FROM THE PUBLISHER LISA M. FIGUEREDO | PUBLISHER@TAMPAMAFIA.COM
2015 Winter Edition Lisa M. Figueredo Owner & Publisher
Scott M. Deitche
Senior Writer & Managing Editor
Art & Photography Contributors John Alite
Sylia Velasco The Meyer Lansky Family
Tampa Mafia Magazine
A Division of Cigar City Magazine, LLC
P.O. Box 18613 Tampa, Florida 33679 (813) 358-3455 www.TampaMafia.com
© 2015, Tampa Mafia is a division of Cigar City Magazine, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction of, or use without written permission of the publisher, of editorial, pictorial, or design content in any manner is prohibited. Printed in the U.S.A.
This issue is more about “The Interviews,” than the stories. People often ask us where we get our information. They are surprised to hear that for the most part it comes straight from people around or involved with “the life.” It was like no one would talk but these days things have changed thanks to shows about the Mafia like The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. It seems we have come to like some of these characters or have developed a curiosity about them. More and more families are coming forward to speak about a subject once deemed taboo. In this issue we republished a story about the Jimmy Lisa M Figueredo Publisher of Tampa Mafia Velasco hit and the payoff list from a 2013 Cigar City Magazine issue. We wanted to get you acquainted with his story and who he was before you dive into the explosive interview with his daughter Sylvia Velasco who, at age 13, witnessed the mob hit on her father. Next we talk to John Alite who many of you may be amazed to know as the owner of Prestige Valet and Club Mirage. Who would have guessed how involved he was with the Gottis and how involved the Gottis were here in Tampa? You will then continue on as we sit down with Sandi Lansky, the daughter of one of the biggest names in the history of the American Mafia, Meyer Lansky. Sandi talks candidly about her infamous father, her friendships with famous celebrities and known Mafia Bosses. We revisit the Mob Museum in Vegas. We can’t get enough of that place. From exhibits spanning back to the first days of the American Mafia to a replica Tommy gun you can play with, this place is a top-rated go-to destination in Sin City. Finally we wish to thank all of our readers who love to read the stories we so much love to write about. As we proceed on our journey with this new publication we have big plans for some cool Mob events, big celebrity interviews, and maybe even an interview with a “mob boss!” So keep reading Tampa Mafia Magazine!
24 The List
FEATURES 28 Working for Gotti 30
Through the Eyes of a Daughter
Daughter of a King The Mob Museum Revisited
Visit our web site at www.TampaMafia.com
EXTRAS 12 14
The Don’s Smoking Room The Mob Lounge
Al Capone Hand Rolled Premium Cigarillos Review Dannemann company in Germany makes al capone cigarillos. They have a long history as an international manufacturer of cigars and cigarillos. Geraldo Dannemann, the company’s founder, emigrated to Brazil in 1872 to devote himself to tobacco–his great passion. This innovative cigar-making manufacturer has grown into an international corporation. Thier premium cigars and cigarillos are now produced and processed in several countries, and are sold in over 60 countries throughout the world. and yes, they named one of their cigars after the well known american gangster, al capone! al capone cigarillos may be short in stature but set the best bang for the buck. They are medium to full-bodied and provide a short smoke with a sweet taste. They put off a succulent aroma that tends to gain people’s attention and curiosity. made of Nicaraguan and Brazilian tobacco leaves, these cigarillo’s is carefully wrapped in a Bahia wrapper, giving them a sweetened taste. Some have a bit of a cognac flavoring and other products have a little rum flavor, so they are quite an interesting novelty cigar too. This sweet and liquor flavoring makes them very distinctive. all the al capone brands have some similar qualities to them that you will get familiar with if you try them. The cognac cigarillos really have tobacco that was dipped in cognac. The Rum flavoring also comes from being dipped in real rum. This gives each cigar an authentic flavor. SUMMARY: we enjoyed the unique experience when we opened one of these small and quick cigars. They are perfect for a break when you don’t need, nor have the time for a very large cigar or worry about storage for later. They are equally modestly priced for the quality, and this might be what smokers appreciate about them the most. overall, the burn, draw, consistency, taste, and construction of these cigars gets rated very well by Tampa mafia. add to that, a modest price, and you may have found one of your next favorite cigars. 6 www.Tampamafia.com
Since the German company produces a very consistent product, each cigar in each box should be about the same. consistency is part of the hallmarks of this brand that we really appreciated. if you just want to know what you are going to get, with no good or bad surprises, this might be a valuable brand for you to try for yourself.
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Just as women notice physical and emotional changes when estrogen starts to decline, many men experience notable changes when testosterone production dips, although they may not attribute it as readily as women to hormonal changes. Symptoms of “Low T” include hot flashes, fatigue, moodiness, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating and less interest in sex. All of which may sound a lot like menopause. But menopause marks the end of fertility in women- which is not necessarily the case with men- so there really isn’t such a thing as male menopause. Testosterone has a big job to do in the body. It affects so many systems. That’s why it’s considered a fundamental hormone and should be in the appropriate range. It starts declining in a small proportion of men as early as their 30s. By the time they reach their 60s up to 25% of American men have “Low T”, but it doesn’t always cause symptoms. Routine health checks find nothing wrong but sometimes doctors have never checked testosterone levels. Diagnosis of “Low T” is based in part on a simple blood test. But the results are anything but simple to interpret. A normal level of testosterone ranges anywhere from 301-1100 ng/dL. So it’s no wonder the doctors differ on how to interpret these test findings. In other words, a normal range could be normal for an 80-year-old to an 18-year-old. I find that a man with symptoms would go to their family doctor who checks his testosterone and if it falls anywhere within that range they just say you’re getting older and it’s Normal. The key to diagnosis is asking a lot of questions about lifestyle and performance-on the job, and the gym, and in the sack. I treat the symptoms and not the lab values. If blood testosterone is 350 to 400, for example, but the patient has no energy, is irritable, can’t lose weight, lack of multitasking like he used to be able to and has lost interest in sex, he might benefit from testosterone therapy.
Signs and Symptoms of LOW TESTOSTERONE ✓ Decreased sex drive. ✓ Erectile dysfunction. ✓ Reduced energy level. ✓ Sleep problems. ✓ Reduced strength and endurance levels. ✓ Increased breast size and tenderness. ✓ Emotional problems including sadness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and depression.
The classic presentation is a guy in his 40s with low libido, the symptoms vary, and can include issues with memory, concentration, problem solving, lack of motivation, or depression. It may just be one symptom, so patients may ignore it and think you’re working too much or getting older. And that’s a shame because there is a viable treatment available. 90% of the time “Low T” is just simply a result of aging but don’t rule out the 20-30 year-old with “Low T” that can occur from lack of exercise, sleep and the ability to manage stress. When you sleep less you produce lower amounts of hormones in your body, including testosterone. Testosterone therapy has the added benefits of increasing muscle mass and bone density, which can keep men active and prevent fractures as they age. A testosterone check isn’t usually included in routine blood testing. It might be a good idea to get baseline checks as young as in your 20s because of the stressful life we lead today. Experts do agree, however, that men should avoid products sold over-the-counter, online and by mail order that promise to improve symptoms of low testosterone, in particular those emphasizing sexual function. At best, they are likely a waste of money and some could be potentially dangerous and have been pulled from the market. So the best way to get started is to simply get a blood test by your physician and followed with an ADAM Questionnaire and see where your levels are in relationship to your symptoms. You could be on the start to a brand new life, one in which you will look better, feel better, and perform at your best. Here’s to your health!
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Tampa’s Mayor Dick Greco at age 81
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Cutty Sark, The Gangsters’ Choice Cutty Sark entered the Scotch market during the height of Prohibition. According to the company’s website, “During Prohibition, Cutty Sark gave rise to the expression ‘the Real McCoy’; it was bootlegged by the legendary Captain Bill McCoy, a smuggler based in the Bahamas. His contraband was uncut and unadulterated; the iconic expression still remains a synonym for integrity and authenticity today.” This blended Scotch was named after a tea clipper named Cutty Sark, a British ship builtin Scotland in 1869. The brains behind Cutty Sark were liquor merchants Francis Berry and Hugh Rudd. Together with Captain Bill McCoy artist James McBey, who designed the brand’s iconic yellow label, they brought a lighter blended whiskey onto the market that made it a
favorite of not only customers of bootleggers, but the gangsters themselves. Russell Bufalino, boss of the Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia, was overheard on a wiretap complaining about an underling’s wife who seemed to enjoy drinking Cutty Sark with peaches. According to an FBI informant, one of Bufalino’s top lieutenants, Angelo Sciandra, drank “moderately, usually Russell Bufalino preferring Cutty Sark Scotch Whiskey.” Detroit numbers kingpin Harrison “Chink” Brown would spend upwards of $135 a week on Cutty Sark, in 1963. Cutty Sark was also a favorite of the Philly mob, being a drink of choice for now-imprisoned mob boss Nicky Scarfo and Crazy Phil Leonetti, a trusted capo.
