Three “tells” of Mafia families

Three “tells” of Mafia families

The extended family of brothers Ciro and Vincent Terranova and their nephews, Jimmy and Joe “Baker” Catania, have three distinctive “tells” of Mafia families.

The Artichoke King was the most successful of the Morello-Terranova brothers. One measure of his success was that he was the only one of his brothers to die in bed. At the peak of his power, he could afford to be generous to his relatives. He raised the three orphaned children of his brother, Vincenzo, and gave a house to his sister and her husband, the mafioso Ignazio Lupo. When his nephew, Giuseppe “Joe the Baker” Catania was killed by Maranzano’s soldiers in 1931, Ciro paid for a lavish funeral, including a Depression-defying procession of limousines, floral arrangements, and a golden casket fit for a king.

Giuseppe “Joe Baker” Catania. Joe and his older brother, Calogero/Jimmy emigrated as infants from Palermo with their mother to join their father, a baker, in New York City.

While the story of Joe Catania and his brothers is usually relegated to a sentence or two in someone else’s story, the marriages between the Terranova and Catania families point to a deep level of involvement. The “tells” of Mafia families in vital records—of business ownership, unexplained wealth, and marriages arranged to preserve power—put the Catania family at the center of an extended organized crime family. 

The Catanias emigrated from Mezzomonreale, a district of the city of Palermo. Brothers Frank and Tony Catania and their brother-in-law, Rosario La Scala, emigrated to New York and worked as bakers. The Catania brothers had a bakery in Little Italy, then began working out of the Reliable Bronx Italian Bakers. Rosario La Scala worked for a different bakery in the same cooperative. 

According to the paint on the building, still visible on Google Maps, they were established in 1918. The original location was at 2383 Hoffman St.

In the second generation, Tony’s sons Calogero and Giuseppe Catania inherited the family business from their father, and followed their uncle Ciro Terranova into organized crime. Jimmy, as Calogero was called, went to prison for robbery in 1925. The younger brother, called Joe the Baker, was an alleged loan shark and bookmaker. In 1934, Jimmy was arrested with Ignazio Lupo for extortion. Joe was arrested for vagrancy after an armed robbery at a Tepecano Democratic Club-sponsored dinner honoring Magistrate Vitale, part of a NYPD policy of harassing known criminals. Ciro Terranova was routinely harassed by police with the same charge, in the latter years of his career. 

Donato “Danny” Iamascia was another Terranova associate who rated a “glittering pageant” of a funeral when he was killed in 1931.

Joe Catania’s death was said by police to be the result of a war over “brick grapes,” desiccated California wine grapes sold during Prohibition with detailed instructions on how not to make wine from them. In fact, his death came during a short but deadly war between Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano for total dominance of New York’s criminal underworld.

Immediately after Morello and Lupo’s release from prison for counterfeiting, Ciro requested permission to travel to his native Corleone, in Sicily. This is his passport application photograph from 1921, requested for this trip.

Terranova and his nephews were under Masseria’s leadership when Maranzano soldiers mortally assaulted Joe Catania in front of a candy store near his home on Belmont Avenue, in the heart of Bronx’s Little Italy, on 3 February 1931. His uncle Ciro, whose power was at its apex, was hit hard by the death of his nephew and trusted aide. Terranova’s reputation began to weaken. He died in 1938 following a stroke.

Rosario La Scala, the maternal uncle of the Catania brothers, diversified in the 1920s and 30s, operating a live poultry market in East Harlem, and a bakery in the Bronx. Rosario was married to Rosalia Catania, a sister of Ciro Terranova’s wife, Tessie Catania. Their son, Salvatore, married Angelina Terranova, daughter of the late Vincenzo “The Tiger “ Terranova.

In 1930, Jimmy and Joe Catania’s younger brother, Ciro, was in a reformatory. When Joe was killed, he left a wife and two daughters. Ciro married his brother’s widow in 1935. The year before they married, Ciro took a trip to Cuba with his cousin, Salvatore La Scala. In 1940, Ciro appeared in the census twice, once as a candy store owner living with his father, and again with his wife and their children, as the manager of a garage.

Angelina Terranova’s younger brother, Vincent, lived with her and Salvatore for years. Another of Salvatore’s brothers-in-law, Frank Cina, drove a delivery truck for the La Scala bakery in the Bronx, then employed Vincent Terranova in a trucking company. Vincent and his sister Josephine married the children of a fruit dealer from East Harlem: first Josephine in 1934 to Salvatore Ciccone and then Vincent to his sister, Immacolata, known as Margie. 

Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, born in 1934, a captain in the Gambino crime family

Madonna Louise Ciccone traces her Italian roots to Pacentro, according to her Wikipedia biography

It’s been claimed without attribution in online biographies that Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone is the brother of Salvatore and Margie Ciccone. They have a brother named Anthony, but he is fifteen years older than the Gambino capo from Staten Island. The same sources on Sonny Ciccone that name his parents as Sebastiano Ciccone and Gelsomina Piccolo (or badly transcribed variations of these names) say the family is from Pacentro, in Abruzzo, suggesting a possible relationship to another famous Ciccone, Madonna Louise. Sebastiano and Gelsomina are from Brusciano, in Naples, and are of no known relationship to either the Material Girl or the mafioso who share their surname. Neither was I able to find a relationship to a third Ciccone, William, who tried to kill John Gotti in 1987 and whose body was subsequently found in the basement of a Staten Island confectioner. William Ciccone was from a family of longshoremen in Brooklyn who emigrated from Bagnara Calabra. Their different ancestral hometowns, in three distinct regions of Italy, tell us that the families are unlikely to be close kin.

