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.

The bosses of Springfield, Massachusetts

The bosses of Springfield, Massachusetts

Organized crime in Springfield, Massachusetts has long been controlled by a faction of the Genovese family, based in New Jersey and originally led by Willie Moretti. Rackets in Hartford, and elsewhere in Connecticut, are controlled by the local crew in Springfield. In other parts of the state, organized crime is dominated by the Patriarca Family, also known as the New England Crime Family.

The Patriarca and the Genovese use the Connecticut River as a line of demarcation, with exceptions for the big cities. Springfield and New Haven have always belonged to the Genovese, along with the rest of Massachusetts on the west side of the Connecticut. But these old boundaries have sometimes been contested, such as when William Grasso encroached on Springfield in the late 1980s. Further complicating relations between the neighboring families, there is a pool of seasoned gangsters who have long histories of affiliation with both the Patriarca and Genovese.

Despite being led by a New Jersey Family, most of the crew’s members and leadership have been Springfield locals who trace their roots to the same two villages in the region of Naples, Italy, as Pasqualina Albano and Carlo Siniscalchi. Pasqualina’s family was important in Springfield, even before Prohibition. Her uncle, John Albano, who like her was born in Bracigliano, is heralded as one of the founding fathers of Springfield’s Italian-American community, in a 1976 history that calls John’s son, Felix, the King of Little Italy. Felix is the father of labor leader John “Jack” Albano, and grandfather of the former mayor of Springfield, Michael Albano.

In the decade before Prohibition, the elder John Albano and his son, Felix, were already in the alcohol distribution business. But John was dead before the start of Prohibition, and his two oldest sons died young. The eldest daughter of his brother, Louis, and her husband, Carlo Siniscalchi, took over the liquor distribution business from Pasqualina’s late uncle and cousins. Carlo was killed within a year, and Pasqualina, before Prohibition’s end in 1933. One of their orphaned sons, named after his father, lived with Louis’ son, his uncle Antonio Albano, as a young man, in 1940. Antonio, a grocer like his father, opened a store in 1942 that remained in the family until 2015.

In New Haven, Connecticut, Colombo Crime Family member Ralph “Whitey” Tropiano shared turf with Salvatore Annunziato, a boxer and the son of a bootlegger, for decades, despite their mutual hatred. (Rumor was that Tropiano had been given New Haven for his part in killing Moretti, who was compromised by advanced syphilis, and about to testify before the US Senate in 1951.) Tropiano’s protege was William Grasso, who became underboss to Ray Patriarca, Jr, when the new boss’ first choice went to prison.

Sam Cufari
Sam Cufari

The first boss of Springfield’s Genovese crew that I know of, after Prohibition, was “Big Nose Sam” Cufari, born Salvatore Cufari in 1901 in Bianco, Reggio di Calabria. Calabria, the region south of Naples, is home to the Ndrangheta, an organization similar to the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camorra. Cufari lived in Springfield by the 1920 census and can be seen returning from Cuba with his wife in 1932. Another Springfield associate with ties to pre-Castro Cuba is Carlo Mastrototaro, who occupied positions in both the Patriarca and Genovese families.

Sam Cufari was arrested in 1943 for bookmaking. By 1948, he was the acknowledged boss of Springfield, running his family from his newly opened restaurant, Ciro’s. One of Cufari’s soldiers was Al Bruno. Other Cufari associates who would be active gangsters in Springfield for decades were Felix Tranghese and Felix’s first cousins, once removed, Frankie “Skyball” Scibelli and his brothers, Albert (called “Baba”) and Anthony. Frankie Skyball was first arrested at age twenty, in 1932.

Scibelli-4
“Frankie Skyball” Scibelli

The Scibelli and Tranghese families both trace their roots back to Quindici, the same place Carlo Siniscalchi was born. Quindici is in Avellino, on the provincial border with Salerno. Its neighbor on the other side of the border is Bracigliano, where Pasqualina Albano, his wife and successor in bootlegging, was born. The nearest large city is Naples.

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

The vast majority of Italian immigration to the US occurred between 1900-1915, and their descendants have few ties to the old country. But in many of the families from Bracigliano and Quindici who live in the Springfield area, movement between the two places has never ceased.

After WWII, a number of immigrants from Bracigliano and Quindici arrived in Springfield, which had hosted an “Italian colony” since around 1878. Many of these new immigrants had ties to the city, in some cases, for generations: their ancestors worked here before the Great War, or they had family members still living in the area. Immigrants from Bracigliano include the late boss, “Big Al” Bruno, and Amedeo Santaniello, a long-time second in command of the Springfield crew. Grasso’s killer, Gaetano Milano, came from Naples as a young child with his parents, not long after WWII.

In 1961 Frankie Skyball was turned in to police by a nun, for running a gambling ring from the phone booths at Providence Hospital, a crime for which he served nineteen months in jail. He had a son-in-law, Victor C. DeCaro, who disappeared in 1972 after Skyball dropped him off at work. (Rumor was that Victor was cheating on his wife, Skyball’s daughter.) DeCaro’s body was pulled from the Connecticut River two months later. Sometime during the 70s, when Frankie was still in his fifties, he had a cancerous lung removed. Scibelli served a federal prison sentence in 1976. In the next few years, he lost both his parents. Cufari died a natural death in 1983 and Frankie succeeded him.

adolfo bruno
“Big Al” Bruno

Mastrototaro was Patriarca’s second in command in 1984 when he was arrested with future Springfield boss Al Bruno on gaming charges. Bruno was convicted of racketeering and gambling in 1987. In 1988, he was arrested again for gambling operations. This time his co-conspirators included two brothers and their wives: his long-time second in command, Amedeo Santaniello; Amedeo’s wife, Anna; his brother Italo; and Italo’s wife, Josephine.