Cutty Sark Cocktails With the popularity of Cutty Sark among the wiseguy set, it’s not surprising that one of the cocktails that the company promotes is called the Godfather. The Godfather • 2 oz. Cutty Sark • 1oz amaretto Stir with cubed ice for 20 seconds, strain over fresh cubed ice in a short glass.
The Blood and Sand was created for the 1922 Rudolph Valentino movie of the same name, about an acclaimed Spanish matador. Spirits writer Josh Childs reimagined the cocktail with Cutty Sark. Blood and Sand • 3oz. Cutty Sark • .75 oz. sweet vermouth • .5 oz. cherry brandy • .75 oz., orange juice • Maraschino cherry Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake or 10 seconds and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry.
Visit our Mob Lounge for more cocktail recipies at TampaMafia.com 10 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
Vintage Cutty Sark ad from 1967 2015 WINTER EDITIoN 11
The Hit That Exposed Some of Tampa’s Elite! From an article published in Cigar City Magazine in 2013
bring an end to one man’s role in Wearing a long coat and a hat the underworld. on this occasion, that covered half his face, the the intended motive behind the hit killer snuck out of the shadows backfired. as his prey, known-gangster During the investigation of Jimmy Velasco, unlocked his Velasco’s murder, a “payoff list” Buick and opened the door for was discovered that named his wife and daughter. elected officials, law enforceA gunshot shattered the ment officers and others who silence in the Ybor City neighallegedly took money from borhood. Despite being the Velasco in return for protection daughter of a powerful Mafioso, and favors. This list thrust Velasco’s daughter was ignorant Tampa’s crooked ways into the to violence. She thought the national spotlight. gunshot was a firecracker, so However, in February 1949, a with a smile she looked up, grand jury declared the payoff expecting to see local teens danclist to be a fraud, made up to ing in the street as they set off tarnish the good names of public more. Instead, she saw her officials. The names on the list father, who had been in such a were never exposed to the pubgood mood all night as they lic and the list was then locked visited with friends, suddenly away so that no one would ever overcome with dread. He shoved see it…until now! her to the floor of the car. As she An anonymous source prostared up at the car’s roof, she Jimmy Velasco vided Cigar City Magazine with realized the loud bang she Jimmy Velasco’s alleged payoff thought was a firecracker had shattered something else–the window. Someone was shoot- list and for the first time ever the names are exposed. They are (as they appear on the list): ing at them. Mafia hits were supposed to have a “code of ethics,” one Manny Garcia, Nelson Spoto, Julio Palaez, of which was to not involve the prey’s family. This particular Octavio Alfonso, Ed Ray, Chief Eddings, hit man did not seem to care about the “rules.” He grabbed Sheriff Culbreath, Grimaldi (Columbia Bank), Velasco’s wife and used her as a human shield so that Judge Hendry Termite, Joe Rodriguez, Danny Alvarez, Velasco would not return fire. Unable to protect himself, Rex , Judge Potter,Judge Spicola, Red Fisher, Senator, Velasco was nothing more than a target. The killer yelled Mayor Hixon, Doctor and hospital, Henry Garcia, out, “I’ll get you this time,” as he unloaded his clip. Five G.M. Hammond, Benny Vigo, Hal Whitehead, bullets from a .38 automatic pistol penetrated Velasco’s Cy Young, [Illegible name], Charlie, Johnny, Nick body–two over the heart, one high in the left shoulder, one and all the boys. on the left arm above the elbow, one in his left side and one in his head just about the left ear–before he pitched forward Why expose the names of men on a list that was declared in a pool of blood. The killer then escaped into the dark night as quickly as a hoax in 1949? Because perhaps the list was not a hoax. Perhaps the men on this list were guilty of being in cahoots he appeared. Velasco was rushed to the Centro Asturiano Hospital and with a known gangster or gangsters. This alleged payoff list is not the first time a Tampa secret from this era has been was pronounced dead upon arrival. one of the reasons such a crime was committed was to told. Published federal investigations of that era, as well as 12 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
grand jury testimony leaks, retired law enforcement officers, Mafiosos and their associates have gone on the record with reporters, authors and historians painting a clear picture of just how corrupt this city was in the early to mid-1900s. Using information collected through those sources over the years and applying it to the alleged Velasco payoff list, we can now look into the historic rearview mirror to cast some doubt on the grand jury’s decision. Perhaps the grand jury was wrong. or perhaps, it was persuaded to make the wrong decision. And perhaps Jimmy Velasco’s murder and the possible subsequent cover up of the truth behind the list included law enforcement and elected officials on the city, county and state level. Perhaps, even the mayor of Tampa and governor of Florida were involved. As the old saying goes, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And that is how the tale of Jimmy Velasco’s alleged payoff list begins–with a power struggle that began in 1947. The Election Jimmy Velasco was out of the racket. He happily resided in California with his wife and daughter. He had moved there at the behest of his wife, who feared for his safety in Tampa, where he had been involved in the city’s underworld since at least the 1930s. According to friends and family, Velasco was contemplating using the money he made in Tampa’s illegal industries to buy a restaurant in California so he could live his remaining years free of numbers running, guns and the fear of having power snatched away with one well-placed bullet. But as Michael Corleone once said, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!” According to a post-murder notarized statement dated February 28, 1949 and written by Velasco’s brothers–John, Roy and Arthur–it was January 1947 when Jimmy Velasco received a phone call from his “old friends” in Tampa. These friends made up “The Syndicate” that the Velasco brothers stated controlled all gambling in Tampa–Sheriff Hugh Culbreath, State Attorney J. Rex Farrior, Tampa Chief of Police J.L. Eddings and now known gangsters Jimmy and Sammy Lumia, Salvatore “Red” Italiano, Tony, Tom and Frank Diecidue, Gus Friscia, Primo Lazzara, and Santo Trafficante, Jr. The partnership between law enforcement and gangsters was simple–in return for a share of the riches, the sheriff and police chief agreed to turn a blind eye to the gangsters’ illegal operations and to help put competing gangsters out of business by shutting down their games and arresting them. However, the 1947 elections threatened this power structure. Six of the seven seats on the Tampa City Council were up for grabs. The only way law enforcement could get away with its corrupt activities was if the local government, also for a share of the riches, pretended they were ignorant to The Syndicate’s ways. If the wrong men were elected, aka
honest men, The Syndicate could have been ruined. “I remember that election,” said Leland Hawes, a former Tampa Tribune crime reporter and historian. “I was still in college at the time, but I remember that election because it was supposed to be the one that cleaned up the city.” Hawes explained that six of the seven city council seats were up for grabs and the incumbents were known for “talking with the wrong people.” The Tampa Tribune, he said, backed the six challengers, believing the new blood could clean up City Hall. However, perhaps someone else backed these new candidates as well. According to the Velasco brothers’ statement, The Syndicate called Velasco in January of 1947 because they needed a favor; they needed him to return to Tampa and help them control the elections. In his book The Silent Don, Scott Deitche wrote that Velasco was “an astute observer of the election system and his method of ensuring votes for candidates favored by the Mob was foolproof.” “He did this in many ways,” said Deitche when asked to further explain the statements in his book. For instance, perhaps he would give money to candidates for their campaign with a wink-wink that this money came with a promise that they would scratch his back in return for him scratching theirs. Perhaps he would use it to privately hire people to stump throughout the city for the candidates he supported. or perhaps he would buy votes.” “He could give a few dollars to homeless people, struggling families or just anyone looking to make easy money in exchange for votes,” explained Deitche. “When Velasco promised a candidate X amount of votes, they knew he would bring them that exact number of votes.” Velasco’s brothers stated that The Syndicate’s phone call was convincing. Velasco agreed to return to Tampa and spend $29,000 on the election. Although Hawes claimed the 1947 election was supposed to clean up the city, considering that The Syndicate was happy with the outcome that saw the six challengers win the council seats, the opposite seemed to have occurred. According to the Velasco brothers’ notarized statement, their brother spent the $29,000 with the understanding that two-thirds of it would be repaid. The remaining difference possibly bought him impunity from law enforcement. 2015 WINTER EDITIoN 13
