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.
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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.

Springfield Strikes Back

Springfield Strikes Back

When the Patriarca family tried to take over Springfield, Massachusetts, in the late Eighties, the local Genovese crew struck back.

In the 1960s, Ralph “Whitey” Tropiano and Salvatore Annunziato, both of the Colombo family, ran New Haven together in a grudging alliance. Tropiano, who once killed his whole crew to save his own skin, was in charge of the bookmakers while the diminutive former boxer, who once fought as “Midge Renault,” headed labor.

Ralph_Whitey_Tropiano head on
Ralph “Whitey” Tropiano

Tropiano and one of his bookmaking associates, William Grasso, were going to go into the trash hauling business together, when their attempts to create a monopoly were revealed. Grasso was convicted and sent to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. This turned out to be the greatest stroke of luck in his criminal career.

Mafia relations in Massachusetts can be divided into two eras: before Patriarca and after him. For a generation following the end of Prohibition, the various gangs in Boston were run semi-independently and each leader was the equal of any boss of Springfield, in the western part of the state. Joseph Lombardo, regarded by most Mafia historians as a long time underboss in Boston, was said by Vincent Teresa to be the chair of a council of New England bosses. In this formulation, Springfield came under Boston’s jurisdiction. The undisputed boss of Springfield, who was “Big Nose” Sam Cufari in those years, would require, for at least some activities, the permission of “Mr. Lombardo” in Boston. 

 

william grasso
William Grasso

After Patriarca consolidated Boston and Providence’s operations, he went on to forge strong relationships with the Genovese and Colombo families of New York. His principal rivals in Boston were the Irish gangs, the Winter Hill Gang chief among them.

 

In the federal pen, Grasso’s cellmate was Ray Patriarca, Sr. When Grasso returned to Connecticut in 1978, he had a new protector. His old mentor, Whitey Tropiano, who had avoided indictment in the conspiracy with Grasso, was the victim of an unsolved murder in 1980. Thomas “The Blond” Vastano, was a Genovese associate who was said to be running the family’s gambling operations in Connecticut, was killed the same year.

Illegal gaming would figure prominently in Grasso’s demise. By 1989, Big Nose Sam had passed away and his successor, “Frankie Skyball” Scibelli, was in prison. His associate, Anthony Delevo, was running the Springfield crew in his absence. Meanwhile, the Scibelli family held a monopoly in the Springfield area on illegally retrofitted video game machines. S&M was a distributor of pool tables, video game machines, and the like to area restaurants, bars, and clubs, owned first by Albert “Baba” Scibelli, brother of Frankie Skyball, and later by Baba’s son-in-law, restaurateur and real estate developer Michael Cimmino.

The game machines in question were fixed in such a way that venue owners were not only complicit but active in the conspiracy. They could adjust how often players won, and split proceeds 50-50 with S&M. It was a lucrative racket: one venue that kept records earned $40,000 over four months through these machines. The existence of the gaming racket was revealed in a massive raid in 2001.

Frank_Salemme_(mugshot)Like Grasso, Frank Salemme’s rise through the ranks of the Patriarca organization began in prison, where he met soldier Anthony Morelli in 1957. Through Morelli, Salemme was introduced to the crime family he would later attempt to take over with support from Whitey Bulger.

Bulger and his close associate, Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi, were both long time FBI informants by 1989. Bulger became an FBI informant in 1975, and his Somerville based Winter Hill Gang’s activities were largely overlooked by law enforcement as a result. Flemmi, who also moved between the Winter Hill and Patriarca circles, was what Professor Elin Waring calls a connector of co-offending networks. 

Ray Patriarca Sr. died in 1984. Three years later, Grasso became underboss to Ray Patriarca, Jr, when the new boss’ first choice went to prison. Meanwhile, by 1986, Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme had become a trusted aide of Whitey Bulger. He fought on the Winter Hill side of the Irish Gang Wars, then went into hiding after participating in a 1968 car bombing targeting the lawyer of an informant on the Patriarca crime family. He was caught and imprisoned in 1972. After his release from prison in 1988, Salemme promptly began working to take over the Patriarca family. By the time of the shooting, in June, 1989, he was the right-hand man of Bill Grasso, underboss of the Patriarca family and the organization’s most powerful member.

Other Patriarca capos resented Grasso and Salemme for their proximity to the Patriarcas, but also for their ruthlessness and lack of loyalty to their fellows. Chief among the disgruntled captains was Vincent “The Animal” Ferrara.

Salemme was injured in what appears to have been an attempted assassination, in a drive-by shooting outside an IHOP, on the morning of the sixteenth of June, 1989. That afternoon, William Grasso’s body was found by fishermen, on the bank of the Connecticut River in Wethersfield, near the Massachusetts border.

