Tommy Lucchese

Tommy Lucchese

Thomas Lucchese (1899-1967) was one of the most successful and powerful mafiosi ever to have lived. What were the relationships that made him who he was?

Tommy Lucchese spent his formative years in a neighborhood dominated by the Morello-Terranova gang of Corleone. At the height of his power, some of the men closest to him were Corleonesi, people who’d worked with Giuseppe Morello, and who Tommy had known and worked with since his teens.

He was born Gaetano Lucchese in the city of Palermo on the second of December, 1899. Multiple sources report that Tommy’s father was an honest laborer who hauled concrete. This is not supported by the vital records. Baldassare Lucchese was a barber in New York City—that is the occupation he reported in census records, and he was a barber back in Palermo. Baldassare’s father, Vincenzo Lucchese, was a barber as well, and the son of a gardener. In Palermo, a gardener was someone who held a position of responsibility in the citrus groves. Gardeners were more like managers than laborers, and worked closely with the Mafia, who dominated the lucrative and fickle citrus industry around Palermo. Barbers were small business owners whose clientele needed to maintain their appearance: in other words, everyone worth knowing.

Gaetano was the second oldest of his parents’ surviving children, and the oldest son, when they emigrated to the United States together in 1911. The year before they arrived, Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo went to prison for counterfeiting. While the Lo Monte brothers initially ran Morello’s gang on his behalf, one of Morello’s captains, Gaetano Reina, split off from them and started his own Family in the Bronx, with Tommy Gagliano as his underboss.

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(Another nitpicking point to make here is that Gagliano was born “Tommaso” and Lucchese was born “Gaetano.” “Tommy” was a common nickname for Gaetano because the Sicilian nickname was “Tanu,” which sounds a lot like “Tommy” to the English speaker.)

At nineteen, Tommy Lucchese was working in a munitions shop where a workplace accident took his thumb and forefinger; after that, he could no longer work, but continued to appear on census records as a machinist until he married. Prohibition was enacted the following year. Joe “The Boss” Masseria hired “Lucky” Luciano, a promising young criminal who had already made some of the associations that would be a part of his story to the end, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. Luciano would go on to mentor some of the most powerful gangsters in New York, and Tommy Lucchese, just two years younger than Lucky, was among them. 

Luciano recruited Lucchese to a burglary ring. As Masseria’s soldier, Lucchese killed an estimated thirty people, using his reputation to intimidate witnesses. Two arrests for homicide would later come to haunt him, when the Mafia endured the scrutiny of federal and state investigating committees. He was caught stealing a car in 1921, sentenced at Riverhead, on Long Island. He served two years, eight months at Sing Sing. Upon his release at the end of 1924, he got right back into business with Luciano and Costello, working for Arnold Rothstein as rum runners. 

He married Concetta Vassallo in Queens in 1927. His parents appear to have followed him there; his father died in Queens in 1936. Thomas and Concetta had two children, a daughter, Frances, born in 1932 and a son, born in 1929, who was named Baldassare after Tommy’s father, as is traditional, but who went by Bobby and later was known as Robert. Frances attended Vassar, and Robert went to the US Military Academy and became an officer in the Air Force.

When he was still living in East Harlem and enjoying the protection of Gaetano Reina’s 107th Street gang, Tommy ran one of his first rackets. His window cleaning business had an aggressive sales tactic: if you didn’t engage them, your windows would be smashed. After his prison stint, he created a live poultry cartel. He controlled every aspect of the business from the suppliers to the slaughterers through a trade group reminiscent of Gagliano’s “information service” on plasterers in the Bronx, or commercial trash hauling throughout New York City for decades. In July 1928, Lucchese was arrested in connection with the murder of Louis Cerasulo.

Joe Masseria began making greater demands on Gaetano Reina, who switched his allegiance to the competing Salvatore Maranzano. Masseria told Luciano to kill Reina, and after some delay, he gave the job to Vito Genovese, who carried it out in February 1930 as Reina left his girlfriend’s place. Tommy Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese were Reina’s top lieutenants and Gagliano, who was sixteen years older than Lucchese, was expected to take over the Reina Family. (Amoruso disagrees and says Lucchese was Reina’s underboss before he was Gagliano’s.) However, Masseria installed his own man, Joseph Pinzolo, who was rejected by most of Reina’s men. Masseria was threatened by Luciano’s power and wanted him gone. He thought he was leading Luciano into a trap, but it was Luciano, with Gagliano and Lucchese, who orchestrated the surprise attack on Joe “The Boss” in April.

In the 1930 census, Tommy Lucchese’s family lived in Corona, Queens, and he claimed to be the manager of a plumbing business. He had rackets in the garment district in Manhattan, which he developed by lending money to business owners and selling them high-end liquor for entertaining their clients. When his borrowers couldn’t repay him, Lucchese became their partner. 

