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American Mafia Website - Cleveland Bosses

A Mafia presence in the Cleveland area was suggested by the 1909 breakup of a Sicilian criminal society based in Marion, Ohio. Ten people were arrested in June 1909 when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service moved against extortion racketeers in the Society of the Banana. Two Cleveland peddlers, Antonio and Joseph Musso, was arrested in connection with that regional gang. The Cleveland Mafia organization was first noted in the early Prohibition Era under the command of Joe Lonardo. The Cleveland Mafia had strong family and business ties with the Mafia organization in Buffalo, New York, and established a working relationship with the Mafia of Pittsburgh. The home territory of the Cleveland Crime Family stretched across northern Ohio. In later years, the organization's influence could be felt in Nevada, southern California and Mexico.

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1901c - Joe Lonardo (Born Licata, Sicily, Oct. 20, 1884. Killed Cleveland, OH, Oct. 13, 1927). "Big Joe" Lonardo arrived in Cleveland around 1901 and assembled an underworld organization along Cleveland's Woodland Avenue. Before Prohibition, Lonardo was a dealer in produce. With the start of Prohibition, he and his brothers put together a regional monopoly on corn sugar and yeast, legal materials needed for illegal moonshining operations. Lonardo, who traveled a good deal, became a close ally of Brooklyn-based boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila.


1927 - Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro (Born Licata, Sicily, c1897. Killed Cleveland, OH, June 11, 1929.) Todaro had been a top Lonardo henchman, with strong ties to the underworld in Buffalo, New York. During 1926, while Lonardo was on a visit to Sicily, Todaro mistreated another Lonardo employee in Cleveland. When Lonardo learned of this, he ordered Cleveland Mafioso Lorenzo Lupo to kill Todaro. The intervention of influential Mafioso Nicola Gentile caused Lonardo to rescind his order, but the Lonardo-Todaro relationship could not be repaired. Todaro joined forces with the Porrello family, once friendly with Lonardo, and steered that clan to compete with Lonardo in the corn sugar and yeast businesses. Todaro and the Porrellos shifted their national allegiance from boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila to New York-based rebel leader Giuseppe Masseria. In autumn 1927, likely with support from Masseria, Todaro ordered the death of "Big Joe" Lonardo. The killing occurred at a barber shop run by one of the Porrello brothers. Both Joseph and his younger brother John were fatally shot. Todaro took command of the Cleveland Mafia.

In December 1928, Todaro hosted a convention of U.S. Mafiosi. The purpose of the convention was likely the selection of Giuseppe Masseria as new boss of bosses, as Salvatore D'Aquila had recently been murdered. Masseria had strong support within the Cleveland Mafia and had family in the Cleveland community. Delegations to the conventions were discovered during a police raid at the Hotel Statler on December 5. Members of the Chicago, New York, Buffalo, Tampa and St. Louis Mafias were arrested as suspicious persons.


1929 - Joe Porrello (Born Licata, Sicily, July 15, 1889. Killed Cleveland, OH, July 5, 1930). Following the murder of "Big Joe" Lonardo, Todaro provided financial support to Lonardo's widow, Concetta (engaged in court battles with another woman who claimed that she was the legitimate wife and rightful heir of "Big Joe"). During a meeting between Todaro and Concetta Lonardo in June 1929, her son Angelo and another relative shot Todaro to death, avenging the death of "Big Joe" Lonardo. Joseph Porrello, top man in the Porrello family rackets run by seven Porrello siblings, ascended to the position of Cleveland Mafia boss. But he would reign only for about nine months.


1930 - Francesco Milano (Born San Roberto, Calabria, Italy, Feb. 22, 1891. Died Los Angeles, CA, Sept. 15, 1970.) Joseph Porrello and his bodyguard Sam Tilocco were shot to death during a July 5, 1930, visit to Frank "Ciccio" Milano's Venetian Restaurant (speakeasy). Milano was leader of the Mayfield Road Gang that had been used as bodyguards and enforcers for the Licata Mafiosi for years, extending back to the Lonardo Era. The gang, which included George and John Angersola, Charles Coletto and Albert Polizzi, grew in strength while the Licatesi were bumping each other off. Milano became the most powerful of Cleveland's gangsters during the 1930-31 Castellammarese War in the U.S. Mafia. His local strength and far-reaching influence was recognized with an appointment to the seven-man dispute resolving Commission following the war. However, Milano quickly lost this prestigious position.

