What is the connection between the Stonewall riots and organized crime?
On Wednesday, 2 May at 7 pm, I’ll be delivering a presentation at Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts. My subject is the little known history of the Mafia’s involvement in the LGBT community in New York City, and how this culminated in the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, in 1969, where a new and powerful wave of LGBT activism was unleashed. Northampton’s own Pride Parade, which happens this year on the Saturday after my talk, has its roots, like all similar pride events worldwide, in the Stonewall riots.
This lecture is suitable for teens and adults. (I mention, but do not discuss, charged subjects including prostitution, drug use, and violence.) Admission is free.
Benedetto Madonia was killed for defending his brother-in-law from Giuseppe Morello. While he is known forever as the victim of “the Barrel Murder,” the story of what happened after his death is rarely told.
Benedetto Salvatore Madonia was born in Lercara Friddi, as were his parents, his wife and her parents, and all three of his children. (Lercara is also the hometown of a more famous mafioso, Salvatore Lucania, known as Charlie “Lucky” Luciano.) Benedetto married for the first time in 1891, when he was thirty years old, to Lucia di Primo. Lucia was a widow and her marriage record calls her a “civile,” which indicates she was from the upper class.
Madonia, on the other hand, was a sulfur miner, the lowest class of workers, who worked in often brutal conditions. A word that is synonymous with the sulfur miners of Lercara Friddi is “caruso,” which literally translates as “boy,” because young boys were sold by their destitute families to the owners of these mines, nearly always for life.
Benedetto’s family situation was not so dire. In 1900, Madonia immigrated, joining a brother in New York City. Two years later, his wife and three children, plus two older children from Lucia’s first marriage, joined him in Buffalo, New York, more than 300 miles from Manhattan, on the coast of Lake Erie. The Madonia family told their doubtful neighbors that Benedetto was a stonemason. In fact, the recent immigrant was already a high ranking member of Giuseppe Morello’s counterfeiting gang.
Madonia’s brother-in-law was also in Morello’s gang. Lucia’s brother, Giuseppe di Primo, had been in New York since 1891. His position was as a “queer pusher,” the low ranking men in the counterfeiting organization who circulated Morello’s bad bills. Di Primo also owned a grocery store, and was married with four children.
When Morello’s queer pushers were arrested passing the gang’s money in Pittsburgh, Madonia was sent to intervene, leading him to argue with Morello over the leader’s apparent lack of concern for his men. When their pushers were arrested again, this time in Yonkers, Giuseppe di Primo was one of the men who went to prison. Although he didn’t talk, his associate, Isadore Crocevera, may have fallen for the detective’s ploy, and told Morello that Di Primo talked to the police. In this version of events, Morello killed Madonia to send a message to Di Primo. But Madonia and Morello had their own quarrel, which was now coming to a head.
Madonia sent money to New York City for his brother-in-law’s defense, but Morello pocketed the cash—a thousand dollars, a great sum in 1903—and did nothing for the imprisoned man. So the weekend of Easter, Benedetto Madonia left Buffalo and went to New York. He told Morello he was coming, and demanded the return of his money. Madonia must have felt quite confident to talk to Morello this way, and not to sense the danger that lie waiting for him in New York.
When he got to the city, Benedetto went first to Sing Sing, to see his wife’s brother, Giuseppe. The next time the imprisoned man saw his brother-in-law, it was in a photograph, brought by a detective, so Di Primo could identify the man whose body had been discovered in an old sugar barrel, on East Eleventh Street, in the East Village.
There was a trial. Madonia’s oldest stepchild, Salvatore Sagliabene, identified a pawned watch as his stepfather’s. The pawn ticket was found in the possession of Tommaso Petto, a criminal associate of Morello’s who was called “the Ox.” Twelve men were arrested, but none were convicted of Madonia’s murder. Di Primo, once the criminal accomplice of the defendants, swore he would avenge his brother-in-law’s death.
The Ox, whose real name was Luciano Perino, was the first to be killed. He’d gone into hiding in a mining town in Pennsylvania, and was shot to death in October 1906. The next month, Girolamo Mondini was lured to an East Harlem address with a letter, and shot in the street. A year later, at Christmas, another of the gangsters, Nicola Nera, was killed in Palermo. Vito Laduca, Morello’s most prominent lieutenant at the time of Madonia’s killing, met his end in Carini a few months later.
