Showing posts with label Joseph Barbara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Barbara. Show all posts

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mob Tour is Another Highlight for Niagara Falls

When the mob takes you for a ride, don’t expect to be home any time soon.

When Michael Rizzo, founder of Mob Tours, takes you for a ride, it takes about 90 minutes and some of the highlights along the way include former hideouts, hangouts and homes of Niagara Falls, N.Y.'s best-known criminals.

Some of the history he talks about on the tour relates to former mafia don Stefano Magaddino and his brothers, Gaspare and Nino, who ruled Western New York with iron fists.

“There are about a dozen locations that we go past, and we tell some stories about bookmaking and the history of Stefano Magaddino,” said Rizzo. “Everything is from the 1920s to the 1970s. We talk about prohibition, bootlegging, and we see some sites where there were some bombings, murders, bookmaking operations and where people lived.”

Rizzo, 43, a businessman, author and historian, came up with the idea about five years ago. He started research because there is so much history shared between the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y., criminal activity and the mob. He put it aside for awhile, then last year decided to look into running a tour.

Mob Tours opened in mid-June and will run weekends and holidays. Reservations can be made through the website, www.themobtours.com. Tickets cost $29.95.

Rizzo said while the Magaddinos were alive, the city was known as a sin centre. “We just try to capture some of that former drama and entertain our visitors for a short time, so that they have another reason to remember their visit to the Falls.”

Rizzo said historical accuracy is an important aspect of the tour. While there is very little information available about Magaddino in general circulation, as a researcher he knew where to find it and is now making it available with his tour. He hopes the tour appeals to fans of organized crime, "The Sopranos," or mafia movies.

Included is a stop at the Magaddino Museum, which features one-of-a-kind memorabilia from the Magaddinos era and the Niagara Falls mob.

Magaddino, known to be involved in the bookmaking and bootlegging trades, was a respected – and feared – head of the mafia in the 1930s and early 1940s. He controlled a considerable amount of territory in the Buffalo and Niagara area and had influence in southern Ontario, especially in the Toronto-Hamilton area.

“People in the circle obviously knew him. He had a large territory, but he was not well documented over the years. He didn’t make a lot of press noise, so up until Apalachin in 1957 he was pretty much unknown,” said Rizzo.

The infamous Apalachin crime 'conference' – a meeting of the most powerful mafia heads of the day, coming from The U.S., Italy and Canada – was held Nov. 14, 1957 at the home of mobster Joseph 'Joe the Barber' Barbara in Apalachin, N.Y. Police became suspicious after they noticed expensive cars with licence plates from around the country starting to arrive. Officers raided the meeting, causing mafiosi to flee into the woods and the surrounding area. The get-together proved disastrous for the mob, and many underworld bosses were detained and indicted. That meeting confirmed for the first time the existence of a national crime syndicate.

Until then, the Federal Bureau of Investigations refused to acknowledge such a thing even existed.

That meeting was planned as an opportunity for some of the most powerful mafiosi to socialize and resolve problems within their organization relating to gambling, casinos and narcotics operations.

Appalachin has been referred to in a number of movies, including the 1990 film "Goodfellas," 1999's "Analyze This," and in the novel "The Godfather Returns."

Don Stefano Magaddino was known as “the undertaker,” because the family owned a funeral parlour in Niagara Falls, N.Y. “The funeral home is about half a mile from the casino and it was open until the 1990s. It’s now sitting vacant,” said Rizzo.

At one time, there was talk of turning that property into a mob museum, but nothing has materialized.

Asked if he had concerns about his own safety for starting a business that tells mob stories, Rizzo said it crossed his mind. But he’s basically talking about “ancient history,” he said, because Magaddino has been dead more than 30 years.

“Most of the family is out of the area, but there are a few people still around,” said Rizzo. “After Stefano died, the (mob) family changed hands so his family is not in it any longer.”

He noted the tour is more about the history of Stefano Magaddino and his relationship with the city, and not necessarily about the Niagara Falls or Buffalo mafia.

“I’m actually surprised that there aren't any books about him yet, considering how long it has been since he died. And that he had such a big area, you would think someone would want to put a book out about him,” said Rizzo.

Magaddino has been mentioned in books, but nothing has been written specifically on him.

