Southern fried Mafia: the story of Chicken Louie

Southern fried Mafia: the story of Chicken Louie

The story of Dallas gangster “Chicken Louie” Ferrantello is a southern gothic portrait of the Sicilian Mafia. 

The South has been alive with organized crime for longer than any of those Yankee cities you usually read about. The Mafia would have to fight for its share from among smugglers, gamblers, thieves, and murderers of every ethnic background who’d populated New Orleans since long before the Italians got there. Immigrants from southern Italy, some of them mafiosi and the ancestors of future American gangsters, passed through the port town on their way to the sugar plantations and mills. Following the coastline west, travelers found cattle country, like the interior of Sicily, and settled in ethnic enclaves like Bryan, Texas, outside Houston. Where rivers, rails, and roads intersected, they made cities. If you drew a line from Houston, north, and one from Shreveport, going west, the lines would meet in Dallas.

Chicken_Louie
“Chicken Louie” Ferrantello

Louis Ferrantello was born in sugar cane country, in Schriever, Louisiana, in 1918. Both his parents were from Corleone, where Louis’ maternal grandfather was a rural guard: a profession closely associated with the Mafia in Sicily. His father, Liborio, emigrated as a teenager with his mother in 1891. Louis’ mother, Caterina, came from Corleone two years later with a sister. Liborio owned a grocery store: the kind of family-owned business that was so popular with new Italian immigrants, but in particular, with Italian gangsters, who liked having their own businesses as fronts for their illegal side hustles. Future Mafia bosses Carlo and Joe Piranio were both in Dallas by the 1910 census: in the grocery trade, like Liborio Ferrantello.

 The Mafia in Dallas was active by the eve of Prohibition, founded by the elder brother, Carlo Piranio, who also came from Corleone by way of Louisiana. Schriever, where the Ferrantello family first lived upon emigration, is just outside New Orleans. Many Corleonesi immigrants found their twisting way north, up the Mississippi River through sugar cane country to Baton Rouge, or into Louisiana’s vast interior, five times the size of Sicily, to do agricultural labor. Shreveport, some 300 miles north-northwest of New Orleans, was like Corleone in that it was a transportation nexus in the interior of a country with a lot of shoreline. Shreveport linked the only overland east-west route to Texas with the Red River, which emptied into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Piranio and Ferrantello families are distantly related: Louie and the Piranio brothers are third cousins, twice removed, with multiple common ancestors. Despite their distance in Louisiana, they certainly knew each other from Corleone, and the Piranios may have even invited the Ferrantellos to join them in Dallas. Joe Zabbia, another early member of the Dallas crime family originally from Corleone, moved to the city in 1927 from Chicago, where he was working as a hod carrier: another profession, particularly in Chicago, with connections to organized crime. 

The Ferrantello family moved to Dallas, Texas, around 1928. Liborio continued to work as a grocer, while the Piranio brothers had expanded into real estate, a tobacconist’s shop, and fencing stolen war bonds. 

In February 1930, Carlo Piranio died from cancer of the spine, leaving the Dallas crime family to his brother. Joe Zabbia died that November from rectal cancer, and later that month, Liborio Ferrantello died from a ruptured ulcer. 

After the death of their father, Louis Ferrantello and his siblings supported their family by starting a company, the Texas Poultry and Egg Co., that earned Louis the nickname “Chicken Louie” among his associates in the Dallas Mafia. In addition to the poultry business, Ferrantello was a nightclub owner and a bookmaker. He served in World War II, married Miss Dorothy McCully, and had one child, a son. 

In the early 1950s, he was under investigation for his ties to organized crime and gambling. Joseph Civello, who succeeded Joseph Piranio upon his death in 1956, ran gambling operations. In a surprise raid on Civello, Chicken Louie and two other men were arrested. Ferrantello pleaded the fifth before the legislative committee over one hundred times. There was insufficient evidence to incriminate him, so he was cited for contempt, and sentenced to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. (He appealed, and lost.)

After his release from prison in 1954, Ferrantello divorced his wife so that she could live a “normal” life. He claimed to be “going straight” after his prison term, but Ferrantello still owned a gambling venue in Arlington, Texas, when he died.

Two years later, Ferrantello was killed by his pregnant girlfriend. Twenty-four-year old Betty Louise Barry came to his office in Antony’s Lounge, in the Lakewood section of North Dallas, to tell him that she was pregnant. She brought a gun, and threatened to kill herself if he wouldn’t marry her. The two struggled, with Ferrantello trying to prevent Miss Barry from shooting herself. According to her later testimony, she just “couldn’t stop firing.” She was struck in the knee, but Louis was fatally wounded. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Parkland Memorial Hospital on 17 July 1956. Although Barry admitted to shooting him, she swore it was accidental.

Three months after his death, Louie Ferrantello’s former wife, Mary Dorothy McCully, was found murdered in Pasadena, California. (Later that month, Joe Piranio died from suicide, grief-stricken at the sudden loss of his wife in February, he’d become reclusive in the ensuing months.) An investigation into McCully’s death led directly back to her late husband and his criminal associates.

Nick Cascio Dallas
Nick Cascio

McCully’s boyfriend claimed that Louie’s associates made frequent visits to her apartment, where safe cracking tools were found after her death. These clues linked a Texas safe burglary ring, suspected of robbing a California hotel, with McCully. Authorities believed that her apartment was used as a headquarters for the crime. The investigation led to Dallas safecracker Nick Cascio, “the thief you could trust.” 

