Monday, February 11, 2013

Los Angeles Gangland, Part 3: 1940's

The Way Things Work

Before I continue the story of the war on Mickey Cohen, I will explain how the Cosa Nostra worked and continues to work.  The Cosa Nostra was in a huge growth period from Prohibition until the Kennedy Era.  There was almost no law enforcement attention.  The Bureau of Narcotics had files on most of the guys in Organized Crime, but did not share this information.  The FBI did not do undercover operations and J. Edgar Hoover did not publicly admit there was a Mafia, until years later.  Local law enforcement was able to take down the low level street guys who were replaced before they had even set bail.  Criminals that operated on a higher level knew that there was a group who called the shots in underworld.

This group was the Cosa Nostra or “Our Thing” and they were divided up into families all across the US.  There were 26 Families and there were many more satellites around the country.

Cosa Nostra in its current form was set up by Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and other forward-looking young men.  The way it was before they killed off the old bosses or " Mustache Petes" was much like warring clans with one strong leader who became the Boss of Bosses.  That did not work because you had a lot of unhappy guys under their thumb, and constant uprising.  

Lucky set it up so that all the bosses around the country were equal.  That means that Providence, Rhode Island Boss was on the same level as the Chicago Boss.  Each Boss was the Absolute Boss of his family.  They set up what was called the Commission to oversee territory disputes and rules, but they never had anything to do with internal family matters.

There existed a criminal enforcement arm that was known as The Brooklyn Combination or, as the press called it, Murder INC.  They took "contracts" all over the country.  One of their famous kills was Dutch Shultz who defied the orders of the Bosses in New York. It was later broken up by law enforcement and many of the men were absorbed into crime families.  The Jewish gangsters went with Meyer Lansky, who had his own gang. The Jewish gangsters were very cunning and smart during their time in the rackets.  They ran most of the gambling joints for Cosa Nostra. They branched into garment trade and other legitimate enterprises. They would pay taxes on twenty percent of what they made in the rackets.  The Italians paid none and did not care.  The Jewish gangsters would be gone in a generation and their children would grow up to become legitimate, successful citizens.

Each Cosa Nostra Family would be set up along the lines of a Roman Legion.  At the top would be the Sottocapo, or Boss.  Next to him would be an important part of the family who had no crew. The Consigliere or Counselor.  He would would often be a senior member of the family who no longer participated in street activities. He would advise the Boss, and he would be a buffer for men in the family.

The Underboss reported directly to the Boss. He would get reports from a Streetboss or Caporegime's.

The two families I was with during my time on the street had Streetbosses but not all the families have them.

A Caporegime or Capo, sometimes referred to as a Captain, oversaw a crew of around ten Soldato or Made Men.  The Made Guys would have their own crews and associates. The FBI always equated a number of sixty associates for each made guy.

A guy who was not made but worked with the family referred to as "With" the family.  They were expected to abide by the same rules as a Made guy and not all associates were equal.  Take Meyer Lansky, he was so important to the Cosa Nostra he had his own guy Jimmy “Blue Eyes”
Alo, whose only job was to take care of Meyer.  So, if a guy in a crew had a problem, he would take it to his Capo, would then take it to the Underboss, who would take it to the Boss, and the Consigliere.  A made guy could go directly to the Consigliere if he had a problem, but it had better be significant.

The rules were you come in alive and you leave dead.  You can never betray the Cosa Nostra.   The Family comes before anything else.  That means when you were called, you come.  You can never violate the wife or children of a member.  No involvement in Narcotics.  In the old days, you had to be a hundred percent Italian.  Later, the rules were changed by the Commission because guys like John Gotti and Junior Persico wanted their sons to be Made into the family.  The penalty for any breach of these rules is death.

Every man is expected to kill without question when given the order.  You are never paid for this in anyway.  You do it because it is a part of the life and you gain status. Most men had killed or participated in murder before they were made. So, you have a group of killers and outlaws.  There is no way you can berate or abuse a man and get away with it.

This is why Movies like the Gangster Squad are not even close to accurate. Mickey was a leader of a gang that had maybe a dozen paid members.  The LA Family had over Sixty made men. They could call for assistance from any family in the US.  Chicago was in charge of everything in the west.  The Outfit as the Cosa Nostra was called in Chicago was huge and controlled everything in the Mid West.