It’s not certain that Di Primo was in Sicily when Nera and Laduca were killed, though the timing of his children’s births—John in February 1906, in Pennsylvania, and Mary, in May 1908 in New York—allows for the possibility. Just four months after Mary’s birth, Giuseppe was deported. His parting words to the officers who put him on a ship back to Lercara, were a warning that if Petrosino or his men came to Italy, they would not return. The following March, New York police detective Joseph Petrosino was shot to death in Palermo.
The story of Di Primo’s revenge killings appears in an uncredited 1909 story called “‘Getting’ Them One By One,” published in newspapers across the country. According to this article, of eight men suspected of involvement in Madonia’s murder, six were killed, the last being Giuseppe Farano, in Brooklyn, in 1913. Two men survived Di Primo’s vengeance, Vito Loboido and Ignazio Lupo.
The problem with the story, aside from being unable to confirm any of these reported deaths in vital records, is that the names of those arrested and the shorter list Di Primo was “getting” only partially overlap. The Schuylerville Standard reported on 13 April 1903 that nine men were arrested in connection with Madonia’s murder:
Joseph Fanaro, 24 (b. 1879), married, merchant
Antonio Genova, 38 (b. 1865), single, importer, aka Messina Genova
Three days later, The New York World reported twelve men being arrested, splashing their photos across the front page, and adding Testa, Lalamia, and Vito Lodma to the list. David Critchley reports their full names in The Origin of Organized Crime in America. The Christmas victim who the author of “‘Getting’ Them One By One” calls Nicola Nera might be Nicola Testa. “One by One” mentions Vito Loboido, but not his relative, Lorenzo.
When I searched for coverage of Girolamo Mondini’s arrest, I found Thomas Hunt’s timeline which cites the same 1909 article I had found, but in a different newspaper. A similar account of Di Primo’s revenge killings also appears in a 1925 article in the Buffalo Courier.
Months before Madonia’s death in April 1903, Salvatore Clemente, a known Morello counterfeiter, told Secret Service that two of the arrestees, Domenico Pecoraro and Giuseppe Morello, were responsible for the murder of Giuseppe Catania, a Brooklyn grocer whose body was found the previous summer. Pecoraro, the oldest of the men, does not appear in the article about Di Primo’s revenge. Morello, Pecoraro, and a third man, Antonio Genova, are called leaders of the counterfeiting gang by New York papers.
After Madonia’s murder, his family remained in the Buffalo area. Peter Benjamin Madonia, the youngest child of the late Benedetto, worked as an electrician. In 1920, he lived in Buffalo with his older stepbrother, Salvatore Sagliabene, a dry goods dealer, and his wife and children. As for the man who reportedly carried out six murders to avenge his death, in the same year’s census, Madonia’s brother-in-law Giuseppe, called Joseph Di Primo, appears with his wife, Angelina, and five of their children in Niagara, New York, twenty miles from Buffalo. He works as a sweeper in a carbide factory.
See the Wikitree profiles of Benedetto Madonia and his family members and associates, at the above links, for vital records and other sources used in this story.
The drawings of Laduca and Di Primo were published with William J. Flynn’s report for the New York Herald on 30 June 1912: “Lupo the Wolf, Caged, Still Fights the Secret Service.”
The story of Corleone’s influence on the Mafia extends to dozens of cities and towns throughout the United States.
Springfield, Massachusetts, has been controlled by the Genovese crime family for as long as there has been a mafia presence in New England. The marriages of Pasqualina Albano Siniscalchi Miranda, called the “Bootleg Queen” of Springfield’s Little Italy by the local newspapers of the time, may be among the earliest documented relationships between the crime families of New York and Springfield.
At the onset of Prohibition, in 1920, Vito Genovese went into bootlegging in New York with his childhood friend, “Lucky” Luciano, as well as Frank Costello, Gaetano “Three Finger Brown” “Tommy” Lucchese, Meyer Lansky, and “Bugsy” Siegel. Prohibition was a period of enormous growth for organized crime, and it was during this time period that the Sicilian Mafia became the most powerful force among the gangs of New York. Neapolitan immigrant Michele Miranda, also active in the Mafia in New York at this time, was an associate of both Tommy Lucchese and of Gaetano Reina’s crime family in the Bronx: Reina is from Corleone.