The self-described “self-employed speculator” was quoted by the press, explaining his profession this way: “I’m always speculating whether a safe is going to have any money in it or not.” Nick, whose criminal career was well documented in the press, was a “dapper,” “swarthy” thief, and a man of his word: rare in his profession. He was also a former lieutenant in the Lois Green gang of Dallas. Green was a powerful Dallas racketeer in the 1920-30s, and the largest of at least three serious competitors to the Piranio Family’s primacy in Dallas, before his assassination in 1949. Nick Cascio’s father was also a Dallas grocer, originally from Cefalù, a coastal town east of Palermo: the same place the Maceo brothers, also gang leaders in Dallas, were from. (Nick and his family are of no relation to the Piranio brothers, who have half-siblings named Cascio.)

Although Dorothy McCully’s gangster ex-husband said he wanted her to enjoy a “normal” life, she was not on track for that goal. In addition to letting her ex and his friends stash their tools in her home, McCully’s new boyfriend was also her boss. Walter G. Borchers, an insurance agent with money trouble, claimed that Louie’s associates made frequent visits to his secretary/girlfriend’s apartment, and that fear of them drove him to hire a private detective to spy on Dorothy, take out an insurance policy on himself, and name her as the beneficiary. 

That kind of controlling behavior never ends well. Like Ferrantello and Barry in the end, Borchers and McCully struggled over a gun. Unlike Barry, Borchers’ killing was not an accident. Walter and Dorothy were arguing in his car, when he shot her. He then hit her over the head, killing her. Dorothy was 31. Borchers drove around with her body in the trunk for the next 36 hours.

 

Sources

Atti di nascita, Caterina Mondello. (1884, January 25). Record no. 44, “Italia, Palermo, Palermo, Stato Civile (Tribunale), 1866-1910,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-897B-V6ND?cc=2051639&wc=MCTM-DTL%3A351055601%2C352253401%2C352269501 : 22 May 2014), Palermo > Corleone > Nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, cittadinanze, morti 1882-1893 > image 469 of 3063; Tribunale di Cagliari (Cagliari Court, Cagliari).

Cartwright, G. (1991, October). Benny and the Boys. Texas Monthly. Retrieved 20 April 2019 from https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/benny-and-the-boys/

Chicken Louie Ferrantello. Mafia Wiki Website. Retrieved 27 April 2019 from https://mafia.fandom.com/wiki/Chicken_Louie_Ferrantello

Death of Louis Ferrantello.  (1956, July 17). “Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GY13-SZZY?cc=1983324&wc=9T4X-6TL%3A263835801%2C283349601%2C283625801 : 22 July 2014), Death certificates > 1956 > Vol 069-075, certificates 034130-037500, Jul, Bell-Jefferson counties > image 1163 of 3466; State Registrar Office, Austin.

Lois Green Shot at Sky Vu Club. (2018, March 4). Dallas Gateway website. Retrieved 20 April 2019 from https://dallasgateway.com/lois-green-shot-sky-vu-club/ 

Manifest of the Capitain. (1893). New Orleans, Passenger Lists, 1813-1963 The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1820-1902; NAI Number: 2824927; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; Record Group Number: 85

Nick Cascio Arrested in Hotel Theft. (1956, October 20). Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX), P. 1 Accessed 18 April 2019 via GenealogyBank.

Nick Cascio, Convict #84582. (1937). Texas, Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945 Convict Number Range: B 079301-084740 Ancestry.com. Texas, Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Nick Cascio convict record, Serial no. 61232. (1952). Alabama, Convict Records, 1886-1952. General Volume: Volume 27: 1950-1952. Ancestry.com. Alabama, Convict Records, 1886-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Suspect’s Fear For Life Aired. (1956, October 18). Wichita Falls (TX) Times, p. 5.

Vincent Cascio Draft Registration (1917). “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YBK-9KVN?cc=1968530&wc=9FH7-2NL%3A928313101%2C928739601 : 14 May 2014), Louisiana > Shreveport City; C-Q > image 182 of 5797; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Vincent Cascio family. (1940). US Federal Census. Year: 1940; Census Place: Dallas, Dallas, Texas; Roll: m-t0627-04177; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 255-140 Enumeration District: 255-140; Description: JUSTICE PRECINCT 1, DALLAS CITY (TRACT 30 – PART)

WBAP-TV (Television station : Fort Worth, Tex.). [News Script: Woman is Jailed in Slaying of Gambler], item, July 18, 1956; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc333508/m1/1/: accessed April 27, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.

WBAP-TV (Television station : Fort Worth, Tex.). [News Script: Woman Testifies in Ferrantello Inquiry], item, November 12, 1956;(https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc333569/m1/1/: accessed April 27, 2019),University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.

 

Is the Mafia a cult?

Is the Mafia a cult?

Godfather-RingCults, gangs, and the Mafia are very similar. 

“Cults” and “Mafia” are just like religions and the state, without the widespread acceptance.

Cults are simply new religious movements. If they stick around long enough, they stop being persecuted in the same way, and are accorded the respect we give to mainstream religions. Likewise, the Mafia is a quasi-state which, if it were to overtake a whole country, would lose its “quasi” status as citizens, regional governments, and other nations were forced to deal with the Mafia to get things done.

A cult has three main features: a charismatic, authoritarian leader; a program of indoctrination or mind control; and exploitation. While the exploitation doesn’t seem obviously part of the cult, to the outsider, it is the feature that makes cults harmful. Idealism can very quickly turn to authoritarianism. The only difference between my infallible authority and yours, is that I agree with mine.

A mafia is very much like a cult, although you might reverse the order of its descriptors. The Mafia’s most fundamental trait is that it uses violence and threats of violence to achieve its aims. Those aims have changed over time: the traditional Sicilian Mafia sought control over a territory and personal respect, both more powerful currencies in the society where the Mafia arose. The Americanized “new Mafia” seen since the 1940s focuses on wealth and conspicuous displays of social status, and consequently, the two mafias reveal themselves through different methods: the original mafiosi modeled themselves on nobility, while the more modern version imitates American capitalism’s exemplars of success: the businessman, the Hollywood star, or the politician. 