time these officers of the law had their name attached to The Payoff List The election had bought Velasco some power. And if the corruption. In 1938, when he was Constable Culbreath, a grand jury payoff list is legitimate, it added to it, as it provides names of law enforcement officials and politicians who could have requested that then-Governor Frederick Preston Cone helped him stay in power and put rivals out of power. It also remove Culbreath from office because they believed he was mentions a few judges and attorneys. Such men worked working with the gamblers rather than against them. The alongside law enforcement to strengthen a gambler’s power. governor ignored the plea and in 1941 Culbreath was There is no date on the list or a length of time that it was elected sheriff. In December 1950, when the federal Kefauver Commisdocumented. Nor is it clear if the one-page in Cigar City Magazine’s possession is the entire list or just a portion. The sion came to Tampa as part of its investigation of organized list mentions Christmas and men who were elected to office crime in major cities, it was discovered that Culbreath had in 1947, which means this page probably documented pay- at least $128,000 saved and scattered throughout banks in offs in December of either 1947 or in 1948 right before Florida and Georgia, even though his financial records indicated he had only $27,000 in cash saved when he was Velasco was murdered. elected sheriff and had The names are not always earned only $36,014.98 in complete and sometimes do the nine years since. not list a job title. It is easy to When a former numbers deduce to whom some of the runner for Jimmy Velasco names refer, such as Sheriff took the stand during the Culbreath. It could be argued Kefauver Commission’s that others, such as Manny hearings, he testified that Garcia, could refer to one of during the 1948 election the dozens of men who could Velasco told him to deliver have owned such a common money to Culbreath. Latin name in a Latin town. Then, Velasco’s cousin However, deductive reasontestified that he often ing and that historical saw the sheriff’s name rearview mirror enable us to on Velasco’s payoff lists. figure out the likely person to Sheriff Culbreath and Mayor Curtis Hixon, just two of many city offical’s Also regularly on Vewhom such names refer. who’s name apprears on the payoff list. lasco’s lists, he testified, If this list is real and you combine the favors of those he paid off, Velasco would have was Chief Eddings. Alvarez was known as Mayor Curtis Hixon’s pet police been owed–making him a powerful figure in Tampa’s unsergeant. Late in life, Alvarez openly admitted to his corrupt derworld, perhaps THE most powerful. If this list is real, it provides the clearest look at just how dealings. He once admitted to raising $100,000 from “our crooked this city was at the time because while some of the friends,” noting that $40,000 went for purchasing votes for people are old-hat when linked to corruption, others are Hixon and for ensuring that officials would not interfere being exposed for the first time and are men who have with corruption. always been remembered as honest. Government Payoffs Mayor Curtis Hixon is on the alleged payoff list, although Law Enforcement Payoffs The list documents Velasco paying Sheriff Culbreath no amount of money is mentioned. All that is written is, $7,000 for “personal” reasons; Police Chief Eddings $2,200 “board and all the departments Christmas.” This could posfor “personal, for “a ring present by syndicate” and for his sibly mean they either loaned him money for, or bought mortgage; and Lieutenant Danny Alvarez for his “wife’s presents for, the mayor’s employees. Velasco’s payoff list also mentions every member of City hospital bill.” Interestingly, when the list mentions the mortgage, it says, “part of home mortgage paid by Laurence Council. Councilman Julio Pelaez is mentioned individually for a Hernandez over 10000.00.” The only known Laurence Hernandez in Tampa at the time was the owner of the total of $3,900 for “personal” and a “new car.” A friend of Columbia Restaurant, however he spelled his name Pelaez’ is also on the list–octavio Alfonso allegedly received a total of $140 for “personal.” “Lawrence.” Councilman Joe Rodriguez allegedly received $140 for While the grand jury later said that the payoff list from where these numbers came was fake, this was not the only “help me personal and drive our car each day.” Perhaps this 14 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
means he was paid to drive Velasco. Finally, the entire City Council is listed toward the bottom of the list–“Henry Garcia, P. Joseph Rodriguez, C.M. Hammond, Benny Vigo, Hal Whitehead and Cy Young, liquor for Christmas.” “Cy” was a nickname; when he ran for office, he did so under A.H. Young. Like the aforementioned officers of the law, there is other evidence that the mayor and some of his City Council received money from gamblers. Besides Alvarez’ late life admission that implicated Mayor Hixon as being on the payroll of gamblers, an october 5, 1947 Tampa Daily Times headline read, “Gambling Interests Rated No. 1 Power in Tampa Politics.” According to the article, “virtually every gambler in the city was out for Mayor Hixon.” At the Kefauver hearings, a numbers runner testified that he once gave Cy Young $500. And Rodriguez was tied to the Velasco brothers a few more times over the years. Judicial Payoffs The Judge Spicola on the alleged Velasco payoff list most likely refers to Judge Nelson Spicola. Judge Nelson Spicola was a justice of the peace and was cited as the presiding judge in newspaper articles referring to gambling trials during this era. The list allegedly reports that Judge Spicola received $500 for “Personal Joe Rodriguez case” and “care each case ????” There are no documents tying Councilman Rodriguez to a trial around that time, but perhaps the judge was paid to help him avoid charges. “Judge Spicola was questionable,” said Leland Hawes. When pressed for more on why he was questionable, Hawes would only say, “Well, we hung out in some of those places with the old time politicians.” Hawes said that the judge listed as Judge Hendry Termite most likely refers to Judge Marion Hendry. He said he never heard of him referred to as “Termite” during his time as a crime reporter nor did he ever hear of any link between the judge and gamblers. Judge Hendry’s alleged payoffs total $250 for “cases, extras and tips.” Hawes said Judge Potter probably refers to Judge Robert Potter, who was a police court reporter at the time. Velasco’s alleged payoff list claims that Judge Potter earned $400 but does not state a reason. Hawes said he never heard Judge Potter mentioned as crooked. The first attorney listed is defense attorney Manny Garcia. He allegedly received $7,000 for the duration of this list for “personal” and for “each case in Judge Spicola court.” Perhaps he and Judge Spicola worked together on some cases that helped Velasco. Garcia has a long link to organized crime. Though he never admitted to direct dealings with gangsters, he openly admitted to be being friends with them and being privy to some of their secret conversations about their illegal activities. The gangster friend he was most often linked to was 16 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
Charlie Wall, the dean of Tampa’s underworld and who could be the link between Velasco and Garcia. Wall gave Velasco his start in the gambling business. While the names Charlie, Johnny and Nick on the bottom of the alleged payoff list are not provided last names, considering Velasco’s association with Wall, it would be a safe bet to write that they refer to Charlie Wall and his two drivers, Johnny “Scarface” Rivera and Nick Scaglione. Nelson Spoto is known by most in Hillsborough County as a former Circuit Court Judge. At the time this list was discovered, he was a county attorney. According to the list, he allegedly received $4,000 for “personal.” While Spoto was never once accused of being in cahoots with gangsters, he was known to be good friends with Manny Garcia.
