The bosses of Springfield, Massachusetts

The bosses of Springfield, Massachusetts

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.

Sam Cufari
Sam Cufari

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.

Scibelli-4
“Frankie Skyball” Scibelli

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.

Italy map
Italy before the Italian Republic. Naples was once its own country, one of the Two Sicilies.
Quindici Bracigliano map
The Naples region today. Quindici and Bracigliano are neighboring towns on the provincial border between Avellino and Salerno. (Google Maps)

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.

adolfo bruno
“Big Al” Bruno

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.

anthony delevo younger
Anthony Delevo

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.

william grasso
William Grasso

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” Flemmi, was wounded in an attempt on his life.

springfield metro
Springfield, Massachusetts, and neighboring towns near the Connecticut border (Google Maps)

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.)

gaetano j milano
Gaetano Milano

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 full
Emilio Fusco

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.

anthony-arillottajpg-050307
Anthony Arillotta

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.

Ralphie Santaniello
Ralph Santaniello

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.

Sources

Amoruso, David. “The Bruno Hit: How the Genovese Springfield Crew Killed Itself.” Published 4 April 2011. https://gangstersinc.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-bruno-hit-how-the-genovese Accessed 22 May 2017.

Barry, Stephanie. “Felix Tranghese of East Longmeadow gets 4 years in connection with 2003 Al Bruno murder, other crimes.” Published 7 December 2012 in The Republican. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/12/felix_tranghese_of_east_longme_1.html Accessed 15 October 2017.

Barry, Stephanie. “Organized crime in Springfield evolved through death and money.” 11 December 2011. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/12/organized_crime_in_springfield.html Accessed 15 May 2017.

Claffey, Kevin. “WMass ‘soldier’ gives up – Indicted in mob sweep.” Published 28 March 1990 in The Republican/Union-News. P. 1.

“Federal jury indicts seven in connection with numbers operation.” The Recorder (Greenfield MA) on 4 August 1988. Page 7. Accessed via http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html on 21 May 2017.

“Officer cleared,” The Recorder (Greenfield MA) 13 September 1989. P 9 W Mass Briefs.

Treeger, Don. “Albano’s Market in Springfield will end its 74-year run.” Published 26 February 2015. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/albanos_market_in_springfield.html Accessed 29 May 2017.

USA Bicentennial Committee of Springfield, Inc. Springfield’s Ethnic Heritage: The Italian Community. USA Bicentennial Committee of Springfield, 1976.

Whearley, Jay. “Mob leader, WWII veteran Carlo Mastrototaro dies”.  Published 7 October 2009 in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. http://www.telegram.com/article/20091007/NEWS/910070385/1003 Accessed 15 October 2017.

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Los Angeles, 1915: Jack Dragna and Sam Streva

Los Angeles, 1915: Jack Dragna and Sam Streva

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:

Jack Dragna

What you may not have seen is where this photo came from:

Jack Dragna incarcerated as Rizzotto

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 Steva at San Quentin

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.

Charles Salvatore Streva 1920 passport photo

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.

San Pedro Long Beach 1915 AAA map
Detail from 1915 map of Los Angeles printed by AAA
3513 E Anaheim St Long Beach satellite view Google Maps
Contemporary satellite view of Los Angeles with Lauricella’s address in Long Beach marked

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.

 

Sources

“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).

Ustica Genealogy.

Warner, Richard N. “The first crime boss of Los Angeles?” July 2010. Informer. Pp. 5+.

The Piranio brothers of Dallas

The Piranio brothers of Dallas

The Piranio brothers of Corleone founded the Dallas Mafia.

The Dallas crime family was founded around 1921 by brothers Carlo and Joseph Piranio from Corleone. The Piranio brothers were part of a network of immigrants from this town, related through blood and marriage, active in the Mafia in Corleone and in American cities including New York, New Orleans, Dallas, and Los Angeles, in the first half of the 20th century. Along with Giuseppe Morello, Leoluca “Mr. Luke” Trumbatore, and Ignacio “Jack” Dragna, Carlo and Joe Piranio are among the first Mafia bosses in the United States. All were born in Corleone.

Carlo Piranio source Viralnova
Carlo Piranio (Source: Viralnova)

Carlo was born Calogero Piranio on 21 May 1875, the son of Arcangelo Piranio and Orsola Trumbatore. He was named after his paternal grandfather, as is traditional in Corleone for the first born son. The surname “Piranio” is sometimes misspelled “Pirano” when referring to Carlo and Joseph in Dallas. In Corleone, the original spelling of their family’s name is “Praino,” seen more often in older records.