Another of his businesses, in partnership with Joseph Pinzolo, was California Dry Fruit Importers on Broadway. The company imported “wine bricks,” which were dried grapes that could be used to produce wine. Joseph Pinzolo was found dead in a room leased by the import business on 5 September 1930. Critchley suggests that Lucchese set Pinzolo up to be killed; Hunt says Lucchese and Gagliano appear to have worked together to carry out the assassination; YouTuber Jeff Canarsie says Lucchese carried it out himself.

Salvatore Maranzano was pressing forward with his ambition to control the entire Mafia throughout the United States. Lucchese pretended to be disaffected with Luciano and ingratiated himself with Maranzano. He learned Maranzano had set hit man Vincent Coll on the job of killing Luciano, to whom Lucchese was personally loyal because of the help he’d offered, particularly when he got out of prison. He also knew that Maranzano was expecting his own import-export business to be investigated by the IRS. On 10 September 1931, Jewish gangsters entered Maranzano’s offices posing as IRS agents and assassinated the boss, ending the Castellammarese War.

Although Luciano generally gets the lion’s share of the credit for taking down both Masseria and Maranzano, Hortis says that Gagliano and Lucchese immediately began plotting revenge for Reina’s murder, and led the effort to kill Maranzano. They went regularly to his offices on Broadway and were in the waiting room outside to prevent interruption by Maranzano’s men while their assassins, disguised as the IRS, were inside.

Lucchese continued to be Gagliano’s second under the new Commission structure. In those days before street bosses took the heat off leadership, it was underbosses like Lucchese who ran daily operations for their Mafia gangs. Gagliano was the first boss of his Family to serve on the Commission. He held the position for twenty years. The Gagliano Family was considered one of the more conservative of the Five Families because their upper ranks were almost entirely Sicilian. However, they were closely allied to Luciano, who was famously progressive in his willingness to work with gangsters of all ethnicities.

Lucchese’s appearance and demeanor were cultivated to fit the mold of a legitimate and successful businessman. He was the vice president of Braunel Ltd., a garment manufacturer. He had his rackets in workers’ unions, police corruption, the garment district, poultry, night life, sports betting, and “window cleaning,” but the real money maker was narcotics. Mariano Marsalisi, a Corleonese, was moving heroin into New York for the Gagliano Family as early as the 1930s. Another Family member, Joseph Rao, trafficked drugs through the prison in which he was incarcerated. After World War II ended, there was a resurgence in narcotics sales in the United States. Most of the country bought their illegal drugs wholesale from the Mafia in New York City.

In the 1940 census, the Lucchese family lived in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a short walk from the last place Giuseppe Morello lived. (Masseria’s consigliere at the end of his life, Morello was killed in 1930.) When he registered for the draft, he gave his occupation as secretary of the Fordham Hoisting Equipment Company of the Bronx. Critchley writes that Lucchese partnered with Nunzio Pomilla, a construction and lathing investor and partner in several Bronx businesses with Tommy Gagliano, who was married to Nunzio’s sister.

Lucchese attracted business-savvy gangsters who, like himself, didn’t shy away from using violence. As he had been groomed by Luciano and Gagliano, Lucchese in his turn cultivated Johnny Dioguardi, Vincent Rao, and Antonio Corallo. He made close friends among politicians in the mode of his close associate, Frank Costello, and in this way managed to expunge his youthful record for robbery and gambling. This cleared the way for his naturalization petition to be granted early in 1943. What Lucchese didn’t know was that he’d attracted the attention of federal law enforcement. 

In 1945, Lucchese promoted Vincent Impellitteri for New York City Council president, positioning him to succeed Mayor O’Dwyer when he resigned in 1950. This set Lucchese against the powers of Tammany Hall, which rejected the incompetent Impellitteri in favor of Judge Ferdinand Pecora. The following year, Lucchese secretly supported Impellitteri in his anti-Mafia campaign against Pecora, who was backed openly by Costello. The ruse was discovered soon after Impellitteri’s win. Impellitteri didn’t last long, and when he was gone in 1954, the direct line between the Mafia and City Hall was apparently severed.

In 1950, Thomas Lucchese and his wife had returned to Queens: this time, across Flushing Bay in Malba. Gagliano died early in 1951 at his Long Island home, and Lucchese succeeded him. He made Vincent Rao his consigliere and Stefano LaSalle his underboss. Both men were born in Corleone (Vincent is of no relation to the trafficker, Joseph Rao) and had histories with the old Morello-Terranova Family that Luciano took over. LaSalle left with Reina and took over Giosue Gallucci’s East Harlem rackets when the camorrista was killed in 1915. When Rao, who controlled the plastering cartel put together by Gagliano, retired to Florida in the 1960s, Mariano Macaluso, another Corleonese, replaced him as consigliere. Mariano’s father, Marco, was one of the first officers in Morello’s Ignatz Florio building cooperative.