All mafias—and gangs—have authoritarian leaders who rule on the strength of their personal traits—most especially, their reputation for violence. A gang is like a Mafia without ethnicity, or a cult without ideology. What all three share is the sense of belonging they offer to members. This is a powerful feeling for any of us, but particularly for people who are poor, marginalized, or in a tumultuous period in their lives. 

This takes us to the other defining attribute of both Mafia and cults, which is a program of indoctrination. The Mafia has belief systems that are widely disseminated through the subculture that gives it strength. The most widely known is omertà, most often interpreted as “silence,” but having its root, in fact, in a different concept: that of how to be a man. In the indoctrination system of the Mafia, a “real man” is tough and self-sufficient. He handles his own problems, and never turns to the state. You might say that other gangs have a similar ideology, known to the general public through the adage, “Snitches get stitches.”

Cults, like the Mafia, find fertile ground in the beliefs already held by the broader culture that they target for enrollment. Just as many successful cults are offshoots of Christianity, the Mafia’s values are rooted in the Sicilian(-American) subculture. Agricultural workers in central-western Sicily shared experiences—working on large plantation estates, having few police and an incessant banditry problem—that generated some of their distinctive cultural traits. Sicilians put their trust in family first, before neighbors, politicians, or employers. They are also strongly bound together by the Catholic Church, whose institutions were second only to the family for their permanence in Sicilian life.

The dangers of cult membership are becoming a more widespread problem. The ease of creating isolated communities of the like-minded online, greater penetration power of false messages through social media, and anonymity of the internet, have breathed life into hate groups. These online rage circles cause real violence, through harassment campaigns conducted online, and in the real world, including murder.

Even the old cult of the Mafia lives online. Communities that share stories and memes about the Mafia, both real and in popular culture, send messages that range from the relatively neutral, i.e. that the Mafia is newsworthy, to the cultish, such as polls of membership as to their “favorite” mobsters. The Mafia is undoubtedly a fascinating subject, and I’m hardly unbiased in saying so. The danger in the fascination, is in falling victim to their messages: excusing and justifying Mafia violence, and thereby weakening pressure for its prosecution. The Mafia is no more an honorable society than cults are made up of the anointed. If enough of us forget that, we make room for the quasi-state to rule, and the cult to become dogma. While the “strong man” leader might look good now, the time will inevitably come when you and he will disagree.

Pip the Blind

Pip the Blind

Joseph Gagliano, who was known by the nickname “Pip the Blind,” was called “the mastermind of one of the biggest opium rings in the country” by the assistant district attorney who prosecuted him for narcotics trafficking in 1946. 

Mike Coppola and Joseph Gagliano
“Trigger Mike” Coppola, left, and Joseph “Pip the Blind” Gagliano

It would be easy to assume that Joseph, whose family was from Corleone, was related to Tommy Gagliano, boss of the Lucchese crime family. In fact, Pip the Blind is of no known blood relation to Tommy Gagliano. They are distantly related through marriage. (The links in this paragraph go to Wikitree, the repository of the vast majority of my genealogical research into the families of Corleone. There are primary sources documenting all of the relationships; they’re in the profiles.)

Another easy—but wrong—guess would be that Joseph and Tommy Gagliano are somehow related to “Fat Frank” Gagliano and his son, Joseph, both made members of Carlos Marcello’s Mafia Family in New Orleans. The NOLA Gaglianos are from Porto Empedocle, on the southern coast of Sicily, and of no close relation to any of the New York Gaglianos mentioned here.

With all of the red herrings that suggest who Joseph Gagliano was, his relative importance, and where his power came from, it’s easy to miss the real story. In fact, everywhere I look in Joseph’s biography, there are close ties to power. The web of Gagliano-Rao family connections tie the diminutive-sounding Pip the Blind to the highest echelons of political power in New York: to Mayor La Guardia, and even to FDR.

Joseph Gagliano’s closest criminal relation, his uncle Angelo, met Joseph’s family when they got off the boat from Sicily: the SS Sicilian Prince, in 1905. Nine years later, Angelo Gagliano employed a young Jack Dragna at his laundry. In those years, both Gagliano families lived on and around the same block of East 107th Street. Angelo’s early associates included Steve LaSalle and Vincent Rao, who would become his son-in-law.

“Pip” was born 18 February 1903 in Corleone as Giuseppe Gagliano, the son of Vincenzo Gagliano and Marianna Ortoleva. When Giuseppe was not much more than a baby, his family emigrated to the United States, joining his uncle in East Harlem. Vincent Gagliano soon found work as a plasterer. By 1915, the family lived in the apartment at 220 East 107th Street that would be Pip’s home until the day he died, in 1947.

***

In a 1950s “true crime” radio show called “The Silent Men,” Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. plays the roles of undercover officers in dramatic reenactions of real investigations. One episode from 1951 is “The Empire of Pip the Blind,” in which Fairbanks’ narcotics detective pretends to be a heroin wholesaler from San Francisco, visiting New York in order to establish a relationship with kingpin “John Bartello,” also known as “Pip the Blind.” A backstory is invented for his nickname: that the blind spot in his eye is called a “pip.” I suspect the real origin of “Pip” is “Giuseppino,” the diminutive for “Giuseppe.” 

Through his mother, Marianna Ortoleva, Joseph Gagliano is the descendant of nobility: he is the third-great grandson of the Baron Don Angelo Cala’. On his father’s side, Vincenzo Gagliano’s grandfather was part of Corleone’s petite bourgeoisie, a master shoemaker.