Unlike the coincidences of the Ciccone surname repeating itself through New York Mafia history, alliance marriages among Mafia family members are deliberate. Just like the marriages among the Morello-Terranova siblings, the marriages of the La Scala cousins and the Catania sisters, between the well-connected Catanias and the powerful Terranovas, Vincent Terranova’s children and the Ciccones, and the marriages of Louisa Longo to two of the Catania brothers, were all designed to preserve, enhance, or reinforce power and influence. La famiglia is sacred throughout the Italian diaspora, but in the Mafia, it’s especially true as the family is the source of strength, the building block of organization, and the regenerative source of Mafia myth and manpower. Where the line between family and business is nonexistent, marriage is transactional: the mergers and acquisitions department of the family business.

The extended family tree of the Terranova brothers and their nephews, the “Baker” brothers

Feature image: John Savino, Daniel J. Iamascia and Joseph ‘the Baker’ Catania. Original photo from The Niagara Falls Gazette, 3 January 1930. P. 15. Savino, Iamascia, Catania, and Ciro Terranova were accused of orchestrating the armed robbery at the Roman Gardens.

The other Stefano la Sala

The other Stefano la Sala

He’s not Steve LaSalle, but he’s connected.

The Mafia has long been entwined with the construction industry, particularly in New York City. An early example of this association is the story of Giuseppe Morello and his building co-operative, the Ignatz Florio Co-operative Among Corleonesi. Chartered at the end of 1902, it was a successful, and by all accounts legitimate, business until the financial panic in the summer of 1907.

For much of the 20th century, Mafia controlled construction in several ways. They extorted developers, charging a kickback to winning bidders on contracts, and later, once work was under way, by controlling both labor and supply lines. In the late 1980s, the Mafia controlled 75% of construction in New York City, through ownership of concrete supply companies, and union infiltration.

Early in the century, Italians were a formidable work force in the City. Over two million Italians came to New York between 1900 and 1910. Immigrants in the construction trades literally built parts of America, bridges and tenements that stand today. Stefano La Sala and his family members were among them. So, in his way, was Giuseppe Morello. The fearsome criminal known as “The Clutch Hand,” because of the birth defect that crippled his right hand, was not a builder in the literal sense, but his Co-op was one of the earliest developers of Italian neighborhoods in East Harlem and the Bronx.

The first president of the Ignatz Florio Co-operative Among Corleonesi was Antonio B. Milone. Giuseppe Morello was the Co-op’s first treasurer, and his future brother-in-law, the Palermitan Ignacio Lupo, was also a partner in the venture. The Co-op’s mission was to build housing for the Italian community in New York. Initially, the Co-op sold inexpensive shares, of two or five dollars, to Italian immigrants. Upon the completion of a building, shareholders earned dividends, which they could either take in cash or reinvest in the Co-op’s next venture. Most kept their money with Morello.

Three men, all born Stefano La Sala in Corleone, Sicily, all immigrated to New York. The youngest had no known connection to organized crime. The middle cousin, who I wrote about last week, was later known as Steve LaSalle, of the Lucchese Family. The oldest of the cousins did not Americanize his name. He was born and baptized on the first day of 1881, the first of ten children of Francesco La Sala and Domenica Guidera. His father is descended, on his mother’s side, from a merchant family who moved to Corleone from the Papal States. His mother, Domenica, was born in Palermo and raised in Corleone. Stefano’s paternal aunt and uncle, who stood as his godparents, are the parents of New York gangster Frank Moscato, an associate of Giuseppe Morello.

It’s uncommon to see Sicilian families moving from town to town. Yet the La Sala family was living in Marineo, about halfway between Corleone and Palermo, when their son Isidore was born in 1895. They immigrated to New York the same year.

By this time, Giuseppe Morello had already immigrated to the US with his first wife, Maria Rosa Marsalisi, and extended family. They were agricultural workers in the South for a number of years. Rosa returned to Corleone, where she died in 1898. Giuseppe and his family moved back to New York, where his and his brothers’ criminal interests included extortion and counterfeiting. At the end of 1902, Morello founded the Ignatz Florio Co-op.

Stefano was a teenager when the La Sala family immigrated to New York. His father, Francesco, was a mason by profession. Stefano and at least two of his brothers, Domenico and Isidore, would follow their father into masonry and construction contracting.