In western Massachusetts, Carlo Siniscalchi, an immigrant from Quindici, a small village in Naples, was about to become the Bootleg King of Springfield’s Little Italy. His 1915 marriage to Pasqualina Albano, who was born in the neighboring town of Bracigliano, calls him a saloon keeper from Brooklyn. The couple lived on the South Side and had five children. In Springfield, Carlo reportedly made and sold first candy, and then macaroni. On the eve of Prohibition, according to the federal census, Carlo owned a candy store. Within a year, he was killed by a fellow bootlegger, whose supply Siniscalchi had cut off. Indications are that his widow continued the business.
Two years into Prohibition, Costello, Luciano, and their closest Italian associates joined the Sicilian Mafia crime family led by Joe “the Boss” Masseria. Genovese’s work for Masseria would extend from bootlegging to extortion and murder. He and Frank Costello are both said to be associates of Pasqualina Albano’s second husband, Antonio Miranda, whom she married sometime between early 1923 and the fall of 1924. Antonio and Michele Miranda are brothers from San Giuseppe Vesuviano, in the same region of Naples as Quindici and Bracigliano, a hotbed of Camorra activity.
Like Pasqualina’s first husband, Carlo, Antonio Miranda was from Italy by way of New York. Miranda’s travel records call him a carpenter or joiner. In January 1923, he appears on the manifest of the Conte Rosso, joining his brother Michele at an address on Broome Street, in Little Italy, Manhattan. A year later, Michele appears on the Conte Verde, rejoining Antonio half a block away on Mott Street. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics later reported that Michele traveled frequently to Italy, and the same appears to have been true of Antonio, who returned again from Naples in October 1924, this time to his new wife, Pasqualina, in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The first week of February, 1930, Antonio Miranda died from septicemia. Local news reported the infection started on his foot, with the removal of a callus. A college student donated blood for a transfusion, in an unsuccessful attempt to save Miranda’s life. The certificate of his death reveals that the infection that killed Antonio was of a more intimate nature. A pelvic infection, and not a surgical site on his foot, was the origin of the blood infection that killed Antonio Miranda. Although the most common causes of such an infection are gonorrhea and syphilis, Miranda’s case was reportedly caused by a bout of the flu.
Non-Italians in Springfield had long regarded “the Italian colony” as a world apart from their own: a foreign, dirty, and dangerous place. Little was known of the wealthy real estate developer who had married the widowed “Bootleg Queen.” His funeral was lavish, on a scale not seen before in Springfield. Mourners arrived from distant cities, deflecting discreet inquiries from journalists. On the day Antonio Miranda was buried in St. Michaels Cemetery, flowers rained down upon the procession, delivered by an airplane rented for this purpose.
The same month Antonio died in Springfield, Joe Masseria, in New York, allegedly ordered two murders: Gaspar Milazzo in Detroit, and Gaetano Reina in the Bronx. These hits sparked the Castellammarese War, which would rage for a year and a half. Vito Genovese is said to have murdered Reina, whom Masseria suspected of helping his archrival, Salvatore Maranzano, in Brooklyn. Genovese and Michele Miranda, also known as Mike, became close near the end of the war. The two were arrested together on murder charges, on which they were acquitted.
Much of what’s known of Miranda’s personal life comes from a Federal Bureau of Narcotics profile. The birth date and relations in the FBN report have been mostly corroborated by census records and travel manifests. He married Lucia DiLaurenzo in 1926, and they had one child, a son. Michele and his wife can be seen traveling together on the same manifest with gangster Davide Petillo and his sister, in October 1932. (Petillo gets a mention in another post, Gay Liberation and the Mafia.)
Two and a half years after Antonio’s death, and one month after Michele and Lucia returned to New York, Pasqualina was killed in a drive by shooting. She was in her car, parked across the street from the home of one of her employees in an illicit distillery operation. The attack came in the early hours of the morning, as Pasqualina sat with her “trusted lieutenant” in bootlegging, Michele Fiore. Fiore, described in the news at the time as having spent more of his time in America inside of prison than out, was a relative by marriage, the brother of Pasqualina’s sister’s husband. The following year, Fiore was killed in a barber shop. None of their attackers were ever identified.
Michele Miranda was respected among the gangsters in New York as a peace broker. He was a made member of the Genovese crime family, which had once been, in the years before Prohibition, the Morello-Terranova gang of East Harlem. Miranda was Vito Genovese’s consigliere from 1957 until his retirement, in 1972. He died the following year.
Morello brought together gangsters from Corleone and elsewhere in southern Italy to produce counterfeit money on a farm in New York.