Pip and his brothers followed their father into the plastering trade. When Vincent died, in 1931, Joseph and his brothers supported their mother and younger siblings. In 1940, four of Marianna’s sons, ranging from Angelo, age 29, to Benny, the oldest, at 45, were all unmarried, still living at home, and working as plasterers.

Building construction wasn’t Joseph Gagliano’s only occupation. He was an early burglary associate of Joe Valachi, and other future members of both the Genovese and Lucchese crime families. At his 1936 arrest for running a lottery on Long Island, Joseph told police he’d been arrested for “every crime under the sun.”

 

Joseph had other criminal relations in New York. His first cousins Calogero and Vincent Rao were close associates of Lucchese boss and construction racketeer Tommy Gagliano. Gagliano and the Rao brothers grew wealthy together in the construction business. Calogero Rao was an unindicted co-conspirator in Tommy Gagliano’s 1932 tax evasion trial.

mde
The politician Alfred Santangelo, whose campaign flyer appears above, was related to the Lucchese associate Calogero Rao through his wife, Betty

Calogero’s daughter, Betty, married Alfred Santangelo, an attorney who was assistant district attorney for New York County for the latter half of Prohibition, and a close associate of Fiorello La Guardia, the “tough on crime” candidate who won the New York City mayoral race with support from Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected president in 1933. The new mayor quickly went after Ciro “the Artichoke King” Terranova: smashing his illegal slot machines for the delighted press, and legislating the monopoly he held on baby artichokes out of existence. 

Alfred’s brother George Santangelo, a physician, married another of Calogero Rao’s daughters, Rosalia. A third Santangelo brother, Robert, was Joseph Gagliano’s defense attorney in the narcotics trial that sealed his doom in 1946.

Robert V Santangelo
A young Robert V. Santangelo, in his passport application photo

Robert V. Santangelo had a celebrated legal career. In 1921, he was one of the promising Italian-American college students sent on a cultural tour of Italy by Bank of America (which was formerly the Bank of Italy). The passport photo above was taken for this trip. Before retiring, Robert served as a New York Supreme Court judge. When he died in 1984, his obituary named one of his surviving sisters, “Eleanor Roosevelt of Staten Island.” The former First Lady of this name, wife of FDR, died in 1962. So what was the connection? The Santangelo family were wealthy and politically prominent. Their father, Michele, was an immigrant from Potenza, in the Neapolitan region of Italy, and like Tommy Lucchese and Calogero Rao, he was a building contractor. Michele’s daughter Eleanor Santangelo, born in 1915 in Staten Island, married Martin Rosenfelt in 1947. Mr. Rosenfelt died in 1978. Eleanor’s married name was misspelled in her brother’s obituary, leading to the suggestion that the Santangelos had married into not just one, but two of the most notable families of New York. 

***

In 1935, a rival lottery gang in Copiague, Suffolk County, New York, tipped off police to Joseph Gagliano’s operation on Long Island. In the resulting raid, not only Joseph, but two of his teenage sisters, and the wives of two of his associates, were also arrested. Gagliano, age 32, was described as a member of the old Schultz gang, a reference to the Bronx bootlegger and policy racketeer, Dutch Schultz.

Based on the 1940 census, in which Joseph is still a single man living at home, and news of his death in 1947, which names his widow, Joseph married some time between 1940 and the end of 1946. His wife, Grace, came to live with Joseph, his mother, and siblings, at 220 East 107th. I have not found his marriage record, or evidence the couple had any children.

Despite their modest address, Gagliano’s illicit wealth and power were so well-known that when he was arrested on narcotics charges in December 1946, his bond was set at $150,000: worth over $2 million today. Four men arrested in connection with Joseph were given bonds of just $15,000 each, while a fifth, in the hospital with a broken leg, was considered not to be a flight risk.

Gagliano and his fellows were charged with selling five ounces of heroin to an informant. Joseph’s lawyer, Robert Santangelo, claimed he was suffering from an incapacitating mental ailment. Pip said that people were poisoning his food. Nonetheless, three psychiatrists agreed that he could stand trial. His prosecutor called him “the mastermind of one of the biggest opium rings in the country.” 

Joseph “Pip the Blind” Gagliano, the ringleader of what was one of the largest narcotics trafficking operations on the East Coast, was sentenced to five-to-ten years at Sing Sing. He arranged to be held temporarily in the city, while he had interviews with local prosecutors, to whom he was still considered a valuable potential witness. 

On 10 April 1947, Joseph hanged himself in his Bronx jail cell. He was 43.

Sources

Policy Ring Seized In Armed Hide-Out. (1935, July 6). The New York Times. P. 28. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1935/07/06/95515143.html?pageNumber=28

Berger, M. (1946, December 21). $150,000 Bail Holds Narcotics Suspect. The New York Times. Pp. 1, 20. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1946/12/21/305216962.html?pageNumber=1

Three Found Guilty of Narcotics Sales. (1947, February 20). The New York Times. P. 7. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1947/02/20/96692330.html?pageNumber=7

Narcotic Peddler Ends Life In Cell. (1947, April 11). The New York Times. P. 10. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1947/04/11/archives/narcotic-peddler-ends-life-in-cell-joseph-gagliano-facing-5-to-10.html?searchResultPosition=1

Crook, J. (1984, April 6.) ROBERT SANTANGELO, EX-JUDGE ON THE STATE SUPREME COURT. The New York Times. Section B, Page 5 Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1984/04/06/obituaries/robert-santangelo-ex-judge-on-the-state-supreme-court.html 

See Joseph Gagliano’s profile on Wikitree for vital records.