1934 - Giuseppe Romano (Born Termini Imerese, Sicily, May 7, 1877. Killed Cleveland, June 10, 1936). Milano was quickly replaced on the national Mafia Commission by Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino. This appears to be related to Milano's connection to a 1932 murder of Pittsburgh area underworld figures by local boss John Bazzano. Milano remained an important crime figure in the Cleveland area, but slipped into the background. He began spending much of his time in Mexico, where he was under the protection of friendly Mafia bosses in southern California. He returned from his Mexico exile infrequently. Romano, a successful surgeon in Cleveland, was installed as crime family boss when Milano went into exile. Romano's reign was also relatively brief.

1936 - Alfred Polizzi (Born c.1901. Died May 26, 1975). In 1936, Angelo Lonardo reportedly was still avenging "Big Joe" Lonardo's 1927 murder. When he learned that Dr. Romano may have played a role in his father's death, he and cousin John DeMarco shot Romano to pieces and left the corpse in an automobile at rural Moreland Hills east of Cleveland. "Big Al" Polizzi of the old Mayfield Road Gang moved into the top spot of the Cleveland Crime Family.


1946 - John Scalish (Born Cleveland, OH, Sept. 18, 1912. Died Cleveland, OH, May 26, 1976). Scalish took over for Polizzi, who withdrew to Florida but continued to take part in Cleveland rackets. Scalish (Scalise) is believed to have made his early fortune through a regional monopoly on cigarette vending machines. His Buckeye Cigaret firm, including John Scalish's brother Sam, Milton Rockman and Frank Embrescia, was exposed in 1954 testimony before a Congressional subcommittee. Scalish's reign was one of stability for the Cleveland underworld. Under his leadership, the organization moved aggressively westward into Las Vegas and California. Scalish worked with leaders in the Chicago Outfit and the Detroit Partnership to devise 1960s "skimming" operations in the Desert Inn, Stardust, New Frontier and Silver Slipper casinos in Las Vegas.


1976 - Vincenzo T. Licavoli (Born St. Louis, MO, Aug. 18, 1904. Died Adams, WI, Nov. 23, 1985.) John Scalish died during a surgical procedure on his heart in 1976. Vincenzo Licavoli, known as James Licavola and as "Jack White," was selected to be his successor. Licavoli was a cousin of the Licavolis who served in leadership positions in the Detroit underworld. "Jack White" initially selected his relative Leo "Lips" Moceri as his underboss. Moceri was abducted and presumed murdered a few months later (he vanished Aug. 22), and Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo, son of 1920s boss "Big Joe" Lonardo, was moved into the underboss slot. Licavoli and Lonardo were among the Cleveland Mafiosi tried in 1978 for the Oct. 6, 1977, bombing death of gangland rival Daniel Greene. They were acquitted, while two other defendants in the case were convicted. At age 77, with a record unblemished by any criminal convictions, Licavoli was brought to trial with five other men in a federal racketeering case. All defendants were convicted on July 8, 1982. Licavoli was sentenced on July 30, 1982, to serve 17 years in federal prison. He died at Adams County Hospital in Wisconsin after suffering a heart attack at the Oxford, Wisconsin, federal prison.


1982 - Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo (Born Cleveland, OH, Jan. 21, 1911. Died Shaker Heights, OH, March 31, 2006.) Lonardo began managing day-to-day operations of the Cleveland Crime Family when federal charges were filed against Licavoli. But Lonardo quickly had legal troubles of his own. On April 7, 1983, Lonardo, then 72, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole following a federal narcotics conviction. Lonardo later decided to cooperate with federal investigators and provide information and testimony against other Mafia leaders. Lonardo went into the federal witness protection program for a time, but then left it to spend his final years in the Cleveland area. He died of natural causes at the age of 95.


1983 - John "Peanuts" Tronolone (Born Buffalo, NY, Dec. 12, 1910. Died Miami Beach, FL, May 29, 1991.) Tronolone began his underworld career as a member of the Mafia of Buffalo, New York, where he was close to later crime leaders Joseph DiCarlo and Sam Pieri. Tronolone was noted meeting with Cleveland crime figures in the mid-1930s. He stepped up to the leadership of a disorganized and demoralized Cleveland Mafia in the early 1980s, after Licavoli and Lonardo were imprisoned. Tronolone and Milton Rockman escaped conviction in the 1988 federal racketeering conspiracy trial that added another conviction to New York City boss Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno's record. (Salerno was already serving a 100-year term.) "Peanuts" was convicted of racketeering conspiracy in October 1990. He was sentenced to nine years in prison. He died in Florida at the age of 80 while free pending his appeal.