Carlo’s brother, Joseph, was born Giuseppe on 11 August 1878, named after his maternal grandfather. Arcangelo died the following year, at just 32 years old. Orsola remarried within the year, to Leoluca Cascio. Orsola and Leoluca had at least four more children, the last known born in 1896.

According to his answers on future census records, Carlo had emigrated by this time. He lived first in Shreveport, Louisiana, where his brother, Joseph, joined him around the turn of the century. Thomas Hunt writes that Carlo developed a paralysis of the right arm around 1899, a few years before his brother arrived in Louisiana. The paralysis may have been related to Carlo’s ultimate cause of death.

Carlo and Joseph are distantly related to “Mr. Luke” Trumbatore, who led the New Orleans Mafia (which operated throughout the state). Trumbatore is a closer cousin of Giuseppe Morello, another distant cousin of the Piranios. Morello operated primarily in New York with his half-brothers, the Terranovas. Trumbatore initially emigrated to New York before relocating to New Orleans.

Giuseppe Morello mug shot
Giuseppe Morello

Like the Piranio brothers, Morello was born in Corleone, lost his father while he was still young, and was raised by a stepfather. The Morello-Terranova family spent some of the years between 1892-1903 in the American South, in both Louisiana and Texas. Giuseppe’s stepfather, Bernardo Terranova, was known to be active in the Mafia in Corleone. Leoluca Cascio, the Piranio brothers’ stepfather, was the son of a cab driver: one of the rural entrepreneurial professions associated with Mafia activity in Corleone.

Carlo married Clemenza Grimaldi, also from Corleone, and they had their first child, Angelo, in 1904 in Shreveport. Joseph also married around this time, to Lena la Rocca, who was born in New Orleans of Italian parents.

The brothers moved their young families to Dallas, Texas, by the 1910 census, when they shared a household on Main Street. Carlo was reportedly a grocery storekeeper at this time, and Joe a grocery salesman. When Carlo’s third child was born in 1917, the family lived on Dawson Street, and Carlo reported his profession as real estate agent. In 1919, Carl was charged with receiving thousands of dollars worth of stolen war bonds.

Prohibition began in 1920. That year’s census reports that Carlo was still a real estate agent. His brother owned a tobacco shop, the J.T. Piranio Company, wholesale cigar dealers at 603 Harwood St. near Cadiz. Joe’s brother-in-law, Frank Aloi, lived with him in that year’s census. Aloi owned a grocery store.

Joseph Civello was an associate of the Dallas Mafia who also brought his family to Texas from Louisiana. His family operated groceries in Dallas that were also fronts for illegal activities for at least two generations, beginning during Prohibition.

In 1928, Civello was assigned to kill Joe DeCarlo, a bootlegger and druggist who had stopped making tributary payments to Carlo Piranio. Civello met DeCarlo in a pharmacy while carrying a shotgun, which discharged, hitting DeCarlo in the abdomen. The gunshot was ruled an accident, in large part on the assertions of DeCarlo, himself, made before he died.

Carlo Piranio died early in 1930, at age 54, from a tumor of the spine. Upon Carlo’s death, Joe took over leadership of the Dallas Mafia from his brother and remained the boss until his death in 1956.

According to his biography on Find A Grave, Joe owned a number of bars and a construction business, as well as gambling operations and a construction labor racket. In the 1930 census, Joe is called a builder for a contractor. By this time, Joe’s parents in law had also joined them in Dallas, and lived a couple doors down from Joe and Lena. Living between Joe and his in-laws were the families of one of his capos, Frank Ianni, and of Louis Cascio, both merchants.

Joe’s daughter, Ursula, married Joseph Lisotta in 1932. Joseph’s father was born in Corleone. Originally trained as a civil engineer in university, and employed in this profession by the city of Dallas, Lisotta bought a tavern shortly after Prohibition’s repeal, in 1933. The tavern was a popular gathering place: according to one anecdote in his obituary, Joseph Lisotta would host “special customers” for after-hours spaghetti dinners. Lisotta’s Tavern shut its doors for good in 1956, when the district voted to become “dry.”

The same year the Tavern closed, Ursula’s parents both died: first her mother in February, and then her father, eight months later, by suicide. Joe Piranio, the boss of the Dallas Mafia until his death, was 78 years old. Joseph Civello took over leadership, which he held until his death in 1970.

 

Sources

Arther, Azure. “Tales From the Speakeasy: Who Is the Dallas Crime Family?” Published 24 December 2016. http://cw33.com/2016/12/24/tales-from-the-speakeasy-who-is-the-dallas-crime-family/ Accessed 4 September 2017.

Carlo T. Piranio on Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=30428215 Accessed 4 September 2017.

“Dallas crime family.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas_crime_family Accessed 4 September 2017.

