The Mob in America
The Mafia in America: Traditional Organized Crime in Transition
An Overview of Current Conditions
By Richard C. Lindberg
Copyright © 2002
Significant federal prosecutions in the 1980s and 1990s have crippled the power of the 26 Mafia "families" in the U.S. The "old-time" bosses governing every American city where there has been a Mafia presence since before the turn of the last century are either imprisoned, dead, or in exile as a result of sweeping Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (R.I.C.O.) legislation, and the combined efforts of the eighteen regional "strike forces" established between January 1967 and April 1971 under the auspices of the of the Organized Crime and racketeering Section within the criminal division of the U.S. Justice Department. In 1989, U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh bolstered the U.S. Attorney's organized crime investigative resources by merging the regional strike forces with local.offices.
The Clinton administration has continued the successful initiatives against organized crime begun by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, when he convened a special Commission on Organized Crime, spotlighting money laundering, labor racketeering, and narcotics trafficking. In 1986,after three years of investigation and follow-up, the heads of three of the five crime families of New York were convicted of running the Mafia as a continuing criminal enterprise controlled by a ruling national commission. By 1989 the government had already imprisoned some 1,200 Mafia brigands from New York to California.
It was a far cry from the days when the late J. Edgar Hoover denied the Mafia's existence. Stepping up their efforts, the U.S. Justice Department's "Operation Button Down" targeted the ruling cadre of national organized crime. Between 1993-1996, law enforcement arrested or prosecuted 42 upper-echelon mob figures in Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, and Newark, N.J. In April 1997, nine more individuals with links to organized crime in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Buffalo were indicted on murder-for-hire charges. Attorney General Janet Reno's strategy was geared toward lulling career criminals into a false sense of well being while federal law enforcement quietly built its case.
In the opinion of many veteran prosecutors and federal agents, the Russian "Mafyia," Colombian drug cartels, Japanese yakuza, Chinese Triads, and the evolving ethnic inner-city street gangscomprising elements of the "new" organized crimehave supplanted the Mafia and pose a much more lethal threat to the fabric of society as America prepares for the Millennium.
The Mafia is downbut never out. Their corruptive influence is deep and pervasive and extends well beyond drug trafficking, extortion, and the more traditional forms of vice. Its tentacles reach into organized labor, and every facet of legitimate business, irrespective of R.I.C.O. The mob owns car dealerships, restaurants, cleaning services, construction companies, waste-handling businesses, and quite possibly may even hold seats on the commodities exchange, the trading floors of Wall Street and financial centers of mid-America.
However, R.I.C.O. (the major weapon in the war on organized crime) has imparted valuable lessons in gangland. The vicious "wars" of past years have, for the most part, ceased. In Chicago there has not been a significant mob "hit" since the early 1990s. The "trunk music" refrain popularized by members of Joe Ferriola's crew of extortionists and shakedown artists has been silenced, at least for the moment. Today, when the Chicago media reports on gang warfare in the Windy City, inevitably it involves a young man falling victim to a drive-by shooter over distribution of drug profits, or ownership of a pair of sneakers.
The inexperienced and undisciplined younger mob bosses are just now beginning to understand the perils associated with maintaining a high-profile lifestyle. They need only consider the plight of John Gotti who languishes in a "super-max" prison half-way across the country from his Ravenite Social Club digs in lower Manhattan. In happier times, Gotti was afforded the title of "The Dapper Don" by an admiring throng of media and well-wishers.
Nowadays it's harder to pinpoint just who's in charge in many Mafia cities, and that has created new dilemmas for law enforcement and fresh opportunities for the mobs to regroup.
How did this parasitical crime structure evolve, and where do they stand today on the threshold of a new century? A historic and contemporary overview presented as a public service to our readers, follows.
Structure of a Mafia Crime Family
The "Honored Society" as the Mafia is commonly known among its members is structured much like a modern corporation in the sense that duties and responsibilities are disseminated downward through a "chain of command" that is organized in pyramid fashion. (Example follows)
- Capo Crimini/Capo de tutti capi (super boss/boss of bosses)
- Consigliere (trusted advisor or family counselor)
- Capo Bastone (Underboss, second in command)
- Contabile (financial advisor)
- Caporegime or Capodecina (lieutenant, typically heads a faction of ten or more soldiers comprising a "crew.")
