Frank J. Valenti, Rochester's notorious mob boss who oversaw local organized crime during its heyday of gambling parlors, prostitution and extortion, died last Saturday at age 97.
While atop Rochester's organized crime mob hierarchy in the 1960s and '70s, Mr. Valenti was so infamous that the Democrat and Chronicle ran a regular update on his doings under the heading, "Spotlight on Rochester's Gambling Czar."
Mr. Valenti had been living in a nursing facility near Houston. His death was confirmed by four people, including retired law enforcers and people close to the family, who asked not to be identified. A death certificate was filed in Texas Wednesday.
Bart Maimone, who provided fuel to Mr. Valenti's construction business in the 1960s and '70s, said he would always remember Mr. Valenti as fair and generous, despite any criminal ties he may have had.
Once, Maimone said, he was prepared to go into business with a local company with organized crime ties and Mr. Valenti urged him not to. "He never wanted me to get involved with that," said Maimone, noting that he learned this week of Mr. Valenti's death.
Gentlemanly and handsome, Mr. Valenti fit a Hollywood stereotype of a gangster who could be both diplomatic and violently tyrannical.
That Mr. Valenti lived to almost a century may come as a surprise to those who saw him in 1964 when, for court appearances, he was disheveled, haggard and claimed he suffered from heart ailments and ulcers triggered by the constant attention from law enforcement. But Mr. Valenti often seemed able to appear on death's doorstep for court appearances, only to vigorously recover for meetings with his capos.
Mr. Valenti's travels read like a mob history. In 1957, he and his brother, Constenze "Stanley" Valenti, were two of the mobsters at the infamous Apalachin conference, a Mafia summit meeting held in Apalachin, near Binghamton.
Six years later, when mob turncoat and killer Joseph Valachi helped federal authorities detail the reach of organized crime, Frank and Stanley Valenti were two of the more than 300 Mafioso whom Valachi identified as central figures.
Mr. Valenti was considered to be "the most significant person" in organized crime in Rochester, said local lawyer and former district attorney Donald Chesworth, who was involved in mob investigations when he worked with the FBI in the 1960s.
With his charm, dapper attire and swept-back white hair, Valenti always seemed the center of attention within any crowd.
Rochester resident Diane Lamanna remembers meeting Mr. Valenti at a local restaurant/bar when she was a teenager. She was waiting for a friend when she struck up a conversation with him and complained about how she never had money. "He was polite," she said. "He was a total gentleman." After he left, Lamanna found a napkin he'd left her with a tip about a horse running in a race that evening. Bet on the horse, he'd written. She paid no attention. After she told her friends about the meeting, they informed her just whom she'd been talking to. And, sure enough, they checked and the horse had won.
Born in Rochester, Mr. Valenti ascended through the organized crime ranks as would-be challengers mysteriously disappeared or were slain.
"It was an interesting time and there were a lot of murders," said Hugh Higgins, an FBI special agent in Rochester during the mob era. "But they were killing one another."
Mr. Valenti moved to Pittsburgh in 1961 — "exiled" there according to news accounts — after a conviction on a voting fraud in Rochester. There, he became a prominent figure in organized crime, before returning to Rochester in 1964 and seizing control of gambling and prostitution. But Mr. Valenti apparently avoided drug trafficking, as that criminal enterprise began to grow, Mr. Higgins said. "It's a funny kind of world, but I think Frank had some morals."
The Rochester enterprise during the late 1950s and much of the '60s was linked to the Buffalo-based Maggadino crime family.
"They broke away from the Maggadino family and they were considered, quote, unquote, a 'renegade' group as far as La Cosa Nostra goes," said Richard Endler, a retired federal prosecutor. But Mr. Valenti also had connections with the powerful New York City-based Bonanno family.
Mr. Valenti was able to use that influence to instill fear in local bookmakers who always paid a portion of their illicit earnings to Mr. Valenti and his clan, said local lawyer Robert A. Napier, whose father, the late Robert C. Napier, defended many of those same bookmakers.
Napier said his father thought Mr. Valenti was able to use "more bravado than actual muscle" because of the Bonanno connection.
Constantly under police surveillance at his Henrietta home, Mr. Valenti grew wary of the law enforcement attention and in 1970 hatched a plot to direct police attention toward others. The ploy worked. "There were a bunch of bombings," Higgins said. "We always attributed it to civil rights leftist organizations. Turned out it was the mob."
Mr. Valenti groomed and schooled some young men who would become Rochester's organized crime leaders, including Salvatore "Sammy" Gingello, arguably the region's most famous Mafia underboss. "Valenti took Sammy under his wing," said former Rochester police Officer Ralph "Butch" Bellucco, who now has a private investigation business.
Mr. Valenti's basement was the site of initiation ceremonies, in which newcomers to the crime family agreed they would never spill Mafia secrets, would break laws only with the consent of their mob leaders, and would not sleep with a comrade's girlfriend or wife.
Some of those same neophyte mobsters decided to wrest control from Mr. Valenti when they decided he was pocketing too much of the illicit gains. In 1972, one of his closest associates was fatally shotgunned.
After a federal prison stint for extortion, Mr. Valenti moved to Arizona and stayed there for years. Meanwhile, Rochester erupted into violent gang wars between rival teams that, coupled with toughened law enforcement, destroyed the organized crime ranks. Mr. Gingello was killed in a 1978 car bombing.
Mr. Valenti was father of five daughters. His wife, Eileen, passed away years ago.
Thanks to Gary Craig
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