In the summer of 1909, detective William Flynn sought the source of counterfeit bills flooding banks and businesses in several cities across the United States. He tied the counterfeiting operation to Giuseppe Morello’s gang by following one of the passers of bad bills, Giuseppe Boscarino.
Morello was counterfeiting as early as 1903, when the “barrel murder” victim, one of Morello’s “coiners,” Benedetto Madonia, was lured to his death. In 1906, Morello was producing small denominations of false American and Canadian currency on a farm in Highland, New York, across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie. The initial printing attempts were made using plates created by Antonio B. Milone, a business partner of Morello’s, but they were of too poor a quality to use. Antonio Comito, a printer from Calabria, met the gang through Antonio Cecala, both members of the mutual aid society, the Sons of Italy. Comito testified that he was forced to replace Milone on the farm in Highland.
The Highland farm where the bills were produced was owned first by Salvatore Cina and Vincenzo Giglio, and then sold to Giuseppe Palermo in 1909. Palermo, from Partanna, and the wagon driver, Nicholas Sylvester, a reformatory alum of unknown origin, are of no known relation to any of the other counterfeiters.
The first trial’s defendants included Giuseppe Morello and his brother in law, Ignazio Lupo.
All were found guilty and sentenced to the federal penitentiary near Atlanta.
Antonio Cecala is called the other leading figure in the counterfeiting ring, alongside Morello, in contemporary news accounts. Jon Black at Gang Rule says that Antonio Cecala was also Corleonese, but I have not found his baptism among the records for Corleone available online, nor a marriage for his parents, whose names are known from Cecala’s naturalization record. The manifest of the Iniziativa tell us Antonio and his father traveled together, and that they were both barbers, but not the town where they last lived, or where they were born. (Antonio appears again on a manifest in 1930, traveling with Brooklyn boss Vincent Mangano.)
Critchley writes that Vincenzo Giglio was born in Santo Stefano Quisquina, arrived in New York in 1895, then went to Tampa with Cina. Cina had a reputation as a criminal in his native Bivona, through association with Vassolona, an infamous bandit, and had to flee Sicily. It’s not known how they came to be associates, or why the teenage Vincenzo was traveling with Cina, but they are said to have emigrated together in 1894. Naturalization records for Salvatore Ciona, in Boston, give a date in 1894, but I have not been able to find a matching ship. When he was incarcerated, in 1910, Giglio reported immigrating in 1895.
According to Black, Cina and Giglio are brothers-in-law. I found a marriage for Salvatore Cina and Rosa Giglio in Tampa in 1900, but the record does not give their parents’ names, and there are other Giglios living in Tampa at this time. Rosa Giglio, 18 year old daughter of Angelo, in the 1900 census, has a brother named Vincenzo, which would seem to be a clear match. Her brother is known from a 1904 manifest showing Vincenzo Giglio, a 24 year old (b. 1880) proprietor from Santo Stefano Quisquina, going to his father at the same address, Oak Street in Tampa, where Rosa and her father live, and traveling with his mother, Angela Provenzana. Rosa’s death record confirms that Angelo Giglio and Angela Provenzana are her parents’ names, also. But this Rosa died in Tampa 1918, and her married name was Militello, not Cina.
Other records point to Salvatore Cina and his wife, Rosa Giglio Cina, having two daughters in Tampa, and then moving to New York. It appears there is at least one other couple with similar names to Salvatore and his wife, who also lived in New York around the same time. The other Salvatore Cina/Sena/Cena swore he immigrated in 1905 and lived in New York continuously until his 1919 naturalization. In the 1920 census, Salvatore and Rosa Cina appear, alone, in ED 324 of Manhattan. An infant, Joseph, who died in 1922 may have been either couple’s child. The one who immigrated in 1905 applied for a travel passport six months after Joseph’s death.
Cina, who was part owner in the farm in Highland, and his wife had at least four children. The oldest, Carmela, was born in Tampa in 1904. Antonio Comito testified that Cina visited his farm with Ignazio Lupo and the wagon driver, Sylvester, in 1909. Cina was indicted, along with Lupo, Palermo, Calicchio, and Giglio, for making bad bills. He was sentenced in the first of the two counterfeiting trials in 1910, and paroled in November 1916.
Carmela, his daughter, married in New York City in 1926. In 1930, Salvatore appears in the census for Manhattan, with Rosa and three of their children: the oldest, Jennie, born in Florida, and the youngest, Peter, born the year Salvatore went to prison.