- Sgarrista (a foot soldier who carries out the day to day business of the family. A "made" member of the Mafia)
- Piciotto (lower-ranking soldiers; enforcers. Also known in the streets as the "button man.")
- Giovane D'Honore (Mafia associate, typically a non-Sicilian or non-Italian member)
The National Commission, the Mafia's ruling body, founded in September 1931
Charter members included: Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Thomas Gagliano, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Vincent Mangano (New York City), Stefano Maggaddino (Buffalo), and Frank Nitti (Chicago). It is believed that representatives from Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and the five families of New York comprise the modern-day National Commission
The Major Mafia Crime Families
Boston. Gaspare Messina imported the Mafia to Boston and ruled a small, insignificant organization from 1916-1924. The real criminal power in the city was a South Boston Irishman named Frankie Wallace, leader of the Gustin Gang until the Italians assassinated him in the North End in 1931. After that fateful day, there was finally enough room for the Italian Mafia, confined to the North End, to expand and prosper.
Following Gustin's demise, Boston organized crime was a loose confederation of ethnic bootlegging and policy gangs. Until Irish gangsters abruptly ended his life outside Boston's Cotton Club on January 24, 1933, Charles "King" Solomon reigned over the Jewish criminal operations. Thereafter the criminal landscape of Beantown was dramatically altered. A former Sicilian fight promoter named Filippo "Phil" Buccola, ultimately gained the upper hand in the Boston Mafia over Joseph Lombardo, and ruled a small but lean family until 1954.
The New England crime family with satellite operations in Connecticut, coalesced under the leadership of Raymond L.S. Patriarca, Buccola's successor, who maintained his office in Providence, R.I. For nearly three decades. Patriarca's influence stretched from Portland, ME, to New Haven CT. His lieutenant, Gennaro "Jerry" Angiulo, a North End wise-guy, was given a free hand to run the Boston faction from his office at 98 Prince Street, but he was convicted in 1986 along with two of his brothers under federal R.I.C.O. charges following a five-year investigation. Patriarca died in 1984, deeding control of the family to his son who led them down a ruinous path.
The organization remains in chaos and disarray following a disastrous gang war in the late 1980s, defections of top leadership, and the FBI's secret recording of a 1989 Mafia induction ceremonythe first on record. In 1995, James "Whitey" Bulger of South Boston went on the lam after feeling betrayed by his FBI "handlers" whom he accused of trying to embarrass his brother, former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger. Whitey, an ally of Steve "the Rifleman" Flemmi, had secretly worked as an FBI informant for nearly 20 years until he was indicted on racketeering charges in 1995. Flemmi and Bulger were leaders of Sommerville's Winter Hill Gang. Francis "Cadillac" Salemme, shot and wounded outside a Saugus, MA pancake house on June 16, 1989, served as boss until 1996 when he was arrested on federal R.I.C.O. charges. Acting boss Nicholas "Nicky" Bianco is reportedly in charge.
Buffalo. Joseph Peter DiCarlo founded the Buffalo faction of "La Cosa Nostra" around 1921 but was driven out of the city and forced to take up residence in Miami where he became a gambling czar. The history of organized crime in Western New York rightfully begins with Stefano Maggaddino, cousin of Joseph Bonanno, who headed one of the five families of New York before retirement. Born in the same town as Bonanno, Maggaddino established his own family in Buffalo in 1922, after falling out with the Buccellatos who fought for control of the Brooklyn rackets.
During Prohibition, Maggaddino and his brother Antonio made enormous profits moving bootleg whiskey across the Canadian border and quickly became the man to be reckoned with in Buffalo, Rochester, NY., Toronto, Canada, and portions of Ohio. Maggaddino was one of the last of the old "Dons" who formed the National Commission in 1931. For 52 yearsa Mafia record for longevity---he managed to survive assassination attempts, Joe Valachi's damning testimony, and FBI heat. It is believed that Maggaddino arranged the disastrous November 1957 Appalachin conference in upstate New York, and masterminded the 1964 abduction of his cousin Joe Bonanno on Park Avenue in Manhattan retaliation for an earlier attempt on his life. In 1974, Maggaddino died of natural causes resulting in power vacuum within his organization.