While the drive-by attack on Salemme was carried out in public view, and in broad daylight, the men who took down William Grasso used another, time tested Mafia approach to execution. His trusted associates picked him up for a meeting that never was.

Grasso, who was sixty-two and a recent widower, was famously cautious as well as dangerously violent, so he clearly trusted the company with whom he traveled. The four who took Grasso for his last ride were Gaetano Milano, a newly made man in the Patriarca family; his childhood friend and business partner, Frank Colantoni Jr.; and the Pugliano brothers, Frank and Louis. Like Flemmi, the Pugliano brothers and Gaetano Milano were connectors linking the internally feuding New England family and the Springfield crew.

gaetano j milano
Gaetano Milano

All four were long time residents of the Springfield area. Milano, who was born in Naples, came to the area as a teenager: he graduated from Longmeadow High School. The Pugliano family has owned and operated a restaurant in Hampden, just outside Springfield, Massachusetts, since 1934. Frank “Pugs” Pugliano was described in 1990 as an associate of the Patriarca Family but a “made” member of the Genovese Family, of which the Springfield crew is a part. 

Milano and Colantoni were in their mid-thirties, and the Pugliano brothers, in their early sixties. The man they were supposedly going to see was another elder in the New England mob scene: Carlo Mastrototaro, who ruled Worcester. Mastrototaro, who died in 2009 at age 89, was supposed to mediate a dispute between Grasso and Springfield interests regarding territories for the illegal vending machines that S&M distributed. Frank Pugliano, according to the indictment, set up the talks that led to Grasso’s shooting. 

At the time of the shooting, Grasso and Milano were passengers in a van being driven by Louis Pugliano, along with Louis’ brother and Milano’s friend. Gaetano Milano shot Bill Grasso once in the neck, killing him. Colantoni helped his friend dispose of the body and clean the van. That was on the thirteenth of June. Three days later, coming out of an IHOP in Saugus, Massachusetts, “Cadillac Frank” Salemme was the target of a drive by shooting, which he survived by running into a nearby pizza shop.

Although the killing and dumping of Grasso’s body all happened in Genovese territory, initial suspicion for the two shootings fell on the Patriarca family: captains Vincent Ferrara, Joseph A. Russo, and Robert Carrozza.

Whitey_Bulger_US_Marshals_Service_Mug1
James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, Jr.

At his murder trial in 1990, Milano described the killing as the outcome of a conflict among leadership in the Patriarca family. The shooters in the attack on Salemme, and the Springfield hitmen, all maintained that they were likely to be killed by their victims if they did not strike first. It would be seven more years before Whitey Bulger’s control of the FBI, and his use of agents to spread rumors like these among his enemies, would become public knowledge.

Between the Winter Hill Gang’s false flag and genuine threats from Grasso against the Scibelli family monopoly, and considering the close relationships of Milano and his associates to the warring families, it seems likely that a consortium of Patriarca capos, led by Ferrara, could have obtained the active support and participation of the Springfield crew, in their successful strike against Grasso. The support for Milano in Longmeadow in raising his bail, as I’ve written previously, was notable. This coordinated takedown of the leader, in all but name, of the New England crime family, would likely have been seen as mutually beneficial by both Mafia families. Its orchestration by an Irish gang leader in Boston was not even suspected by the participants, much less by its victims.

It appeared that few people mourned the passing of William Grasso. Although he was considered deeply loyal to the Patriarca bosses, the other capos resented Grasso, and his soldiers hated and feared him. The funeral was highly surveilled, but no mafiosi came to pay their respects to the almost universally despised gangster. He was laid to rest beside his wife, Anna.

Despite the suspicion that fell on the Patriarca capos who had opposed Grasso and Salemme, Ferrara and his presumed allies did not benefit from the shootings. In the immediate aftermath, Patriarca men from Providence were put in charge of Connecticut to replace the slain Grasso. Hartford, which had always been an open city, reportedly came under the control of the Genovese family. 

Frank Salemme’s bid for power was successful, at least for a time. The career criminal who was not eligible to become a made man under Patriarca Sr., because of his mixed Italian and Irish heritage, was the family’s de facto leader in 1991. Just two years after he was nearly killed by them, Salemme came to lead the organization whose former boss and namesake wouldn’t have him as a member. His son, Frank Salemme, Jr., was reportedly a made man in his father’s crime family. 

After a 1995 federal indictment for racketeering, Salemme learned his associates in the Winter Hill Gang were informants. More details came out in Bulger’s 1997 trial. In 1999, Salemme, still in prison, flipped on Bulger and was rewarded with witness protection.

Salemmi was on release from prison and living under an assumed name in Atlanta when the body of nightclub owner, Steven DiSarro, was discovered in Providence in 2016. Salemme is currently on trial in connection with the 1993 murder, attributed to Frank Jr., who died in 1995 from lymphoma. 