Tommy Lucchese

With Gagliano gone, Lucchese found himself in the crosshairs of federal investigators and newspaper journalists. The Kefauver hearings exposed him as a leader of the criminal underworld, and the successor to Costello as a kingmaker in New York. His private testimony was read into the public record at a hearing of the New York State Crime Commission. Immediately, Attorney General James P. McGranery moved to have Lucchese denaturalized and deported to Italy. Lucchese had been admitted as a US citizen in 1943, McGranery charged, by not reporting his arrests for murder—in 1928 for Cerasulo, and in 1930 for Pinzolo.

After Luciano was deported in 1946, the balance of power shifted to the more progressive Mafia Families in New York. Lucchese’s crime family was not the largest or most powerful in New York. He made concessions when it benefitted him—he quietly backed Genovese’s 1957 power play to put himself and Carlo Gambino in leadership—but he didn’t forget the hatred Joe Profaci inspired with his greed, and took a different tack, which won the loyalty of his own captains.

In 1962, Tommy Lucchese’s daughter, Frances, married Tommy Gambino, son of Carlo. Lucchese cut Gambino into one of his most lucrative rackets, hijacking freight from Idlewild Airport (renamed JFK in 1963) by controlling the freight handlers’ union.

In the summer of 1965, Lucchese went into the hospital and remained there for more than a year. He had heart trouble and more seriously, a brain tumor which would cause his death. In September 1966, a meeting nicknamed “Little Apalachin” was held at La Stella Restaurant in Queens to discuss the division of his rackets.

Lucchese went home to Lido Beach in April 1967 and died on 13 July 1967. He was 67. He was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens. His wife and son both died in the early Aughties and are interred with him.

Sources

A&E. (2020, December 27). Mobsters: Tommy Lucchese and The Mafia [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRiiWSonP0s 

Amoruso, D. (2001). Profile: Lucchese crime family boss Gaetano Lucchese. Gangsters, Inc. [Website]. https://gangstersinc.org/profiles/blogs/lucchese-boss-gaetano-lucchese 

Atto di nascita, Vincenzo Lucchese. (1828, August 8). Palermo (Sezione Oreto) (oggi Palermo). Record no. 103. https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/ark:/12657/an_ua592935/LezeGMW  Image 107

Cipollini, C. (2017, July 13). Don’t dare call him ‘Three Finger Brown.’ The Mob Museum [Website]. https://themobmuseum.org/blog/lucchese-three-finger-brown-death-anniversary/ 

Critchley, D. (2009). The origin of organized crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. Routledge.

Hortis, C. A. (2014). The mob and the city: The hidden history of how the Mafia captured New York. Prometheus Books.

Hunt, T. (2007). White-collar mafioso: Tommy Lucchese (1899-1967). The American Mafia [Website]. https://mafiahistory.us/a010/f_tommylucchese.html

The Jeff Canarsie Podcast Network (MTR-TOTNHP). (2022, October 25). MTR, The Lucchese crime family history parts 1-3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP0wFg4YBsI 

M’Granery acts to deport Luchese to his native Italy. (1952, November 18). The New York Times. Pp. 1+ https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1952/11/18/92676362.html 

Maas, P. (1968) The Valachi Papers. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Marzlock, R. (2011, November 23). Tommy Lucchese, the quiet don in Malba. Queens Chronicle.

https://www.qchron.com/qboro/i_have_often_walked/tommy-lucchese-the-quiet-don-in-malba/article_35483f16-cd56-5fe1-be03-340aa3ccfc45.html

Raab, S. (2005). Five families: The rise, decline, and resurgence of America’s most powerful mafia empires. New York: St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books).

Sing Sing Receiving Blotter, Thomas Luckese. (1922). No. 73617. New York State Archives; Albany, NY, USA; Sing Sing Prison, 1852-1938; Box: 32; Volume: 75 Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Sing Sing Prison Admission Registers, 1865-1939 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

10 year index of births, 1896-1905 Palermo. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSMZ-Y931-8?i=615 

10 year index of marriages, 1886-1895 Palermo. https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/ark:/12657/an_ua877206/0Mx1nqv Image 323

Underworld king dies. (1967, July 14). The Express (Lock Haven, PA). P. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/5797503/ 

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.

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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

Capitano’s Lucchese connection

Capitano’s Lucchese connection

The friends of Angelo di Carlo turn out to be “friends of friends.”

When Angelo di Carlo was interned during WWII, he was labeled by American intelligence as an alien enemy potentially dangerous to the United States, for several reasons. One was that confidential sources described him as a “man of respect” in the Italian community of New York. People called him “Capitano.” His reputation extended even to the Italian Embassy.

Angelo’s business associate in Esperia Film, Francesco Macaluso, says that Angelo had occasional business with the Embassy, regarding their films. For his part, Angelo claims he went merely to ensure his military pension was being paid out properly. In either case, he was granted private audiences on his visits to the Consulate: an uncommon courtesy. Angelo’s military rank—stripped from him when he failed to appear on murder charges in 1926—was also given as a reason for American intelligence to be concerned, during the war.

