Monday, March 11, 2013
Los Angeles Mafia 1960's
“No, its not Mafia. That’s the expression the outside uses,” Joe Valachi, 1963
In 1963, Law Enforcement and the Cosa Nostra itself were still reeling from the debacle of Appalachia which happened in 1957 (if you missed that post, read it here). All this attention forced the FBI to step it up. It would soon get much worse for the men who made their living in the Underworld. Everything changed for the Cosa Nostra in September of 1963.
Joseph Michael Valachi told everything he knew. He claimed it was because the organization had ruined his life and he wanted to right that wrong. Valachi gave the world a new look - an inside look - at a criminal organization that had been called many names by the outside world.
He referred to it as Cosa Nostra and from then on it was no longer a secret organization.
Why did Valachi flip?
Valachi was a low level Made guy in the Luciano Family, a family which would later become the Genovese Family. He had been sent to prison for heroin trafficking, and he thought he was marked for death. Vito Genovese, in the same prison, also for heroin trafficking, had given him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Valachi interpreted it as the so called “kiss of death.” He did not eat or sleep for weeks after the “kiss” so when an inmate approached him in the yard he thought the guy was going to kill him. So Valachi beat him to death with a pipe. It turned out to only be a guy who looked like a connected guy, but was not involved in any way. Valachi was now facing a death sentence for killing the inmate. As a result, he reached out to the FBN who had arrested him for heroin. The FBI quickly took over handling Valachi from the FBN, and he spilled it all. Once the FBI took over they moved him to jails all over the country and he would finally live out his life in what would become known as the Valachi Suite in La Tuna Federal Prison.
The 1960's were not good to the LA Family. Frank DeSimone and his underboss had been caught in Appalachian. The underboss was deported back to Italy, so he appointed Nick Licata as the new underboss. Then Valachi flipped and caused the Cosa Nostra to be known all over the world. Gone was the mystery and the mysticism of the once secret organization. Frank's name and picture were published in newspapers all over. Look Magazine even did a story naming him as the boss of the LA Family. Frank filed a lawsuit against the magazine for the story, but he had been caught with the rest of the Cosa Nostra at Appalachian. Frank was also a second generation boss, his father Rosario DeSimone was part of the Cosa Nostra family in Pueblo, Colorado before moving to Southern California and joining the LA Family. Rosario would become boss briefly in LA before stepping down to pursue his legitimate business interest in Downey, California. He ran a successful Import/Export business until his death in 1946 of natural causes. He was known as the Chief or Pappa and he kept a low profile.
There was once a shooting outside Rosario’s home in Downey. Some rivals fired upon Joseph Ardizzone, the man who would later become boss, and Little Jimmy Basile, as the two hoods left a meeting held at DeSimone’s Downey home. Ardizzone was also known as The Iron Man.
The swift and deadly attack left Basile dead in the street. Ardizzone was seriously wounded but made it to the safety of the house. DeSimone, his son Leon, "a Stanford grad," and nephew Simone Scozzari were questioned and later released. People may recognize Simone as the underboss who was picked up with Frank in Appalachia.
Frank's nephew Tommy DeSimone in Queens, New York would become a Lucchese Associate known as Tommy Two Gun. He would be immortalized on film by Joe Pesci in Goodfella's as Tommy DeVito. He would later be killed for killing a Gambino guy and his body would never be found. Anthony DeSimone, another nephew, also in Queens, was with the Gambino family. Anthony was killed by Tommy Agro, a Gambino family Soldier. Frank had gone to USC and graduated to become a successful Criminal Attorney. However, once Jack Dragna died he would step up to take the top spot. His new position in the family resulted in lots of bad press, and caused his professional career as an attorney to suffer greatly.
I used to think for a long time that a Boss like Frank was bad for the LA Family. I felt they were to white collar not real gangsters. Now that I am no longer in the life, I see that he could have taken the family in a better direction. Led it into more white collar or legitimate enterprises. It is a criminal organization and there is a need for strong men who can put in the heavy work. It is a hard balance to find, a guy who can do the work but not one who likes it. It is one of those things that has to be done as a last resort. Most famlies have a few guys who can really do the work and others who can help out. Some have a work crew that handles these things, it keeps everyone in line and it protects the power of the Cosa Nostra. The only problem with these guys is that they generally get into a lot of trouble and they can never make enough money to live well. They are really well liked and useful when times are tough but during peace, they are shunned. This is a problem. The solution is to have a balance like the Outfit in Chicago where they take care of their workers.
Joe Bonnano, one of the original bosses on the commission in New York, decided to kill some other bosses. I guess he wanted to be Capo di tutti cap or Boss of Boss which is not what the Cosa Nostra is about. This plot was leaked to the other bosses by Joe Colombo who was a well known soldier in what would become the Colombo Family. We will never know the truth about what went down. One of the bosses that he had on his hit list was Frank DeSimone, the boss of the LA Family. Joe Bonnano was exiled to Tucson, Arizona by the Commission and replaced by Gaspar DiGregorio one of his Capo’s. The Commission told him he was to have no dealings in Brooklyn with his family. They have no formal enforcement arm, just other famlies. So he moved those loyal to him out west with him to Arizona. Some guys from other famlies went with him and one of those was Charlie "Batts" Battaglia, a Made guy in the LA Family, who left the LA family to be with the Bonnano's. Frank DeSimone took the threat of the hit from Bonnano very seriously. After the plan was uncovered, he would never again go out after dark. He would still meet with trusted LA Family guys like his underboss Nick Licata but he was not the same. He later died of a heart attack in Downey, California where he lived with his mother.
I keep reading about how the LAPD was responsible for the decline of La Cosa Nostra in Los Angeles. The truth is, they caused their own decline with in-fighting. Another factor towards decline was the small Italian population of Los Angeles. Although it nearly doubled from 9,650 in 1920 to 16,851 in 1930 (a surge due in part to a downturn in the Italian film industry which encouraged many Italian film technicians and film set designers move to Los Angeles), most of these immigrants were Northern Italians.
Compare this small number to New York where over 4,000,000 Italians immigrated between 1880 and 1920. That is a huge talent pool that would grow up in the urban ghettos of New York City. If you look at the what is known as the LA Family, almost all of there Made members were pooled from other places and just ended up here.
Here is what I know. The boss of the family when I was around was Pete "Shakes" Milano and the Underboss was his brother Carmen. They were both from Cleveland, Ohio. Capo Louie Gelfuso was from Providence, Rhode Island. Capo Jimmy Caci’s soldiers, Charlie Caci, Steve Cino, Rocky Zangari all were from Buffalo, New York. Soldier John Joseph Vaccaro is from New Orleans. Capo Louie Caruso is from New Jersey. Soldier Anthony Fiato is from Boston, Mass. That is just a few that I can name off the top of my head. It was a mish-mash of second or third generation immigrants from all over the country.
Next week I will lay out more of the LA Family history.