other attorneys mentioned are Red Fisher, which refers to County Solicitor V.R. Fisher who was responsible for gambling investigations, and Rex, which refers to State Attorney Rex Farrior. Neither has a monetary amount or reason listed. In later years, both men continued to stay in the news for suspected ties to the underworld. Two gamblers testified at the Kefauver hearings in 1950 that they hand delivered payoffs to Farrior. In 1952 when Fisher was up for reelection, a group of men formed an organization called VoTE (Voice of the Electorate) and announced they would only support honest candidates. That election season, they put the entirety of their political clout behind Fisher’s opponent, Paul Johnson. With so much evidence pointing to those on the alleged payoff list being crooked, it is extremely plausible that it was indeed real and helped propel Velasco toward the top of Tampa’s underworld food chain. Fatal Flaw Hawes explained that even if a gambler had local law enforcement officers, judges and attorneys on his side, the state could still intervene in his affairs either by sending its own investigator to the area, calling for a grand jury or by overturning a local judge’s decision via the Florida Supreme Court. And this is why some believe Velasco was murdered–he accumulated power on the state level. Apparently, The Syndicate was not blind to Velasco’s growing power. They’d earned favors by bringing in Velasco to work the 1947 elections, but candidates in the 1948 election must have taken notice of Velasco’s abilities; they too would want Velasco’s assistance, this time without The Syndicate acting as middle man, meaning they would not owe The Syndicate any favors. At some point after the 1947 election, according to the statement, Velasco was instructed by Primo Lazzara to leave town because The Syndicate no longer needed his political power; they had gotten the election results they wanted. However, it seems that Velasco knew he had the power. After the Augustine Primo Lazzara threat from The Syndicate, Velasco was a prominent member of spoke with Mayor Curtis Hixon the Trafficante crime family involved in a wide array of ilabout the situation. Soon after this licit activities. meeting, according to the Velasco brothers’ statement, The Syndicate was forced to allow Velasco to remain in Tampa and sell numbers. Why would he leave a city where he had so much power to go back to California and become an unknown restaurant owner? The Syndicate had other ways of dealing with men like
Florida Governor Warren Fuller
Velasco, wrote his brothers in their notarized statement. Sheriff Culbreath and Police Chief Eddings had their deputies and officers arrest Velasco’s numbers runners while ignoring The Syndicate’s two new gambling houses– The Jockey Club at 114 E. Lafayette and the Flamingo Bar on the corner of 18th Street and Eighth Avenue in Ybor City. The idea behind this plan seems to have been to deprive Velasco of money while allowing The Syndicate’s bank accounts to grow. If they succeeded, Velasco would not be able to fund elections or pay off officials while The Syndicate could have continued to do both. However, as the 1948 general election grew near, wrote the Velasco brothers, The Syndicate realized it did indeed need Velasco’s help. Worried their candidates were going to lose, they asked him to support Culbreath for reelection and Bill Myers for governor. (According to the alleged list, Velasco was loaned $2,000 for the election by the Grimaldi family’s Columbia Bank.) He agreed to help Culbreath, but instead supported Warren Fuller for governor. That was Velasco’s deadly decision. Fuller won and Velasco was the only major gambler in Tampa to support him. This supposedly meant he would be the only gambler in the city with the governor’s ear. He would be able to place friends in high profile state jobs that protected his interests alone and he had the power to exact revenge on The Syndicate for trying to put him out of business by asking state law enforcement to usurp Tampa and Hillsborough County. “Jimmy had the governor in his back pocket,” former gangster Ralph Rubio was quoted as saying in The Silent Don. “That cost Jimmy his life.” Talk in the underworld was that Velasco was on the verge of usurping The Syndicate. They had created a monster. After all, if they had never called him he would still be in 2015 WINTER EDITIoN 17
2015 WINTER EDITIoN 19
California. Their greatest threat had been the 1947 election, a threat Velasco eliminated. By murdering Velasco, The Syndicate took care of its new greatest threat, which ironically was Velasco. “Plus,” explained Scott Deitche, author of The Silent Don and Cigar City Mafia, “The Syndicate never paid [Velasco] back the money he spent in the 1947 election. So now he had all the power and they owed him a lot of money that they did not want to pay back.” The Cover-Up For weeks following Velasco’s murder, no one was arrested. The Tampa Police Department (TPD) and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office both stated that they did not have any leads. However, according to The Tampa Tribune, both law enforcement agencies were lying. on January 14, 1949 The Tampa Tribune wrote that on December 23, 1948 the Velasco brothers provided the newspaper with a notarized statement claiming that Velasco’s widow had identified the killer in a photograph to the TPD, yet no one had even been brought into the station to be questioned. The TPD denied that Velasco’s widow had identified the killer but Velasco’s brothers argued back that she had and that the reason no one had been arrested was because Sheriff Culbreath and Chief Eddings were part of The Syndicate, meaning they were part of the murder plot. Why would they arrest their own? The Velasco brothers thought they had an ace in the hole, however–Governor Warren. They publicly admitted that they were also part of the underworld and said that because the local authorities failed to arrest their brother’s murderer they were going to use their insider knowledge to bring everyone down. According to their statement, they visited Governor Warren in his mansion and were promised the state would intervene. on January 18, 1949, the governor sent a state-hired investigator to Tampa to find the murderer and to investigate the gambling industry that was growing out of control. And, suddenly, law enforcement decided to do their job. The question, however, is for whom were they working? Law enforcement began arresting numbers runners throughout the city, but they were mostly men tied to Velasco. And once they were arrested, they were sent before Judge Spicola; if the list was true and he was on the take, he could have switched allegiances quickly after the murder. The convicted were fined and did not receive jail time, but more importantly their names were attached to criminal activities. The Velasco brothers were hoping to bring charges against every public official that was part The Syndicate for being privy to murder and then falsely pretending to investigate the crime. If these arrested men were called to testify on behalf of the Velascos, their credibility was already shot; their testimony could have been skewed as lies in order to exact revenge against those who arrested them. 20 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
on January 27, 1949, nine days after the governor ordered an investigator to Tampa, a murderer was finally indicted. Mrs. Velasco fingered Joe Provenzano, a 34-year-old carpenter with ties to Salvatore Italiano, in a lineup. A jury trial was set. There was one major problem, however–the prosecutor was State Attorney Farrior, whom the Velasco brothers claimed was part of The Syndicate that ordered their brother’s hit. Local law enforcement had failed them and their friend Governor Warren had named one of their enemies as lead prosecutor in their brother’s murder case. Remembering the Velasco brothers’ promise to bring the entire illegal industry down if their brother’s killer was not brought to justice, Jimmy Velasco’s alleged payoff list surfacing two weeks later does not seem too shocking. However, what is shocking is that Councilman Joe Rodriguez, who is on the list, was who brought it to the public’s attention by presenting it to the City Council, all of whom are on the list, claiming it needed to be investigated. The City Council then agreed. Councilman Henry Garcia told newspapers that the probe of the list and gambling activities in Tampa was the “greatest responsibility” ever faced by the board and that he would not stand for a “whitewash” investigation. The City Council ordered a grand jury hearing to investigate the list. Then, County Solicitor Red Fisher, who is also on the list, announced that he would hold his own investigation and that if he found any evidence supporting the allegations contained in the list he would act as a one man jury against anyone involved in the conspiracy. The alleged crooks were investigating their own alleged crimes. They
ered Farrior to be a friend but quickly learned he was in fact an enemy and part of The Syndicate. Perhaps after asking Governor Warren for help, they learned the same about him? Governor Warren, after all, was already in bed with the Velascos, who were admitted gangsters. Would it be a shock to learn that after the election he was made an offer Questions and Theories Why would Rodriguez try to make a list public that had from The Syndicate that he could not refuse? Perhaps the his name on it? Rodriguez was known to be very close to state investigation was a sham. Perhaps the Velascos the Velasco family. Perhaps the Velasco brothers hoped that realized something was amiss with the governor when the list would help to bring down those who murdered their Farrior remained prosecutor even though they told the brother but did not want to harm their good friend governor that Farrior was in on the murder plot. And Rodriguez. Perhaps because he brought it to the attention Farrior’s actions following his appointment backed the Velascos claims. He refused of City Council he would their request to speak before have received impunity. the grand jury hearing that Perhaps he brought it to City was charged with deciding Council as a threat that if if Provenzano went to trial. something was not done to And during the trial, as bring Jimmy Velasco’s murFarrior examined a witness, derer to justice he would Provenzano seemed upset make it public? And perhaps with one of Farrior’s quessomething happened behind tions and yelled to him, closed doors that squashed “Why don’t you tell them his and the Velasco brothers’ the rest!” Also, according to plan. or perhaps a deal was the Velascos’ notarized made that appeased them statement, the lead state all. investigator had found The grand jury declared multiple witnesses who the list a hoax, stating they could have testified that believed that it was either Provenzano was the murtyped by Rodriguez or an derer, but the governor’s associate of his to be used as executive secretary removed political ammunition, but the investigator from the they never explained why case and the witnesses never Rodriguez would want testified. If all this is true, revenge against those on the then perhaps the governor list. This is equivalent to a judge or jury pronouncing a Left to Right: Roy (Lit) Velasco, John Velasco, Aida, Jimmy Velasco’s wife and turned against his friends? And perhaps when the man guilty of murder be- Arthur Velasco, 1949 cause he had a motive, yet never explaining what the motive Velascos realized that everyone had turned against them, was. And if it was fake, why couldn’t they release the they decided to make the list public to expose the truth. This seems to be the most plausible explanation behind the list names? Also, some of the names on the list were supporters of and the controversy that followed. However, that leads to yet another question–if its purpose Governor Warren–Manny Garcia, Judge Marion Hendry and Nelson Spoto. The Velasco brothers and Warren were was revenge why didn’t Rodriguez or the Velascos release friends. The Velasco brothers and Rodriguez were friends, the names to the newspapers? The two major newspapers at that time were The Tampa which meant Rodriguez had an in with the governor. Why would he want to embarrass the supporters of such a Daily Times and The Tampa Tribune. The editor of the Times, powerful friend? As the old saying goes, “Don’t bite the Ed Ray, is on the list! He would never have run it. The Tribune put together and backed the 1947 slate of winning City hand that feeds you.” or, perhaps, the Velasco brothers wanted to embarrass Council members based on the fact they were clean. Perhaps Warren. In their sworn statement, the Velasco brothers wrote printing the list would have embarrassed them. Also, Hawes related the story of how in the 1950s the pubthat they were disheartened when Farrior rebuffed their request for help following local law enforcement’s refusal lishers of the Tribune were caught at an illegal gambling to investigate their brother’s murder. The Velascos consid- game by heir crime beat reporter partner and future head of were able to get away with this charade because the names on the list were never exposed to the public until now. This is where the list ceases to provide a possible window into the truth and instead creates more mystery.
