American Mafia History Website

Bay-area informants proved crucial to FBI

Info supplied by three from San Jose, one from San Francisco

Jump to Menu

"It was [Angelo] Marino's opinion that someone in the organization was talking too much, because the interviews disclosed that the FBI appeared to have many specific facts about which to question them."
- FBI Report, February 19631


By the early 1960s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had persuaded at least three members from the San Jose Mafia and one member from the San Francisco Mafia to share confidential information.2 At a time when the FBI had limited knowledge about the Mafia, these sources identified members, revealed organizational history, and helped the Bureau build a storehouse of Mafia intelligence. The identity of the sources was kept secret3 but declassified FBI documents from the period include enough clues to finally reveal them.

 

First Informant Profile:

The Reluctant Mafioso

In the 1960s, the San Jose and San Francisco crime families had about 30 members combined.4 Members tended to be older and less criminally active5 than East Coast counterparts. Both crime families are now defunct.

In 1958, a member of the San Jose (SJ) Family began to share confidential information with the FBI. The few clues to his identity are found in an FBI document from 1967.6

It tells us the informant "recently" moved from California to "the Reno, Nevada area seeking employment and setting up a new residence for his family as he desires to secure employment in the gambling industry."

The informant denied to the FBI that he was a Mafia member7 although another source8 confirmed his membership and "his activities over the past few years have placed him in close association with member of the LCN."9

As a consequence of his relocation, the document says FBI coverage of the informant was reassigned to the Las Vegas Office.10

Prime Suspect: Frank Sorce

Originally from New York, Frank Sorce moved to California and became affiliated with the SJ Family. In 1967, the 50-year-old11 Sorce relocated to Fallon, Nevada, outside Reno, to operate the "Waterhole," a restaurant with slot machine gambling.12

About the same time he moved to Nevada, Sorce was implicated in a shakedown of a casino owner, along with other members of the SJ Family.13 He died in 1985.

Similarities Between Sorce and the Informant:

Map of Western U.S.
Location:
Both the informant and Sorce relocated to the Reno, Nevada, area about 1967.14
Industry:
The informant was said to work in the gambling industry, and it was known that Sorce operated a restaurant with slot machines and cards.15
FBI coverage:
Coverage of the informant was said to be reassigned to the Las Vegas division about 1967, and it was known that coverage of Sorce was reassigned to the Las Vegas division around the same time.16
Crime Family affiliation:
The informant was said to be a San Jose Family member who lived in Nevada in 1967, and it was known that Sorce was the only San Jose Family member who lived there at that time.17

The same FBI document from 1967 that revealed the existence of the informant, noted that the informant wasn't subject to an Anti-Racketeering investigation by the FBI. Was that a consideration for his cooperation?

It's unclear what Sorce revealed but his refusal to admit his own mafia membership suggests he wasn't entirely forthcoming.18 The bulk of quality intelligence about the Northern California-area mafia was gathered much later than 1958, and mostly from other sources.

 

Second Informant Profile:

The Informer

In the late 1960s, Joseph Cerrito, the boss of the SJ Family, sued LIFE magazine19 over an article20 that insinuated he was a mobster. The magazine countered with another article that explicitly identified Cerrito as the boss and detailed his underlings' extortion of a casino owner in Reno.21

The FBI contacted a member source who lived in Fremont, California for his reaction to the second article.22 According to the FBI, the only member of the SJ Family who lived there at the time was Salvatore Costanza.23

Prime Suspect: Salvatore Costanza

As early as May 1962, a second source with the informant code of "SF-C-TE"24 was active in Northern California.25 FBI documents don't include any details that could be used to create a profile but the informant often revealed information connected to mafia soldier Salvatore Costanza.

Joseph Cerrito

Joseph Cerrito
(LIFE)

For example, the source provided details about Costanza and a murder conspiracy that transpired in January, 1963. As recounted in FBI documents, the source learned on January 2nd that Angelo Marino, a SJ Family member, was to contact Costanza on January 9th about an unknown matter.26 Marino never contacted Costanza so the source never learned the details.27 However, on January 17th, the same source advised that he had "determined"28 that Costanza had met that day with Salvatore Marino, Angelo's father and capo, and been ordered to cancel a murder contract29 that was meant to have been given to him by Angelo Marino on January 9th. Costanza, the source claimed, was unaware of the murder contract since he and Angelo Marino never had their meeting.

