The other Stefano la Sala

The other Stefano la Sala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.