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the Hillsborough County Vice Squad Ellis Clifton. Perhaps the Tribune’s hands were dirty in 1948 as well. So a plausible theory behind the list is as follows: The list was legitimate. If it looks like a duck… When they realized that local and state law enforcement was against them, they decided to release the list as revenge.They gave it to their friend, Councilman Rodriguez, because they believed he would receive impunity for admitting guilt. The Velasco brothers had everyone against them. They were outmanned, out politicked and probably out financed. Everyone who was on the list had the power to suppress it. They pulled their power to ensure that their names were never muttered in public. But of course, this is just a theory. “It’s about as confusing a case as I have ever heard,” laughed Hawes, when the story was laid out for him. “And we’ll never know the answer. I guess rather than solving a mystery, getting the list made it bigger. All we can do is come up with theories. We’ll probably never know the truth.” “I think there is more than enough evidence to support the theory that the list was real and not a hoax,” said Scott Deitche. “But who knows. It was crazy in Tampa back then.” And that is what this list, real or fake, does prove–just how crazy and screwed up this city was.
Tampa Mafia Factoids
The indicted murderer, Joe Provenzano, was acquitted of the murder. In May 1949, Arthur Velasco was the target of gunfire in front of his home. He only received a flesh wound. In 1950, the Velasco brothers were accused of hiring a hitman to kill Sheriff Hugh Culbreath, State Attorney Rex Farrior, Salvatore Italiano, Jimmy Lumia, Primo Lazzara, Augustine Friscia and Santo Trafficante. County Solicitor V.R. Fisher was the prosecutor. During testimony, Councilman Joe Rodriguez was fingered as the man who delivered the money to the hitman. Their trial ended in a mistrial. In December 1950, the Kefauver commission came to Tampa and the payoff list dominated the hearings. The commission’s report on Tampa as one of the most corrupt cities in the nation has remained a stain on its history ever since. The hit was supposed to erase Jimmy Velasco forever. Instead, his ghost has haunted this city ever since.
Through the Eyes of a Daughter The Hit on Jimmy Velasco
By Scott M. Deitche and Lisa M. Figueredo Jimmy Velasco was a political fixer. He was the lynchpin in Tampa between the gambling syndicate and the corrupt public officials who turned the other way for a cash-stuffed envelope. Velasco controlled the elections and worked the payoffs to ensure that the various bolita operators, himself included, were able to make a living with minimal interference from law enforcement. But as the Mafia began to flex its muscle in the Tampa underworld, Jimmy felt himself getting squeezed. As his daughter recounts, “He was here first. They moved in and muscled him later.” And on Sunday night, December 12, 1948 Jimmy became the victim of Tampa gangland violence, in one of the most significant underworld hits in Tampa history, one that had reverberations far beyond Cigar City. Jimmy Velasco was killed in the presence of his wife and daughter, Sylvia, violating general Mafia protocol of not involving family members in the violence. And now, for the first time, the true account of Jimmy’s last day is told. Tampa Mafia Magazine sat down with Sylvia Velasco to talk about her father and her first-hand account of his killing. She was joined by her cousin Dennis Velasco, son of Jimmy’s younger brother Arthur, who relayed stories of his Dad’s quest for vengeance against the Mafia and corrupt City officials in the wake of Jimmy Velasco’s death. 24 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
Sylvia Velasco, 12 and her father Jimmy Velasco, 36 in California, June 1948
“My Dad, Jimmy Velasco, was born in Key West, as was his father, Rojelio. In the old days the cigar industry was Key West but it was too confined. The cigar business came to Tampa and my grandfather followed. My Dad went to Hillsborough High School, met my mother here as well. “When I was 3, going on 4, at the tail end of the Depression we went to California. My father and two of his cousins put up a gambling ship off the Redondo Beach pier past the three mile limit. It was called the Lux. He needed people to work the gambling ship so the men went out first. Ralph Reina went out as well. They all went to the Redondo beach area, they worked the gambling ship. The women sometimes went out on the ships as shills. What happened was that Earl Warren, attorney general of California, bribed the pilot of the ship to bring it within the three mile limit and raided the ship. The ship was then closed, so they were out of a job. My Dad had a 1938 Chevrolet. We had a small trailer and drove back to Tampa–four adults and me in the car. We ran out of cash money, so we’d stop and sold some clothes to gas up the car and bought food so I could eat. once we got back to Tampa we were okay.” From there, Sylvia lived a relatively normal life in Tampa. “We lived in Seminole Heights near Hillsborough High School. I went to Sacred Heart Academy. I had a very normal life. We were probably a little more affluent than many people. But my life didn’t have anything to do with my father’s. My mother was very careful to try and not expose me to any of this. She did not want me in that environment.”
Salvatore “Red” Italiano & Augustine “Primo” Lazzara.
But Sylvia knew many of the major organized crime figures in the 1940s. “The three men I saw on a regular basis were Augustine “Primo” Lazzara, Salvatore “Red” Italiano, and Gus Friscia. I don’t remember Santo Trafficante Jr. I would hear about people: Jimmy Lumia, The Diecidues, Rene Nunez, those kind of names.” “We used to go visit Mayor Hixon a lot. My Dad would go in the house and my mother and I would sit in the car. It was so hot and there were mosquitoes. Curtis Hixon was probably the one I can actually say that my Dad met in person often.”
Gambling ship Lux sitting in waters off the coast of California.