Who could be the source of this information? It's unlikely Sal and Angelo Marino, father and son, and both active participants in the murder conspiracy, would talk. On the other hand, Costanza, a non-participant, could safely share details of it without implicating himself. The source could be an unknown associate of Costanza but how likely is it that a murder contract would be spoken of openly in front of an uninvolved member in a mafia family as criminally inactive as theirs?

Moreover, the source learned of the murder conspiracy on the same day as Costanza, and was still able to find the time that same day to contact the FBI. The short timeframe between learning the information and sharing it with the FBI tends to direct suspicion back on Costanza.

Another instance where Costanza appears to be the source of confidential information relates to private conversations between Mafia members held at the 1963 wedding of John Misuraca's daughter in New Mexico.30 It appears a member source from the SJ Family attended the wedding, and shared details of a private conversation Misuraca had with Alex Camarata and Sal Costanza, the only two members of the SJ crime family who attended the wedding.31 Misuraca advised the two men about policy changes in New York City including the creation of a fund for payoffs and bribes, and the elimination of cheek kissing amongst members.32 He also encouraged them to keep a low profile.

Admittedly, this information could have been learned by any member second-hand after the two men returned to San Jose, but the source shared other specific details that only someone on the trip was likely to be familiar with. For example, the source knew that Costanza and Camarata drove to New Mexico together with their spouses, he knew the model of Camarata's car, the name of the church and the location of the wedding reception.

 

Third Informant Profile:

The Patsy

The same day the FBI contacted Salvatore Costanza about the second LIFE magazine article, agents contacted another member source who complained it named him "prominently" and "puts me right in the middle" of the casino extortion attempt.33

He feared he would be made a "patsy" by Cerrito. The source lived in Richmond, California. According to the FBI, the only member of the SJ Family who lived there at the time was Peter Misuraca.34

Prime Suspect: Peter Misuraca

Born in Sicily in 1905, Misuraca immigrated to the U.S. at a young age and eventually made his way to California,35 and became a member of the SJ Family. His older brothers, John36 and Art,37 were members of the Colombo Family, and a nephew, Alex Camarata, was a fellow member of the SJ Family. Another brother, Sam, was murdered years earlier near Detroit, where the Misuraca family spent time.38

According to information collected by the FBI, Misuraca was a bit of a misfit. Discharged from the U.S. Army during World War II for psychotic behavior,39 he was later hospitalized in the early 1960s after a mental breakdown.40 His erratic behavior made him unpopular with Mafia associates and relatives.41 In fact, his brother John once threatened to kill him.42 Joseph Cerrito attributed his problems to "poor circulation in the head."43 He died in 1988.

More Connections to Misuraca

Like the source, Misuraca participated in the botched extortion attempt of the casino owner in Reno, and his name appeared prominently in the LIFE magazine article.44 Besides Cerrito and Misuraca, no other SJ Family member was mentioned in the articles.

An FBI document from 1967 contains details from a San-Francisco-area informant45 who lived in Detroit during the 1920s and 30s, that's reminiscent of Misuraca.46 The document said the "informant advised that, while he was not a member during the time he was living in Detroit in the 1920s and 1930s he was aware that the three Cusenza brothers47 ... were all involved in the killing of the informant's [redacted] Sam."48 The redacted word is likely "brother" and could refer to Sam Misuraca, who was murdered gangland-style in Detroit in 1919. The phrase "not a member during the time" would imply he was inducted later.

In what must be some kind of record for poor judgment, John Misuraca had sponsored both Peter Misuraca and Salvatore Costanza into the Mafia.49

 

Fourth Informant Profile:

The Disgruntled Mobster

Documents show at least one member of the San Francisco Family confided to the FBI in the 1960s.50 The source identified members, and shared history about the crime family and its boss, Jimmy Lanza. A profile is difficult to construct since documents don't include any obvious clues, except for the source's frequent reference to Salvatore Taranto.

