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. 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.