Critchley writes on page 69 of The Origin of Organized Crime in America that Giuseppe Callichio, who was described as an “elderly man” in 1910, was Cina’s godson. However, records indicate Salvatore Cina, born in 1875, was at least twenty years younger than Calicchio. In Black’s account, Antonio Comito, the kidnapped printer, met Cecala’s godson, Salvatore Cina. But again, this would be impossible, as Cecala was born the same year as Cina.
Callichio’s birth year and date of immigration are known from his appearances in federal censuses of the penitentiary outside Atlanta, in 1910 and 1920. The outlying record is the 1910 census, in which Callichio is said to be 53 years old (b. 1857) and a widower. In 1920, he is 68 (b. 1852) and married. He appears on a ship manifest in June 1906, traveling with a daughter. His age at emigration, 54, is a match for the 1920 census. The manifest indicates that he is originally from Puglia, and intends to join his brother in Utica, New York. As well as appearing in the prison in Georgia, the federal census shows Giuseppe Callichio with his family in Oneida, New York in 1910.
A second trial, held two weeks after the first, found at least seven more of Morello’s counterfeiters guilty, including Giuseppe’s half-brother, Nick Terranova.
Except for Maddi, whose origins are unknown, and Boscarino, who I’ll say more about below, the defendants are from Corleone. Also from Corleone, the LaSalle brothers, Steve and Calogero, were arrested in connection with the counterfeit operation, but I have not found any evidence of indictment. Likewise Antonio B. Milone, Domenico Milone’s third cousin, and the first printer in the Highland venture. Domenico, along with Boscarino, Maddi, Armato, the Vasi brothers, and Nick Terranova, were charged with having and passing the counterfeit bills.
If Cecala was the human connection among half the defendants in the first trial, the center of gravity among the Corleonesi was Leoluchina Armato, the sister of defendant Giuseppe Armato. In 1905 she emigrated with Giuseppe Lagumina, who is her nephew by marriage, and her second cousin, once removed, as well as being a Morello associate. Lagumina’s uncle, Giovanni Rumore, was also a known Morello gangster. (Armato and Rumore were also related: they are second cousins.)
Leoluchina’s brother shared an apartment in New York with brothers Leoluca and Pasquale Vasi. Upon their arrest in 1909, thousands in counterfeit bills were recovered from the apartment. Leoluca Vasi was married to a niece of Domenico Milone. And Domenico was married to Giuseppe and Leoluchina’s sister, Giuseppa Armato. When Flynn had Giuseppe Boscarino, a sixty year old (b. 1849) man from Corleone, followed by detectives, he was seen entering the wholesale grocery store once once owned by Ignazio Lupo, at 236 E 97th St, and at the time owned by Domenico Milone and Luciano Maddi.
Jon Black writes that Giuseppe Boscarino was born around 1850 in Corleone. According to Flynn, Boscarino immigrated in 1890 and was a known associate of the “Black Hand” in New York’s Little Italy. One of his close friends was Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who would become powerful enough to disrupt local leadership of the Fratuzzi in Corleone, in the first decade of the twentieth century. I have not been able to confirm Boscarino’s birth or immigration. There is at least one Boscarino/Boscarelli family in Corleone, distinguished by their address (they live near the most important families in town, in 1834) and honorifics: they’re called “don” and “donna” in Church records. There is a baptismal record that appears to be a match for Giuseppe Boscarelli, in December 1849 in Corleone, but that child died at age three.
Antonio B. Milone immigrated in 1889 with his father, Alberto. Milone and Gaetano Reina, one of Morello’s captains, are second cousins. In 1903, Milone became an officer in Giuseppe Morello’s new building cooperative. In 1907, the Banker’s Panic wiped out the Co-op. Antonio married a woman from Milan, the following year.
Comito gave testimony against his captors, and avoided prosecution. Despite having been identified as an integral parts of the counterfeiting operation, Antonio Milone and Giuseppe Boscarino both avoided prosecution.
When I started this blog, I told one of the earliest anecdotes I had about my family: a story about olive oil. My father’s paternal grandparents, Louis Cascio and Lucia Soldano, immigrated as teenagers with their families and settled in East Harlem, on 106th Street. After they married, Lucia and her youngest brother, Tony, sold olive oil to their neighbors, produced and exported by Louis’ brother-in-law.
