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American Mafia Website - Kansas City Bosses

Located at the western edge of Missouri, Kansas City's underworld appears to have been influenced by Mississippi River port city St. Louis, about 200 miles to the east, and by the cities of Milwaukee and Chicago to the northeast. In its early days, the KC Mafia may have consisted of several independent clans operating in North Side Sicilian neighborhoods. There are little more than hints of Mafia existence from 1890 through 1910, when a Black Hand extortion group made its presence felt. Through the Prohibition Era, consolidation occurred and a Mafia partnership assembled beneath the cover of the Kansas City political machine. Mafia leadership succession before about 1950 is unclear. Those defined by law enforcement and media as syndicate bosses may actually have served in liaison roles between the Mafia and the Pendergast political machine. Kansas City's organized crime network eventually eclipsed that of St. Louis and expanded its influence southward and westward as far as Texas and Nevada.

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c1903 - Paolo DiGiovanni (April 15, 1875, to Aug. 27, 1929). Grocery owners, the DiGiovanni brothers were also recognized as leaders of a Mafia organization transplanted from their native town of Chiusa Sclafani, Sicily, at the southern end of Palermo province. Residents of the Kansas City area since the early 1900s, they were based on Campbell Street, near North Side railroad lines and the Missouri River.


James Balestrere

1908 - James Balestrere (June 24, 1891, to Oct. 19, 1959). A relative of the Balestrieri family, underworld leaders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Balestrere first moved into the Kansas City area in summer 1908. Originally from Bisacquino, Sicily, close to the City of Palermo, it is unlikely that he was initially part of the DiGiovanni Mafia (see below). He settled on Troost Avenue, five blocks east of the DiGiovanni headquarters on Campbell Street, and worked as a grocer and stone mason. During the Prohibition Era, he was said to be a DiGiovanni partner in bootlegging rackets. As Mafia organizations consolidated, Balestrere grew in importance.


1920 - Paolo DiGiovanni was identified as the early Prohibition Era Mafia boss of Kansas City in the 1963 memoirs of Nick Gentile. Later Gentile comments suggest that Paolo was not the only boss in the city.


1923 - Anthony Ferrantello (1876-1950). The memoirs of Nick Gentile identified Ferrantello as a Mafia leader in Kansas City. Ferrantello, originally from Burgio, Sicily, may have been leader of part of the DiGiovanni Mafia or boss of his own clan. Burgio, located on the outskirts of the Province of Agrigento, is a neighbor-municipality to the Chiusa Sclafani in Palermo Province, hometown of the DiGiovannis. Nicola Gentile (1884-c1970) also became a leader of this Ferrantello faction, at Ferrantello's invitation, from about 1923 to 1925.


1925 - Frank DeMayo (April 6, 1885, to Aug. 1949). Some indicate that "bootleg king" DeMayo served as a Mafia boss during Prohibition, but he may have been merely a faction leader. In 1928, after three mistrials, he was finally convicted of bootlegging and sentenced to two years and a $10,000 fine. He subsequently battled federal efforts to deport him.


1928 - Joseph Filardo (Aug. 10, 1898, to Aug. 1985) and relatives in the Cusumano family appear to have led a Sicilian underworld faction closer to the heart of Kansas City in the late Prohibition Era. Filardo, originally from Castelvetrano in Trapani Province, operated the Roma Bakery and had access to supplies (sugar, yeast) and equipment useful to moonshine operations. Decades later, Filardo and Joseph Cusumano were linked with the underworld organization of Nick Civella.


Joseph DiGiovanni

1929 - Joseph DiGiovanni (April 23, 1888, to Aug. 5, 1971). Following the death of Paolo of natural causes in the summer of 1929, Joseph DiGiovanni emerged as the leading figure of the Chiusa Sclafani Mafia in Kansas City. Joseph was sometimes referred to in the press as "Scarface," because of very visible reminders of facial burns he suffered in pre-Prohibition days. DiGiovanni, ostensibly a wholesale grocer, moved from Campbell Street to a home on Gladstone Boulevard overlooking North Terrace Park (now Kessler Park). He and his brother Pietro "Sugarhouse Pete" sold supplies to moonshine operations in the area. After Prohibition, Joseph DiGiovanni became a wholesale liquor dealer, with a business on Independence Avenue.


John Lazia

c1930 - John Lazia (1896 to July 10, 1934). The North Side leader of Thomas J. Pendergast's Democratic Machine, Lazia was also deeply involved in organized crime, particularly gambling, and had a prison record as a teenager. He may have been an ally of Balestrere and DiGiovanni rather than a Mafia boss in his own right. It is said that in the late Prohibition Era Lazia brought in Nicolino Impastato from Chicago to serve as his top enforcer. In February 1934, Lazia was tried and convicted of misdemeanor failing to file income tax returns. He was acquitted of felony tax evasion charges. He was sentenced to a year in prison, fines of $5,000 and five years of probation. Lazia fought the sentence. A motion for a new trial was defeated in April. In June, a legal appeal was placed on the docket of the U.S. Circuit Court at Omaha. Lazia did not live long enough to attend the appeal hearing. He was shot to death after returning to Kansas City from his summer home at Lake Lotawana. After Lazia, Impastato became an important figure in a regional narcotics ring reportedly run by Joseph DeLuca, a lieutenant in the KC Mafia led by Balestrere and DiGiovanni.


