Joseph "Big Joe" Lonardo (1920-1927) -- He was already a successful
Cleveland businessman when Prohibition (1920-33) arrived, rendering alcoholic
beverages illegal. Lonardo supplied corn sugar, an otherwise legal ingredient
of whiskey and granted sugar, an otherwise legal ingredient of whiskey and
granted "franchises" to bootleggers who made illegal alcohol. In 1927,
Lonardo briefly returned to his native Sicily, leaving Salvatore "Black Sam"
Todaro in charge. But Todaro had secretly reached out to Lonardo's chief
competitors -- the Porrello brothers. When Lonardo came back to Cleveland,
Todaro had him and his brother John killed.
Joseph "Big Joe" Porrello (1927-1930) -- He assumed control of Cleveland Mob
and its hold on the local bootleg liquor rackets. Competitors, including Jewish
racketeers led by Moe Dalitz, began bringing illegal Canadian liquor across
Lake Erie. In 1929, 18-year-old Angelo Lonardo avenged the murder of his
father (Joseph Lonardo) when he and Dominick Sospirato shot and killed Black
Sam Todaro. Another man, Frank Milano, of the Mayfield Road Mob, was
muscling in on the Porrellos' operation by joining with Dalitz to provide the
favored Canadian liquors. A year later, Milano took over when his associates
killed Joe Porrello and bodyguard Sam Tilocca at Milano's restaurant in Little
Italy. Only weeks later, Milano strengthened his control by ordering the murder
of three of Joe Porrello's six brothers -- Jim, Raymond and Rosario -- at a
grocery store at East 110th and Woodland.
Frank Milano (1930-1935) -- Ruthless and cunning, Frank and his brother
Anthony consolidated power over Cleveland's Italian Mafia and united with the
local Jewish Syndicate to expand into gambling, loansharking and influence
over fledgling labor unions, as the end of Prohibition was foreseen in 1933.
Such post-Prohibition organized crime activities became the bread and butter
of the Cleveland Mafia for decades to come. Milano's dominance over the
Cleveland Mob coincided with the creation in 1931 of the national American
Mafia, or Cosa Nostra ("Our Thing").
Frank Milano, his brother Anthony and Frank's two sons, Peter and Carmen,
became major forces in the national Cosa Nostra organization. Anthony, Peter
and Carmen Milano are blamed for helping to form the Southern California
Cosa Nostra, based in Los Angeles, in the 1940s. But in 1935, Frank Milano
was indicted for income tax evasion. He avoided the case by fleeing to Mexico
where he stayed for many years, before dying in 1970 in a Los Angeles
Alfred Polizzi (1935-1944) -- Polizzi was a rising star in Milano's Mayfield Road
Mob. He was named Milano's successor, though some say Dr. Joseph Romano
was boss until Angelo Lonardo killed him in 1936. Polizzi and his adopted
Jewish brother Charles Polizzi (nee Leo Berkowitz) solidified links with Jewish
gangsters to create one of the most potent crime operations in the nation. The
Cleveland Mafia owned or controlled many casinos in Ohio and Northern
Kentucky. But increased law enforcement interference would cause the
Cleveland Mafia to look west, to Las Vegas. In 1944, Polizzi pleaded guilty to
tax evasion, served a year in prison and relocated to Coral Gables, Fla. to run
real estate and construction businesses.
John Scalish (1944-1976) -- An associate of Milano and Polizzi, Scalish was
responsible for the Cleveland Mafia's continued rise in power, and for its
eventual downfall. He oversaw Cleveland's move into Las Vegas, with Moe
Dalitz taking over the failing Desert Inn from Bugsy Siegel. Dalitz also led the
development of other casinos, a major hospital and other Las Vegas projects,
many of which were financed by the mob-controlled Teamsters union.
Cleveland mobsters had much control over the Teamsters union by such men
as Anthony Milano and Jewish gangsters Bill Presser and Milton "Maishe"
Rockman. By the 1950s, the Cleveland Mafia reached its peak, with 60 made
members, and many more associates, according to the FBI.
But in Scalish's later years as boss, he inducted no new members into the
Cleveland Mafia. The existing membership began to gray with age. Scalish was
content to live off the "skimming" of profits from Las Vegas casinos, plus the
mob's gambling operations in Cleveland and Youngstown and other activities.
Inducting new members meant he would have to share those profits with
younger blood whom he couldn't trust. Scalish died in 1976 while undergoing
risky heart surgery, and without declaring a successor beforehand. That
underscored his lack of interest in the Cleveland Mafia's future.
James "Jack White" Licavoli (1976-1982) -- Though street tough from his early
years as an enforcer for the Purple Gang in Detroit and St. Louis during
Prohibition, Licavoli reluctantly took the reigns as Cleveland's boss. Scalish's
lack of a clear successor gave rise to a competing mob faction, led by Irish
gangster Danny Greene and Teamster leader John Nardi. The result was the
bloodiest mob war in Cleveland since Prohibition, with nearly 40 car bombings
and other mob hits from mid-1976 to mid-1977. All the killings brought a great
deal of federal heat against the surviving, but aging mafiosi, many of whom
went to prison for crimes stemming from the 1977 assassination of Green.
Licavoli was among those eventually nabbed for their roles in the Greene
murder. He was sent to federal prison in 1982, and died behind bars just
three years later.
Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo (1982-84) -- Named interim boss when Licavoli
went to prison, Lonardo had a brief time at the helm of the Cleveland Mafia.
Yet, in 1983, he inducted two men -- Joseph Iacobacci and Russell Papalardo --
who would later play major roles in the Cleveland Mob's rebirth. That same
year, Lonardo was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his role in a
mob drug ring. Lonardo, unable to face the prospect of dying in prison, became
the highest ranking federal informant in U.S. Mafia history. Having been
involved in the mob since the 1920s, he proved invaluable as a witness in
court cases from Los Angeles to New York City, causing serious damage to the
national Mafia hierarchy. Lonardo died March 31, 2006 at the age of 95.
John "Peanuts" Tronolone (1985-91) -- Another interim boss, Tronolone was a
close associate of New York's Genovese Family, which had represented the
Cleveland Mafia on the New York Commission since the 1930s. While
Tronolone was often considered a boss in absentia, having a travel agency in
Miami, he was often seen in Cleveland in the late 1980s. But in 1989, he was
arrested for possession of stolen jewels and died in prison only two years
later. He named no successor, as all known Cleveland Mafia members were
either dead or in prison.
No boss known (1991-1993) -- From 1991-1995, Anthony Liberatore was the
highest ranking Cleveland Mafia member out of prison, followed by Joseph
Iacobacci, then Russell Papalardo.
Joseph "Joe Loose" Iacobacci (1993- 2006) -- Despite a brief federal prison
stint in the late 1990s, Iacobacci steadily rebuilt the Cleveland Mob, reportedly
with the help of the Chicago Outfit. Since 1990, when no known Cleveland
Mafia members were on the streets, there are as many as 10 made members
today, with many more associates. In addition to its Chicago links, the
Cleveland Mob has documented activities in Rochester NY, Warren/Youngstown
OH, Pittsburgh PA and, of course, in Greater Cleveland, generating up to $30
million in illicit profits annually. Iacobacci is now (semi) retired and living in
Russell J Papalardo (2006 - ) Reported to be the key figure in Cleveland.
|Copyrights © ClevelandMob.com, LLC owned, All Rights Reserved