Sunday, December 29, 2013

Johnny Roselli

Johnny Roselli
In late 1947 fifty men were gathered inside a winery on South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles.  They were all standing in a circle around a long table.  There was a revolver and a dagger crossed at the head of the table.  Johnny Roselli then led in five men.  Three of the five will go on to become the Boss of the family one day. On this day in 1947 they were initiated into the Los Angeles family of La Cosa Nostra or the Mafia. The Boss at that table was Jack Dragna, but he respected Roselli, and even though he was part of the Outfit, on that particular day he was in LA.

Johnny Roselli had just gotten out of prison for his role in the extortion of Hollywood Studios.  He only served 4 years of a 10 year sentence (thanks to the high level Chicago bribery scandal covered in last week’s post).  He was working at Eagle Lion Studios but in reality he was doing much more.  The men in that room owned and controlled Trucking, Garment Center Businesses, Produce and Fruit delivery, Vast tracks of land in Rancho Cucomonga.  Roselli would soon be splitting his time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas because The Outfit was about to step it up.  They needed somebody who could mix in both the underworld and the business world, and Roselli fit the bill.  

The story of the Flamingo and Bugsy Siegal is well known to most people but I’ll go over it here.  Bugsy oversaw the planning and building of the Flamingo for the New York Families. They would recruit those that ran casinos for Meyer Lansky and the Mafia in other places like Kentucky and Havana to help run it. Dave Berman and Gus Greenbaum were heavily involved in the casino.  Gus was close to the Outfit but most of these guys were closer to Lansky.  The Hotel cost over 6 million dollars and lost money when it first opened.  It was a well-known fact that Bugsy was skimming money the whole time.  When Bugsy was killed in Beverly Hills, Gus Greenbaum took over.  

Sam Giancana became the boss of the Outfit in the mid 1950's and he was very close to Roselli.  Chicago had a huge bank of cash via the Teamsters so they would move to buying and building Casinos.  Roselli  would soon start a number of side businesses some that controlled the parking lots of Casinos, others that brought Broadway shows and other shows to Las Vegas.  He also started a production company, a company that sold ice machines to casinos and a company that was building a marina at Lake Mead.

Roselli was a huge earner and very important to The Outfit in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so its amazing that Hollywood continues to churn out tall tales.  Roselli had been directly under Capone when he was boss and in Los Angeles he worked closely with Jack Dragna but after Jack died he would stay with The Outfit and the new boss Sam Giancana who he had known way back when Sam was a driver for Jack McGurn aka Machine Gun Jack.

The Mafia was riding high.  They had casinos in Cuba and Las Vegas and they had even branched out to Great Britain.  But there was trouble brewing.  

The trouble was Fidel Castro and his revolutionary army which would soon take over Cuba.   They closed the casinos and took over the hotels.  They imprisoned mafia men like Santo Trafficante and kept his cash.  The Mafia saw this happen and they were furious.  It seemed the US Government was on the same page and wanted to take down Castro.

This would not be the first or the last time the US Government would work with the Mafia.  They worked with Lucky Luciano during World War Two to secure the docks from sabotage and then again when the Allies landed in Sicily.  They would use Greg Scarpa to find the dead Civil Rights workers bodies in Mississippi during the civil rights movement.

Sam Giancana
The CIA regularly uses "cut outs" or a go between they trust to take on assignments that they cannot or do not want to be involved.  Robert Maheu, a former FBI Counter Espionage Agent who was then in private practice knew Johnny Roselli, so when the CIA approached him to find people to assassinate Fidel Castro, he thought of Roselli.  He approached Roselli and they met at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles where Maheu was claiming to represent a number of US Corporations that wanted Castro out. Roselli saw the value in the plan so he went to his boss Sam Giancana who reached out for Santo Traficante Jr in Florida and they agreed to meet with Maheu in Florida.

They would meet at the Fontainebleau in Miami with Roselli useing the name John Rawlsten when he first met with Maheu and CIA Colonel Sheffield Edwards Director of security.  Roselli then introduced two men to the two CIA agents. Sam Gold (Sam Giancana) and Joe (Santo Trificante).  They worked out a deal where the CIA would provide cash and poison pills to Cuban Exiles and other contacts to assassinate Castro.  They may have tried or they may have just kept the cash, but they would meet again at the Plaza Hotel in New York.  The Bay of Pigs disaster made the CIA step up their operations but nothing would ever come of this plan.  Roselli would later talk about Santo Traficante possibly being a double agent for Castro and sabotaging their efforts.

I have about 8,000 FBI papers on Roselli but they really pick up in 1961 and they are all marked with the San Diego FBI Office on them. This is probably because they had turned Frank Bomp in San Diego who had a grudge against Roselli.  Bomp thought that he should have gotten something from the Frontier Hotel in las Vegas because he did some work way back but it was instead Roselli who got the gift shop and some skim.  Frank Bomp knew about Roselli's secret birth name and the FBI was soon onto Roselli.  By the end of the 60's Roselli was headed for a downfall.

Roselli had been sponsored by Frank Sinatra for membership in the Friars Club.  Once there, he discovered a cheating scam going on.  They held card games in an upstairs room and these were high stakes games with some very wealthy men playing.  Some other members had drilled holes in the ceiling and they could see the hands played and they would send signals to their players to hold or fold.  It was very lucrative and soon Roselli was getting a cut.  They even had a Palm Springs Town Home that they also rigged with peepholes.  The FBI found out about this and served search warrants.  They found the peepholes and arrested everyone including Roselli. They then decided they wanted to turn Roselli so they approached him on the street in Beverly Hills on Dayton and Rodeo.  The Agents had a picture of a 4 year old Roseli and his mother which they showed him along with a paper showing his real name, Fillipo Sacco, on it. I am sure they unnerved him and the Agents told him they wanted to meet him in the valley in a week which he agreed to before they left. Rosselli went right to his lawyer's office who called the FBI Office and told them Roselli would only talk to the Agents with his lawyer in his office.  Then Rosselli made a couple of calls and made a trip to New York to meet with Colonel Sheffield Edwards about his name.
The FBI was watching this because they had Roselli cold because now he was an illegal Alien and could be deported.  Roselli told the FBI to kick rocks and they charged him for failing to register as an alien on top of the cheating scandal. The CIA sent a memo to the FBI asking them to take it easy on Roselli, because they would be in a bad position if the truth about the plot to kill Castro.  He would get four years for the Friars Club and another year for the Immigration charges.  Tony Accardo had now taken over again as the boss because Sam Giancana was on the lam so he demoted Roselli from his Las Vegas position until he was finished with his cases.  
Santo Trafficante

Roselli served his time and moved to Plantation, Florida where he lived in his sister’s guest house.  He made trips to LA where he met with Jimmy Frattiano and told him about the Senate Select Committee that had called him as a witness for the Castro plot.  Santo Trafficante was afraid his name would come up but it already had so he was delusional.

Jimmy had heard that Johnny was a marked man and told him in no uncertain terms, which Roselli blew off.  
July 28, 1976 Roselli left his sisters home to run errands around town and never came back.  They knew something was wrong right away.  Twelve days prior he had lunch with Santo Traficante.  He was to meet again but nobody ever called for him again.  

On August 9, 1976 some fisherman in Dumfoundling Bay saw a strange 55 gallon oil drum with holes punched in it floating on the surface.  They pulled it in and saw what they thought was a human arm through the holes, so they called the police.  It would prove to be JohnnyRoselli.

Johnny Roselli was without a doubt one of the biggest Mafioso in Los Angeles for decades but his name is never brought up.  

Rest In Peace Johnny.    

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