Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Original Gangsters of Los Angeles

Frank Desimone and Roselli
If all anyone knew about Organized Crime in Los Angeles was from television or the movies, they would think that two men ran the Mafia: Bugsy Siegel & Mickey Cohen.  The truth is that Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen were never in the Mafia and could never order any Mafia guys around.  Long before Bugsy or Mickey started getting press in Los Angeles, there was a man born in a small town near Rome Italy, and his name was Filippo Sacco.  You may never have heard the name, but this was a man who worked alongside Al Capone and at the highest levels of the Mafia for over 5 decades. Filippo had a secret he hid from the world for most of the 5 decades, until a man named Frank Bompenserio told the FBI what his real name was in the early 1960's. Frank was jealous of Filippo for many years, going back to when he controlled part of Nationwide racing wire.  You may know Filippo by another name: Johnny Roselli.  Filippo Sacco grew up in Sommerville, Massachusetts, where he became involved in crime at an early age.  He took part in a murder and left Sommerville for Chicago where he changed his name to Johnny Roselli.  He went to great lengths to conceal his identity by inventing a mother and father who both died early on and filing a fake birth certificate that was signed by a fake cousin.  Once in Chicago he started working with Al Capone in the Outfit, and they realized that he was slicker than most of their men.  So by the mid 1920's he was sent out to Los Angeles to help Chicago oversee their criminal business.  Rosselli soon became close with Jack Dragna, the boss of the Los Angeles Family.  He would then be arrested  on bootlegging charges and charged with carrying a concealed pistol on a number of occasions, but the charges would be dismissed.  Rosselli would also work in the movie industry, not only behind the cameras, but also in the movies.  He can be seen in a number of old movies from that time period.  Rosselli would also open a popular nightclub on Hollywood Blvd called Club New Yorker that would become the go-to place for those in the underworld.  Al Capone and his political fixer cousin Charlie Fischetti made a trip to Los Angeles in 1927 to take in the town and meet with some of the men who worked with them.  They picked the Biltmore Hotel downtown as their base and Johnny Rosselli was soon there to bring them up to speed and take them around town.  He gave them tours of the movie studios and Al Capone saw the potential for making money in the movie business.  The LAPD did not like having such a high profile gangster in their town, so they dispachted a few men to inform "Al Brown" that the weather was better in Chicago he left; but the seeds were planted.

Rosselli started working with Eugene Normille, who besides being Boxing Champion Jack Dempsey’s manager, was also the front guy for Moe Annenberg's racing wire Nationwide in Los Angeles. They ran the service out of the Bank Of America Building on 6th and Spring Street in downtown.  Moe was based in Chicago and he was the one who ran Nationwide, but the wire service depended on Bookies for its business.  The wire service needed Bookies to subscribe to the service but Bookies needed the service for instant results on races and other events.  The service was an easy sell to Bookies, but Rosselli was there to make sure The Outfit got its share and that Bootleggers of the service paid up. It was easy for Bookies to tap into the wire but it could be costly. Rosselli would take home between 10-15% per month from the service personally, but how much he sent back to Chicago is anyones guess. One Gambler, Les Brunemann, in Los Angeles, didn’t feel that he should pay for the service, so he bootlegged it, and Rosselli stepped in to fix the problem. Les did not understand the forces against him, because he had no idea how the Mafia worked.  Rosselli was with the Chicago Outfit, but Los Angeles had its own Family run by Jack Dragna who was given a piece of the service.  Dragna gave the order to kill Les Brunemen for threatening Roselli and stealing their service to Frank Bompensiro.  Frank Bompensiro took the first run at Brunemann but only wounded him so he was laid up in the hospital for awhile.  The LA Family found out that he was taking passes from the hospital with a beautiful blonde nurse without his bodyguards so they set up a hit.  This time, Frank Bompensiero was the backup shooter and Leo "Lips" Moceri the primary shooter.  Another LA Family guy, Biaggio, was the driver.  The Roost Cafe was busy when Leo walked right up to Brunemann and fired a shot into his eye and then emptied the 45 auto into his body.  He then reloaded and head out the door where Bompensiero was supposed to be watching his back.  A football player named Frank Greuzard ran towards Leo, so he shot him 3 times and then hopped into the getaway car. Another man was convicted of the crime and sent to prison.
One last note for those that like Los Angeles History :the Roost Cafe former location is now the Rampart Police Station.