What Russell Bufalino, boss of North Eastern Pennsylvania did not directly claim for himself, went to Salvatore Pieri, a former drug runner who ruled the Buffalo rackets until 1987 when Joseph "Lead Pipe" Todaro, a labor union racketeer took over. In recent years the Buffalo mob has aligned with Pete Milano's L.A. crew in an attempt to establish a toehold in Las Vegas. The Buffalo group is involved in the street rackets once controlled by Tony "the Ant" Spilotro of Chicago.
Chicago. Over the years, the Chicago "outfit" earned a fearsome reputation as the most kill-crazy organized crime group in America. The violent legacy of murder and mayhem had its origins in the Windy City long before Al Capone and his minions ruthlessly eliminated rival bootleg gangs with strongholds on the West, and North Sides of the city in the 1920s. The "outfit" was a loose coalition of former Black Hand extortionists, vice merchants, narcotics traffickers, and corrupt labor union leaders, operating out of the South Side "Levee" vice district prior to World War I.
Illegal gambling was fragmented and widely scattered across the city. Bookmaking was controlled by neighborhood bosses Mont Tennes (North Side) James O'Leary (South Side) and Harry Perry and Charles "Social" Smith (outlying areas). Al Capone, a former saloon bouncer, pimp, "consolidator," and America's most famous and recognizable mobster applied modern business principals and instilled a sense of fear and loathing among his rivals while buying off politicians and judges with alacrity. Capone eliminated his rivals one by one during the endless gang wars of the 1920s and early 1930s, until his South Side organization prevailed. Frank Nitti, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca, Tony Accardo, Sam Giancana, Joey Aiuppa, and John "No Nose" DiFronzo inherited Big Al's organization in the intervening decades following his conviction for income tax evasion in 1931.
It is believed that between 70-200 members comprise the scaled down 1990s Chicago "outfit." As recently as the mid 1980s, seven multi-ethnic street crews responsible for juice loan operations, collecting street taxes from independent gamblers, drug trafficking, and overseeing other criminal activities, roamed the streets of Chicago with impunity. Imprisonment and federal heat emanating out of the U.S. Attorney's office downtown have reduced the number of crews to three apportioned geographic areas and just who is in charge these days remains a matter of conjecture. It is widely assumed that Anthony Centracchio rules the West Side, Joe "the Builder" Andriacchi the North, and John "Apes" Monteleone the South Side and Northwest Indiana. Now that Accardo, Aiuppa, and Jackie Cerone have expired as a result of the complications of old age, the current boss is thought to be Joseph "the Clown" Lombardo, who was released from a federal penitentiary a few years ago after serving time for his part in the Las Vegas casino skimming cases of the mid-1980s.
The Five Families of New York.
Despite the embarrassing antics of John Gotti the "Teflon Don," the celebrated defection of underboss Sammy Gravano and various setbacks played out in the courtrooms of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the Carlo Gambino family remains the largest Mafia family in the U.S. today with 20 separate capos, 300 made members, and 3,000 associates. John A. "Junior" Gotti reportedly took control of the family after Gotti Sr. was convicted on murder and racketeering charges and shuttled off to prison in 1991. His uncle, Peter Gotti, ably assisted him until indictments were handed down against Junior. The ruling Commission decided it was in the best interests of the family to appoint Nicholas "Little Nicky" Corozzo acting boss, but Corozzo was indicted on racketeering charges in Florida and is currently in prison. Less sophisticated than the Genoveses who continue to gain momentum in areas outside of New York, the Gambinos are involved in loan sharking, narcotics trafficking, construction, pornography distribution, garbage collection, Atlantic City casinos, and garment district labor unions. The seven garment district trucking firms controlled by the family gross $40 million dollars a year with net profits pegged at $12 million. The family's total operation grosses $300 million a year.