Angelo was found not guilty of murder by the Italian court in 1926, due to lack of evidence. But in 1930, he was found guilty of criminal association, which would make it difficult for him to conduct business in Sicily when he returned there in 1937, at the death of his father.

Mafia association is not a crime in the US, but it’s still an excellent detection method. Most crimes are never prosecuted, and with the exception of the occasional state’s witness, most mafiosi do not reveal their membership to non-members, not even to their wives and children. For Mafia genealogists, the challenge is not to find judicial proof, which is rare, or a membership roll, which is nonexistent, but to demonstrate that an individual does what mafiosi do. This includes having close business and personal contacts among men who are known members of the Mafia.

Some of the most telling of Angelo’s associations are those who signed affidavits in support of his release from internment at Fort Missoula in the summer of 1943. After nineteen months in custody, a letter writing campaign on his behalf gained some traction. Four affidavits were sent from Angelo di Carlo’s attorney, and seven more from his wife, Luigia, to the US Attorney General’s offices in Washington and New York. Luisa included affidavits from Rosario Loiacono, Edward S. Reitano, Louis Di Frisco, Domenick Tavolacci, Nunzio Pomilla, Stefano La Sala, and Pietro Castro. The attorney, Avel B. Silverman, sent affidavits from Angelo’s brother, Calogero, and from Ignazio Milone, Leoluke Calcaterra, and Costantino Castellana.

All of the men testified that they knew Angelo well, that he was no threat to the US government, and that they would sponsor him if he were released. Three of the affidavits are from men with close ties to Tommy Gagliano, boss of the Lucchese crime family:

Nunzio Pomilla is Tommy Gagliano’s brother-in-law and lathing business partner.

Leoluca di Frisco, who is known as Louis, is married to Tommy Gagliano’s niece. He owns a bakery and a lathing company.

Ignazio Milone’s first cousin is married to Tommy Gagliano.

There is another man by this name, a known Giuseppe Morello associate, who is also from Corleone. That Ignazio Milone is twenty years older, born in 1878. He is this man’s third cousin. The older man was killed in 1934.

(Another man who swore on Angelo’s behalf was Stefano la Sala, who I wrote about here a couple weeks ago. Like Milone, La Sala has a same-name cousin, a powerful member of the Lucchese family.)

All three of the Lucchese connections are men from Corleone. Ignazio Milone has been a blacksmith, a stone cutter, and a plasterer. Never married, he lived in the Bronx with his sister and brother-in-law. Milone and Pomilla both knew Angelo since they were children. Milone and Leoluke Calcaterra, a milliner, affirmed Angelo’s difficulties in Sicily. Each of them was in Corleone, visiting family, at some time during the two years Angelo was there. They claim that his harassment by the police, and fruitless efforts to secure a passport for himself and his wife, were generally known to people in Corleone. Costantino Castellano, who is from Palermo, was in Sicily in the summer of 1937. He was in contact with Angelo during that time, and confirmed Milone and Calcaterra’s statements.

A common thread is proprietorship in the construction trades. Louis di Frisco and Nunzio Pomilla owned lathing companies. Stefano la Sala was a building contractor. Pietro Castro, also called Peter, who is both Stefano and Angelo’s brother-in-law, was a plasterer who owned his own business.  Pietro’s son, Anthony, was also a plasterer. Two of Angelo’s brothers were plasterers. Rosario Loiacono was a plasterer, as were two of his brothers, his father-in-law, Joseph Tavolacci and his brother-in-law, Domenick. Domenick Tavolacci is Peter Castro’s son-in-law, and was business partner in a plastering business with Angelo’s brother, John.

The Honorable Charles Buckley, who would lead the Bronx Democratic machine in the 1950s and 60s, was a bricklayer with his own construction business when he entered politics, breaking the unwritten rule that district leaders had to own saloons. The successor to “Boss Flynn,” Buckley was a strong believer in the political machine. If you needed something done in the Bronx, you saw your assemblyman, and if he couldn’t fix it for you, Buckley might. In the 1930s and 40s, he served fifteen terms in Congress. Among Buckley’s achievements in the Bronx was to bring in federal funds to pay for housing projects and highways: a boon for those in the construction industry.

At Peter Castro’s request, Buckley wrote a letter to the Attorney General. The letter made its way to the director of the Alien Control Unit, Edward J. Ennis, who wrote Peter Castro to suggest that his brother-in-law apply for a rehearing.

 

Sources

“Charles Buckley Dead at 76; Bronx Boss Had Farm Here.” Published in The Journal News on 23 January 1967. Accessed https://www.newspapers.com/clip/5737509/charles_buckley_dead_at_76_bronx_boss/ on 27 February 2017.