Hunt, Thomas. “The Mafia of Dallas: 1910-1970.” Published July 2010 in Informer Journal. Pp. 16+.

Renfrow, David. “Joseph Lisotta Owned Oak Cliff Tavern.” Dallas Morning News. 19 January 2006. Metro:12B.

 

Feature Image: Elm St at Night, Dallas, TX. Wikimedia Commons

 

Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Genovese connection

Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Genovese connection

The story of Corleone’s influence on the Mafia extends to dozens of cities and towns throughout the United States.

Springfield, Massachusetts, has been controlled by the Genovese crime family for as long as there has been a mafia presence in New England. The marriages of Pasqualina Albano Siniscalchi Miranda, called the “Bootleg Queen” of Springfield’s Little Italy by the local newspapers of the time, may be among the earliest documented relationships between the crime families of New York and Springfield.

At the onset of Prohibition, in 1920, Vito Genovese went into bootlegging in New York with his childhood friend, “Lucky” Luciano, as well as Frank Costello, Gaetano “Three Finger Brown” “Tommy” Lucchese, Meyer Lansky, and “Bugsy” Siegel. Prohibition was a period of enormous growth for organized crime, and it was during this time period that the Sicilian Mafia became the most powerful force among the gangs of New York. Neapolitan immigrant Michele Miranda, also active in the Mafia in New York at this time, was an associate of both Tommy Lucchese and of Gaetano Reina’s crime family in the Bronx: Reina is from Corleone.

In western Massachusetts, Carlo Siniscalchi, an immigrant from Quindici, a small village in Naples, was about to become the Bootleg King of Springfield’s Little Italy. His 1915 marriage to Pasqualina Albano, who was born in the neighboring town of Bracigliano, calls him a saloon keeper from Brooklyn. The couple lived on the South Side and had five children. In Springfield, Carlo reportedly made and sold first candy, and then macaroni. On the eve of Prohibition, according to the federal census, Carlo owned a candy store. Within a year, he was killed by a fellow bootlegger, whose supply Siniscalchi had cut off. Indications are that his widow continued the business.

Carlo Siniscalchi birth announcement
Carlo was born Salvatore Carluccio Siniscalchi in Quindici

Two years into Prohibition, Costello, Luciano, and their closest Italian associates joined the Sicilian Mafia crime family led by Joe “the Boss” Masseria. Genovese’s work for Masseria would extend from bootlegging to extortion and murder. He and Frank Costello are both said to be associates of Pasqualina Albano’s second husband, Antonio Miranda, whom she married sometime between early 1923 and the fall of 1924. Antonio and Michele Miranda are brothers from San Giuseppe Vesuviano, in the same region of Naples as Quindici and Bracigliano, a hotbed of Camorra activity.

Mike Miranda obit NYT
From his obituary in The New York Times

Like Pasqualina’s first husband, Carlo, Antonio Miranda was from Italy by way of New York. Miranda’s travel records call him a carpenter or joiner. In January 1923, he appears on the manifest of the Conte Rosso, joining his brother Michele at an address on Broome Street, in Little Italy, Manhattan. A year later, Michele appears on the Conte Verde, rejoining Antonio half a block away on Mott Street. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics later reported that Michele traveled frequently to Italy, and the same appears to have been true of Antonio, who returned again from Naples in October 1924, this time to his new wife, Pasqualina, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The first week of February, 1930, Antonio Miranda died from septicemia. Local news reported the infection started on his foot, with the removal of a callus. A college student donated blood for a transfusion, in an unsuccessful attempt to save Miranda’s life. The certificate of his death reveals that the infection that killed Antonio was of a more intimate nature. A pelvic infection, and not a surgical site on his foot, was the origin of the blood infection that killed Antonio Miranda. Although the most common causes of such an infection are gonorrhea and syphilis, Miranda’s case was reportedly caused by a bout of the flu.

Non-Italians in Springfield had long regarded “the Italian colony” as a world apart from their own: a foreign, dirty, and dangerous place. Little was known of the wealthy real estate developer who had married the widowed “Bootleg Queen.” His funeral was lavish, on a scale not seen before in Springfield. Mourners arrived from distant cities, deflecting discreet inquiries from journalists. On the day Antonio Miranda was buried in St. Michaels Cemetery, flowers rained down upon the procession, delivered by an airplane rented for this purpose.

The same month Antonio died in Springfield, Joe Masseria, in New York, allegedly ordered two murders: Gaspar Milazzo in Detroit, and Gaetano Reina in the Bronx. These hits sparked the Castellammarese War, which would rage for a year and a half. Vito Genovese is said to have murdered Reina, whom Masseria suspected of helping his archrival, Salvatore Maranzano, in Brooklyn. Genovese and Michele Miranda, also known as Mike, became close near the end of the war. The two were arrested together on murder charges, on which they were acquitted.