Featured image: Calogero Rao and his wife, Maria Canzoneri, front; Alfred Santangelo, top right

When the chips are down

When the chips are down

Chip the douchey gamblerTwo competing news stories ran yesterday related to the MGM Springfield casino here in western Massachusetts. One of them involves Chip, the douchey-looking gambler-mascot of GameSense, pictured above.

The first story is this headline:

MGM Resorts International Honored With National Council On Problem Gambling’s Public Awareness Award – Company’s GameSense program recognized again for transforming responsible gambling education. (1)

This came from the PR Newswire, which means it was put out by MGM Resorts International to congratulate itself. And what are they reaching around to pat themselves on the back for?

Chip house of cards

This doofus. Compulsive gamblers are supposed to listen to Chip, an actor in a web app, and then they won’t have a problem that turns tragic. (It did not turn out fine for this guy.) (4) 

The reason casinos have to do public relations campaigns is not just because sometimes deeply indebted gamblers show up with a gun. It’s because most of their neighbors realize, sooner or later, that casinos are not good for communities.

To divert and dispel that energy, there is the Community Advisory Committee. MGM Springfield’s is made up of leaders from Springfield, MA. It’s supposed to meet quarterly and have real oversight. Instead, the Committee has not met at all, says Johnnie Ray McKnight, who is on the CAC. While the community group is being sidelined, some other committee is doing their job. 

***

The National Council On Problem Gambling held their 33rd annual conference in Denver, Colorado, where they gave MGM Resorts an award for using GameSense to encourage gamblers to have a plan and be informed about how gambling works. At the GameSense for Massachusetts, I found our douchey friend, Chip. If you object to my calling him douchey, remember who his friends are.

I thought the National Council on Problem Gambling would be something like a consortium of non-profit and state agencies, public health professionals, and law enforcement working together to provide a seamless network of services to an at-risk population for predation by both legal and illegal gambling, as well as loansharking. If you thought that, too, then their PR is working.

It’s not like that. The organizational members of this National Council are virtually all casinos, lotteries, and others in the gaming industry

Baylor University economist Earl Grinols concluded that addicted gamblers cost the United States between $32.4 billion and $53.8 billion per year, and that the long-term costs of introducing casinos into a region that didn’t previously have them outweighed the economic benefits by a greater than 3:1 ratio. (5) New England is glutted with casinos, causing them to turn on one another. MGM Springfield has sued the federal government for giving the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes a casino license in East Windsor, CT, without a competitive bidding process. That case has delayed the tribes’ opening for at least a year. (12)

The propaganda onslaught to soften a community for exploitation begins long before ground is broken. MGM Springfield didn’t spring up overnight. In 1994, Casino Magic Corporation of Mississippi spent a third of a million dollars on a pro-casino astroturf campaign called Citizens for Springfield’s Future. (6)  In 1995, another pro-casino group, The Committee for A Better Springfield Future, was championed by Chester Ardolino, the self-styled renegade cop, and older brother of Mayor Albano’s chief of staff, Anthony Ardolino. (7, 8) The brothers were investigated as part of a 1999 corruption probe into the city of Springfield. Anthony stepped down after a DUI, and in 2003 both brothers were charged with fraud and tax evasion in a deal in which they sold a local bar to known gangsters Carmine Manzi and his son, “Little Joe.”

There has been some local, corporate interest in a casino in Springfield for a long time. One early champion was the late Peter L. Picknelly of Peter Pan Bus Lines. (9) The business community downtown must be a small world, because Anthony Ardolino and Peter Picknelly and his son, Paul, reportedly attended the funeral of the slain Al Bruno, in 2003. (10) The Picknelly family own the only local interest in MGM Springfield, through the holding company, Blue Tarp. (11)

***

The mayor, city council president, and the MGM Springfield each have three members on the casino’s stalled committee. The other appointments include two from local chambers of commerce, but only the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, has made one. The Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce has not had their appointment confirmed. (2)

McKnight, who is one of the Springfield City Council President’s appointees, challenged Mayor Sarno in 2015 for his office, and is now running for City Council. 

Casinos, online gambling companies, and state lotteries contort themselves like Cirque du Soleil performers to congratulate one another for their responsible gaming practices, to distract you from the fact that, in a rapidly growing industry that makes at least $37 billion a year in the United States, alone, (3) the costs of community harm are ours to bear. 

The house always wins, as even Chip will admit, and gaming industry owners never stop worrying we’ll get smart to their con. So this week, they’re putting out statements from their friends to say MGM Resorts is super responsible, on the exact same day that a community leader is pointing out in the local paper that, at the community involvement theater in Springfield, the curtain has not risen on schedule. 

 

References

  1. (2019, August 12). PR Newswire (USA). Available from NewsBank: Access World News: https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&docref=news/17546E5874BBCD38.
  2. Goonan, P. (2019, August 12). Casino advisory panel has yet to meet. Republican, The (Springfield, MA), p. 002. Available from NewsBank: Access World News: https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&docref=news/17544B926C11D470.
  3. Marcus, J. “Why Casinos are Becoming Like Landfills.” Published 23 December 2013 in TIME. http://nation.time.com/2013/12/23/why-casinos-are-becoming-like-landfills/ Accessed 25 October 2017.
  4. Rosengren, J. “How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts.” Published December 2016 in The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/12/losing-it-all/505814/ Accessed 25 October 2017.
  5. Skolnik, S. “Betting the House: Five years later, Maryland’s casinos have left addiction, crime, and half-filled promises in their wake.” Published 11 August 2015. http://www.citypaper.com/news/features/bcp-081215-feature-gambling-20150811-story.html Accessed 25 October 2017.
  6. Turner, F. “Advocates, foes spend $363,000 in casino battle.” Published 3 November 1994 in The Republican. P. 1.
  7. “Q&A: Chester Ardolino.” Published 27 June 1993 in The Republican. P. B1.
  8. Pugh, S. “Pro-casino coalition gains a host of supporters.” Published 25 August 1995 in The Republican. P. B4.
  9. Turner, F. “Advocates, foes spend $363,000 in casino battle.” Published 3 November 1994 in The Republican. P. 1.
  10. Barry, S. “Bruno wake draws hundreds.” Published 29 November 2003 in The Republican. P. B01.
  11. Ring, D. “Paul Picknelly may have hit the jackpot with MGM Springfield casino plan.” Published 23 December 2013. http://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/12/mgm_springfield_partner_paul_picknelly_may_have.html Accessed 25 October 2017.
  12. Blair, R. (2019, August 11). Will Connecticut ever get a third casino? CAPITOL WATCH. Hartford Courant, The (CT), p. 3B. Available from NewsBank: Access World News: https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&docref=news/1754278FBB11BC10.