1934 - Charles V. Carollo (1903-1979). Charles "Charlie the Wop" Carollo succeeded Lazia as North Side political boss and as link between Pendergast and the Mafia. His efforts to secure American citizenship failed in 1938. Like Lazia, Carollo had interests in gambling rackets and experienced trouble with the IRS. As the Pendergast machine lost much of its influence in the Kansas City area, Carollo was convicted of evading taxes and defrauding through the mails. He served time in Leavenworth and Alcatraz prisons. When released from prison in 1946, the U.S. government sought to deport him as he became a lieutenant for Charles Binaggio.


Charles Binaggio

1939 - Charles Binaggio (Jan. 12, 1909, to April 6, 1950). With Carollo's federal prosecution, Texas-born Binaggio became the go-between for the Mafia and political powers. In 1949, Binaggio pushed to make horse race gambling legal in the State of Missouri and may have made some related promises to powerful underworld figures. The Missouri governor and a Democratic faction led by Thomas J. Pendergast's nephew James M. Pendergast were among those opposed to legalizing wagering. After a wagering bill failed in the legislature, an angry Binaggio lashed out at his political opponents. On April 6, 1950, Binaggio and aide Charles Gargotta were shot to death in a North Side political office. A close ally of Binaggio and Gargotta, Gaetano "Tano" Lococo became an important figure in local gambling rackets.


1940s - Federal narcotics agents determined that a branch of the Kansas City Mafia was distributing drugs throughout the U.S. KC was supplied with narcotics smuggled from Marseille, France, to Havana, Cuba, and then to Tampa, Florida, where the sons of murdered Mafia boss Ignazio Antinori were said to be the operators of a narcotics ring.


Anthony Gizzo

1950 - Anthony R. Gizzo (Aug. 4, 1901*, to April 1, 1953). Binaggio's underworld business partner, Chicago-connected Anthony Gizzo, reportedly made an effort to replace Binaggio in KC. Gizzo was in poor health and died of heart problems during a visit to Dallas Mafia leader Joseph Civello in the spring of 1953.

[*Social Security Death Index reports a birth year of 1902, while Gizzo's death certificate reports a birth year of 1901. SSDI appears to have erred in subtracting Gizzo's final age of 51 from the year of death 1953. Gizzo had not yet reached his 1953 birthday at the time of his death.]


1950 - James Balestrere. The position of political liaison to the Mafia, held by Lazia, Carollo and Binaggio, appears to have faded away following the murders of Binaggio and Gargotta. Authorities in the 1950s identified a KC Mafia that was led by Balestrere, Joseph and Peter DiGiovanni, Gaetano "Tano" Lococo and others.


1957 - Joseph Filardo and Joseph Nicholas "Nick" Civella were stopped in a taxi by police on Nov. 14, 1957, near the site of the Apalachin Mafia convention.


Nick Civella

1959 - Joseph Nicholas Civella (March 19, 1912, to March 12, 1983). As the 1950s came to a close, Balestrere passed away and the DiGiovannis moved into retirement. Joseph Nicholas "Nick" Civella, product of the Filardo-Cusumano Mafia faction, moved into a leadership position. In the 1960s, federal authorities named Thomas "Highway" Simone as his underboss and said that Carl Angelo "Tuffy" DeLuna, related to Civella through marriage, was his top enforcer and heir apparent. The Civella organization includes Vito Balestrere, reported to have connections to both KC and Milwaukee underworlds; Nick's brother Carl "Cork" Civella, Carl's son Anthony Thomas "Tony Ripe" Civella and William "the Rat" Cammisano.


1978 - Federal wiretaps revealed a years-old conspiracy among crime figures in Kansas City, Milwaukee and Chicago to skim money from gambling casinos in Las Vegas.


1980 - Longtime KC boss Nick Civella began a prison sentence for conspiring to bribe a Texas warden. He was sent home in failing health before his sentence was completed.


Carl Civella

1983 - Carl Civella (Jan. 28, 1910, to Oct. 2, 1994). With the death of Nick Civella, his brother Carl "Cork" Civella became acting boss of the Kansas City Mafia with "Tuffy" DeLuna acting as underboss. Almost immediately, the new leadership was sent off to prison. Carl Civella, Carl DeLuna and other Kansas City men were convicted of skimming money from the Las Vegas Tropicana Hotel and Casino, just as additional federal indictments were unsealed in the Strawman case. Those charged Civella, DeLuna and others in Kansas City, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Las Vegas with conspiring to skim almost $2 million from Stardust and Fremont casinos in Las Vegas. Carl died in prison in 1994.


Anthony Civella

1983 - Anthony Thomas Civella (Feb. 17, 1930, to Feb. 14, 2006). A leadership void in the Kansas City underworld was filled by "Tony Ripe" Civella and William Cammisano. Anthony Civella had a number of serious tangles with the law in the years ahead and served a couple of lengthy terms in prison.


William Cammisano

1984 - William Cammisano (April 26, 1914, to Jan. 26, 1995). Anthony Civella's conviction for racketeering in 1984 left Cammisano in charge of the Kansas City Mafia. Anthony Civella was convicted of a presciption drug fraud in 1991. He was released from prison in 1996 and died ten years later. The FBI in 1988 identified Cammisano's son, William Jr., as Kansas City underboss. William Jr. denied any connection to organized crime.