone.
Sam Streva is called a mentor to Jack Dragna, the future boss of Los Angeles. He first appears in a 1902 Los Angeles city directory as a barber living in the Sicilian colony of San Pedro, a port town south of the city center. His first son, named Vincent, was born that year. By the 1910 census, Salvatore, also called Sam, was a fruit merchant. In 1915, when his arrest for extortion was being covered in the local news, Streva was named as the ringleader of the San Pedro gang extorting Dominico Lauricella.
Sam Streva was tried in 1916, and sentenced to three years. “S. S. Strever” was 54 years old when he entered San Quentin in 1917, after being prosecuted for extortion in Los Angeles. While serving his sentence, he worked once again as a barber. The extortionist is a match for an 1863 baptismal record for Salvatore Streva, born in Corleone, whose father was named Vincenzo, the same as Salvatore’s older son. But I have not yet found his marriage to Anna Bonanno, whose surname is known from their children’s death records, either of their records of immigration, or another vital record that would confirm the baptismal record is Sam’s.
There are at least two men, each known by both of these names, Salvatore and Sam Streva, living in Los Angeles around the time Lauricella was being extorted by what he called “the Camorra.” They were both fruit merchants in 1910 and, if I have correctly identified the San Quentin inmate, the two men are second cousins from Corleone. Although stories of Sam Streva, the gangster, have conflated elements of both men’s lives, they are definitely two different people. The Sam Streva who did not go to prison in 1917 is twenty-two years younger, and has his own close ties to the Mafia.
The younger man was born Salvatore Streva in 1885 in Corleone, six years before Jack Dragna. He emigrated with his father and siblings in 1896, heading first to New Orleans. Salvatore has a brother, Ross (Rosario), who is named by Richard Warner in a 2010 article on Vito DiGiorgio. Their niece, Angelina Oliveri, is married to Gaetano Reina, the Morello associate and gang leader in the Bronx. Sam is also the second cousin of Paolino Streva, the capo under whom Giuseppe Morello worked as a cattle thief in Corleone.
In 1910 Sam lived on Channing Street in Los Angeles with his mother and extended family, and ran a grocery store. The future extortionist was already married to Anna, with two sons by this time. In 1915, the younger man married for the first time, to Francesca Profita, a New York native whose family is also from Corleone. Their marriage record confirms his parents’ names from his baptismal record.
There’s a third Salvatore Streva of note, born out of wedlock in 1884 in Corleone. He is the first cousin, once removed, of the extortionist of the same name, and second cousin, once removed, of the rancher born in 1885. The year before his parents married, legitimizing his birth, he emigrated to New York, joining an uncle there.
Salvatore was known in New York as Charles Salvatore Streva. He became naturalized in 1914, and made the first of two known trips to Havana, Cuba, in the spring of 1916. In the decade before Prohibition, Cuba was already a vice destination. Meyer Lansky lived in a hotel suite in Havana and worked as a consultant to casinos and a racetrack there. There was a small Italian community in Cuba. I have not found any evidence of Corleonesi who lived there, at any time. (If I did, it would be from a tertiary source, since records of Italian passengers to Cuba are unavailable to me.)
Charles documented his 1916 trip in 1920, the first year of Prohibition, when he applied for a passport to make another trip to Cuba on “personal business.” A surveyor in 1909, he was reportedly a clerk in 1920, living in the Italian neighborhood of East Harlem. Later, he moved to College Point, in Queens. He made at least one trip to Italy, returning in 1930. At his death in 1936, he was called an engineer.
A fourth Salvatore Streva is close in age to the others, born in Corleone, a close relation to the other three, and like his same-name cousins, an immigrant to the American South, and a merchant. This man, born in 1870, is Charles’ second cousin, once removed; a second cousin of the extortionist born in 1863; and first cousin of the rancher. He immigrated through New Orleans as a young man with his parents and siblings, and married Giuseppa Minitella in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, where there is a community of immigrants from Corleone. He and his wife lived in Patterson and had nine children. Sam owned a grocery store. The whole family moved to Houston, Texas, by 1930. Sam died in 1947.
In Los Angeles Sam (b. 1885), the future rancher, who lived on Channing Street, and his wife, Francesca, had three children. In 1917, while the oldest Sam Streva (b. 1863) was still at San Quentin, Channing Street Sam, now a fruit merchant, declared his intent to petition for citizenship. He petitioned in 1920 and his petition was granted in 1921.
When Jack Dragna was arrested and imprisoned for extortion, he was known by the alias “Jack Rizotta” a form of his mother’s surname, Rizzotto. Ben Streva, who is implicated in the crime along with Jack and Sam, is called Sam’s brother. There is no one by this name who was born in Corleone. I believe “Ben Streva” is Benigno Rizzotto. Bennie Rizzotto was born in Corleone in 1896, emigrated as an infant, and married in 1917 in Manhattan. He appears in Los Angeles in the 1920 census. Ben and Jack Dragna are second cousins and were future brothers-in-law in 1915. Jack Dragna’s family stayed with Benigno’s in NYC when they were children, in 1898, and the Dragnas first emigrated. In 1922, after being released from prison, Jack married Ben’s sister, Francesca, in Los Angeles.
Paroled in 1918 from San Quentin, “Strever” was discharged in 1919. In 1920, Sam Streva and his two sons, the younger twelve years old, are all listed in the city directory, in San Pedro. The 1920 census shows Sam working in a lumber yard. He died in 1928, at age 65.
In 1923, Sam Streva (b. 1885) appears in the San Fernando city directory on Devonshire. In subsequent years he is identified as a rancher at 16518 Devonshire St, and his wife’s name also appears in the voter rolls. They’re registered Democrats in 1924. In 1928, according to one unverified source, large scale wine production was discovered and seized from Sam Streva’s home and he was fined $350 in Van Nuys Municipal Court. This is the only report I have found so far of the younger Streva running afoul of the law. Sometime between 1950 and 1958, the Streva family all switched from Democrat to Republican. Sam was still registered at the Devonshire St address in 1960. He died in 1973.
“Fears plot, makes home fortress,” 25 November 1915. Oakland Tribune. P. 5.
“Makes Fortress of Home in Fear of Black Hand Death Plot.” 23 November 1915. Los Angeles Herald. P. 1.
Smith, Denis Mack. History of Sicily: Modern Sicily After 1713. Dorset Press (1988).