Prime Suspect: Salvatore Taranto

Born in Sicily about 1896, Salvatore Taranto was a San Francisco Family solider who resided in Menlo Park, CA. Taranto was old and mostly inactive by the 1960s, yet nearly every time the San Francisco Family member source furnished information to the FBI, regardless of the date or the circumstance, he invoked the name of Taranto.51

For example, the source learned something because he "talked to Sal Taranto," or "Sal Taranto and he [the source] paid a visit," or "Sal Taranto who was also present [with the source]."52 Presumably, this unidentified member could associate with other members of the SF Family without Taranto. Why, then, was he always with Taranto? Either Taranto is the source, or the 70-year-old53 mobster is shadowed by the source, which seems unlikely.

If Taranto54 was the source, Lanza's failure to "help any loyal subordinate in time of need"55 may have spurred him to cooperate.According to the source, Taranto had once fallen ill and nearly died.56 Taranto complained he never received any financial help from Lanza or even "a get-well greeting card."57

The intimate nature of this information and the reckless criticism of a crime family boss to another member points to Taranto as the actual source. He died in 1971.

Aftermath

These Bay-area informants58 were key contributors in the FBI's fight against the Mafia during the 1960s. The extent of their cooperation varied, but together, the informants provided the FBI with the first properly referenced listing of made members for the San Jose and San Francisco crime families, and supplied key historical information about organized crime in Northern California.

The informants along with multiple listening devices in homes, businesses and even the offices of mobsters and their associates' lawyers provided the FBI with outstanding coverage, and often left them better informed of mafia activities than the two crime family bosses.

As more declassified FBI documents are examined, it's clear the common belief that only a small number of inducted members of the Mafia from the period were informants needs to be reassessed.

 

Notes

All NARA records can be found at www.maryferrell.org. Document pagination may vary between versions.