The Vito Genovese family with 200 "made" members and 1,300 "associates" is second largest but steadily gaining influence amid the Gambino turmoil. Until he went off to prison, the family was headed by Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, who lolled about his Greenwich Village neighborhood in carpet slippers and a bathrobe and wanted everyone to believe he was as crazy as a bedbug. Liborio "Barney" Bellomo reportedly stepped in as acting boss, but is boiling in hot water these days after entering a guilty plea for shaking down the street vendors who worked the San Gennaro Street Festival in Little Italy. Bellomo became a "made" member of the mob at age 19. The Feds believe that Dominick "Quiet Dom" Cirillo is the current street boss. Before Gigante's misfortunes became a matter of public record, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, a scowling, old-time mobster, called the shots until he died in prison following conviction in the celebrated "Commission Case." The Genoveses derive much of their income from their lock on the trucking industry, waste hauling, and their control of the Fulton Fish Market, but they are also deeply involved in the entertainment industry, the construction trades, and have been described as the "Ivy League" of labor racketeering. The New York State Organized Crime Task Force categorized the group as "the most stable, the best counseled, and the most diversified business crime group in the country."
The prestige and influence of the Gaetano "Thomas" Lucchese family, third largest New York crime family with 125 members and 500 associates, has dwindled in the face of government crackdowns that have resulted in long prison terms for the ruling cadre. Former bosses Anthony "Ducks" Corallo and Salvatore Santoro were convicted and sent away. Corallo, a close friend of the late James R. Hoffa, died in 1986 and was succeeded by Vittorio Amuso who ruled the family until 1992 when he was handed a life sentence. Reportedly the New Jersey branch of the family is headed by Martin Tacetta, whose influence stretched all the way to Los Angeles where he masterminded a take over of the lucrative pornography business through a bogus company set up in Chatsworth. The family is involved in airport cargo hijacking (one of their crews, headed by the late Paul Vario, was the subject of the 1990 motion picture Good Fellas), Florida gambling, the carting industry, construction, pornography, and labor union racketeering. Alphonso "Little Al" D'Arco was in charge of the family until he agreed to become a government informant against the younger Gotti and other mobsters. Joe DeFede is alleged to be the current acting boss of a Mafia family that continues its downward slide. Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, a fugitive from justice for several years, serves as underboss from his jail cell.
Internecine gang warfare of the 1980s decimated the Joseph Bonanno family to the point of virtual insignificance. Cola Schiro founded the criminal organization during Prohibition. Salvatore Maranzano, an old-line "Don" who arrogantly proclaimed himself capo de tutti capi (Boss of Bosses) succeeded Schiro. Maranzano was the principal architect of the "five family" organizational structure existing in New York, and the head of this particular family until September 10,1931 when he was murdered in his Park Avenue office.
Thereafter, and for the next four decades, the family was governed by Joseph Bonanno, another old-world traditionalist who grew up in the same Sicilian village as Maranzano. Things haven't been quite the same for this Mafia family ever since patriarch Bonanno fled to the Arizona sun-belt in 1968 after failing to carry out a crazy scheme to murder the top bosses of the rival families in New York and New Jersey. In the mid-1970s undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone, posing as a street tough named "Donnie Brasco" successfully infiltrated a Bonanno street crew, resulting in the indictment of 17 "made" members and associates in New York and Milwaukee. Never before had the Federal government reached inside a Mafia family and achieved such stunning results. It was a major embarrassment and a deadly setback for a troubled crime family plagued by years of internal strife.
In 1979, Boss Carmine Galante was assassinated in a Brooklyn restaurant. The hit was allegedly carried out by Philip "Rusty" Rastelli, a loan shark, drug trafficker and union racketeer, and Anthony "Bruno" Indelicato, an up and coming young capo. U.S. Attorney Alan Friedman, who stepped down from his post in order to enter private law practice in October 1990, convicted the top leadership of this family and leaders of Teamsters Local 814. Joseph Massina, who served his apprenticeship under Rastelli, inherited the mantle of leadership of the Bonanno gang in 1989. He runs the operations from prison following his 1986 racketeering conviction. Narcotics are the family's primary stock and trade, but other business ventures include moving and storage, pizza parlors, espresso cafes and catering are factored into the mix.