Much of what’s known of Miranda’s personal life comes from a Federal Bureau of Narcotics profile. The birth date and relations in the FBN report have been mostly corroborated by census records and travel manifests. He married Lucia DiLaurenzo in 1926, and they had one child, a son. Michele and his wife can be seen traveling together on the same manifest with gangster Davide Petillo and his sister, in October 1932. (Petillo gets a mention in another post, Gay Liberation and the Mafia.)

Two and a half years after Antonio’s death, and one month after Michele and Lucia returned to New York, Pasqualina was killed in a drive by shooting. She was in her car, parked across the street from the home of one of her employees in an illicit distillery operation. The attack came in the early hours of the morning, as Pasqualina sat with her “trusted lieutenant” in bootlegging, Michele Fiore. Fiore, described in the news at the time as having spent more of his time in America inside of prison than out, was a relative by marriage, the brother of Pasqualina’s sister’s husband. The following year, Fiore was killed in a barber shop. None of their attackers were ever identified.

Michele Miranda was respected among the gangsters in New York as a peace broker. He was a made member of the Genovese crime family, which had once been, in the years before Prohibition, the Morello-Terranova gang of East Harlem. Miranda was Vito Genovese’s consigliere from 1957 until his retirement, in 1972. He died the following year.

 

Featured Image: Detail of Water Street and the South Side, from View of Springfield, Mass. 1875.

Giuseppe Morello’s counterfeiting gang

Giuseppe Morello’s counterfeiting gang

Morello brought together gangsters from Corleone and elsewhere in southern Italy to produce counterfeit money on a farm in New York.

In the summer of 1909, detective William Flynn sought the source of counterfeit bills flooding banks and businesses in several cities across the United States. He tied the counterfeiting operation to Giuseppe Morello’s gang by following one of the passers of bad bills, Giuseppe Boscarino.

Morello was counterfeiting as early as 1903, when the “barrel murder” victim, one of Morello’s “coiners,” Benedetto Madonia, was lured to his death. In 1906, Morello was producing small denominations of false American and Canadian currency on a farm in Highland, New York, across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie. The initial printing attempts were made using plates created by Antonio B. Milone, a business partner of Morello’s, but they were of too poor a quality to use. Antonio Comito, a printer from Calabria,  met the gang through Antonio Cecala, both members of the mutual aid society, the Sons of Italy. Comito testified that he was forced to replace Milone on the farm in Highland.

Antonino Cecala
Antonino Cecala

The Highland farm where the bills were produced was owned first by Salvatore Cina and Vincenzo Giglio, and then sold to Giuseppe Palermo in 1909. Palermo, from Partanna, and the wagon driver, Nicholas Sylvester, a reformatory alum of unknown origin, are of no known relation to any of the other counterfeiters.

Nicholas Sylvester
Nicholas Sylvester

The first trial’s defendants included Giuseppe Morello and his brother in law, Ignazio Lupo.

  1. Giuseppe Callichio
  2. Antonio Cecala
  3. Salvatore Cina
  4. Vincenzo Giglio
  5. Ignacio Lupo
  6. Giuseppe Morello
  7. Giuseppe Palermo
  8. Nicholas Sylvester

All were found guilty and sentenced to the federal penitentiary near Atlanta.

Antonio Cecala is called the other leading figure in the counterfeiting ring, alongside Morello, in contemporary news accounts. Jon Black at Gang Rule says that Antonio Cecala was also Corleonese, but I have not found his baptism among the records for Corleone available online, nor a marriage for his parents, whose names are known from Cecala’s naturalization record. The manifest of the Iniziativa tell us Antonio and his father traveled together, and that they were both barbers, but not the town where they last lived, or where they were born. (Antonio appears again on a manifest in 1930, traveling with Brooklyn boss Vincent Mangano.)

Critchley writes that Vincenzo Giglio was born in Santo Stefano Quisquina, arrived in New York in 1895, then went to Tampa with Cina. Cina had a reputation as a criminal in his native Bivona, through association with Vassolona, an infamous bandit, and had to flee Sicily. It’s not known how they came to be associates, or why the teenage Vincenzo was traveling with Cina, but they are said to have emigrated together in 1894. Naturalization records for Salvatore Ciona, in Boston, give a date in 1894, but I have not been able to find a matching ship. When he was incarcerated, in 1910, Giglio reported immigrating in 1895.