Hermalyn, G. “The Bronx.” Accessed http://bronxhistoricalsociety.org/about/bronx-history/the-story-of-the-bronx/ on 27 February 2017.

 

Feature Image: Democratic Boss Hon. Charles A. Buckley (left); “Capitano” Angelo Di Carlo (center); Leoluke Calcaterra, milliner, from his 1921 passport application (right)

Looking for Steve LaSalle

Looking for Steve LaSalle

I almost wrote this post about a different man.

There are three first cousins from Corleone who immigrated to New York around the same time, and had the same name: Stefano la Sala. One was born in 1881, another in 1888, and the third in 1892. One would become known as Steve LaSalle, a high-ranking member of the Lucchese crime family for half a century.

In Corleone, it’s not unusual for a boy to have the same name, first and last, as his cousins. If the boy is the oldest in his family, and he has five paternal uncles, he can expect to have up to five first cousins with exactly the same name as his own. Like himself, the oldest sons of his father’s brothers would be named after their paternal grandfather. The tradition of naming the first born boy and girl after their paternal grandparents is followed by practically every family in Corleone.

When I mentioned Steve LaSalle in this blog a couple weeks ago, I’d only discovered two of the three Stefano la Salas from Corleone. Not only that, I’d found so many clues connecting the oldest cousin to Morello’s crime family, that I was sure he was LaSalle. He is not, but he has his own Mafia connections. I’ll come back to him next week.

Of the three cousins, the youngest, son of Simone la Sala, is the one I found last, and know the least about. When he registered for the WWI draft in 1917, this Stefano la Sala, born in 1892, was living in East Harlem with his mother. He worked in the piano manufacturing business, for Strauch Bros., at 13th St. & 10th Ave in Manhattan. Little as I know of him, I can be sure he is not Steve LaSalle, either: he’s too young to be mistaken for a man born in November 1888 or 1889, as he’s described in Critchley’s “Organized Crime in America.”

The middle cousin, born seven years later, is the son of Biagio la Sala, a baker. Biagio and his older brother, Francesco, the father of the oldest Stefano, immigrated to New York together, with their wives and children, in the mid 1890s. Both families settled in the Bronx.

Based on his reported birth date (Critchley), the year he immigrated, 1897, from Richard Wagner and his co-authors, and the names of his brothers, it is the middle cousin, born in 1888, who was Steve LaSalle. His baptismal record from Corleone confirms  Stefano la Sala was born 5 November 1888. This does not match the date of birth reported on LaSalle’s WWI draft card, which says he was born on the eighth. However, his home address is a match for the census, where he lives with so many family members there is no question as to his identity, and so is his profession as a plasterer.

A 1972 feature on the Mafia in LIFE Magazine says “The old man, Steve LaSalle, the underboss of New York’s Luchese [sic] family, was himself born into a Mafia family.” I have not found any evidence so far of the La Sala family’s involvement in the Fratuzzi, the Mafia in Corleone. On Steve’s mother’s side, the Liggio men were successful millers. On his father’s, the baker’s paternal grandmother was from a family of merchants who immigrated to Corleone from the Papal States in the early 19th century. The LaSalles are of no relation to Luciano Leggio or the other Leggio family members who are defendants at the 1969 Mafia trial in Bari. However, they are related to the Moscato family, by marriage and godparenthood. The Moscato family in Corleone are all descendants of a man from Siculiana, in Agrigento province. They have organized criminal ties going back to Rapanzino’s gang, in the 1830s, and continue to appear in Italian records of mafia activity into the 1960s. Francesco Moscato, Steve LaSalle’s first cousin, was in the Morello gang. It appears that at least one and possibly two of Steve’s brothers were also involved.

The Morello gang’s bread and butter was counterfeiting. According to Bill Feather, Steve had a criminal record from 1909 for counterfeiting, as well as murder and grand larceny. Steve and his brother, Vito, ran a numbers racket that was one of the largest in New York around 1930, according to The Valachi Papers. Another brother, Calogero, is mentioned in lists of known mafiosi, though I haven’t been able to find out anything in particular. It appears that he was active in the Morello gang, but that after the Mafia-Camorra War, he was no longer connected with organized crime.

Steve is named as a participant in the Mafia-Camorra War, on the Morello-Terranova side. On 24 June 1916, he attended a meeting of the Morello gang with the Navy Street and Coney Island gangs, where he argued—by some accounts with Nick Terranova—for the assassination of Joe DeMarco. On 20 July, Steve joined “Louis the Wop,” Nick Sassi, and Ciro Terranova in recruiting Lefty Esposito to help them kill Joe DeMarco. Other than the Terranova brothers, the key targets of the Camorra included Steve LaSalle, Eugenio Ubriaco, and possibly Joseph Verrazano: more evidence that LaSalle was highly placed in the organization.

Steve LaSalle was arrested on 4 September 1916, and still in custody three days later when Nick Terranova and Ubriaco were assassinated, by Camorra member Alessandro Vollero. (At least one source calls the other victim Nick’s bodyguard.) No doubt, Steve’s arrest saved his life.