Sylvia then recounted the night of the shooting. “It was Sunday night. We’d gone to the show earlier and we stopped by Cheecho’s house (brother-in-law of Paul Antinori Sr.). Cheecho lived upstairs and Paul and his wife lived downstairs. We actually went up because my father was going to check on bolita I think. It was the eve of St. Lucy’s Day. We had a drink that the Italians consumed that night. It was sweet and it had barley in it. It was supposed to be for good eyesight. I still cannot eat barley to this day. We were coming down the steps and to the Buick that my Dad just bought. We crossed the street and my mother went alongside the car. There was an alleyway between. My mom was getting in on her side and my Dad was getting in on his side. My door was open and his door was open. I was standing there and his gun was sitting on the seat of the car because he left it there. I heard this noise and said “Daddy, firecrackers.” And all hell broke loose. And that’s when I looked and I saw this guy wearing a hat and coat and he in the front of the car and started to shoot. The gunman grabbed my mom and used her as a shield first. My Dad didn’t have time to get to his gun. Everything happened so fast. My father comes and shoves me in the backseat. I got up on the seat and looked and watched the whole thing. Then the guy took off. My mother was screaming. I got back out because I saw my father was down. I grabbed my father and started screaming. “Daddy, daddy.” He wasn’t gone yet. All t he adults came streaming out of the house and ran to my father. They all put him in a car and took him to the hospital and they left me sitting there. All the adults went to the hospital. So I crossed the street. I wasn’t nervous, I was collected. I walked across to Paul Antinori’s and asked if I could use the phone. I called my Uncle Art. He wasn’t there. But my aunt answered so I told her what happened. I said we were at Cheechos and they took my father off. I told her to tell him what happened and tell the brothers. My mother came back in a car. I don’t recall if it was our Buick or someone elses. This part is vague. And we ended up at the police station. We were sitting in a waiting room 2015 WINTER EDITIoN 25
and at this point I didn’t know that my father was dead. out and the guy jumped back over the fence. I’m not sure if they took me or my mother first. once on my birthday I got this kit where you could Police took me in for questioning without and adult, I develop your own photos. I was in the garage and I looked was 13 at the time. They took me in that night. I told him up at the window into the garage and I saw this face. I went what happened. And he said ok. And then he got on the back to the kitchen and my Dad started yelling. phone, and I heard him saying ‘take the body to such and There was a lot of pressure building up. They obviously such place.’ I asked him if my father was dead, and he said didn’t care if he was home or not, I mean they took him out yes.” in front of the family.” What was it like for you afterwards? A little over a month after the shooting, authorities “Well that same night we go back to our home. And my arrested a suspect, Joe Provenzano, a low-level underworld mother said, well let’s do the dishes. So here is my mother figure with ties to Red Italiano. Sylvia thinks her Dad may washing and I’m drying doing this mundane thing. Then have identified Joe during the shooting, “My father was there’s a knock at the door. My shouting something that mother’s sister came to the sounded like “No, Joe, no.”” house because they heard it on Sylvia’s mother was the closthe radio. We were stunned est to the killer and she was that people found out so positive it was Provenzano. quickly. After that there was a “Joe Provenzano (see page 22 constant procession of people about Provenzano) was who coming in. we took to court. Joe ProvenMy grandmother was in zano had ties to Red Italiano. Miami. Her husband had died The prosecutor was State Attorin october (10/13/48) of that ney Rex Farrior.” year so she went to live with The ties between Provenzano her sister there. There was and Salvatore “Red” Italiano, actually a rumor that they also fueled suspicion in the waited to kill my Dad until Velasco family. Rojelio was dead because they “I felt that knowing what feared his retaliation.” was going on I’m sure it came There were events leading from Red Italiano. It was to up to the murder. There was grab the business. At the time it this house my Dad bought on was going on, my father had a 29th avenue near Lake Avenue. business they muscled in and It was essentially Ybor City. out on, so he started up his own When we bought it the street bolita, and he was a competitor.” was oyster shell. It had large But Provenzano was acquitglass in front. There were three ted in the case. That only bedrooms and one bathroom. fueled the fire with regards to There was another bedroom Jimmy’s surviving brothers, that my mother turned into a especially Arthur. Dennis study. It had a window that Velasco recalled his father’s Jimmy Velasco golfing with friends. looked out on to a little porch. desire for revenge against the one night there was a knock at the door and the lady across mob. “over the years my Dad would tell stories and back the street came over. ‘Mr Velasco I want to tell you what I when Jimmy was killed, my Dad just went bananas and he just saw. There was a man on the porch and he had what wanted revenge. Every Christmas he went nuts. From that looked like a shoe box and he was crouching down and point on Christmas was not a happy time in my house. He trying to look into the window.’ That’s where I was. just couldn’t get in the spirit. He was on the outskirts of the Then another night, the dog slept outside. And Arthur bolita operation, but he was a player in the sense that he made the dog a little doghouse. Well somebody apparently could be relied on to do whatever necessary to protect the family. He was the go-to guy to get something done. jumped the fence. The fence had barbed wire along the top. My Dad was shot three different times. I witnessed one Well the dog came flying out and was snarling at someone shooting. When Jimmy was killed, I think there was even and you could hear someone kicking the dog. My Dad ran 26 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
a list at that point. In his mind, it was a hit list. My Dad had started shooting but they’re missing. He goes down one or his own list of people he felt that he needed to take out. two houses and cuts in between through an alley. one of them was Charlie Wall, for whatever reason. He All of a sudden, I hear “get out of the way” he’s behind had a thing going that he was going to take out Charlie me and bleeding like hell. He gets his gun on the mantle. Wall. The night he was going to do that, Charlie was with And there was a big screen. He unlatches the screen and Baby Joe Diez, his bodyguard and driver. It took place on walked through the large window. They see him coming Nebraska at Palm Avenue, somewhere around there. and take of in their car. He hops in his car and takes off after Charlie was driving home on Nebraska and Arthur took a them. But he never caught back up with them. He went to couple shots but missed. Baby Joe Diez recognized Arthur Tampa General to get bandaged up. and told the cops. Chief Eddings goes into the interrogation They all met again at the Police station later that day. room and leans into to my Dad and said “Art, you shouldn’t Johnny took a swing at Primo and hit him. They held Primo have missed.” and told Art to take a shot. The biggest fight my Dad got into was on May 9, 1949, The bad blood between the Velasco brothers, the mob, Mother’s Day. My uncle Johnny Velasco had been in Ybor and certain officials reached a fever point with the presenat an Italian picnic and Gus Friscia and Primo Lazzara were tation of Jimmy’s p[ay off list to the grand jury. Here was there. They all had a few drinks and got into an argument concrete proof of the mob’s influence eon local politics and about Jimmy’s death. Gus law enforcement. The and Primo got into an alnames on the list were also tercation with Johnny. the names that Arthur VeThey’re getting into their lasco kept as a list of enesedan, and my uncle mies of the family. Johnny had a sawed off “Jimmy’s payoff list (see shotgun in his golf bag in page 18) was business. My the trunk. As he’s getting Dad’s list was vengeance.” the gun out it accidentally But the Velascos were goes off and hits the getting tired of the back ground. When it goes off, and forth with the mob, Friscia and Lazzara take and realized that this was off in their car. no life for their children. Kingpin Charlie Wall and his bodyguard/driver Joe “Baby Joe Diez. Just by coincidence they Dennis Velasco said, “This were coming down Nebraska Avenue, by the Boilermaker back and forth went on for a couple years. My mother inClub. My grandmother lived across the street. The house sisted we move across the Bay to Pinellas County to get out had a large bay window in front. I’m sitting in a rocking of the environment.” chair, and its about 2/3pm in the afternoon. My dad had a After Jimmy Velascos’ death, Sylvia and her mother 42 oldsmobile 2-door coupe. He comes driving up and I’m stayed in Tampa for a while. “My mother and I stayed here looking out the window. As he parks on the curb, this for my freshman year then we moved to Miami.” Sylvia Chrysler 4-door dark blue with Friscia and Lazzara pull up. then moved to California where she still resides. Their wives are in the car in the backseat. They are pissed because Johnny just tried to shoot them. So they hopped out of the car and they stated shooting towards my father as he’s still in his car. The first shot misses. My Dad lies down on the seat and put his hand up on the dashboard. one of the bullets went through the back of his hand. He lays down on the seat and Get Mobbed Up with Tampa Mafia opens the passenger door next to the curb and slides off. apparel at TampaMafia.com Lazzara and Friscia leave the car in park, get out of the car, one goes to walk around behind the car, one goes around front. My Dad drops down and sees their feet. He waits until they get to either end of the car and he jumps up. Like a bird jumping out of a bush. But he doesnt have a gun- he left his gun on the mantle right behind me- so he goes running down the sidewalk sidestepping. They