Anthony Delevo followed Scibelli in 1998, passing over Al Bruno, who moved his family to Florida. Meanwhile William Grasso of New Haven, known for his ruthlessness, was becoming the head of the Patriarca Family in all but name.

anthony delevo younger
Anthony Delevo

Carlo Mastrototaro had a reputation among his peers as an honest man. The same source that ties him to Lansky and Cuba, the published memoir of Patriarca associate Vincent Teresa, says of Mastrototaro that if he owed you money and you disappeared for six months, when you returned, he would still have that money for you, down to the penny. According to testimony from his killers, Grasso thought he going to the arbitration of a dispute about vending machine territories in Springfield—Genovese territory—with Mastrototaro, who was seventy years old at the time. Grasso was 62.

william grasso
William Grasso

The Patriarca underboss was shot and killed in a moving van on Interstate 91, in June 1989. His body was found near the Connecticut River the same day another high ranking Patriarca member, “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, was wounded in an attempt on his life.

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

Grasso’s killer was Gaetano Milano, of East Longmeadow. Milano was born in Naples in 1951 and immigrated when he was three years old. He graduated from Longmeadow High School, married, and had two children. In the late Seventies, he was a boxing promoter. Later, he went into business with his childhood friend Frank Colantoni, Jr., as owners of a nightclub, Club 57, in Southwick. (Nightclub ownership in Springfield is a family business, one that deserves a separate post.)

gaetano j milano
Gaetano Milano

William Grasso was asked to the meeting by Frank Pugliano. (Pugliano reportedly approached Jimmy Santaniello early in 2004 to set up a meeting with Mastrototaro, when several gangsters sought Santaniello’s tribute, following Al Bruno’s murder. Jimmy is of no known relation to Amedeo.) Brothers Frank and Louis Pugliano are both named as participants in Grasso’s killing. Frank is identified both as a “Patriarca associate” and as a made member of the Genovese Crime Family. The Pugliano brothers are a few years older than Carlo Mastrototaro. Frank Colantoni, Jr. was 35 at the time of the murder, and Milano, 37.

Before a suspect was named in Grasso’s killing, the following March, Milano was arrested along with Frank Pugliano on charges of conspiracy and racketeering. But he was free on bail in October 1989, four months after the murder, sponsoring the induction of Vincent Federico into the Patriarca crime family. Federico, 30, was on a 28 hour furlough from the Massachusetts Corrections Institute at Shirley on “family business.”

Milano owed his freedom to a number of friends and family members, both his own and of his friend, Frank Colantoni, Jr., who together raised Milano’s $1.6M bond with the equity in their homes. Milano and his wife mortgaged two houses, one of them a duplex. His parents put up their home, as did his uncle, his brother and sister-in-law, and on his wife’s side, another brother- and sister-in-law. Colantoni’s mother put up her house, despite the danger that her own son would need the equity; he was arrested a few months later.

Other people of no known kinship to Gaetano Milano, who put up equity from their homes for his freedom, include Claudio Cardaropoli, whose family immigrated from Bracigliano with a young Al Bruno, and owned Springfield real estate with Milano in 1978. Francesco and Rosa Ferrentino of Hampden also put up $75,000 equity from their newly constructed home. Francesco’s brother, Mario Ferrentino, was suspected with Gaetano Milano of intimidating Mario’s co-defendant and witness against him in a manslaughter trial, the month before Milano’s bail was raised.

Emilio Fusco full
Emilio Fusco

Emilio Fusco, who arrived in 1989 or 1990 from Quindici, was a protegee of Baba Scibelli, Frankie Skyball’s brother. Baba sponsored Fusco’s membership in the Genovese family. In 2000, Emilio and his wife were arrested on gambling charges with other known members of the Springfield crew.

When Skyball got out of prison in 1998, he retired from the Mafia and passed on leadership to Al Bruno. Bruno, who had already survived one attempt on his life, in 1993, was assassinated in 2003 on orders from his protegee, Anthony Arillotta. Among those tried in Bruno’s murder was Emilio Fusco, who fled to Italy and was extradited. Felix Tranghese cooperated with the police investigation into Bruno’s murder, allowing prosecutors to convict Genovese acting boss Artie Nigro. Tranghese was sentenced to four years in prison, and has returned to the Springfield area.

anthony-arillottajpg-050307
Anthony Arillotta

Tranghese was made acting boss after Bruno’s death, but Arillotta was soon recognized as the leader of the Springfield Crew. Tranghese, who is 66 this year, later testified that he was “‘shelved’ by a group of young upstarts in 2006.” Arillotta was succeeded by Albert Calvanese, upon the latter’s release from prison, in 2011. Arillotta, imprisoned in 2009, returned to Springfield in 2017 after serving eight years for his part in two murders, of Bruno and another man, his brother-in-law Gary Westerman. Recently, it’s been reported that the Springfield Crew is led by Amedeo’s son, Ralph Santaniello, with his father’s backing. However Ralph, 50, charged last year in a federal extortion case, is expected to plead guilty on 6 November 2017.

Ralphie Santaniello
Ralph Santaniello

Two of Arillotta’s co-defendants, brothers Freddy and Ty Geas, are serving life sentences. Fusco, sentenced to 25 years for racketeering, will be in prison until 2032. Gaetano Milano was convicted of the murder of William Grasso and sentenced to 33 years. He is scheduled for release in 2033.

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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