While his name was often associated with the city of Buffalo – and one book on the mafia even referred to him as the old don of Buffalo – he lived in Niagara Falls, N.Y. and later in Lewiston, N.Y.

In November 1968, the FBI raided Stefano’s home in Lewiston, along with several others that belonged to members of his family including his son, Peter Magaddino. The father and son were arrested and charged with interstate bookmaking. One source says when the FBI searched Peter Magaddino’s home, they uncovered close to $500,000 in cash inside a bedroom wall. Another source claims the money was found in a suitcase under a bed.

The street where the family lived in Lewiston was referred to as Mafia Row.

Stefano Magaddino, who had a number of heart ailments over the years, died of a heart attack in hospital July 19, 1974. He was 82. He is remembered for being a crime boss for more than 50 years – possibly the longest reign in history.

Thanks to Tony Ricciuto

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Using Intel to Stop the Mob, Part 2: The Turning Point

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Joseph Barbara, Joseph Valachi

Capone was history. (Part 1) “Lucky” Luciano’s luck ran out when he was convicted and deported to Italy. And Murder Inc. and its professional hit men were out of business.

The FBI and its partners had scored some major successes against organized crime by the late 1940s, but hoodlums and racketeers were still operating and thriving in certain big cities—New York, Chicago, Detroit, to name a few.

During this time, we’d been using intelligence to paint a picture of criminal activities, mostly locally on a case-by-case basis. In 1946, we launched the General Investigative Intelligence Program—our first national criminal intelligence initiative—to survey the crime landscape and gather details on key players, including mobsters.

By the early 50s, we’d gained (according to one memo) “considerable information concerning the background of operations of hoodlums and racketeers throughout the country,” using informants, discrete inquiries, and public sources. We’d also pulled together intelligence through surveys on the Mafia, on bookmaking and race wire activities, and on other criminal rackets.

In 1953, the New York office—facing rising mobster activity—specifically asked to open intelligence files on 30 top hoodlums in the city to get a general picture of their activities and to keep an eye out for violations of federal law. On August 25 th of that year, we made it an official national “Top Hoodlum Program,” asking all field offices to gather information on mobsters in their territories and to report it regularly to Washington so we’d have a centralized collection of intelligence on racketeers.

It’s important to understand: at the time, most racketeering activities—including gambling and loan sharking—were beyond our jurisdictional reach. Still, we needed to build a bank of information to better understand the threat and to be prepared if federal laws were broken.

Three key developments would help us further expose the length and breadth of organized crime generally and the Mafia specifically in the years to come.

* In 1957, New York State Police Sergeant Edgar Croswell discovered a secret meeting of top Mafioso at the rural estate of mob leader Joseph Barbara in Apalachin, New York. We immediately checked the names taken by Croswell. We had information in our files on 53 of the 60 mobsters; forty had criminal records. Croswell’s discovery led us to intensify our interest in these figures (not begin it, as some have speculated) and to arrest mobsters who violated federal law. In part because of Apalachin, we realized that local and regional crime lords were conspiring and began to adjust our strategy accordingly.
* In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy created an Organized Crime and Racketeering Section in the Department of Justice to coordinate activities by the FBI and other department agencies against the criminal threat.
* In 1963, thanks in part to the FBI, the first major Mafia turncoat—Joseph Valachi—publicly spilled the beans before a Senate subcommittee, naming names and exposing plenty of secrets about organized crime history, operations, and rituals.

As the threat became clearer, Congress began giving us more tools to combat it—including jurisdiction over more mobster related crimes like gambling and, in 1968, the ability to use court-authorized electronic surveillance in cases involving organized crime.

As a result of these intelligence efforts and new tools, our campaign against the mob turned a corner. The next key piece of the puzzle would come in the early ‘70s, with the passage of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations or “RICO” statute that would enable us to take down entire mob families. More on that later.

Thanks to the FBI

Monday, November 20, 2006

Castellammare del Golfo Exports Mobsters to New York?

From the turquoise Mediterranean lapping its shore to the winding streets where old men soak up the sun on rickety chairs, a tourist would never know this one small town has produced many of New York's most notorious gangsters. Then again, the narrow-eyed suspicion with which outsiders are greeted might be a tipoff.

So it is fitting that New York's latest mob boss has roots in the same western Sicilian town that has exported some of the city's toughest mobsters for generations. His name is Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna, 35, the reputed acting head of the Bonanno crime family.