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Working for Gotti By Scott M. Deitche
When John Gotti Jr. was indicted in Tampa in 2004, many by law enforcement and maintained a low profile. But there residents were shocked to learn that the scion of one of the was a specific reason Arcuri was chosen as the Trafficante most infamous mobsters in history was operating in the Bay representative–Joe was born in Tampa in 1913 and knew all area. But it wasn't a secret to mob watchers and law enforcethe major players. ment. They had been tracking the Gambino crime family's After he hurt his arm at UT and wasn’t able to continue his infiltration of Tampa for a decade prior, with most of their baseball career, Alite moved back into familiar professional focus on Gotti's main Tampa connection, mobster John Alite. territory, as his New York friends came down to Tampa. “John John Alite was born in Queens in 1962 and got his start in Gotti Jr got involved with Tampa in the early 1990s. Ronnie the local underworld at a young age. “one Arm Trucchio” also came down. Ronnie was a skipper “one of my teenage girlfriends had a Dad and uncle who under John Jr.” Alite fell in with the Gambinos again. were with the Lucchese family. I started my underworld Alite also met with some of the local mobsters to discuss career at a deli across the street from business deals and territorial splits. “I their sports betting operation. I ran met with Santo (Santo Jose Trafficante). I errands for them. This was on Jamaica met with Nick Scaglione. I also knew of Avenue in Queens.” other guys having sit-downs at the Italian “From picking up money, I started Club.” with some bookmaking, then went to During his time in Tampa, Alite and his threatening guys, then to hurting them.” crew made the most of Tampa’s nightlife. Even though as an Albanian, Alite could “Malios was a popular hangout. We used never be a “made” guy, his value was to eat at Donatello’s all the time. Thee apparent to the mobsters he hung Dollhouse, Stingers, and the Yucatan around with. Liquor Stand were also big hangouts. We “I also had a lot of friends in Lucchese didn’t go to Ybor. That place was more family because of Jimmy Burke. Burke’s for the kids.” son was good friends with me.” Jimmy For Alite and his Gambino pals, Tampa Burke was James “Jimmy the Gent” became home base. Alite opened the Burke, the legendary Lucchese associate American Cowboy club in 1994 and portrayed by Robert DeNiro in followed up with a commercial auto Goodfellas. Burke was the mastermind Glass Shop on Hillsborough Avenue. of the infamous 1978 Lufthansa Heist. Through his roommate at the Univer“The father of my baseball coach was sity of Tampa, Alite became involved in a capo in Queens, Fat Andy. He came to the valet parking industry. He bought all my baseball games. Through that, the into a valet company, A&A, and changed John Alite neighborhoods, and my time in the the name to Prestige Valet. The company boxing gym, I fell into the Gambino sphere and got to know had accounts in New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. It John Gotti Jr.” expanded to Tampa where it had accounts in such divergent Another love of Alite’s was baseball. “I went to Franklin K. businesses as St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Yucatan Liquor Lane High School in Brooklyn. I played all 4 years varsity Stand. Alite was joined in the business by Terry Scaglione, baseball and was the captain of the team my junior and senior grandson of Tampa mobster Nick Scaglione. “I always felt bad year. From there I got a full ride to the University of Tampa.” Terry got caught up in everything. He was a nice guy, not a Alite came to Tampa in 1990. “I liked Tampa more than the mobster.” east coast of Florida. It’s a little more of a community, and not With the proceeds from the valet company rolling in, Alite so much of a vacation area. Tampa was a relaxation area. I also expanded his nightclub empire, with Club Mirage, looked at it more of a real city than Lauderdale, which was located in the same shopping center as TGI Friday's on the like spa or resort.” corner of Hillsborough and Himes Avenue in Tampa. Club Though he was concentrating on baseball at UT, he was also Mirage was Alite’s club, but he had other members of the crew familiar with the underworld landscape in Tampa at the time. serve as front men. Following Santo Trafficante Jr.’s death in 1987, the local crime “Jimmy Cadacamo worked for me. I knew him from New started to shrink due to attrition and old age of the members. York. He used to hang around with Charles Carneglia, another The Gambinos moved into Tampa in a big way. Gambino guy. I sent Jimmy to Tampa to get involved with “The Gambino family’s liaison with the Trafficante family Club Mirage. I set him up with cars and a house. When I got was an old time capo, Joe Arcuri.” As a respected member of wind the authorities were closing in, I switched ownership of the Gambino hierarchy, Arcuri was also relatively untouched the Club to Jimmy.” 28 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
Authorities did indeed close in, and in late 2004, unsealed an indictment against Ronnie Trucchio, Alite, and four others, including Terry Scaglione. The indictment was a laundry list of racketeering activities from robbery to infiltration of the valet industry in Tampa. But when authorities went to pick up Alite, he was nowhere to be found. “I knew the indictment was coming down so I left to Cuba and other countries before ending up in Brazil.” Alite was in Rio for ten months before he was arrested by Brazilian authorities. He spent two years in Brazilian prison fighting extradition before he was sent back to Tampa in 2006 to stand trial. Realizing that his relationship with Gotti Jr had soured, Alite decided to come clean and become a witness for the government. In January of 2008, Alite pled guilty to a racketeering count. As summarized in the Tampa Bay Times, “Alite admitted involvement in two murders, four murder conspiracies, at least eight shootings and two attempted shootings–including one in which the intended victim was his former roommate at the University of Tampa, Tim Donovan.” Alite testified first at the racketeering trial of Gambino hitman Charles Carneglia. He was also tapped to testify at Gotti Jr's racketeering trial, but the jurors were deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.
Tampa Mafia Factoids
John Alite is the subject of
a new book by celebrated true crime author and prize-winning journalist George Anastasia. The book,
(Harper Collins, 2015) sets out to, in the words of Anastasia, “demystify the Gotti mystique and the whole idea of celebrity and honor. The title came from 12 different rules and protocols that the crime family was supposed to live by. But at the street level there was not a lot of nobility. There was lots of hypocrisy and treachery.” Anastasia examines John Gotti Jr’s rise to the head of the Gambino crime family, through the story of Alite. “I tried to make it clear–this is Alite’s version of what happened. The reader will be the judge. This is what happened.” one of the blockbuster revelations in the book is a copy of an FBI 302 from 2005, showing that Gotti attempted to make a deal with federal authorities. Though the deal never materialized, Gotti’s final mistrial took him out of the feds crosshairs. Anastasia is clear about what the book is not. “John Alite didn’t want to use the book for revenge. Alite’s driving force behind book is that John Gotti Jr was trying to do the same thing. John Jr had a lot of arrogance.”
Jimmy Cadacamo and Ronnie Trucchio
Since his time on the witness stand, Alite has talked some about his life in the underworld. He was interviewed at length by renowned organized crime writer George Anastasia, for his upcoming book, Gottis’ Rules. He also appeared on a few TV shows, including a spot on 60 Minutes discussing the potential implications of legalizing sports betting in New Jersey. But living off his gangster past is not a way that John sees to move forward. Nowadays, Alite is working on turning his life around and is actively involved in a number of charities and organizations working on domestic violence and bullying issues. He is also working on media projects, including the TV show Redemption. “I’m working on changing my life and moving into a different direction. The future is giving a little back. I went from a good kid to really screwing up my life. I want to show kids to not make the same mistakes. The anger I had towards Gotti is gone. I can’t stay in the past or I’ll never move on myself.”
That motivated Alite to open up to Anastasia. Throughout their interviews and breakfast meetings over three months, Anastasia walked away with a much different impression of him. “Not many guys have the frame of mind to move from country to country on the lam for those two years before he was arrested. That says something about him. There’s a different part of him buried under the drug dealer and mobster. At the end of the day John is trying to turn it around. John has attempted to come to grips with who he is and what he did. I’m not sure John Gotti Jr will acknowledge what he’s looking at, when he looks in the mirror.”