The price was a stay at Sing Sing Prison, where Steve registered for the draft for WWI the following summer. Steve worked as a plasterer in prison. Several of the sons of Francesco and Biagio la Sala, including the two cousins born 1881 and 1888, worked in construction trades. Francesco and the oldest Stefano la Sala, his son, started a stone and brick masonry company in 1908. Steve LaSalle and his brother, Charlie (born Calogero) were both plasterers. Their brother Victor (born Vito) la Sala was later a bricklayer, but at this time owned a garage, where he employed another brother, Dominick.

Following his release from prison, Steve was affiliated with Tommy Reina’s gang, and would remain so until his retirement. (Reina, who was a captain in Morello’s organization, formed his own Bronx-based gang around the time of the Mafia-Camorra War.) Steve, Victor, Dominick, and Charlie lived with their parents in the Bronx in 1920, along with three sisters. Three of the brothers were in construction but Dominick, no longer employed by his brother’s garage, was now in ladies’ hats. (The garment industry was a popular racket, and one closely associated with LaSalle.)

Their father died in 1924, and their mother, in 1930. Based on his children’s ages, Victor married by 1926 to Margaret, from Nebraska. They had two children, a girl and a boy. Neither Steve nor any other member of the LaSalle family appear in the 1930 federal census at their previous Bronx address.

Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, who had avoided the Mafia-Camorra War that fragmented the Morello gang, was killed in 1930, in the Castellammarese War. His operations were taken over by Tommy Gagliano, who ran the family until his death in 1951. Gagliano and Reina, both from Corleone, are distantly related by marriage: Gagliano’s second cousin, once removed, was Reina’s wife. Gagliano and Reina are each related to LaSalle, though even more distantly.

In the 1930s and ‘40s, Bill Feather reports that LaSalle lived in the Bronx, ran a large numbers operation, and became a power player in the garment industry. At the same time, he maintained a relatively low profile. His home is described as a “modest, two-family house” by the retired police officer interviewed in Pileggi’s 1972 article. Census and military records point to LaSalle living in New Jersey in 1940-42.

Today’s maps show a small, brick condominium, built in 1927, at LaSalle’s Cliffside Park address. In the 1940 federal census (the most recent publicly available) Steve, unmarried and living alone in Bergen County, calls himself a plasterer. Between 1940-42, his brother, Victor, moved his family from Fairfield, CT to Englewood Cliffs, NJ, five miles from Steve’s address. In his WWII draft registration, Steve named his brother, Victor, as his contact person. (Victor named his wife.)

Critchley writes, “LaSalle would become an influential member of the post Gaetano Reina organized crime Family under its various titles, reaching the post of consiglieri.” Other sources say he was made the underboss of the Lucchese family around 1951, under Gaetano “Tommy” Lucchese. LaSalle and Lucchese may have attended the Apalachin Summit together in 1957. He continued to serve under Lucchese’s successors: “Eddie” Coco and Carmine Tramunti.

LaSalle retired from the Lucchese family around 1972. According to the LIFE article published that year in March, his income came from ownership of a small garment factory. He was reportedly making $20,000 a year , an income equivalent to $110K today. He married and had a son.

Pileggi wrote early in 1972 that “Today, LaSalle, who is 83 and almost blind, is still being watched.” Although at least one source reports his death in 1974, an SSDI record that matches his name and date of birth tells us that Steve died at the age of 87, in November 1975. According to the record of his death, his last address was in Queens.

 

Sources

“The Apalachin Meeting.” Tutti Mafiosi. http://la-mafia.wikidot.com/the-apalachin-meeting Accessed 5 March 2017.

Black, Jon. “The Struggle for Control.” http://www.gangrule.com/events/struggle-for-control-1914-1918 Accessed 7 March 2017.

Critchley, David. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. Routledge: New York, 2009.

“Guests at the Mafia Bar-B-Que”. http://www.greaterowego.com/apalachin/guests.html Accessed 5 March 2017.

Maas, Peter. The Valachi Papers. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1968. Print.

Pileggi, Nicholas. “The Decline and Fall of the Mafia.” LIFE, 3 March 1972.

Tuohy, John William. “Joe Petrosino’s War on the Mafia.” http://mywriterssite.blogspot.com/2016/12/joe-petrosinos-war-on-mafia.html Accessed 7 March 2017.

Killer Queens

Killer Queens

Are Toto Riina and Tommy Reina related?

A few days ago, I discovered that I confused the histories of two different gangsters from Corleone, Toto Riina (b. 1930- ) and Luciano Leggio (1925-1993), in this blog, a couple of weeks ago. I wrote that Leggio’s father was killed in an explosion that was, in fact, based on a story about Toto Riina’s father. Born five years apart, Riina succeeded Leggio as the head of the mafia in Corleone, when the latter finally went to prison in 1974 for ordering the assassination of his predecessor, Dr. Navarra.