Like the legendary Joseph Bonanno, model for "The Godfather," Montagna was born in Castellammare del Golfo. His family immigrated first to Canada (he has cousins who run a gelato business there) and then to New York.

It was last week that the Daily News exclusively reported that law enforcement authorities determined the Bonanno family, its ranks decimated by prosecutions, has turned to the youthful Montagna to take the leadership reins.

A hardscrabble fishing village clinging to a mountain rising steeply out of the sea 40 miles west of Palermo, Castellammare has been a stronghold of the Mafia for centuries, its men known for their pride, clannishness and violence when crossed.

Now a town of 20,000, its name - translated as the Castle at the Sea - comes from a ruined but still forbidding Saracen fortress near the small marina. The marble mausoleums clustered in the town cemetery bear many family names that became famous in New York: Bonanno, Profaci and Galante chief among them.

Questions about the Montagna family are greeted with some hostility. There is one Montagna listed in town, but no one answered the phone and asking around in his neighborhood wasn't fruitful. "I know him, but he's dead," said one of the old men lounging over coffee at a cafe. "Sorry."

During Mussolini's brutal crackdown on the Mafia in the 1920s, scores of Castellammarese fled to America, many settling in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The immigrants' ties to the land, each other and the Old World codes of honor gave rise to powerful, insular gangs that cornered the market on bootlegging, gambling and then-lucrative ice deliveries. Men from the town also went to Buffalo and Chicago, where they started their own mobs.

In the 1930s, New York was rocked by the Castellammarese War, which pitted immigrant mobsters from the town - led by Bonanno, Joseph Profaci and then-boss Salvatore Maranzano - against factions from Calabria and Naples, including Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. The bloody war ended when Maranzano set up an organizational structure for La Cosa Nostra and divided New York City into five families.

At 26, Bonanno was nearly a decade younger than Montagna when he came to head his own family. Then, as now, immigrants from Castellammare were prized soldiers.

BonannoA Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, in his autobiography, "A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno," wrote of their discipline and the importance of ancient family ties. He told a family legend about his Uncle Peppe ordering a younger man to strip off his shirt and take an undeserved lashing with a whip. "It's one thing to say you're never going to talk against your friends, but it's quite another not to talk when someone is beating you. I wanted to see how well you took a beating," Bonanno recalled his uncle saying.

His affection for his birthplace was evident: He spoke of playing in the fortress as a child, the taste of fresh mullet caught in the gulf nearby and the smell of lemons on the wind. When he died in 2002 at the age of 97 in Arizona, his funeral cards bore the image of Santa Maria del Soccorso, the patron saint of Castellammare del Golfo.

Another Castellammarese, Joseph Barbara, hosted the notorious Appalachian Mafia Conference of 1957, which was raided by the cops and began the mob's long slow decline.

In the past decade, Italian authorities have made a great effort to crack down on gangsters, and Castellammare is now thriving, with new six-story blocks of condos going up on the outskirts of town and fewer poor laborers leaving in search of a better life. But the port city is still a major center of Mafia activity in western Sicily.

The crew filming "Ocean's 12" in nearby Scopello in 2004 were caught up in it when 23 people - including a local police commander - were busted after a year-long probe of a sprawling Castellammarese extortion racket that included surveillance of the film set. Producer Jerry Weintraub later hotly denied widespread Italian news reports that the film crew was being shaken down with threats of arson on the set and that film's stars - George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones - might have been in danger.

The national daily newspaper Corriere della Sera said the local Mafia is known for targeting moviemakers and has a lock on the hiring of extras.

While the ancient codes still hold sway, the gangsters are keeping up with the times and enforcement has gone high-tech. When producers of a recent feature wouldn't cooperate, thugs broke into the production offices and erased the moviemakers' hard drive's to make their point.

There have been other signs of modernity. Two of the highest ranking Mafiosi arrested in a big 2004 Castellammare bust were women - the wives of the town's top Mafia chieftains. Italian authorities said it would have been unheard of even a few years ago for women to get involved in protection rackets, but bragged that their prosecutions have been so successful that most of the men are now behind bars.

In New York, parallel crackdowns on the mob have put half the Bonanno family soldiers behind bars. So once again, the family has looked to the tough men and closed mouths of Castellammare del Golfo's crooked streets.

Thanks to Helen Kennedy


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