In my first post, I was doubtful that this story was true, or at least that it was the whole story, and not a cover for some other, hidden events. Was it even remotely possible that the olive oil story was the extra-virgin truth, as it was told to me? If so, why did it smell like a second pressing of “The Godfather”?
The farmland around Corleone, in the 19th century, was used according to its distance from the city: closest to town were the household gardens, surrounded by vineyards and orchards, and then land used alternately for pasturage and to grow grain. In Corleone there was an outer ring of almost-feudal lands, called contrada (lands) or “feudi,” fief holds, based on the original Roman farms. Many are still in existence, if diminished; the locals can tell you where they once were.
The smallest of these traditional holdings in Corleone, around 1800, were five salmi, or about 8.75 hectares, in size. Many small landowners owned far less than this, with a bit of land in one contrada and another, some in vines, some in trees. Most farmers in Corleone did not own any property at all, not even their houses.
A five salmi olive orchard could theoretically produce 39,000 kg of olives, if all of the trees were mature and healthy, and it was a favorable year for the olive harvest. That’s enough to keep 288 Italians in olive oil for a year, at today’s consumption rates. However, olives are a tough crop to rely upon, as a farmer. The trees tend to yield a good crop only in alternate years, like apple trees. They mature slowly, and do not produce saleable fruit for about ten years. But they can live for more than a thousand years.
Olive trees are extremely hardy and will usually recover from droughts and freezes. Growing anything here is tricky. Corleone is at 600 meters above sea level, where trees can sustain frost damage, and the land is dry for most of the year. The regulating agency governing olives in the Val di Mazzara, in which Corleone is located, limits olive production to no more than 8,000 kg per hectare. If the land is fully planted in the traditional way, with 28 feet between trees, that comes to around three and a third kilograms of olives per tree. This is well below the standards of ten or even fifty kilograms from a mature tree, reported by growers in other parts of the world.
Every olive producing region in Europe has its own varieties, very few of which have been transplanted to the New World. Three types of olives are grown near Corleone, all for oil production: Biancolilla, Nocelara de Belice, and Cerasuola. Sicilian olive oils are usually a strong shade of green, with a golden undertone, good body, and a complexity of flavor. Traditionally, olives are harvested by hand or with nets. The fruit is slowly milled on a trappeto, which keeps the paste unheated, and then the olive paste is pressed in a frantoio to release the oil. Extra virgin olive oil is still produced using a very similar process.
When my twice great-aunt Biagia Cascio was born in Corleone in 1884, olive oil was likely regarded as a precious commodity. The future olive oil exporter was born at number 3, via Banditore, in the northern part of Corleone, the second child of Giuseppe Cascio and Angela Grizzaffi. They lived in the “Upper Area” of Corleone, above via Roma, in what is called the Borgo in old records: the suburbs. North of the suburbs is a great open area. To the east of this address is a via Trappeto. There must have been at least two olive mills in town, possibly at different times. There is another trappeto that appears in Church censuses of the older, southern part of the city, early in the century.
Giuseppe Cascio was a farmer who suffered poor health, and died in 1899, when Biagia was fourteen. Her mother, older sister, and three of her younger siblings immigrated two years later, leaving her and her two youngest siblings in Corleone. I don’t know where they all lived, but it is likely they stayed with Angela’s brother, Leoluca. By this time, Leoluca and Angela’s parents had died, and Leoluca most likely inherited property from their father.
Angela, a young widow, and her older children joined her sister’s family in East Harlem. Two years later, her brother, Leoluca, brought Angela’s two youngest children with him to New York. Only Biagia did not immigrate. She married a man with the same name as her father—Giuseppe Cascio, her first cousin—in 1902.
Giuseppe was from a Mafia family. His godfather is also his namesake and maternal grandfather, Giuseppe Morello. His older cousin was the infamous gangster of the same name, named after the same grandfather. Giuseppe’s sister, Giovanna, married Pietro Majuri in 1897. Pietro was active in the Mafia in Corleone around 1900, under Giuseppe Battaglia. Two of their sons were active in 1962, under Luciano Leggio.
Biagia’s brother Louis and his wife, Lucia, my great-grandparents, married in New York in 1918. Immigrants made more money in New York than they did back in Sicily, and wanted the luxury goods they could now afford. Census records tell us that Louis worked in a laundry in 1920 and 1930. Even humble peasants from Corleone would, of course, know quality when it came to olive oil, and I expect many preferred the distinctive flavor of oil produced in their hometown, where they knew its provenance and production method, and it tasted like home.