Sources

Apuzzo, Matt. “11/28/2003: Bruno Slaying Creates Mafia Void; Hartford Seen As ‘Wide-Open Space‘” Published 28 November 2003 in The Hartford Courant.

Barry, Stephanie. “Read The FBI’s John Bologna Documents.” Published 23 May 2017 in The Republican.

Barry, Stephanie. “Slots come up lemons.” Published 31 March 2004 in The Republican. P. A01.

Burnstein, Scott. “GR Sources: One-Time Mafia Lord ‘Cadillac Frank’ May Hear FBI Knocking On His Door Again If Mob Associate’s Body Is Found.”

Claffey, Kevin. “4 from WMass held in slaying of Mafia boss.” Published 21 August 1990 in The Republican/Union-News. P. 1.

Claffey, Kevin. “Milano released on bail – $1.6 million bond posted.” Published 3 April 1990 in The Republican. Connecticut Edition. P. 1.

Hunt, Thomas. “Top New England mobsters targeted.” Published 16 June 2018 on The Writers of Wrongs.

Silverman, Mark and Scott Deitche. “An excerpt from Rogue Mobster: The Untold Story of Mark Silverman and the New England Mafia.”

Swenson, Kyle. “A buried secret leads to a Boston murder trial against a once powerful mafia boss.” Published 15 May 2018 in The Washington Post.

Taylor, David. “Mob Rules.” Published 14 January 2003 in The Village Voice.

Omerta in Utica

Omerta in Utica

Nothing could tear apart these early Mafia families in Utica, New York. Not even murder.

Pietro Lima and his brother-in-law, Dominick Aiello, were in a hurry the night they were killed, summoned by a late night phone call. It was November, and the men left home in such a rush that neither was fully dressed; they’d thrown coats over slippers and pajamas. The men were found dead in their car in the morning, evidently shot at close range by someone sitting in the back seat. In other words, they were executed by someone they trusted. Though never charged, it’s widely believed that the powerful Falcone brothers were behind their deaths.

 

Pietro Lima
Pietro Lima

The Falcones were long time associates of Pietro Lima and his extended family, who had been running and distilling illicit alcohol in Utica since the start of Prohibition. Even after its repeal in 1933, the families continued to dodge taxes with their unlicensed stills. They were also part of a network of criminals that spanned the United States. Despite indictments for conspiracy in the early 1940s, the Falcones were not identified by federal investigators as Mafia bosses until their arrest at the famous 1957 gathering in Apalachin, New York.

 

The elder of the two murder victims, Pietro Lima, was born in 1869 or 1870 in Bagheria, a few miles from the city of Palermo. He immigrated around the turn of the century with his wife, Providenza Aiello, and their oldest child, Grace. They settled first in Brooklyn, where the rest of Pietro and Providenza’s children were born. By 1920, the family had moved, with several of their extended relations, to Utica, in Oneida County, New York, about 75 miles east of Lake Ontario. Across the water was Prince Edward Island, in Canada. It was a good location for transporting alcohol into the US during Prohibition, an activity Pietro was involved in with the husband of his niece, Rosario Gambino. The two were stopped together in 1924 in a car full of Canadian ale, but they were able to overturn their conviction the following year on the grounds the police did not have a search warrant.

Joseph Lima 1928 Utica
Joseph Lima

In 1928, Pietro and Rosario were both prosperous business owners in Utica, and the fathers of large families. Rosario, formerly a longshoreman, owned a gas station. Pietro, a grocer, owned his home next door to his eldest daughter, Grace, and her husband. His son, Joseph, was most likely being groomed to take over the family business. He had been married for four years to Nellie Caputo, whom he’d vigorously courted in her family’s Brooklyn bake shop, and they had one child, a son.

Based on interviews the police conducted with family members, Nellie sparked the fateful argument that November by remarking on how Joseph had let “some Italian girl” wreck his car. The fight escalated and Nellie left the house with their son, going to the home of Rosario Gambino, a couple blocks away.

The Lima, Aiello, Gambino, and Falcone families, all of whom moved to Utica in the years leading up to Prohibition, were related by marriage, as well as through their criminal activities. All recent immigrants from Palermo and Bagheria, they also shared a connection in Brooklyn, having spent time there, upon their arrivals in the US, living in the same Cobble Hill neighborhood. A Falcone stood as godfather to Joseph Lima, in 1901 in Brooklyn, and the Caputo family bakery where Joseph wooed Nellie is still operated by the original owner’s descendants.

It’s not clear why Nellie went to the Gambino home after her argument with her husband. Perhaps she spent a lot of time with Angelina Gambino, making it a natural choice. She may have come to know the Gambinos well in Brooklyn and sought them out as old friends after her marriage brought her to Utica. But she could not have been ignorant of the power play she was about to make.