Giuseppe Morello and the Macaroni Wars

Giuseppe Morello and the Macaroni Wars

How a gunfight in New Orleans over pasta production, and the assassination of a New York police officer, were related to counterfeiters in upstate New York.

Antonio Comito was the captive printer, forced by Morello’s gang to produce counterfeit bills at their Highland, New York farm, the winter of 1908-09. Introduced by “Don Pasquale” (most likely Vasi, one of two brothers found guilty for their participation in the counterfeiting operation) in New York City to Don Antonio Cecala, as a prospective printer for Cecala’s Philadelphia press, Cecala in turn introduced Comito to Cecala’s godson, Salvatore Cina. Cina, Comito, and a cart driver, Nicholas Sylvester, shopped in New York for a printing press, then left the city. Instead of taking Comito and his companion, Katrina Pascuzzo, to Philadelphia, as discussed, they went to Cina’s 42 acre fruit farm in Highland, across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie. Cina’s brother-in-law, Vincenzo Giglio, was at the farm when they arrived.

Someone called Uncle Vincent (possibly Giglio), who said he raised cattle in his hometown, stayed with them that winter. He told Comito of killing two men, then fleeing, first by train to Palermo, then sailboat to Tunis, and from there to Tokyo and then Liverpool, before making his way to New Orleans in March 1902.

New Orleans was the first city in America to have a Mafia presence. In 1894, when the Morello-Terranova family went south, looking for work, they made contacts among local mafiosi. A so-called “cousin” got Giuseppe Morello and his stepfather work in sugarcane country; he may have been Antonino Saltaformaggio, an early immigrant from Corleone who would marry Morello’s half-sister. Given Antonino’s youth—he was just twenty at the time—Morello’s most important contact may have been Antonino’s father, Serafino.

Giuseppe Morello and Antonio Saltaformaggio, each of them an eldest son, were at least the second generation of mafiosi in their respective families. Morello was an active Fratuzzi member in Corleone, as was his stepfather, Bernardo Terranova. Saltaformaggio has two maternal uncles who were active in the Fratuzzi, in the years after his death. When his body was identified, the local newspaper pointed to his mother as the source of trouble for the slain man.

***

Lucia Terranova was seventeen when she left Sicily for the first time. She came to the United States with her parents and younger siblings, following her older half-brother, who was fleeing arrest. “Piddu,” as his family called him, was implicated in one murder in Corleone and his companion in flight, Gioachino Lima, was wanted for another. Lima would later marry Giuseppe and Lucia’s sister, Maria Morello.

cropped-giuseppe-morello-mug-shot
Giuseppe Morello

It was March 1893, when Lucia and her family met up with Giuseppe in New York City’s East Harlem, where many immigrants from Corleone lived. Along with Lucia and her family, were her sister-in-law, Maria Marsalisi, the wife of Giuseppe, and their first child, a son born after Giuseppe’s flight, and named after his late father, Calogero.

The family was unable to find work in New York, due to the financial crisis, so in January 1894, Morello went on a scouting mission to Louisiana, while Bernardo Terranova and his young family stayed in East Harlem: the Terranova brothers were still children, ages four through nine. In February, Lucia Terranova married Antonino Saltaformaggio in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

It would have been most correct for Serafino to have met with Bernardo Terranova in person to arrange a marriage between their two children. Based on the known timeline, the decision appears to have either been made quickly, in Louisiana, or else at great length: perhaps arranged years ago in Corleone, or during the Terranova family’s year in New York. If Bernardo was unable to travel, Serafino and Giuseppe—and possibly the groom, Antonino—may have made the arrangements.

The Morello-Terranova family only stayed in Louisiana for about a year before moving on to a new opportunity, farming cotton in another community of transplanted Corleonesi, in Bryan, Texas. Most likely, Lucia stayed in Louisiana with her new husband, whose parents and siblings lived in the area.

***

Serafino, age 52, died in 1899 on a sugar plantation in Poydras, Louisiana, in St. Bernard Parish. His widow, Caterina, appears in the federal census the following year, living in the same parish with two sons and three daughters, including Teresa, who married Santo Calamia in 1901. The marriages between Lucia and Antonino, and between Antonino’s sister, Teresa, and Santo Calamia, bound Giuseppe Morello and the Calamia men in a relationship which Santo would later abridge to brothers-in-law.

Santo Calamia was born in 1875 in Gibellina, Sicily, due west of Corleone, in Trapani province. In Santo’s case, as well, the evidence suggests that Mafia activity ran in the family. It’s not known when his father, Giuseppe, arrived in the United States, but Santo claims to have arrived in 1889. Father and son lived in New Orleans for many years, although Giuseppe returned to Gibellina by 1909.