The Brooklyn-based Joseph Colombo family (formerly the Joseph Profaci family until 1970 when Colombo was given command of the family by Thomas Lucchese and Carolo Gambino as a reward for informing them of Joe Bonanno's secret plot to take over the New York underworld) is currently headed by Andrew Russo, nephew of Carmine "the Snake" Persico. Persico is serving a 100-year prison sentence following his 1987 for helping run the National Commission. The Colombos stirred much controversy in the early 1970s for their leader's misguided Italian-American anti-defamation advocacy. The resulting publicity drew unwanted attention down upon the heads of the other families who marked Colombo for death. He was gunned down at one of his unity rallies on June 28, 1971, suffering permanent brain damage. Colombo lingered for another seven years.
The family concerns itself these days with liquor distribution, funeral homes, auto dealerships, airfreight, and catering. In 1991, a civil war erupted involving two rival Colombo factions, one of them loyal to the imprisoned Persico, the other to acting boss Vic Orena. John A. "Junior" Gotti, son of the Dapper Don attempted to intervene, but he failed to head off a bloody carnage that left ten people dead and sapped the strength of this once feared family. Persico emerged as victor of the "Colombo War" and was allowed to appoint Russo acting boss.
Philadelphia-Atlantic City. Sicilian-born Salvatore Sabella organized the Philadelphia crime family and ran criminal operations from 1911-1927, but Max "Boo Boo" Hoff controlled citywide bootlegging operations during Prohibition and was recognized as the real power of the local underworld. Under the thumb of the New York families for much of its history, succeeding bosses Joseph Bruno (1927-1946) and Joseph Ida (1946-1959) made only faltering attempts to establish local autonomy in the City of Brotherly Love. The pattern of subservience continued during the reign of Joseph Bruno's son, Angelo "the Gentle Don" Bruno (1959-1980).
An old-line boss who respected traditions and the art of compromise, Bruno opposed drug trafficking and unnecessary violence but fell victim to Mafia assassins who were dispatched from New York on March 21, 1980. Bruno was shot-gunned in his car moments after buying his evening paper. His bodyguard John Stanfa, was only slightly wounded that night, and would make the most of his opportunities, eventually emerging as boss of the Philadelphia rackets. However, before this came to pass, Philadelphia was a city up for grabs. Bruno's successor, Philip Testa, died in a bomb blast that demolished the front of his home. Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, part of a younger generation of mobsters taking control along the eastern seaboard, made his peace with the New York families and claimed an interest in Atlantic City gambling action and Local 54 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union.
Scarfo's short but violent eight-year reign was interrupted on May 13, 1989, when he was sentenced to 55-years in prison for the 1985 murder of Frank "Flowers" D'Alfonso, a member of the Bruno-Testa inner circle. D'Alfonso was ordered to die because he had failed to show the "proper respect" for Scarfo when he decided to cut his boss out of a share of the profits. John Stanfa took over the family after Little Nicky went away, but in a stunning reversal of fortune, government informant, and Stanfa hitman John Veasey testified against his former boss in a sensational 1997 trial that exposed the underpinnings of mob life. Stanfa was convicted. Ralph Natale, former president of Local 54, of the Hotel, Motel, Restaurant and Bartender's Union International in Camden City is believed to be the man in charge of Philadelphia
Detroit. During the wild and reckless Prohibition Era, the Detroit River, spanning Windsor, Ontario and the Motor City, was the most important commercial waterway in America for the illegal transport of intoxicants coming in from Canada. A fleet of speedboats, many of them owned and operated by Detroit's infamous Purple Gang, ferried the booze across the river and into the city where it was sold and distributed to thirsty patrons nationwide. Joe and Abe Bernstein founded the Purples, with the help of Harry and Louis Fleisher, and Joseph Zerilli. Together, these men ran the Purple Gang, a gang of rumrunners and gunslingers primarily (but not exclusively) of Jewish heritage.