According to Black, Cina and Giglio are brothers-in-law. I found a marriage for Salvatore Cina and Rosa Giglio in Tampa in 1900, but the record does not give their parents’ names, and there are other Giglios living in Tampa at this time. Rosa Giglio, 18 year old daughter of Angelo, in the 1900 census, has a brother named Vincenzo, which would seem to be a clear match. Her brother is known from a 1904 manifest showing Vincenzo Giglio, a  24 year old (b. 1880) proprietor from Santo Stefano Quisquina, going to his father at the same address, Oak Street in Tampa, where Rosa and her father live, and traveling with his mother, Angela Provenzana. Rosa’s death record confirms that Angelo Giglio and Angela Provenzana are her parents’ names, also. But this Rosa died in Tampa 1918, and her married name was Militello, not Cina.

Other records point to Salvatore Cina and his wife, Rosa Giglio Cina, having two daughters in Tampa, and then moving to New York. It appears there is at least one other couple with similar names to Salvatore and his wife, who also lived in New York around the same time. The other Salvatore Cina/Sena/Cena swore he immigrated in 1905 and lived in New York continuously until his 1919 naturalization. In the 1920 census, Salvatore and Rosa Cina appear, alone, in ED 324 of Manhattan. An infant, Joseph, who died in 1922 may have been either couple’s child. The one who immigrated in 1905 applied for a travel passport six months after Joseph’s death.

Cina, who was part owner in the farm in Highland, and his wife had at least four children. The oldest, Carmela, was born in Tampa in 1904. Antonio Comito testified that Cina visited his farm with Ignazio Lupo and the wagon driver, Sylvester, in 1909. Cina was indicted, along with Lupo, Palermo, Calicchio, and Giglio, for making bad bills. He was sentenced in the first of the two counterfeiting trials in 1910, and paroled in November 1916.

Carmela, his daughter, married in New York City in 1926. In 1930, Salvatore appears in the census for Manhattan, with Rosa and three of their children: the oldest, Jennie, born in Florida, and the youngest, Peter, born the year Salvatore went to prison.

Critchley writes on page 69 of The Origin of Organized Crime in America that Giuseppe Callichio, who was described as an “elderly man” in 1910, was Cina’s godson. However, records indicate Salvatore Cina, born in 1875, was at least twenty years younger than Calicchio. In Black’s account, Antonio Comito, the kidnapped printer, met Cecala’s godson, Salvatore Cina. But again, this would be impossible, as Cecala was born the same year as Cina.

Callichio’s birth year and date of immigration are known from his appearances in federal censuses of the penitentiary outside Atlanta, in 1910 and 1920. The outlying record is the 1910 census, in which Callichio is said to be 53 years old (b. 1857) and a widower. In 1920, he is 68 (b. 1852) and married. He appears on a ship manifest in June 1906, traveling with a daughter. His age at emigration, 54, is a match for the 1920 census. The manifest indicates that he is originally from Puglia, and intends to join his brother in Utica, New York. As well as appearing in the prison in Georgia, the federal census shows Giuseppe Callichio with his family in Oneida, New York in 1910.

A second trial, held two weeks after the first, found at least seven more of Morello’s counterfeiters guilty, including Giuseppe’s half-brother, Nick Terranova. 

  1. Giuseppe Armato
  2. Giuseppe Boscarino
  3. Luciano Maddi
  4. Domenico Milone
  5. Nick Terranova
  6. Leoluca Vasi
  7. Pasquale Vasi

Except for Maddi, whose origins are unknown, and Boscarino, who I’ll say more about below, the defendants are from Corleone. Also from Corleone, the LaSalle brothers, Steve and Calogero, were arrested in connection with the counterfeit operation, but I have not found any evidence of indictment. Likewise Antonio B. Milone, Domenico Milone’s third cousin, and the first printer in the Highland venture. Domenico, along with Boscarino, Maddi, Armato, the Vasi brothers, and Nick Terranova, were charged with having and passing the counterfeit bills.

If Cecala was the human connection among half the defendants in the first trial, the center of gravity among the Corleonesi was Leoluchina Armato, the sister of defendant Giuseppe Armato. In 1905 she emigrated with Giuseppe Lagumina, who is her nephew by marriage, and her second cousin, once removed, as well as being a Morello associate. Lagumina’s uncle, Giovanni Rumore, was also a known Morello gangster. (Armato and Rumore were also related: they are second cousins.)

Antonio B Milone
Antonio Biagio Milone

Leoluchina’s brother shared an apartment in New York with brothers Leoluca and Pasquale Vasi. Upon their arrest in 1909, thousands in counterfeit bills were recovered from the apartment. Leoluca Vasi was married to a niece of Domenico Milone. And Domenico was married to Giuseppe and Leoluchina’s sister, Giuseppa Armato. When Flynn had Giuseppe Boscarino, a sixty year old (b. 1849) man from Corleone, followed by detectives, he was seen entering the wholesale grocery store once once owned by Ignazio Lupo, at 236 E 97th St, and at the time owned by Domenico Milone and Luciano Maddi.