A Mafia boss, Francesco Genova, fled Sicily, detouring in London and New York before arriving in New Orleans in 1902. On the strength of his criminal reputation, he soon came to rule the Sicilian underworld of New Orleans.

Because of the large Sicilian population in New Orleans and the surrounding area, macaroni was becoming a big business. Stores serving neighboring sugarcane plantations stocked the versatile product among other basic provisions. The largest, most modern macaroni factory was built in New Orleans in 1902 by Jacob Cusimano, of Palermo.

Using agents, Genova attempted to take over a macaroni factory in Donaldsonville, in northeastern Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. “Factory” indicated manufacture at any scale; many macaroni factories at this time were run out of homes and other businesses, such as from the backs of groceries.The factory in Donaldsonville must have been one of the larger operations, to be worthy of a takeover war.

A duplicitous partner in the venture, backed by Genova, was called Paolo (or Charles) Di Christina, an alias for Francesco Paolo Marchese. A letter found in Giuseppe Morello’s possession, from Genova, recommended Marchese to Morello as a fine young man.

The legitimate owners of the Donaldsonville factory, Antonio and Salvadore Luciano, fought back against Genova, but were unlucky enough to miss at close range. When Genova and Di Christina failed to appear in court for a hearing related to the Luciano brothers’ unsuccessful attack, they prepared themselves for a vendetta. They did not wait long.

In May 1902 Santo Calamia, along with Genova, Di Christina, and Joseph Geraci, stormed the Luciano brothers in their “dingy” storefront on Poydras Street. Vincenzo Vutera, who was also killed in the attack, may have also been a Genova plant. Vutera is reported by one witness, a Luciano cousin, to be the first to respond to the attack, firing in their direction with a pistol. According to other accounts from inside the store that night, Vutera—who is described as recent Italian immigrant weighing “fully 800 pounds,” also in the macaroni business—mortally wounded Salvadore Luciano, himself, and was seen doing so by the man’s brother, Antonio.

The record of Vutera’s death cites multiple gunshot wounds, and the news reports that the “big man” continued firing at the invaders, even after he was shot. After the Genova party left, as Salvadore lay dying, people in the street could hear a final shotgun blast: Antonio Luciano’s revenge for Vutera’s treachery. By their exchanges in the police station, Luciano clearly held Calamia responsible. Calamia and Genova were charged with the Luciano and Vutera murders, but acquitted.

Vincenzo Vutera death cert
Vincent Vutera, alias A. Cusimano, a merchant, age about 42, died from “Mult. G. S. Wounds.”

A year after the Luciano shooting, Santo Calamia’s brother-in-law, Antonino Saltaformaggio, was killed. Antonino worked, at the time, in cotton country as “a kind of labor agent,” and made his home in the same northern town as the Luciano brothers’ coveted macaroni factory. His body was found on 7 April 1903 near White Castle, about ten miles upriver. He had been stabbed nine times, and strangled with a rope, then thrown into a canal. Another victim, never identified, was killed not long before him, in the same area.

Weeks after his body’s discovery, when the victim was finally known, the news mentions Saltaformaggio’s wife and infant son, left behind in Donaldsonville, but not by name, and no connection is drawn to the Morello-Terranova family of New York City. Instead, the Times-Picayune points the finger in the direction of Antonino’s widowed mother and siblings, living in New Orleans, as the probable cause of the violence against a well-liked and hard working young man.

A week later, the body of a Buffalo, New York stonemason was found in a sugar barrel, in New York City. Police detective Joseph Petrosino investigated the crime. The “Barrel Murder” victim, Benedetto Madonia, who was originally from Lercara Friddi, was discovered to be part of a “secret society,” of which Giuseppe Morello was also a part. Vito Cascio Ferro, who was also known to police as a counterfeiter, was among the men brought in on suspicion of the murder.

After her husband’s murder, Lucia Terranova reunited with her family in New York City. The young son mentioned in the news did not go with her. Descendants of Santo Calamia tell me he was named Serafino, after his paternal grandfather, and called “Joe Fino.” I have not found any vital records for Lucia and Antonino in this period, or evidence of any children. (It is notable that in ten years of marriage, Lucia and Antonino had just one child. Lucia had six children in eleven years, in her second marriage.)

In December of that year, three of the Morello-Terranova siblings married, including Lucia, to an associate of her brothers, Vincenzo Salemi. His sister, Lena Salemi, married Giuseppe, who was a widower of eleven years by this time. Ignazio Lupo married Lucia’s sister, Salvatrice.

A 1905 census records Giuseppe Morello in close proximity to the Lo Monte brothers, who were among his closest criminal associates. In this state census, Morello lives with his wife and two children, (one from his first marriage), and calls himself a salesman. Morello was a counterfeiter in 1903, but he also had other ventures, legal and illicit, and whether he continued counterfeiting in those years is not certain. His building cooperative was active and seemingly legitimate in the years after his second marriage. However, in 1907 there was another banking panic, and the Ignatz Florio Building Co-op changed its tactics, a move that more closely aligned them with a growing network of Mafia families in the United States, and at the same time distanced the Co-op from the support of the local Sicilian community. Morello began dipping into the cash reserves of the already strained business.

In 1908, Comito was taken to Highland to print counterfeit bills on Cina’s farm. While he was there that winter, New York homicide police lieutenant Joseph Petrosino was murdered in Palermo.

Joe_petrosino
Joseph Petrosino

In February 1909, Petrosino went to Italy to retrieve the criminal records of Italians in the United States, so they could be arrested and deported. The trip was supposed to be confidential, but one of his superiors leaked it to the press.