For more information visit www.JohnAlite.com John;'s good friend and lawyer Tim Fitzgerald can be found in Tampa at www.farmerandfitzgerald.com 2015 WINTER EDITIoN 29
Interview with Sandi Lansky, Daughter of the King Few gangland names are as well-known as Meyer Lansky. Milwaukee. Longy Zwillman was involved with that. They Along with Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel, were patriots. Sure they may have had some ulterior motives Lansky was one of the early significant figures in the evolution at the docks, but they definitely helped out.” of American organized crime. Like many of his compatriots, Lanksy was also a lover of books. “To me, what shocked Lanksy’s legend has long outshone the man himself. Allegame was that my dad was very scholarly. He read the encyclotions of multi-billion dollar fortunes pedia all the way through numerous and Lanksy’s control over all organtimes. But he also loved the Lone ized crime eclipse the real story of a Ranger radio show.” Sandi’s son poor Jewish immigrant from New Gary recalled, “He had this den with York City’s Lower East Side, who all kinds of books stacked up. And rode the rackets up the ladder of opthere were two Abraham Lincoln portunity. bookends. His favorite was Lincoln. I Meyer was above all, a family remember that distinctly as a child.” man. He had two sons, Paul and Gary also remembered hearing Buddy, and a daughter Sandi. things about his grandfather from Buddy has since passed away but Cubans in 1970s Miami, “He was alPaul and Sandi are still alive. Last ways good to working people. I used year Sandi released her memoir, to hear the other valets when I Daughter of the King: Growing Up In worked at the hotels in Miami Beach Gangland. It’s a different kind of say things like ‘why do they bother mob book, one that doesn’t highthat old man, all he does is good for light the blood and crimes, but people’. He tipped everyone wellrather digs deeper into life in a mob busboys, valets.” family and the introspective musSandi was first married when she ings of a life as the child of one of was 16. Though her father was synthe most influential crime figures in onymous with Las Vegas, Sandi only American history. ventured to Sin City one time, or her Now living in Tampa, Sandi’s recfirst honeymoon. “We stayed at the ollections of her father and her life Thunderbird. I remember Irving as the daughter of the king were as Fields Trio was performing. You colorful and fresh as they were 50 want to hear something funny. Last years ago. year, when Vince (Sandi’s second “I was born in Boston. I’m not a husband, who died in 2014) was in Yankees fan like the rest of my famthe hospital, I went into the gift shop ily. I’m a Red Sox fan.” and mentioned to the woman behind Sandi’s early life was fairly prothe counter that the gift shop was not tected. Her father kept his family in like the one at Mt Sinai when I went Sandi Lansky with her father Meyer Lansky the dark about his profession. But to visit my father. She asked who my Sandi looked up to her father, even at a young age. And by father was and when I said Meyer Lansky, she said ‘I know the time WWII broke out she saw a lot of the work her father you! I haven’t seen you since you were 16!’ It was Irving did that didn’t make it into some of the more lurid accounts Fields’ first wife!” of his life. Though she didn’t spend time in Vegas, Sandi did spend a “During WWII they protected the docks in New York City. great deal of time in the Miami area where Meyer had a numMy Dad also worked to break up the Bund meetings. They ber of businesses both legal and illegal form the 1940s through went all over the country to break up the meetings, places like his death in 1983. “I started coming down to Florida when I 30 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
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Gary Rapoport grandson of Lanksy, Lansky & his daughter Sandi Lansky
was 2 years old. The Miami area was nothing like it is today. It’s a nightmare down there now. It was beautiful then.” Among the famous South Florida nightclubs that Lansky owned was The Colonial Inn. The Colonial was located near Gulfstream Park in Hallandale. Lansky bought the establishment in June of 1945 from Lou Walters, father of TV personality Barbara Walters. “The Colonial Inn was my Dad’s place. It was a big colonial style house. The walls in the nightclub were velvet, absolutely gorgeous. You walked in and the casino was on the right. The shows were fantastic. And my Dad was a stickler for food. You needed to have fine food. It was the same thing when he had the Boheme and the Greenacres (in Hallandale). It was sold to Mama Leone’s in New York after the Kefauver business.” Miami became a hotbed of organized crime, both local and imported. Recognized as an ‘open city’, where mobsters from around the country could come down and operate freely, Collins Avenue and North Bay Village became hotspots of nightclubs, restaurants, and bars catering to visiting wiseguys. Sandi was in the middle of it and knew a lot of the big players and their families. “I knew Gerry Catena (New Jersey mob figure). I knew their 32 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.CoM
daughters. I was very close to Joe Adonis’ daughter. I knew (Little) Augie Pisano. He was a very nice man. We used to go out to his house on the island all the time. I knew Abner “Longy” Zwillman. We called him Abe. When my son Gary was born my Dad and Abe came to visit in the hospital. They looked lie Mutt and Jeff. Abe was really tall.” There was Meyer’s right hand man, Genovese soldier Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo: “I knew Jimmy of course. I was very close to Flo (Jimmy’s wife). Jimmy didn’t get along with my mother, though. I don’t know what that was about. It was something that happened years before I was born. Jimmy loved my brother Buddy. I was always at Jimmy and Flo’s house.” Another Miami area associate of Lanksy’s was John “Peanuts” Tronolone, who went from a low level mob soldier to eventually becoming the boss of the Cleveland Mafia. “I knew Peanuts very well. one time, I had a ring of my mothers, a diamond ring I went to the jewelers and they said to go take it to the travel agency to Peanuts and get it appraised there. That was the funniest, the jeweler telling me to get the ring appraised at the travel agency.” It was also in Miami in the early 1970s where Sandi and her second husband Vince became friendly with Santo Trafficante Jr. “Vince and I became friendly with Santo Trafficante Jr when my Dad was in Israel. He had that house in Northwest Miami and we’d have dinner at his house a few times and go out with them. Vince and I would park our car a few blocks away from his house and walk there. Like we weren’t being followed by the FBI, it was silly. Santo was the warmest, most well-read person. He always wanted me to take books to Dad in Israel and would give me books to take to him. I couldn’t carry all that so I gave them to Dad when he returned. Both Santo and Dad were very well-read people. For two men that didn’t go to high school, they were very intelligent.” But sometimes the life that Meyer so carefully tried to shield his daughter from, couldn’t be hidden. “The worst was when Willie Moretti died. That was the worst. I had dinner with him and my Dad the night before at Dinty Moore’s, the three of us. Then the next day at school, at lunchtime, there’s the headline in the paper. He’s dead. And you want to know the strange thing? His driver didn’t drive him that day. Willie told his driver that he didn’t need the driver.” Willie Moretti was killed on october 4, 1951 at Joe’s Elbow Room in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. He was allegedly killed because his mind was ravaged by syphilis and the Genovese family was concerned that Moretti was talking too much about mob business and would spill family secrets. Sandi is also very candid in the book about her wild life. “I would have dinner with my Dad and afterwards would supposedly go home. And I go do my own thing. Then I’d have a change of clothes in the car so I could be ready when my Dad
Meyer Lanksy with his daughter Sandi Lansky
came to my place in the morning to go and have breakfast. I was a very busy person. I was spoiled. I‘m not going to deny it. I was spoiled rotten. I didn’t know any better.” Meyer Lansky was the subject of a couple previous books, including Little Man by Robert Lacey. When asked about previous efforts at exploring Meyer’s life, Sandi was blunt in her characterization, “I don’t think any of the books did him justice. That’s why we wanted to do this book. Those books had him with drugs and he wasn’t involved in drugs. You have that even in Boardwalk Empire. At least this book is as true as it can be.”
If you want to read more of Sandi's fascinating story of growing up with a legend of American organized crime, you can buy the book Daughter of the King: Growing Up Gangland by Sandra Lansky and William Stadiem at Amazon.com
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The Mob Museum Revisited By Scott M. Deitche
I first visited The National Museum of organized Crime and Law Enforcement, better known as The Mob Museum in March of 2012, just one month after their grand opening. The idea of a museum dedicated to mobsters, and the law enforcement officers who took them down, generated some controversy when it opened, but over the past three years, the Museum has become one of the highest rated attractions in Las Vegas and garnered numerous accolades and awards for its presentation of the story of organized crime in America. Located in downtown Las Vegas, the Museum was constructed in the old Federal Courthouse, a couple blocks from Fremont Street. The Museum is four floors of crime, cops, and a healthy dose of old Las Vegas memorabilia. But it’s not all wall photos and ephemera. The Museum is also highly interactive. Developed by Dennis and Kathy Barrie, whose work includes the Spy Museum in DC, there are a variety of multimedia presentations, simulators, and an excellent documentary on the Kefauver Hearings which is located in the original courtroom where the hearings took place in 1950. I came back to the Museum in August of 2014 for one of the biggest additions to the Museum since its opening, the special
events series. I was there for a speaking engagement on the Mob in Cuba, as part of the Museum’s Hot Havana Nights weekend. Through its special events programming, the Museum has attracted well known true crime authors, former FBI agents, and ex-mobsters like Frank Culotta. There is the Wise guy Speaker Series that brings in local Las Vegas experts to dig deeper into areas of interest to Museum members, covering topics in gambling, crime, and law enforcement. They also host monthly community safety forums in partnership with the Las Vegas Police Department. In the three years since opening, the Museum has expanded its inventory of gangster artifacts. They have also developed new exhibits, like one dedicated to famed Las Vegas lawman Sheriff Lamb. The Museum has expanded on the history of Las Vegas, gambling in pre-Castro Cuba, and materials from law enforcement. The Museum’s already extensive coverage of the various Mafia families has also expanded bringing in additional mug shots, artifacts and ephemera. Law enforcement, and those who helped win the war on the mob, continues to be featured heavily. The museum showcases the work of local cops to FBI agents who worked behind the scenes, and sometimes undercover to break the mob’s stranglehold on the Las Vegas casinos, nationwide labor unions, and political corruption. Even ex-Vegas mayor oscar Goodman has a display wall from his days as a defense lawyer for such mobsters as Anthony Spilotro. There is also a section dedicated to the portrayal of mobsters in pop culture. To that end, there have been some recent additions, including a suit worn by Steve Buscemi character, Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire, and some artifacts from the real Enoch Lewis "Nucky" Johnson. The museum is clean and bright. The exhibits are wellthought out and the flow through the facility is excellent. There is a nice mix between entertainment and information, which is crucial. And some of the artifacts, like the barber chair that Albert Anastasia was sitting in when he was killed in 1957, are in amazing condition. And before you leave, don’t forget to try out the replica Tommy gun, or get your mug shot taken. The Mob Museum is located at 300 Stewart Avenue Las Vegas, Nevada, 89101 702-229-2734 You can read about the museum online at: themobmuseum.org