  1. NARA Record Number 124-10341-10007 p. 112.
  2. NARA Record Number 124-10293-10339 p. 5. Document confirms the existence of three of the four informants in question. The list of San Francisco Division informants probably excludes Frank Sorce who was reassigned to the Las Vegas Division by this time. The fourth listed informant is a non-Bay area crime family member that will be identified in an upcoming issue.
  3. Sources are assigned a secret code, and most identifying clues are omitted or redacted before the document is made public.
  4. NARA Record Number 124-10293-10340 p. 8.
  5. Members included a peach farmer and a baker.
  6. NARA Record Number 124-10221-10065.
  7. NARA Record Number 124-10266-10175 p. 10. Membership confirmed by longtime FBI informant and LA Family member Frank Bompenserio.
  8. The likely identity of this source is Peter Misuraca, a SJ Family member.
  9. NARA Record Number 124-10221-10065 This "association" is likely a reference to Misuraca and their attempt to extort a casino owner.
  10. For example, the prefix of the secret informant code would change from "SF" to "LV".
  11. NARA Record Number 124-10293-10340 p. 19.
  12. NARA Record Number 124-10297-10119 p. 5.
  13. www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/john-b-john-burnham-bates/litigation-and-law-firm-management-at-pillsbury-madison--sutro-1947-1987--or-hci/page-16-litigation-and-law-firm-management-at-pillsbury-madison--sutro-1947-1987--or-hci.shtml. Sorce was never charged.
  14. NARA Record Number 124-10297-10119 p. 5.
  15. NARA Record Number 124-10226-10175 p. 10.
  16. NARA Record Number 124-10297-10119 p. 4.
  17. NARA Record Number 124-10293-10340 p. 18-19.
  18. NARA Record Number 124-10213-10498 p. 2. This informant description taken from a 1963 FBI document sounds like Sorce: "native-born, United States citizen... [who] as a youth ...resided in New York City where he had associations and contacts with individuals who are members of the [mafia] and he has admitted having relatives belonging to it". And like Sorce, the document says the informant claimed he was not a mafia member but could be inducted if he desired it.
  19. NARA Record Number 124-10288-10415 p.10. Lawsuit may have been instigated by the ruling LCN Commission. It was eventually dismissed. See also 124-10293-10322.
  20. Sandy Smith, "The Crime Cartel," LIFE, Sept. 1, 1967, p. 15-21. Original article only implied that Cerrito was a mafia boss.
  21. Sandy Smith, "The Mob," LIFE, March 15, 1968, p. 66-72. Sorce was involved in the extortion attempt but he wasn't mentioned in the article.
  22. NARA Record Number 124-10290-10379 p. 6.
  23. NARA Record Number 124-10217-10178 p.18. Born in Sicily in 1912, Costanza was active in the Northern California mafia. He died in 1994.
  24. "TE" indicates a top echelon mobster who is cooperative. His secret informant code is redacted.
  25. At this time, Frank Sorce had an informant code of "SF-C" to reflect his lack of full cooperation. This indicates that there were at least two SJ Family informants active in 1962.
  26. NARA Record Number 124-10341-10007 p.58.
  27. It's unlikely Marino was the source since he would know the details.
  28. Ordinarily, the FBI is clear how a source learned information. In this case, is "determined" short for Costanza told the agent and he couldn't be bothered to create a better cover story?
  29. The intended victim was never identified.
  30. NARA Record Number 124-10277-10297 p. 10.
  31. NARA Record Number 124-10277-10297 p. 11. Misuraca was upset Cerrito failed to attend the wedding.
  32. In The Good Rat, author Jimmy Breslin alleged Colombo Family members started the trend to cheek kiss in the 1950/60s era but this report suggests the ritual can be traced back much earlier.
  33. NARA Record Number 124-10290-10379 p. 4.
  34. NARA Record Number 124-10217-10178 p. 18.
  35. NARA Record Number 124-10221-10072 p. 2. He may have arrived about 1940.
  36. John Misuraca was a capo during Joe Colombo's Administration.
  37. NARA Record Number 124-10288-10415 p. 49. Arturo Misuraca, known as Art Price, died in Tampa, FL, on October 20, 1967.
  38. NARA Record Number 124-10204-10417 p. 6.
  39. NARA Record Number 124-10286-10337 p. 2.
  40. NARA Record Number 124-90149-10084 p. 73. Misuraca, who had a reputation as a hit man, threatened to kill Sorce.
  41. NARA Record Number 124-10286-10337 p. 2.
  42. NARA Record Number 124-10341-10007 p. 59.
  43. NARA Record Number 124-10341-10007 p. 55.
  44. Sandy Smith, "The Mob," LIFE, March 15, 1968, p. 66-72. The extortion attempt was always likely to become public since two of the extortionists, Sorce and Misuraca, were informants.
  45. The informant code "SF-C-TE" indicates he's a mobster source from the San Francisco Division.
  46. NARA Record Number 124-10286-10337. Document indicates Misuraca wasn't an informant in 1964. His cooperation likely began soon after.
  47. NARA Record Number 124-10297-10131 pp. 33. Joseph Cusenza, one of the alleged killers, also appears to have later joined the SJ family.
  48. NARA Record Number 124-10221-10072 p. 3. In addition, his detailed knowledge of John Misuraca's early life in Detroit suggests a close relationship, like that between brothers.
  49. NARA Record Number124-10293-10340 p. 10. It appears the Colombo Family, starting with Joseph Profaci, had longstanding connections with Joseph Cerrito and the SJ Family. (For instance, when Sal Profaci spent time in California he visited with SJ Family members.) That could explain John Misuraca's involvement in SJ Family business, and his sponsorship of his brother and Costanza.
  50. NARA Record Number 124-10297-10131 p. 11. Taranto's regular cooperation likely began about 1965, although his first contact with the FBI was in 1963.
  51. Documents are generally crafted to conceal the identity of a source but in these instances, not much of an effort was made.
  52. NARA Record Number 124-10297-10131 p. 18-19, 16, 20, 21, 24, 25.
  53. NARA Record Number 124-10293-10340 p. 16.The old age of the informant is suggested by his easy reference to long-dead members like Joseph Lintini who died in 1947, and Frank Scappatura who died in 1952.
  54. NARA Record Number 124-10222-10055 p. 8. Frank Bompenserio was asked about Salvatore Taranto, although he wasn't told Taranto was an informant. The Bureau often requested established informants to check the bona-fides of newer informants.
  55. NARA Record Number 124-10293-10340 p. 5.
  56. Only Taranto would likely care enough about his treatment from Lanza to share it with the FBI.
  57. NARA Record Number 124-10293-10340 p. 5.
  58. The informants likely cooperated in the following order (year of cooperation): Sorce (1958), Costanza (1962), Misuraca (1965) and Taranto (1965, although his first interview with the FBI was in 1963).