Giuseppe Boscarino alias Monte
Giuseppe Boscarino, alias Giuseppe Monte

Jon Black writes that Giuseppe Boscarino was born around 1850 in Corleone. According to Flynn, Boscarino immigrated in 1890 and was a known associate of the “Black Hand” in New York’s Little Italy. One of his close friends was Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who would become powerful enough to disrupt local leadership of the Fratuzzi in Corleone, in the first decade of the twentieth century. I have not been able to confirm Boscarino’s birth or immigration. There is at least one Boscarino/Boscarelli family in Corleone, distinguished by their address (they live near the most important families in town, in 1834) and honorifics: they’re called “don” and “donna” in Church records. There is a baptismal record that appears to be a match for Giuseppe Boscarelli, in December 1849 in Corleone, but that child died at age three.

Antonio B. Milone immigrated in 1889 with his father, Alberto. Milone and Gaetano Reina, one of Morello’s captains, are second cousins. In 1903, Milone became an officer in Giuseppe Morello’s new building cooperative. In 1907, the Banker’s Panic wiped out the Co-op. Antonio married a woman from Milan, the following year.

Comito gave testimony against his captors, and avoided prosecution. Despite having been identified as an integral parts of the counterfeiting operation, Antonio Milone and Giuseppe Boscarino both avoided prosecution.

 

The Mangano brothers and Joe Profaci

The Mangano brothers and Joe Profaci

Vincent Mangano was made the head of a New York City Mafia Family in 1931, with the formation of the Commission. He took over his former boss, Salvatore D’Aquila’s Brooklyn based operation from Al Mineo, and with his brother, Philip, ran a profitable racket based on the Brooklyn waterfront until 1951.

There are sources that claim the Mangano brothers emigrated in 1921 with another future Mafia boss, Joe Profaci. A video from “Bloodletters & Badmen”, researched and narrated by G. Marshall Johnson, says Vincent Mangano immigrated with his father, brother Philip, and a young Joseph Profaci. The American Mafia History website repeats the claim. But is it true?

In 1927, when Profaci became a naturalized citizen, he reported having immigrated on the Providence, on 4 September 1921. These names appear on the manifest for that voyage:

  1. Gaetano Mangano, 39, married, a merchant. He leaves his wife Giovanna Giannone behind in Palermo, to join his brother-in-law, Francesco Giannone, at 25 West Broadway (Tribeca) in New York City
  2. Vincent Mangano, his son, is fourteen, a student. On his line, someone has written “Claims US born”. The record also tells us that Giovanna Giannone is his mother.
  3. Giuseppe Profaci, 24, single, is also a merchant. He leaves his father, also named Giuseppe, behind in Palermo. He is joining his cousin Calogero Profaci at 225 Elizabeth St (Little Italy).

Although this is a manifest for aliens to New York, Vincent appears here because he is under age sixteen, and traveling with his father, who is an Italian citizen. There are two clues on this manifest that this is not the gangster I was looking for. One of them is his age, and another, his claim to American birth. I proceeded to research this family, based on clues in the manifest.

The record of this traveler’s birth, on 6 January 1906 in Manhattan, confirms Vincent Mangano was born in the United States. It names his parents, Gaetano Mangano, and Giovanna Giannone, who were both born in Italy, and gives their ages at the time of Vincent’s birth. Gaetano’s age in 1906, and in 1921, are both a match for the birth date found on his WWII draft registration: 2 January 1882. But other records tell us that not only is Vincent Mangano, the gangster, older than this, his father’s name is not Gaetano.

Most sources tell us that Vincent “The Executioner” Mangano was born 28 March 1888 in Palermo. An Ancestry.com index of Find A Grave records, which are compiled by volunteers, gives this date of birth for Vincent. Other sources say he was born in December of that year. However, Vincent’s naturalization records, and draft registrations for both world wars, all say that Vincent was born 14 December 1887 in Palermo. In either event, a man born in 1887 or-88 would be between 32 and 34 years old in 1921, closer in age to the father on the Providence manifest, Gaetano, than to his teenage son.

There is no sign of a brother named Filippo/Philip on the manifest, or in any other records of Gaetano and Giovanna’s family that I’ve found. But longshoreman Philip Mangano’s WWI draft record is full of clues to the identity of the infamous Mangano brothers.

Filippo Mangano WWI draft card
Philip Mangano’s WWI registration tells us he worked as a longshoreman for “various stevedores.”

Following the trail leading from his draft record, which names his mother and his brother, Vincent, I found more evidence—draft cards, travel manifests, naturalization records, and census records—that all point to a different set of parents for Vincent and Philip: not Gaetano and Giovanna, but Serafina Simonetti and her husband, who was also named Vincenzo Mangano.