The Purple Gang ruthlessly eliminated three members of the Little Jewish Navy in the 1931 Collingwood Manor Apartment Massacre, but three members of its members were arrested, convicted of murder and sentenced to life. Abe Bernstein hooked up with Meyer Lansky and Joe Adonis after 1934. Purple gunmen Pete Licavoli and his brother Thomas ("Yonnie") fled to Toledo, but eventually returned and gained control of liquor smuggling and gambling on Detroit's East Side with Joseph Bommarito. Thereafter, the Licavoli-Bommarito combine became the major players in the Eastern Great Lakes region, forging alliances based on expediency with the Cleveland Syndicate, ruled by Moe Dalitz (from Detroit, originally) Sam Tucker, Louie Rothkopf, and Morris Kleinman. The lineage of Detroit's Italian organized crime faction dates back to 1921, when Gaspare Milazzo founded his own gang. Gaetano Gianolla murdered Milazzo in 1930, and absorbed the remnants of Detroit's Jewish gangs into the modern crime syndicate following repeal in 1933.
The Motor City mob was governed by a succession of bosses including Joseph Vitale (1944-1964) former bootlegger Joseph Zerilli (1964-1977), and Vincent Meli (son of Angelo Meli who was listed by Detroit Police as "Public Enemy #1 during the 1930s) and Jack William Tocco, related to the Melis' through marriage. Tocco assumed leadership in 1977 after Zerilli died. In a continuing crackdown against the heads of the 26 Mafia families, Attorney General Janet Reno announced the indictment of Tocco and 16 cohorts in March 1996. Included in the list of mob figures targeted for prosecution was street boss Tony Giacaclone, rumored to be the point man who set up the ill-fated meeting the day Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in the Detroit suburbs in1975.
Jack Tocco was one of the longest tenured mob bosses in America, and his small but cohesive organization managed to avoid the kinds of bloodbaths that decimated the Cleveland and Philadelphia families in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time the indictments were handed down, the Detroit family included 100 associates and 29 made members deeply involved in sports bookmaking, policy, narcotics, extortion, corruption of public officials and labor union bosses, vice, and hijacking. The profits from these illegal enterprises fueled the many legitimate businesses owned by Detroit mobsters and their associates.
Las Vegas. Brooklyn-born Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel made grass grow in the Nevada desert and he built a legal gambling oasis that was to become a mob Mecca for decades to come. Las Vegas, has always been fertile ground for organized crime. Just who maintained the spheres of influence has been another matter. Nowadays the major player is Wall Street, because gambling has become a respectable family pastime and "Sin City" has gone legit
Siegel, a flamboyant gunsel who had designs on an acting career when he wasn't chasing after Virginia Hill and a bevy of Hollywood chorus girls, built the Flamingo casino with $5 million dollars in seed money borrowed from Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky back in New York. Repeated construction delays, cost over-runs, and the misappropriation of syndicate money ultimately led to Siegel's sudden, but inevitable demise. A sniper shot him down while he was reading a newspaper in the privacy of Virginia's Beverly Hills mansion on June 20, 1947. Jack Dragna, the self-styled "Al Capone of the West Coast" was blamed for the hit, but in all likelihood the deed was carried out by gunman Frankie Carbo, acting on direct orders from former Siegel chum Lansky. Virginia Hill never even bothered to attend the funeral.
The Commission has always regarded Las Vegas, arising like a Phoenix in the dust of the desert, as an "open" city. At various times New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Chicago partitioned the territory, and set up satellite operations. For many years, mobsters representing Eastern "interests" conveniently hid behind front men posing as legitimate business executives, in order to gain access to the millions of dollars exchanging hands inside the Las Vegas casino counting rooms. The "skimming" of casino profits was an irresistible lure until the government discovered that organized crime was systematically looting the Teamsters pension fund to finance construction of new hotels on the Vegas strip.
In the early 1980s it was revealed that the Argent Corporation, the holding company for the Fremont and Stardust Hotels, was controlled by Chicago's Vegas point-man, the late Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro, who basked in his reputation as a trigger-happy, out-of-control thug. His "Hole in the Wall Gang" carried out burglaries, home invasions, and shakedowns of drug dealerstheir criminal marauding was profiled in the movie Casino. Spilotro's freewheeling lifestyle and trigger-happy temper would eventually cost him his life. After he exited the world in 1986, Chicago's influence in Vegas slowly waned. The Buffalo family, less sophisticated in its techniques, muscled in on Spilotro's former street rackets.