In New York, Stefano married his second cousin, Francesca Castro, in 1902. Giuseppe Morello remarried the following year to another Corleone native, Lena Salemi. By this time, it’s likely that Stefano and Giuseppe were already partners in the construction of two tenements in East Harlem. Stefano sold four lots on 105th Street in August 1904: two to the New York Security and Trust Company, and two to the Ignatz Florio Co-op. The mortgages on each of the sales were of the same value, $65,000 (more than $1.6M today), and in the sale to the Co-op, the assessment on which the sale was made, was determined during the course of construction, indicating a new structure. The Co-op’s practice was to construct new tenements on land purchased relatively cheaply, being on the outskirts and undeveloped, and then to resell the buildings. (According to Zillow, buildings in the 105th block now go for around $7M.)

One of the clues that there were at least two men born Stefano La Sala, who had associations with the Morello gang, was this real estate record. At the time it was conducted, the youngest of the three was only twelve years old. The middle cousin, born in 1888, was the future Lucchese associate, Steve LaSalle. He would later work as a plasterer, notably at Sing Sing. But in 1904 Steve LaSalle was just sixteen years old. The census taken in 1905 calls him a “laborer.” The oldest cousin, on the other hand, was 23 years old and married. Most importantly, he was a builder, in the same profession as his father.

Stefano and his wife appear in the 1905 census living with her brother, Peter Castro, who was not yet married. Like Stefano, Pete also immigrated as a teenager. He was a plasterer by trade, placing him in a natural alliance to the masonry contractor. In addition to being Stefano’s second cousin and brother-in-law, Pete is also the maternal uncle of Angelo Di Carlo, one of the people credited with rebuilding the Mafia in Corleone after WWII. Upon his marriage in 1913, Pete Castro would be even more closely related to the Mafia: he married his niece, Angelo’s sister, Rosa.

In 1907 there was a financial crisis, one of the first to be felt worldwide. In the days before the FDIC, the Banker’s Panic wiped out two dozen banks catering to the Italian community in New York, losing the life savings of thousands of families. It also brought down Morello’s successful building co-operative.

What appeared at the outset to be a legitimate business venture, if enacted by known criminals, eventually took on the familiar tones of more recent Mafia involvement in construction. One of the lures of union leadership to organized crime, besides the ability to order work slowdowns and strikes, is access to the often large pension and insurance accounts set up for union workers.

Early in 1907, the Co-op began altering its business strategy, from local sales of inexpensive shares to the community it served, to selling $100 shares to associates of the Morello-Terranova Family, all over the US. The Co-op regularly kept nearly all its capital in new construction projects, but Morello began to dip into what cash reserves existed, making a bad situation worse. A year after the panic, the formerly profitable Co-op, now heavily mortgaged, began defaulting on payments to vendors. One of their largest debts was to Philbrick & Brother, who brought them to court in 1910. The Ignatz Florio Co-op never recovered, and ceased operation in 1913.

Stefano became a naturalized citizen in 1905. He and his father started a masonry contracting company together in 1908. This legacy is mentioned in a 1984 profile of one of Francesco’s descendants, upon his purchase of 3.75 acres in Bronxville. In 1917, Stefano and Pete Castro reported to the WWI draft that they were macaroni manufacturers—possibly they owned shares in the same concern. Meanwhile, they continued to work in building contracting. When Giuseppe Morello was killed in 1930, his profession was still listed as “contractor.”

Stefano and Francesca had six children. They lived in the Bronx, and later in Yonkers, where they lived next door to Francesca’s brother, Pete. Their four sons joined Stefano in the masonry business, which “made it big” in the 1920s, during a housing boom. “They were one of the most successful mason contractors in New York, subsequently becoming multimillionaires,” writes family historian Vincent Di Carlo.

Through most of the 1920s, Morello’s half-brother, “The Artichoke King,” Ciro Terranova, lived in East Harlem. Then he paid cash for a big house in Westchester County. But after he was pushed into retirement in 1935, Ciro was forced to declare bankruptcy, and lost the house. He moved back to his old place in East Harlem, to a building the family still owned: 338 E 116th St, the headquarters of the old Ignatz Florio Co-operative. Ciro suffered a stroke there in 1938, and died two days later.

 

Sources

“116th Street Crew in ‘Little Italy’ Harlem NY, 1890s.” Published 24 July 2016. http://harlemworldmag.com/116th-street-crew-in-little-italy-harlem-ny-1890s/#more-70657 Accessed 14 March 2017

Di Carlo, Vincent Angelo. The Di Carlo Family: From Corleone, Sicily, Italy. 2013. http://www.dicarlofamiglia.com/uploads/3/7/3/5/37352841/dicarlo_family_05_18_2013.pdf Accessed 11 November 2015.

Dash, Mike. The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. Simon and Schuster, 9 June 2011.

Hunt, Thomas, “Sinistro: The Underworld Career of Giuseppe Morello (1867-1930),” The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us; http://www.onewal.com/a029/f_morello.html Accessed 5 March 2017.

Whitehouse, Franklin. “Sale of Tract Stirs Concern in Bronxville.” The New York Times, 23 September 1984. http://www.nytimes.com/1984/09/23/nyregion/sale-of-tract-stirs-concern-in-bronxville.html Accessed 8 March 2017.

 

Feature Image: Yard of tenement buildings at 107th and Park circa 1900, by Detroit Publishing Co., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18437859