Philip’s birth date is also in dispute. Sources including Wikipedia give one birth date for Philip, 13 April 1898, but I have not found a citation that leads to a primary source for this date. I haven’t found either brother’s baptismal records. Philip’s WWI draft registration gives his date of birth as 10 September 1898. A travel manifest from 1932 naming Philip, his mother, and several of his siblings, reports an age consistent with this birthdate. The manifest also names Vincent Mangano, Serafina’s son, as the person meeting them in New York.

I’ve found Vincent’s passport application from 1920, the year before the Providence voyage. He planned to sail in June, and to be back in six months This is his photo from that application. He is 32 years old.

Vincent Mangano 1920 passport application
Vincent Mangano, 1920

The next year, the Providence sailed, carrying a fourteen year old American-born boy who was also named Vincent Mangano. Joe Profaci sailed with him. It’s definitely Joe: he reported the precise name and date of his voyage, when he became a naturalized American citizen in 1927. His age on the 1921 manifest is a match for his date of birth.

I expect to find a travel manifest for Vincent, either late in 1920 or early in 1921, based on the information in his passport application. I haven’t yet, but I have found another travel record for him, in 1930, when he returns to New York with one of Giuseppe Morello’s old counterfeiting associates, Tony Cecala.

Vincent Mangano 1920 and 1937
Vincent Mangano in 1920 and around 1937

By the time of the Castellammarese War, Vincent and Philip Mangano had already been in power on the Brooklyn waterfront for some time. They enjoyed good relationships with other bosses, including Lucky Luciano, who gave Vincent a seat on the Commission. Vincent was also reportedly close with Joe Profaci, Joe Bonanno, and members of the Buffalo and Detroit crime families. In 1946, Vincent appeared on a flight manifest, returning from Cuba to his home in Miami. He was accompanied by Willie Moretti, one of the biggest loan sharks in pre-Commission New York.

Five years later, in April 1951, Philip was found shot to death in Brooklyn, and his brother, Vincent, disappeared. Both are attributed to Albert Anastasia, who succeeded Vincent as boss of what would eventually be known as the Gambino crime family. Anastasia, technically the underboss in the Mangano Family, and Vincent had a long standing mutual dislike of one another. Anastasia never admitted to getting rid of the Mangano brothers, but most agree he was behind their deaths.

Anastasia and Vincent Mangano were subpoenaed to appear before the Kefauver Senate committee on the American Mafia, as was Willie Moretti. Moretti’s mental health was deteriorating due to advanced syphilis, according to Joe Valachi. Moretti testified, and for this he was killed, also in 1951.

Anastasia told the Commission that he believed his boss had put a hit out on him. This justification implies what he could not admit. Killing a Mafia boss without Commission approval was an act of war. He was allowed to succeed as boss of the Family, but the precedent would prove deadly. Anastasia was killed in 1957.

Philip Mangano never married. He was buried with his mother. Vincent married Carolina Cusimano in Brooklyn in 1912, and they had four children. Vincent, Carolina, their daughter, Serafina, and her husband, share a grave marker that gives a date ten years after Philip’s murder, 1961, for Vincent’s death. His body was never found.

The olive oil business

The olive oil business

When I started this blog, I told one of the earliest anecdotes I had about my family: a story about olive oil. My father’s paternal grandparents, Louis Cascio and Lucia Soldano, immigrated as teenagers with their families and settled in East Harlem, on 106th Street. After they married, Lucia and her youngest brother, Tony, sold olive oil to their neighbors, produced and exported by Louis’ brother-in-law.

In my first post, I was doubtful that this story was true, or at least that it was the whole story, and not a cover for some other, hidden events. Was it even remotely possible that the olive oil story was the extra-virgin truth, as it was told to me? If so, why did it smell like a second pressing of “The Godfather”?

 

genco tie tack
A Genco olive oil tie tack. Genco was Don Vito Corleone’s fictional import business.

 

The farmland around Corleone, in the 19th century, was used according to its distance from the city: closest to town were the household gardens, surrounded by vineyards and orchards, and then land used alternately for pasturage and to grow grain. In Corleone there was an outer ring of almost-feudal lands, called contrada (lands) or “feudi,” fief holds, based on the original Roman farms. Many are still in existence, if diminished; the locals can tell you where they once were.

The smallest of these traditional holdings in Corleone, around 1800, were five salmi, or about 8.75 hectares, in size. Many small landowners owned far less than this, with a bit of land in one contrada and another, some in vines, some in trees. Most farmers in Corleone did not own any property at all, not even their houses. 