Nationwide would take on a number of names, like LA Journal, and was run by several including Russell Brophy.  Rosselli was still getting his cut.  It was then that the Commission, along with the Outfit, decided to set up its own service, Trans America, and cut out the new boss, James Regan,  of the other service that was now called Continental. It was simply a business decision.  Why take a percentage when you can take it all.  They would end up killing James Regan and that was end Continental.

This is where most of these sham shows and movies get it wrong in how things work.  Bugsy Siegel was part of a Prohibition Era gang called the Bugs and Meyer Mob where he was partners with Meyer Lansky.  The other Jewish Gangsters in New York and elsewhere knew that prohibition would not last forever so they started to diversify their activities into other rackets.  Meyer and other Jews went into Gambling.  Others, like Louis Lepke, went into Labor Racketeering and a new racket as the go-to guys for Murder.  Murder Incorporated would handle "Contracts" for the Mafia and others all over the US.  Bugsy was a founding member.

Things were getting too hot for Bugsy, so he was sent out west to look after some interests that New York had in California.  Chicago had the Wire Service but New York got a piece, and they also had ties to the garment center. It was still Jack Dragna's town and he was a Commission member.

All the stuff written about Bugsy coming to Los Angeles and taking over and making Mickey Cohen his underboss are fictional accounts, written by those who have no idea what they are talking about.  Mickey Cohen worked in Chicago with Jake Guzik but only as a low level street collector and he was chased out of town after a problem.  

Rosselli soon set his sights on another venture and he soon took over the race track Caliente in Tijuana Mexico with Eugene Normille as his partner. Johnny Rosselli was heavily involved in with the Movie Studios and with the IATSE the Union the handled the Studios workers.  George Brown was elected the President of the Union and  Willie Bioff was made his special Representative but they were just pawns of the Chicago Outfit. Rosselli was their go to guy in Los Angeles but every family including New Yorks got a piece of the action with Chicago getting the lions share.  This would fill the Mafia Coffers with millions of dollars in the next few years until it blew in 1941.  It was during World War Two and Johnny Rosselli was drafted into the Army before he was indicted for his involvement in the Movie Studio Extortions.  Rosselli, Paul Ricca, Louis Campagna, Charlie Gioe, Phil D'Andrea, Ralph Pierce were all indicted for their part of the extortions and all were convicted and given 10 years sentences in Federal Prison.  This is where the power of the Mafia becomes apparent, because they would all be paroled after just over 3 years inside.  Murray Humpreys, the Outfit’s political fixer and a close friend of Rosselli, used a corrupt Lawyer in Missouri named Paul Dillon.  Paul Dillon had defended others in the Union for Chicago before so they knew he could be trusted but they wanted him because he had close ties to President Harry Truman. Paul Dillon had been Truman’s campaign manager for his Senate race so he was well liked by the White House.  

Boxer Jack Dempsey, a Chicaog Police Sargent,
and NationwideRacetrack Partner Eugene Normille

It worked like this: first, all the Outfit guys were moved from Atlanta Federal Prison to other federal prisons closer to Chicago, then they all started securing jobs and parole sponsors, aka upstanding citizens who would watch out for the hoods when they were released.  Johnny Rosselli first had a doctor and then a priest as his sponsor, and he had a job at Eagle Lion Studios working with Bryan Foy, the King of the B movies. Murray Humpreys delivered $250,000 to Paul Dillion who had connections with Muray Hughs, a Dallas Lawyer, who headed to Washington where he met with the Attorney General Tom Clarke.  Soon, all the men were paroled and the country was in an uproar over their treatment.  The FBI spent years investigating the bribes, but they never got anyplace.  I’ve read a couple thousand articles and papers from the investigation.

So why do all these people keep writing this crap about Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel being the bosses of LA?  I think it is because all these talking heads get their information from other movies and books.  Next week Johnny Rosselli Las Vegas and the CIA's Operation Mongoose.

1 comment:

  1. Happy holidays kenny boi !
    Is donnie shacks still in la?