That month Giuseppe Palermo, introduced to Comito as “Uncle Salvatore,” (Palermo was also known as Salvatore Saracina) and Ignazio Lupo visited the Highland farm. The conversation among Uncle Salvatore, Ignazio Lupo, and the others who showed up on 12 February 1909 (Cecala, Cina, and Sylvester) strongly suggested that Morello arranged to kill Petrosino while he was in Sicily.

Morello was not the only one implicated in Petrosino’s shooting. Vito Cascio Ferro was also suspected of involvement, because the New York police lieutenant had arrested him in connection with the “Barrel Murder,” in 1903. In one version of events, Cascio Ferro left a dinner party, took his host’s coach into the city where he met Petrosino in a public plaza, shot him, and returned to the party; his host supplied Cascio Ferro with an alibi. Other accounts of the assassination have two gunmen, fleeing the scene. The case was never officially solved.

After Petrosino’s assassination was announced in the news, the Highland counterfeiters discussed the crime again in Comito’s presence. Uncle Vincent said something Comito considered significant, that because Petrosino was killed in Palermo, that “it was well done.”

Santo Calamia’s father, Giuseppe, living in Gibellina, was also wanted by Italian police, as an accessory to the Petrosino shooting. Calamia fled Sicily via London and New York, before being arrested in New Orleans, very near his son’s address on Poydras Street. Reporting at the time indicates his family and close friends were hiding him with the intent to send him to the west coast.

The following winter, Giuseppe Morello and his associates were arrested and found guilty of counterfeiting. Antonio Comito, the captive printer, testified against them. Morello was sentenced to ten years in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

Santo Calamia visited Giuseppe Morello in prison in Atlanta four times between 1917-20; in the visitor log, he calls himself Morello’s brother-in-law. Santo’s father, Giuseppe Calamia died in 1921 in Gibellina, and Santo applied for a passport soon after, to settle his father’s estate and arrange for his burial.

Santo Calamia
Photo from Santo Calamia’s passport application, taken the year before his death

He never made it back from Sicily. Santo died in his native town the following spring.

 

Sources

Babin, D. (2015, April 28). Bumped Off On The Bayou: The Macaroni Wars.

Jon Black at Gangrule, “The Morello and Lupo Trial.”

Comito’s Story. (2010, April). Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement. April 2010. Pp. 5-17.

David Critchley’s The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931.

The Murdered Italian Found at Whitecastle. (1903, May 7). Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)

Donna Shrum in Country Roads, When the French Quarter Was Italian.

Sicilians in Battle to Death. (1902, June 12). Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)

October is Italian-American Heritage Month

October is Italian-American Heritage Month

We celebrate Italian-American heritage in October to coincide with Columbus Day. The date of his landfall in the Americas has been observed since at least the 150th anniversary, and has been a fixed date in the federal calendar since 1971. While recent proclamations tend to focus not on Christopher Columbus* but on more contemporary Italians and Italian-Americans who have shaped our nation, I would like to look at our immigrant heritage

* A exception can be found on this site, on the festivities put on by their committee in Boston on 1 October; they recognize the ambivalence around certain unnamed figures and ask for “people of goodwill” to participate in “vigorous debate” on their legacies. The Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of New York supports the same mission in that city, this year focusing the month’s observance on women, and other celebrations are planned in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

As organization president Basil M. Russo suggested two years ago in addressing the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, we as Italian-Americans should consider the stories of how we arrived and helped build the country we call our home. Even more urgently, as President Barack Obama asked us to do in his 2010 address, we ought to compare our ancestor’s trials with those of today’s immigrants.

When you learn about the hurdles that today’s immigrants face in coming here, ask yourself: How would I feel if the story of my family was like the stories on the news right now?

My Italian ancestors came during the Great Migration, around 1900, joining the United States in time to reap the benefits of the Roaring Twenties. Not that they were unaffected by immigration restrictions, as few as there were in those years. My twice great grandfather, who was blind, was not permitted to enter the country. His widow, had she not had a male relative willing to support her, would also been barred from entering the United States.

But neither was my twice great grandmother subject to being deported for a misdemeanor, or her children taken from her and locked in cages like animals. She’d made it to the United States and the worst was behind her. That wouldn’t be true, if she came today, from a country that many Americans regard with the same contempt as we once viewed Sicily.

Since we, immigrants and their descendants, are part of what makes America great, let us ask ourselves: how can we ensure the promise of America’s greatness in the future? Do we want to preserve the prejudice that greeted our ancestors, or the opportunities they found here, for future generations?

And what stories do we want to tell about our family’s struggles and achievements? Stereotypes about Italian-American gangsters and roughnecks abound. So do the tired hagiographies in which our ancestors “worked hard, and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.” The real history of our families—and this country—is more complicated. Future generations deserve to know as much of the truth as we can tell.

Featured image: The author’s twice-great grandmother, Angela Grizzaffi, and two of her daughters

Northampton, MA: Nerd Nite Noho presentation on the origins of the Mafia in Springfield on 8/13/18

Northampton, MA: Nerd Nite Noho presentation on the origins of the Mafia in Springfield on 8/13/18

If and only if you’re near the Pioneer Valley, plan to hang out with nerds on Monday night. I’ll be there!

Mafia nerds, rejoice and be refreshed! I’ll be speaking Monday evening, August 13th, at Nerd Nite Noho, a monthly gathering at the World War II Club in Northampton, Massachusetts. Join us! I’ll be in a double header: the other half of the evening will be on feminist comics. So much cool, they turn off the A/C. (Just kidding. It’s very comfortable. And there’s a bar!)

Nerd Nite Noho

13 August 2018

7-9 PM

Event on Facebook

Al Bruno Adolfos Springfield FB page
“Big Al” Bruno

Be there and be square!

The WWII Club is at 50 Conz St., Northampton. Admission to Nerd Nite Noho is $5. See the Facebook event page for more information.