This week, I’m exploring whether Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the “Beast” of Corleone, and Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, also from Corleone, and the founder of the Lucchese crime family in New York, are related.

From studying the vital records, I know there are not separate “Reina” and “Riina” families in Corleone, only two spellings of the same name. Although in both Italian and Latin, the word for queen is “regina” (“riggina” in Sicilian), in Spanish and French, the word drops the middle “g” sound and is spelled “reina” or “reine.” The latter two cultures ruled Sicily in the medieval period, when family surnames were coming into regular use.

Because Corleone is a relatively small town with excellent records, I felt confident that I could trace both Toto and Tommy’s ancestry, and that there was a good chance they were related. I began with clues from one of the most frequently cited sources on the subject of the Five Families, David Critchley’s The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. (Routledge: New York, 2009). In his book, Critchley provides Tommy Reina’s hometown, birth month and year, and names his parents. With such a wealth of information, it should have been easy for me to find Tommy’s baptismal record, and yet there was none that matched Critchley’s dates.

I tried reverse-engineering his research. He cites a newspaper, the New York Tribune, dated 18 August 1921. That issue is indexed on The Library of Congress website, Chronicling America, but there is no article about Tommy Reina on or around that date. Wider searches on Chronicling America and on Fulton History yielded some obituaries about the murdered ice box magnate (I mention Tommy’s brother-in-law in my post on the ice trade), on 26 February 1930, but no mentions of Giacomo and Carmela, Tommy’s parents. The stone marking his grave in New York gives his birth year only, as 1889.

Critchley provides another clue to Tommy Reina’s origins. Bernarda Reina, wife of Giuseppe Morello’s half-brother Vincent Terranova, is called the daughter of Giacomo. Were Bernarda and Tommy Reina sister and brother? Tommy was a long-time captain in the Morello gang. It would fit mafia marriage patterns, for his sister to marry one of his criminal associates. But the records available for Bernarda do not suggest she is Tommy’s sister.

There are three vital records available online that give Bernarda’s parents names: those of her baptism, marriage, and death. These all agree that her parents were Giacomo Riina and Giuseppa di Miceli. There are a few spelling variations—Reina is usually spelled “Riina” in the original Church records from Corleone, and in the civil records, too. (There’s another Bernarda Riina, of unknown relation, in this 1895 index of births.) By the time Bernarda dies in New York, she is known by her nickname, “Bessie,” and her mother is called “Josephine di Miceli” in the American record of Bernarda’s death. (Josephine is the English form of Josepha, the Latin form of Giuseppa.)

After failing to find him in the records for September 1889, I started looking for Gaetano Riina, son of Giacomo, in the Corleone baptismal records, moving in widening circles. The only one that came close was born the following year, in September of 1890. (The next closest births of a child by this name in Corleone are thirteen years in either direction, in 1877 and in 1904.) The boy born in 1890 is the first born son of Bernardo Riina and Giuseppa Zabbia, who married the previous year.

Bernarda Reina is from a well-connected family. One of her great-grandfathers on her father’s side, Giuseppe Fratello, was a gabelloto, and her mother’s first cousin was Bernardo di Miceli, a known member of the mafia in Corleone, and the godfather of Dr. Navarra. Another cousin of theirs, also named Bernardo di Miceli, was a broker by trade, and married Caterina Riina, Bernarda’s sister.

Toto Riina, whose father really did kill himself, one of his children, and a mule by detonating a German WWII bomb he intended to dismantle for the gunpowder inside, was born Salvatore Riina in 1930. Like virtually all firstborn sons in Corleone, he was named after his paternal grandfather. And like most boys named Salvatore, he was called “Toto” from childhood.

Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, who was killed in New York the same year Toto was born, was also named after his paternal grandfather. Like other Sicilian boys named Gaetano, he was probably called “Tanu” growing up, and this may be the source of his American nickname. Some names don’t translate well—Calogero is another one, frequently converted to “Charles” in the US. Gaetano is a distinctly Italian name, with no English equivalent.

Both being gangsters, and born in Corleone, with forms of the same surname, I had to wonder:  Were Toto Riina and Tommy Reina related? It’s not an idle question: Genealogical relationships are valuable clues to the genealogy of the mafia itself. The mafia is rooted in traditions that privilege family ties and the loyalty they engender. The criminal organization relies upon these relationships both to reinforce ties among its members, and to maintain a traditional, positive image outside the mafia, among the Sicilian diaspora. In recent years Toto Riina’s daughter, Lucia, has provided the mafia such a PR boost, when she expressed pride in her family name, and devotion to her incarcerated father.