A five salmi olive orchard could theoretically produce 39,000 kg of olives, if all of the trees were mature and healthy, and it was a favorable year for the olive harvest. That’s enough to keep 288 Italians in olive oil for a year, at today’s consumption rates. However, olives are a tough crop to rely upon, as a farmer. The trees tend to yield a good crop only in alternate years, like apple trees. They mature slowly, and do not produce saleable fruit for about ten years. But they can live for more than a thousand years.

Olive trees are extremely hardy and will usually recover from droughts and freezes. Growing anything here is tricky. Corleone is at 600 meters above sea level, where trees can sustain frost damage, and the land is dry for most of the year. The regulating agency governing olives in the Val di Mazzara, in which Corleone is located, limits olive production to no more than 8,000 kg per hectare. If the land is fully planted in the traditional way, with 28 feet between trees, that comes to around three and a third kilograms of olives per tree. This is well below the standards of ten or even fifty kilograms from a mature tree, reported by growers in other parts of the world.

biancolilla olive
The Biancolilla olive, one of three varieties grown in western Sicily

Every olive producing region in Europe has its own varieties, very few of which have been transplanted to the New World. Three types of olives are grown near Corleone, all for oil production: Biancolilla, Nocelara de Belice, and Cerasuola. Sicilian olive oils are usually a strong shade of green, with a golden undertone, good body, and a complexity of flavor. Traditionally, olives are harvested by hand or with nets. The fruit is slowly milled on a trappeto, which keeps the paste unheated, and then the olive paste is pressed in a frantoio to release the oil. Extra virgin olive oil is still produced using a very similar process.

When my twice great-aunt Biagia Cascio was born in Corleone in 1884, olive oil was likely regarded as a precious commodity. The future olive oil exporter was born at number 3, via Banditore, in the northern part of Corleone, the second child of Giuseppe Cascio and Angela Grizzaffi. They lived in the “Upper Area” of Corleone, above via Roma, in what is called the Borgo in old records: the suburbs. North of the suburbs is a great open area. To the east of this address is a via Trappeto. There must have been at least two olive mills in town, possibly at different times. There is another trappeto that appears in Church censuses of the older, southern part of the city, early in the century.

49.95.870(3)
Illustration of 17th century olive oil production. In the foreground on the left you can see the upright wheel in the olive mill, the trappeto, and in the midground on the right, three men turn the screw of a frantoio, a press.

Giuseppe Cascio was a farmer who suffered poor health, and died in 1899, when Biagia was fourteen. Her mother, older sister, and three of her younger siblings immigrated two years later, leaving her and her two youngest siblings in Corleone. I don’t know where they all lived, but it is likely they stayed with Angela’s brother, Leoluca. By this time, Leoluca and Angela’s parents had died, and Leoluca most likely inherited property from their father.

Angela, a young widow, and her older children joined her sister’s family in East Harlem. Two years later, her brother, Leoluca, brought Angela’s two youngest children with him to New York. Only Biagia did not immigrate. She married a man with the same name as her father—Giuseppe Cascio, her first cousin—in 1902.

Giuseppe was from a Mafia family. His godfather is also his namesake and maternal grandfather, Giuseppe Morello. His older cousin was the infamous gangster of the same name, named after the same grandfather. Giuseppe’s sister, Giovanna, married Pietro Majuri in 1897. Pietro was active in the Mafia in Corleone around 1900, under Giuseppe Battaglia. Two of their sons were active in 1962, under Luciano Leggio.

Biagia’s brother Louis and his wife, Lucia, my great-grandparents, married in New York in 1918. Immigrants made more money in New York than they did back in Sicily, and wanted the luxury goods they could now afford. Census records tell us that Louis worked in a laundry in 1920 and 1930. Even humble peasants from Corleone would, of course, know quality when it came to olive oil, and I expect many preferred the distinctive flavor of oil produced in their hometown, where they knew its provenance and production method, and it tasted like home. 

Long before the Mediterranean diet swept the United States, Ciro Terranova became the Artichoke King with a monopoly on small, “baby” artichokes, a Sicilian delicacy unheard of outside immigrant communities. Joe Profaci built his legitimate business empire on olive oil, beginning in 1920, around the same time my family was operating their own, far more modest import business out of their New York apartment. This niche product would go mainstream when Joe’s son, Joseph Profaci, Jr. and his Italian business partner, Enrico Colavita, founded an olive oil import business in 1978. American cuisine—and virgin olive oil—would never be the same.

 

Feature image credit: Herstellungsprozess von Olivenöl um 1600. After Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus (Netherlandish, Bruges 1523–1605 Florence),Jan Collaert I (Netherlandish, Antwerp ca. 1530–1581 Antwerp) – http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/427835