In the 1950s, '60's, and '70s, the Eastern mobs established lucrative connections at the Tropicana, the Aladdin, the Hacienda, and the Marina. But all of that quickly changed. Beginning in the mid-1980s, after the successful "Pendorf/Strawman" prosecutions of Chicago, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and New York mobsters had run their course, the image of Las Vegas as a gangster haven slowly began to fade. Corporate America re-shaped the entire image of the city, buying up former gangster properties and turning it into a G-rated wholesome family vacation spot appealing to Middle America. In the midst of a building boom that bull-dozed former mob haunts along the Strip, mob figures from Buffalo and Los Angeles made a last ditch effort to corner loan-sharking, the escort services, and several other street rackets. Since the ill-fated attempt failed in 1995, the absence of organized crime is evident in the management of the casinos, the construction industry, and union locals.
Los Angeles. In a moment of uncharacteristic humor, former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates once labeled the Southern California crime family the "Mickey Mouse Mafia." The significance of this statement is not lost on veteran mob watchers who need only recall the bumbling misadventures of this fragmented group to know that organized crime in the second largest city is strictly second rate. The history of the Mickey Mouse Mafia is interesting, if not farcical.
Johnny Roselli was dispatched by the Capone mob to conquer Los Angeles for Chicago. Instead, 1930s Hollywood glamour and glitz nearly conquered Roselli, who married actress June Lang then produced and bankrolled a series of B-grade movies. Before he moved his office to the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas in the 1950s, Roselli contemplated quitting the rackets all together in order to satisfy his movie lust.
San Quentin jailbird Jack Dragna along with his brother Tom were chosen to lead the Los Angeles crime group by the New York families after bookmaker Meyer "Mickey" Cohen fell from grace following the 1947 assassination of "Bugsy" Siegel, his friend and East Coast mentor.
Dragna ran the family for nearly a decade, but never with any degree of competence or sophistication. He tried unsuccessfully to kill Mickey Cohen on five different occasions, then failed to establish his family's presence in Las Vegas following the death of his old nemesis Bugsy Siegel, leaving this fertile new territory wide open for Chicago and New York. In 1968, Jack's nephew Louis Tom Dragna, AKA: "The Reluctant Prince" because of his shy, withdrawing nature, replaced Frankie DiSimone and Nick Licata as boss, continuing on until 1974. It was an unfamiliar role, and one that was not particularly to Dragna's liking. As family consigliere for his Uncle Jack, the "Reluctant Prince" was involved in the garment businesstraditionally a big revenue generator for the L.A. mob. Louie Dragna relied on less timid mobsters like Adalena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno to carry out acts of violence, and as a result, failed to become a "man of respect."
Dragna relinquished his leadership role to Dominic Brooklier in 1974, but Brooklier and his underboss Mike Rizzitello were fingered by stool pigeon Fratianno in 1979, resulting in another management restructuring that brought Peter John Milano and his brother Carmen to the forefront of West Coast Mafia action. Peter Milano is a Westlake businessman whose father Anthony Milano was a wheel horse in the Cleveland crime syndicate for many years. The brothers were handed an 18-count indictment in May 1987, alleging among other things, that they had plotted the murder of Louie Dragna with Cleveland boss Jack Licavoli. Betrayed by Craig and Lawrence Fiato, two former associates who wore an FBI wire for seven years, the Milanos were convicted, dealing a near fatal blow to what was left of the Mickey Mouse Mafia.
The final nail in the coffin was delivered nearly a decade later when "Fat" Herbie Blitzstein, one-time sidekick of Anthony Spilotro in Chicago and a Luciano Pavoratti look-alike, was "iced" in Las Vegas. It was part of a scheme for the LA and Buffalo crime groups to seize control of the extortion rackets thereby establishing a permanent domain in Las Vegas. Stephen Cino, and L.A. mob associates Alfred Mauriello, Antone Davi, and Peter Caruso were among 16 mobsters indicted for the Blitzstein hit. It is further alleged that Carmen Milano signed off on the murder plot. However, neither of the Milanos were indicted in the case and their names remain at the top of the L.A. chart. Federal prosecutors expressed cautious optimism in the belief that the Blitzstein case spells the downfall of America's most vulnerable crime family.