Tommy Reina, forming the Lucchese family in New York, and Giuseppe Morello, father of the Genovese crime family, were the first generation of the Corleonesi mafia abroad. What are the implications in the next generation, following World War II? To understand the spread of the mafia, and its global network of relationships, requires knowledge of the kinships among its members. To learn the connection between the Lucchese family in New York and “the Beast of Corleone,” I would have to untangle Toto’s roots from the clues in mafia scholarship, as I had with Tommy’s.

In the 1969 mafia trial in Bari, Toto Riina is named, along with his birthdate and the names of his parents, Giovanni Riina and Maria Concetta Rizzo. Attilio Bolzoni and Giuseppe d’Avanzo, in their book, “The Boss of Bosses,” describe Toto’s father, Giovanni, as a member of the “class of 1897.” There’s one Giovanni Riina born that year, on the first of January. Giovanni’s godfather is Francesco Zito, who is named among mafia leadership around this time, by Dino Paternostro, in a 2004 article, “‘Fratuzzi’, antenati di Liggio e Riina.”

Based on these clues, I was able to dig up the roots of each of their families, and to document them far enough back to find a common ancestor for all three. I have determined that Tommy and Bernarda Reina are second cousins to one another , and second cousins, once removed, from Toto Riina. All are descended from Gioachino Riina, who was born around 1788 in Corleone. Gioachino’s brother, Nicolo’, married a first cousin of Antonino Palumbo, one of the brothers in Rapanzino’s gang in the 1830s. Nicolo’ lived near his in-laws on the strada di Mannina in 1834. (This paragraph was substantially revised on 14 Feb 2017. -JC)

Toto married the sister of one of his captains and they have four children. Today, Toto Riina is an old man, living in prison. His predecessor, Leggio, having met the same fate, died there in 1993.

Mafia genealogy

Mafia genealogy

In legend, the mafia in Sicily dates to the Sicilian Vespers of 1282. Two of the Five Families of New York, the Lucchese and Genovese families, are Corleonesi in origin. Their founders, Gaetano Reina and Giuseppe Morello, immigrated from Corleone, in the heartland of Sicily, to New York City, around the turn of the twentieth century. They came with their families, and settled in East Harlem.

In 1900, two of my great-grandparents were teenagers in Corleone. They were about to lose their fathers, and consequently, their lives would be dramatically altered. After the deaths of their fathers, Louis Cascio and Lucia Soldano both immigrated to America, each with their mothers and siblings, and settled around 106th St, on the northeast corner of Central Park in New York City. The census reports that my twice-great aunts and uncles found work, and supported their widowed mothers.

I don’t know if Louis and Lucia knew each other in Corleone, or how their marriage was arranged. (It was almost certainly arranged.) According to family lore, after they married, my great-grandmother, Lucia Soldano, sold olive oil to the neighbors, produced and exported by one of Louis’ brothers-in-law back in Corleone. When I first heard this story, I didn’t realize how unlikely it was to be true.

Giuseppe Morello, aka “The Clutch Hand,” was a member of the mafia in Corleone, following in the footsteps of his stepfather, Bernardo Terranova. In New York, Gaetano Riina was one of Morello’s captains. Giuseppe’s half-brother, Vincenzo, married Gaetano Riina’s sister (Edit: It was his second cousin, though she’s widely reported to be his sister. 15 May 2022). Giuseppe’s cousin was married to my twice-great aunt Biagia Cascio, Louis’ sister: the one who stayed behind to marry the olive oil producer, while the rest of her family, her mother and all of her siblings, immigrated.

It’s the stories that yield themselves most grudgingly from the facts, that captivate me. Possibly this is because I am one of those people whose lives would have been lived entirely between the lines, if I’d been born in any other time and place in my family’s history. I realized a few years ago that I owed my good fortune to ancestors I didn’t know at all. So I started reading history: American, and Sicilian. I charted the histories of foreign domination and colonization, of feudalism and chattel slavery, and of two of the breadbaskets of a global economy.

And the juncture, where my Sicilian ancestors stepped into American history, coming with the first waves of the mafia: into New Orleans, Chicago, New York, into the coal mines of Pennsylvania and the strawberry fields of Louisiana. How Sicily built parts of the America we know. The intersection of cultures that made me, Atlantic City, and “Don Corleone.” A large part of the story of America’s Sicilian heritage, and my own, the myths and the reality, is about the mafia.

I don’t know for sure that Giuseppe Morello was helping his cousin,  but it seems likely. What’s not very probable, is that Biagia’s husband produced all of that olive oil, himself. Most farmers didn’t own any land, and those who did, had very small plots, enough to support only a handful of trees: not enough to start an export business.

I am documenting the relationships among known mafiosi from Corleone: to one another, to other powerful figures, and to my own family. The mafia of the twentieth century has been written about many times. Few have attempted to trace the connections, as I have been doing, from father to son, through the generations, going back to the revolutionary period of the early 1800s in Sicily, maybe farther.  Myths sometimes point to hidden truths. Myths tell us who we are. The story my great-uncle told was about how my family became American.

This blog is about the truth behind the myths.