At around ten o’clock that night, Joseph Lima and his father, who’d both been drinking, decided it was time to bring Nellie back home. They got one of Joseph’s brothers, Charlie, and Grace’s husband, Lawrence, to go with them to the Gambino home to retrieve her. But Nellie refused to leave with them, and Rosario Gambino backed her up, increasing the stakes for the Lima men. He said she could stay the night if she wanted.

Peter Gambino Utica 1928
Peter Gambino

Eventually, Joseph and the other young men left, but Pietro Lima remained in his onetime partner’s driveway, drunk and yelling insults at the house. Close to midnight, Rosario came outside again with his eighteen year old son, Peter, and told Pietro to go home. Pietro refused. Rosario then told his son to move their car, and as Peter started to comply, he saw Lima reach for a gun. Peter leaped in front of his father to protect him. A gun fired, and Peter went down, hit in the chest.

More shots were fired—both Pietro and Rosario were armed with handguns—and the two men managed to seriously injure one another. Rosario was shot in the stomach, and Pietro was struck at least twice, in the leg and the scrotum.

Pietro’s sons and son-in-law returned to the scene, and Charlie and Lawrence took Rosario Gambino, who was evidently the most seriously injured, to the hospital in their car. Meanwhile Pietro and the young Peter Gambino limped off together to find a doctor for themselves. They made it a few blocks before the older man collapsed. His gun was dropped into a sewer, and later retrieved from its catch basin as evidence.

Police arrived at the Gambino home, and the women inside would not let them in, so officers broke in and began searching for evidence. They quickly found Rosario’s gun, hidden in a warming oven. Joseph Lima arrived and claimed to be there to visit his wife, who had been ill. He demanded to know what was going on.

On the street corner where Pietro Lima collapsed was a cafeteria from which an ambulance was called to take the two injured men to the same hospital as Rosario. All three men were operated upon. Peter Gambino had been struck in the collarbone, but was expected to survive.

By the following morning, Rosario was dead. He left a widow and ten children, the youngest under two. A collection was taken at the viewing, to pay for his burial. The following day Peter, still in the hospital, was finally informed of his father’s death. Nearby, Pietro Lima was recovering from his own injuries, and expecting to face manslaughter charges upon his release.

Following news of Rosario’s death, it was reported in the newspaper in Utica that Nellie’s relatives were coming from Brooklyn to take her home with them. Police found Pietro’s discarded gun, as well as those stashed in the Gambino home, and learned that Peter Gambino’s injury came not from Pietro Lima, but from the gun of his late father. A suit was filed by the dead man’s estate against Pietro Lima, to support the widow and children.

As bad as it seemed, immediately after the shooting, it appears that the families worked things out. The manslaughter case against Pietro would be hard to press without the cooperation of the Gambinos. Peter was the only witness to his father’s shooting. In the end, Pietro was charged only with having an unregistered gun, and even in this, his niece, whom he had widowed, pleaded with the judge for a lenient sentence. The practical reasons are clear: better that Pietro was free and earning to support both their families, than for him to be imprisoned. Pietro Lima pleaded guilty to the gun charge and got a suspended sentence and a fine, on the understanding he wouldn’t be prosecuted in Rosario Gambino’s death.

Six years later, when it was Pietro and Dominick who were killed, money and family ties once again kept the victims’ families silent. Four years after her husband’s murder, Paolina Aiello was discovered to possess a high volume, state of the art “super still” in her home. After massive arrests in an alcohol conspiracy netted the Falcone brothers, reporters came around to Mrs. Aiello’s little grocery, which she had run from the family’s garage since the early years of her marriage. She had nothing but good things to say about Mr. Falcone, whom she had known for twenty years and whose son, a lawyer, was married to Mrs. Aiello’s daughter. It was Mrs. Aiello whose real estate holdings financed Salvatore Falcone’s $20,000 bail.

 

Northampton, MA: Free presentation on Stonewall and the Mafia on 5/2/18

Northampton, MA: Free presentation on Stonewall and the Mafia on 5/2/18

What is the connection between the Stonewall riots and organized crime?

On Wednesday, 2 May at 7 pm, I’ll be delivering a presentation at Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts. My subject is the little known history of the Mafia’s involvement in the LGBT community in New York City, and how this culminated in the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, in 1969, where a new and powerful wave of LGBT activism was unleashed. Northampton’s own Pride Parade, which happens this year on the Saturday after my talk, has its roots, like all similar pride events worldwide, in the Stonewall riots.

This lecture is suitable for teens and adults. (I mention, but do not discuss, charged subjects including prostitution, drug use, and violence.) Admission is free.

Stonewall and the Mafia at Forbes flyer

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