Gambling and the Migration to the West Coast

Gambling is the lifeblood of the Cosa Nostra. It is socially acceptable, reaps huge profits and leads to other revenue streams like shylocking loansharking.

Two men named James Regan and Moe Annenberg started Nationwide, a racing wire in Chicago and St Louis. This wire was very important for Bookmakers to do their business. Each Bookie had to have fast, up to the minute information on the horse races running across the country.

Western Union could only transmit race information when it was completed.  This could mean a fifteen minute delay before the results were known.  Nationwide gave results right away.  The Bookies paid for this service and soon the two men were rich.  They were brought up on tax charges and they had to divest themselves of the business.  James Regan only did it on paper. The man he left in charge worked closely with the Outfit in Chicago and soon they expanded all over the country.  James Regan came back to Nationwide and this did not sit well with the Outfit. The Outfit, along with the New York Families, started Trans America race wire and they soon had bookies signing up for it.  James Regan balked at this, so they gunned him down in the Chicago streets. He survived, but while he was recovering, he was poisoned in the hospital by a dose of Mercury.

The Cosa Nostra had expanded into California.  Jack Dragna was the Boss of the Los Angeles Family and the Outfit worked closely with him.  The Outfit had infiltrated the movie studios and were making big dollars shaking down the studio's and naturally some of this flowed into Dragna’s hands.  Mickey Cohen helped the Cosa Nostra find bookmakers to switch their wire service to Trans America.  That was his role in Organized Crime and while he was Jewish he was not part of Meyer Lansky’s crew.

After Mickey and his men were picked up and released on bail for the beating of the repairmen, the Cosa Nostra decided to hit him where it hurt.  The pocket book.

The first of Mickey’s guys to go was Frank Niccoli.  Dragna had tried to persuade him to leave Mickey and when that failed, his time was up.

It was set up over Labor day weekend 1949 at Jimmy Frattiano's home near LAX.

Frank Niccoli parked his car in front of Jimmy's and walked to the front door.

“Frank! Nice to see you,” Jimmy said as he opened the door to let him in the house.  They shook hands and Frank walk over by the kitchen. “Can I get you a beer?”   

“Sure thing,” Frank answers and Jimmy brings him a beer.

The house is empty.  Jimmy's wife and daughter were away for the holiday.  Frank and Jimmy exchange small talk.  Frank drains his beer and Jimmy asks him if he wants another.  Jimmy is getting him another when there is a knock at the door.  Jimmy opens the door, and its a
large man named Joseph Dippolito.  

“Joe Dip! How are you?  Come on in,” Jimmy said as he opened the door wide.  Frank starts to shake Joe Dips hand.  Joe instead grabs him in a bear hug embrace.  Through the open door enters Nick Licata, Carmen and Sam Bruno.  They come in fast.  Nick pulls out a piece of rope.  Jimmy takes it and wraps it around Franks neck while Sam grabs the other end.  They soon manage to choke the life out of him. While he is struggling, his bladder lets go and he pisses all over Jimmy's floor.

Once he is dead, Joe Dip pulls his car into Jimmy's garage, and they stuff Frank into a canvas bag.

He will disappear, buried in an unknown location.  Sam Bruno drives Frank’s car away, and that is the last anyone sees of Frank.

The next guy from Mickey’s gang to go is Dave Ogul.  He was walking on Sunset and Holloway when he disappeared.  He was set up by the LA Family’s guy inside Mickey’s gang.  Dave Ogul was never heard from again.  Mickey was now on the hook for their bail bonds.  Mickey had put up his home and other property as a guarantee for the bail bonds on himself and his men after they beat up the repairman.  Now the LA Family was going after his men and making them do a “ Houdini” also known as “disappear you”.  

Many writers have never been in “the life” or take the time to research how people really act in the mafia world.  They fail to grasp the scope and power of La Cosa Nostra.  It is international in scope and no individual “gangster” is bigger than the organization, and that includes Mickey Cohen.

The LA Family had killed two of Mickey’s men, and he had done nothing to the LA Family.

For more information on the Los Angeles guys please see: 

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