Long before the Mediterranean diet swept the United States, Ciro Terranova became the Artichoke King with a monopoly on small, “baby” artichokes, a Sicilian delicacy unheard of outside immigrant communities. Joe Profaci built his legitimate business empire on olive oil, beginning in 1920, around the same time my family was operating their own, far more modest import business out of their New York apartment. This niche product would go mainstream when Joe’s son, Joseph Profaci, Jr. and his Italian business partner, Enrico Colavita, founded an olive oil import business in 1978. American cuisine—and virgin olive oil—would never be the same.
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.
The Di Carlo family was persecuted by Italian Fascists in Sicily. That didn’t stop them from becoming propagandists for Mussolini.
A couple weeks ago on Mafia Genealogy, I introduced “Capitano” Angelo di Carlo. Calogero di Carlo, called “Lelio” or “Leo,” was the youngest child of the Di Carlo family, and Angelo’s business partner.
Seven brothers immigrated: Antonino (Nino), Giuseppe (Piddu), Giovanni (John), Angelo (Capitano), Francesco (Frank), Salvatore (Toto), and Calogero (Leo). Two sisters also immigrated: Marianna and Rosa. All but Angelo lived the rest of their lives in the United States, with several of the siblings settling together in Yonkers.
Their father was a butcher in Corleone, and at least two of the brothers, Nino and Toto, were butchers in the US. John owned a plastering business, and Frank worked with two of his brothers, sometimes with Toto as a butcher and other times with John as a plasterer. Lelio and his brother, Angelo, were entrepreneurs: before the war, as film importers, and after WWII, as travel agents. According to the Italian police, the brothers were suspected of international drug smuggling as early as the 1930s.
Angelo was in Sicily from 1937-39, having gone to assist their father, who died in Corleone in 1937. Angelo had a prior conviction for mafia association, and was unable to secure a visa, or even a driver’s license, under the Fascists. Despite these difficulties, Lelio says that Angelo may have helped acquire two of the first films Esperia distributed in the United States.
The Esperia Film Company was formed by Lelio in January 1939. He originally called Esperia the “Modern Film Company.” The company was called Esperia by March, when Angelo returned to New York. After two years in Italy, Angelo’s wife, Luisa, contacted a relative, a judge in Palermo, who secured visas for their return to New York. Angelo and Luisa lived with Angelo’s brother, John’s family in Yonkers. Angelo joined Esperia as a salaried employee.
According to IMDb, the films Esperia distributed were made between 1936-40, and distributed in the US between 1939-41. Other than those first two, Francesco Macaluso, Esperia’s president and general manager, selected all of the films Esperia licensed. He made a number of trips to Italy during the 1930s to obtain films for distribution. He is seen on manifests, returning to the US with his wife and two of their children in 1933, in 1936 with his adult daughter, who worked for Esperia as a bookkeeper, alone in 1937 and again in 1939. The records list Macaluso as a lawyer, until the last trip I found, in 1940, where “lawyer” is crossed out and replaced with “film merchant.”
Lelio claimed in a 1943 affidavit that all of the funds used to purchase the film licenses were his own, with some of those funds acquired from unspecified family members, and some quantity borrowed. But in 1942, when the FBI investigated Esperia, thirty percent of the stock was owned by Francesco Macaluso. The majority shareholder was Lelio, the treasurer, with sixty percent. His brother, John, owned the other ten percent.
According to the FBI, Esperia ceased operations in 1941. On 9 December, immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, several of the Di Carlo brothers were arrested. Angelo and Luisa were still living with John’s family. According to John’s son, Vincent, who was ten years old at the time, Angelo, Toto, Frank, and Leo were arrested, because they were not yet citizens.
John was also arrested, according to Leo’s affidavit. In fact, his letter suggests only Angelo, John, and Leo were arrested, not Toto and Frank. Angelo, Calogero (Leo), and Frank appear in a list of persons of Italian ancestry who were taken into custody during the war. Only Angelo appears in the list of those initially rounded up after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he is also the only one interned. That Toto was also arrested, soon after his brothers, is confirmed in FBI Agent Burleson’s report from Ellis Island, the following month.
Calogero, who wrote in 1943 in an effort to have Angelo released from internment, downplayed his brother’s involvement in Esperia. Based on the contents of his affidavit, he understood the propaganda charges to be the main reason Angelo remained interned. He writes:
“My brother, Angelo di Carlo, came into the organization solely on a salary basis. He contributed no money to the company’s capital. His connection with the company was solely as a salaried employee, although he nominally held the title of Vice-President. He had no control over the bank account.”
John’s son, Vincent, who wrote a family history in 2013, and worked for his uncles as a teenager, provides a different impression of the brothers: “They were business partners but Angelo ran things and made all the major decisions.”
Though by the time of their 1943 affidavits, the Di Carlos and their supporters were careful to distance themselves from fascist governments abroad, domestic fascism enjoyed broad support in the 1930s, when Esperia began importing films. American heroes of the time included the pilot and widely known white supremacist and isolationist Charles Lindbergh, auto manufacturer and anti-Semite Henry Ford, and real life “Citizen Kane”: the yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst. “Hitler’s Mountain Home” was featured in the Hearst publication, “Better Homes and Gardens,” in 1938, the same year as Kristallnacht.
All 29 of Esperia’s 1940 releases “attempted to convince spectators that under the leadership of Mussolini Italy was a strong and mighty nation.”One feature film distributed by Esperia is described as propaganda in the book “Equivocal Subjects.” “Under the Southern Cross” (1938) (on YouTube) is seen to “naturalize” Italian occupation of Ethiopia, which began in 1898. A second Italo-Ethiopian War was fought in the years just before this film’s release. Recall that Angelo’s service to Italy, from which he derived his lifelong nickname, was in the occupation of Libya. His evident pride in his role in Italy’s colonial “Scramble for Africa” may have extended to the subject of his countrymen in Ethiopia. Angelo told FBI investigators, following his arrest, that he was not pro-Fascist, but he was still pro-Italian.
Lelio calls Esperia “a private business venture, absolutely in no way connected with the political regime in Italy”. In their defense, Lelio notes that the films Esperia imported, were also shown in other theaters around the United States. Individual Esperia releases, reviewed in contemporary newspapers, are depicted as light entertainment, exotic dramas and comedies of variable artistic merit.
The News Research Service, produced by Joseph Roos, describes Esperia as a propagandist specializing in short films. The typical distribution method was to screen a full-length feature along with two or three short pieces of propaganda. This article singles out two film houses in New York City, the Roma Cine Teatro at 1662 Broadway, which “flourished under the management of the notorious, one-time anarchist, Pietro Garofalo,” and the Cine Citta, at 250 W 54th St, managed by Signor Macaluso, a “widely known… Fascist agent.” The Rome Cine was one of the theaters in which Angelo di Carlo was invested.
By 1936, Francesco Macaluso had been active in American fascist leadership for almost two decades. The Di Carlo brothers were well aware of their business partner’s politics. Vincent knew Francesco personally. He visited his uncle Angelo during his internment, at two different camps. Vincent says of Macaluso: “His relationship with Angelo was strictly business. They were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Macaluso was a hardcore Fascist. At my visit to Fort Meade I witnessed him trying to impress visiting family members of the POW with shouts of ‘Viva il Duce’ and making Nazi/Fascist salutes.” (Personal correspondence, 11 March 2016.)
Since internees were rated on their behavior in the camps, his association with Macaluso may have harmed Angelo’s chances of being released. Luckily for them both, the war was coming to an end.
Affidavit signed by Calogero di Carlo, 28 July 1943. Released electronically by NARA on 9 March 2016 to the author.
“Fascismo Says It With Movies.” Research Supplement Published by News Research Service, Inc. Vol. 5. No. 142. 23 April 1941.
Federal Bureau of Investigation report made at New York, NY, on 23 January 1942 by J. Burleson regarding Angelo di Carlo. File no. NY 100-17523. Released electronically by NARA on 9 March 2016 to the author.
XIII Legislatura – Disegni di Legge e Relazioni – Documenti. Legione Territoriale Carabinieri di Palermo. Oggetto: Vito Calogero Ciancimino gia’ Sindaco della Citta’ di Palermo. Senato della Repubblica. Camera dei deputati. N. 3209/1064-2 di prot.llo. Dated Palermo, 14 April 1971. Accessed at http://legislature.camera.it/_dati/leg13/lavori/doc/xxiii/015_RS/00000008.pdf on 24 January 2016.
Feature Image: Promotional poster for “Il Sogno di Butterfly” [English: “The Dream of Butterfly”], a 1941 Esperia release (Source: IMDb)